Though Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real and debilitating form of mental illness, its important to remember that depression is not simply consigned to specific times of the year. By implication this means that, though depression can strike at the heart of summer, we also do not need to ‘resign’ ourselves to feeling bad during the winter months. This blog gives some helpful coping strategies, no matter the date nor the weather. Read them here.
During my depression, my world narrowed. I just didn’t want to go anywhere. My life was lived inside coffee shops, on the couch watching television, sitting in my office with the door closed. There was something deadening about this. In hindsight, I guess I felt that doing something else wouldn’t make a difference anyway.
I have learned over the years that nature is a powerful antidote to depression. Being in nature does make a difference. Maybe it’s because there is such power in nature. It’s always in motion, isn’t it? There isn’t any clinical depression in nature. Humans evolved from the natural world, not from concrete and office towers. One study found that a walk in a park or countryside reduced depression whereas walking in a shopping center or urban setting increased depression. This summer, I am going to reconnect with nature by taking my daughter on nature walks. During these times, I just want to let my incessant conversation with my depression go and let nature speak to me.
Dr. Robert J. Hedaya writes, “The physical world we have created and within which the incidence of depression is most rapidly rising is the densely populated Western city. It is made of concrete, steel, glass and asphalt.Most of us do not know, in our bones, the slowly changing rhythms of the forest, through the seasons, and year after year. We can only see time passing in the faces of our loved ones, or the mirror, but we do not experience the naturalness of the passage of time via a changing, slowly morphing landscape around us”. Read his Blog
Dan: Why did you write The Creativity Cure?
Carrie: I felt that the solutions out there for people with anxiety and depression were partial solutions, incomplete remedies. The way we live now causes stress for many people – the pace, the lack of rest or leisure, the relentless striving. Our technological, cerebrally focused culture has taken us out of our bodies and ourselves. Addiction to devices causes an imbalance and a malaise. When you are tied to a device 24-7 you may not be experiencing the fullness of all 5 senses, the things that make you feel energized. The primal satisfaction of making things and using the hands are slowly slipping away from us. For wellbeing, we have to make a conscious effort to maintain them. When my patients make and fix things, they feel better. Research shows that manual effort and creativity are antidotes for malaise. The Creativity Cure was written to help people find another way.
Dan: I deal with lawyers with depression and other professionals that are on their phones and computers a lot. What kinds of things would you recommend that they do with their hands for physical?
Carrie: It’s about getting out of your head. There are many cerebrally oriented people, but “ I think therefore I am” (Descartes) may not be the answer in the current culture. It is really becoming I think therefore I’m not. Too much thinking at the exclusion of physical and manual activity can make us depressed. Physicality, creativity and using your hands – – cooking or washing cars or crafting, painting walls or using watercolors — honor anatomical intent. Long ago manual action in everyday life was necessary for physical survival. Now we need these actions for psychological survival.
The need to create is primal. Paint a wooden board or do Legos with your child. Do that thing you were always drawn and do it clumsily, imperfectly. You don’t have to have any experience as an artist or a maker of things. You don’t have to have a fine result. You can just explore, begin and build. The beauty is in the inner experience. Research has shown that meaningful hand use decreases depression.
Dan: In your book, write about the unconscious mind. What do you mean by that?
Carrie: The unconscious mind, the deepest most hidden layer of our mind houses our , primal self, our instincts, our intuitions and our truth. The unconscious is a treasure trove of clues about our natural self, our unique self. We can get in touch with the deepest layer of our mind via dreams and seemingly random thoughts. Noting where our minds naturally drift helps us learn about where we need to be and what we need to do. The unconscious is a very powerful resource.
Dan: What is our unconscious trying to tell us for people who suffer with anxiety and depression?
Carrie: Depression can have many different causes: biological, situational, genetic or hormonal. It can also be the result of trauma. Self-knowledge and insight – knowing what resides in your unconscious mind – helps with depression because as the saying goes, the truth sets us free. Talking to a pastor or a mental health professional can elucidate information that moves you forward. Understanding yourself: who you really are, what your instincts are or what you are actually upset about is key for positive change. Sometimes you think your concern is one thing and your deeper self tells you that it is another. Following unconscious clues helps you live more truthfully and happily.
Dan: You mentioned “clues” from the unconscious. Can people that are dealing with anxiety and depression unearth these clues themselves? If a person did receive such clues, how would a person know, without talking to a therapist, know what to make of these clues?
Carrie: Writing is helpful. Keep a journal. Take walks, try yoga, breathe, self-reflect, fiddle with paint, doodle, just let. Important material bubbles up when your mind slows down. Be curious and wonder, “Who am I that I love that, what does this leaning say about me, how can I this passion be part of my regular life?” Paying attention to the feeling that accompanies certain thoughts can help you. Certain involvements can make you unhappy but they are habitual so you just keep on. Acknowledging your true inner responses enables you to change. Breaking through denial is key.
Dan: In my work helping lawyers with burnout, anxiety and depression, many of them that seem to contact me are middle-aged. Do you find that a lot of the people, the clients you see are coming to you in midlife?
Carrie: Yes, and midlife can be the best time of life. Loss and disruption, while initially causing depression or anxiety, can lead to positive inner transformation. If we learn to seek pleasure, solace or a feeling of elevation from friendships, family, creativity, and tending to those we love, we are empowered. If you are dependent on an outside institution for your self-esteem, you are less in control of your life and more vulnerable. Define yourself; don’t let it come from the outside.
Dan: I’d like to follow up on a point you make in your book when you talk about people not being in contact with their physical bodies and a visceral since of being alive. I spoke recently with Richard O’Connor, a psychologist in New York City who wrote the book Undoing Depression. He said that depression really wasn’t really about the emotion of sadness – – but about the absence of all emotion. Is that something that you see with the depressed patients you treat?
Carrie: I think it was Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, who offered that beautiful juxtaposition: the opposite of depression is vitality – – not happiness. That really captures it.
Dan: In your book you make a distinction. You indicated that The Creativity Cure is a good fit for people with mild to moderate depression anxiety, but maybe not major depression. Why?
Carrie: For those who suffer from major depression and feel that their depression is well managed, The Creativity Cure is a great option for finding more vitality. Those who at baseline have mild to moderate depression and find that meds do not help enough can discover ways to unleash creativity and happiness in the book. It takes some motivation, but once you get going, you will have more energy and a greater number of happy moments.
Dan: What percentage of your patients would you say depression plays a role in their maladies for which they’re seeing you?
Carrie: Eighty percent.
Dan: Wow – -that many. And to actually put The Creativity Cure into effect, how long do you generally work with somebody to get to the point where they can do it on their own?
Carrie: We start right away by finding out as much as we can about who that person is and what makes him or her feel alive. We think about what is working and what is not, why certain choices were made and ways to redirect the self. Through the Five Part Prescription: Insight, Movement, Mind Rest, Using Your Own Two Hands and Mind Shift people can uncover their true leanings and find more vigor, inspiration, passion. For positive change, integrate the methods into your lifestyle over several weeks. Little steps! True change is all about a little at a time and building.
Dan: In your career as therapist, have you treated lawyers with depression?
Carrie: Yes, yes.
Dan: Have you found anything about their life style that contributes to their depression?
Carrie: I think its three things for lawyers, especially those in high-pressure positions. My client Marnie comes to mind. She is a 28 year-old lawyer who has to give up her personal life at the drop of a hat when she is needed. It is tough. Number one, she is often exhausted because 17 -hour days are not uncommon. Number two, there is a lack of autonomy because this 17 -hour day can be thrust upon her at anytime and continue for weeks. Marnie, professional, committed and with good attitude, has to be available in the moment, late nights, on weekends.
But, compliance takes a toll. It makes her depressed to be in the office and not see sunlight. Not being in control of her time is hard. Even if the work is interesting, she has to give up other important involvements. Marnie feels lonely and isolated because she has little opportunity to be with old friends or to develop new ones. We are working on ways she can maintain friendships, even in text message or email shoot-outs if an in- the- flesh visit must be delayed.
Number three is that living in your head all the time, no matter how brilliant you are, is not healthy. Smart as a whip with facts and numbers, Marnie garners much more pleasure from aesthetics. She likes design but has not felt free enough to develop this interest. Colors, shapes, proportions – thinking about these things makes her happy. It is a sensual, visual way of moving through the world. A big part of the treatment is making her interest in design part of her ongoing life.
I think lawyers in general are really smart people who are great at using their minds. They have been reinforced for this all their lives, but for a richer, higher, happier state, many of these cerebral people need to get out of their heads and start using their hands. Go into a creative world. Balance mind, hands and body.
Dan: I have given many talks around the country on the topic of lawyer and one of the things I like to say is that lawyers have the most active fantasy lives of most professionals I’ve ever spoke to, where they dream of doing something else than lawyering. Can those be clues that would fit in with The Creativity Cure?
Carrie: Fantasizing is a sign of mental health. It’s a good thing. Learning about your inclinations through daydreams might lead you to change your life in a big way or make it better in small ways. Tiny steps allow for big changes because they foster consistency and this builds a new self in a solid way. If you’re interested in learning how to make beautiful cupcakes you can do that for an hour on the weekend. Play guitar, write poems, tend tomatoes in a vegetable garden and do it for a few minutes a day. Start small and make it part of you. Keep dreaming and keep doing. Contentment is about maintaining an identity that integrates your creative
I do not consider myself a lawyer. I am a human being who took on the role and career of a lawyer for 25 years. Unlike some people who entered law school with a burning passion to practice law, I ended up there because I was confused about my career direction and had no career counseling. Stop here. If you don’t feel excitement and joy when thinking about a career my hindsight advice is don’t enter it!
After a couple of years in NYC working for a small firm I quit because I hated following orders due to my anti-authoritarian streak dating back to early childhood. When I left for California I passed the CA bar exam, worked briefly for a solo practitioner, and then opened up my own solo practice. During my first few years I took whatever I could get including cases involving wrongful employment termination, wrongful eviction, workers compensation, and personal injury. I gradually steered my practice completely into plaintiff’s personal injury because I come from a family of physicians and I was truly fascinated by the medical aspects of these cases.
After I while I became rather successful as a lawyer, especially because I had a nose for what made a good case, I enjoyed investigating the facts, I cared about my clients (most of them anyway), and I frequently knew more about the medical/psychological aspects of the client’s injury than the defense. My Achilles heel was my biological tendency toward anxiety and depression which, to my mind, are two sides of the same coin.
Although I got excellent results in my cases I was plagued by fears of failure and so I worked myself to the bone when it came to preparing for depositions, hearings, and trials or opposing motions to compel discovery or obtain summary judgment. Although I was never sued by a client in 25 years I always worried that the innately disgruntled ones who complained about everything in their lives might sue me. So I worked extra hard to make sure their cases turned out well. To put in all these hours I gave up on exercise, sat more, and ate unhealthy, high salt, high sugar foods to give me some compensatory pleasure. Stop. If you are doing these things you will damage your physical and mental health. Our bodies crave outdoor exercise in the fresh air and they crave real food, not the processed crap made in factories.
At the beginning of the 1990s I took on some new challenges. I moved to a larger, more expensive office. I became a homeowner. And, my wife became pregnant with our first child. In the mid-1990s, I developed a bridge phobia, a phobia involving the fear I would fall out of the window of a tall office building, and panicky dread over crime in our neighborhood which seemed to be getting worse every day. To help myself through these irrational fears I became a good friend of Jack Daniels. This nearly led my wife to divorce me. The threat of divorce woke me up like a cold shower. I went to see a psychiatrist who put me on Zoloft and I stopped drinking. Things got better. We had a second child, a son. In the coming years I became a very good father. I adore my kids. They adore me. Both kids are flourishing. This is something I am very proud of.
In the decade between 1995-2005 I handled an increasing number of cases involving traumatic brain injury and made significant income. Initially these cases were very exciting. Over time they became a drag. Why? The defense, which had paid up relatively quickly in the early days, now used scorched earth tactics by hiring experts in human factors, biomechanics, neurology, psychiatry, neuropsychiatry, neuroradiology, etc. I had to hire counter experts in each field and I had to pay to depose every over-priced, hostile defense expert who gave me all their specious reasons why each client was a neurotic, a hysteric or a malingerer.
I felt like Sisyphus, the man condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a steep hill every day. The litigation costs drained my coffers to the point where I was late on my rent, my copier machine rental, my records fees, and witness fees every month. In the midst of these depressing circumstances my mother suddenly died of a brain virus. And then, one day, my wife noticed we were completely out of money and our home equity lines were maxed out. I instantly plunged into what my psychiatrist called a psychotic depression in which I heard a voice from within me tell me to die over and over again, relentlessly 24/7 until after 4 days of it, I went to a hospital emergency room.
The psychiatrists who cared for me in the hospital told me I had snapped as a result of an inborn vulnerability to depression, years of stress from legal practice, and the trauma of my mother’s death and insolvency. They told me never to return to legal practice. My past 8 years have been a journey back from severe depression and into a new, more fulfilling life. Thanks to a private, own-occupation disability policy I was able to pay my family’s living expenses while recovering.
I researched and wrote my book for lawyers, The Upward Spiral: Getting Lawyers from Daily Misery to Lifetime Wellbeing, on stress and depression while studying and practicing Buddhist meditation. I became ordained as an interfaith chaplain and sat with dying patients at a local hospital. More recently I entered an MS program in mental health counseling at Capella University. I anticipate becoming a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at the beginning of 2017. I am finding my studies, practicums, and internships in mental health graduate school to be very meaningful and fulfilling.
Law is a very stressful profession which produces severe depression in one out of every five lawyers. What is my message to my colleagues in the law who suffer depression?
First, face the depression. Do not deny it and self-medicate it with unhealthy substance or behavioral addictions.
Third, see a therapist (a psychologist, MFT, counselor or social worker) so you can explore and understand the bio-psychosocial roots of your depression and choose the best form of therapy to resolve your depression.
Fourth, consider couples counseling or family therapy so your spouse and children can understand your depression and have an opportunity to educate you as to how it is affecting them. This can lead to improved understanding, communication, and cooperation at home within the family system.
Sixth, spend more time in nature because there is nothing better to quiet the mind, ease the sore psyche or restore the spirit.
Seventh, take time to actualize your potential as a unique self through whatever activity calls to you, be it photography, calligraphy, water color painting, baking, cooking, etc.
Good luck. I know you can beat depression and be happier.
Harvey Hyman, J.D. spent 25 successful yet stressful years practicing personal injury law in New York and California. Thanks to an episode of severe depression in 2007, he found happiness and joy that had always eluded him.
It’s almost the end of October. I look out my back window and can see the wild geese that gather again in the pond in my back yard this time of the year. It’s a way station before they fly off to warmers climes.
People with depression feel less than – less than good, less than successful, less than a loving spouse or parent. Too often, they feel poverty in their souls. In their heads, they chew on thoughts that if they were only “better” people or more “successful,” they wouldn’t be suffering so much or could overcome depression.
It’s as if they’re to blame for their depression and any self-compassion is as absent as rain in the desert.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
You don’t have to prove – over and over and over again – – to yourself or others – – that you’re worthy to walk this sweet earth and enjoy a sense of wholeness. You don’t need to beg others for their approval because God, however you define him or her, is always announcing in the natural world on fire with colors and portents of change at this time of the year, your intimate belonging in this world.
Poet Mary Oliver captures this so beautifully in her poem Wild Geese:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler ~Albert Einstein
I believe most of us want, no, crave, a simpler life. Henry Thoreau, seeking to find out what was essential about life, retreated to a small cabin at Walden Pond and wrote,
Our life is fritted away be detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!
Lawyers know that their lives are too complex, confusing and stressful. They feel it in their bones. This sense of things intrudes on their thoughts during a five-minute lunch between court appearances and an afternoon deposition. They think to themselves, “There’s got to be a better way to live my life”. They yearn for more space, more time to digest their experiences. However, without a greater simplicity, their lives are swallowed by a flurry of demands that never stop coming.
It’s not only the office that weighs attorneys down – it the consumerist culture they live in with everyone else. In a piece in the Wall Street Journal “When Simplicity Is the Solution”, takes a sample of the dizzying array of choices buyers face everyday:
“Every facet of our lives, even entertainment and recreation, is complicated by an ever-widening array of choices delivered at a frantic pace. Consider:
More than 800,000 apps in the Apple App Store
240-plus selections on the Cheesecake Factory menu, not including lunch or brunch specials
135 mascaras, 437 lotions and 1,992 fragrances at Sephora.com
Lawyers need to shed those habits that weigh them down and clutter their lives and spirits. As the author Hans Hofmann once wrote, “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Some of the things that can be jettisoned are mundane: not reading the paper every morning, not responding to e-mails and text 24-7 or just allowing the sweet space of silence for ten minutes a day. Then there are the bigger items to chuck: letting go of relationships that aren’t healthy, daily diets that increase our waist lines and poison our bodies and habitual ways of responding to stress that batters their brains.
One Day at a Time to a Simpler Life
What small things can we let go of in our daily lives to make it simpler?
1. Keep your office clean and organized. Check out the website and book The Organized Lawyer.
2. Bring nature into your office – a small vase of fresh flowers helps or some green, leafy plants. A good tonic for a harried lawyer – the simplicity of nature.
3. Live a Day of 5 – and only 5 – important things that you want to get done today. Take a legal pad, a bold flair marker, write in big letters and allow copious amounts of space between items. This practice has a way of focusing our efforts and keeping it simple.
4. Get rid of needless noise in your office – keep your door shut, turn off the radio.
5. Live from a place of abundance rather than scarcity. So you think you are, said the Buddha. Remind yourself that you have everything you need and enough time.
6. Bring a healthy lunch and snacks to work rather than going out for a lunch at a busy and noisy restaurant.
7. Take a 10 minute silence break in your day.
8. Only check your e-mail 3 times per day during the morning, noon and at the end of the day. Psychologists estimate that as much as ninety percent of e-mail is junk. As such, the chances of your missing something urgent aren’t great. Try this for a week and see what happens. It’s an eye-opener.
Living a Simpler Life over the Long Haul
1. Using technology to make your life simpler – go paperless. Check out the ScanSnap Document Scanner.
2. Check out the blog Zen Habits – a site devoted to living a simpler life.
3. Develop the wisdom that having more stuff in your life doesn’t equal more happiness.
4. Practice walking outside in nature as much as you can.
5. Clean your house and throw out everything you don’t need.
6. Do something with your hands – some people love chopping wood, for example. Volunteering for Habit for Humanity is another.
7. Practice Mindfulness – check the best-selling book, The Mindful Way through Depression.
8. Fasting – it’s amazing how much time and energy we fret away thinking about food. A friend of mine took note that he had twelve eating opportunities in one average day. Check out the Master Cleaner fast – I did it one weekend and found it easy and rejuvenating.
9. Do free stuff for a day. As the author Robert Brault wrote, “The best things in life are not only free, but the line is shorter.”
Remember that the more you simplify, the less your day will be fragmented by nonsense. Thoreau wrote: I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow of life.
Do you really need to live your life driven by choices that increase your preoccupation with complexity while fueling your depression? You already know what it’s like to live a complicated life. Try for a while to live a simpler one. You don’t have to go to Walden Pond to do it. You’re home and office can be a good place to start. It’s that simple.
By Dan Lukasik