Parker Palmer, Ph.D., writes, “When you’re depressed, it seems insulting, even insane for someone to suggest that the soul-sucking spawn of Satan that has sunk its claws into you is your BFF. And yet, as time went by, the image of depression as a befriending force began to work on me, slowly reframing my misery and helping me find a way through. Something in me knew what my therapist knew: down is the way to well-being.” Read the Blog
When first diagnosed with depression fifteen years ago at the age of 40, I thought I would recuperate and, more or less, go back to my busy life as a lawyer and husband with a young family. It didn’t work out that way. I soon found out it was going to be a long haul. And I’m still truckin’.
What’s changed in my experience of depression over the past decade and a half? A lot.
I know much, much more about the illness; it’s contours, triggers, and wily ways. I know what will help when I’m in the thick of it, more often than not. I also accept there will be times when there’s little I can do to make a dent in depression’s cold armor.
My depression doesn’t last as long as it used to. Nor is it typically as deep. In the early days, it seemed like it went on forever. I couldn’t remember a time before it when I’d been happy. And couldn’t envision a future of being anything other than depressed. I felt I was barely living. Nothing gave me pleasure. Even eating good food, one of my favorite things. Everything tasted like ashes in my mouth. Death felt preferable, at times.
I didn’t feel much compassion for my depressed, younger self. I’d slap myself in the head and say, “What the hell’s wrong with you?” I had my own inner medieval-like inquisitor ready to burn my soul at the stake for some unknown sins depression’s twisted thinking had convinced me I’d committed.
The verdict: my depression was my fault.
I don’t believe that anymore. I now understand it’s a bunch of hooey cooked up by my depressed head. After all, depression’s a terrible liar. There’s a cruel irony to all of this. We need our minds to recover – but sometimes it’s this very organ that’s turned against us. Depression isn’t who we really are, but we can feel that way. As Parker Palmer once wrote about his experiences with this affliction, “I wasn’t walking in the darkness, I had become darkness.”
I have the upper hand on depression now. It isn’t the giant that once pummeled me. It isn’t as scary. Because I know know that depression will, yes, always be a part of my life, but it isn’t my life.
I am more than that.
And I have a good and full life that I’m determined to live.
Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t. Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast
That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end. Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation
In depression . . . faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent. The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come – – not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute . . . It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. William Styron, Darkness Visible
The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling. David Foster Wallace
The term clinical depression finds its way into too many conversations these days. One has the sense that a catastrophe has occurred in the psychic landscape. Leonard Cohen
They flank me-Depression on my left, loneliness on my right. They don’t need to show their badges. I know these guys very well. …then they frisk me. They empty my pockets of any joy I had been carrying there. Depression even confiscates my identity; but he always does that. Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Depression is nourished by a lifetime of ungrieved and unforgiven hurts. Penelope Sweet
Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression’s actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity. The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it. Jonathan Franzen, How to Be Alone
I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me. Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Choking with dry tears and raging, raging, raging at the absolute indifference of nature and the world to the death of love, the death of hope and the death of beauty, I remember sitting on the end of my bed, collecting these pills and capsules together and wondering why, why when I felt I had so much to offer, so much love, such outpourings of love and energy to spend on the world, I was incapable of being offered love, giving it or summoning the energy with which I knew I could transform myself and everything around me. Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot
I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare. Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people’s eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
No amount of love can cure madness or unblacken one’s dark moods. Love can help, it can make the pain more tolerable, but, always, one is beholden to medication that may or may not always work and may or may not be bearable. Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast
Depression is melancholy minus its charm. Susan Sontag
You are constantly told in depression that your judgment is compromised, but a part of depression is that it touches cognition. That you are having a breakdown does not mean that your life isn’t a mess. If there are issues you have successfully skirted or avoided for years, they come cropping back up and stare you full in the face, and one aspect of depression is a deep knowledge that the comforting doctors who assure you that your judgment is bad are wrong. You are in touch with the real terribleness of your life. You can accept rationally that later, after the medication sets in, you will be better able to deal with the terribleness, but you will not be free of it. When you are depressed, the past and future are absorbed entirely by the present moment, as in the world of a three-year-old. You cannot remember a time when you felt better, at least not clearly; and you certainly cannot imagine a future time when you will feel better. Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon
Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. . . . It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different. J.K. Rowling
Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song. Pope John Paul II
The absolute worst part of being depressed is the food. A person’s relationship with food is one of their most important relationships. I don’t think your relationship with your parents is that important. Some people never know their parents. I don’t think your relationship with your friends are important. But your relationship with air-that’s key. You can’t break up with air. You’re kind of stuck together. Only slightly less crucial is water. And then food. You can’t be dropping food to hang with someone else. You need to strike up an agreement with it. Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair. Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
And an inky-colored despair of rejection enveloped me like the black tortilla of depression around a pain burrito. Christopher Moore, Bite Me
Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t. Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
So why am I depressed? That’s the million-dollar question, baby, the Tootsie Roll question; not even the owl knows the answer to that one. I don’t know either. All I know is the chronology. Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more – it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity. Oliver Sacks
Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance. Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon
We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a great war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives. We have a spiritual depression. Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare. Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, “He fought so hard.” And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong. Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir Of Depression
It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That’s above and beyond everything else, and it’s not a mental complaint-it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out. They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.” Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story
A loss of focus can be the most debilitating of depressive symptoms, rendering a person unable to work effectively or plan for the future, which seems desolate, devoid of the possibility of redemption. John Nelson, M.D.
The depressed person is constantly chewing on himself. He needs to find something else to chew on. The form of diversion is not important, but the act of diversion is. Penelope Russianoff, When Am I Going to Be Happy?
Depression is not only an experience in the mind; it is also an affliction of the body. There is a lack of energy, a painful heaviness; sadness and a grief that permeate to our marrow. Philip Martin, The Zen Way through Depression
In an age of hope men looked up at the night sky and saw “the heavens.” In an age of hopelessness they call it simply “space”. Peter Kreeft
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality – the ability to experience a full range of emotions, including happiness, excitement, sadness, and grief. Depression is not an emotion itself; it’s the loss of feelings, a big heavy blanket that insulates you from the world yet hurts at the same time. It’s not sadness or grief, it’s an illness. Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., Undoing Depression
Depression can be set off by a variety of stressors: sexual abuse, housing problems, illness in one’s child, and the other common problems you might imagine. To suggest that depression arises from loss is to skew the argument in the direction of the metaphor . . . , the one that likens apparent depression to ordinary bereavement. Likewise, “sadness” does not capture the essence of depression, which is a marked disruption of brain and mind characterized by painful apathy. Not only in degree but also in quality, sadness and depression are different. Peter Kramer, M.D., Against Depression
One of the features of depression is pessimistic thinking. The negative thinking is actually the depression speaking. It’s what depression sounds like. Depression in fact manifests in negative thinking before it creates negative affect. Most depressed people are not aware that the despair and hopelessness they feel are flowing from their negative thoughts. Thoughts are mistakenly seen as privileged, occupying a rarefied territory, immune to being affected by mood and feelings, and therefore representing some immutable truth. Hara Estroff Marano
I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were felt by the whole human race, there would not be one cheerful face left on earth. Abraham Lincoln
My hunch is that the disease/defect model of depression, is unwittingly contributing to the ongoing stigma of depression. Through the lens of the disease model, the legions of the formerly depressed are a “broken” people who need lifelong assistance. I would like to see a more revolutionary public education approach, with campaigns that emphasize the unique strengths that are required to endure depression. Even if a person is helped by drugs or therapy, grappling with a severe depression requires enormous courage. In many ways, a person who has emerged from the grip of depression has just passed the most severe of trials in the human experience. If we acknowledge that surviving depression requires a special toughness, we will not see formerly depressed people as a broken legion, but as a resource who can teach us all something about overcoming adversity. Jonathan Rottenberg, Ph.D.
Where’s the big national foundation leading the battle against depression? Where is the Jerry Lewis Telethon and the Annual Run for Depression? Little black ribbons for everyone to wear? The obvious answer is the stigma associated with the disease. Too much of the public still views depression as a weakness or character flaw, and thinks we should pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. And all the hype about new antidepressant medications has only made things worse by suggesting that recovery is simply a matter of taking a pill. Too many people with depression take the same attitude; we are ashamed of and embarrassed by having depression. This is the cruelest part of the disease: we blame ourselves for being weak or lacking character instead of accepting that we have an illness, instead of realizing that our self-blame is a symptom of the disease. And feeling that way, we don’t step forward and challenge unthinking people who reinforce those negative stereotypes. So we stay hidden away, feeling miserable and yourselves for ourselves for our own misery. Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., Undoing Depression
Depression is not a disease, the end point of a pathological process. It is a sign that our lives are out of balance, that we’re stuck. It’s a wake-up call and the start of a journey that can help us become whole and happy, a journey that can change and transform our lives. Healing depression and overcoming unhappiness mean dealing more effectively with stress; recovering physical and psychological balance; reclaiming parts of ourselves that we’ve ignored or suppressed: and appreciating the wholeness that has somehow slipped away from us, or that we have never really known. James Gordon, M.D., Unstuck
Scientists know that traumatic experiences such as child abuse and neglect change the chemistry and even the structure of the brain. They sensitize the stress response system so that those who are abused become overly responsive to environmental pressures. They shape wiring patterns in the brain and reset the sensitivity level of the machinery. Eventually, even small degrees of stress provoke an outpouring of stress hormones, and these hormones in turn act directly on multiple sites to produce the behavioral symptoms of depression. They push the brain’s fear center into overdrive, churning out negative emotions that steer the depression’s severity and add a twist of anxiety. Ellen McGrath, Ph.D.
Depression can be seen as a break-down in the service of offering the person an opportunity for a break-through. In this way, depression can be a corrective feedback to a life with little reflection. We only reflect on those things that break down in life. For example, if life is going along smoothly you won’t spend time thinking about the meaning of life. We tend to think deeply about life when something is not working. When we identify a problem, we begin to reflect on what caused the problem and how to fix the problem. If you are disconnected from your deepest feelings and impulses you may still manage to get through life without realizing it. Lara Honos-Webb, Listening to Depression
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality – the ability to experience a full range of emotions, including happiness, excitement, sadness, and grief. Depression is not an emotion itself; it’s the loss of feelings, a big heaving blanket that insulates you from the world yet hurts at the same time. It’s not sadness or grief, it’s an illness. Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., Undoing Depression
When we ruminate, we become fruitlessly preoccupied with the fact that we are unhappy and with the causes, meanings, and consequences of our unhappiness. Research has repeatedly shown that if we have tended to react to our sadness or depressed moods in these ways in the past, then we are likely to find the same strategy volunteering to ‘help’ again and again when our moods start to slide. And it will have the same effect: we’ll get stuck in the very mood from which we are trying to escape. As a consequence, we are at even higher risk of experiencing repeated bouts of unhappiness. Mark Williams, The Mindful Way through Depression
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives we fear are princes and princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants us to help. Rainer Maria Rilke
We only reflect on those things that break down in our life. For example, if life is going along smoothly you won’t spend time thinking about the meaning of your life. We tend to think deeply about life when something is not working. When we identify a problem, we begin to reflect on what caused the problem and how to fix the problem. If you are disconnected from your deepest feelings and impulses you may still manage to get through life without realizing it.But if you begin to open to the possibility that there was something fundamentally wrong with your level of functioning before your depression, only then does the idea of depression as a gift begin to make sense. A breakdown can become a gift when it is in the service of increasing reflection on your life which will lead you to ask the fundamentally important questions: What is wrong with my life? What can I do to correct the problem? When you listen to your depression, you can heal your life. Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., Listening to Depression
Depression has a mind of its own. When you are depressed, you think in generalizations (nothing works out), you don’t give yourself credit (I can’t do anything right), and you label yourself in the most negative terms (loser, ashamed, humiliated). You set demanding standards that you will never live up to. You may think you need to get everyone’s approval, or excel at everything you do, or know for sure something will work out before you try it. Your thinking keeps you trapped in self-criticism, indecisiveness, and inertia. Robert Leahy, Ph.D., How to Beat the Blues
Depression is the inability to construct a future. Rollo May, Ph.D.
Every time a person gets depressed, the connections in the brain between mood, thoughts, the body, and behavior get stronger, making it easier for depression to be triggered again. At the earliest stages in which mood starts spiraling downward, it is not the mood that does the damage, but how we react to it. Mark Williams, The Mindful Way through Depression
The Failure of Will theory is popular with people who are not depressed. Get out and take your mind off yourself, they say. You’re too self-absorbed. This is just the stupidest thing you can say to a depressed person, and it is said every day to depressed people all over this country. And if it isn’t that, it’s, ‘Shut up and take your Prozac.’ These attitudes are contradictory. Conquer Your Depression and Everything Can Be Fixed by the Miracle of Science presuppose opposite explanations of the problem. One blames character, the other neurotransmitters. They are often thrown at the sufferer in sequence: ‘Get out and do something, and if that doesn’t work, take pills.’ Sometimes they’re used simultaneously: ‘You won’t take those pills because you don’t WANT to do anything about your depression, i.e. Failure of Will. Susanna Kaysen, Unholy Ghosts: Writers on Depression
Perhaps, the answer is that my ravaged mind rails against the idea of God, but something deeper in me calls out as if God might answer. ‘There are not foxholes,’ I guess, and depression is the deepest and deadliest foxhole I’ve been in. It may be the ‘dark night of the soul’ that the mystics talk about but in depression it is not so much that one becomes lost in the dark as one becomes the dark. Parker Palmer
Depression can seem worse than terminal cancer, because most cancer patients feel loved and they have hope and self-esteem. David D. Burns, Ph.D.
That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is what is known as The Artist’s Reward. Ernest Hemmingway
One description of depression is that it is like the shapeless sagging of a rubber band that has been kept too taunt for too long. When feelings have been strong, stressed, unprocessed, or held captive over a period of time, we just stop feeling altogether. Persons and events no longer have the power to enliven us; we operate on a low level cruise control. Usually we keep functioning, but there is no positive or creative affect toward persons and things, and even less toward ourselves. We basically stop living our only life. Ron Rohr
All of us feel shamed by life. All of us consider ourselves failures of some kind, screw ups in something really important to us. Notice how shame, consciously or unconsciously pulls us away from risk, ratifies our negative sense of worth through self-sabotage or compels us into frenetic efforts of overcompensation or yearning for the validation from others that never comes; how much each of us needs to remember one definition of grace as accepting the fact that we are accepted despite the fact that we are unacceptable James Hollis, Ph.D., What Matters Most
Everyone knows what depression feels like. Everyone feels the blues at times. Sadness, disappointment, fatigue are normal parts of life. There is a connection between the blues and clinical depression, but the difference is like the difference between the sniffles and pneumonia. Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., Undoing Depression
While direct-to-consumer advertising has likely fostered an easier acceptance of these pills, most of the people I interviewed who suffer from major depression embark on a psychiatric career with great reluctance. Typically my respondents turn to medications only when desperation leaves them without alternatives. This is understandable in terms of the identity line that one crosses by seeing a doctor, or seeing a diagnosis of depression and filling the prescription for anti-depressants. One person poignantly expressed her identity dilemma by saying that, ‘When I swallowed that first pill I swallowed my will.’ Beginning a regimen of psychiatric medications is part of the traumatic transformation from person to patient; from being merely a troubled person to someone who has mental illness. Daniel Karp, Speaking of Sadness
Mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from natural experience, the grey drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain. William Styron, Darkness Visible
With the New Year comes new choices; we can choose to leave behind ways of being in the world that cause and maintain our depression and embrace healthier and saner approaches to our days. Or we can simply do nothing.
Why do lawyers with depression keep repeating behaviors that prevent them from feeling good about themselves? Why do they relentlessly drive, isolate and unmercifully think of themselves as the biggest piece of crap this side of the Mississippi?
In his revised and updated book Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You, Dr. Richard O’Connor offers this insight: “People persist in self-destructive behavior because they don’t know how to do anything else. I’m convinced that the major reason why people with depression stay depressed despite therapy, medication, and support from loved ones is that we are simply unable to imagine an alternative. We know how to ‘do’ depression. We are experts at it.”
Lawyers can’t envision healthier alternatives because depression shuts down their capacity to creatively imagine themselves productively engaged in the world. We simply have no reference point for that. So we stay in our offices with the doors closed looking out the window as the birds fly by and one season changes into another.
Our brains love habits — even when they stink and hurt us. It’s a more predictable way to go through life because we don’t have to rethink everything and change. We become used to depressive habits as we cruise through life on auto-pilot. Many lawyers with depression usually view their jobs as the sole source of their depression; surviving “it” becomes the focus of their lives. They use depression habits at their jobs that might work for awhile, but at a very high cost to their physical and emotional well-being. These aren’t stupid people; they just can’t imagine doing their jobs any differently. As educatior Parker Palmer once wrote about his depression, “It wasn’t so much that I was in the darkness as I became the darkness.”
Dr. O’Connor writes:
“We depressives become shaped by our disease as well; the skills that we develop with depression in a vain effort to save ourselves pain – skills like swallowing our anger, isolating ourselves, putting others first, being over-responsible – prevent our recovery. We have to give up the depressed habits that keep us down and make us vulnerable to relapse.”
Deepak Chopra wrote: “A habit is a frozen interpretation from the past that is applied to the present.” I think that’s why depression can have such a deadening sensation associated with it. In a sense, depression warps our perceptions about events happening in real time and pulls us under the frozen river of our past. People and events happening in real time trigger old interpretations of how life works. Since most people with depression come from dysfunctional or abusive childhoods, a current conflict with others becomes a ride back to their traumatic past.
For me, this distortion has often revolved around anger. I not alone on this one; how we handle anger is a big issue for most lawyers. As lawyer and psychologist Andy Benjamin wrote and studies have concluded, there is a strong connection between hostility and depression. Anger seems to be situational, while hostility is an overarching and aggressive approach to life. Anger that is repeatedly stuffed or inappropriately expressed becomes hostility. Many lawyers don’t want to be assholes, but feel they have to do so to survive in the shark tank of the law. Most lawyers I’ve known feel deeply conflicted about this and if they’ve had problems with depression, it just compounds it all.
In my childhood home, my alcoholic father had a volcanic temper – you knew to scram when you saw lava cresting at the rim. I learned that anger was painful, “bad” and always unjustified. As such, I used to avoid conflict and stuff my own anger because it was dangerous. Instead, I became a people pleaser. I developed exquisite antennae to read clients, colleagues, opposing counsel and judges’ reactions for any signs of aggression, anger or conflict. I molded my behavior to their behavior rather than living out of a core of my own reality. This distortion gave others too much power and myself too little. It is, as psychologist James Hollis once wrote, an emotional conclusion in which we tell ourselves “the world is big and I am small.” Most depressives think this way and feel overpowered by the events of their world and lapse into a state of helplessness.
As we enter a new year, let’s start leaving some depressive habits behind and embrace some new ones. This will take work on your part. No one is going to save you from your depression. While you are not to blame for your depression, you are responsible for getting better. Dr. O’Connor writes:
“Overcoming depression requires a new set of skills from us. But now we are recognizing happiness is a skill, willpower is a skill, health is a skill, successful relationships require skills, emotional intelligence is a skill. We know this because practice not only leads to improvement but also to changes in the brain. This is a much more empowering and adaptive way of understanding life than assuming that these qualities are doled out form birth in fixed quantities and that there’s nothing we can do to change our fate. The skills required to undo depression will permeate your entire life, and if you keep practicing, you can go far beyond mere recovery.”
Happy New Year!
I have been listening to a wonderful audio interview with author/educator, Parker Palmer produced by a company called, Sounds True. Check out their website. Its catalog of authors address wellness, meditation, spirituality and personal growth is simply amazing.
Parker is currently 70 years old and a Quaker. In the interview, he recounts the three major episodes of clinical depression he went through during his life. He said some insightful things to say about those experiences. He doesn’t believe in “formulas” or “How-to-Lists” to cope with depression. He speaks about depression in the context of his spirituality:
“Perhaps, the answer is that my ravaged mind rails against even the idea of God, but something deeper in me calls out as if God might answer. ‘There are no foxholes,’ I guess, and depression is the deepest and deadliest foxhole I’ve been in. It may be the ‘dark night of the soul’ that the mystics talk about but in depression it is not so much that one becomes lost in the dark as that one becomes the dark. I have never been able to ‘do theology’ when I am in this state; the best I’ve been able to do is hang on. Only later, in the light of day, am I able to understand that God walked with me in the darkness even though I could not feel God’s presence at the time.”
Later, he talks about how he survived his depression: he “slogged through it.” And maybe, sometimes, that’s all we can do. While we may feel that a depression will never end, it’s important to remember that it always does and we can use that knowledge to slog through it.
Many lawyers are consumed with the goal of becoming successful. Often, traditional success means money, status and power. According to veteran lawyer George W. Kaufman, author of the book, The Lawyers’ Guide to Balancing Life and Work, “For too many lawyers, the goal of success becomes the primary driver. But surveys of working lawyers tell us that a great many of them are unhappy even when their planned goals are realized . . .” This view was echoed by therapist, Alden Cass in an article on burnout in New York Magazine titled, Can’t Get No Satisfaction. Cass, who treats Wall Street lawyers in New York City, says, “I can’t tell you how many people come into my office and ask, “How come I have this money and I can’t find happiness?”
Most lawyers are never taught about the problems and pitfalls of pursuing success without also combining it with the pursuit of meaning and purpose. My parent’s only imperatives were that I go to college, get a good job and “be happy.” I worked long hours, endured constant stress and moved up my old firm’s pecking order. But somewhere along the way, I realized that something was terribly wrong with my life. I wasn’t just unhappy; I was full of sorrow. The great mythologist, professor and author, Joseph Campbell captured the irony of our common struggle for success: “You climb the ladder of success and when you get to the top you find it’s leaning against the wrong wall.”
I fell off that ladder and into a well of depression.
I was never taught how to navigate the waters of difficult emotions. When I looked around at my fellow lawyers, they all seemed so together — like a show room car that never got dented and was always polished.
Through my depression, I learned a lot about the darkness. That it isn’t exactly an illness, but part of the human journey for all of us. Educator and author, Parker Palmer, who went through and struggled with depression, wrote:
“Many young people today journey in the dark, as the young always have, and we elders do them a disservice when we withhold the shadowy parts of our lives. When I was young, there were very few elders willing to talk about the darkness; most of them pretended that success was all they had ever known. As the darkness began to descend on me in my early twenties, I thought I had developed a unique and terminal case of failure. I did not realize that I had merely embarked on a journey toward joining the human race”. Listen to a great podcast where Parker is interviewed for a show called, The Soul of Depression.
So much of the literature out there about success focuses on “work-life” balance. The formula in many of these tomes is the same: set limits, exercise and make time for family. All of these are well and good, but seem to so often fail us. There’s simply not enough gravity in them to keep us in orbit. What’s lacking is a basic truth: Life is made up of struggles and losses and how we deal with them. Such struggles can reach a crisis pitch in which we enter a sort of darkness.
In his book, Dark Night of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way through Life’s Ordeals, psychologist, Thomas Moore says:
“A dark night may not feel like depression. In a long illness or a troubled marriage you may be anxious, but not depressed. On the other hand, a clinical depression might well qualify as a dark night. Whatever you call it, the experience involves you as a person, someone with a history, a temperament, memories, emotions, and ideas. Depression is a label and a syndrome, while the dark night is a meaningful event. Depression is a psychological sickness; a dark night is a spiritual trial.
Many people think that the point of life is to solve their problems and be happy. But happiness is usually a fleeting sensation, and you never get rid of the problems. Your purpose in life may be to become more who you are and more engaged with the people and the life around you, to really live your life. That may sound obvious, yet many people spend their time avoiding life. They are afraid to let it flow through them, and so their vitality gets channeled into ambitions, addictions, and preoccupations that don’t give them anything worth having. A dark night may appear, paradoxically, as a way to return to the living. It pares life down to its essentials and helps you to get a new start”.
And maybe that’s what we all need – a new start. To wake up to a new vision about what success really means to us and how we need to act in our lives as lawyers to meet that meaning.
I remember the words of Mother Teresa on the topic of success. It’s worth mentioning that a book published in 2007, Come Be My Light – The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta, says that Mother Teresa felt deep sorrow, despair and one could argue “depression” for the last fifty years of her life. Yet, in the most profound sense –whether you are religious or not — wasn’t she a success? She once said, “We are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful.” In other words, we can’t control the outcomes. But, we can live a life that is directed by our spirits. And THAT is a life of success.