On this cool Monday morning, I’m feeling at bit melancholic. Change is in the air as the vibrancy of summer and all its activity is being nudged out by the creeping approach of Autumn. I went out to breakfast recently with my daughter – all of 10 years old – and my mother who will soon turn 82. I had my camera with me so I snapped a picture of them. They looked so happy; little did I know that they would be the seed for my blog today.
As my daughter ascends into maturity, my mom has long passed by this rite of passage seven decades ago. She’s in the final stage of her journey in this life. I’m taking her to the neurologist today to be evaluated for early dementia, her speech becoming more labored and her memory harder to access. And here I am in the middle of my own journey at 48.
Both have played an important role in how I dealt with my depression. When it first occurred, I had just turned forty. Prior to that, I had been on top of my game; a veritable master of my own domain. But the arc of my sun was falling. Into what, I had no idea. But, it was terrifying. Truly frightening to have a sense of something quite beyond sadness; to feel a fatigue that feels defeated with no change for redemption.
As the depression deepened, my young daughter became my sunlight. Her vulnerability, her sense of love for her Dad, would pick me up and keep me stumbling forward. It felt like God’s mercy was working through her at a time when I had felt abandoned by Him. The stronger the depression got, the more I felt that I needed something beyond any words anyone could say. I just needed to be hugged by her; this would be my redemption.
My mom played a role in my depression during another epoch in my life. As I have wrote about in an earlier blog about my alcoholic father, I grew up in a deeply troubled home. My father’s violent and explosive temper defined my childhood; his rage engrained into the blueprints of the house’s architecture.
In his book, The Truth About Depression, Dr. Charles Whitfield notes that over 327 clinical scientific studies have shown a strong link between childhood trauma and the development of subsequent depression in adulthood. In one study, researchers conclude:
“The mechanism for this increased vulnerability [to depression] has a strong mind-body component, and may be found in the patient’s appraisal of events. Adult survivors of childhood abuse have been found to have cognitive distortions about the world. The abuse experience may have altered their ‘internal working model,’ causing them to perceive the world as a dangerous place. They may be more likely to make negative appraisals of the world than they would have if they had not been abused. Not only does this increase their vulnerability to depression, but negative cognitive appraisals lead to the release of cortisol”.
See the article I wrote for Trial magazine, “The Connection between Stress, Anxiety and Depression.” It’s the article which follows the one by Andrew Benjamin, Ph.D. Also, see this article which talks about the link between elevated levels of cortisol in the body and depression.
My mom doesn’t like talking about our past traumatic childhood, much less any role she played in it as a passive observer. Now with her memory fading, I feel in some sense that a part of me won’t be be reconciled to this distant past. Even if my mom had stayed mentally intact, maybe it never could. That’s just part of life; not everything can be solved or fixed. But maybe it can be accepted for what it was and we can move on. We can see the fallibility of the people our parents were; that such abuse was more accurately a refection of their own torment, short-comings and regrets, rather than our lack of value as children.
While we might not be able to do anything about the past, we must take responsibility for our present. In particular, our cognitive distortions and how they infiltrate our law practice. How many lawyers are not jacked up by what is actually going on in front of them, but are unconsciously thrown back to a childhood that was traumatic in some way? We need to confront these distortions; these thoughts that keep us out of step with reality, make us unhappy and contribute to depression.