The Twin Pillars of Depression

“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” – Christopher Reeve

There are two pillars upon which depression rests.

Helplessness

When in the grip of depression, we feel helpless despite our efforts to pull out. The more we struggle, the more exhausted we become. In her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “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.”

Hopelessness

Helplessness often leads to profound hopelessness about the future. In her book Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel writes, “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 compounds daily that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”

What I have learned over the past twenty years of living with depression is we need to chisel away at these twin pillars. I began to discover helplessness and hopelessness are disempowering: I had no choice but to live my days under this rock of sadness. My healing involved learning that I did have options in how I related to life when depressed. And I found this power to choose empowering and life-affirming.

How did I leave helplessness and hopelessness behind?

Depression’s “Crooked Thinking”

For fifteen years, I had a therapist named Jerry. He was brilliant, with a salty sense of humor and a Bronx accent, who doled out big hugs at the end of each therapy session.

Jerry taught me to recognize the thought patterns of my depression, which he called “crooked thinking.” In this process, I developed a sense of detachment from these thoughts. Before meeting Jerry, I used to feel depression was my identity; I could not separate it from my everyday experience of reality and who I was. Jerry once said, “Depression’s a terrible liar.” How true this is.

Psychologist Hara Estroff Marano writes:

“One of the features of depression is pessimistic thinking. The negative thinking is actually depression speaking. It’s what depression sounds like. Depression manifests in negative thinking before it creates negative affect. Most depressed people are not aware of the despair and hopelessness they feel are flowing from 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.”

Don’t Go Down the Rabbit Hole

I also learned depressing thoughts are ruminative, tumbling over and over again in my brain like clothes in a laundromat dryer.

I can now spot these patterns when they strike and see them for what they are: part of the disease of depression.

When I notice my thoughts going down the rabbit hole of depression, I detach and let them go. I see them bubbles that arise and pass away.

I am not my depression. I have more inner strength than depression would have me believe. As Albert Camus once wrote, “In the middle of winter, I at last discovered an invincible summer.

I don’t have to let my life be run by helplessness and hopelessness; in this realization, I summon my power to choose how I want to live my life.

Dan Lukasik has given over 200 presentations throughout the U.S. on the topics of depression, anxiety, and stress. He tells his own powerful story of his struggles with growing up in a traumatic home with an alcoholic father, overcoming obstacles to become a successful lawyer, diagnose of major depression at age 40, learning to overcome and manage. One on the most difficult aspects of living with depression was dealing with the stigma surrounding his own mental illness. At first hurt and then angered by such stigma he and others encountered, he launched Lawyerswithdepression 15 years ago to educate others about depression, provide resources, and combat the stigma to those who often struggle in a lonely battle against this disease.

Dan’s work on mental health has been featured in The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, on CNN, and NPR, and many other national and international publications. He was recently selected by WebMD to for a video on the importance of working with a therapist throughout one’s life to manage clinical depression. In addition, Dan was chosen by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (“SAMSA”) in Washington, D.C. as their spokesman in a PSA video of someone living successfully with depression. Watch the video. For inquiries, please go to the contact tab at the top of the website homepage.

 

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