Monthly Archives: October 2015

Clinical Depression: The Silent, Soul-Crushing Killer That Claims Lives Daily

David Letterman has described clinical depression as a sinkhole. “It’s like getting on an elevator and the bottom drops out,” says Letterman. “You can’t stand looking at the sunlight. You can’t wait to get in bed at night. You’re shaking. You’re shivering.” 

Comedian Rob Delaney, who has had two serious bouts with depression, recalls being unable to eat or sleep and feeling constantly nauseated. “The first thing I did each morning was vomit. My mind played one thought over and over, which was, ‘Kill yourself.’ It was also accompanied by a constant, thrumming pain that I felt through my whole body,” says Delaney. “I describe the physical symptoms because it helps to understand that real depression isn’t just a ‘mood.’ In fact, Delaney says that he was once in jail with four broken limbs following a drunk-driving car accident, and that experience was much easier and less painful than enduring clinical depression. “That isn’t an exaggeration,” notes Delaney. “I’m saying that I would rather be in jail in a wheelchair with a body that doesn’t work than experience a severe episode of depression.”

Singer and reality star Majella O’Donnell says that “depression is like being in the bottom of a very deep well…hundreds of feet down and…[unable to] reach the top.”

Author Lewis Wolpert said that in the throes of his depression, he was totally self-involved, negative, and thought about suicide most of the time. “I could not think properly, let alone work, and wanted to remain curled up in bed all day.” Wolpert notes that the word “depression” doesn’t come close to capturing the true nature of its torture. “It deserves some new and special word of its own, a word that would somehow encapsulate both the pain and the conviction that no remedy will ever come,” says Wolpert.

My friend’s father, Gary Callahan, battled clinical depression on and off for a year and a half, calling the episodes all-consuming. “Happiness vanishes. You lose the ability to function properly. Concentration disappears. Food loses its flavor,” said Callahan. “Then come the crying and mood swings with no warning that last most of the day, if not days. Strong, irrational emotions come suddenly and without warning.” Just prior to checking himself into a treatment facility, Callahan wrote a message to his family in an effort to explain his mental state.

“I feel as if I’m disappearing a little more each day. I’m so angry and confused inside that I’m afraid of myself. I feel so alone. I feel as if I’m drowning, fading faster and faster into the night with each passing day. Lately, I’m finding it harder to remember what I’ve done from one day to the next. I feel so afraid and alone. All my life is crumbling, and I’m vulnerable and so tired. What if I can’t find my way out of all this pain? The pain washes over me in great waves. I want to reach out to someone, but I don’t know how or who, or if I even can. My pride still lingers, though. I feel as if my soul is dying. My will to live is being tested. And day after day, the pain won’t go away. I honestly don’t know how much more I can take. I’m not suicidal, but I’m scared, embarrassed, and I’ve isolated myself from the immediate world. I just yearn to escape from my pain. I don’t know how else to do it. I’m frightened to be alone. I don’t trust myself not to do anything stupid on a daily basis. My normal level of confidence seems so distant that it’s barely memorable. I’m a fighter, but my energy level has almost dried up. I’m getting too weak to fight on my own. I really hate this person that I’ve become. I’m now but a shadow of myself. But what if no one believes me? What happens after everyone has turned their backs on me? What if I become such a burden that I’m simply swept aside? I’m afraid that I’m losing my mind. God help me, I’ve said and done things that I cannot believe that I’ve said and done. It feels like I’m someone else, like someone is trying to take over my thoughts. I cannot believe what I’ve become.”

Callahan bravely sought professional help because he wanted to reclaim his joy and embrace his role as son, brother, father, and grandfather. Clinical depression, however, is brutal and unrelenting. It’s like holding 50-pound weights over your head while standing in quicksand during a thunderstorm. You’re stuck. You’re weighted down. You’re miserable, isolated, anxious, and vulnerable. Even if you toss the weight aside and for a moment stop sinking, you worry that somehow that weight will find its way back onto you and the battle will resume. Callahan knew he was in trouble, but he wasn’t suicidal…until he was. Because here’s the thing: clinical depression claims lives. It took Callahan’s life in January 2015. It took Robin Williams’ life in August 2014. It takes thousands of precious people every year. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), someone dies by suicide every 12.8 minutes.   

So, why is this happening? What’s going on?  

Callahan summed it up in just five words: “Depression eats a person alive.”

If you know someone who is struggling, be their advocate and take them to get help. If you’re feeling suicidal, in the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Or text 741741 to text anonymously with a crisis counselor.

Note: This article was first published on the Huffington Post on 10/5/15

Four Well-Intentioned Pieces of Advice That Rub Me the Wrong Way

I’m a big fan of those inspiring phrases and uplifting quotes that folks post on social media. Lord knows we all need some encouragement from time to time as well as the occasional adrenaline shot of “you can do it” on days when we’re feeling especially low.

There are certain well-intentioned directives, however, that rub me the wrong way. Here’s a sampling:

Live your life with no regrets.
Sorry, but if you’re human, that’s impossible to do, and if you claim you have no regrets, you’re probably kidding yourself. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the intention of this advice and it’s a fine one. We shouldn’t live our lives always looking in the rear view mirror, lamenting what might have been. The past is in the past. We can’t change what’s already been. All true statements.

But I don’t necessarily think it’s unhealthy to examine our regrets—to consider things that we wish we had done differently. Paths we wish we had taken. Words we should or shouldn’t have uttered. Because taking that time to examine past actions might help us to live more fully, more wisely, and more empathetically in the future.

Just so I’m clear, I’m not suggesting that we ruminate on our mistakes, but I also don’t think it’s healthy to live life with blinders on. It’s being honest with ourselves and acknowledging that we’re human but also promising ourselves to do better, to try harder.

Also, regrets are partly about showing accountability, which I don’t think our egocentric society does enough of today. We are quick to shift blame, point fingers, and insist that we did nothing wrong, but I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we would recognize that we all harbor some regret, and that’s okay.

Choose to be happy.
Okay, so I’m all for embracing the power of positive thinking. And believe me, coming from an anorexic background, I’m familiar with the power of negative self-talk and how damaging it can be. The reason I have a bone to pick with this phrase is because I’ve witnessed firsthand the torment of clinical depression. I’ve seen how it can obliterate a person’s mind, body, and soul. Positive thinking and all the pep talks in the world can’t make a clinically depressed person—poof—suddenly become happy. Just like when I was deep in the throes of an eating disorder, I couldn’t be cured by someone shoving food down my throat. It’s just not that simple.

“Think happy thoughts!”

“Focus on the good things in your life!”

“Be grateful for all you have!”

“Choose to be happy!”

Such reaffirming words only prove to make clinically depressed people feel more like a failure because they can’t “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

All I’m asking is that we be sensitive to those who can’t simply make a choice about being happy because believe me, if they could, they would; the chemicals in their brains won’t allow them to.

Avoid negative people.
Yup, in theory that sounds like a brilliant idea. But realistically, we cannot avoid interacting with Negative Nancys because they’re all around us. They go to our schools. They live in our neighborhoods. They work out at our gyms. They may be a boss or a coworker. They may even be a member of our family.

Sometimes they are an ex-husband or wife, and their attitude may have contributed to the split, but if you share custody of your children, they are forever a part of your life. So you can’t avoid them.

Limiting time spent with negative people as best you can is a wise idea if their pessimism rubs off on you, but remember that your optimism may just inspire someone to shift his grumpy outlook a bit. Think Ebenezer Scrooge.

Acknowledge that every day is a good day.
C’mon, let’s get real. We all know this statement isn’t true. While I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to search for the silver lining in a situation, I think it’s safe to say that some days are just plain awful. The kind of awful where we want to hold our breath, squeeze our eyes shut, and bury ourselves beneath the covers until the dawning of a new and better day.

The day I lost my kid at our yard sale was terrible. The day norovirus had me clinging to my toilet for six hours straight was terrible. The day I filed for divorce was terrible. The day I buried my mom was gut-wrenchingly terrible. Not all days are good, so let’s not pretend that they are.

My sons love the movie Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. In it, the main character says, “You’ve gotta have the bad days so that you can love the good days even more.” Exactly.

Note: This article was first published on the Huffington Post on 5/18/15