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Making Good Use of Depression

by Douglas Eby

"Depressed, I have crawled on my hands and knees in order to get across a room and have done it for month after month. But normal or manic I have run faster, thought faster, and loved faster than most I know."

Kay Redfield Jamison

Depression can be a profoundly damaging and disrupting condition, spiritually and psychologically corrosive, preventing us from living fully and realizing our talents. But a number of people also say the experience has had real value for them.

Kay Jamison15Psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison first planned her own suicide at 17, and attempted to carry it out at 28.

Referring to her bipolar disorder, she has said, "I have felt more things, more deeply. I have often asked myself whether, given the choice, I would choose to have manic-depressive illness.

"If lithium were not available to me, or didn't work for me, the answer would be a simple no... and it would be an answer laced with terror.

"But lithium does work for me, and therefore I can afford to pose the question. Strangely enough, I think I would choose to have it. It's complicated.

"I honestly believe that as a result of it I have felt more things, more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely; loved more, and have been more loved... laughed more often for having cried more often; appreciated more the springs, for all the winters."

[From her book An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness.]

Hayden ChristensenA lot of us experience some kind of depression.

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 21 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder, including major depression, dysthymia (chronic, mild depression), and bipolar disorder.

Depressive disorders often co-occur with anxiety disorders and substance abuse. And 10 to 20 percent of women in the U.S. develop postpartum depression in the first year after childbirth.

[Photo: Hayden Christensen from the book Crying Men, by photographer Sam Taylor-Wood.]

Some people use the label very loosely, as in "I'm so depressed that Danny is gone from American Idol." That may be distressing, but it is not depression.

On the other hand, James T. Webb, Ph.D. notes in his article Mis-Diagnosis and Dual Diagnosis.. (and his related book) that "Many gifted and talented children (and adults) are being mis-diagnosed by psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, and other health care professionals.

"The most common mis-diagnoses are: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (OD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Mood Disorders such as Cyclothymic Disorder, Dysthyinic Disorder, Depression, and Bi-Polar Disorder.

"These common mis-diagnoses stem from an ignorance among professionals about specific social and emotional characteristics of gifted children which are then mistakenly assumed by these professionals to be signs of pathology."

There are many effective ways to treat or manage "real" depression, including medications, cognitive therapy and herbal preparations such as St. John's Wort.

Recent research indicates antidepressants may only be helpful for some forms of profound depression - not for most people who are being widely prescribed common SSRI medications.

Charles Barber (author of Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation) notes that "Close to 10 percent of men and women in America are now taking drugs to combat depression."

In his article The Medicated Americans: Antidepressant Prescriptions on the Rise (Scientific American Mind, February, 2008) he speculates on some of the reasons for such a high level: "What modern psychiatry has done, I am convinced, is to conflate and confuse the two, Depression and depression.

"David Healy, in Let Them Eat Prozac (NYU Press, 2004), calls it 'a creation of depression on so extraordinary and unwarranted a scale as to raise questions about whether pharmaceutical and other health care companies are more wedded to making profits from health than contributing to it.'

"A 2007 study at New York University showed that about one in four people who appears to be depressed and is treated as such is in fact dealing with the aftermath of a recent emotional blow, such as the end of a marriage, the loss of a job or the collapse of a business."

Psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer (author of Listening to Prozac) wrote in an article about some potential benefits: "Much of what we value - our understanding of beauty, profundity, even romance - has been crafted by melancholics. Perhaps we were not so wrong in the '60s when we imagined sadness might contain a germ of resistance to a culture thriving on competition, consumption and celebrity.

"Today, in a time when people demand serenity as if it were the human condition, one cheer for melancholy hardly seems excessive." [From "Why I'm in Favor of Sadness" Self magazine, July, 2001]

Kramer, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University, more recently published the book Against Depression.

He considers depression to be "fragility, brittleness, lack of resilience, a failure to heal. It is sadness, hopelessness, chronic exhaustion allied with corrosive anxiety, a loss of any emotion but guilt, of any desire but to stop, please stop, and to stay stopped, forever." He thinks it is "a disease of extraordinary magnitude," and "the major scourge of humankind" which should be treated as effectively as possible.

From article Against Depression: Anatomy of Severe Melancholy, By Natalie Angier, The New York Times.

In her Amazon.com review about Kramer's new book, Jill Lightner says, "Without ever being dismissive or particularly angry, his writing makes his point abundantly clear after the first chapter: The pervasive idea of depression serving a creative purpose is preposterous, as well as highly damaging.

"In the arts, he examines the work of philosophers, painters and writers in relation to the reputation their personal lives have earned (critics and consumers alike believe that pain equals genius and lack of pain equals lack of depth).

Van Gogh"Adding Dineson, Bellow, Updike and Kierkegaard to the list headed by van Gogh, Kramer shows a variety of ways we live with the assumption that creative genius does not function without severe emotional strain."

But according to research, many writers and other artists do have higher levels of depression than other groups of people.

Can it be at all helpful to us?

Artist Caroline Bertorelli is quoted in the book The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path Through Depression: "I get depressed quite regularly and often. It used to distress and frustrate me that I have such a tendency. But as I grow older, I see my depression as a valuable time for introspection and deep thinking about life."

In our interview, I asked the author, psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel, if he finds that others are able to experience depression as something with positive meaning and value.

Dr. Maisel replied, "Many artists try. I believe that it serves us best to learn how to reduce or eliminate both depression and anxiety from our lives, as I do not hold them as useful in any way. I think that pain is overrated."

But he added, "That isn’t to say that the following might not happen: you work honorably and well on a creative project, you finish it, you are depleted and no new project wants to come forward, and after a certain amount of time the blues strike, since you aren’t making sufficient meaning and don’t feel quite up to making new meaning.

"This sort of depression can creep up on any working artist. The depression is not useful in and of itself but it is a clear signal that the time has come to see if new meaning can be made. It is the time to get back on the horse and back into the studio."

Continued in interview: Investing meaning in our art.

This signal value of depression is also mentioned by therapist and workshop leader Mary Rocamora in her article: Counseling Issues with Recognized and Unrecognized Gifted Adults:

"Clients who are passionately engaged with their talent but are constantly separated from the creative experience by relentless self-criticism, self-doubt, and feelings of inferiority often suffer from another type of block. It is often accompanied by depression and the periodic shutting down of their spontaneous creative impulses."

Karla McLaren, author of Emotional Genius : Discovering the Deepest Language of the Soul, warns about dealing with depression in ways that may be unproductive for our creative and personal growth

"Most of us suffer through our dark emotions or grab at the pleasant ones  like prizes at a county fair but we aren't able to maintain our focus or our equilibrium around the emotions," she said. "Being creative means experiencing the emotions with consciousness and skill.

"For instance, an uninspired way to handle depression is to try to shake it off with distractions or drugs. Both can help relieve depression for a while, but they don't bring consciousness to the depression itself; both actually tend to cement depression into a repetitive state.

"Now, if we can bring skills and consciousness to depression, we can find out why our energy is gone, where it might be, and what our inner selves are trying to say to us. I call depression 'ingenious stagnation,' because there's always a very good reason for energy and flow to vacate the psyche in a depression.

"Sometimes, depression is a reaction to an unhealing relationship... a physiological response to something in our environment... a reaction to unrelieved trauma. It's different for each of us. When we use our creativity to fully experience our depression instead of running away from it, it becomes a valuable tool in our growth and development." [From interview by Sounds True www.soundstrue.com]

R.Griffiths"I'm definitely a melancholist. I think there's beauty in being the life of the party, but I just don't understand it." 

    Actor Rachel Griffiths



In The Depression Book: Depression As an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth, Cheri Huber summarizes depression as "emptiness, exhaustion, and meaninglessness" but sees it as an opportunity for growth.

"Like everything else in life," Huber writes, "depression is an ally, a gift. It has something to teach us. Depression brings me back to myself in a way much of life does not. It gets my attention. It says, 'Stop! Pay attention!' Depression allows us to see the cause of our suffering, to see who we are, to embrace ourself in compassion, and to let go and end the suffering."

Instead of "numbing ourselves to depression with food, drugs, alcohol, sex, talking," Huber recommends that we get to know our emotions; rest, eat well, and exercise regularly; and take up an awareness practice that enables us to let go of false beliefs and assumptions about how we and the world should be.

Depression may be a symptom of underlying disease. The article Was Your Depression Misdiagnosed? by herbal supplement company Native Remedies notes "More Americans are being diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressant medication now than ever before... Some experts believe that it may be a misdiagnosis. Generally speaking, depression is considered an ailment in itself, but if we consider mental and physical health in a holistic manner we might discover that depression is many times a symptom of disease rather than an isolated condition."

In an interview about his book The Van Gogh Blues, Eric Maisel advises paying attention to it as a medical issue, then as an issue of meaning:

"When you’re depressed, especially if you are severely depressed, if the depression won’t go away, or if it comes back regularly, you owe it to yourself to get a medical work-up, because the cause might be biological and antidepressants might prove valuable. You also owe it to yourself to do some psychological work (hopefully with a sensible, talented, and effective therapist), as there may be psychological issues at play.

"But you ALSO owe it to yourself to explore whether the depression might be existential in nature and to see if your 'treatment plan' should revolve around some key existential actions like reaffirming that your efforts matter and reinvesting meaning in your art and your life."

From An Illustrated Visit With Eric Maisel, by Artella Land.

Shelley E. Taylor, PhD writes in her book Positive Illusions : Creative Self-Deception and the Healthy Mind that "Normal human thought and perception is marked not by accuracy but by positive self-enhancing illusions about the self, the world, and the future. Moreover... these illusions are not merely characteristic of human thought; they appear actually to be adaptive."

"The mildly depressed appear to have more accurate views of themselves, the world, and the future than normal people. [They] clearly lack the illusions that in normal people promote mental health and buffer them against setbacks."

Tom Wootton has personally experienced the different sides of this condition.

"When I went into depression the first time all I saw was darkness and pain. As my perception has grown I am beginning to 'see' things I never knew were there. In 'seeing' them more clearly, I notice that they don't affect me so negatively any more either.

"They now affect me so much more, but in a positive way, at least according to the way I have learned to 'see.'

Saint Teresa"I have also begun to gain tremendous insight into many things, including my spiritual life. It is in the spiritual sense that I have really begun to see that depression can be a great thing.

"In my many readings of the lives of saints, pain and despair is often mentioned as a catalyst that helped them to become better persons and act in a manner that is called 'saintly.' I have always struggled with the concept and am now beginning to understand."

From article The Art of Seeing Depression, by Tom Wootton.

   [Image: Saint Teresa]

Tom Wootton is author of the books The Bipolar Advantage, and The Depression Advantage.

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    Related Talent Development Resources pages:

anxiety........anxiety / fear / courage articles .....

anxiety relief : products / programs.........anxiety relief : books

Bipolar disorder
....... Depression and Creativity.......Hypomania

depression [page 1/4].....
depression : teen/young adult.
...

depression : teen/young adult 2.
articles books.....

depression articles........depression management articles


depression relief : products / programs
......
depression books


mental health......mental health : teen/young adult

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The Van Gogh Blues

The Depression Advantage



Mind Over Mood


Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children And Adults: Adhd, Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger's, Depression, And Other Disorders


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HBC Protocols - herbal treatments


ConquerAnxiety