Coping With Depression is a Challenge—For All Of Us

From Crooked Media

One night, this is what I did. I drove home from a dinner. I was on a back road which had a sharp turn around a huge cliff, surrounded by pine trees and in the center, a tall, wall of New England granite. It was just me in the car and that was my mistake. I hit the gas pedal. Gripped the steering wheel. Watched the speedometer tick up: 40, 60, 80. My headlights caught the yellow sign, warning drivers to slow for the curve. It got closer and closer. I unclipped my seat belt. I remember my arms tightening, my legs preparing for impact. Then, for reasons that escape me, I eased up on the accelerator, turned away from the wall of rocks, swerved through the curve, and stayed alive.

Maybe I told myself that I would fail at this and end up paralyzed instead of dead. Maybe I thought about my dogs and how no one would let them out for hours. Maybe I stopped because I feared that reincarnation was real and I’d have to wear Danskin outfits, watch the TV show Manimal, and listen to John Ashcroft belt out Let the Eagle Soar all over again. Whatever came over me, I made it home. Let my dogs out, and slept with them in a weeping heap on my bed.

Soon after that night, I checked myself into a hospital and stayed there until a course of Electroconvulsive Therapy had its intended effect. It bought me the time I needed to find the right medication, which saved my life. It took 14 pills to get there, but I did and I went on to become a speechwriter in politics and a writer for TV shows. I was a witness in a federal criminal trial, supported our national responses to disasters in Haiti and the Gulf Coast, and helped the new young leaders of the March For Our Lives.

Depression hits people in unique and brutal ways. Some can’t leave their beds, let alone their homes. Some get angry. Some use alcohol and drugs to suppress crushing or suicidal feelings. And others, like me, can function at a high rate. I have learned to cover it up when I am in public. I can smile, write, or talk about policy, and you’d never know that I’m also thinking about dying.

For those blessed enough to never experience their brains misfiring this way, it is often impossible to understand why millions of people like me don’t get help sooner and more often. It seems like it should be easy to call 9-1-1, get to an emergency room, try different medications, and see a therapist. But understand that if “hope is the thing with feathers,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, then depression is the thing with daggers. Every attempt to escape it hurts.

There’s the cutting sense of shame of acknowledging that I didn’t break the cycle in my family’s history. On both my father’s side and mother’s side, there have been questionable overdoses, there has been a suicide with a shotgun, and other relatives who struggled with scary thoughts. Between what I inherited from them, the nurturing I lost to their multiple divorces, physical abuse, and mistakes I made on my own, I consider myself lucky that I can get by with occasional bouts of serious depression, and nothing more. But I often keep quiet about that history because it feels easier to just ride it out.

When there’s a high-profile suicide in the news, I stay busy. It’s true that suicides hit me differently than other untimely deaths. I don’t get angry or emotional. I get quiet because I know what it’s like at that fateful moment. Think of your greatest moment of despair, then multiply that by a thousand, and you’re still not quite there. There’s a lot of shame and sorrow, too. Sorrow about my one failed attempt and the three other times I contemplated trying again. Shame that I lived, while others did not.

The recent deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, or Jeff Loeffelholz, the Broadway actor from the musical Chicago and Ellie Soutter, the 18-year-old British snowboarding star, have made for a rough few weeks.

Most people sharing their experiences talk about them in the past tense. I’m in it—not suicidal, but in it. I have told no one until now. Shared this with no one close to me because part of it is situational. I feel bad because my life isn’t a bucket of chuckles. During the day, I am a caretaker for my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. I give her medicine in the morning, help with meals, do laundry, keep the house clean, and I thank God for the three hours a week when a wonderful woman comes by to help her take a shower.

As I try to piece together the story of how she got to this place where her brain is shrinking and failing—from a long line of Dr. Feel-Goods, who over prescribed her opioids and benzodiazepines, to her lost financial fortune, to the more ordinary stresses of her life—I know that I cannot afford assisted living or in-home care. I am doing fine, but not another $10,000-a-month fine. There will be no relief from her disease, or from this final role as her daughter.

While I know that millions and millions of Americans are in similar caretaking positions, it still doesn’t ease the loneliness and despair I feel every single day. Most weeks, I dream about running away. But I know that I can’t, and I understand why there is a thing called “caregiver syndrome,” and why those who have it often die before the chronically ill people they care for do.

I don’t know why it becomes paralyzing to reach out and ask for help when the brutal, relentlessness of life becomes too much. Sometimes it feels like another chore to do and I convince myself that I’d be burdening the burdened, who probably don’t know how to respond anyhow. But I do know that words like “cheer up,” “look at the blue sky,” “you have so much to be proud of,” “do some charitable work,” “you are loved,” do little for me.

Yes, I know about 800-273-8255, and the great people on the other end of the lifeline number. Call them if you need them. They are lovely and will help you. Just know that people like me are doing our best and are determined to survive. Maybe just say that to someone who’s in the battle, “Stay. Keep fighting.” What I tell myself is this, “You don’t want a permanent solution to a cyclical problem. It too shall pass.”

I have been able to find treatments that help me, but the fact that so many of us have loved ones who suffer from depression, and so few of us know how to help them, is a sign of a more systemic problem.

In the days since the Bourdain and Spade deaths, more than 6,200 people have died by suicide. While the news that week opened up a more searching and honest dialogue about depression and suicide —about our brains—the frenzy has subsided and the structural signs that our country thinks very little of struggling people have reasserted themselves.

Last year, our leaders proposed cutting mental-health spending by more than $400 million a year. They reduced care for addiction and counseling in the middle of a growing opioid and drug crisis. They are trying to make it harder for people to enroll in Medicaid. Look at the best hospital in your city and then compare it to the nearest psychiatric hospital? Would you want to go there? Then why would I? Often, when I reach out to a doctor, I’m told the wait will be three months or longer. Look at who is in our prisons. They have become the largest institutions in our country for those struggling with brain disorders. If we cared deeply about treating these illnesses, then we wouldn’t step over the homeless or rip children from their parents’ arms on purpose. Our society is telling us: “What you have, what you are going through is shameful. Second rate. Doesn’t matter. Keep quiet.”

The latest CDC numbers on suicide tragically show that 45,000 people in 2016 couldn’t ask for help either. Most died without ever speaking up about a previous problem. It’s 2018. We know about neurotransmitters now, and the life-long consequences of trauma, and can invest in the science of the brain to figure out why mine and many others don’t always fire right.

Read more here….

Yale’s Most Popular Course in History Teaches You to Be Happy—and It’s Available Online

From Town & Country Mag

“Psychology and the Good Life” attracted nearly one out of four Yale undergraduates. Now you can enroll.

When Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos launched “Psychology and the Good Life” on the New Haven campus earlier this year, 1,200 students—about one-fourth university’s undergraduate population—enrolled. And now Santos is taking the course to an even wider audience as it’s set to launch online this month.

Rebranded as “The Science of Well-Being” on the platform Coursera, the class will feature lectures by Santos on things people think will make them happy but don’t along with things that actually bring lasting life satisfaction. In other words, she’ll teach students how to be happy.

“Laurie is a rock-star professor,” says Belinda Platt, assistant director of digital education at Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning. “She came to us with this idea and said, ‘I’m proposing this course that I want to teach on campus, and I’m doing a pilot run with a small group of 20 to 30 students in my residential college. Why don’t you come film it and then we can use that material for an online course?'”

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It’s Never Too Late To Start Over

For Thought Catalog, by Marissa Donnelly

It’s never too late to start over. To hit the pause button. Breathe. Then begin again.

You don’t need to lose yourself in the shuffle, get caught up in your mistakes and your fears and your anxieties. You don’t have to hold onto your anger or your sadness and carry it with you in a little jar. You are more than a little jar, waiting to be filled by unsatisfying things—material things, superficial love, addictions and vices and so many other negatives that leave you feeling emptier than before. You are more than that little jar you feel defines the person you are, so much so that you try to fit yourself in its glass walls, try to keep contained within the edges and not overflow.

Life is imperfect. It’s beautiful and complicated and burdensome and messy. And you are a part of it, a part that grows and changes and laughs and loves and gets broken and comes back together. But there will never be a time when you can’t just step back and start all over.

Read more here.

Expecting a stressful day may lower cognitive abilities throughout the day

From Penn State by Katie Bohn

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — There may be some truth to the saying “getting up on the wrong side of the bed,” according to Penn State researchers who say starting your morning by focusing on how stressful your day will be may be harmful to your mindset throughout the day.

The researchers found that when participants woke up feeling like the day ahead would be stressful, their working memory — which helps people learn and retain information even when they’re distracted — was lower later in the day. Anticipating something stressful had a great effect on working memory regardless of actual stressful events.

Jinshil Hyun, a doctoral student in human development and family studies, said the findings suggest that the stress process begins long before a stressful event occurs.

“Humans can think about and anticipate things before they happen, which can help us prepare for and even prevent certain events,” Hyun said. “But this study suggests that this ability can also be harmful to your daily memory function, independent of whether the stressful events actually happen or not.”

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Miserable in your 40s? Don’t panic, it’s perfectly normal

From Marketwatch by Alessandra Malito

Like Frank Sinatra sang, “The best is yet to come.” Author and journalist Jonathan Rauch agrees, and he has science to back him up.

In his book, “The Happiness Curve,” Rauch says new research has found people tend to hit their midlife slump in their 40s, but will almost always be happier as they age. Seems counterintuitive, perhaps, but it makes sense as people’s values and the circumstances in their life change.

Not everyone feels the manifestation of happiness in their old age. There are instances when bad things do occur — illness, lost jobs or forced retirement and general ageism toward them. Plus, older people tend to feel lonely more of the time.

Read more here.

10 Dalai Lama Quotes to Make You Happier, Stronger and More Successful

From Entrepreneur.com

Some words of wisdom from one of today’s most influential spiritual figures.

From happiness to personal growth and empowerment, Tenzin Gyatso, better recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama, has much to teach the rest of us. Beyond his presence in Asia, throughout his life the Dalai Lama has spread his virtues and values to the rest of the world, promoting happiness, self satisfaction, success and more.

Yet, how did the Dalai Lama become so wise? At age two, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous 13th Dalai Lama, and by 15 years old, before finishing school, he was called upon to assume full political power after China’s invasion of Tibet in 1950. However, by 1959, the Dalai Lama escaped into exile in India after the Tibetan uprising, where he currently lives as a refugee.

Today, the Tibetan leader travels the world to speak on topics such as equality, environment, women’s rights, health, faith and various Buddhist teachings. In 1989, the monk was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in peacefully liberating Tibet, and he has since become a major figure, influence and advocate for social and human rights.

See the quotes here.

3 Ways to Remain Positive in Seasons of Uncertainty

From The Babb Group by Tommy Spotts

In recent years the power of positive thinking has been relegated to some mystic or magical solution to all needs in a person’s life. They say if you just think positive about things then good things will happen. It’s almost like a scientifically proven formula that promises one thing and actually delivers something else. I want to encourage you and help you see that positive thinking isn’t the answer so many believe it to be.

Remain Invested!

First, positive thinking is theoretically a state of mind that is a reflection of a person’s fundamental philosophy towards life. I’m sure you’ve had the chance to spend time with those who are always negative about everything. Everything they post on social media is negative. Everything they speak about is negative. Everything they think about is negative. These people generally attract other negative people. They feed off each other until they are involved in a codependent relationship built on negative thoughts and feelings about life. By the way, I just love hanging around those kinds of people! They are so encouraging and helpful in every way (I assume you can hear the sarcasm)! People who look at life as a gift see the value of making an everyday difference in the lives of others by investing what they know into who they know. It is critical that people look at themselves as valuable so that they can add value to others. Positive thinking people continue to invest in themselves. I want to encourage you to continue being a lifelong learner. Keep investing and building your own knowledge and experience so that you can remain on the top of your game. Remain invested!

Remain Focused!

Second, positive thinking is not inherently bad, but when people place their hope in positive thinking they come often end up drawing the short straw and wondering why. Thinking positively is not a means to an end, but the end itself. A person cannot attain great things by using the tool of positive thinking. I know this will upset some who believe if you think it you can achieve it. That philosophy just is not true. Too often, people have big hopes and dreams and think positively about them. When their dreams eventually end differently in reality than they did in their created plans, their positive thinking quickly turns negative and is reactionary towards their present circumstances. One way to remain positive in the middle of difficult circumstances is to remain focused on the goal. No one ever scores a touchdown without first understanding where the goal line is located. No one ever hits a home run without first understanding where the fence is located. No one ever hits a three-point shot without first understanding where the basketball goal is located. Do you understand? Positive thinking is thinking about the end game. The end game is the goal people set for themselves. If they ever take their eye off the goal, they will never be fully satisfied with the results of their pursuit. Remain focused!

Read more here.

Why I Am Still Grateful

From the New York Times – see full story.

Gratitude may be the mother of all the other virtues, as Cicero said, and it may be among the healthiest. But it’s also an elusive one in a society that is always striving for more and in a world “more full of weeping than you can understand,” as Yeats wrote.

Our tendency is to reach past what we have attained, to have expectations that lie just beyond our grasp and to ascribe our success to ourselves rather than others. It is also easy to confuse gratitude with self-satisfaction.

We all feel, from time to time, that things are never as good as they ought to be or as we want them to be. When one goal is attained, isn’t there always another one that needs to be seized? And isn’t dissatisfaction with the way things are the impetus to make things better?

Often it is. Yet life without the leavening effects of gratitude has a hardening effect. Ingratitude leaves us in a state of perpetual discontent, short-tempered, rarely at peace, rarely at rest. Stripped of gratitude, we find ourselves frustrated and fearful, impatient and on edge. Ingratitude also blinds us to the good in our midst — beauty, the wonders of nature, the gift of friendship, the blessings of family.

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