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Dealing With Depression
How I Got Out of the Black Hole
I have been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, recurrent and moderate, but I do not presently suffer from depression. For me, it is easily medicated with no side effects. However, getting to the point where I was able to help myself was not quite so simple.
For a long time, I did not know I suffered from depression. I had no explanation for why I did not want to get out of bed. If I did get up and go to the office, I often felt useless. I did not want to take phone calls, I could not read anything substantial, and I found great comfort in staring at the wall. A new client was a burden, not a challenge. In fact, everything was a burden – nothing was fun. I was convinced I had chosen the wrong profession.
I first visited a psychiatrist eight years ago at the suggestion of my psychotherapist who was frustrated with me for being “stuck.” I was astounded at some of the questions he asked. Did I have mood swings? (Well, yes, but I thought that was just part of my bohemian, beatnik, creative side expressing itself at the expense of all those around me.) Had I always had mood swings, even as a child? (Well, yes, “that’s our moody child…”) Thoughts of suicide? (Absolutely.) I knew all the answers to his questions and was relieved that someone was finally asking them.
He explained that I was probably biologically depressed which meant I had a chemical imbalance. He added that the only way to diagnose it was to see if the imbalance responded to medication. I was reluctant, having been in recovery for drug and alcohol abuse for less than two years. But I was also tired of being tired so I agreed.
The first drug I tried made be feel woozy. To my surprise, I did not like that feeling anymore, so he switched me to a different antidepressant. It took a couple of weeks for me to feel any difference, but within a short time I had more energy, felt more positive about like, and most important, suicide dropped off my list of ways to deal with myself.
What was the black hole that I barely escaped? It was not just the occasional “blues.” For me, it was years of periodic hopelessness, loneliness, frustration, and a deep desire to escape, sometimes in the most final of ways. I escaped and medicated the depression for years with drugs and alcohol.
Sobering up had made a big difference in my outlook on life, but at times I still felt self-destructive, apathetic, and hopeless. When I felt depressed, even the most menial of tasks looked impossible. As a relatively new lawyer I struggled with low self-esteem anyway, but when I was depressed, I was sure I was going to be “found out” as the big fake that I believed I was. Procrastination became my haven as I kept waiting for the day when I would feel better. Sometimes it was all I could do to get dressed, go to the office, prop myself up in my chair, and try to look busy for a few hours until I could contrive a really good and new reason to leave early. This worked for me for a while because when I felt good, I was a work horse.
The longer I was sober, the more I wanted out of life. I wanted more balance, stability, self-confidence, and some way to deal with that shift in my horizon. I was my worst enemy, but I could not seem to do anything about it. I was full of fear. I was scared of other people, scared of myself, and scared that at some point I just might get the courage to turn my car in the path of that speeding 18-wheeler instead of showing up for the deposition.
When you feel hopeless, where does hope come from? I prayed that the hopelessness and depression would go away. I wondered if I were crazy, lazy, or just not fully evolved; and I faked normalcy a whole lot.
You might think that when I found a medication that helped, I would feel like all my prayers had been answered and that my problems were behind me. But I have not always been comfortable with the stigma I felt from taking antidepressants. As a result, several times in the past few years I have stopped the medication in the hope that I was cured. Unfortunately, within six to eight weeks I would start the slide down, wondering why I felt so bad.
I now believe my depression is not a character weakness or a failing of my spiritual life, but simply a biological, chemical imbalance. At this point in my life, and perhaps forever, I will take medication for depression, much like a diabetic who needs insulin. I did not ask to be depressed, but I can do something about it. Doctors tell me that depression is one of the easiest things to treat – if people seek help.
Our profession demands that we be our best every day, and most of us want to be able to rise to the occasion. Even without depression, some days I just do not feel like expending the energy, and that is normal. But most days, I am an alert, productive, happy-to-be-alive lawyer. I still get stressed, but I am not depressed. I can separate the healthy and motivating stress from the excessive and unnecessary stress, and still have the necessary energy to deal with the day.
If you suspect that you are depressed, I encourage you to be courageous, face your demons, and seek medical help. You do not have to live in the black hole.
Common Symptoms of Depression
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness
- Insomnia, early wakening, difficulty getting up
- Thoughts of suicide and death
- Restlessness, irritability
- Low self-esteem or guilt
- Eating disturbance – usually loss of appetite and weight
- Fatigue, weakness, decreased energy
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate
- Loss of interest and pleasure in activities once enjoyed, such as sex
- Chronic pains that fail to respond to typical treatment
Jobs and Depression
John Hopkins University researchers interviewed 12,000 workers in a study on depression. Below are professions reporting symptoms of depression.
10 Most Depressed
School counselors, special education teachers
Sales staff supervisors
Waiters and waitresses
Data entry keyers
Miscellaneous food preparers
10 Least Depressed
Physicians and other health diagnosing professionals
Electrical, electronic repairers
Other sales occupations
Shipping and receiving clerks
(This article was originally published in the Texas Bar Journal, Volume 58, Number 3, March 1995)
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