I was at a Networking event for young attorney when we stumbled upon the topic of depression. As yes, mental health in the professional world, a strange land of mystery and taboo, where we all want you to feel better, but we never really want you to talk to us about what is really going on. Depression is a hot topic. The experience of depression is unpleasant to say the least and can damage careers, cause problems in relationships, encourage substance abuse, and in some cases lead to suicide.
We begin with developing an understanding of depression. What it is, or at least what we think it is, why we have it, and the best way to handle it. As a coach, consultant, and someone who has experienced depression I believe that the first step in changing something is to understand it. And in reality, when we understand depression what we might find out is that it is natural, and can be healthy in many instances if we learn to change our relationship to it.
To start there are two distinct types of depression; there is the mood/emotion of depression, and there is the clinical diagnosis of depression.
The mood or emotion of depression can include feelings of sadness, anxiety, emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, guilt, and anger. Adding to these intense emotions people often feel ashamed for their feelings, leading them to isolation, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities and company. Additionally, people may experience cognitive issues such as problems with memory, decision making, and concentration.
The mood of depression and the clinical diagnosis of depression is separated by the intensity of the depressive experience and the duration. The more intense and longer the experience the more likely it is that there is a clinical diagnosis.
I am not a licensed mental health professional, nor do I play one on TV, but I do I have personal experience with depression and I have coached hundreds of people helping them to understand depression in a practical sense which for many, including myself has created clarity, decreased the intensity and duration of depression, reduced the isolation and shame, and helped to understand the causes of depression therefore externalizing them and reducing the feelings that in some way we are at fault for the depression.
The following is my theory on the role of depression in our lives, and combines evolutionary psychology, Gestalt, Buddhism, as well as the philosophies of Joseph Campbell, and other notable contributors to the fields of psychology and philosophy.
From a young age we are conditioned, some might even say trained by our parent’s, social institutions, the media and our cultures to behave in an acceptable fashion. As professional whether in medicine, law, accounting, or consulting our school’s and professional culture further this conditioning, either explicitly or implicitly instructing us to live under the veneer of professionalism.
To understand how socialization works, we need to look at pain. When we are children and we are told that our behavior is bad, wrong or unacceptable it causes a deep sense of pain. This is not misbehaving, but acting in some way that could violate a taboo, belief, norm, or just be slightly weird to other people. We are literally being told that a part of us in no good, and as children we don’t understand the difference between our external behavior and the internal self; in reality many adults don’t understand this either.
So as a result we interpret the rejection of our behavior as a rejection of self, in other words that we are unacceptable. That when we express ourselves it is unacceptable. For most people this is the deepest source of pain. It is where people begin to generate most of their beliefs about the world, and is a major factor in deterring behavior and decision making.
In our professional schools we convey a similar message. That we need to hide our lives, our relationships, our interests, our sexuality, because it might not fit the profession. And again this causes pain because the group we strive to be a part of is telling us that we are not acceptable as is, and we need to be different to be a part of this new group.
This even goes to the reduction of hobbies because we as a professionals don’t have time because the rule is in order to grow as a successful practitioner we need to always be working. And even if we don’t articulate this belief in words, the structure of our practices and the working hours blast this message through loud speakers.
Each time we are told to restrict our behavior to be less expressive of our emotions we DEPRESS parts of our personality. We depress in order to avoid a similar pain that we experienced as a young child. The socially rejected parts of who we are don’t go away, rather it is just under the surface dying to get out. In order to cope with this restriction of who we are our bodies react by creating a depressive state to literally slow us down to tune out.
There are other causes of depression not related to the ramifications of socialization, however they are related to the experience of pain and the avoidance of pain as well. When a close family member or friend dies it is common to become depressed. The loss of a job, or other traumatic experiences can also cause depression. The depression in these scenarios is again the avoidance, experience, and actualization of deep pain.
Successfully dealing with depression requires an awareness of being depressed, a willingness to explore the causes of the depression, the courage to experience and actualize the pain, and then taking some form of action dependent on the cause of the depression.
First we need to understand that we are in the experience of a depressive state, which is easier said than done. Many times during a depression our thoughts create the illusion or delusion that we have done something wrong, that our lives are in some way falling apart or that things aren’t right. A tool to test whether you are depressed is journaling. Write out your thoughts and question them, see what kind of filter you are putting on the world.
Many times when we explore our thoughts in journaling we will find that, they don’t make sense. That in some way they are a distorted view of reality, if we can see that they are distorted this can lead us to the second part of dealing with depression, exploring the cause.
This takes a lot of practice, and typically some help from either a coach, therapist, or knowledgable friend. This typically start with some questions. Here are some examples:
- Did I not do or say something that I know is true?
- What In my life is inauthentic?
- Am I lying to myself about the way I feel?
- What don’t I want to know that is true?
The questions can have some terrifying answers because they lead us back to some truth where we are left with the decision to either deal with it, or continue feeling depressed. Some extreme examples are that you know you don’t like the practice of law, but you have no idea what to do and feel trapped. These are some scary options, and sometimes they aren’t, like when you know you should be attending a dance class cause you love dancing, but you haven’t made time.
Once the cause is known, comes the courage of action. To be clear courage is not a quality, but a decision to take action in the face of fear relative your circumstances. For some people this might be leaving a career, or relationship, for other people it will be the inclusion of hobbies long lost, and for some it will just be an honest conversation.
Here comes the kicker, sometimes depression is healthy. Throughout life we are not ready to deal with the pain of certain events, and we might not be ready to change the causes of the depression. Even though being depressed can be uncomfortable, from an evolutionary standpoint it helps us to survive, to continue functioning, even when we are in pain. From this perspective we might even be grateful for depressive states because it is an indication that although we are in pain, we are healthy and normal.
This article is a representation of my opinions, philosophy, strategy and tactics, which I use in my practice. It is in no way a fact or representative of a medical view, nor should it be construed that way. If it helps you great, if not put it down and call me a crazy person. If you are interested in learning more please feel free to contact me at…