Tag: therapy

Depression – The Masks We Wear and How to Remove Recognize Them

Depression – The Masks We Wear and How to Remove Recognize Them

ARTIST: Lance Johnson
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Depression is often characterized as a deep sense of hopelessness. It typically arises after a devastating rejection, disappointment or loss. I described a little of my experience with depression in my recent posts,  Living Under the Cloud and  A Crack in the Night Sky. Depression, however, set down its roots within me in childhood when I was doing my best to cope with a world that was far more complex than I was equipped to handle.

What I am beginning to understand and wish to share with you, is that while depression can be an insidious state of mind that sets up housekeeping within us, it is useful to also see it as a mask. It is not who we are, but rather a lens through which we live and view our lives.  I believe, that if the mask went on, it can be taken off. It just may take a broader approach and a little more work than we heretofore have understood.

One of the dangers of modern medicine is the conviction that medication is the best and most expedient solution to a majority of ailments.  While it may be expedient, and provide some sort of relief, it may not always be a cure. Modern medicine has done wonders for many illnesses. It has also sidelined solutions for many others. We’ve become a quick fix society that doesn’t understand the need to dig deeper for healing.  Science and medicine continue to narrow their focus, to specialize and fine tune. Drug companies continue to come up with medications to treat the most popular illnesses. Depression is one of those popular illnesses.  What I believe is needed in spades is a broader approach. Specializations can’t see the forest for the tress.  Medication for depression is too often a band-aid approach.

In order to effectively treat and heal depression, particularly chronic depression, it is absolutely necessary to listen to and treat the whole body. Depression is classified by clinicians as a “mood disorder.” This “mood disorder” is the mask. Getting to what lies beneath is more of a challenge. It is my conviction that those who suffer must be shown how to step back from themselves and the labels  to learn to see themselves differently. Stepping back creates the space that can allow in new ideas, new treatments, new methodologies, new understandings of what it means to heal, what it means not only to survive, but to thrive.

Depression was not well understood when I sought help in the 1970’s. It took a decade or more for science to hand me antidepressants and therapy as a solution. It was a God send for me at the time, but it was not a permanent solution. A decade later I was not rid of depression, as my physicians and therapists told me I would be.  At that time psychiatrists were the only medical professionals authorized to prescribe  psychotropic drugs and from whom I received my first explanation as to how they worked.  My doctor told me that antidepressants would “ jump start the synapses in my brain and once mine would eventually begin to work again without help.”  I understood enough about jumping cars to understand the concept and it sounded plausible. What I didn’t think about, nor did he seem to be concerned with, was why was the battery draining and what would keep it from becoming depleted again.

After several relapses and futile attempts to go off antidepressants I was then told by therapists and physicians to just accept that my body was not going to do what it needed to do. They encouraged me to look at my condition as one similar to diabetes, a condition that could be managed with medication.  I had no choice but to accept the sentence I was given, but I never liked it.

I wasn’t convinced that it was quite that simple, although I had not yet found an alternative answer, nor did I even understand the nature of the problem.  Medication and therapy were the only options I was given and I relied on them to get me through the child rearing years.  It was not easy. In fact, while I functioned, and even well at times I felt almost “normal”, I lived under a cloud that threatened to pour at any moment.  Therapy was more of a crutch than a cure and I tried a wide variety of therapies and therapists over the years.

I have functioned, more or less, throughout my life with one hand tied behind my back, and I am fairly certain that there are plenty of people just like me who are doing the same thing. Whether the rope that keeps us bound is depression, anxiety, fear, narcissism, PTSD, or any other mental or emotional condition, I do not now believe that it is always in our best interest to ride the waves in a boat designed by drug manufacturers and over specialized physicians.  Their perspective is far too narrow and has become far too complacent.

Those of us who are riding the waves owe it to ourselves and other sufferers to push the edges of our condition, to challenge the status quo, to do more than just survive. We owe it to ourselves to dig deeper, to try new avenues, to ask hard questions and to accept and love ourselves through it all.

Mental and emotional illness, is more accepted now than it was fifty years ago. If I had been born just twenty-five years earlier I might have spent a good portion of my life in a mental institution undergoing shock treatment. Before that I might have been sequestered behind bars. I am grateful for what was available to me and the relief it did offer. However, I think we can do better. I believe we can work toward acceptance and understanding in a way that doesn’t simply pat the suffering individual on the head and send them home with a pill and a therapist. Mental health issues are more accepted, but they still make us uncomfortable.  We don’t understand them and they frightened us. We fear what we don’t understand. We marginalize what we fear.

All you have to do is look at the state of mental health treatment in this country to see our fear and disregard for the suffering.  Public institutions are underfunded and understaffed. Research is funded more often by drug companies than independent research.  The mentally ill too often end up wandering the streets or end up behind bars.  For those who manage to function more or less normally, current treatments are not often healing treatments.

Depression and anxiety have plagued me most of my life.  Pain is a powerful motivator and it has been the  impetus behind my never-ending quest for understanding. It has driven me to question, research, study, contemplate and experiment, not only to find relief for myself, but to find true healing for all who suffer from this painful, life altering condition. In the process I have amassed an enormous amount of experience and knowledge on the subject. I have seen the commonalities between myself and those I’ve tried to help. The threads that weave us together are the threads that can set us free.  As we untangle these threads we loosen the mask  and the painful pressure beneath is relieved.

As I continue this backward glance at my own struggle with depression and the effect its had on my life, I hope to reach into my knowledge and experience and pull out the most important threads required for healing.  One by one, I hope to offer what insights I am able to offer, not only on the healing process but on mental health treatment in the twenty-first century.






Sandy – A Crack in the Night Sky

Sandy – A Crack in the Night Sky

touch the painLIFE UNDER THE CLOUD (Previous Post)

SANDY – A Crack in the Night Sky

Sometimes it just happens. The black sky cracks open and a beam of light shines in. It’s always when and where we least expect it.

Sandy was that light for me then. She reached inside of me and took hold of the essence of who I am and yanked it out just a bit – enough for me to take several bold and courageous steps forward into myself.

I remember the day I met her like it were yesterday.

The day began when my sister came by Mom & Dad’s house where I was staying and pried me loose from the chair I had been sitting for days, hands holding the fabric covered arms in a death grip, eyes swollen and red, my body slumped and frail. Each day I felt a little more of the life go out of me, so weary of fighting the pain that nothing would stop. I stood for her, not myself. She handed me my coat and I followed her to the car. My oldest sister, she was the only family member who saw a glimpse of hope in me; or cared enough to look for an answer for me, a way out at a time when I could not find it for myself.

The sun was trying to shine through the heavy winter clouds but the cold, damp air cut through me like a knife. The sudden shock of it felt like relief from the heat of emotional pain that held me like a vice. I sucked in the fresh air like a lifeline and climbed into the passenger seat.

When we drove into the parking lot of the County Mental Health Clinic and parked I discovered I could not move. I felt like the disheveled mess that I was. I didn’t belong here. I was educated. I held a degree equal to those who would be treating me. I was riddled with shame and an overwhelming sense of failure. My thoughts sent me right back into the darkness and I shrunk inside the pain. Tears began to flow. My sister persisted.

The walls of the waiting room were institutional blue. The rows of plastic seats around the perimeter were dirty white, bent and scuffed and overused. Light streamed through the film that coated the window, and played across the dust and grime that layered the gray linoleum floor. I fell into one of the plastic chairs as a woman handed Sue a clipboard through a round opening in a window littered with smudges and dust. She handed it to be and then sat down beside me. I willed myself to pick up the pen but remained frozen in place.

“Just write your name,” Sue said. “If they want to know more they can ask you.” I always loved her rebellious spirit. It gave me courage to summon my own. I began to write. She let me off my own hook. When it came to the reason for the visit, I stopped and put down the pen. She took the clipboard and handed back through the hole in the glass. Then, we waited.

A round back man dressed in baggy, worn pants and a moth-eaten sweater shuffled into the waiting room and sat down across the way. He had a face that looked as old as Methuselah but without the wrinkles.   “Hey, Henry,” came the woman’s voice from behind the glass. “How are you this morning.”  Empty eyes stared at her for a moment and then disappeared as his head fell forward. His need frightened me. It was so glaring and intense.

I didn’t belong here. I was not him. Or was I?

The double doors beside him opened up and a slender forty something woman in high heels,  fitted skirt and black sweater appeared holding a clip board. Her chin length black hair was the perfect foil for the golden nuggets that dangled from her ears, matching the gold chain that fell from her neck. Stylish and elegant, she was not at all what I had expected. Loafers and jeans were what I expected. Work clothes for a dirty job.

“Dorothy”, she said looking right at me and smiling. I was both attracted and repelled by the woman. I hated her for her “togetherness”. I revered her for her courage and confidence.  I felt so small by comparison. So broken. So beyond repair.

“Follow me”, she said and I did, because the only thing I knew how to do was what someone told me to do. I followed her down a dark hall, around a corner and into an office with a plaque on the door that read SANDRA KAHN, M.S.W.

We sat face to face. She crossed her legs and leaned in toward me peering right at me through the horned rimmed glasses that only magnified her eyes bearing down on me. It was too much. I looked down. I did not want to be seen. So fallen. So off my game.  Her raspy smoker’s voice lifted me brought be back for a moment. She, like my sister, would not let me off the hook. She, like my sister, saw something in me worth saving.

For the next six weeks, we embarked upon “crisis counseling” as she described it.  The state didn’t allow us anymore time than that so we had to work hard and fast. I don’t recall all that we talked about. I do recall that she saw the real me. She knew that I could not see what she saw. She knew that it was her job to help me find myself.

In addition to our bi-weekly sessions she wanted me to join a group, to speed the process she said.  She and her co-worker Joe moderated them and she assured me she would be right there supporting me.

I did what I was told and showed up for the group. I thought I was willing. Something inside of me was not. I could not speak. Listening to everyone’s pain sent me reeling. I couldn’t help them. All I could do was hurt for them. Hurt for myself. The tears just flowed and no words came. I knew they were supposed to, but they refused. Only tears and suffocating pain. I had failed again.

After the next group session she pulled me back to her office. “I want you to see Dr. Chinigo and she handed me a business card. “Joe agrees. I think you need to go on medication.  I believe you are chemically depressed, that’s why you can’t work in the group.” I was perplexed. Chemically depressed? What did that mean?

IT’S A WHOLE NEW WORLD – Or, is it? – Coming Soon.

Life Under the Cloud

Life Under the Cloud

I have spent a lifetime battling back the cloud of depression. I can’t pin down exactly when it started, I think perhaps it started in the womb, or is carried forward in my DNA from previous generations of familial women who embodied powerlessness. I came from a lineage of women bound by cultural dictates and personal characteristics that turned them into creatures that were doomed to battle for their soul. This cloud moved in and settled over me, it welled up inside of me and worked as hard as it could to smother me, to take my heart and soul away. I did my utmost best to live a “normal” life, but inside I was dying. I believed at the cellular level that I was flawed and I worked diligently, every day to repair this flaw.

cloud of depression
Digital Editing and Painting by Lente Scura

Depression like the other labels we use for illnesses and conditions that plague us, has become nomenclature that lifts it ever so unwittingly out of the painful reality that it really is.  Terms that seemingly quantify such things, water them down to make treatment manageable, and maybe even bearable, but also allowing doctors, pharmaceutical companies and even therapists to throw a pill or a particular therapeutic model at them, and declare an individual on the road to recovery. All that’s needed is a little tweaking.  How many times did I hear, “You don’t have to suffer.” Well, they were wrong. Apparently I do. And, I did.

I believed them at first. I was a guinea pig for our modern view and treatment for depression. I sought help early and often, from parents, siblings, friends, priests, therapists, professors…I sought help for the pain that I longed to be rid of, a perspective of life that kept me fragmented and disconnected from the best parts of me. I received help for the problems in my life that developed as a result of the thing that lived in me. The word “depression” as a medical/psychological condition was not mentioned to me until I was in my mid to late twenties. It was not a thing people quantified. My mother struggled to say the word, like somehow it had cooties.

In addition to living with the pain caused by the depression and the resulting life choices I made from this core of pain that added to it, I came to believe that I was flawed on so many levels. I lacked willpower, character, strength, determination, intelligence, something!  I stretched out my hands, my mind, my heart, my soul and reached with everything I had for happiness, success, love, freedom and the ability to find peace and be me. It eluded me. Again and again, I tried. God how I tried. I did everything in my power to change. I “pulled myself up by the bootstraps” as my mother used to suggest so many, many times, only to “fail” and find myself back in the blackest of pits.

I began reading self-help books early on…and books like Siddhartha, Waiting for Godot. I listened endlessly to Kahlil Gibran and Rod McKuen. Like everyone else of our generation I read “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” and “Your Erroneous Zones”. I delved into Transcendental Meditation and learning to access my alpha level brain waves. I went on to study psychology, philosophy and theology, absorbing the richness of the writings and theories of Jung, Kierkegaard, Tillich, Niebuhr, Erik Erikson, Piaget, Plato, Socrates and so, so many others. My searching for answers became more refined and I was lifted up by teachers who offered a glimpse at the bigger picture.

I remember the day I caught a glimpse into what has become the foundation for the clinical treatment of depression. As fate or the Universe would have it, I picked up a book that caught my eye in a New York Times Book Review one Sunday morning. It was called  Unfinished Business by Maggie Scarf, and it blew me away.  It made perfect sense and offered me a kind of hope that had heretofore not been offered.

I was 28. I had just completed my M.Div. from Princeton Theological, a three-year degree where I broke with the tradition of the program and focused on learning everything I could about the spiritual/psychological connection. After graduation, my business background combined with my theological education led me to a job with the Gallup Poll where I assisted in setting up their Religion Research Center. Politics and greed being what they are it did not get off the ground and I was no longer needed. I moved from there to a job with another non-profit in the area.  I had my own apartment, was in an on again off again relationship with a guy who had graduated with me and in the mid-west working on his PhD Things were supposed to be good. That was the mask I wore. I worked hard to keep up the front. What could not be seen on the surface was my rapidly disintegrating insides.

Prior to picking up Maggie Scarf’s book, I spent two years with the most respected therapist in the area.  He was head of a cutting edge counseling center sponsored by a wealthy Episcopal Church in the area. In addition, I also sought the counsel of an esteemed professor, who taught me everything I knew at the time about Jung. He was also cutting edge in his field at the time. Known for his depth, compassion, sensitivity and profound insight into the human spirit,  he held a Doctorate from Harvard and had written several books. I had access to an individual who was a giant among men in the world-wide community. Steeped in Jungian psychology and a deeply spiritual man,  he offered me little real help, in spite of his (I have to believe) desire to do so.  The word “depression” was never mentioned in any conversations with either professional.

Maggie Scarf handed me a lifeline. She spoke the word “depression” in a way that resonated.  Not only did she address it head on, she offered suggested treatment options and discussed its impact on women. My excitement was followed by anger. I thought, “If she knows this why don’t these two educated, well-respected professionals know it?” (It didn’t occur to me at the time that maybe it had something to do with the fact that they were men, and depression was overwhelmingly viewed as a woman’s issue).

was so charged up that I purchased a copy of the book for each of these men and mailed it to them with a note, “This book has changed my life. Maybe you’d like to read it.” For the first time since I’d started sought professional help, and after spending money that I didn’t really have, not to mention the days, weeks and years of excruciating pain and believing I was a failure, at last someone spoke directly to the issue. Now, I could find relief. Sadly, it was not to be. My euphoria at having found an “answer” hardly gave me the tools to change what really needed changing. Shortly thereafter I crashed and burned.

I lost my job. I quickly disintegrated into a place where I could not make a decision. About anything. I oscillated between frantically and desperately trying to find help and sitting in the middle of my apartment crying. I was in excruciating pain. Debilitating pain. I barely remember the details. I must have called my parents, because somehow my sister and her husband drove the 2 1/2 hours to my apartment, packed my stuff and deposited me and my belongings on my parent’s doorstep.

I could not eat. I could not sleep. I could not stop crying. I cried all day every day. I lost 30 pounds. My mother sat beside me and cried. That only made me angry. My father went about his business as he always did with little to say. The pain was tremendous. Day after day.  The only thing I remember was falling into the routine of  my parent’s life, breakfast at 8, lunch at noon, dinner at 6. A cup of tea at 4. Bed at 10. Their routine contained me as I cried the tears that would not stop. I was lost in time and space. My life was a cavern of despair with no way out.

Going home, a home that embodied the darkness that lived in me, the silence, the fear, the despair, though far from ideal was likely better than an institution where I would otherwise have been. Apart from the emotional baggage that lived there, the simplicity and structure held me and kept me safe until I was able to find a way out.

And then, I met Sandy.

Unraveling Ourselves

Unraveling Ourselves

“Unraveling external selves and coming home to our real identity is the true meaning of soul work.”

Sue Monk Kidd3c15e6af5a296dd861c2bd8ba93aa29e

There is so much to be done in the unraveling department. The good news is that once true unraveling begins, one starts to feel lighter and lighter. The heavy weight of pain and confusion begins to lift and the challenges one faces are laced with hope. Feeling one’s real and honest identity become interconnected with one’s soul is both energizing and life affirming.

If anyone had told me years ago that I would feel younger, happier and freer at sixty-three than I had ever felt at any other time in my life, I would have been convinced they were smoking something. I lived pretty much most of fifty something years under a black cloud, fighting, struggling, despairing…suffering inside in a way I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

I was dedicated and earnest in my pursuit of self-understanding from a very early age. I was drawn to the spiritual life, like a magnet. I understand the human need and desire for a connection with the divine, implicitly. What I didn’t understand was my pain in the world. I didn’t understand how the world and the divine spoke to one another. The divine was speaking, but no one was listening.

Repeatedly throughout my life, I moved toward God and then fell away. I moved toward spiritual teachers and an understanding of an inner life, but when I attempted to carry it into the world I felt frustrated and alone. I did not know how to put words to any of what I knew to be true in a way that would convey to others.

The symbolic language I found and used to describe such things no longer worked in my practical, modern surroundings. I desperately wanted to find a connection between the two. I did not want to leave the world behind and go to a mountain top, although at times I wish I had. It could not have been more painful to be alone with God than it was to be alone in the world.

Now all these years later I’m beginning to see more clearly what happened. A product of my times, I found nowhere to go with my spiritual yearnings. Even seminary was an environment that was decidedly pragmatic in its approach to spirituality. One believed in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, even questioned and discussed them with other believers, but when all was said and done it was understood that the ultimate goal was to bring our faith and belief to others in the context of the church setting. What about bringing it into the world at large? Why must we put it into a box only to be brought out on Sunday morning in a pre-programmed environment? I couldn’t buy into any of it.

To my way of thinking what was always wrong with the “church” was what is still wrong with organized religion. It’s religion in a box. It’s not about spiritual listening and learning and becoming. It’s not about looking for God in the everyday world of board meetings and while making peanut butter sandwiches for your kids. We paid lip service to that, but there really was no support structure for such a lifestyle.  Religious traditions are too small, too narrow, too limiting for what I believe God to be and the spiritual life to require.

When “religion” didn’t answer my questions or satisfy my yearnings I didn’t abandon the Divine that lived in my heart. I just stopped paying attention to her voice. She was still there, calling to me, needling me, tormenting me. I chose instead to turn my back on my soul and sought refuge instead in the psychological realm. Therapy. Medication. Pain. More therapy. More pain.More medication.

I learned much about the human psyche, but it did not help me grow in self-esteem or  value the gift of life, because at my core I remained disconnected from my essential myself, my soul self. I was ignoring that place from which all real self-esteem comes. If we are not listening to our deep, inner voice and hearing the messages and guidance of our soul, we will never find peace. We will never understand who we are or what we have to offer the world. We will never trust that we are valuable, or that we matter, no matter what. No therapist, no religion, no worldly structure  or construct can ever teach us that.