Paying Attention Bill McDonald’s
January 2010 - Volume 10, No. 1
It just popped out of my mouth one day. I said to her, “After depression, you don’t have to be afraid of anything anymore.”
My work with this particular client was to help put her life back together toward a functional future, after losing a beloved husband. In the process of our work of a year and a half now she was able to get off her antidepressants after a decade of taking them - which made it both easier and harder.
She still suffers from times of depression, but much of the lucidity of her earlier life has begun to return. My surprise when I made that statement wasn’t in the words themselves, but realizing that she was one beginning to validate how true they can be.
I’m not meaning to brag a success story, after all, this is my everyday work. But the perspective of my work is to take people much farther than just ‘back up to zero.’
The art and purpose of, say, an orthopedic surgeon is to return a broken body part back to its original functionality - back up, as close as possible, to zero disability. This is the ideal for all the physical healing arts. Is the purpose of a mental health therapist also to get a depressed person back to not being depressed - back up to zero? To say yes is indeed a great gift to the culture - especially in light of the high cost of untreated depression, estimated annually at $83 billion.
But somehow I’ve inherited an additional mindset. There is the ancient tradition of ‘the wounded healer’ - that from a person’s wounds, can come also healing gifts for others. Also it is often through ordeal that the higher marks of character are formed - as is true in many advanced military and spiritual traditions. The ancient alchemical tradition, especially as reinvigorated within the Jungian community, maps a spiritual/psychological transition from lead to gold, from depression and melancholy to the heights of human achievement.
The purpose of a diving board at a pool is not just to measure it’s inherent flexibility, but to artfully launch a diver far beyond itself.
And so for the persons suffering from depression - I refuse to limit my perspective as just back to zero.
What is depression? It’s certainly the most popular mental health diagnosis of our time. Ubiquitous pharmaceutical advertisements to manage it clutter our airways daily, as well as their slick magazine ads. Depression is big business in the for-profit economy.
Technically, depression is classified as a ‘mood disorder.’ For some, it’s situational, as a component of grief, the purpose of which itself is healing. The loss of employment, economic security, a relationship, health, or any of the considered ‘basic needs’ or ‘things’ of life can trigger times of depression. For some it’s chronic, as one born with a depressed temperament, or the ever-popular ‘chemical imbalance.’ For these, chemical healing, in the form of pharmaceutical advances can be a god-send (and economic lack of access can be most cruel). For some there seems to be no base zero to which one can ‘return.’ And yet for others depression is no more than a petty interruption in an otherwise happy (entitled?) life - the primary object of pharmaceutical marketing.
But - I will refuse to consider depression or the experience of depression as a thing in itself, a res ipsa. Rather I stand within my larger view of life as a psychotherapist (and human being), where the purpose of life is both the development of character as well as the benefit of the larger order. Here I can see even depression as bearing gifts (though not to diminish the deep suffering often experienced by many).
The first repository for such gifts is the heart - the gift of courage. Sometimes it’s just courage to face the day - which for some is not a by-nature attribute. Or it can be a new-found ability to begin to live, or live again - from one’s center, from the heart.
Another word for this gift is fearlessness. As I said to my client “you don’t have to be afraid of anything anymore.” This doesn’t mean she’ll not be depressed ever again, or even that she’ll fully cast off her current experience of depression. It’s that new gifts emerge from the experience, and often in counter-weight to the suffering.
After depression may not mean that depression completely disappears (back up to zero), or maybe it will. What’s more important is that it’s no longer an enemy or a curse, a disabling thing in itself. My vision and work is that depression can lead towards, or back to, a richer life.
Courage is life lived from the center, from the heart. And to no longer be afraid to live life fully - that’s what healing depression is all about.
Sometimes we just don’t know what gift is hidden behind some pathology or circumstance, waiting for the right moment to burst forth.
 in 2000 dollars, 31.4% in treatment costs, and 62.0% in workplace costs. Source: Greenberg P, et al, J Clinical Psychiatry, 2000 Dec; 1465-75
Ministry means serving or helping.
Answer to Paulette
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