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Three Stages Out of Depression

“Every depression is caused by something depressing that has happened, with no exceptions.”   –  George E. Atwood, The Abyss of Madness, p. 166   The title of this article is very alluring for someone who struggles with depression.  It promises that there is a way out of depression and that depression has a cure.  I do believe there is a way out of depression and that depression, on many levels, has a cure.  The cure may not be an easy one, but there is a cure.   Depression is the product of a lack of individuation.  Individuation is the ability to recognize yourself as a unique entity apart from others while still in relationship with others.  Individuation is the ability to recognize that your life is your own despite what others believe, believe about you, or have done to you.  Individuation is the ability to say to yourself, “This is who I am regardless of what has happened or will happen to me.”   Depression occurs when we believe, falsely, that our most fundamental need – human connection (see Change, Part I) – can only exist if we are or behave in ways that other significant people in our lives accept or accepted.  When we feel as if there is no hope in ever being what we believe other people in our lives want us to be we become isolated, hopeless…depressed.   To state that depression is the product of a lack of individuation is dangerous.  It’s dangerous because it puts the responsibility of depression on the depressed person’s shoulders.   And if there is one thing a depressed person doesn’t need while in his depression it is to believe that his depression is his fault.   I am and I am not saying that depression is the depressed person’s fault.  I am saying that it is his fault in that I believe that depression has a level of choice to it, a choice to individuate.  I am not saying that depression is the depressed person’s fault in that there are millions of factors that have gone into a person becoming the person he is which had nothing to do with him or the decisions he has made in life.  Life is complex.  But again, this gets back to choice.  Wondering and marveling at life’s complexity instead of trying to control it is a pathway to contentment.   Stage One – Depression   A big debate among clinicians who treat depression is how much of depression is a product of genetics and how much of it is a product of circumstance.  How much of it is a matter of “nature” and how much of it is a matter of...

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God’s Invitations: An Exploration of Christian Spirituality

  “To realize truth our whole being has to be brought into accord with actuality, with things as they are, which requires that in communications with others we respect things as they are by speaking the truth. Truthful speech establishes a correspondence between our own inner being and the real nature of phenomena, allowing wisdom to rise up and fathom their real nature. Thus, much more than an ethical principle, devotion to truthful speech is a matter of taking our stand on reality rather than illusion, on the truth grasped by wisdom rather than the fantasies woven by desire.”   – Bhikkhu Bodhi, The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering, pp. 49-50.   This post is about spirituality. There are thousands of other posts about spirituality. What makes this one different? I don’t know: education, age, experience. It is written with addictive behavior in mind, in particular compulsive sexual behavior. It’s from a Christian perspective, although it will journey into psychoanalysis and Eastern beliefs before returning again. It’s also written from the perspective of need.   I guess that’s the biggest difference between this post and many other posts, books, or sermons on spirituality: it’s written from the perspective of need. Talking about God in the abstract can be fun and fascinating, but talking about God because you have to is another thing.   I’ll begin with a story…   Micah Micah is the son of immigrants. He grew up in Los Angeles. His parents, particularly his father, were set in the ways of their homeland: respect for parents whether they deserved that respect or not. If you didn’t respect them, whatever that meant, you would suffer corporal punishment.   Despite their faults, Micah’s parents meant well. They came to America with little and wanted for their children that which they did not have. They were Christians. Observant. Bible-based.   Micah told me the story of a time when he was eight-years old and his family was on a trip with another family. While his family was tending to car trouble, Micah went into a Kentucky Fried Chicken with the other family. “What would you like?” asked the father. Never having stepped foot into a KFC before, Micah went for the 16-piece bucket of crispy. Go big or go home. When Micah’s father found out about it he was not pleased, threw the chicken out, and spent the afternoon chastising his son for imposing on others.   Years of beatings taught Micah the lesson to appear diligent, ordered, and competent even when he didn’t feel that way inside. He was a top-notch student bred in the ways of a first-generation American living out the dreams of...

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Dads…

“When we understand that we are born babies, that we all bleed blood, and that we experience the same pains and joys, then we have the basis of the empathy and humility we need to be able to forgive.” – Everett L. Worthington Jr., Forgiving and Reconciling, p. 127   Mike’s dad kicked him out of the house when he was sixteen. The last time I saw Mike before he left to live with his mother in Katmandu, Nepal was when my older brother and I were running laps around a big grassy field in our neighborhood park. It was night. Where I ran Mike was going to sleep. I don’t remember if I invited Mike to come stay at our house. He wouldn’t have anyway so I guess it wouldn’t have mattered. I’ll get to that in minute.   Mike’s parents divorced when Mike was two, maybe before that. As long as I had known Mike it was just his dad and he. Paul, another friend of ours, frequently reminded me how much he envied Mike’s relationship with his dad. He’d see Mike and his dad walk to the park to play catch or go to a movie every Sunday. Although I don’t know what there is to envy about the type of father who would kick his son out of the house at the age of sixteen Paul always talked glowingly about their relationship. Of course, Paul’s father was a physically abusive alcoholic who left his family when Paul was nine. It’s all relative.   Apparently Mike’s father was abusive as well. Paul told me. I recently returned to my hometown and Paul and I caught up. I pictured Mike helpless in his father’s shuttered two-bedroom house. “I wonder if that’s why Mike never wore shorts,” I speculated. Mike had a penchant for Toughskins, even during our fifth grade soccer practices and games. Better to hide the bruises.   Mike’s hard living predated his departure. He started drinking and smoking in seventh grade. Between sixteen and twenty-one he experimented with every drug imaginable, lived in Jamaica for a while, toured the country, wrote poetry. After twenty-one I guess he lived in Chicago. He never graduated from high school.   Mike’s dead. A rare neurological condition caught up with him in his late thirties. I can’t imagine the drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes helped. Paul told me that Mike and his dad reconciled. I’m not sure when, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was on account of Mike’s decline. Death has a way of opening up doors.   The last time I saw Mike we were twenty-one. Of all of the insights we shared during our brief reconnection...

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Poor Decisions Are Decisions Made Poorly

  “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett   I had a professor who later became my clinical supervisor. He was a jolly guy. He’d start classes by reading the “Real Fact” from the inside of Snapple drink lids and telling slightly corny jokes.   “Make me one with everything,” commanded a Buddhist monk as he walked into a pizza parlor. In asking for his change he was told, “It’s already within you.”   Har, har…   His phone would go off in class. The ring tone was “More than a Feeling” by Boston. Apropos for a psychologist. If his age wasn’t easily measured by his appearance, it certainly was by his choice of music and other cultural references. He’d quote The Blues Brothers or Animal House and I would think to myself, I wonder if I wear my age as readily as he does?   Of course I do. That’s the cycle of life. Despite our best efforts we become fossilized. But as I get older I’m learning that being a fossil may not be such a bad thing. Fossils tell us how similar organisms once lived…and died. They are our guides to what may be our own fates. To have a fossil in your life is to know where you may be going. To become a fossil is to give back.   My supervisor was full of catch phrases, themselves smaller fossils of a much larger fossil, like tiny teeth or metatarsals. The greatest of these catch phrases was, “Poor decisions are decisions made poorly.”   When I first heard him say this, probably in reference to a client’s recent binge with alcohol and prostitutes, I disregarded it as a small rock or seed, not as the priceless fossil that it really was. It wasn’t until he repeated this phrase a number of times, probably in reference to clients’ recent binges with alcohol and prostitutes, that I began to clear off the dust and examine it.   “Think of the worst decisions you have made in your life, Steven.” I thought of when I went to work for a slave-driving dude ranch owner in Wyoming at the age of eighteen and when, as a filmmaker in my twenties, I made an overly dark and self-serious feature film which wasn’t well-received (I still like the movie). “Now,” continued my supervisor, “Who was involved in helping you make those decisions?”   When I thought about it, I realized that no one was. Well, maybe I passed the possibilities by some people but I didn’t really want to hear their opinions....

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Bucket Lists

“The secret self knows the anguish of our attachments and assures us that letting go of what we think we must have to be happy is the same as letting go of our unhappiness.” – Guy Finley     The Academy Bridge in Venice, Italy is one of only four bridges that span the Grand Canal.  It’s a footbridge, really, a 1985 replica of the 1933 replacement of the original 1854 bridge.  Its rails and cables drip with thousands of small metal padlocks inscribed with male and female names.  My son asked me what they were for.  I told him I didn’t know.  Later research proved they are “love locks,” fastened onto renowned locations about the city by lovesick youth as a sort of benign graffiti.  The Venetian police are cracking down on the tradition.  Further evidence why Paris is the city of love, not Venice.   I didn’t realize this until later but the Academy Bridge, or Ponte dell’Accademia, is one of the most photographed locations on the planet.  It shares company with the Moulin Rouge in Paris and another Italian bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, in Florence.  This came to my attention soon after visiting Italy when I stumbled across a CNN.com article about Panoramio, Google’s “geolocation-oriented photo-sharing website.”  This site quantifies the number of photographs posted for given locations about the world. Looking back on my experience at the Academy Bridge I’m not surprised to discover that it’s one of the most photographed sites.  Yes, it’s beautiful, but it also has that “site of significance” air about it.  It’s crowded, for one, and relentlessly so.  The trail of international visitors stretching across its boards is unrelenting.  And then, of course, there are the photographs.  There is a difference between taking a picture because a moment is memorable and taking a picture because it’s supposed to be taken.  This is commonplace at sites that are famous for being famous.  You’re not going to go to the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, or the Grand Canyon and not take a picture, or two…or twenty. As I stood at this location, after taking my own set of photographs (I just counted them and there are eleven), I reflected on the maddening crush of humanity.  I calculated its sources statistically, economically, and culturally.  Statistically, since there are over seven billion people in the world today, it would only make sense that a site like this would be so packed.   Economically, the growth of middle classes in emerging countries would fuel this population to travel to places such as this.  But as a Westerner, particularly an American, I couldn’t help but place significance on the role of culture in this mass...

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Honor Your Conflict

“Any person suffering from any level of despair has failed to form a narrative that effectively connects the present with the past and the future.” – Andrew D. Lester, Hope in Pastoral Care and Counseling, p. 36   I hadn’t seen Dave in about five to six months. He first came to our Tuesday night group after discovering it online and contacting me. In group he unearthed some painful emotional stuff regarding his family of origin and then he took a hiatus. Dave needed some time just to work, get his financial life in order, and find his footing in a busy and competitive city. I would send him emails on occasion to check in and he would respond.   As friends on Facebook I would see Dave’s posts. They were usually cheery, as most Facebook posts are, with him at music festivals and the like. Recently, however, he posted a picture with a caption suggesting something tragic had happened to one of his family members. I immediately messaged him to let him know that if he needed a safe place to discuss the situation, I was available. He took me up on the offer but only after he had returned from his hometown where he helped deal with the situation.   When I met with him he admitted that it had been a very tumultuous past few weeks but that he had supportive people in his life and he was managing, if barely. He admitted that work had become difficult and being in the office each day felt like an eternity. He wondered aloud how he was going to make sense of his life now that circumstances within his family had changed so dramatically. This was not the way the story was supposed to turn out.   I wish I could share more details regarding Dave’s circumstances. It is a heartrending tale made all the more empathic by the hero of the story – a kindhearted, courageous young man who faces life’s challenges with determination and zeal. But, in the end, this is Dave’s story to tell, not mine. I must relinquish ultimate authorship to him.   As Dave spoke, I got a hunch that he was stuck in his grief not only because he had, or could accept, few alternatives for how this story was to turn out but also, and perhaps most importantly, he was hoping that many of the things that had happened to him and his family in his life hadn’t happened. In essence, he wished that the central and most formative conflict of his very being didn’t exist.   To be fair, how could Dave possibly contemplate something so arcane? When your world...

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