Sarah R. Callender


In Body Stuff, General on August 8, 2011 at 7:25 am

Oy! First off, let me please acknowledge (and apologize for) my recent focus on depression. It’s just that, in case you didn’t notice, my depression has really sneaked up on me and given me a major wedgie. A major wedgie and a few swirlies. Heck, I’m tempted to refer to this as the Summer I Was Bitch-slapped by Depression, but I don’t think my cute mom and her cute friends appreciate terms like “bitch-slapped” (Hi, Mom! Hi Mom’s cute friends!).

Unfortunately, when depression sneaks up on me and slaps me in the face, I really do feel like this:

So let’s compromise. Since it’s summer, let’s call 2011 The Summer I Was Beach-slapped by Depression. Getting slapped by a beach? Well, that doesn’t sound very comfy. It sounds gritty. And exfoliating in that Korean spa kind of way.

It doesn’t take a brainiac to grasp why depression is difficult. Of course it’s difficult. No matter the degree and form of the depression, I’ve never heard anyone say how fantastic it feels to be beach-slapped by depression.

Which is why, whenever I stumble across anything that talks about the benefits of depression, I feel tiny bubbles of hope and pride and gratitude.

One particular article is “Depression in Command” by Nassir Ghaemi, published in the online version of the Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2011. Ghaemi, a Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, seems really into the idea of removing the stigma of mental illness. And for that, I love him. I really do. Not as much as I love Abe Lincoln and Bono and my well-voiced Safeway checker, but Dr. Ghaemi is definitely a close fourth.

(Buckle up, friends; this is going to feel like one of my digressions, but just be patient, and it will all make sense.)

Speaking of my love for Abe Lincoln . . . my Facebook Friends might recall the status update where I casually mentioned that I thought Abraham Lincoln was hot. I believed, when I admitted my affection for an assassinated, melancholy, 19th century U.S. President, I would be greeted with tons of “Really? Me too! I thought I was the only one!” kinds of comments.

I was wrong.

I got lots of “Eeew, gross!” and “Really?!?!?” kinds of comments. My Friends’ responses made me wonder: Are they nuts to think Abe’s NOT a tall drink of water? Or am I nuts to think he is? That’s the problem (one of them) with having a mental illness; it makes you fear that you’re actually crazy.

Anyway. In this very hopeful article, Dr. Ghaemi starts with this thesis, referring to what kind of leader is necessary in times of peace and prosperity, as well as during times of upheaval and uncertainty:

“When times are good and the ship of state only needs to sail straight, mentally healthy people function well as political leaders. But in times of crisis and tumult, those who are mentally abnormal, even ill, become the greatest leaders.”

Of course, in his book on the same topic, A First-Rate Madness, Ghaemi clarifies that certainly, there are types of mental illness that do NOT lend themselves to leadership. Duh. Whatever mental health issue Gaddafi’s got going on, it’s NOT the one that makes a good leader.

But Ghaemi’s article explains that leaders such as Winston Churchill and my sweet Abe Lincoln, two who acknowledged their struggles with major depression, were just what their country needed given the tumult and uncertainty of the time. Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. experienced depression too, each attempting suicide in their youth and having at least three rounds of major depression as adults. They, too, were highly effective because of their illness.

I don’t know about you, but I had NO idea that Gandhi and MLK, some of the greatest pacifists and biggest dreamers of our time, also had been beach-slapped. It breaks my heart. It is also deeply comforting and reassuring to me, someone with equally fragile wiring.

But the reason why it’s good to have a Crazy in power (I can say that because I am one) during times of trouble is also really encouraging. Apparently,

“Depression also has been found to correlate with high degrees of empathy, a greater concern for how others think and feel. . . Depression seems to prepare the mind for a long-term habit of appreciating others’ point of view . . . their weakness is the secret of their strength.”

Right on! It’s like a little party favor that Depression gives those of us who attend its not-very-fun party: the ability to feel deep concern for others. The ability to empathize. The ability to not shy away from others’ pain.

These revelations have, I admit, made me wonder about my love for Abe Lincoln. My crush on the Safeway checker makes perfect sense: a nice voice is sexy. My crush on Bono makes even more sense: nice voice AND global humanitarian.

But what about Abe?

I admit I don’t really care for his beard. I also think his photographer/Dagguerreotyper should have had Abe brush his hair and maybe straighten that wonky bow tie. But whatever. We all have photos we’d rather forget. I don’t have any idea if Lincoln had a nice voice (that shaky voice we have all heard doing his Four Score and Seven Years Ago thing was not Lincoln) so that’s certainly not the cause of my crush.

When I really examine Abe, I realize it’s his eyes that really get me. Those soulful eyes filled with pain and wisdom. Here, take a look:

But. Then I read this article, and I wonder. Maybe I don’t actually Love love Abe Lincoln. Because my fragile wiring means I have “high degrees of empathy,” maybe what I feel for Abe is Connection rather than Love. Maybe, when I see Abe’s soulful eyes and think, Come here, baby. what I’m really thinking is, Yeah. I get it. But let’s not give up. You and I both have lots of important stuff to do.

If getting beach-slapped over and over means I have some super-human ability to empathize, a mile-deep concern for others? Well. There are certainly worse crosses to bear. Weary-making crosses, yes. But others have had to carry much heavier.

So how about this: as we muddle through life, we (all of us) should try to acknowledge and accept our weakness and THEN  find a way to make that weakness our strength. Our secret weapon. As long as we are all clad in badge-covered capes, we should also have a secret weapon. One that, needless to say, is to be used for good and for justice and for laughter.

In the mean time, I’m going to see if Schmidtie will make me a cape badge that looks like this:

Because I don’t care what you all think. There really is something rather cute about him.

  1. Bono all the way, since before his humanitarian days, because he is a poet and he is short, and the rock world just needs more of that. And it needs more family men like Bono and Bon Jovi. As for Abe, glad you mentioned the beard, because that’s a real stopping point for me. But I would prefer an Abe over a JFK, for instance. But back to the point, I found this extremely interesting, about what kinds of leaders do better in times of turmoil, and how depression is linked to empathy. And that helps the rest of us (who are not depressed but just f*cked up in any number of ways) to be more empathetic with those of us who are depressed.

    • Yes! Three cheers for JBJ too. Thanks so much for reading, Jennifer. We’re all a bit effed up, aren’t we! Some of us just feel the need to blog about it. 🙂 I’m going to get you a Bon Jovi head band or fanny pack for your birthday. xo!

  2. He’s totally hot. And it’s the eyes + depth. You and me, baby. Abe’s fan club.

    • Awesome, Joan. You and I can be co-President. I’ll get started on a badge for your cape too. I think the members should do lots of wine tasting, don’t you?

  3. Oh girlfriend, you need to come over and we can be beach-slapped together. And I hadn’t caught your Abe FB thingy, but I would never put down someone’s unusual crush because I have a few of my own. You’re so right about the eyes though.

  4. Also, look at all the amazing musicians, writers, and artists who have struggled with depression and addiction (in my opinion, another mental illness, and probably a way of medicating their depression and anxiety.) There are so many examples of world-changing works of literature, art and music that would never had existed if their creators had not been experiencing inner turmoil. Sorry that you’re going through a rough time, Sarah, but your writing continues to shine.

    • What a great note, Josie. Yes, addictions eating disorders, suicides . . . all of that is on the mental health spectrum in my book (and of course in yours, Dr. Lee). And all of that runs in my family. Sigh. Your comment is SO encouraging for all of us crazies. Thank you. 🙂

  5. I love the idea that people prone to depression are more focused on other people’s feelings. That explains a lot of things for me. And EMpathetic is so much better than pathetic. Thank you for sharing your insights, Sarah. You’re brilliant. (Gosh, I hope that’s a side effect of depression too – could I get some of that?) 🙂

    • You are already brilliant so don’t be a brains hog. And, I love that EMpathy. That should be our tag line: We put the EM in pathetic. Hm . . . that sounded much better in my head. Thanks for the comment, Jodi. I so appreciate you reading!

  6. When I was in high school we had this secret system of categorizing hot guys in public. HM = hot man. HOM = hot old man (old to us being over 30). And HD = hot dad. So if you were in the video store, say, and some cute dad comes in, you could turn to your friend and announce, “HD in the drama section.” It worked pretty well. (HOMs, doesn’t that make you feel good to know that you’re mostly, but not totally, invisible?)

    So let’s expand our lists. HDL = hot depressed leader. (Sarah votes for Abe. I’m partial to MLK.) HBSBDW = hot beach-slapped-by-depression writer. We all know that club, which you belong to, Sarah, is a big one. But when this passes (and it will!) there’s a spot for you on the regular old HW list too.

    • You’re the best, dear J. Funny too. You Mercer Island gals were really mature . . . I’m pretty sure we thought all dads were gag me with a spoon gross. Thanks for the perfect comment (and the endless encouragement). Love you!

  7. I really like the notion of making a perceived weakness into a strength, resonates with me, and with my big ol’ heap of neuroses. (odd how the plural of neurosis has roses inside.)

    • Ha! Love it! See how brilliant you are? You’re already making lemonade from lemons. That’s why I like ya so darn much! Hugs to you and your closet of neuROSES.

  8. I like Janna’s new system for categorizing hot writers. Hope you get out of the HBSBDW and into the regular old HW category soon.

  9. LOVE the idea of categorizing, Janna! Sarah and I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, that thinks some of our second grade son’s friends are hot (not in that creepy way, just admiring their cuteness way). Now when we walk the hall in elementary school she can shout out HSG “Hot Second Grader” and no one will be the wiser!

    As for Abe, Sarah, you know my thoughts on him. I’ll give you the tall and dark, but have to skip the handsome. I’m more of the MLK type, but you would know that about me!

    • You are BRILLIANT, Kasey. I know our friend of which you anonymously speak, and yes, this little code phrase will come in very handy. Thanks so much for the perfect comment.

  10. Adding the Abe badge on my “To-Do” list-though I am a bit concerned about my ability to get the soulful eyes captured in fabric…. As for depression party favors, it now makes perfect sense why your phone rings as often as it does with me on the other end of the line. Somehow it seems like more of a benefit to me than to you!

  11. Sarah, I love your idea that feeling a connection could equal a kind of love, however unlikely that love might be. I just love that thought. The thought of this makes me hope that if someone understands a little bit about another person and they feel a connection, that it could be love. In times of turmoil I can visualize all of the connections that lead to love like a big web and it will bring me hope. I think a while back you asked for a formula for love. For me, connection has to be in that formula.

  12. Huh. I’ve always gathered that people who don’t, a the very minimum, have episodes of depression, if not more prolonged, ruinous mental health difficulties, are either stupid or lying. With most falling in the “lying” category. The effort required to live the lie is so demanding that they can hardly take on more World-Helpful Tasks like creating peace and freeing slaves, or even just being kind to grocery store checkers. That they don’t have room in their day for empathy (*love* EMpathetic vs. pathetic) is testament only to the demands of living their lie.


    … am SO using HSG.

    • Thanks, Alison. I feel the same about women who claim to cherish every moment of being a mom. Actually, I on purpose surround myself with women who would never claim such a thing. Who wants to be friends with someone like that? 🙂

      Thanks, as always, for your support and your lovely, witty comment.

  13. I’m really intrigued by this idea of leadership and empathy in hard times. I just finished reading Dreyfus and Dorrance’s All Things Shining, and they argue a related point — that the people who transform culture are usually considered crazy.

    I’m so sorry that the beach is slapping you around, but I’m always glad for your posts — and to see that your humor, your fab writing, your lovely digressions, and your empathy all remain intact! (p.s. if you missed it, I linked to you in my blog last week — “Five Fabulous Blogs”

    • Fabulous, Lisa. Thanks for the very kind words. And yes, I DID see your blog link. That was incredibly encouraging. Thank you! I love the idea (and I think it’s quite true) that we Crazies can really transform culture . . . or at least make people laugh while we bumble about, doing something just shy of “transformation.” xo!

  14. Hi- I write a newsletter for a yoga studio and I’m writing about Abe Lincoln’s “yoga.” Can I use your “Abe is my homeboy” image?

  15. Beach-slapped! I love it!

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