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.