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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Response to Critical Comments about my Work

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Three More Questions": 

I acknowlege your experience and credentials but respectfully disagree with your position on depression. Moreover, your advice to readers that depression is a weakness and that it is a learned/habit behavior is very disappointing. Depression took me by surprise and brought me to my knees. I spent more than a year fighting feelings and physical ailments that I had never experienced before.

Yes, I know what you mean. Depression took me by surprise and brought me to my knees as well when I was 12 years old. I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t want anyone to think I was “not normal.” In a way it was like hiding from sight an ugly, hideous, infected wound which would turn everyone away from me in disgust. I periodically got episodes of depression and spent many years in chronic agony, sometimes lasting for months at a time, until I was in my 40s and had become a cognitive therapist.

The harder I fought the stronger the depression(I didn't know it was depression at the time) persisted until my body just gave out. I do not agree with your take that depression is due to weakness, lack of exercise skills etc. I sought help once I realized I couldn't fight this thing on my own (still not knowing what was making me feel and act this way.) I acted on all recommendations and excercises learned in cogitive therapy. I attended several sessions of 8 week classes. Even with all my natural strengh, perseverence and dedication to applying the cognitive skills, depression still took over. I am certainly not weak. I completed my MBA in the middle of having my second daughter,even nursing her between classes. I finished a marathon after pulling my groin on mile 13. I climed the corporate ladder passing my male peers. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.

Yes, again, I know what you mean. I was always an overachiever myself. Had my own local television program for a short while , had most of my writings published. But my success in life did nothing to help my depression when it came on.

 I am not weak but I was still taken down. I spent a long period of time in the hospital. Of course many combinations of medication and nothing worked. Finally after deep soul searching and research I decided to try ECT. My doctor and ECT saved my life. Everyday is still a very difficult road. I have had three relaspes including the one I am fighting now. Reading your comments on weakness, brain habit etc. are offensive and quite frankly demotivating.

A lot of the pain of depression is caused by the habit of habitually succumbing (surrendering) to the intense neural patterns that automatically trigger. Depression is a syndrome that has its own course. You can, most often, change the course of the syndrome with some pro-active responses to it. Our moods grow imperceptibly from the intense, if unconscious, concentration on particular lines of thinking that pop up and habitual behavior that lead us into either a positive or a negative mode--these body modes are called the parasympathetic or the sympathetic mode. The first is a state of body alarm, or stress. The second  mode is our essential sense of laid-back well-being or okayness.

You can go along with the patterns and let the depression run its course, or you can apply distractions such as re-engagement with others,  mind techniques, physical exercise to turn you brain to alternative neural patterns. The brain always follows the direction of its most current dominant thought. You make a thought dominant by thinking it over and over. We can make depression dominant by thinking, over and over, "I am depressed. I feel terrible." Some depression episodes can be averted entirely if you turn immediately from concentration on your downer thinking to more productive thinking activity. It is very difficult to do, but it is doable.

I just hope someone at the bottom of their rope does not read your site because you may be responsible for pushing them over the edge by insinuating it is their fault.

At the bottom of our rope, whether it is our fault or not that we are depressed, it is our responsibility to seek help as you did. The idea that depression might be my fault, or helped by my changing my way of thinking was of great comfort to me when I was first presented with the idea because it meant that I could also do something about it. I was no longer a helpless victim.

We are lucky enough to live in the USA so we have freedom of speech, but I fear that your advice may push people over ledge. Your advice for the people closest to depression sufferers is irresponsible at best. You are communicating that depression is in the head of the sufferer as a learned habit and due to weakness they choose to live this way.

Depression is absolutely in our head because it is in our brain and in our neurons and the result of our neurotransmitters going bonkers on us. But, no, I did not say depression is a learned habit due to weakness. Depression is a learned habit because we do it over and over and the neural pattern gets stronger and stronger. We can choose to help ourselves in many different ways. You chose one way. There are other ways.

People with depression need love, support and understanding and those closest to sufferers need love, support and understanding too! It is not the fault of anyone and weakness has nothing to do with it. Your thoughts are as silly as saying someone who died of cancer died becuase they were too weak to fight it, so it is their fault that they died.

Many people die of cancer because they will not give up the lifestyle that caused the cancer in the first place, like smoking for instance, or obesity due to overeating or heavy drinking. That does not mean they are bad people. No one knows what cosmic work we each have to do in this life. I don’t believe anybody’s depression is by accident. It is happening for some reason. If there is a will to find a way out of it, we will find a way.

 I expect that you will tell me I AM being strong becuase I keep fighting. You make it sound so easy to just fight the "learned habit brain behavior". I don't know how long you have suffered from depression (I assume you suffer since you have such a bold opinion)but your approach and view on depression is in the minority. God Bless any readers suffering from depression. It is an illness no different from other illnesses and it is NOT your fault or due to any weakness.

Overcoming learned-habit behavior is not easy. Again, it is doable. A lot of depression may be avoided entirely by mind techniques. Some depression may also be alleviated by better nutrition or hormone replacement that has become necessary due to aging.

When we are depressed we need not see ourselves as helpless or hopeless. Once we have some basic idea how our brain works , and we are remiss if we do not educate ourselves about our own brain functions, there is always something we can do to alleviate our pain, someone to talk to, to give us encouragement, to teach us mind techniques, lifestyle changes or thinking changes that will help bring us again into a peaceful and loving place. A. B. Curtiss

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