Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rethinking Depression by Eric Maisel

I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  PTSD can be the result of one dramatic trauma episode or a prolonged period of trauma. In my case, during the prolonged stress I really, really struggled. During that time we talked about depression in two ways, Depression with a Big D and depression with a little d. The Big D version evidenced during the acute trauma period by my considering a day a success if I could put both feet on the floor and eventually get out of bed, at least for a few minutes. To survive that I needed the big three: medication, talk therapy, and body work. Think critical care, emergency treatment, stabilize the patient!

PTSD is the gift that keeps on giving. Even after doing lots and lots of gut wrenching work and believing I am okay, something can happen that will trigger the PTSD. This results in what I used to call depression with a little d. I feel really, really unhappy, really sad. The good news is that it is more manageable because I have learned how to cope.  In Eric Maisel's latest book, Rethinking Depression, he dismisses depression as a mental disorder and instead identifies it as a meaning crisis and gives the tools needed to cope. Here's some context to understand what he is proposing.

Eric is well known as America's foremost creativity coach. He is also a died-in-the-wool existentialist. I asked Eric to define existentialism and here is his response. "Existentialism is the first philosophy to demand that the individual take personal responsibility for his or her thoughts, actions, and life and further demands that we look the facts of existence squarely in the eye and deal with existence-as-it-is and not how, through wishful thinking, we had hoped it would be." What I think of as little d depression might just be the meaning crisis state Eric refers to in this book. And taking an existentialist position and employing the techniques and strategies he proposes offers a solution.

Rethinking Depression is a lovely play on words. Eric is asking us to rethink what depression is or isn't. He is also suggesting that re-thinking, that is taking an existentialist viewpoint and thinking differently about sadness when struggling, is the way to living well. He is NOT promising every moment will be happy, happy, happy. He is saying that unhappiness is part of the human condition and making meaning is the way to cope with the unhappy times. He is saying we are happier when we are making meaning. He is also suggesting we pay attention to the happy or at least neutral times as well, looking existence squarely in the eye.

Yes, but how do we do that? How do we make meaning? Rethinking Depression is the complete meaning making tool box. Eric takes us from deciding how and what matters, to creating a Life-Purpose Vision, to negotiating meaning daily, to how to handle meaning crises. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on existential, cognitive, and behavioral self-care. This is fun, engaging reading because Eric has a droll way of explaining and a knack for providing a large variety of examples to reach almost every reader.

He boils it down to three questions to orient your life.

1. What matters to me?
2. Are my thoughts aligned to what matters to me?
3. Are my actions aligned to what matters to me?

That's a pretty good check list for living!

I recommend Eric's book to anyone who wants a meaning-full life.


  1. nice Judy- excellent recomendation. I too fight PTSD and there are still times when i simply want to curl up into a fetal position and stay in my cave. I am finding my teaching workshops on healing and dealing with stress and compassion fatigue have been incredibly helpful in my own personal healing. Blessings to you on your continued journey

  2. This sounds like an excellent book, Judy. I have struggled all my life with exactly what it is I believe; I have been unable to force beliefs that I thought would give me comfort, so now it's down to simply accepting my existential take on life, i.e., there is nothing that will save me from death and I won't be meeting all my family members in some pie-in-the-sky heaven. I think I've explored every religion and line of thought until I came into my own. The cosmos is a very, very big and wonderful place!

    1. Monica I'm sorry to be so late in responding to your comment. For reasons known only to the blogosphere I just discovered your comment today. I think the struggle to understand is what makes life interesting, not easy, but interesting. I'm concentrating on being fully present in this moment and practicing lots of loving kindness meditation. Exploring and experiencing creativity brings much light into my life, as I know it does for you!

  3. This is a very thoughtful consideration to alternative views of a really difficult problem.

    It was good meeting you this weekend!

  4. Chery, I can imagine how healing it is for you to help others find their way. It's disheartening that so many people are so willing to dismiss PTSD, especially the long range impact on a person's life and sense of well being. I believe the more we talk about it the better understanding there will be. I'm glad you're out there!

  5. Jeanne, Good to see you as well! Eric's book is chock full of practical suggestions to deal with meaning struggles. What writer doesn't struggle with meaning on a regular basis? :>)