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.