The Flawed Concept Behind “But You Have Nothing to Be Depressed About”!

The Flawed Concept Behind “But You Have Nothing to Be Depressed About”!

 

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Photo courtesy of CNN

I was saddened to learn that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain died by his own hand. When the news broke, I was in Paris for a work trip; he was also in France filming his show “Parts Unknown”. He has always been someone I wanted to meet. I’ve read his novels (Gone Bamboo, Bone in Throat). I followed his shows from Travel Channel to CNN’s Parts Unknown. Anthony had the coolest adventures, dove into a country’s politics head first, and provided me with even more countries for my travel bucket list.

 

In the last few episodes I watched, I thought he didn’t look good. He was thinner, more gray, and seemed to be going through the motions. The joy was no longer in his eyes. He was less of a prankster.

The signs were there – something was wrong.

As I realized in the last couple of years in my own life, travelling for work can be perilous. It seems glam at first —but after the newness subsides, it gets really overwhelming. Another hotel, another bed, the air conditioning in the room is not quite right, preventing a good night’s sleep. By always being away, you miss friend’s birthdays, events, dinner parties. You start to feel isolated. Add depression to the mix, and it becomes a deadly combination. You do it because you love the work (hopefully), but it can be killing you.

It’s possible that’s what happened to Anthony.

People often look at celebrities, or regular folks and say “but what do they have to be depressed about?! So and so has money, fame, a beautiful house and spouse.” The trappings of material things do not address internal emotional pain. The mindset that one has “no reason” to be depressed often serves as a barrier to either giving or getting the help that is needed.

Depression can result from any of a number of things — a “reason” is not required.

Depression is incredibly horrendous. No matter how awesome your life may be on the outside or on social media, your heart may be breaking. When you’re deeply depressed, death speaks to you. It’s like the siren’s song. It says “come sweetie, I’ll make you feel better. I’ll end this pain”. After drinking, drugs, or a painful event, she’s even more seductive. You need the voices of friends and family to drown it out, as well as a great therapist — sometimes including medication.

Depression is not something that can be prayed away, or ignored. You don’t just “get over it”. It takes work, and you literally have to fight for your life. You will have setbacks. You will have days you can’t get out of bed. Sometimes the medication prescribed to you doesn’t help, and you need a new formula. The fight is worth it because it does get better.

If you have never been in this much pain, you are lucky. It’s not because you are strong or better than someone who has been there. It’s like being in a car accident. Some people never have had one; others have. Some people get horribly depressed, others don’t. But just the same way you do not judge someone for having a car accident, you should not judge someone for depression. It’s easy to say about Anthony “oh how selfish, what about his child”. In his pain, he may have thought he was doing her a favor. Remember, depression has a powerful voice in your head, grossly distorting reality.

Never underestimate the pain of another. Be kind to others. I read a beautiful thread on Twitter of how a group of friends came together to help a friend that was suffering from depression after the death of her father. Although she was shutting everyone out, they literally came to her house en masse, cleaned up, brought food, and made it a party. It helped her tremendously. It’s risky, but is an idea on how to help a depressed friend.

If you are constantly on the road for work, try to maintain your connections at home. Take time to rest, use your vacation time, and if possible, try to take your loved ones on the road with you.

If you are in pain, seek help, and disregard the opinions of others who try to dissuade you from therapy. Fight that mute button that depression places on your throat. It’s a hard battle, but know you are loved and you are valued. You will be missed, no matter what the voices in your head say.

I say this to my fellow social justice warriors and people of color.  Please practice self care.  Please check on each other.  Get a therapist if you feel you need one. Being in the struggle for justice can take a horrible toll.

RIP Anthony Bourdain….and all others who have lost their battle with depression.

See resources on suicide prevention at http://www.sprc.org/.

If you are in the South Florida area and need resources, message me.

We’re all in this together.

M.

 

 

The Power of the Little Things

The Power of the Little Things

Photo courtesy of CreateHerStock

So as many of you know, I am obsessed with spinning. Most importantly, spinning at SoulCycle. I embarked on a challenge to complete 15 classes in 30 days. Between my schedule, exhaustion, and just life, it was a lofty goal for me, but I tried for it anyway. Saturday was my 10th class. The staff of SoulCycle South Beach left me a card at my spinning bike. It was a note of encouragement to keep pushing to my 15 class goal, to show appreciation for my efforts and my loyalty for coming to the studio as a local resident (we get many tourists due to being in South Beach).

I don’t know whether it was stress, or some other driving factor, but the card made me quite emotional. It was such a little thing — a small gesture, a token appreciation, a word of encouragement.

Often people over look at the little things and how important it can be for someone. For you it’s something small; but for someone it could be something huge that they need it right now.

In my new journey in leadership, I’ve had some growing pains. Being a social justice warrior part time is one thing; but when it’s your whole existence, it can take a toll on your soul. Additionally, you have to make sure that you’re growing in leadership. Since people look to you as a leader, you feel the pressure to make sure you are doing it right — that you’re really motivating your team and looking at the big picture.

In that spirit, I took a day off from work to fly out of state to see someone I greatly respect. I walked away from our lunch with two critical points; to always live in my truth, and to always focus on what is right.

Living your truth means not only telling the truth, but acknowledging when something is hurting you — when someone is hurting you. Being vocal is critical so that your own mental state can be preserved. Many times we hold in resentment, we hold in things that are wrong, or we accept certain treatment because we think we’re supposed to. That is not living in your truth, and creates a level of stress that is detrimental to you professionally as well as to your health. Stress truly kills.

Also, the key is to focus on always doing what’s right. You may not always get it right, but if your motivation is to do what is right, what is good for the organization and what is good for your fellow person, then you are on the right track.

This journey has been a serious learning curve for me. It is really teaching me the value of the little things: receiving hug from a friend, giving hugs to my father, a beautiful sunny day, an enthusiastic puppy, a really great song that comes on in the car, or an unexpected note cheering you on.

It’s the little things that help us deal when life comes at you fast.

The Frailty of Life — Please See Your Doctor…

The Frailty of Life — Please See Your Doctor…

I’m struggling with my emotions this morning. Late Sunday night, I discovered that a friend, George Cholakis, suddenly passed away while at a Miami Dolphins football game. I’m completely saddened and stunned. Not more than 2 weeks before, we laid another friend to rest, J.C. Dugue. He passed away from a massive heart attack just before Hurricane Irma hit.

These gentlemen were attorneys that were a few years ahead of me in my legal career. J.C., who was a defense attorney, knew me pretty much my entire career as a prosecutor. His sense of humor always added levity to tense moments as we stood across from each other on opposite sides of the courtroom. Just looking at him sometimes would have me in stitches. He was just that way.

George was helpful to me as a young prosecutor, as I was floundering (as we all did) to stay afloat with the heavy caseload. He’d often have words of encouragement, or the right answer when the judge was grilling me. He was senior to me, having tried intense homicide cases. He was kind, always pleasant, down to earth, and a fun guy. A few years ago, a really tragic incident occurred that pretty much cost him everything. George took responsibility, and started from scratch to rebuild. He began his own legal practice, and brought the same personality that he always had to his new line of work. I had such respect for George in doing so. Sometimes when folks fall down, they never get back up. He did, which showed the strength of his character.

What bewilders me is that they were not old. I know, the definition of “old” tends to shift as one ages upward, but I’m talking maybe 10 years older than me. I get it — when you hit your 70’s and 80’s, you expect to lose friends. Not in your 40’s.

Earlier this year, we lost two more members of our legal community to suicide. We all were devastated, and started work among our voluntary bar organizations to address depression. We lost J.C. and George to natural causes. Now, it’s time for us to talk about self care of not just the mind, but the body as well.

It takes wild horses for me to drag the men in my life to the doctor. I joke that for my husband and my dad, if an arm fell off, they’d pick it up and keep going, still refusing to go to the doctor. We have to be more forceful about getting the ones we love to the doctor, and heeding whatever warnings are given.

And, we ourselves need to take responsibility for our own health. Taking on too much, unmanaged stress, and ignoring what our bodies tell us is the formula for a fatal disaster.

We have to take care of each other. The pain of those left behind is immeasurable.

RIP J.C. and George.

Finding Peace in Stormy Times..

Finding Peace in Stormy Times..

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Snowboarding last Christmas in Stowe with my husband

When do I feel free? When am I most at peace?

The question was posed as a result of all of the negativity we are seeing of late in the news. How do we as warriors for change refuel?

It caused me to pause, reflecting as to how and where I regain my strength.

It is in these instances: one, when I am listening to music. That could be in my car, in a spinning class, or on the dance floor (happening less and less these days).

Two, when I am on top of a mountain about to snowboard down.

And three, when I’m with my husband.

Music has always been my freedom. For as long as I can remember, music has the ability to transport me away from any problems or concerns I am dealing with. In my younger days (early 20’s) I would find escape with my friends in the nightclubs of New York and Miami. As I got older — with the days getting longer, and the job became more hectic, I found solace less  on the dance floor, and more on a spinning bike. I discovered spinning classes around the early 2000’s; that same music and emotion present in a nightclub would take me away from my problems for 45 minutes on a stationary bike. For that time frame, I am focused on the task at hand; beat the bike! Of late, I have been going to SoulCycle down the block from my home.  That has been such a blessing and helped me through some tough trials. Other times, taking a drive in my car with the music blasting helps me clear my head. Whether it be dance music, R&B, old hip hop, or even country (thanks to my husband’s influence), I can shift my energy to a better place in a couple songs.

Another great activity that brings me peace is snowboarding. Mind you, I am not the best at it; a good run is when I didn’t fall at all, but there is nothing like standing on the top of the mountain. You are literally on top of the world. The only thing you hear is the whistling of the wind and the sound of your own heartbeat. Then, you jump. As I coast down the slope surrounded by God’s natural beauty, I am utterly at peace.

Until I fall.

The well from which I get my strength is my beloved husband. I have talked about him in prior posts, but I always feel it bears repeating. I married him a little late in life, so it enabled me to really pick the right partner. There is nothing better after a long day or a long week to cuddle up next to him and talk, or even sit in silence. During that time I release all the stress from the day and just enjoy being in the company of the one I love. I have grown to cherish these moments more and more as life, as well as my chosen profession, throws me more challenges.

It is always critical to find what brings you peace or else your tank will run empty. Bad things happen when you get to that point.

So what brings you peace? Sound off in the comments!

M.

The Lost War on Drugs: What Next?

The Lost War on Drugs: What Next?

war-on-drugs

Newsflash: we have lost the war on drugs.

Yes, we have made a lot of arrests.  Yes, drugs were seized and destroyed. But we have not stopped or stemmed the tide of illegal drugs into the United States.

As a prosecutor, I start to think about failed policies, and what to do next.

Instead of a war on poverty, they have a war on drugs so that the police can bother me.

This line was immortalized by the rapper Tupac. It was in his song “Changes” that he discussed the current conditions of his neighborhood in the 1990’s . He was defining the issues that were present in the African-American community. Sadly, in the years since that song, those who reside in lower income areas have not seen any changes.

It has recently come to light in an interview with Nixon aide, that the war on drugs truly was a farce. The idea purportedly was to “equate the hippies with marijuana, and the blacks with heroin” in an attempt to prevent the groundswell of political change that was occurring in the 1970’s.

In reality, the way to fix all that ails our society is really simple. We need to attack the demand, not the supply. The war on drugs was targeting the suppliers. But for every drug dealer and Pablo Escobar that was taken off the street, ten more rose to assume their place.

Why?

Because it is lucrative. Because there is a demand for drugs. Until we end the demand, we will never win the war on drugs.

So how do we end the demand? It is a bit more than Nancy Reagan’s “just say no“, –while simplistic, we need to educate the youth. We truly need to invest in addiction remedies. We need to invest in rehabilitation, making it widespread and easily affordable. If you do not have the money to go to Betty Ford, you should still be able to fight your addiction at a licensed rehabilitation center so that you can get your life on the right track. Once we have less addicts, then the drug dealers will have to find something else to do because selling drugs is no longer profitable.

Of course, this plan requires money. It requires the government to invest in such programs or private entities to subsidize these programs for those who are financially unable, or whose insurance does not cover it. But this is the only way we can truly move forward and truly win this “war on drugs”. Incarcerating masses of people is not the answer.

I was reading an interesting article regarding the relationship between the Clintons and the African-American community. Many view the widespread support Secretary Clinton enjoys as blind faith; however, many in the African-American community, frustrated at the violence that they saw in the streets, welcomed the aggressive policing tactics and hoped that this would alleviate the problems. So while President Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill is looked upon as one of the main catalysts of the mass incarceration problem we see today, it was something that was originally sanctioned, even fought for, by the Congressional Black Caucus, the African-American faith based community, and many African-Americans at large. However, the unintended consequence was that an entire generation of young African-American men were lost to the prison system, and even more African-Americans remained mired in addiction and poverty. Check out another interesting article on the relationship between African Americans and the war on drugs here.

So now that we know better, we must do better. If we look at the response to the heroin epidemic in white communities, the focus is on treatment as well as looking at novel ways to enforce the law. The same must be done in all communities, especially communities of color who have suffered for too long.

At the end of the day, if there is a demand, the supply will follow. It’s simple economics; it’s simply business. So it is good business for us to invest in rehabilitation as well as mental health, because in some instances, addictions co-occur with mental illness as a way of self-medicating.

Bottom line: min mans solve nothing, they deter nothing. End the demand, and you kill the supply.

Give a listen to an interview I did on this topic with NPR and the article I wrote for the Miami Herald.

As always, please share your thoughts!

M.

 

 

Mental Illness and the Law: A Rocky Relationship

Mental Illness and the Law: A Rocky Relationship

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Mental Illness is now back in the news, as a result of the video of a California Highway Patrol officer punching a mentally ill woman. The family of the woman plans to sue the police department for the officer’s actions.

Here is a piece I wrote regarding the painful issues that loved ones of mentally ill people deal with. These are actual stories, with the names omitted.

A 76 year old man was diagnosed late in life with schizophrenia. One of the side effects of this disease is that you do not believe you are ill or need medication; this elderly man was no different. After the death of his wife, he began to lose touch with reality. He began to neglect himself, not eat, and sit in an apartment during a heat wave, refusing to turn on the air conditioner. He was involuntarily hospitalized under the laws of the state, since it was found that he was a danger to himself. He received medication, was stabilized, and after two months, released back to his home with a care plan.

Approximately 1 in 4 adults across America suffer from some form of mental illness. Every state in the country has some version of what we call in Florida “the Baker Act”. If a friend, family member or neighbor sees someone who has mental health issues that are becoming out of control, they can call a local hospital, who visits the person in question. The police have the power to make this call as well. A psychiatric team visits the person, making observations about the person’s behavior, hygiene and surroundings. The team will ask questions, and determine whether or not the person is a danger to themselves or others. If the person is considered a danger, the law gives the team authority to have the person hospitalized (even against their will) for a minimum of 48 hours. The police are allowed to take the person by force if they refuse to go.

Several months later, the elderly man decided he was well, and stopped taking his medication. He became more and more angry, yelling at his daughter, and refusing to let the members of the care team into his home. He even physically pushed the aide who bought him groceries on a regular basis out the door of his house, because he was paranoid about why she was there. The difficult decision was made to call the medical team again to assess him. They determined he was a danger…but this time, he refused to go. The police came, and he fought. He fought with every fiber in his 76 year old being…until he was placed in a chokehold, handcuffed, and dragged out of his home of 40 years. At the hospital, he refused medication and refused to bathe. After going to court, the judge gave permission for the doctors to inject him with medication. So by force, he was held down and injected.

Medical intervention with the mentally ill is not always pretty. The question becomes, will this person harm themselves or others? It is even more difficult for the family, who has to stand by the sidelines, helpless and watching. The law allows for force to be used, as ugly as the result may be.

An attorney struggles with bipolar manic depression. When he is on his medications, he is the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. Generous, friendly, and great in the courtroom. However, when he stops taking his meds, he becomes violent and angry…almost a “Jekyll and Hyde” scenario. He hits his wife, ignores his children, and ends up stealing from a client. He is arrested, prosecuted, and loses his ability to practice law ever again.

Some mentally ill people end up in the criminal justice system. They may use illegal drugs to self medicate, in order to “make the voices stop”. They may commit crimes of violence against family members, law enforcement, and regular citizens. Some are less violent, but live in their own version of reality.

The other issue is the family. While the family suffers the ill effects of the person’s actions, they are struggling with the fact that deep down, the person is not bad, but ill. The age old question of “if your family member had cancer, would you stop speaking to them? How is mental illness different?” makes the struggle more difficult.

The criminal justice system, which is designed to punish, is slowly becoming more sensitive to these issues…but there are no easy answers. You can have a million programs in place to help the person struggling with mental illness. But the problem that remains is keeping the person on medication, when the disease tells them that they are fine.

Ft. Hood: An Issue of Gun Control or Mental Health?

Ft. Hood: An Issue of Gun Control or Mental Health?

ft. hood

Please see my take on this tragedy, published on theLaw.tv yesterday.  Ft. Hood

This week, there was another shooting tragedy on the Ft. Hood military base. Ivan Lopez, an Iraq war veteran and Army specialist, shot three people to death, injuring sixteen, before turning the gun on himself. A military policewoman bravely confronted him, which brought his actions to an end.

Unfortunately, Ft. Hood has been struck by tragedy before. In 2009, thirteen people were shot and killed by Nidal Malik Hasan. The difference in the 2009 tragedy is that Hasan had a clear agenda. He had been self-radicalized and took a terrorist stance against the United States. He was given a life sentence for his actions.

In the present shooting, the Army verified that the Lopez was being treated for depression and anxiety, as well as being evaluated for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, Lopez purchased the weapon used in the shooting several days before. He lawfully held a concealed weapons permit.

So the debate re-emerges. Is this another case of a mentally unstable person getting access to weapons? Are our veterans being properly treated for PTSD resulting from combat?

Keep in mind, the majority of people that suffer from PTSD, or any other type of mental illness, are not violent. Some key components of PTSD involve an inability to sleep, nightmares, flashbacks, and difficulty adjusting to civilian life outside of the combat zone. It appears that the Army was in the process of evaluating Lopez, and treating him accordingly. From what is currently known, it seems that the Army was in fact working with Lopez to address his mental health issues. What is not known is Lopez’s motivation for committing this horrible crime. The question will be if there were any warning signs that the shooter’s depression was turning violent and what, if anything, could have been done about it. The answer will hopefully be uncovered in the coming weeks.

The next inevitable issue is that of gun control. Many ask, “how could someone with mental health concerns be able to get a firearm?” This is a situation where the laws that are currently in place adequately addressed what was known at the time of purchase. When the shooter went to the gun shop, he was a current, serving member of the armed forces. He had not been officially declared to be mentally ill; there was no indication that he was suicidal or homicidal. There were no court orders against him, nor was he a convicted felon. If you look at his profile in a general sense, he is someone a gun store owner would have no hesitation in selling a firearm to. As such, he was lawfully able to purchase a firearm.

What is most troubling is that there is a policy at Ft. Hood forbidding firearms on the base. It is clear that this policy has not been enforced on two separate occasions. Unfortunately, Ft. Hood is a huge area, with 90,000 people. It may be physically impossible to search every person. The military is tasked with finding a solution.

At the end of the day, our vets have sacrificed so much, so that we can enjoy the liberties that we have as Americans. The biggest issue should be how can we help them? This is not a case of gun control going awry. It’s a case of human tragedy, with a reminder of how fragile the human mind can be.

This is an issue of caring for our veterans and making sure that those who suffer from mental illness have access to thorough care. And that is where our focus should be.

Melba Pearson is an attorney in Florida. Follow her on Twitter @ResLegalDiva.