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

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

 

anthony bourdain
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.

Self Care for the Social Justice Warrior (and anyone under stress)

Self Care for the Social Justice Warrior (and anyone under stress)

createherstock-a-summer-day-neosha-gardner
Photo credit: CreateHerStock

A version of my piece appears in Blavity, check it out!

In a time where a day seemingly cannot go by without some sort of political calamity, how can one get through this?

Those who see and feel injustice are having a tough time.

I’ll put it out there – I’m exhausted.  Having seen the good, bad and the ugly in the criminal justice system, I have now elevated my work on social justice issues to a wider scope.  I feel it is incumbent upon me as an African American female attorney to lend my voice, as well as my knowledge, for the betterment of all people everywhere. In doing so, you take on the pain of the struggle.  If you do not internalize it in some way, then you may need to check your pulse to see if you are still alive.

To make sure that you continue to have the ability to fight the good fight, self-care is critical. Some may think “is that some silly reason folks use to blow off work and go to yoga

Maybe for some folks, yes; for social warriors, no.

In order to center yourself, you have to take a break.  Why? Because your effectiveness diminishes as fatigue sets in.  Stress literally kills.

Here are some ideas:

  • Eat right 

Skipping meals, or eating fast food regularly is not a good idea.  I like McDonald’s fries as much as the next person, but as we saw in SuperSize Me,  a regular diet of this is not sustainable.  Additionally, it will wreak havoc on your energy levels and your mood.  The topics we are dealing with regularly are painful as it is – the wrong nutrition will make an already short fuse even shorter.  Make a conscious effort to eat regularly, and eat real food.

  • Exercise

I’m the first person to say I don’t get a runner’s high.   I mostly get the runner’s ouch.  But put me in a spin class with a solid playlist (shout out to Allison, Johanna and Reed at SoulCycle), and for 45 minutes I am in another world.  I leave sweaty, less stressed, and ready to take on the day.  Find what works for you – if you’re in Florida like me, a long walk on the beach is a straight up spiritual experience.  If not, basic calisthenics at home, an internet based workout (there’s tons of videos on YouTube, as well as more specialized options), or hitting your local gym will go a long way in allowing you to de-stress, clear your head, and release some of the anger that accumulates. Don’t let budget be a hindrance – close your door, and dance like mad to 3 of your favorite songs in a row. That short break may be enough to release some toxicity.

  • Find your village

You need to have positive people around you in your personal life. Each of us needs to have that crew who you can laugh with, be totally silly, and just let your locs down.  These are folks who lift you up, infusing you with renewed energy.  If those folks aren’t around you, you may need to take a serious look at your circle and make some changes for your sanity.

  • Detox

Take a day at the very least each week , or the entire weekend if you can, and totally detox.  My friend is a strong proponent of #UnpluggedSundays, where she signs off social media Saturday night, and does not get back on until Monday.  Look, whatever craziness that is coming from the White House will be there tomorrow. Just take a day, and focus on friends and family.  Focus on you. Binge watch Real Housewives – anything that does not require deep thought.

  • Leave the Bottle Alone

It may be tempting to self medicate by having that extra drink, or turning to legal (or illegal) drugs to escape.  At the end of the day, the world’s problems will still be there when you wake up.  And now, you’re awake, mad, and have a hangover.  Enough said. Also, dependency/addiction has a tendency to creep up on you. Recreational use can turn to habitual use in the blink of an eye.  I’m not trying to pull a Nancy Reagan (more of a Grandmaster Flash), but please don’t start down a path that will only cause pain.

nancy reagan
Nancy Reagan in her 1986 “Just Say No” campaign. For historical purposes only….
  • Find what brings you peace (and don’t underestimate the power of the playlist)

Since Charlottesville, I’ve changed my screensaver at work to alpacas.  Why? Because looking them calms me down.  I can minimize my screen, look at the cuteness, and then re-engage.  Music is a huge help too.  Lately I’ve been rocking Damien Marley.  His social commentary, coupled with great reggae beats and a sharp lyrical style keeps me focused when the day is long. Public Enemy, while accurate, makes me angry.  As my friend Ken reminded me today, James Brown is a good bet.  You get inspired, proud, and motivated.

alpacas
How could you stay stressed after seeing these sweet little faces? 
  • In Summary…

Many have heard the James Baldwin quote

To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

But the next line is even more important:

“…So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.”

Being part of the resistance is tough, but don’t let it destroy you. Make a conscious effort to release your stress — you are needed!

What works for you? Please share in the comments.