At various times, I’ve been cautioned not to write about this, but a string of news stories, fresh data, and conversations with friends came together for this post. It is not easy to write. Challenging taboos isn’t easy. Exposing vulnerabilities threatens facades. I may not do the subject justice, but I decided to join others in trying to talk about depression, depression that I’m hearing about in society and amongst friends and occasionally inside my own head. As one writer friend tweeted;
I think one of the challenges a lot of writers face (self included) is the reluctance to go deep into raw pain, to unleash the fury, the blood. We turn away, we get abstract.
— Richard Pelletier (@lucidcontent) June 9, 2018
Even as I write this and paste that, I know I’ll already turn away from two inspirations for this post.
One : Yet another celebrity who seemed to have everything committed suicide.
Two : In the US, 25 states have seen a 30% increase in suicides in the last twenty years.
Depression has been tied to too many of these stories. In particular for this personal finance blog, many of the less public suicides have been tied to personal finance. The Great Recession wasn’t just an economic blip. It hurt. It didn’t just hurt bank accounts and retirement plans. It hurt people. I experienced the emotional assault unleashed by collection agencies. Their attacks left me physically shaking for days. They practice it. They’re good at it. I’m still surprised that I didn’t have a heart attack from people who so expertly knew how to reveal unsettling publicly available information, identify my emotional hot buttons, and hit those buttons with rapid-fire hammer strikes. I’m not surprised that many people decided that the only way out was – well – I guess I will mention suicide after all. One of the things that saved me was the organization that saved my house. Few find them or others like them (Parkview Services), unfortunately. I’m glad I did. (Details: My Mortgage Modification Chronology)
I live on a tourist island where there’s obvious income and wealth inequality. There’s a facade of “welcome to the cheery and pretty place.” And it is a cheery and pretty place. That’s part of why I am here. That facade, however, is propped up by what I call the Pageant of the Pleasant Peasantry. Hotels, restaurants, and shops cater to a clientele that appreciates the natural beauty, art, and culture of the island. The service is high-end, polite, and good at finding a balanced casual quality. Come here to relax and enjoy. It works. I didn’t truly begin learning to relax until I relocated here. Enjoy the service, but it wasn’t until I lost ~98% of my net worth, almost lost my house, and had to work about a half a dozen jobs, seven days a week, for up to twelve hours a day before I began to see behind the facade. The pageant is that polished and powerful.
Too many of the hotel staff, waiters, and baristas live in the woods or in cars. Drive through some of the parking lots farther from the center of the various attractions and see cars that the owners can’t afford to properly fix. Head to the middle of the island, back from the water and the views, and find households that are trying anything and everything to get by.
It isn’t just the people in the public view. On a recent rainy day, I gave a ride to a hitchhiker who was happy to finally get $1,000. He’s a carpenter who will finally be able to buy a cheap car so he no longer has to limit himself to the job sites within walking distance. Browse craigslist, or even better, drewslist, and see proud people selling essentials so they can buy things that are even more essential.
Many people who are smiling are slapping on their version of that facade. Recently, one friend interviewed me as a case study for a class on leadership. Honored to be included. One of his questions was, “How often are you happy?” My answer, about 10% of the time. He was surprised. He expected something more like 80%. I’m not surprised. We frequently base our impression of people from what we experience. I like people. When I’m with people, I smile. When I dance, I smile. But, that’s only part of my life. He also was caught by a data quirk. Ask a geek a question with a number in it and you may get too specific of an answer. About 33% of the time I’m trying to sleep, which I’m quite terrible at. Most of my time is spent working. I enjoy doing good things and getting things done, but the Gig Economy is too chaotic to encourage the flow that I’ve experienced when working with only words, only data, or only playing with ideas. The logistics of switching between the various roles gets in the way. It’s easy to get down to only 10%.
Some readers have cautioned me to not mention such things because it is too real, too much information for clients who want to work with the illusion behind Confidence and the Strong Declarative Statement. I understand that. Go look to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or Mar a Lago for proof that reality isn’t as important as a strong and confident facade. Facts and logic aren’t in style, at least for a while.
We’re seeing the price of listening to those cautions.
I have another blog for “people who are eager and anxious about the future”, PretendingNotToPanic.com. The name gets more of a response than the posts. Pretending Not To Panic resonates. I say it, and people smile or laugh or nod their head or some mix of those reactions. They’ll talk about it privately, one-to-one; but won’t publicly admit that they’re pretending not to panic. It cracks the facade, which may mean smaller tips, fewer patrons, more rejections, a shorter list of clients. That’s the fear.
It isn’t just poor people. Anthony Bourdain wasn’t poor. Neither was Robin Williams. Both worked in an industry that paid them very well and provided creative outlets. Yet, behind the facades we placed on them, there were severe troubles.
Depression doesn’t have to reach suicidal levels before it should be addressed. Some countries measure their happiness index. That may sound silly in modern American culture, but wouldn’t it be better to working to that ideal rather than one of “if you struggle hard enough you’ll be allowed to survive?”
Depression isn’t something simple, and certainly not something that can adequately be collected into one blog post. There are many causes. I’m continuing to learn more about mine. I self-diagnose as depressive, because I know good news doesn’t lift me as easily as it did, and because my experience with avoiding foreclosure trained me to flinch at mortgage company emails and any hint of late bills. I also am feeling better. During that phase I flinched at phone calls. At least I don’t do that anymore. Thanks to some amazing support, my situation is improving. Appreciative consulting clients, shared real estate sales, and a financial “buffer” are getting me through some tough times. I’m smiling more. Bodily aches and pains are diminishing. I even had a party the other night and was pleasantly surprised by the joy I felt seeing friends for the fun of it. It’s been a long time.
There are shelves of books about the topic, each with a perspective that matches someone’s needs. Another will be added soon by one of my clients who is working from a pseudonym because they’ve been through a long and successful recovery, have insights, research, and a perspective to share – and yet need to use a pen name because their professional career must be protected by a strong and confident facade. Look for their longer story, soon.
In 2004-2005 I went to counseling for stress-related issues. My counselor pointed out that I had a very thin support network, even though I had a lot of friends. I asked him the blunt question, “Am I crazy?” No. I delved a bit and we got into a conversation about modern psychology and sociology. As dysfunctional as the society was fifty years ago, and before, society and communities and friends were more internally supportive. Pardon the stereotypes, but this was part of his perspective. Fifty years ago, a man would come home from work, then hit the bar. At the bar, he might complain about work, his wife, his life, his kids; but he also may want to share good news with other men who had jobs, wives, and kids. Fifty years ago, a housewife, after taking care of the kids and the house, could get together with other wives and some wine, and similarly complain and celebrate with people who understood her situation. People had emotional outlets. As a society, we’ve worked hard at breaking down gender roles and barriers, reducing drunk driving, and emphasizing openness and diversity – but he pointed out that we also lost those support networks. Our society is in the process of redefining them through “tribes” and bizarre things like social media; but until we replace that network, one of his main jobs is to listen, as much as a barkeep or hairdresser or simply a friend, as a psychologist.
One of the most powerful things he said to me was; “You look like you are in so much pain.” My muscles relaxed so much at hearing those words that my sternum actually cracked. A very freaky moment. A freaky realization that no one else had said those few simple words. My issue at the time wasn’t depression, but stress; but he proved to me the power of listening. Others showed me the same power amplified by holding a hand, or providing a hug. Advice can have the opposite effect. Advice can come across as “Here’s what you are doing wrong”, “It’s all your fault”, “How can you be so stupid as to do…?” A defense must be raised and responded to before getting to the true listening. Try listening first. “I’m sorry to hear you’re in such a situation”, “How does that feel”, “I can’t imagine.” It is also one reason I am training myself to greet people with “It’s good to see you.” Ironically, asking someone “Hey, how are you doing?” in a public place can startle and scare. The same question in private, asked sincerely, however, maybe the best medicine.
I don’t feel that I’ve lived up to Richard’s challenge, “go deep into raw pain, to unleash the fury, the blood”, especially not in a first draft, which is basically what I post. But my eloquence or lack doesn’t matter as much as hopefully helping others know that they are not alone, and hopefully helping others consider other ways to help. We’re all in this together.