Epilogue: My Misery, My Cure and My Joy
88-150 epilogue dir depression January 27, 1989
"Physician, heal thyself!" At the least, the doctor should be sure that the cure works on himself or herself before prescribing it to others. I have healed myself. That's why I tell you my personal story here.
I'll begin by telling you how my life seemed to me in March, 1975, when I was living for a year in Jerusalem. The first-draft notes for this description were written while I was still depressed, based on what I said to a family physician in December, 1974. The purpose of the writing was to serve as the basis for consulting one or more famous psychotherapists by mail -- that's how desperate for help I had become -- before finally concluding that my depression was incurable. Shortly after I made these first notes I went through the process of thought that removed my depression immediately, the first time I had been free of depression in thirteen years.
As of December, 1974, my external situation was the best it had been in thirteen years. I had just finished what I hoped would be an important book, and I had no troubles with health, family, money, etc. Nevertheless, there was no day that I wanted to see. Each morning when I awoke, my only pleasant expectations were taking a nap early in the evening, and then (after more work) finishing the day gasping with relief like an exhausted swimmer reaching shore, then having a drink and going to sleep. Looking ahead to each day I had no sense of accomplishment in advance, only the expectation that I might finish a little bit more of what I considered to be my duty.
Death was not unattractive. I felt that I had to stay alive for my children's sake, at least for the next ten years until the children would be grown, simply because children need a father in the house to constitute a complete family. At many many moments, especially in the morning when waking, or when walking back home after taking the children to school, I wondered whether I would be able to get through that ten years, whether I would have strength enough to fight back the pain and fears rather than to simply end it all. Those next ten years seemed very long, especially in the light of the past thirteen years that I had spent depressed. I thought that after that next ten years I would be free to choose to do what I wanted with my life, to end it if I then wished, because once my children would be sixteen or seventeen years old they would be sufficiently formed so that whether I would be alive or not would not make much difference in their development.
To repeat, as I thought about the day ahead I saw nothing pleasurable. When I had talked to a psychologist a few times about a year and a half earlier he had asked me which things I truly enjoy in this world. I told him that the list was short: sex, tennis and other sports, poker, and at some happy times in my past when I had been working on new ideas which I thought might result in some impact on the society, the work was really fun, too.
I remember as early as 1954, when I was in the Navy, noticing that I get pleasure from very few things. At sea one Saturday or Sunday, sitting on the ship's fantail, I asked myself what I really enjoyed. I knew that I did not get much pleasure out of what gives most people the most pleasure--just sitting around talking about the events of the day, and about the doings of themselves and other people around them. The only conversations I really looked forward to with pleasure were those concerning some common project in which I was engaged with the other person. But now (as of 1975) I had even lost the pleasure of such joint-work conversations.
My depression had its proximate cause in an event in 1962. I was then a businessman running my own new small business, and I did something that was morally wrong--not a big thing, but enough to throw me into the blackest depths of despair for more than a year, and then into an ongoing gray depression thereafter.
Of course, the long-run causes of the depression--and in every way I fit the textbook description of a depressive personality--were more basic. I lacked a basic sense of self- worth. I did not esteem myself highly, as do so many people whose "objective" accomplishments might be considered small compared to mine. My work did not, and still does not, fill me with a sense of what a fine fellow I am. For most people in the university occupation I'm in, a tenth of the books and articles that I've written would enable them to feel that they had done a lifetime's worth of scholarly work, enough to enable them to claim with a straight face the highest rewards a university can offer. But for me it all seemed hollow. I asked myself (and continue to ask myself) what real impact upon the society my work has had. When I can't point to some substantial change, I feel that the work is all waste. And in truth, up to 1975 a fair amount of my work had not been received well or much esteemed, and this had given me a sense of futility toward those of my writings that were about to appear, or those which I considered writing in the future. (To get ahead of the story, starting in 1980 some of my work brought me wide recognition. From time to time I believe that I affect some people's thinking and perhaps public policy. This was delightful at its height for a few years, and gave me much pleasure. It still gives me much pleasure even though the effect has paled, and brought considerable negative reaction with it. But the change this has brought about in my daily feeling about my life is small compared to the change brought about by my recovery from depression in 1975.)
To give you an idea of how my depression swallowed me up: The day in l962 when the U. S. confronted the USSR over the Cuban missiles is indelibly imprinted on the mind of almost everyone who was then an adult. But I was so deep in the pit of depression that even though I was then living in New York City-- where people seemed particularly frantic about the situation--I was almost unaware of the world crisis, and I was little affected by it.
People who have never been severely depressed sometimes pooh-pooh the pain the depressed person suffers. But experienced psychiatrists know better:
- The emotional pain experienced by a depressed person can easily rival the physical pain suffered by a cancer victim. The suffering of a depressed person is difficult for his healthy colleague to appreciate. Sometimes the complaints of the depressed seem absurd and childish. You may wonder whether the patient is behaving much like the "Princess and the Pea"--overreacting to subjective feelings which could not possibly be so terrible as the patient describes them.
I doubt that depressed patients are playing games with their friends and physicians.(1)
The following comparisons may make depression more vivid and understandable to the non-depressive. In 1972 I had a major surgical operation, a spinal fusion, serious enough to keep me on my back almost constantly for two months. The day of the operation was worse for me than most of my depressed days, made so by the fear that the operation might be disastrously botched and leave me permanently disabled. But though I was full of pain and discomfort, the first day after each operation (when I already knew that there had been no disaster) was easier to get through than were the run-of-the-mill days of my first couple of years of black depression, and was about the same as the average days in my later depression years.
Another example: A day in which a wisdom tooth was pulled had about the same pain content for me as a day in my later "gray depression" years. The nice side of an operation or of a tooth- pulling is that when you are already safe, though in pain and confined to bed or crutches for months, you know the pain will end. But my depression went on for month after month and year after year, and I became convinced that it would not ever end. That was the worst of all.
Here is another comparison: If I were presented with the choice, I'd choose to spend three to five years of that period in prison rather than live the thirteen years in the depressed state I passed them in. I've not been a prisoner, so I can't know what it is like, but I do know the years of depression and I believe that I'd make such a deal.
I refused to let myself do the pleasurable things that my wife wisely suggested I do -- go to the movies, take a walk on a sunny day, and so on -- because I thought that I ought to suffer. I was superstitiously operating on the nutty presumption that if I punished myself enough, no one else would punish me for my misdeed. And later on I refused to do these casual pleasurable things because I thought that I would be kidding myself by doing them, covering up the symptoms of my depression and therefore preventing a real cure--more bad depressive-type thinking.
During my first year of depression there was one good day. My wife and I went to visit overnight at a country shack with friends. In the morning when we woke in sleeping bags I heard a bird and saw the trees against the sky, and I felt exquisite joy of relief--the relief that one feels at the finish of a long exhausting ordeal of physical or mental work when you can at last rest, lightened of your burden. I thought, maybe it is over. But after a matter of hours I was again full of fear and dread and hopelessness and self-loathing. And even an hour of such relief did not return for perhaps another full year. (The next good moment was the night our first child was born, about three years after the depression began. Incidentally, I will seldom mention my good wife because it is not possible to do justice to one's spouse in an account such as this one.)
Though the pain grew less acute with time, and my outlook came to seem only a constant gray rather than totally black, after six to eight years of it I became more and more convinced that I would never escape. Such prolonged depression is medically unusual, and physicians can honestly reassure patients that they may expect relief within weeks or months, or a year or so at most, though the depression may return. But that was not the case with me.
For awhile I dreamed about entering a monastery, perhaps a silent monastery, where there would be no burdens or expectations. But I knew that I could not run away until the children would be grown. The prospect of hanging on for that long period of future depression depressed me more.
Upon awakening every single morning for all those years my first thought was, "All those hours! How am I going to get through them?" That was the worst moment of the day, before I could get my fear and sadness under conscious control. The best moments of the day were crawling into bed finally to go to sleep, at night or for a nap in the late afternoon.
You may doubt that I was really depressed for so long or that my depression was deep. How could anyone be continually depressed for thirteen years? In fact, there were hours when I was not depressed. Those were the hours when I was deep enough in my work and in creative thinking that I forgot about my depression. These hours happened almost every morning, once I had gotten myself started on the day, provided that the work I was doing was reasonably creative rather than just such routine work as editing or proofreading--and providing, also, that I was not overly pessimistic about the probable reception of that particular piece of work. This meant that for probably half the days during the year I had a couple of hours in the morning, and perhaps an hour late in the evening after I had a drink, when I was not consciously sad.
Only work helped. For a long time my wife thought that she could distract me with movies and other entertainment, but it never worked. In the midst of the movie I'd be thinking how worthless a person I am, and about the failures of all my efforts. But in the midst of work--and especially when I would have a beautiful hard problem to think through, or a new idea would come to me -- my depression would ease. Thank goodness for the work.
You may wonder, as I did: If the sadness and self-loathing hurt so much, why I didn't resort to liquor and tranquilizers (the new drugs were not then available) to cut the pain? I didn't do so, even during the worst half-year or year at the beginning, for two reasons: First, I felt that I had no "right" to use artificial gimmicks to escape from the pain because I felt it was my own fault. Second, I was afraid that tranquilizers or other drugs would interfere with the one part of me that I continued to respect, my ability to have ideas and think clearly. Without explicitly recognizing it, I acted as if the only possible avenue of escape for me, in the short run and the long run, was to be able to think well enough to involve myself in some work for a while every day, and maybe eventually to do enough useful work to bring about self-respect. Booze or pills could ruin that avenue of hope, I thought.
All those years I concealed my depression so that no one except my wife knew about it. I was afraid to seem vulnerable. And I saw no benefits in revealing my depression. When occasionally I hinted about it to my friends, they did not seem to respond, perhaps because I did not make clear how badly off I really was.
In December, l974, I told the family physician that I had reduced my possibilities of happiness to "two hopes and a flower." One of the hopes was a book which I hoped would make an important contribution to people's thinking and perhaps to some government policies. I worried that the book was not written in a sufficiently attractive manner to make any impact, but it was one of my hopes anyway. The second of my hopes was that sometime in the future I'd write a book about how to think, how to use one's head, how to use one's mental resources, in such a way as to make the best use of them. I hoped that that book would put together a lot of what I've done and what I know into a new and useful form. (As of 1990, I have finished a first draft of that book, having worked on it last year and this year.)
The flower was a flower that I often looked at while I was meditating. In that meditation I could let everything go and feel that there is absolutely no "ought" of obligation upon me-- no "ought" to continue meditating, no "ought" to stop meditating, no "ought" to think about this or to think about that, no "ought" to telephone or not to telephone, to work or not to work. The flower was for that moment an enormous relief from "ought," the flower that demanded nothing yet offered great beauty in quiet and peace.
About 1971, give or take a year, I decided that I wanted to be happy. I had figured out that one cause of my depression was my self-punishment for what I felt were my bad deeds, in the superstitious belief that if I punished myself this might ward off other people's punishment. And I then concluded that I no longer felt the need to be unhappy as a way of punishing myself. So, the first thing that happened in this sequence of events was that I decided explicitly that I wanted to be happy.
Starting perhaps 1972, I tried a variety of devices to break through my depression and give me happiness. I tried Zen-type concentration on the moment to prevent my thoughts from slipping to anxious memories of the past or anxious fears about the future. I tried think-happy exercises. I tried breathing exercises, separately and also together with concentration exercises. I started a list of "good things that I can say about myself" in those moments when I felt low and worthless and devoid of self-esteem, to pep myself up. (Unfortunately, I only managed to get two things down on the list: a) My children love me. b) All students who have done theses with me respect me, and many continue our relationship. Not a very long list, and I never managed to use it successfully. None of these schemes helped for more than half a day or a day.)
Starting in the summer or fall of 1973, a revolution lasting one day each week came into my life. An Orthodox Jewish friend of mine told me that it is one of the basic precepts of the Jewish Sabbath that one is not allowed to think about anything that will make him or her sad or anxious during that day. This struck me as an extraordinarily good idea, and I tried to obey that rule. I tried to obey it not because of a sense of religious dictate, but rather because it seemed to me a wonderful psychological insight. So on the Sabbath I have tried to act in ways that would keep me thinking in a friendly and happy manner, ways such as not allowing myself to work in any way, not think about work-connected things, and not letting myself be angry with the children or other people no matter what the provocation.
On this one day a week -- and only on this one day of the week--I found I could usually fend off depression and be content and even joyful, though on the other six days of the week my mood ranged from gray to black. More specifically, on the Sabbath if my thoughts tended to drift toward things which were unhappy, I tried to act like a mental street-sweeper, using my broom to gently deflect my mind or sweep away the unpleasant thoughts, and to nudge myself back to a pleasanter frame of mind. The fact of knowing that there was one day in which I would do no work probably was itself very important in alleviating my depression, because an important factor in my depression has been my belief that my hours and days should be devoted entirely to work and to the duty of work. (It's worth noting that I've often had to struggle to keep myself from being depressed on the Sabbath, and sometimes the effort of the struggle seemed so great that it just wasn't worth it to keep struggling, but rather seemed easier just to give myself over to the depression.)
After that I'm not sure exactly in which order things happened. Starting September, 1974, the work-load felt lighter than for many years. (Of course my work-load is largely self- imposed, but deadlines felt less pressing.) Starting in 1972, I began no new works, and instead tried to finish up all the things which were in my pipeline so as to get my desk clear. And starting in September, 1974, the various books and articles and research that I had in process were, one by one, getting done. From time to time, of course, I was jerked up short by a new set of proofs or a new deadline for something that I had set in motion a long time before. But for the first time in a very long time there were at least some interludes during which I felt unrushed and free. I also had the feeling that I really was approaching that nirvana when I really would be very free, and able to feel a sense of relaxation. But still I was depressed-- sad, and full of self-loathing.
Starting about the middle of December, 1974, I had a special feeling of nearing completion, and I felt that in many ways it was the best period that I had had for the past thirteen years. Because I had no troubles with health, family, or money, nothing pressed on me from outside my own psychology. That certainly did not mean that I was happy or undepressed. Rather, it meant that I was sufficiently undepressed that I was willing to spend some time on myself and my depression.
I therefore determined that if I was ever going to rid myself of depression, then was the time to do it. I had the time and energy. And I was in a cosmopolitan city (Jerusalem) which I thought (wrongly) was likely to have more possibilities of help than my small home city in the U. S. I decided to look for someone who might have the wisdom to help me. I thought to consult some eminent psychologists in person, and others by mail. And at the same time I went to a family physician to ask him to refer me to someone--physician, psychologist, religious wise man, or whatever--who might help. All this should illustrate how desperate I was to get rid of my depression. I figured that it was my last chance--now or never: If it didn't work then, I'd give up hope of ever succeeding. I felt like a man in a movie hanging by his fingertips to the edge of the cliff, figuring he has strength enough for just one more try to pull himself up and over to safety--but the fingers are slipping...his strength is waning...you get the picture.
The family physician suggested a psychologist, but one visit convinced us both that--good as he probably is--that he was not the right man for my problem. He in turn suggested a psychoanalyst. But the psychoanalyst suggested a long course of therapy which exhausted me just thinking about it; I didn't believe it would succeed, and it didn't seem worth spending the energy or money to try.
Then in March, 1975, about four weeks before writing the first draft of this account, I felt that my current work was really complete. I had no work laying on my desk, all my manuscripts had been sent to publishers--simply nothing pressing. And I decided that now I owed it to myself to try to spend some of my "good time"--that is, the time when my mind is fresh and creative in the morning--thinking about myself and my problem of depression in an attempt to see if I could think my way out of it.
I went to the library and took out a bag of books on the subject. I began to read, think, make notes. The book which made the greatest impression upon me was Aaron Beck's Depression The main message I got was that a person can alter one's thinking by consciously working at it, in contrast to the passive Freudian view with its focus on the "unconscious". I still didn't have much hope that I could work my way out of depression, because many times I had tried without success to understand it and deal with it. But this time I decided to devote my full energies to the subject when I was fresh, rather than thinking about it only at those times when I was exhausted. And armed with that key message of Beck's cognitive therapy, I at least had some hope.
Perhaps the first big step was my concentrating on the idea --which I had understood for a long time but had simply taken for granted--that I'm never satisfied with myself or what I do; I never allow myself to be satisfied. I have also known the cause for a long time: With all good intentions, and though we were (until her death in 1986) quite fond of another even if not very close, my mother (with the best of intentions) never seemed satisfied with me as a child (though perhaps she really was). No matter how well I did something, she always urged that I could do better.
Then this startling insight came to me: Why should I still pay attention to my mother's stricture? Why should I continue dissatisfied with myself just because my mother had built that habit of dissatisfaction into me? I suddenly realized that I was under no obligation to share my mother's views, and I could simply tell myself "Don't criticize" whenever I begin to compare my performance to the level of greater achievement and perfection urged by my mother. And with this insight I suddenly felt free of my mother's dissatisfaction for the first time in my life. I felt free to do what I wanted with my day and my life. That was a very exhilarating moment, a feeling of relief and freedom which continues until this moment, and which I hope will continue for the rest of my life.
This discovery that I am not obligated to follow my mother's orders is exactly the idea that I later discovered is the central substantive idea in Albert Ellis's version of cognitive therapy. But though this discovery helped a great deal, by itself it was not enough. It removed some of the knives I felt sticking into me, but it did not yet make the world look bright. Perhaps the depression persisted because I felt I was not succeeding in making a real contribution with my research and writings, or perhaps it was because of other underlying connections between my childhood and my present self-comparisons and mood which I do not understand. Whatever the reason, the structure of my thinking was not giving me a happy life-loving life, despite my discovery that I need not keep criticizing myself for lapses from perfection.
Then came another revelation: I remembered how my depression lifted on one day each week, on the Sabbath. And I also remembered that just as Judaism imposes an obligation not to be anxious or sad on the Sabbath, Judaism also imposes an obligation upon the individual to enjoy his or her life. Judaism enjoins you not to waste your life in unhappiness or to make your life a burden, but rather to make of it the greatest possible value. (I am here using the concept of obligation in a rather vague and unspecified fashion. I am not using the concept in the way that a traditional religious person would use it--that is, as a duty imposed upon a person by the traditional concept of God. Nevertheless, I did feel some kind of a vow in which there is a compact, an obligation which goes a little bit beyond me and me.)
After it occurred to me that I have a Jewish obligation not to be unhappy, it occurred to me that I also have an obligation to my children not to be unhappy, but rather to be happy, in order to serve as a proper model to them. Children may imitate happiness or unhappiness just as they imitate other aspects of their parents. I think that by pretending not to be depressed I had avoided giving them a model of unhappiness. (This is the one part of our relationship in which I have falsified and play- acted, rather than being openly and truthfully myself.) As they would have gotten older they would, however, have seen through this play-acting.
And like the happy ending of a fairy tale I promptly became undepressed and have (mostly) stayed undepressed. It was a matter of pitting one value against another. On the one side was the value of trying with all my strength, and damn the personal consequences, to create something of social value. On the other side was the value that I derived from Judaism: life is the highest value, and all have an obligation to cherish life in others and in oneself; to allow oneself to be depressed is a violation of this religious injunction. (I also got some help from the sage Hillel's injunction. "One may not neglect the work, but one is not required to finish it, either.")
Those, then, were the main events in my passage from black despair, then to constant gray depression, then to my present state of non-depression and happiness.
Now a few words about how my anti-depression tactics work out in practice. I have instructed myself, and have pretty much got into the habit, that whenever I say to myself "You're an idiot" because I forgot something or don't do something right or do something sloppily, I then say to myself, "Don't criticize." After I start to browbeat myself because I didn't prepare a class well enough, or I was late for an appointment with a student, or I was impatient with one of my children, I say to myself, "Lay off. Don't criticize". And after I say this, it's like feeling the yank of a reminder rope. I then feel my mood change. I smile, my stomach relaxes, and I feel a sense of relief run all through me. I also try the same kind of plan with my wife, whom I also criticize too much, and mostly for no good reason. When I start to criticize her about something--the way she cuts the bread, puts too much water on to boil, or pushes the children to get to school on time--I again say to myself "Don't criticize."
Since the start of my new life, there have been several family problems or work failures which previously would have deepened my depression from grey to black for a week or more. Now, instead of these events throwing me into deep and continuing depression, as would have happened before, each of them has caused me some pain for perhaps a day. Then after doing something active to deal with the event--such as trying to improve the situation, or writing a letter blowing my top at the responsible person (usually not mailed)--I have been able to forget the matter, and to leave behind the pain caused by it. That is, I'm now able to get over these unpleasantness fairly easily. And taken together, this means that I enjoy most of my days. When I wake up--which has always been the hardest time for me, as for many depressives--I'm able to draw a mental picture of the oncoming day which seems reasonably free of events that I'd have to criticize myself for, such as not working hard enough. I look forward to days mostly of freedom and tolerable pressures and burdens. I can tell myself that if I really don't want to do all the things that are more-or-less scheduled for that day, I have the right not to do a fair number of them. In that way I can prevent much of the dread I used to have when looking forward to duty-filled days with no sense of coming pleasure.
That ends the description of my life written just before and soon after my release from depression. Here are a few reports on my progress later on, as they were written at the time:
March 26, l976
It is almost a year from the time my new life began. Inscribing the date makes me think with pleasure that tomorrow is my youngest son's birthday, and that gives me a joyful apprehension of life such as I never had before April of 1975. I am able to smile, close my eyes, feel melting tears and inner pleasure when I think--as I did just now--of one of the children's birthdays.
I am, by now, less often ecstatic with my new joy of living than I was at the beginning of this new life. Partly that may be due to getting used to my new life without depression, and accepting it as permanent. It may also be partly because I'm no longer in Jerusalem. But still I have these ecstatically-joyful skipping-and-leaping feelings probably more often than most people who have never been severely depressed for a long time. One has to have experienced pain for a long time to be able to be wildly joyful just from noticing the absence of pain.
January 16, l977
Soon it will be two years since I decided to get rid of depression, and did so. There still is a constant running skirmish between me and the wolf that I know still waits for me outside the door. But aside from a two-week period that followed an accumulation of professional problems, when my spirits were sufficiently low that I worried I was relapsing into permanent depression, I have been undepressed. Life is worth living, for my own sake as well as for my family's sake. That's a lot.
June 18, l978
No news is often good news. I've hit some bumps in the past three years, but I've recovered each time. Now I think of myself like a buoyant swimmer. A wave can force me below the surface, but my specific gravity is less than that of water, and eventually I'll float back up after each ducking.
I remember the years when, except for stretches during hours when I was writing, not fifteen minutes of a day would pass without my reminding myself how worthless I am--how useless, unsuccessful, ridiculous, presumptuous, incompetent, immoral, I am in my work, family life and community life. I used to make an excellent argument for my worthlessness, drawing on a wide variety of evidence, and constructing a watertight case.
One important reason that I castigated myself so often and so well was that I believed that I ought to keep telling myself how worthless I am. That is, I made sure that I escaped no punishment for my many sins. I functioned as an ever-diligent avenging angel. Then I would finish off the job by being depressed because I felt so depressed in response to all these reminders of my worthlessness. (Being depressed because of being depressed is a common routine with depressives.)
The only force inside me that opposed the gloom was my sense of the ridiculousness of it all--the vision of myself as avenging angel, perhaps, or the jest of carrying the process to absurdity with jokes like titles for an autobiography, "Ten Thousand Leagues Up the Creek Without an Ego." That humor did help a bit, though, by giving me some perspective on how silly it was for me to take myself and my worthlessness so seriously.
Now that I am undepressed I still acknowledge myself to be less than a success with respect to the goals I struggle to attain. But now I only infrequently tell myself how worthless and failing I am. I can sometimes go through an entire day with only occasional remembrances of my worthlessness. I avoid these thoughts by banishing them at first appearance with repression, humor, and misdirection (depression-fighting devices I tell you about in the book) and by reminding myself that my family is well, I am suffering no pain, and the world is mostly at peace. I also try to keep in mind that I'm not a bad father, in my family's eyes as in my own.
One important reason that I now act as I do is that I now believe that I ought not let myself dwell on my being of little worth, and that I ought not to be depressed by it. And that "ought" comes from the Values Treatment that was an essential part of my salvation.
October 18, l981
I have hit the jackpot. The world has now made it easy for me to remain undepressed. I no longer must deflect my mind from my professional difficulties in order to stay happy, but instead I can now dwell on my worldly "success" and take pleasure from it.
It is important for both you and me to remember that before my ship came in I had many days in the past few years when I said to myself that I could be no happier. I remember a Thursday in the Spring of l980 when I was walking to my office and I thought: The trees are lovely. The sun feels good on my back. Wife and children are physically and mentally well. I feel no pain. I have a good job and no money worries. I see peaceful activities on the campus around me. I'd be a fool not to be happy. And I am happy, as happy as one could be. In fact, this is the best day of my life. (On other days since l975 I had also said to myself, this is the best day of my life, or the best Sabbath of my life. But there is no contradiction among such superlatives.)
Then starting June, l980, many good things happened to me professionally. It started with a controversial article that immediately became very well-known, and led to many invitations to speak and write; that represented a chance for me to reach a wide audience with a set of ideas that had previously fallen mostly on deaf ears, or more exactly, on no ears. Each new writing expanded my possibilities and invitations even more. Then a book on these ideas came out in August, l981, and immediately was taken up by magazines, newspapers, radio and television. Journalists call me frequently for my views on happenings in this field. My work has come to be seen as legitimate though controversial. My friends joke that I'm a celebrity. Who wouldn't find this easy to take?
But my happiness is not based on this "success." I was undepressed before it happened, and I'm rather confident I'll be undepressed after all this blows over. Being happy because of what is happening outside you is too shaky a basis for happiness. I want the joy and serenity that comes from within me, even despite adversity. And it is that joy and serenity that the methods of this book brought to me--and perhaps will bring you, too. With all my heart I hope that you, too, will soon reflect on some days as being the best days of your life, and that the other days will be without pain. Please struggle to reach that peaceful shore, for your own sake and for me.
October 12, 1988
In 1981 I thought I had hit the jackpot. And in perhaps the most important respect this was so: My main professional work had a large effect in changing the thinking of both academic researchers and the lay public. But for a variety of reasons, some of which I think I understand and some of which I surely do not understand, my profession did not take me to its bosom on this account, or make the way easier for my subsequent professional work; access to the non-technical public did become easier, however.
The organizations that oppose my viewpoint continue to dominate public thinking, though the scientific basis for their arguments has been eroded. I have had to conclude that though I may have made a dent in the armor of the opposing viewpoint, and perhaps provided some ammunition for others engaged on the same side of the struggle as I am, the opposing viewpoint will continue to roll on inexorably, though perhaps with a bit less exuberance and carelessness than in the past.
These outcomes have pained and frustrated me. And I have had to keep my pain and frustration to myself lest my unbuttoned words and acts seem "unprofessional" and therefore work against me. (Indeed, I am being careful in these very words on the subject.)
The pain and frustration have taken me to the brink of depression many times during the years since about 1983 or so. But the methods for fighting depression described in this book -- and especially my basic values about human life as described in Chapter 18, even though it is no longer necessary for my grown-up children's sake that I remain undepressed -- have pulled me back from the brink again and again. That is a lot to be thankful for, and perhaps as much as a human being can expect. As to the future -- I must wait and see. Will continued unsuccessful struggle make me feel so helpless that I will feel driven from the field, and therefore escape from the negative self- comparisons into either cheerful or apathetic resignation? Will I re-interpret what has happened as success rather than failure, as acceptance rather than rejection, and therefore have positive self-comparisons with respect to this work?
I end with an open question: If I had continued to experience complete lack of success with my main work, rather than the breakthrough that occurred around 1980, could I have continued to maintain my underlying cheerfulness, or would the quagmire of rejection have sucked me inexorably into depression? Perhaps I could have escaped by giving up that line of work entirely, but that would have meant giving up some of my most cherished ideals, and it is not at all sure that I could have produced more positive results in any related field of work that I enjoyed and respected.
I began this epilogue by saying that I healed myself. But healing is seldom perfect, and health never is forever. I hope that you can do even better than I have done. It will make me happy if you do.
Staff, H. (2008, November 29). Epilogue: My Misery, My Cure and My Joy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 7 from https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/articles/epilogue-my-misery-my-cure-and-my-joy