57 thoughts on “The Black Swan of Bipolar and Depression

  • February 15, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I believe that all mental health problems including depression can be a positive experience and teach us how to grow and learn about ourselves.
    It is all in how you decide to handle the diagnosis. Mental health is vital to overall wellness and health. If you don’t realize that connection then you are perpetuating the stigma that surrounds mental health today.
    I see the beauty in any color swan. They are graceful, beautiful birds. We each have that same inner beauty but you must look inside yourself to find it and most importantly believe it! I have been through depression, and many other mental health issues-currently as well; however I choose to educate people in my profession that consumers and the general public are at the core of moving mental illness past the old beliefs and degrading terminology. Everyone knows someone who has some sort of mental health problem whether they reveal it or not. No one is perfect, and mental illness does not make you any less perfect. It can make you a more perfect person if you embrace it.
    I believe it can help you achieve inner peace and you can learn a lot about yourself. Mental health is as common as the flu or a cold. We all need to remember that those with mental health problems are human, and as a human being we have the obligation to repect, educate, reduce stigma, and advocate as much as we can if we want to bring about change. Not discussing it openly and being afraid of what others will think will only keep you from moving forward in your psychological and physical well being. Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and all other cultures we are all one in this universe and must learn to find the beauty in people no matter the color, illness, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Life is too short to waste! Make the most of it today and don’t ever be ashamed of who you are and what illness you may have. Be proud, and love everyone. We all have flaws, but mental illness is NOT A FLAW. . It is a disease that is all too common.
    If you are lucky, such as I, you will become a better person and find inner peace and happiness despite having depression, bipolar, ADHD, anxiety, or any other illness. It is a journey, and I wish you luck in that personal journey to acceptance, healing and happiness.

  • February 15, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    My immediate feeling and is that depression is a negative thing (period). That is my gut reaction. I defend this point of view in order to justify my accepted identity as a victim, as a “sick” person that doesn’t have to combat the “sickness” because there is nothing I can do to combat it. That is me being resigned and lazy and giving in to the allure of melancholy.

    Although, most days I am not resigned. I am also a “victim” to expansive vision, euphoric feelings/realizations, and have both visceral and intellectually stimulating experiences of unity or oneness. Seems like some people can only get to those sacred and high places by using drugs.

    So yes, depression, in its many incarnations and variations, sucks at times, but it can also aid in separating the gold from dross in life, it can ground the spirit and intensify gratitude for what one has and for what is.

    Life is not only a bowl of cherries. There are pits. There are genuine things to be depressed about. I read a quote that went something like, “it is no measure of a person to be well-adjusted to a sick society.” I take that to mean that depression is a natural human experience or state and that there are legitimate reasons to be depressed at times.

    There are many kinds and sources of depression too, and that has to be accounted for when seeking responses to the question of whether or not depression is only an “evil” or negative thing..

  • February 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Dear Tom, and everyone, this is a very sensitive subject. “Myths” are (at least) double edged. One side cuts and injures with the limitations of stigma and prejudice, the other side can cut through to a deeper truth beyond the stereotype. Such is the case with the “black swan” theory, and perhaps also with the movie by that name.

    As a pastoral counselor, and also the mother of someone with a SZ/BP diagnosis who refuses to take medication, I watched the movie and was both intrigued and touched by it. The film, for me, was more about how the undue pressures placed upon young artists, especially young women, can trigger a psychotic break. This happened to my son, who is also an artist. However, in today’s culture and perhaps others, being an artist means competing relentlessly and can tip someone with a genetic disposition (not JUST the “Schizo”mother, as portrayed by Barbara Hershey in the film) and especially someone using pot, etc. into a full fledged episode.

    However, I am still worried about portraying any kind of brain disorder as entirely “positive”. My son is afraid he will lose his creativity if he takes prescription meds to even out his dramatic mood swings and anxiety. The truth is, his life is a complete misery the way it is, and miserable for his family and anyone who loves him. To paraphrase from the show “House”, when a psychiatrist was trying to convince House to take meds for his psychosis, “If Van Gough had taken meds, he would still paint the starry nights, but not from a sanitarium, and with both ears intact”. Maybe the truth is somewhere in between; maybe swans are neither totally black or completely white, but each just swans.
    peace, Rev. Joyce

  • February 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    I find the open-minded, non judgemental, creative thinking of Tom Wooden to be exciting and very positive. A whole world of folks are, hopefully, finding new hope and a new perspective of their lives as black swans. Tom accentuates the positive instead of the negative. That is a perspective that all black swans can now embrace. What a colorless, boring world it would be were we all white swans. If I had the time, I’d compose an article about all the multi-colors that the swans of the world are. To limit it to just black and to white does not embrace all the swans of our world.

  • February 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    I think that what Tom is saying is that it is possible to find meaning in the experience of depression, and also to make peace with the experience of depression.

    I think that it is not the depression itself which is a positive experience, but rather the learning experience that it forms the basis for.

    I should think that there is plenty of scope for finding points of agreement between these two apparently contradictory views.

  • February 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    The depressive side of my bipolar has never had the cost that the highs have had. At least not until I was given medicine for it. Before being told depression was an awful thing and I should not suffer so much, I was a functional depressive, I could and did continue school, work and dragged myself to do everything that needed doing. Then they gave me antidepressants and I nearly succeeded in killing myself, after that I spent 20 years being medicated to the hit with nearly every psych drug available. Unable to work, and put on SSDI. It is my belief that the pharmacutical companies( look at their ads-feel down, andidepressant not working well enough-take a very dangerous antipyschotic!) have made depression into a much larger problem than it is. Depression is like pain, it can be cronic and need therapies and medications, or it can be a symptom of somthing that needs to be faced. Certainly medication is needed for the severe depression, but not for depression that is telling you to deal with undelt life problems. Before medications my depressions were hard, but forced me to look at what was wrong and gave me the motivation to change what was wrong. So I guess then my depressions had value. After medications and being told I would never have a life, it took me 20 years to relize that for me I do much better on diets, and excercise than pills. The experiances, from horrible treatment in ER’s once they found out I had a label, the treatment in some hospitals, the desparity that exists in psychiatry-they want to help, but don’t take anything you say-especialy about side effects seriously. Thereby negating you as a whole person. All this was a very hard lesson, but I have used it to help though peer counseling, being on a protection and Advocacy board. Yes depression has value, but sometimes at a great price. Evan before the medications it made me a more compasionate human being.

  • February 15, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    I was diagnosed w/mixed spectrum bipolar disorder w/dysphoric mania 7 years ago. But years before that diagnosis-I gave birth to a son after a very rough pregnancy. The day after his birth(by emergency C-section)I hit bottom & went into a MAJOR post-pardum depression that lasted 6 YEARS!!! I delivered my son @ 164 lbs.(my “normal” pre-baby weight was 120 lbs.) and 3 months later I was 95 lbs. & wearing a size “1”. I was hospitalized for a week. I had panic attacks 5-6 days a week. I could not eat-sleep-rest-barely function. There was NOTHING beautiful about that depression. By the 6th year of it, I was just on the verge of Post-pardum psychosis. I could not eat, read, watch t.v., shower or leave the house. I finally got to a Dr., took some MUCH needed medication & within a months time, I had my brain back. I was on an antidepressent on & off for a few years until I had another major depressive episode. It was during this episode that I was diagnosed w/B.P. Yes, I am able to share my experience w/others as an encouragment to them to try medication if they are having a rough time of it. I too, am an artist. Yes, the meds. do “curb” some of my artistic impulses, but the meds also KEEP ME FROM JUMPING OFF A BRIDGE or driving down the Thruway buck naked on a hot summer day!!! I hope to someday, be off & cured!!! In the meantime, I will stay on my meds.

  • February 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    I have been through very painful depressions as have many other people. I have raised my children as a functioning depressive before diagnosis and as mentioned in a previous comment, dragged myself to do the things I had to do. It wasn’t pretty, but it was done.

    As time has gone by the depressions have gotten worse and the mania appeared resulting in the bipolar diagnosis. The depressions are hard and painful. I can function, mostly. I stay in contact with my psychiatrist and am on the least amount of medication I have ever been on which pleases me greatly.

    There are writings and paintings and drawings and spiritual insights that come in a depression either in spite of or because of (perhaps both) the pain. I have found that when I come up out of a depression, I miss it. It feels as if a part of me has left and I almost feel lost. I write, paint, draw, continue my spiritual quest when I’m not depressed and it is all very different.

    I have lived the ugly side of depression, but I have seen the beauty as well. It is a double edged sword to be wielded with great care and skill by one who is very familiar with it and its capabilities.

  • February 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Thank you all for your important contributions. Those who are familiar with my recent work already know this, but to make sure there is no misconceptions it seems necessary to addresses Joyce’s comment.

    I do not see anything as entirely positive or negative. As I said in the article, “That would be like saying that all swans are black, which is not at all what I was saying.” The fact that I and others have found positive aspects in our condition does not negate the fact that there are also negative aspects. The point is that too many people deny that there can be positive aspects. Denying the possibility of having a great life with, not in spite of, our condition is the most stigmatizing and dangerous thing of all. It removes the hope that is so needed to convince someone to make the effort. Without the possibility that I and others have made a reality, people are left with the prospect of a diminished life in fear of relapse.

    I am not advocating a refusal to address the problems. Left untreated, depression and bipolar disorder can quickly turn into crisis and even death. I champion an integrated approach that addresses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life as well as our relationships with others and our career/financial needs. I embrace following the current evidence-based methods to reduce symptoms and achieve recovery as a critical and necessary first step, while providing a clear and user friendly path utilizing the same and more advanced tools for accomplishing something much greater. I do not ask anyone to deny belief (or disbelief) in the effectiveness of medicine, therapy, meditation, nutrition, or any other tool. I am trying to modify the prevailing end goal of treatment to one that accepts that it may be possible to live an extraordinary life where the flow of energy and information that was once in disorder is now a beautiful and valuable part of life.

    I call this Bipolar In Order and Depression In Order. When Bipolar is In Order it is no longer an illness.

  • February 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    Being a survivor of abuse, depression saved my life. It blocked out all the memories to help me cope with every day living while it was happening. As I got older, and began to recover, depression became a way of preparing my brain and body in the recovery of those memories and helped in the healing.

    Now that I know the truth of my abuse, the totality of it is overwhelming and the wreckage is like a tornado that went through my head and emotions. Depression is still used as a coping mechanism by letting my brain shut down for a while and take the time to heal from the trauma I suffered for many years. I am still healing. I too, have found that depression is a beautiful tool that gives me that time to go within myself and find the beauty inside. I still struggle with not wanting to go there, but the wonder and awe I find when I surrender is priceless.

  • February 15, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    If life is a journey, and we are the explorers, then the brain must be the vehicle. It’s a grand trip indeed when one’s vehicle has “enhanced viewing features”…can I get an amen!

  • February 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Amen Brother Edson. Advanced viewing features indeed. And frightening if we do not understand them.

  • February 15, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    I appreciate Mr. Wootton’s thoughtful comments on depression, as well as his kind assessment of
    some of my own work. His interesting blog gives me the opportunity to clarify a few issues that
    are often a source of misunderstanding.

    First, Mr. Wootton is quite correct as regards the “white swan mistake”. It is fallacious to
    conclude, on the basis of observing only white swans, that all swans are white. (The philosopher
    David Hume went even further in his critique of “induction”, arguing that we have no logical
    basis for assuming that the sun will rise tomorrow, simply on the basis of our previous 10,000 observations that it rises each morning!).

    However, I have never claimed, on the basis of my
    clinical experience, that “all depressives are like the ones” I have seen. Since my practice
    used to involve so-called “tertiary referrals”–folks who had very chronic, treatment-
    resistant depression–I was probably seeing a particularly impaired and debilitated sub-set of
    all depressed patients. I also have noted in several of my writings that, for some people, the
    experience of depression (if they survive it) can bring important realizations and insights.

    That said, I believe Mr. Wootton would agree that the descriptions of his own severe depressive
    bouts warrant very careful attention. For example, in his book, The Depression Advantage, Mr. Wootton provides this description of his first depressive bout, which occurred after he had entered monastic life:

    “I was so exhausted that I could not work, show up for meditations, study, or even walk to
    the dining hall. I became confused, lethargic, and mostly just lay in bed all day.”

    Later in life, after retiring, Mr. Wootton continues to have depressive bouts, which he
    describes as follows:

    “Depression occurred about 70% of the time at that point in my life; it was often to such an
    extreme as to be unbearable, bordering on suicidal. Life had no meaning and was not worth living…I had no desire beyond ending my own life.”

    Alas, no matter how much we might wish otherwise, this is how severe major depression is usually
    experienced, based on many studies and self-reports. That does not mean that no exceptions (“black swans”) exist. Nor does it mean that, with a combination of pluck and luck, one can’t extract insight, perspective, and wisdom from one’s depression.

    My arguments against Jonah Lehrer’s piece–and against the so-called “Analytical Rumination Hypothesis”–were aimed at the dubious notion that being in the midst of a major depressive bout leads to insightful problem solving, and that this confers some kind of “evolutionary advantage.” As I have argued in the
    Psychiatric Times recently [see ref. 3], there is virtually no evidence that being in a severely depressed state confers any adaptive advantages to the individual; on the contrary, in terms of cognitive function and interpersonal relations, nearly all the evidence argues just the opposite. Mr. Wootton’s self-described depressive bouts bear this out, in my view.

    Nonetheless, his book points out that many figures throughout history have emerged from their
    severe depressive bouts with new insights, understandings, and spiritual realizations–perhaps (though it’s hard to know this)
    insights they would not have gained, had they never experienced what John of the Cross called,
    “The dark night of the soul.” As Mr. Wootton points out,

    “…after his dark night, there was very little that bothered [John of the Cross]…Because his
    spirit had met the ultimate challenge, everything seemed easy for him now. By contrast, he was
    very aware of the sufferings of others..” (p. 135 of The Depression Advantage).

    Mr. Wootton concludes that “…John proved even the deepest despair can be a path to
    enlightenment…through his personal triumph over spiritual pain, Saint John of the Cross was
    forced into an awareness more profound than all his intellect and learning could ever provide.”

    On the back cover of the book, Dr. Maureen Duffy comments that Mr. Wootten shows, “…it is
    possible to take this disorder [depression] and live abundantly and creatively…and to resist
    accepting a diminished story…” for one’s life. I agree with this–and I commend Mr. Wootton
    for creating “order” out of what many (including this writer) would call a serious disorder.

    At the same time, we must resist chastising those who seek alleviation of their depression, and
    who find that they neither wish nor need the suffering of depression to attain spiritual
    insight. Thus, seeking treatment for severe depression–whether medication, psychotherapy,
    or both–should never be considered a manifestation of spiritual or personal “weakness” or a failure of the will. I believe, based on his comments, that Mr. Wootton would agree with this.

    Mr. Wootton is fortunate in having found the inner resources to surmount his bouts of
    near-suicidal depression. Not everyone is so fortunate, and much is probably a matter of
    luck–what genes a person is born with, how much support one receives from friends and family,
    whether one manages to avoid substance abuse or exposure to firearms while depressed, etc.

    When severe depression strikes,it must not be minimized or romanticized–nor should
    it be confused with what Thomas a Kempis described as “the proper sorrows of the soul.” Grief and depression are wholly different states of mind. Grief acts to preserve the self; in general, and with some exceptions, severe depression tends to destroy it.

    Again, I thank Mr. Wootton for his nuanced article and comments, and I commend him for bringing his hopeful perspective to bear upon a condition too often regarded as hopeless. Depression comes in many shades besides black or white, and its presence in one’s life should
    not mean the death of hope or the abandonment of high aspirations.

    Ronald Pies MD

    For further reading:

    1. Pies R: The Anatomy of Sorrow

    2. Zisook S, Shear K: Grief and bereavement: what psychiatrists need to know.

    3. Pies R: Is Major Depression Adaptive? The Data Say No.
    [this article may require a free registration step]

  • February 15, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Amen Edson and Tom. The point I like most about what Tom says is that the goal should be to achieve freedom and what he calls equanimity, not simply to manage symptoms in order to “function” in the “real” world.

    Tonight I am writing this from a room overlooking the SF bay. This winter I have traveled to Florida, Egypt, and Jordan as well. I was blessed to meet with two “famous” screen writers who have become friends. I became an adopted brother in a family in Cairo. I have been able to experience these blessings not because I am cured, not because I am enlightened and certainly not purely because I have found the “right” medications.

    As Tom and others have suggested, my path has been completed cafeteria style, drawing from a wide mixture of things – diet, exercise, friends, therapy, pursuit of my dreams, and yes, when needed, medication and even hospitalization. But the “tray” where I place these tools is built on the knowledge that I am not “broken”. I may be a black swan (I prefer pink or chartreuse) but that does not mean I am flawed or a victim. I simply see and experience life a little differently than many other people.

    I am awake now. I still feel life’s pain, but equally important I see its beauty more intensely than ever before. Dr. V.S. Ramachandran has done extensive work with the phenomenon of synethesia, the mental condition of substituting one sensory experience for the “normal” one. Synesthetes may see color when looking at black and white numbers, hear smells, or touch music. Perhaps many of those with bipolar and other mental “disorders” are synesthetes of a different kind – people whose emotional controls can become locked in overdrive, but who also can bring deep understanding and joy to life – people who “hear” the words before they write them, who “sing” rather than just feel the blues, who “dance” past the “accepted” fears about how we are told the world really “is”. Perhaps we mental/emotional synesthetes are painting our swans in day-glo colors and viewing them under “black” light. I don’t know the answer.

    I do know it is possible to learn how to share what I experience without frightening those who cannot see what I see. I can learn to have the love and tolerance to understand life the way non-synesthetes view it. I can avoid judging myself as better or worse than others. I can be kind.

    Kindness springing from the joyous realization that I am whole and complete, is the central tool for me. With its power I can be awake and experience life’s wonder. I can be right here and now, in the present moment to really see, hear, touch and taste life. And, I can swim like a swan when the situation calls for it. I must respect my condition, and yes, even learn to treasure it if I am to be free. I need not see my mental “disorder” as a prison. It can be a springboard to the wonders of life rather than a ball and chain holding me down.

  • February 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    When my depression started over 20 years ago, I thought life wouldn’t get any better even when others told me it would. Taking care of myself was totally out of the question…or so I thought. Through medicine, therapy, family, and friends, I am free of depression. It’s true that depression is a serious illness and I may relapse at any time. But the main message I’m conveying here is: DON’T GIVE UP…HOPE is just a phone call away to TELL SOMEONE how you feel and what’s going on. I was so glad when I got help cuz people, Love works if you give it a try.

  • February 15, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    P.S. I almost forgot. I thought the movie was an over stated, pathetic view of life and mental conditions. In an effort to be “clear” the makers cast the world as black and white. While I have had many times when life seemed black and white, and when I saw every action I took as a failure. I also have had times when I laughed at my mental condition and there have been times when I have experienced great kindness from “strangers”. Perhaps that is why I am still alive. I prefer movies that have more complex and nuanced views of unusual mental conditions to those that propagate the attenuated, tired stereotypes.

  • February 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    I attended one of Tom’s lectures recently and was very interested in his re-framing of depression as something that SOME people can perhaps learn to manage over time and learn from, rather than merely tolerate or suffer through. Having suffered depression myself on and off and having a teenage son with autism which includes huge amounts of (reasonable) anxiety I feel the shift he is describing in the way we view neurologically differently wired individuals or those with altered brain chemistry can only help reduce the fear and stigma so often shown by society that increases the suffering of those already dealing with difficult conditions. I believe his insights are a valuable contribution to the the discussion and treament of mental illness/differences and I thank him for his hard-won insights and the hope he offers.

  • February 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Hi Dr. Pies,
    Thank you for your reply. When I read something that challenges me I tend to read as much as I can from the person before getting engaged. It seems that you do too. That is how I became such a fan of your thinking and your work.

    The Depression Advantage was very near and dear to me. The reviewer on PsychCentral wondered why I talked about the Saints in it, so I am glad that you so completely understand why. As you may have noticed, at the end of each story I said what I thought we could learn from them, but at the end of Saint John of the Cross I said:

    “I have struggled the most with the end of this chapter. There is a tremendous desire to write something meaningful and profound, but I must admit that I cannot come up with anything. Everything I want to write ends up wrong and I don’t think there is any integrity in claiming to know something that I don’t.

    There is a big difference between BEEN there and AM there. With the other saint chapters I can write with authority because I have been there and came to conclusions that have meaning for me. With the Dark Night of the Soul, I AM there and can only hope to find my way out. Like John of the Cross, it has shaken me to the core of my beliefs. Unlike him, mine is not so much a dark night as a seven year twilight of a dull aching pain that seems to go on and on with no end in sight. While I AM there, any conclusion has no meaning or else I would be saying I’ve BEEN there.”

    I quote it because it is very relevant to my distinction in my post: “There are at least two distinct kinds of value in depression (including deep clinical depression); the value of learning something from having been through it, and the value of being in it in the moment.”

    The Depression Advantage was where I was at in 2007. At the time I could see no value in either AM there in the moment or BEEN there in the past. Beginning in October of 2007 and continuing until August of 2008 I had the deepest depression of my life up to that point. During that period I became obsessed with figuring out why Saint Teresa of Avila said “The pain is still there. It bothers me so little now that I feel my soul is served by it.” I repeated it almost constantly as a mantra and struggled for about ten months before figuring it out at least somewhat.

    When I wrote Bipolar In Order beginning in August 2008, I wrote the following as part of the chapter on equanimity:

    “One of the things I have been sorting through is that Saint Teresa was clearly affected by her condition. There were long periods where she was bedridden and in extreme pain. What I have learned from Saint Teresa is that my body, mind, and emotions may be very bothered, but when I focus on my soul I am in bliss. From equanimity (bliss) I can see that pain is part of bliss just as much as pleasure, happiness, and all other conditions.

    Central to my beliefs is that every moment of our lives is an opportunity to be in bliss, but we avoid those with the most potential because we think that the difficult experiences need to be removed first. We are closer to experiencing bliss during the difficult times, not further from it. For most of us, we mistakenly think bliss means happiness. We cannot truly know bliss until we see it in our pain. Once we find bliss in pain, we find it everywhere. I now interpret Teresa’s quote as: ‘The pain is still there. It doesn’t bother my soul at all and helps me to be in bliss.'”

    As you can see this is a completely different point of view from when I wrote The Depression Advantage. It does not negate the value of what I had said, but builds on it. I have since built on that insight and taken it to another new level. I now see value in both having BEEN there and in the beauty of being there right now. I have been able to help others to see it the same and have created a path that works for those who are ready, while addressing the needs of those who are too close to crisis.

    On the back cover of Bipolar In Order, Stephen Hinshaw, PhD, and Chairman of the Dept of Psychology at UC Berkeley, suggested that I “romanticize serious mental illness.” I shared my recent work with him and he now understands that I do not. The distinction that I make between Bipolar Disorder, which is a serious mental illness, and Bipolar In Order, which is not an illness at all, is important. I would love to share that with you.

  • February 16, 2011 at 1:50 am

    Tom Wootton values depression for two reasons: 1) Learning something from depression, going through it. 2) Being in the present moment.

    My cosmic egg of depression was cracked by a young psychiatrist I saw for a short time who introduced me to the concept of “recovery.” He explained to me the idea of neuroplasticity, how the brain can and does change, and how we can heal from addiction. No doctor, who had supposedly been in the business of healing, had EVER mentioned anything like this to me. It had always been a lecture about my needing to accept my bipolar illness and that I would need to take medication for the rest of my life. Most of the time I was told that I would probably get worse and that I would not necessarily feel better with the medications. Who wouldn’t be depressed about that kind of devastating news?

    What I see as valuable is MY ability to see the light at the end of an extremely dark tunnel. As I sit here now and think about the type of depression I have had at times in my life, very severe major depression, unable to eat, dress myself or care for myself, it is truly amazing that I could grasp the concept of recovery at all.

    Depression IS all about fatalism and hopelessness. Were other doctors’ poisoned by my negativity or other patients they saw? Were they brainwashed by mainstream medical models? Or do some doctors need to deeply examine their own beliefs and monitor their counter-transference in a better way?

    My ability to hold this light of truth, that I can recover, as a possibility came at the same time you visited our community library and gave a talk about your life and your first book. Aha! I said, here is another friend who believes in something outside the box. Then my mother went to your talk at her community library. I was beginning to feel some support for my recovery.

    True, not every black swan depressive or addict can consider the possibility of health, but can we at least talk about it?

    Dr. Ronald Pies made the statement: “I have seen many hundreds, if not thousands, of patients [with depression] over the past 30 years. I have never had one–no, not one–say to me, ‘Gosh, Doctor, there are some real ?benefits to all this depression!” I would suggest that Dr. Pies perhaps had made up his mind way before he began to see patients, even before beginning medical school, that there is a world of us and them, a world of sick people and healthy people. This is simply not true. It is an illusion created by fear and the ego. How can Dr. Pies patients ever grasp recovery if he himself does not believe or have hope for depressives, or even hope for himself as a professional healer?

  • February 16, 2011 at 3:11 am

    It’s unfortunate, in my opinion, that the overarching beliefs that the whole mental health care “system” rests upon are not more like yours, Mr. Wootton. While it has taken me some very dark experiences with depression/ jumping from a 3 1/2 story while manic (no I did not think I could fly), it does seem to be a fact, that at least in my life, that depression is like a backstage pass, a roadmap, to living the most true life possible. It’s hard to articulate these ideas, as they seem to transcend language, but to me depression is a key indicator that something is amiss in my life, that I am not living to my highest potential. Depression as a road map leads me to discover the parts of me that need work, the parts of me that aren’t in line with my true inner self, and while difficult, it’s hard to imagine that I would become aware of these things any other way. I am grateful for my depression, absolutely, but I am also grateful for having the insight to use it to my ultimate advantage.
    I believe that our ultimate purpose in life is to learn, that the hardest lessons are the most important and further our evolution the most, and that depression/bipolar/mania are (if you choose to approach it mindfully) the most direct routes to living your most authentic life. I think so many people have succumbed to the the “easy life” mentality, that it’s not normal to feel “bad,” therefor we must do everything possible to avoid it or make it go away. I, through experience, have learned to see my depressions as a warning sign that something is amiss in my life, something that is basically screaming at me to pay attention to it by creating such intense feelings. Sometimes I get swept away, but I seem to always come out stronger than I went in, and when I can be attentive to my emotional state and mindfully aware of what is going on in my life I can invariably use my depressions as an infallible indicator that I need to change something.
    I think that a good deal of my bipolar “symptoms” are learned behavior from growing up in the care of people with un-resolved un-dealt with mental health issues. I have been slowly but steadily sorting out my history, choosing which beliefs, values, ways of thinking, coping strategies, etc, are actually mine and which one’s I absorbed from my environment. I by no means think it’s easy, but I think that is exactly why it’s so valuable. nothing in life worth having is easy.
    Thanks again, Tom, for giving voice to such honest and against-the-grain ideas. It’s always reassuring to be reminded that I’m not “crazy” for thinking that my depressions are meant as a gift.

  • February 16, 2011 at 3:53 am

    Hi Tom

    Thank you for another article. I share similar views as you, following my own journey through a “potential” bipolar with psychosis diagnosis.

    My experiences and journey through mental “illness” has made me who I am today. My “episodes” were catalysts for change in my life – and I believe those changes to be for the best.

    I wrote an article on my own website, titled after the quote by Richard Bach – “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly”. Let me know if you’d like a link – or it comes up fairly high in the search engines if you google the actual quote.

    This pretty much sums up my view on the “benefits” of depression or any mental illness…

    I was interested to read your thoughts on always attracting people who share your views. I meet so many people who share mine and your views – I find it hard to comprehend that people who don’t actually exist.. but of course – they do!!

  • February 16, 2011 at 8:12 am

    I don’t have the time, at the moment, to go through all of the comments, but I read several of the first (from top.) Joyce – I can easily empathise with your son. I’ve found that meds ‘dull’ the mind to a degree (varying from person to person), and this can easily affect artistic abilities. However, I would never turn back from my meds and go back to my repeated psychotic episodes, emotional breakdowns, highs, lows, et cetera just to get those more artistic qualities back. And agreeing with Alexis, too – I often go with the victim role because I just get too tired trying to fight to maintain some sort of standard of normalcy in my life. It’s just tiring and annoying and I always wish I could just sit on my bed and waste my days away reading and pouring over articles. However, life tends to try to bite you in the but and then pushes you along.

    I don’t know why, but I always try to contradict myself expecting to get something out of it. Einstein said that insanity is doings something over and over again and expecting a different result. But I’ve been gradually getting back onto the rode of self-discipline and structure. Now, that’s not to say that by forcing structure into one’s life, peace and success can be achieved. Mental disorders often open a gateway into one’s own inner psyche in which otherwise would be sealed and probably never tapped into.

    Also, when asked if I would want something in my life to go a certain way in which it actually didn’t, while agreeing that it would be nice – assuming that nothing else managed to change – it would alter my world entirely. I could not say, ‘if I didn’t have mental disorders, then my life would be so much easier,’ because I can’t know how my life actually would be without them. In such a case, I would be facing entirely new problems in which I have never come across. In such a case, I probably wouldn’t have learned a great deal of skills and knowledges that I now know (such as the use of meditation.) So, while a grudgingly drag myself through life – not even knowing to whom I hold a grudge against, or what – I am at least contented in knowing that there are probably infinite possibilities as to how my life could be worse if it hadn’t taken the course it’s on. Mental disorders are just a part of my life – a part of me – just like how diabetes is to some people, or anaemia, or countless other syndromes and diseases. I once heard someone (I forget whom – it was on Opera a long time ago, or something) say that mental disorders are just that – a disease… Dis-ease. It is a burden, and a constantly recurring one, but so are bills, and debt, and the like.

    Well, this is getting way to long and I hardly sound credible (in all honesty, I’m tired and I can’t get to sleep, so I’m getting sloppy.) But those are my thoughts, or the gist of them.

  • February 16, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Your article hits the nail on the head.

    I think another metaphor is the old cliche, “If you are given a basket of lemons, make lemonade.”

    During a prayer request time at one of our Sunday morning Celebrations, a gay man stood and talked about how grateful he was for getting AIDS. He said, “Prior to getting AIDS I was haughty, rude and self-centered. Now I have allowed people into my life who have shown me great love and care. It took AIDS to get me attention.”

    I’ve talked a length with a blind musician friend of mine. He said he would never have developed his talent if he were sighted. “I would have done what all young boys do – playing games, watching TV, etc. “My blindness has forced me to focus much of my attention on my music. For that, I am very grateful.”

    There are probably hundreds of disabled people who have their own experience of being grateful for their challenges.

    Now back to your first question. Should you see, “Black Swan?” Yes, but brace yourself for a very dark film. I didn’t see anyone leave the theatre with a smile on their face. Natalie Portman was masterful.

  • February 16, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Recently, I was asked to give a talk on my life and testimony to a monthly woman’s church group. They didn’t know me except as an occasional lay pastor, but when I told them on my genetics, trauma and then the outcome, they were speechless.
    Talk about your black swans…

    A woman came up and said I had every reason to fail, but instead do the work I am callen to which I could never do it I hadn’t been there and lived to tell it. I find my condition a talent which has been entrusted to me to handle because it, above all others, needs to be well handled as the stakes are truely life and death.

    Life is a challenge and for those of us who experiences it more fully, the challenges and rewards are both greater. The resiliant person takes a lump of clay and breathes life into it.
    Most people, with little to lose sling the mud back at the person who slung it to them.

    Understanding your abilities begin with acceptances of your circumstances then appreciation of them as talents and making the very best of them from there.

  • February 16, 2011 at 10:53 am

    A lot has been said about what folks have gained from their own experience– so back to Dr. Pies, who IS a supporter, NOT an enemy. Perhaps Dr. Pies was trying to emphasize that this IS a serious illness deserving of attention and treatment.

    I am a one – polar if you will, and I would not choose ( or have chosen) to be severely and/or chronically depressed anymore than I would want to be injured in a car crash, impaired by cancer, beset by syphilis, etc. And friends, acquaintances and family member who have not experienced depression tend to equate it to the time-limited sadness or grief within their own realm of experience— or worse, simply see it as failure of will or escape from responsibility.
    All people try to integrate their experiences, good and bad, into a sensible life story. Being depressed or bi-polar doesn’t make one more or less special. Perhaps it’s from experiencing a s—load of lows absent highs in my past, but I do not treasure my depressed episodes, and feel they robbed me of precious relationships. ( and I have a few journal entries documenting the states I was in which helps me recall the resignation and despair that accompanied a bad period)… What’s more, during those episodes I was not able to be of any assistance to anyone else, so any added empathy was of no use to anyone.

    When I was young – and there were no good treatments – I did tend to romanticize my condition, clinging to a belief that it made me “deeper” or more compassionate. Did it? I don’t really know, but it was the only way I had of acknowledging it in a more positive way.

    And so perhaps Dr Pies is simply committed to recognition and treatment of a serious illness, which causes much disruption, unhappiness and loss of life. AS long as mental illness is still not covered (or inadequately covered) by many insurers, that remains a message that needs clear delivery. (Of course if every member of Congress and the Senate could be so afflicted we might have
    different laws but that is fantasy)
    The definition of depression that rings truest to me is by Alice Miller:

    “The true opposite of depression is not gaiety or absence of pain, but vitality; the freedom to experience spontaneous feelings.
    It is part of the kaleidoscope of life that these feelings are not only cheerful, “beautiful” and “good”; they also can display the whole scale of human experience, including envy, jealousy, rage, disgust, greed, despair, and mourning.”


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