Friday, February 01, 2008

Depression as an advantage?

Philip Dawdy over at Furious Seasons (which the author describes as "A blog about the crazy world of mental health and America"), has an interesting interview with Tom Wootten on depression as an advantage. Wootten is the author of The Depression Advantage (2007) and The Bipolar Advantage (2005). According to Dawdy, Wootten "has different ideas about how to address depression than does the rest of the Western world" and so he "recently interviewed him via email about his bold claim that depression is an advantage."

To give you an idea at what Wootten is getting at:

Depression is an advantage. What are you talking about?

How we choose to look at our experiences in life and how we react to them determines whether it is an advantage or a disadvantage. Depression is a very painful state that has a very real chance of killing you. Most people would say that it is the worst thing that ever happened to them. A few have chosen to use it as a catalyst that changed their lives while they gained power over it.

It is not the hardships we face that matter, it is what we become as a result of facing them. Some of the greatest people in history have said that depression is what made them great. The Depression Advantage is about facing our condition while accepting the possibility that we might gain from it instead of trying to hide from the experience. Avoidance leads to a diminished life where we live in fear that some day depression will return and we will not be able to handle it. When we learn from it we find that we gain power over it and it does not affect us the same as it used to.

Our first depression seemed impossible to survive, but as we experience deeper states we find that the level that first seemed impossible can now be managed very well. We can even help others because we understand it and can empathize with them. At least in lower levels, we gain an advantage over depression instead of it having the advantage over us. Taken to the extreme, Saint John of the Cross said that it was his "Dark Night of the Soul" that made him a saint.

Information on Wootton's integrative approach to depression can be found in the Success Center section of his website.

As I mention in my comment, both personally and pastorally I have found it of immense value to be able to integrate the darker moments of life into a wider context of meaning (what Wootten calls the "big circle'). As he says:
"Some people think that the problem is that we have wrong thinking. They propose that we catch ourselves thinking sad thoughts and replace them with happy thoughts, as if that is going to change the picture. It is the same as focusing on the two small circles. We will never fully understand our condition until we begin to focus on the big circle and find meaning in our experiences. As long as you think that sad thoughts are an illness you will not find the advantage of your condition.

"The example of our saints is that they got to a point that they were in the same state of oneness no matter what happened to their body or mind. Saint Francis was in incredible pain at the end of his life, yet had the ability to keep focused on the big picture. It is not that he was somehow separate from his experiences; he experienced them just as you and I would. But since he was focusing on the big picture, he was in bliss. Bliss is the state that is not affected by the duality.

"As our saints grew in understanding, they still experienced the pain, but from the perspective of bliss it did not affect them as much. That is why Saint Teresa said: 'All these illnesses now bother me so little that I am often glad, thinking the Lord is served by something.'

"It takes the perspective of extreme pain for some of us to see the truth of bliss. The Depression Advantage is that we have the chance to understand something that few ever will."

Surf over and take a look at Furious Seasons. Some of the things I agree with, others I need to think about. Having cut my theoretical teeth through my readings in the anti-psychiatric movement, I find Furious Seasons well worth my time.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

p.s., You can find my comments on Wootten in the comment section of the post.


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