Category Archives: Anxiety & Depression

Batman and J.R. Ewing Battle a Common Enemy

sketch of batman with bats flying out of his cape
Iconic figures, Batman and J.R. Ewing, battled a common foe in theaters and on televisions across the world this summer – depression.  The portrayal of their battles provides a fantastic glimpse into the life of someone faced with severe and prolonged depression.

In Bruce Wayne, we see a tragic hero in The Dark Knight Rises who not only lost the love of his life in Rachel Dawes, but also his reason for living – fighting crime as The Dark Knight – taken away.  That double-whammy combined with the traumas of childhood plunged him into years of depression that left him isolated, stripped of all joys in life, and even more susceptible to the physical wear and tear his bodied suffered in battling Scarecrow, Joker, and the League of Shadows.

Likewise, in the revival of Dallas this summer we saw the unthinkable in early episodes: J.R. Ewing withering away alone, powerless, and not even a shadow of the former hard-driving, take-on-the-world SOB that we came to love and hate in the 80s.  For J.R. it wasn’t the loss of romantic love that drove him into depression but loss of Ewing Oil, South Fork, and the power that came from the fear he instilled in his enemies.

Photographic sketcing of JR EwingIn both cases, loss triggered their descent into depression but it was ultimately the lack of purpose and the loss of hope that kept them captive to it for years.  This despite vast resources that could have helped them get the best of treatments that medicine has to offer.

Nevertheless, both emerged from the shadows of depression and it was because they found renewed purpose in life.  For Batman it was the absolute necessity to save Gotham from the villain Bane and for J.R. it was the hope of rebuilding Ewing Oil with the discovery of vast deposits under South Fork, not to mention the opportunity to “teach” his son the rough and tumble oil business.

There is no silver bullet for dealing with depression but the lesson of their stories is obvious: finding a purpose (or a compelling goal) that speaks to the core of one’s self can be an invaluable key to winning the battle with depression.

Fantastic Artwork Courtesy of:

The Dark Knight Rises by The Fresh Doodle

J.R. Ewing by Sbsiceland

Rating Your Anxiety – Is It Excessive?

Anxiety by AeginaWe all have anxiety from time to time.  Occasionally it’s just a sense of being wound-up more than usual or perhaps it’s off the charts due to a life effect such as a divorce or job loss.  However, for many it is a chronic condition that stalks us day-by-day and in varying degrees of severity.  To put the prevalence – now there’s a big word – in perspective consider:

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common of all psychiatric conditions – not this is disorders, not an occasional anxious period
  • Anxiety disorders affect 15.7 million Americans each year and 30 million Americans during their lifetime
  • The American Psychiatric Association recognizes at least 11 distinct anxiety disorders

So where does your anxiety rate? Mild, Moderate, or Severe?  Jeffery Brantley, MD offers the following breakdown in his book Calming Your Anxious Mind (adapted):

  • Mild – Usually a reaction to a life event that can warn us of reasonable causes for concern or danger
  • Moderate – Can lead to cognitive disorganization – not thinking straight – as well as some milder physical manifestations – another big word
  • Severe – Interferes with daily life and function, may be chronic and require medication attention. Can lead to not only physical discomfort but also physical illness over an extended period of time

Brantley offers the following criteria for identifying excessive or pathological anxiety (adapted):

  1. Anxiety that has little recognizable cause and is present for no good reason
  2. Anxiety that a disturbing level of intensity well beyond everyday anxiety
  3. Anxiety that lasts longer than everyday anxiety, up to weeks or months
  4. Anxiety that has a significant and detrimental impact on day-to-day life. The pain of anxiety may lead to destructive behaviors, such as withdrawal, avoidance, or substance abuse whether it be drugs, alcohol or anxious eating

I think Brantley largely has it right; however, I would take issue with item #1 above. I firmly believe that many with chronic anxiety experience it with a recognizable cause or for good reason. It’s just that their level of anxiety is disproportionate to the cause(s).

So knowing this is all fine and dandy, but what do we do about it? Reading website such as Serenity Hunter as well as other self-help materials is a good first steps. However, it’s only a first step. If you are suffering for an extended period then definitely seek out professional help – which may or may not include medication.

In addition, if your condition is chronic they consider lifestyle change that may improve your ability to cope with breakthrough anxiety: things such as an improved diet, regular exercises, meditation or mindfulness practices such as Tai Chi – or even Karate.

Just don’t sit around waiting for it to go quietly into that good night without making an effort.

Image Credit: Aegina

Statistics and Background: Jeffery Brantley, MD in his book Calming Your Anxious Mind

Abraham Lincoln – How Depression Rained on His Parade

Abraham LincolnHave you ever felt worse after a great victory in live? Those of us with chronic depression know that one of its most disheartening traits is the ability to rob us of triumphant moments.  At those times in our life when we should be celebrating victory, depression – and perhaps anxiety – step in to rip away the joy that should fill our heart. It is just as true today as it was more than 100 years ago for President Lincoln.

A Case in Point:

  • 1st Election to Congress – At 37 years of age Lincoln won a seat in Congress, an accomplishment he spent years working toward and which would have him working alongside such greats as John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster. Yet, in spite of this great victory he later wrote, “Being elected to Congress though I am very grateful to our friends, for having done it, has not pleased me as much as I expected.”

Why is this?  According to Lincoln historian Joshua Wolf Shenk, “What looks to the world like a triumph, many depressed people see merely as another step on an unending ladder. In extreme cases, a dramatic achievement can create as strong a sense of dislocation and loneliness as would a dramatic setback, and may lead to suicide.” Furthermore, Shenk states, “The paradox, then, is that a strong step forward could in fact serve to powerfully illustrate the inability of accomplishments to satisfy him.”

This is further aggravated by the fact that a depressed person often knows their negative reaction is inappropriate and so they are driven deeper with guilty and hopelessness.

So what can one do? It’s cliche, but one must learn to live in the moment rather than dwell on the past or what lies ahead in the future.  However, it’s not always enough for the person with depression.  For him, the aid of friends and family are often key to helping a person stay centered so they can enjoy their moment in the sun.  They can do this by gentle nudges to enjoy the moment and offering an extra pat on the back rather than a lecture to “cheer up.”

As for myself, I think it of great help to find a memento of the achievement for those darker moments when I need a reminder of past victories.  In fact, some who battle with depression put together scrapbooks or shoeboxes filled with reminders of those things that have brought them joy, whether it be family, friends, achievements or other milestones in one’s life.

Cover of Lincoln's Melancholy

Historical Source: Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk.

Lincoln Portrait (top) Source: Chrono1209 at DeviantArt