Happy To Be Here

The first thing you need to know about secure psychiatric facilities is that their bathrooms smell strongly of pee.

That may not seem remarkable to you. Many bathrooms smell of pee. But the facility in which I was a guest this time last year was notably immaculate in every other way. A lot of time and attention went towards making it clean and welcoming. Yet the private bathrooms — one to a two-person dorm room, no lock — always smelled of pee. That's because there's an elaborate metal cage built around the workings of the toilet, like one of those Hannibal Lecter masks. This makes the toilets very difficult to clean. Hence, the constant smell of pee.

The people who run the facility protect the toilets like that so that you won't disassemble them and use the pieces to hurt yourself. My wife would tell them that this concern dramatically overestimates my home improvement skills, but I guess they want to be careful. It seems to me that if you take the time and effort to disassemble a toilet with your bare hands, you're committed enough to be allowed to do to yourself as you see fit. To date my view has not prevailed in the psychiatric community.

I found this out exactly a year ago, when I had a particularly bad day. My family and friends had a worse one.1 I'll spare you the particulars; they aren't the point. I had the sort of day that illuminates the distinction between "I've fought depression for sixteen years" and "I've successfully fought depression for sixteen years." It turns out the difference matters.

I'm still here. That's a consequence of the grace, and love, and generosity, and decency of others, and my own ridiculously good luck. I'm here, I feel good — not just okay, but good — and I'm very happy to still be here. Not only that, I feel hope. If you haven't been depressed, that may seem like just a little thing, but it's not. I don't feel the hope that I'll never have a low point of anxiety and depression again. It's going to happen again; that's the deal. No: I feel hope that when it happens again, I have the tools to face it.

Every time I write about depression, I feel like I'm having the naked-at-school dream, exposed and poised for incoming ridicule. No matter how often I say that depression is nothing to be ashamed of, and how sincerely I believe it in my head, my gut tells me otherwise. But every time I write about depression, I get emails from people thanking me for talking openly about the subject and for describing what it's like. And, as I said, I'm only here because of the decency of others. I owe back. I owe back more than I can possibly repay. A little squeamishness doesn't weigh much in the balance.

So here we are. I'm Ken, and though I live an outwardly "normal," high-functioning and successful life, I suffer from grave anxiety and depression, and last year it got bad enough that I was hospitalized "voluntarily" for it.2 Maybe you suffer, or maybe you love somebody who suffers, or maybe you want to understand depression and anxiety more so you can support people who suffer. I want to share some things I've learned in the course of a harrowing experience, in hope that it might help someone, even a little.

Ask For Help. You Can't Go It Alone.

I'm not an addict. But dealing with depression and anxiety has resembled what I've read about addiction treatment. I've had to reach bottom and concede my own powerlessness to get better. I'm not still here because of strength of character. I didn't survive because I found it in myself to hope that things could improve. In fact I didn't have that hope a year ago today. I survived because at my worst moment I knew that, however hopeless I was, I could put myself in the hands of the people who care about me. I'm here because, at my lowest, I admitted that I was powerless to help myself, admitted that I needed help from others, admitted that I had to rely on other people. That wasn't easy; I'm stubborn and fully invested in the classic American self-image of independence and grit. But it was necessary.

I bring this up because even mentally ill people are bombarded with the message of self-reliance. Learn how to eliminate negative thoughts! Take control of your depression! Fix yourself with these four methods! Overcome your problems! Be strong! There's something appealing about these messages — even as they fail to produce results — because social interaction can be unpleasant and painful when you're depressed and anxious. An elaborate excuse to withdraw and self-rely is welcome, like a doctor telling you to drink more milkshakes.

Part of my improvement was about taking personal responsibility and achieving some mastery of my condition, as I'll discuss below. But the core of it was admitting that I had to trust and rely on people, and that I needed them to help me, and that I could not just stoic it out all by myself. I had to be okay admitting to other people that I was broken — admitting to colleagues that I needed help at work to get some time to get better, admitting to family that I needed help, admitting to various medicos the extent to which I'm fucked up. Instead of being the guy who can always offer a solution or a plan or a strategy, the one people can count on, the one always ready to take responsibility for results, I had to say "I don't know what to do, and I need help." You can be pressed firmly to the vast bosom of your loving family and friends and still be all alone if you're not ready to say that.

I am incredibly lucky in my family and friends. Not everyone has that support network. Maybe you think you don't. But if you are in pain, your family and friends and coworkers may surprise you. Even if you're on your own, there are dedicated professionals out there whose purpose is helping you. Seek that help. I don't mean "go someplace for an hour to talk, and then go back to work and back to carrying the weight on your shoulders." I mean bring yourself to admitting you can't do it without other people.

If you have a loved one in pain, from my perspective the best thing to do is to say "I don't know what I can do, but whatever it is, I'll do it. I'll help you, and I'll take you to others who can help. Let me help you carry the weight." You can help by eliminating the excuses we use not to get help. "I'll miss work!" I'll cover your shifts. "The kids need me!" The kids can stay with us for a month. "I'll lose my job!" No you won't — I'll go to bat for you. "I don't know who to call!" I'll call for you.

Don't Rule Anything Out.

If you asked me a few years ago, I would have been horrified at the concept of a stay in the looney bin.3 I know people who have spent time in psychiatric facilities; it doesn't diminish my respect for them. I admire people who have spoken openly about such hospitalization, like David Weigel or Annmarie Timmins, and think that their stories prove how being hospitalized doesn't make you less of a responsible adult, or professional, or trustworthy person. I knew that intellectually. But down in my lizard brain, where I whisper my failings to myself, I told myself if you go to a mental hospital, that's it. You're not a parent and a law firm partner and a citizen any more. You're a Crazy Person.

It took a crisis to get me past that — it took reaching bottom and thinking, hey, it can't possibly get worse, so why the hell not? Acute ward, here I come!4 Letting go of that arbitrary line and opening myself to the possibilities was a huge relief. Thank God I did it. It was what I needed — time unconnected, away from the sources of crippling anxiety and accompanying depression, so that people could help me figure out how to deal with it, instead of just suffering through it. When you're depressed and anxious to the point of crisis your daily life is like drowning; you're too focused on surviving to figure out how to change.

Hospitalization may not be right for you or your loved one. I'm not saying to go check yourself in. I'm telling you to be open to the array of possibilities. Be open to medication. Be open to therapy. You may be surprised to discover what works for you once you give it a try. I had rejected talk therapy for years; I always found that it provoked more anxiety than it prevented. (I'm the sort to have a panic attack trying to figure out what to say when I cancel my therapy appointment because of a work conflict.) But, having admitted that I needed to listen to other people, I tried a new doctor and a new modality — cognitive behavioral theory, specifically — and found it effective and liberating.

Just consider what you've previously ruled out, is all I'm saying. Question your disqualifying assumptions, or help your loved ones do so. I assumed without reflection that hospitalization meant the end of my career; I went on to have one of my most successful years ever. I was better as a spouse and parent and lawyer and boss because I wasn't miserable.

Keep Re-evaluating.

I was diagnosed 16 years ago with major depression. I've been cruising along, in good times and bad, with medicines working or not working, assuming that was the case. Doctors didn't seriously re-evaluate that diagnosis until this crisis, nor did I. Careful evaluation led me to understand that I've got both depression and what we'll charitably call an "anxiety problem." This combination is apparently common in annoying Type As like me — and with it comes the ability to mask pain, to remain very high-functioning so nobody sees how you feel until you snap. The way it works for me is this: during a bad cycle, the anxiety begins, and feeds on itself until it becomes omnipresent and all-consuming, in a way I've tried to describe before:

Think of the most stressed and worried you have ever been in your life, and then imagine that your stomach feels like that all the time.

Imagine that you are constantly gripped with overwhelming feelings of dread and crushing hopelessness — irrational, not governed by real risks or challenges, but still inexorable.

Imagine that you are often fatigued to the point of weakness and irritability because you can't get to sleep until late at night, or because your mind consistently shakes you awake at four in the morning, racing with worry about the day's activities as your stomach roils and knots.

Imagine that most social interactions become painful, the cause of nameless dread. Imagine that when the phone rings or your computer dings with a new email you get a short, hot, foul shot of adrenaline, sizzling in your fingertips and bitter in your mouth.

Imagine that, however much you understand the causes of these symptoms intellectually, no matter how well you know that you are fully capable of meeting the challenges you face and surviving them, no matter how well you grasp that these feelings are a symptom of a disease, you can't stop feeling this way.

Imagine that you have moments — maybe even minutes — where you forget how you feel, but those moments are almost worse, because when they end and you remember the feelings rush back in like a dark tide that much more painfully.

Then, once I'm in anxiety's grip, depression kicks in. And, as the Bloggess says, depression lies. Depression tells me that it's never going to change. Depression tells me that there's no hope, that I'm going to feel this way forever. Depression tells me I've tried everything to get better and it doesn't work. Depression tells me that I'm a failure as a husband, a father, a friend. Depression tells me that I suck at my job — that if clients are happy with my work it's only because they are deluded.

You can see how this one-two punch can put you down.

Not surprisingly, treatment that focused only on depression — or that saw anxiety as a mere part of depression, instead of a separate phenomenon magnified by depression — wasn't effective. But, sixteen years down the path, trying a new approach was remarkably effective. Treating the anxiety and depression as distinct problems with distinct causes and solutions worked better than anything ever has. Perversely, admitting defeat and giving up control led to getting much more command over my disease and my response to it.

So, if what you've tried hasn't worked so far, never stop questioning your premises. Maybe you're not solving the right problem.

Think About Your Body Along With Your Head.

One of the things I learned after my crisis was that I had never seriously thought about how my body contributed to the state of my mind. As a long-time out-of-shape unathletic geek, my body was never a focus. I heard that exercise and diet could impact my mental health, but I didn't grasp why.

Starting from scratch let me re-evaluate this and think about how I could address mental symptoms by addressing physical symptoms. An example: when I was anxious and depressed it was common for me not to eat anything until dinner. What I figured out is that my stomach would start churning and rumbling from hunger. That feeling is remarkably close to the unquiet stomach of anxiety, and my mind would tell me you're really anxious, which would make me more anxious and less likely to eat, and so on, in a vicious cycle. What I figured out was that if I addressed the physical symptom reasonably — for instance, by taking pains to have a bit of protein for breakfast and mid-morning — the mental symptom followed. I also discovered that calling out and naming physical symptoms helped prevent them from making the mental symptoms worse. When I am in the grip of anxiety I get nasty hot shots of adrenaline, like an electrical charge through my chest, when the phone rings or an email comes in or I read something concerning or anything else happens. The physical symptom makes me more anxious. But I learned to say that's not anxiety — that's a symptom of anxiety. That's an adrenaline surge, and it will pass. I'll work it off by taking a walk around the office. The anxiety's still there, but the vicious body-mind cycle of escalation stops.

I found the book ""Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" to be extremely helpful in understanding the biology of how my body impacts my mood, and vice-versa. Before I had been very skeptical of any body-focus as sort of crystal-thumping woo. But not surprisingly, there's actual science to the concept that our bodies impact our minds.

This particular approach may not be as helpful for anyone. Consider it, then, in the category of keeping an open mind to new approaches.

Talk To People; You're Not Alone.

I mask extremely well. I'm told this is typical of people with both anxiety and depression. I'm very adept at keeping people — even those close to me — from detecting how badly I feel. A lot of us are.

The problem with this, of course, is that people can't help us if they don't know we need help. Plus, even when we know on some level we're hiding our pain, on some level the failure to detect it increases feelings of alienation and loneliness. There's nothing lonelier than nobody around you knowing you're in pain.

Just as you have to ask for help, you've got to reach out. This can be terribly painful until it starts to work. Human contact is intolerable when I'm very anxious and depressed. But human contact helps me see that I'm not as apart as my disease tells me.

In the hospital my roommate was roughly my age, but could not have been more different if a sitcom casting crew had chosen us for an Odd Couple remake. He was an adventurer, a long-haired aspiring rocker, a dude who was used to wearing leather pants the way I wear Dockers. I have a conservative haircut; he had tattoos on the palms of his hands. Our upbringing, our education, our tastes, our relationship history, our ambitions were worlds apart. But when we talked, we got each other. We spoke the same language. I could describe exactly how one of his surges of anxiety would take hold; he could describe exactly how hopelessness would set in with me after a few days of worry. Our good days are nothing alike, but our bad days are eerily similar.

The more I talk to other people with this disease the more I get that I'm not alone. The more I read brave people opening up in public about anxiety and depression — like Wil Wheaton or Jenny Lawson or Larry Sanders — the less alone I feel. I live in hope that if I open up some other people may feel less alone. My disease tells me I'll never feel better; the existence of other people who have survived and thrived tells me that my disease lies.


I couldn't get through this if I couldn't laugh at myself and at the absurdity of it all.

I first recognized this because of golf pencils. You're encouraged to write to loved ones when you're hospitalized. But pens are potential weapons, so they give you the short, stubby pencils that you'd use to score miniature golf. These induce hand cramps but are highly ineffective for suicide. Once a day they'd ask me to sign a promise not to hurt myself, or others. When they asked that they gave me a pen. An oath written with a golf pencil is of mickle might; nobody expects your word to be binding unless it's written with, at a minimum, a Bic. After you sign the no-harm promise they take the pen back, and give you back the golf pencil. One day the cosmic ridiculousness of this struck me so hard that I started to laugh until tears rolled down my face. I do not recommend this as a strategy to get out of a mental institution more promptly.

Human frailty is the root of comedy. My disease is a flaw, a brokenness, and I'll be damned if it doesn't help to laugh at it. This can be disconcerting to others. A dear friend called after I got out of the hospital and asked, very worried, what I was up to that day. "Just hanging around," I said. Beat. "Maybe that's a poor choice of words." The resulting horrified silence was painful. For him. Sorry/not sorry. "The soft-serve machine in the looney bin was broken," I took to saying when people commented on my weight loss. Rather than become socially anxious about whether or not people knew what had happened, I cheerfully probed. If you run into a neighbor in the grocery store, ask them if they know where they knife aisle is. If they twitch, then they know.

We're ridiculous, all of us, grunting and squinting and snorting our way from one end of life to the other. Laughing's the best way to go. It's hard to worry what people are going to think about your disease when you're laughing at it. Laughter is defiance, it's power, it's hope. A thing I can laugh at does not fully control me.

So laugh at it all. Forgive your loved ones their black humor about their condition; it's an effective coping mechanism.

I won't ask you to be fine. Nobody's fine. Be better. Reach out.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is available 24/7. The National Institute of Mental Health has links to many other resources for people in pain and their loved ones. So does the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

  1. Today I sent my wife a very nice "thanks for sticking with me even though I'm nutty" bouquet.  
  2. I mean "voluntarily" in the sense of "you can check yourself in voluntarily, or we will check you in involuntarily."  
  3. That's the correct psychological term, unless you have an HMO, in which case it's "nuthatch."  
  4. I only spent a day and a half in the acute ward of the facility. I did not enjoy it. That's a story for another time.  

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Constantine von Hoffman says

    Thank you for writing this. I have been afflicted with depression since I was a child. The only way to remove the social stigma of mental health problems is talk and post about them. You are helping others in innumerable ways by doing this.

  2. Atropine1138 says

    What are your thoughts regarding the professional consequences of a mental health diagnosis? I ask because the Louisiana Bar just entered into a federal consent decree to stop their "treatment" program which involved signing over all your medical records to the Bar and basically treating attorneys with even the mildest diagnosis like they had invoked NGI defenses. Given this bias, why would any attorney in a junior position risk their livelihood and career by seeking help, when the "help" can often do more harm than good?

    Especially since the Germanwings crash, it seems like there's increased intolerance of mental-health issues in positions of responsibility. Under what circumstances do you think it's appropriate to suspend/terminate an attorney's ability to practice law (particularly criminal law)?

  3. George William Herbert says

    I am thankful not to have this problem, but having friends with depression and wanting the best for them, I am very glad whenever anyone can speak up about it and encourage everyone to ask for help, or give it.

    This series takes a lot of personal courage to write.

  4. Jag says

    Thanks for sharing and I'm glad you are learning how to better deal with this. We are in the process of learning similar (but different) things about my younger son that affect him now and probably will for the rest of his life. You have a very relatable way of explaining what you have faced. I am hoping to be able to help my own son through a potentially difficult journey in life.

    My takeaway from this is I need to figure out how to convince him that he has family that will always be there for him. Sometimes words just don't seem to be convincing enough.

  5. says

    This is the best post I've ever read on depression. Like the palm-tattooed-dude: YOU GET IT.

    More later, after I digest.

    But for now: thank you.

  6. says

    Wow – this is a powerful piece. I'm a big fan of being genuine in one's writing and you've done that here. Thank you for sharing. And thank you for the laughs you've given ME as I read Popehat.

    I'm happy you're here as well! Keep writing! (and watch out for those ponies…)

  7. Shawn says

    Thank You for the honest read, genuine and compelling…All the best to you in the future!

  8. A says

    "So, if what you've tried hasn't worked so far, never stop questioning your premises. Maybe you're not solving the right problem."


  9. says

    This is fantastic, Ken. So happy you wrote it and that things have improved. As someone who has dealt with depression, anxiety and panic attacks, so much of this resonated with me. Asking for help is so very hard. I'm so glad you did. Thanks again for helping others by writing this.

  10. Doug Bailey says

    Thank you, Ken, for talking openly about the things that people usually keep in the shadows. There's a lot of depression in my family, and it's hugely helpful to realise that we're not alone. Best of luck to you in the ongoing struggle.

  11. Dragonmum says

    Yes! All of this! Ken, I know a huge number of people look up to you, so writing about your experiences with depression reaches a significant audience and helps destigmatize the experience. Thank you!! I walked around for years with that "happy face", apparently a successful student, mother and professional, while suffering from panic, anxiety, and depression. We, individually and as a society, need to be able to discuss mental health issues without blaming, shaming and fear. One thing I learned as a psychiatrist is that many, many more people are walking around with significant and profound mental illness than you'd ever think. Intellegence and success don't make you any less vulnerable.

    As a mental health professional, one of the hardest things to do is to get help for your own problems. I've had depression and anxiety since I was in high school, along with hyperactive ADHD – not pretty things in an extremely high-functioning woman. Your description of the wind up of anxiety and the plunge into depression hits it on the head. Also the ability to look pulled-together on the surface and hide your feelings – even from those closest to you. Once I hit my wall in my late 30s (3 kids, attack by patient, etc), I ended up with treatment for ADHD, which helped my mood problems immensely.

    Unfortunately, it seems my brain is very sensitive to psychiatric side effects from lots of medications, including antibiotics, and anti-cancer meds, so I've been priviledged to experience the wonders of psychotic depression. Dealing with all this while working more or less full-time as a practicing shrink didn't help. When you get to the point where you don't sleep at all, suicide seems like a reasonable option to escape the evils in the black pit, and carving pictures and words into various parts of yourself with a knife seems like a good idea, well, I can only say that if my husband hadn't noticed the pretty designs I'd made on my arms, I'm not sure I'd still be here. I've been lucky to escape a stretch in the loony bin, but the weight gain from anti-psychotics sucked…

    After that, anxiety still would attack, but I have a lot more tools to handle it now. I've had to stop working for both my physical and mental health, but that was trauma, illness and medication-related physical and cognitive impairment, not depression. Going gluten-free (daughter with celiac dz and turns out I have a severe wheat allergy ==> anxiety and mood d/o!!) and practicing Won-Buddhism have actually almost eliminated my anxiety; it is lovely to have long stretches of days and weeks with no fear.

    The path to recovery is different for everyone. The common element is reaching out to others and accepting help. You can't do it alone. If you are having any of the problems Ken or I have written about, please tell someone you trust and ask them to help you find help. It may not feel like the right thing at the time, but you, and the people who love you, will be very glad you did.

  12. MDC says

    My father suffered from depression and I really didn't understand it. Right before I got married 17 years ago I went through a bout of mononucleosis, and it has a number of nasty symptoms. Two of them are "severe depression" and "lack of will to do anything". Let me say that I gained a very large respect to those of you who live through depression after I went through that. It was unbearable even for the couple of weeks that I dealt with it. Thanks for writing this and being so open – it can only help folks who suffer in this way.

  13. says

    Aw, Ken, I've always known you were a crazy person, but it was the zany "Snort my taint! Fear the ponies!" kind of crazy, not…uh, the less enjoyable kind. Anyway, I'm happy you're still here too. Thanks for writing this.

  14. Ted H. says

    Preface: I try to avoid being saccharine but this post brought it out.

    I look up to older smarter lawyers like you and like you I've struggled similarly. Thanks for sharing this.

  15. says

    Thanks, Ken. Depression and anxiety are so hard to understand when trying to relate to loved ones who suffer. Your lucid and personal story is so, so helpful in building that understanding.

  16. Thank You says

    Just have to say thank you for this post. In earlier years, I would say "been there, done that, made the pot holder." Still cannot figure out my chicken-egg with depression and anxiety.

  17. Dan Stephans says

    Ken — thank you for sharing. I know there's a lot of strangers (like me) that are very happy you're here and educating/berating/snarking/entertaining us.

    I think (and hope) that society is moving toward a time when we can understand that mental illness can be destigmatized through the lens of simple illness. Nobody (that I know) would attribute weakness to the breast cancer survivor or begrudge them the time away from work for battling the illness and recovering. I'm happy we're making progress, I am confident we'll make more.

  18. Chris says

    Thanks for this post, Ken, and for your previous posts on the subject. They make me more open minded about these issues, and more observant of the people I love. I consider your writing a resource that I may never need, but in case I do, I'll be able to come back here, or share your words with someone who might benefit from them, and that's a comfort to me.
    Your thoughts are a tremendous gift to us all.

  19. TimL says

    Thank you, Ken.

    Jim Valvano recommended that, everyday, we all laugh, cry, and think.


  20. Kratoklastes says

    Great column, Ken.

    As I get older (I turned 50 earleir this year) it becomes more and more evident that I've been extraordinarily fortunate – in my family there's no cancer, no heart disease, no obvious mental illness (although one of my sisters went batshit crazy after menopause), no drug abuse. And no depression/anxiety either.

    I recently discovered that two of my long-time buds (guys I went to University with, and with whom I work and have worked) both have really profound anxiety. I'm not particularly observant of people's social nuances, but honestly it was a complete shock to have not seen even an inkling of anxiety in either of them, ever.

    At uni they were both vocal, contributing, slightly smart-ass (less so than me), high-achievers… their careers have been in fields they enjoyed and were good at (funds management for one, economic consulting for the other) and they're materially successful (and the one who has kids has 3 great kids, a wife who's a partner at a large law firm, and a fucking mansion and a beach house, owned outright… even their dog is awesome).

    It really was an eye-opener to learn that this type of 'brain rebellion' can occur in people who have no reason to be unhappy.

    EDIT: as an aside, both of them have found that a dietary change made profound differences to the duration and depth of their anxious episodes. The microbiome (the type and relative amounts of different bacteria in the gut) is now understood to have effects on mood and affect.

    On the flip side, though, the increase 'profile' of men's depression is a two-edged sword, because it can lead to people tip-toeing around assholes who need a fist-facilitated tooth-realignment.

    Example (names changed to protect the guilty)…

    Recently my youngest brother's life went strangely askew – he left his wife and kids, shacked up with someone even less attractive than his awful ex-wife (both are obese gingers, although the new one was skinny to begin with), and promptly spat out yet another kid with the new belle. He's been taking from my parents (who are in their 70s) for the last 3 years – e.g., he had borrowed their car, then proceeded to rack up thousands of dollars of tollway charges… which my folks had to pay – and they also kept paying the vehicle registration and insurance.

    My Dad is even more no-nonsense than I am, and when Middle Bro and I said "Dad, just take the fucking car off him: he's taking the piss", Dad revealed that he was scared that if Baby Bro didn't have the car, he wouldn't be able to visit his kids, and that he might end up hurting himself. (There has never been a threat by Baby Bro along those lines – both Mum and Dad confirm this – but Dad has seen a bunch of ads about men's mental health that made him worry).

    That knocked me for a loop: Baby Bro seems a lot like me and Middle Bro (i.e., not psychologically complicated), even though he's made a series of ex ante objectively shit-awful decisions recently.

    Middle bro is likewise stumped: we've known Baby Bro for the same length of time that Dad has, and the notion that he would do anything against his own interests seems ludicrous on its face.

    In some sense, it would be a source of immense relief for Middle Bro and I if it turned out that Baby Bro has crippling anxiety (or depression, or both) – because the alternative explanation is that the kid brother who I have loved since I changed his nappies in the late 1970s, is a sociopath…

  21. Paul Benjamin says

    Thank you, I don't have anything constructive to add really, aside from it is really important that brave people like yourself speak out about their experiences.

    Thank you!

  22. Pahdraig says

    As I read this I felt compelled to comment. Since you have both the courage and the platform to speak as you did, I will share my thoughts that I wrote I as I read your post.
    It's the embarassement, the shame, the failure of it all, and a life you can watch swirling away into filth and darkness.
    We've always been broken. Whether we present as successful or as a stunted failure, it doesn't matter; we've always been broken. The dark is never that far away.
    Yes you can be all alone. And if left long enough, you will do things that make sure you stay alone, whether that's good for you or not. It doesn't really matter does it? You have no choice.
    I desperatly wish I had that paragraph. My family, unfortunatly, cannot do that for me.
    I have been in the loony bin. Many years ago. I swore I'd never go back. Ever. So far, I've been successful.
    There's an incredibly effective remedy for anxiety. I discovered it years ago. It's called alcohol. I can't even sleep without it anymore.
    Depression tells me those things too. It's the dark, ever whispering in your ear, ever caressing your shoulders as it swirls around you, beckoning.
    "There's nothing lonelier than nobody around you knowing you're in pain." A truer statement has never been said.
    "We're ridiculous, all of us, grunting and squinting and snorting our way from one end of life to the other. Laughing's the best way to go." Thanks for that. You're right, it's good to laugh.

    The hardest thing is to survive the dark when it buries us. I'm very glad you did. Thank you.

  23. Dragonmum says

    @Kratoklastes: Friend, the bad news is sociopathy and mental illness are not mutually exclusive (see: my baby bro and ex-husband too). Good news is if Dad takes away the car, he's not responsible for your Bro's future actions. If he's that fragile, anything will set him off. If he's never threatened to kill himself, odds are better he'll just find another woman to lend him a car or whatever. Sorry you have to deal with this. Maybe you can suggest you go with him to see someone??

  24. Bryan says

    Thank you for sharing this. I've been lurking here since the Oatmeal/ Charles Carreon fiasco, and it has been an education. I love your ability to turn a phrase, and appreciate your willingness to share so much of your time, knowledge, and perspective.

    I'm a little-l libertarian (more left than right), video-game playing, rpg-playing (yes, still, at forty-something), sci-fi loving geek. Except for the whole law thing I'm pretty squarely in your target audience and I'm pretty sure I've read every post here since finding this site.

    About a year and a half ago, I had a pretty severe mental breakdown. I have known all my life that I have gender dysphoria, and my inability to deal with it has lead to depression, social anxiety, and alcohol abuse. Until recently I was on the road towards drinking myself quite literally to death, and while I have it under better control now I still struggle. Depression is a tough one, because you don't recognize just how awful you feel all the damn time because, at least for me, there were no truly happy times to compare them to — not for years.

    It is so very helpful to read personal accounts of other people's experience with depression, particularly people whom I admire and respect (even if I know them only through their blog, like you, or through their work, like Wil Wheaton). In a way it normalizes it. This shit is hard enough to deal with without also feeling ashamed to be so broken or so weak.

    I don't know if I'll ever feel like posting to one of your regular blog posts. For someone whose social anxiety manifests as a paralyzing fear of saying the wrong thing, posting as a non-lawyer to a law blog is pretty fucking intimidating. But I'll still enjoy reading every word and I thank you for sharing your account. My wife has suggested recently that I investigate substance abuse centers that serve people like me; your post is forcing to reconsider my initial reluctance to even investigate that option. "Don't rule anything out" is coming to me at an opportune time.

    Thank you very much for this. I don't think calling it courageous is too strong. I'm glad you're here, too.

  25. says

    Glad you're back. I was worried when you went silent last year, especially as I know the signs, having family members with depression and being touched by it myself a bit. Really glad you have the support network around you, which is critical.

  26. Paul Baxter says

    Hope your message is able to help many. I'm sure there are many people with depression who could find something useful here.

    I've loved your writing for a very long time. It's easy to read your breezy, confident style of writing and assume that you have it all together. And I'm sure in many ways you do. I know you have a family and a very successful law career, things to be very proud of. But of course you have had your struggles, like we all do.

    Your post here reminds me quite a bit of Elyn Saks book, The Center Cannot Hold, a book I recommend very highly. Ms. Saks struggle was not with depression, but with schizophrenia. She had convinced herself for many years that simply with enough willpower and self control she could handle schizophrenia without medical/pharmacological assistance. At some point she finally accepted that that was not the case. Brilliant woman, and now a law professor specializing in legal issues surrounding treatment of mental illness.

    Glad that you seem to be doing better now!

  27. sorrykb says

    Thank you for sharing this, and, though I also am a stranger to you, I'll second (or third or fourth) what other commenters have said: I'm glad you're here too.

  28. XtraPretzel says

    You have enlightened and brought inspiration to so many of us who would have been so much worse off without your presence. Both on a legal and personal front.

    There will be days you will read that comment above and think someone must making fun of you. We're not. Print it off. Paste it on your refrigerator. Look at it often. Know that it is the truth. And know that beyond the people you mentioned in your article here, you are not alone.

  29. says

    Your posts on depression are extraordinarily well-written. I remember reading one of the previous ones with my girlfriend, who suffered from depression for 18 years and unfortunately didn't make it long enough to see this post. Resultant from that, all of her and my friends that have depression all think "I understand them" now and come to me when they need help (I was just visiting one of them in Bellevue today, actually, and no, didn't use the bathroom). The truth is the tl;dr version of your post: there's really nothing to do but offer support. There's no "fixing" or "problem solving" to be done, as much as it may be many of our natural tendencies to do so. The best that can be done is taking away their excuses regarding getting help, as you mentioned (most commonly in my experience, "I can't find/afford a therapist," which can be eliminated with, "Let's browse Psychology Today together and find you one right now.").

    Posts like yours to remind both those suffering and those supporting them to keep going, to not pretend like there's a quick fix ("just take some meds and it's all better," said no one actually familiar with depression ever), and to not feel alone in the fight, or worse, like they need to hide it or be ashamed. Many (perhaps even most?) of my favorite people in the world fight depression, and you're not going to be seen as "broken" (by anyone with a room-temperature IQ) by admitting you have it. Let your friends and family help you, because I can promise, if you think asking for help is being a burden, the burden is nothing compared to losing you.

  30. says

    Ken, thanks for this. We have a son with Bipolar disorder, and we decided a long time ago to use our experience raising him as an opportunity to educate people about mental illness and that it is survivable, both for the mentally ill and for those that love them.

    Keep up the good fight.

  31. says

    Apologies for the length. Ken's article pushed my pedant button.

    Ken: " But not surprisingly, there's actual science to the concept that our bodies impact our minds."

    LOL. Not surprising to me because:

    "The hip bone's connected to the back bone …
    The backbone's connected to the neck bone …
    The neck bone's connected to the head bone …
    The head bone's connected to the brain bone …
    Now hear the word of the Lord."

    The mind is, after all, a subset of the body, which is not a mere container.

    On the power of laughter in fighting depression, I recently was told by a nurse practitioner with a delightful eastern Tennessee accent that, "there's not a lot of laughter in medicine, but there's a lot of medicine in laughter." Thanks, Ken. I hadn't realized how much I needed that laugh.

    My own epiphany came toward the end of my 27 months in Viet Nam running a combat loudspeaker team in a special ops psywar unit. I now summarize the moment as, "when you find yourself part of an invading force in a foreign land fighting patriots, it's time to run a reality check on your worldview." I had a mental meltdown and couldn't go on. I pulled in all my favors and got a transfer to a do-nothing job in the rear for the remainder of my time there, but actually spent most of my time hanging out with a Vietnamese family I had become close to soon after I had arrived.

    The kid who went over there died over there. In combat, that ball of terror and abject paranoia was a healthy mental state that kept me alive. But in my post-epiphany existence, I had to build a new mind from the ground up that was based on reality. I spent 18 months out of the first 3 years of my new personhood in a VA mental hospital, thinking about what I'd been through and what I might do with what was left of my life instead of killing myself immediately. My coping mechanism that I use to this day came from the realization that terror and paranoia were not so all-encompassingly important anymore. The prospect of suicide became my new very best friend. The ever handiness of suicide gave me the strength to carry on because I knew that if life ever got truly unbearable, I could end it. Meanwhile, there was curiosity to build a new life upon.

    I was cured in the early 1970s of being a residential mental patient by a nurse's aide who blew his cork at something I said to him, tackled me from behind, broke my right arm, and ripped my right rotator cuff, then threatened to kill me if I told anyone what he had done. After I reported him, VA staff decided that my potato was too hot to touch. My therapy ended except in name only. I will remain grateful to that guy for the remainder of my life. He forced me to find my way forward outside the VA medical system, which was what I needed at the time, a push forward, plus a 100 percent service-connected disability rating as a paranoid schizophrenic, so my testimony could be impeached if the matter wound up in court. (Every diagnosis had to be classified according to diagnostic criteria esatblished via rulemaking; PTSD had yet to be recognized and the WWII/Korea era diagnosis of combat fatigue had been retired.) Definitely a silver lining around that particular dark cloud. No longer did I need to be hospitalized in order to be paid full service-connected disability benefits, only one of the VA's many clever disencentives for recovery from injuries whether mental or physical.

    And there was to be other, far more reempowering drama later. For example, representing myself, I won a precedential environmental law case to stave off exposure of my family and myself to government-spayed herbicides, 747 F.2d 1240 (9th Cir. 1984). Agent Orange had been quite enough; thank you very much. That got me admitted to law school without a bachelor's degree under an ABA accreditation requirement that law schools admit unusually qualified individuals who lack a bachelor's degree. The VA helpfully awarded me vocational rehabilitation benefits that paid my way in style. (Unlike most of my classmates, I graduated debt-free.)

    I went on to have a successful legal career, with a boutique practice in coordinating the preparation of major toxic tort cases for trial, toilet-training multinational corporate polluters and their insurance companies. The Poisoned v. The Poisoners, all pure white hat/black hat cases.

    Law, with its emphasis on evidence, gave me techniques to make my life far more reality-focused. Law's discipline helped me overcome the incredible rape of my mind that was my involuntary servitude as a soldier in a war that served no useful purpose. Over 3 million killed and millions more maimed in that single war because of a puss-oozing psychotic pseudoscience called "geopolitics" that has infected U.S. foreign policy since World War II and is still producing new wars, most recently in Ukraine. (See this excellent Army War College paper that explores the history and absolute wackiness of the concepts involved. http://goo.gl/BczRkf .)

    My life is much better now. I'm retired; my life is no longer ruled by the telephone and calendar. I've got meds that actually help. (The anti-depressant meds that were available back in the day forced a choice between having a life and living in a mental fog.) I've become wise enough to realize that I never will learn the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. (The answer is not 42.) My awareness of the scope of my ignorance expands every day.

    I'm still depressed (although I choose to view it as reality-based thinking; life on this planet ain't easy). Suicide is still my best friend and I have no fear of death; the mere thought of immortality exhausts me. But I am finally at peace with myself, at least most of the time. And being at peace with myself, having accepted that I am who I am warts and all, is really a pretty good mental state to be in. Who else could I be? I work at viewing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. That works for me most days when I catch myself starting to wallow in the pit again.

    I will end with a message of hope: Over time I got a lot better at coping with depression and there is a very big payoff for viewing life as a cynic if you can recognize the benefit, contemplating just how rotten life can become; you're far better equipped to dodge shit that's headed your way if you can see it coming. Environmental awareness is key to survival. As Carl Hiaasen wrote in Striptease, "the world is a sewer and we're all dodging shit." Every day that I do not kill myself is another day of successfully dodging the worst shit. I try to celebrate each day for yesterday's victory over shit.

  32. Glasnost says

    Not being a stranger to these experiences, I will say that I admire your post here. I wish everyone was punished so lightly professionally.

  33. Malc says

    It's all a continuum. No-one is immune from mental illness, and labels like "crazy" just create an illusory barrier between "us" and "them"… but we're all "them", and they're all us. As Ken says, a crisis isn't fun to be around… but I can promise you that it's better than the alternative. RIP Jill.

  34. Dictatortot says

    Many thanks, Mr. White, much respect, and best wishes (ideally, to be cellared and drawn upon as needed/desired). My own experiences with what you describe haven't yet driven me to the hospital door, and might never … but you've made me feel far less reluctant to do what's needed should it ever come to that. And even if I never have to, I suspect that someone reading your post will remember what you've just said at a moment of crisis, and seek out help he'd never have found otherwise. Lives get saved in the most unexpected ways.

  35. Brian says

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post. I suffer from chronic depression and OCD/anxiety and I cannot agree more that getting help is essential. With the help of antidepressants and therapy I'm starting to feel much better. Yet I know it will be a lifelong struggle.

  36. Mark says

    I came here for the funny.

    I stayed for the education.

    But I became a fan for the humanity, and this blog entry is the pinnacle of that.

    I've never been where you have, although I have been depressed. But my child has been through hell and been in a psychiatric facility, and so I know some of the truths you have shared.

    I literally wish you well, Ken.

  37. AlphaCentauri says

    Whatever it is that you feel anxious about, I'm really glad you have the courage to post about your experiences with depression and anxiety. People still treat mental illness as if it were a disease of the soul instead of the brain. Even insurance companies reimburse a lower percentage of costs if you're getting counseling for anything cognition-related. (Doctors learn to always put something "physical" as the first diagnosis when billing. The patient will have to pay more if the first diagnosis is "depression" or even "Alzheimers.") That medieval attitude needs to change.

  38. says

    As I said when I shared your post on censorship tropes, "Ken White of Popehat is no relation, but I'd be proud if he were."

    God bless you, Ken.

  39. Patrick J. says

    Thanks for writing about this. I'm 3.5 years removed from a mental hospital visit. In my case its Generalized Anxiety Disorder (also diagnosed as Narcissitic Personality Disorder) after suffering a panic attack break. In my case I was never suicidal but I did have ideation and I feared for my own safety. I had a co-worker come to my aid that night and stuck with me until I voluntarily went to the hospital after my primary care "prescribing" it. This came off the heels of a major project at work (don't tell me federal employees don't work) which I felt was going to be career making (don't tell me federal employees get rewarded for their work). Not that I didn't have other issues. Anxiety was always present in my life I was poorly socially developed between the anxiety and the high level of peer abuse. So depression, I still view for myself, is gloom in my circumstances and not a permanent condition other than some maladaptive defenses and thinking.

    Anyways, its been a heck of a battle back…. and I'm not there. The stress and strain of the need to perform at work still exists and my support network is weak where I live. My parents and the rest are back in Mass and DC is an uncaring place.

    I still struggle… my career is an arrested development as I can't leave because i can't work 40+ hours right now and the environment I'm in isn't supportive as there's too much of an academic-style ethos of self-development… the independent operator mindset (I'm a research scientist).

    That being said, I've always found that people do care. I think they're harder to allow for a hand up but this is why closeness to family can be important. Mine just happens to be several states away… but also if things do break down there's always somebody to call. After all, a compassionate person realizes you've made it X years on your own so you have potential once back on the right track.

    Much of my struggle is as much knowing who to be as much as trying to figure out what to do. Curse of high expectations and all that. This would be the NPD side.

    One day I just want to get to "mentally scratch" the state before the hospitalization period. Before the strong anxiety presence. I think I can get there under the right circumstances. But its never as fast as one would want. So I try to make due with a diminished capability.

    God speed Ken. May those who are true friends come to the fore when you are in trouble and may those who aren't fall away before crisis strikes.


    Getting through the hospital treatment. I went in being me but I also left the staff know by my tone that I wanted people to be fair with me and I didn't want to be treated like a child. I didn't say it straight out but rather I put on my professional face when I needed to. I saw so many that were otherwise taken unseriously when in the face of a critical issue. I knew I was in a bad way but I also knew most of the staff were normal people and if I approached them in that way they'd reciprocate.

    That being said, I had my fill of strange after that week.

  40. says

    Thanks, Ken, for the candor and the honesty. You're right, it's important, and it means something to people.

    I don't suffer from depression but I've been close to a lot of people who do. The more people talk openly and honestly about their experiences, the less the stigma and the better the quality of life for the people who are going through it. Thanks again.

  41. Yann Golanski says

    Thank you for writing this. I hope it helps not only yourself but others. All the best wishes, all the way from across the pond.

  42. says


    Great post. There are days when I wonder how long I can keep up the "carrying the weight of everyone on my back" stuff… I like to think it's forever. I'm not sure.

    But as a long-time reader, fellow blogger and SoCal resident, this offer is always open: should you and the family find any excuse to visit the Warbiany brood in Laguna Hills, grilled meats and fine homebrew is on me.

  43. Huw says

    Yes. Thank you for sharing.

    Also thank you for treating mental health issues with the humour they deserve. I've spent time in the loony bin, and calling it an "intensive psychiatric care ward" or whatever just makes it sound so serious. "Always look on the light side of life", as some wise men once sung, "worse things happen at sea, you know?"

  44. Wendi says

    I just wanted to add that in addition to the posts linked above by Jenny Lawson, Wil Wheaton, and Larry Sanders, Allie Brosh also speaks powerfully about the experience of depression. Her first post on the topic is here: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html, and her follow on is here: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html

    …Everyone else has pretty much already said everything I'd have to say.

  45. says

    I'm a recent subscriber to this blog, and had only seen your profane, hilarious, and educational defenses of freedom — not this side of you. I wouldn't have thought my respect for you could be any higher, but it just doubled. All good wishes to you.

  46. frosty840 says

    Good spot on the addiction link. I've always felt that there's a strong addictive component to my depression. Similarly, there's a strong self-obsession component to both my depression and my anxiety. Probably both in far greater measure than you've written about here…

  47. Ivraatiems says

    Popehat: Come for the legal critiques, stay for crazy ancap rantings, fall in love with posts about depression.

    But really – thank you for posting this. It's immensely valuable.

  48. Kemn says

    It's posts like these that make me think about my own struggles, and how much I really need to reach out…

    And how many times I have, and been disappointed.

    I really, really need to try again.

  49. Gregg says

    "Just hanging around"…
    Although, I have to admit that as of late, not wanting to be a bother, I've come to appreciate the quietness and tidiness of the solution…
    "Depression lies." Yes, I've learned that from Jenny also. I've thanked her for that. Biggest help I've ever had.
    There are two more words I try to stay cognizant of also… "Permanent choice."
    No take backs. No mulligans. Permanent.
    That's helped too when "depression lies" isn't enough.

  50. Jeff says

    Thank you for the post. A book I read recently, completely off topic of this discussion, actually might have a kernel of an idea. As a long time geek and computer nerd turning 40 a decade or so ago, I decided I needed to get into shape, so I started various exercises, one was running. A book I read discussed ultra-marathon running (something that I'll probably never do, but sounded interesting).

    Apparently, there's a lot of life in running ultras — you never really do it alone as you need a support team, if not your own, at least those that are running the event. And, the highs (and lows) are tremendous and amazingly deceptive. Half way through an ultra, you'll feel amazing, like life is effortless, nothing could be wrong in the world, and its a lie. 10 minutes later, you'll feel like nothing is right, you can't take another mile, that the effort of breathing is too hard, and that's a lie, as well.

    The mantra of this book was "relentless forward progress" — just keep going, the highs and lows will pass, and rely on your team. Your friends, family, coworkers, and if not them, the suicide lifeline all have your back. Trust them and keep going.


  51. Duncan says

    Thank you Ken. I've passed this along to someone that I love who needs the words and I simply didn't have them. I'm happy she's here, and I'm happy you're here.

    I'm also assuming that you're happy, or were at the time, that the toilets smelled like pee instead of other things.

  52. ChrisH says

    Great post.

    I was diagnosed 10 years ago or so after a number of unrelated events caused the anxiety cycle that you so well described. Luckily I was pointed in the direction of help (after a breakdown at work, by a boss for whom I'll be forever grateful!) and, well, knowing what's wrong at least frames the situation even if the bad days still happen.

    One thing that annoyed me about the situation is that my childhood doctor had picked up that I was prone to this, but I didn't find out until long after all the above had played through. C'est la vie and all that.

    All the best to Ken and his friends & family, though, and to all in these situations. The first thing to do is to talk, although this can be hard, as more people than you might guess have suffered in similar ways.

  53. ... says

    Thanks for sharing, Ken. In the vein of laughing at ourselves, did you take on the full Clark persona at the point you checked yourself in?

  54. says

    There's this character actor named John Terry who has been on a bunch of shows. About 20 years ago, on ER, he briefly played the love interest of one of the main characters. He's portrayed as leaving after struggling with mental issues.

    There's this scene he plays that's stuck with me for 20 years, though I don't think I've seen a repeat since then. He's expected at some social event with his girlfriend, who is waiting for for him.

    He comes out of the hospital into the rain, and stands in it, and looks up at it, like he'd like to get out of it but can't. It captured the feeling of depression for me like no performance ever has, in just a moment.

  55. says

    Mental injuries and illnesses are just as real as any other, and like all injuries, the significant ones require treatment. You wouldn't tell someone to walk off a broken leg. You wouldn't tell someone to just "get over" pneumonia. It is the same with mental injuries — yes, it takes time to heal, but it also takes treatment.

  56. Anon says

    The following question is going to seem flippant, but please believe it is sincere, since I am asking for myself:
    How do you know if you have anxiety/depression issues as opposed to just being a lazy coward?
    I've always had some problems with trying new things and just attributed it to being an introvert, but the past few years things have been getting more difficult for me. Especially since I lost my job and have been unable to find a new one. I fear that I may have some anxiety-related problems, but then I'll read someone's personal experiences with anxiety and depression and to me it seems that my problems just aren't anywhere near that bad, so I must just be looking for an excuse for my personality defects.

  57. Kevin says

    Thanks for sharing Ken, this is an incredibly well written and moving article.

  58. nlp says

    The mental ward I was in didn't have anything around the toilet to keep us from getting to it, but it was a ward where we were just there to be evaluated and a treatment plan worked out. I was self-committed, like you, because the other choice was "suicide is illegal in this state and you don't want us to tell the cops about that little episode with all the pills."

    I've never been diagnosed with anxiety. My problem had always been that the depression is combined with an incredible level of self-hatred. The two feed on each other: the self-hatred assures the depression that I have reason to be depressed, and the depression accepts the self-hatred as a normal worldview.

    I can't imagine how much courage it took to write this post. Even today, the vast majority of the people I know have no idea what my past was like, nor what I look like inside. It's simply not something I bring up in normal conversations. But here and there I've been able to help people who weren't depressed themselves, but who had a partner or friend struggling with depression, and who were trying to understand.

    Thank you for this. It's a help and a reminder that there are others out there who are also struggling, and the surface view can be very wrong.

  59. L. Max Taylor says

    Bravo, Ken. It took no small amount of courage to share this with the world. Thank you.

  60. RB says

    I printed out a copy for my son. I hope he reads it and gets the message. However, he's a teenager.

    Thank you, Ken. Every little bit counts.

  61. Groa says

    Also glad you're here and appreciative of your work.

    My husband is also a Ken and a stressed out, freaked out, successful lawyer. You described him as if you knew him. I wish I could share this with him, but right now I know it will just exacerbate his anxiety and depression. Still, I'm keeping it in case I find the right opportunity.

    Thank you thank you thank you.

  62. cjstevens says

    I had the great fortune of having a doc who had done considerable research into managing her own depression. We worked together for a year or more to find the "just right" med. She also shared lots of medical information and personal insights so I'd know enough to clearly describe my symptoms and how each Rx 'try' was working or not working. What I wish people would 'get' is that it is a condition, not a reaction to a sad event. "Buck up" is not helpful. When serotonin can't jump the gap, watching The Marx Brothers won't help you get happy (notwithstanding Laughter Is The Best Medicine).

  63. Nat Gertler says


    I'm glad that you chose to share, because in doing so you help others see that having such mental struggles does not bar one from success or from being of value.

    However, as you work through the various treatments you've tried, as you say that finding different therapy modalities has helped, and that addressing mental health through bodily health has also shown an impact, I fear that you may still be limiting yourself, still avoiding the one way of addressing your depression and anxiety that might prove more than just a mental Band-Aid. I am speaking, of course, of the insufficient quantity of ponies in your life. I cannot help but to assume that if you were to correct that particular imbalance, all of the other pieces of your life would snap into place.

    Spokesman, National Pony Marketing Board.
    "Ponies, they're not for breakfast. Never were."

  64. Radium says

    I drew bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. It's a wild ride, but, as you said, made infinitely more workable by humor. It cools the burning in a way nothing else does, and makes the experience of being mentally ill a part of life rather than gaping piece of myself missing, keeping me from fitting in to the world. I'm glad for everything you wrote here, because it all rings true, but especially that.

  65. Kinsey says

    Reading about this kind of depression and anxiety is liking having a migraine and then reading about someone who took a baseball bat to the head. You kinda think you might have a little ghost of a glimpse of how it feels, but then again you know you don't really.

    I've dealt with depression for years, and anxiety starting recently, but so far – knock wood, Praise Jesus, thank you very large and self-insured law firm — medication has been very effective. The lows are never abysmal and they don't drag on forever. When I had to get new meds recently I kept apologizing to the new (very young – God, so young) psychiatrist I was seeing because I felt guilty for needing the help – so many people have much, much, much worse symptoms than I deal with, I didn't think I should still be needing help. She said that's a function of the depression, which I just found hilarious.

    Now my Diva, 13.5YO, is experiencing what her pediatrician thinks is probably depression. So she's going to see someone – because in our family, "suck it up" is for broken bones. Depression and anxiety gets prompt medical attention.

  66. AlanF says

    I suffered terribly from depression back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a awful black time in my life. I could not seek professional help because I would certainly lose my security clearance and, therefore, my job. Fortunately I was able to muddle through and eventually get better. Now I count myself fortunate to be reasonably happy and well-adjusted (at least I think so).

    Some of my friends have not been so lucky. Two of them died from self-inflicted gunshots. Nobody had a clue that anything was wrong.

    Another friend was acting strangely, but we all thought, "Oh, that's just Bob being Bob." Then his behavior drove his friends away. Eventually, I was the only friend he had left, but he would still not accept help. It hurt terribly to see him like this, because I had been there and knew how bad it was. His wife and mother managed to get him committed for a several-day "observation". I visited him there and it was an awful place. If you weren't crazy when you went in, you surely would be when you came out.

    Eventually he overdosed on the medication they prescribed.

    I felt like I had lost my friend twice — when he became too ill to recognize me as a friend, and again when he actually died.

    Yes, depression is a terrible disease. I hope that you are able to recover fully. We appreciate you, Ken, and wish you nothing but the best.

  67. Jackson Marten says

    Ken, I want to be very clear about something: nothing about what you have said here diminishes the respect people have for you. If anything, it greatly increases it, as it takes an incredibly sort of bravery to reveal this vulnerability, and then to be strong enough to use it to help others. Even if you don't feel it yourself, you are actually much stronger than most people because you have the strength to look honestly at yourself, and then reveal that truth to others. You should be commended.

    Also, to be clear, what diminishes our respect for you is the fact that we all know you are a secret pony sympathizer.

  68. Melk says

    This article got mentioned on BoingBoing.net.

    Thought I would complete the circle and mention a BoingBoing article on Will Lippincott, describing the success he has apparently had with Dialetical Behavior Therapy. A simple google search should get ya there (and from there to the NYT).

  69. B says

    Thank you for writing this and its openness.
    I hope that I can make good use of the examples with my family and friends.

  70. Sporaderic says

    How do you know if you have anxiety/depression issues as opposed to just being a lazy coward? … I'll read someone's personal experiences with anxiety and depression and to me it seems that my problems just aren't anywhere near that bad…

    Anon: An actual "lazy coward" wouldn't worry about being a lazy coward, or question the legitimacy of his/her own depression. The razor blades may still be in the medicine chest. Or maybe they've moved to the night stand or coffee table. The point is, none of us should need to wait until a blade is in hand and poised over our wrist to be justified in talking to someone.

  71. En Passant says


    I join the chorus of thanks to you for posting this. Your courage in doing so is formidable and rare.

    Your humor in facing down these particular dragons bolsters courage for others facing their own. Your insights, among them this one, provide incalculably valuable guidance:

    "I survived because at my worst moment I knew that, however hopeless I was, I could put myself in the hands of the people who care about me."

    Everyone faces different mental dragons. Thank you for providing insights necessary to face down and vanquish any of them.

  72. Jill A. says

    Here is one that helped me, it was the tag line at the end of an article about committing suicide and dealing with depression. "The wise person always gets a second opinion." Basically, any medical condition needs a second opinion. Treating depression with death needs a second opinion. We get opinions about everything else, right? Remodeling the bathroom, getting the car fixed, having surgery, heck, even what to have for dinner! Don't kill yourself – get a second opinion from someone you respect.

    I'm glad you are still alive and feeling better. I'm glad it matters again to you that others care. :-)

  73. Bill says

    Consider a service dog for generalized anxiety disorder.

    My psychiatrists have been quite happy to sign the appropriate paperwork when I explain that I would rather have a dog than take Xanax. (I've been on Paxil for >20 years, but don't want anything habit forming or brain clouding.) (Ironically, my retired service dog takes Xanax prescribed by the vet to handle fireworks season!)

    When someone asks me about the dog I get to say "I've been on meds for anxiety for more than 20 years, but with the service dog I don't have to take stronger drugs like Xanax. Everyone wins – he gets a job and I get to think straight." Doing this over and over keeps me away from the temptation to hide my struggles.

    And when I wake up in the morning but the anxiety is too overwhelming to get out of bed, my wife sprinkles dog food over my blanket cocoon. There's nothing like a pair of eager 60 pound Labs, enthusiastically stepping all over me while snuffling energetically and snapping up food, to break me out of my mental vapor lock and get me laughing to start the day.

  74. Cyril Figgis says

    Thank you for writing this. There have been times where I probably should sought in-patient treatment, but didn't. One of my worst fears is how it would impact my career. A close second is the disruption it would create in my family. I would be very interested in learning about how your hospital stay impacted both your job and family.I know that's a very personal question. Thank you again, even if you don't respond to my questions.

  75. Jacki says

    Ken, this is an awesome post which took courage to write. As I scroll down the comments, I know that your gritty writing has touched a lot of people, me included. I am so proud of what you did to get help for yourself, because you are awesome. I am proud to have taught you, and to call you a friend. Madame.

  76. Jason N says

    Thank you for posting this. I have struggled with depression for years and although when I reached my low point I was able, thankfully, able to reach out for help, I still struggle with depression and anxiety. I, too, find that the hardest part of all of this is reaching out for help, and more importantly, accepting that help when it is offered. I'm still working on it as well. I am sharing this with my family and friends because you put into words that which I've not been able to.

  77. Someone Who Knows says

    ALWAYS, with depression or bipolar, get a full thyroid workup. Not just TSH test; also need to do Free T4, Free T3 (the most important one), both types of Hashimoto's antibodies, and possibly a Reverse T3 test as well. One psychiatrist achieved a 90% cure rate with his bipolar and depressed patients by normalizing their T3 levels. (TSH test is worthless for determining if thyroid function is *normal* at the tissue level, and can even be dead wrong.)

    Depression with "eating to feel good" is a 100% redflag for hypothyroidism.

    Also, be aware that 1) natural desiccated thyroid will often achieve results when synthetic replacement fails, and 2) underdosing is worse than no treatment.

  78. Marta says

    Besides the courage you demonstrate in writing and posting this piece, I'm struck by your kindness and generosity. Some days, it seems like there's nothing around but smallness, and then along comes you, with a heart the size of a boulder. I've never doubted the importance of your professional contributions, but this reaching out to people who also suffer is in a class by itself. You make the world a better place, and that's the best compliment I have.

  79. says

    A tough article to write, but I daresay that like the other things you write, many people will benefit from your courage and toughness in sharing. Standing with you, my friend.

  80. says

    I had a somewhat different experience than you did, Ken; I spent years begging for help, but no one listened. My parents – who are wonderful and intelligent people most of the time – had the incredibly dumb response of "if we ignore it, it might not be true." This despite my dad having worked in mental health years ago and *knowing* that it doesn't work that way… he was so caught up in thinking "I'd notice if my son was that depressed" that he didn't give any credit to my pleas for help. Over the years, this taught me the lesson that no one was going to help me and I just had to muddle through on my own. That, combined with my massive physical issues, basically means I was tortured for most of my life by parents trying to do the best they could. Which is a pretty uniquely shitty situation.

    Once I was on my own at college, I eventually broke down and couldn't handle it anymore (only took twenty years >.>), and wound up getting professional help without going through my parents. After one particular incident they realized that this wasn't going away, and got fully on-board. (Took a while for them to come anywhere close to understanding what I was dealing with, but they got within shooting distance eventually.)

    It's taken years of fighting tooth and nail against parents, doctors, teachers, and more (and dropping out of school, though I plan to return), but I'm finally in a decent place mentally and starting to work on my physical issues (which are a massive challenge in and of themselves), and things are really starting to look pretty good. I still struggle with things now and then, but it's "now and then," not "every single second;" and it's "struggle with," not "get steamrolled by." I'll always bear plenty of invisible scars from what I've been through, and I'm honestly not sure I'll ever be able to talk (or type) about it without crying, but I can live, I have hope, and I am so much better than I ever have been.

    Because I handled it on my own for so long, and didn't really talk about my struggles with anyone outside the family, I wrote up a loose summary of what I've dealt with. I used that to start a small blog (which my name here should link to) and passed that link around to friends and others who wanted to know what I had going on. I've become pretty open and public with what I have to deal with, because I'm convinced that the isolation, loneliness, shame, and ignorance that surrounds these issues makes them a hundred times worse than they otherwise would be – and if I can combat that, even a tiny bit, by sharing my stories in a public medium instead of a private one, it's absolutely worthwhile.

    So thanks for doing some of the same, Ken. Keep being awesome!

  81. FizzGig says

    I have many thoughts here and it's taken a while to assemble them in to even this poor text so I'm a bit late to the party, I hope I can be half as contingent as you:

    The first thing I want to say is that if your poor everything is different, your interaction with Psychiatrists is often dramatically different and they are not there to help you.

    Asking for help is risky you can see it from the comments there is a lot of faux your so strong so brave etc comments that really just hide a total lack of understanding, I know many people like this and when celebrities do it it's "your so brave" when it's someone they actually know it's "your faking it".

    This I think is partially due to the fact that people do hide it(and with good reason) until they can't and people say to themselves I'll never noticed before, you must be faking, I have hide behind stress, burn-out, conflicts at work, or in love relationships but somehow people don't really seem to grasp that things are serious when you haven't gotten out of bed for 4 months and you let your consulting business collapse, or you got thrown out of school again?(it's been going on a very long time for me) and and, the problem is really that your lazy and unmotivated.

    What happens in this scenario is that people stop helping in really basic ways that end up threatening your survival, they stop talking to you, they won't loan you money even when your about to lose your place etc., they don't look for or help with finding treatment or supports, they make nice, they LIE. They do this not because your unreliable or they don't trust you, they do this BECAUSE you asked for help and they think you are LYING.

    I guess what I am saying is that if you are wealthy, have a strong support network and a secure job, by all means try to get help.
    If your not DON'T DO IT, it's a lot like committing slow suicide, or become a junkie there are often better services available for crack addicts than for depression and particularly anxiety.

    Although this is a well written accounting finding words to describe what happens is very difficult and it's clear that most people don't understand even this. I used to tell people it was like that first second of a fight but it lasts for hours, even people I knew that had experienced such couldn't really relate because that experience of having the existential threat for someone about to punch you go on for hours is too alien, especially when no one is and there is no discernible reason to feel that way.

    My first to obvious to ignore fail was when I was 18, I was sleeping 15-20 hours a day, I'd been thrown out of school for the 4th time, I was literally living in the dark(in the basement) my fathers response to this was to throw me out of the house and this from a man that was himself in therapy twice a week for 4 years already.

    I guess what this scree boils down to is: the constant get help mantra is very dependent on resources, if you have them you will get help and you will have the support networks to make things livable if you don't it's better to pretend to be an addict and go to AA or detox or just pretend to just be stressed out as long as possible, don't tell people, they will abandon and undermine you, shrinks will try to exploit you and even casual acquaintances will try to take advantage of you.

  82. flip says

    My anniversary of voluntary commitment would be about ten years ago now.

    Ken thanks for the post. This stuff needs to be normalised so people like us can get the help, support and understanding that we need.

  83. David Bennett says

    God bless you Ken. Without belaboring everyone else with a long story of my own problems, I can just say simply that this has helped me.

  84. Pickwick says

    Thank you, Ken.

    Best of luck to all here in fighting off the ponies of depression and mental illness.

  85. Naught says

    Just wanted to add, my situation improved enormously along with my physical condition. The ritual of exercise helps in itself, and the confidence boost that comes from being lean, strong, and healthy-looking is also handy.
    It also stops people from judging you without empathy. "I'd be depressed too if I was a fat, lazy slob like that".

  86. says

    Clinical depression gallops in my family; I was one of the few spared. This is a brave and important post, Ken, it magnifies the great respect I already have for you immensely. Thank you, for the lives of my friends and family it might save. I'm so sorry that you have to cope with this, but you are obviously well equipped for the battle. Thank you, and feel better.

  87. says

    You are certainly not alone, I am one of the many in the club. Find laughter awful tough when the black dog is with me, we do laugh later about the crazy stuff I said while in the cloud. Your point on separating anxiety from the depression is a good one, I was just thinking about treating the anxiety seperately this week.

    Stay well and thanks for the post. I'll keep it in my pocket as though I have been fine for a while my doc was kind enough to tell me on my last check in that statistically I have a 100% chance to have another visit from the dog. We both laughed. ;)

  88. pip says

    thank you so much for this. I've had major depression and anxiety for close to twenty years. I know the 'mask' well. It's been a particularly difficult path of late and I didn't know if I could persevere without breaking at times. This means a lot to me.

  89. Richard says

    As someone who has a history of depression in my family:
    Thank you.
    Thank you for being brave enough to post this.
    Thank you for helping other people with depression.
    But mostly, thank you for showing that someone with mental illness can still be an awesome person. The more that people like you talk about their experiences with mental illness, the sooner the stigma will fade.
    Once again, thank you.

  90. mmmwright says

    Thank you for writing this piece, Ken. And a special thanks for writing it so accessibly and beautifully.

  91. DeepThought61 says

    What is so brave about being <insert whatever medical or psychological disorder you want others to feel empathy)? How you handle your disroder CAN be brave but it looks like Ken failed. We should not laud him for being brave, we should feel sorry for him and pray he does better.

  92. Doug says

    my wife is a medical professional. she struggled with suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety. Finally, her employer asked her to take some tests and refused to renew her contract. She spent 3 and a half weeks doing a day treatment program at a psychiatric hospital, staying with her parents during the week. Its been very hard for her trying to reconnect with us, her family and the people at church. I hope Ken's wife had help, I know it was very stressful for me and the kids.

  93. Lindsay says

    Ken, as so many others have said THANK YOU for this. Never have I read anything that so accurately describes what depression and anxiety feel like. And what you said about hope seeming small to those who don't suffer, but huge to those of us who do – YES.

    It is pretty amazing that when we who suffer from depression and anxiety can identify with each other (rather than compare), that we find so many commonalities, regardless of who we are, what we do, etc. Depression certainly wants us to think we're alone, and you've done an awesome job of reminding me (and a lot of other people, it looks like), that we're not. Thank you.

  94. Zoe Brain says

    So… you have a chronic illness that makes life miserable for the sufferer.

    And what do you do? Try to help others in the same boat.

    I call that pretty damned impressive. Remember that, the next time you feel worthless. It won't make you feel any better, but at least you'll know for an absolute fact that the feeling has no logical basis.

  95. Zaralia says

    Greetings from a fellow Harvard grad, a fellow attorney, and a fellow sufferer of depression and anxiety. I let my illness ruin my career because I refused to get help. Although I was doing well in BigLaw, I convinced myself that it was only a matter of time before my seniors discovered that I was a failure, a loser, and a fraud. That hot shot of adrenaline made each new task seem impossible to accomplish. Each new assignment was the one that would expose the depth of my inadequacy. I quit before I was inevitably unmasked. But the "black dog" followed me into marriage and motherhood. Last fall, it nearly cornered me. Like you, I often tell myself, "There but for the grace of God go I."

    Thank you for sharing your story. I've forced myself to share mine over the past few months, and I know how awful it can be. My own mother told me to "get myself together" before the state took my kids from me. When we share, we open ourselves up to the prospect of comments like that. But there are also the other responses–the tentative questions about therapy and the full-on requests for guidance–that make us see how important our disclosure is.

    You are, of course, far more successful in your career than I will ever be. You are doing on a grander scale what I try to do on a smaller scale. People think that things like going to a good school and living in a nice house are incompatible with depression, and that's an idea we need to eradicate. I imagine you spent hours fine-tuning this post and going back and forth on actually publishing it. Thank you for clicking that button.

  96. Danny Sichel says

    hey, Ken. I'm sorry this happened to you, and I'm glad you're feeling better. And I commend you for being so open about your experiences.

    Best of luck with the black dog.

  97. says


    "You are, of course, far more successful in your career than I will ever be."

    Who is to say? Our careers aren't over yet. And depression lies.

    Plus, "success" is abstract. There are people at Quinn who make ten times what I do. Are they more successful? Depends on how you count.

  98. says


    What if you're truly alone? Without resources? Without any support network? Seriously; I am not kidding.

    It's a great question, it's one that I get asked every time I write about this from my position of good fortune, and I wish I had a good answer.

    I'm thinking of a project to try to answer it. Any input is appreciated.

  99. James Hanley says

    I get every bit of this except how you manage to get stuff done when the bear climbs on your back. Maybe it's because I'm not a type A, but I tend to find it impossible to accomplish any of the tasks I need to get done, and usually retreat to wasting time on-line or re-reading favorite novels.

  100. says

    @Mitchell: It is my delusional, paranoid, psychotic, 'cray cray' belief that traditional 'mental health' treatment does far more harm than good and regularly kills people. In fact, I believe that many mass shootings are (anecdotal) evidence of this, as is the epidemic of suicide by overdose on opiates (caused by addiction brainwashing). And therefore, it's NOT a bad thing if 'treatment' isn't readily available because it regularly kills people like you. Having said that, I do think that loneliness is a big problem, but the cause is of our own making: "I wouldn't want to join a club that would have me as a member." And so since Ken is asking for "input" that's the nut I'd try to crack.

    @JamesHanley: I see the lethargy as a non-pathological phase of development. It's a sign that it's time to start training others to do what you do so you can enjoy a comfortable retirement. Having said that, you might find coffee helpful, or tell your shrink you've been having a hard time finishing up the last details on important tasks and see if he'll dole out the goodies (don't expect anything on the first visit). (Warning: Don't expect this to solve all your problems even if that's how you feel the first time you try it!)

  101. Marzipan says

    This is a tremendous post. Letting people in can be the scariest part of the healing process. When your mind's convinced that you're not worth it, that you'll be judged severely, and that no one's really that interested in helping anyway, there are a lot of lies to overcome. I'm glad that your family and friends have supported your road to healing. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the best empirically supported treatments for depression (along with its behavioral component along and interpersonal therapy, the latter of which sounds like may have been counterproductive for you when coupled with social anxiety), so it sounds like you're on a good road.

    As far as the questions you highlighted regarding those who are truly alone, this is where social network analysis, cognitive-behavioral social skills training, and basic behavioral activation seek to characterize, build, and implement (respectively) tools for creating greater engagement in the world. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a place to find fellow travelers (like the roommate you described) who might provide a social jumpstart.

  102. James Hanley says


    The foolishness of trying to diagnose someone based on a single blog post is sufficiently demonstrated by the fact that you aren't even aware of my dedicated coffee habit or my age.

  103. Ms Butterfly says

    Hello Ken,

    Thank you for this honest, articulate account of your experience. I have many similarities to you, especially the highly-functioning, masking part. And the immense shame about ending up in the looney bin. Depression is still so stigmatized, I feel like it takes us back so many steps when someone who commits a heinous act is found to have had "a history of depression" or to have been "taking medication." The reality is that most of us have no violent impulses, except towards ourselves. In fact, most people with depression who I know are among the smartest, funniest, most caring people. Only by speaking out as you did can we chip away at the stigma and focus more on helping people cope with this devastating disease.

  104. says

    @JamesHanley: Ah, you're still young, lol. Well my mistake for giving practical advice to an expert on "Social Justice Policy". I am in addition to 'foolish' admittedly: Ignorant, insane, in denial, lying, crazy and stupid. Which before you remind me again of my character defects (which will surely kill me, don't you worry), please take a moment to reread the opening of my original comment and reconsider the wisdom of a continued discussion.

  105. James Hanley says

    An expert on social justice policy? What made you decide to double down on proving you know absolutely nothing about me?

  106. says

    "James Hanley has a degree in hoping others don't scratch the surface of his insistent lies and his expertise is in arguing with crazy people with a subspecialty of threatening to sue them for defamation if they do."

  107. says

    Beautiful, brave piece, Ken. Your struggles are all too familiar. Here's hoping that more people can speak out about anxiety and depression with as much honesty – just knowing you're not alone can make an amazing difference.

  108. DRJ says

    I know you've been congratulated for your many accomplishments but I also want to congratulate you for overcoming, or trying to overcome, your rare failures. Reading about your journey is an inspiration to us all.

  109. Greg says

    Thank you for this. I've dealt with both depression and anxiety. They are rotten beasts, but also intertwined–the only good thing about the intertwining is that if you nudge treatment in one, it can also help treat the other. Just take it step by step. I applaud you for writing this.

  110. flip says

    Because I'm in much the same boat: there are several good forums online, paychforums being one of them. You'll find a lot of resources to look into plus people to talk to. I would add that despite Ken's list of things to do, not all of them are for everyone or can be dealt with all the time, so it depends on what you're comfortable with and when. Deal with things on your own timetable, it's easier to cope with.

  111. says

    Ken, thank you for sharing your story. How powerful it is when someone puts a face on this illness. I am a lawyer in SC where we had a number of lawyer suicides in a short period of time several years ago. The SC Bar appointed a task force to take a closer look at the problem. As chair of that task force, I preached–and continue to preach to this day–these 3 points: (1) Depression is a medical illness and not a personal weakness; (2) Treatment is effective and available for 80 to 90% of those with clinical depression; and (3) If you or someone you know needs help, get them to see a medical professional. Good work, Ken!

  112. ElSuerte says

    @mitchell NAMI is a great resource. It's a 'for us, by us' organization, and that perspective really makes them effective. They run a bunch of different group meetings. I like the ones that are associated with Project Return our here in Los Angeles. They also perform a function similar to Alanon/Naranon, where they help your family and friends understand and cope with your illness. My relationship with my folks improved 500% after they went to those Nami classes. There is also Emotions Anonymous, but I don't have much experience with them. You can also call 211 in most places for resources, and there are lots of warm lines out there.


  113. JT says

    Thanks for this post, Ken. I have a mix of ADHD/depression/anxiety and you describe many experiences I've had. I'm happy you're here too.

  114. onehsancare says

    Thanks for being brave enough and self-aware enough to post the best description of clinical depression I've ever read. That's a different sort of brave than we see all the time from you. I'm so glad you're still with us to share.

  115. Mitchell says

    Thanks! Will check the sites out.

    At this point, relatively advanced age — apparently aging is reduces certain stresses — and the anti-depressant, all's about as good as it can get.

    But my point, maybe not made explicitly enough that a lot of the advice really presumes a pretty good social network for support. What I'm constantly wondering about is what about those who on top of everything else lack that support.

  116. Laura says

    Another lawyer with severe depression and anxiety thanks you for the raw honesty. I'm not a partner yet, so I still have to keep the whole business a secret, but I do have a critical network set up — when to take me to the hospital if necessary, what to look for. My husband to order me to bed when mania from lack of sleep is creeping in. Medicine. Exercise. Cognitive behavioral therapy (very good and I find intuitive for us lawyer types). I picked a firm where I don't have to bell a million hours, and where I have a lot of schedule control. But I would never have believed in 2005, when I was sitting on the floor in the corner of the kitchen, weeping, unable to movie with my children worriedly poking and quizzing me, that I'd be today gratefully almost 90% functional at a very high level. Most compelling is that you have to go through the stages of grief with respect to the lost idealized "you" that was not a Crazy Person. I kept for years being unable to get past the acceptance that this was a permanent problem that was manageable, but would never go away. It is still a challenge, but posts like yours remind me what is at stake and how worth it the fight is.

  117. Dynamo99 says

    Thanks, Ken. I don't have that particular problem. But we (including some of us who don't share your particular biases, though I share many of them) value your input. We're better people for what you have to say. Thank you.

  118. ElSuerte says

    @Mitchell Often, the easiest first step for people building their social networks from zero is to attend those groups. What most attracted me to them was that there was very little social pressure, and everyone was empathetic and non judgmental. I was able to open up without worrying about how it would affect other people and how they would react, because the the group members all had the same or similar problems that I had. Also keep in mind that rebuilding a social support network is an incremental process. It's natural to get discouraged when it doesn't happen fast enough, but it will happen if you keep working at it.

    I'm looking for another snail mail pen pal if you're interested. Any subject is good.

  119. ElSuerte says

    Oops, I also forgot to mention Mary Ellen Copelands WRAP. Building social networks is one of the plan's cornerstones, so you might find it useful.

  120. flip says

    Hmmm, just realised that I for some reason didn't address my previous post, when it was intended as a reply to Mitchell.

    My answer would be: if you don't have a support group, you're pretty much screwed, unless you somehow manage to figure shit out on your own. Humans are really good at not noticing the people who fall through the cracks, just like other minorities with no support services to rely on. Having said that, there are cheap and easy ways to develop networks, like online forums or joining a local group (for anything, like a hobby or whatnot). There are also, people in the minority, for whom being social isn't necessary or comfortable and it can rarely be the case that one doesn't have to fit within society's ideals of human interactivity to get along in the world. IMO.

  121. htom says

    Thank you, Ken.

    I've struggled with depression all of my adult life. Much of it, it turns out, is the consequences of ADHD that wasn't correctly diagnosed in the early 1960's, and the consequences of those consequences, and the consequences of the consequences of … of the consequences. There's enough real mess there to make a dandy deep situational depression. In some ways my life is a tower of mistakes. Having finally fallen off, I can look back, mourn, and slowly turn and look ahead. The black tower is always going to be behind me, but now I see when I'm building another and get off. At least so far. In some ways, at least for some people, the biggest battle is with and for themselves.

    I am so glad you've found a good therapy and good therapist. I am delighted that you have the courage, wisdom, and skill to so eloquently tell of your struggle. You will never know how many you've helped with these posts; add me to the list of those you know you have.

    There's a national organization, I believe it's called First Call For Help.

    | http://www.211.org |

    In some places it's 211 on your phone. The volunteers there will attempt to connect you to the mental health care system in your community.

    Again, Ken, thank you.

  122. Depressed says

    See, you make posts like this, but you don't hesitate to attack people on Twitter, people you don't even know. You made fun of someone that was being attacked a few weeks ago when you had no idea the backstory, or even if the person attacking was lying. So it's hypocritical of you to even write something like this when you've helped caused depressed people to fall deeper into suicide.

    You can't preach knowing what it's like when you've been an asshole for no reason yourself…

  123. Dan says

    Thanks for writing that, Ken. You have, without any doubt, saved lives by posting it.

  124. W. S. Huff says

    The description of the hot shot of adrenaline that hits when the phone rings, or the email comes in, is so spot on. I've felt that myself and hate it. Don't know how I'd manage if that was a constant part of my day. Or maybe now I do – I know I wouldn't manage it alone. Keep on keeping on, Ken.

  125. Frank says

    I know a bit of what you're talking about Ken. Not from my own perspective, but my youngest daughter, who is now 16, tried to hang herself last year. She wasn't getting "bullied" in school. She is successful in her endeavors. She is well respected by her peers.

    It started with small things like scratching and cutting herself until it escalated to the act of trying to hang herself. While I don't think she was seriously trying to kill herself, she used a really flimsy piece of ribbon, she was definitely crying out for help. I got her that help. She spent about a week in-patient at a regular hospital and then about a week in-patient at a care facility. After that she went through eight weeks of intensive outpatient group therapy.

    These days she is in a *MUCH* better place than she was this time last year. One of the things these sessions taught her was coping skills. That has enhanced her outlook on things greatly.

  126. Forgotten Prisoner says

    Found this article via a link on a blog that I read.
    I hope some of your depression comes from the people you locked up, knowing they were innocent and being railroaded, or knowing that their sentences were insanely high, who you have "forgotten" and don't think about anymore.
    If there is any justice in this world your depression stems at least in part from the fact that you've done terrible things in your life, and that it will be the death of you, and that some of your victims will outlive you and maybe even be free while you're in the ground. You deserve your depression; you earned it.

  127. kmc says

    Your writing on depression and mental health is definitely part of the required Internet reading on the subject, right up there with Allie Brosh and some others I could name. It's worthwhile to note that, at least for me, your subsequent posts are no less useful than the first one I ever read, regardless of how I'm doing at the moment. I can only imagine it's the same for many of us. People like me need people like you to write, because I have the typical depressed person's sense of shame as well as an unusually developed sense of inhibition, so I'm the opposite of impulsive and I'm very, very good at hiding my problems, even from therapists. Too good for my own good. I'm the kind of depressed person who has the social connections to get help but can't bring themselves to show any sign of needing it. I spent most of last year terrified of what I might be headed for, convinced that I wasn't going to be able to break down my facade before it was too late. For me, even though I have many people who would've been happy to help, you and your cohort were the only ones who could help, and because of that, I'm starting to get what I need.

    Additionally, if you ever need it, I have a copy of "How to Goodbye Depression (if you Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday)" I can lend you. You knew there was a reason you reached out.

  128. says

    I can't top the Bloggess's comment, so I will just repeat it: "You are full of magic, my friend. I'm so glad you're here."

  129. Matt says

    Ken, I just wanted to say thank you for writing this. I've had a pretty awesome support system in my family and friends. I think the beauty and the cruelty of it is, from talking to many people and reading many people's trials with depression and anxiety (or for me, it is anxiety followed by the depression) it is eerily similar how many people's anxiety and depression manifests even if the exact causes are not always the same.

    I agree completely with the humor. I can't say what I can laugh at has no power over me, because that would be a bald face lie…but I'd rather laugh than cry.

    Now to make that follow up appointment I've been dragging my heels on "because I don't have the time".

  130. melissa says

    We're all only human after all. Been there, done that. I wish you well, this was very well-written.

  131. Peter Gerdes says

    What upsets me the most about depression is that the medical community insists on pretending that SSRIs and other "modern" anti-depressants are effective when meta-analysis is strongly indicative of the fact that they are not (and the fact that the placebo rate is so high plus the ease of distinguishing active meds from placebo give even more evidence).

    Yet, we DO have effective anti-depressant medication. Adderall, freely given to our children for ADHD, is quite effective. Unfortunately, I lost a friend to suicide after years of failed treatment because doctors are reluctant to prescribe drugs like adderall for depression.

    Now I understand why. First, these drugs undermine the disease model of depression because they make *everyone* feel more euphoric not just the depressed. But so what, just because we *want* depression to be a disease doesn't mean it is. In fact there is every reason to believe that depression is, like extreme shortness, an unfortunate extreme of natural variation and just like we prescribe growth hormone to help those extreme shortness we may also need to prescribe drugs that boost mood generally to deal with depression.

    The second, and I think more relevant, reason is that the incentives for doctors treating depression are all wrong. If you struggle to treat someone's depression and are unsuccessful (leaving the patient miserable or even dead from suicide) it's merely tragic and the individual or their family thanks you for your efforts to help their loved one. On the other hand if you prescribe potentially dangerous medication that helps in most cases but can be abused or even used for suicide in a smaller percentage of cases you end up blamed in that small percent of cases. This is true even if the patient understands the risks and genuinely feels the reward is worth the risk.

    Sadly, I feel these two factors not only prevent the prescription of effective medication for depression but, more importantly, stunt research into less dangerous, more effective treatments. If, as I suggest, depression isn't a disease in the classical sense but merely an extreme of variation in happiness set point (meaning there is nothing that is wrong than can be fixed in depressed persons but doesn't exist in the non-depressed) then ANY drug that was truly effective in treating depression will carry risks of abuse…they can be lessened but as long as doctors are afraid to prescribe in this fashion this important research won't occur.

    Anyway I hope things go well for you.

  132. Metalwings says

    Just wanted to add my thanks and wish you and yours all the best. I've only skated around the edge, and came out relatively unscathed, if with some very odd coping mechanisms (a story for another time) and knowing that black hole's gravitational field is still out there occasionally affecting my course if I don't correct for it, but I know people who are a lot closer to the event horizon than I have ever been.

    I can't seem to word what I want to say right, so I won't, as I'd like to post this comment today rather than in two weeks' time or never – but thanks again for sharing, and good luck.

  133. says

    Thanks for sharing this Ken, I've had depression for about 16 years too, but it took me until 3 years ago to do anything about it. I had to get over lizard brain reactions to therapy, medication and sharing my problem with others. I've since had anxiety added to my diagnosis and like you I've found it easier to treat them separately, although what helps one often helps the other. Anxiety has been even harder to suss out, I've been anxious for as long as I can remember (and I can remember back to when I was 3!) and I had to be shown that it's not healthy. I've found body-awareness really helpful, I'm an avowed atheist yet I meditate (I explain more about this on my blog, linked in my name).
    The two things I've found most helpful are 1) learning about the Big Five model of personality, it's the most scientifically sound theory on personality and the accepted consensus, and it helped explain to me where I was different (I'm highly agreeable which means I have an unending urge to help people, which comes with a lot of guilt and worry) and where I was the same (knowing that being an introverted science geek is not pathological but simply low extraversion and high open-mindness, helped me feel less sick and outcast).
    2) The Upward Spiral, Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression by Alex Korb, One Small Change at a Time. I can't recommend this book enough. It gives a thorough guide through the neurology of these conditions with dozens of simple little pieces of practical advice, all soundly backed up by science whilst written with brilliant clarity and ingenious metaphors. It's easy to understand and quick and surprisingly fun to read with just the right mix of sympathy and encouragement.

  134. says

    Thank you for this post, Ken. I'm glad you're here too – several friends know you and have nothing but high praise.

    I've suffered low mood and moderate depression pretty much forever and it only really became a problem I had to address about 7 years ago.

    Mainly, from this, I hope to take away the advice to laugh at myself (I think I'm doing, or trying to do, all the others already) more. Try to find the comedy in the things that really hurt, and beat them that way, at least a bit. Thanks again!

  135. JLA Girl says

    Ken, thank you so much for sharing this. Like everyone else, I'm glad you're here. So far I've dodged the depression bullet in my family (not the anxiety one, but I think it's a bit easier to bear without depression in the mix), but my mother has suffered severe depression as far back as I can remember. I've watched her drowning in its grasp and I've seen her curl up in shame because she thinks it's a weakness. It's not. In fact, living with severe depression, in my view, makes a person very strong. My mom loves to laugh. Humour is one of her most important tools for getting through the day and sometimes the blacker, the better.

    I also appreciate how much strength and determination it must take to talk about this issue in a public forum, especially as a lawyer. I'm not sure about down the States, but in Canada, some kinds of mental illnesses put a lawyer under high scrutiny from our self regulatory bodies. I get it helps ensure that clients aren't but at risk, but it makes a lot of us unwilling to discuss these issues out in the open.

    So, thank you, Ken.

  136. Smut Clyde says

    "Just hanging around," I said. Beat. "Maybe that's a poor choice of words."

    Upon reflection, "chin up!" is not the best advice either.

  137. Robert Reese says

    I <3 Ken.

    You teach so many people, explain so many subjects, and protect untold numbers of less fortunate. You make a difference, Ken. An indelible difference. Never forget that.