Category Archives: men and depression

On drinking and depression

So this is the blog that might scare away men I’m hoping to help. Not a popular subject. Depression and alcohol.

The bottom line? A lot of one can lead to a lot of the other. Depression can make you want to drink more. And drinking more can lead to more severe depression.

It’s not cool to lecture others or say “here’s what you need to do.” Therapists and AA folks call that cross-talk. You’re supposed to say “I can relate to that because….”

So here’s how I’ll start. I can relate to the intractable problem of alcohol and depression. I drank enough beer in college to float a barge. I drank enough beer after college to drown a dragon. Only the alcohol never killed the dragon. It only made him angrier.

I kept on drinking, and drank even more when the first real tests of my life came. The loss of a loved one. The stress of owning a business. The stress of parenthood and trying to be a good husband, good career guy and good father at the same time.

The worse it got, the more I drank. The more pain I suffered, the more I tried to dull it with alcohol. I was quite clearly self-medicating, only this medicine has horrendous side effects. Hangovers. Even more anxiety. The inability to concentrate. The obsession over when the next drink can be consumed.

I once quit cold turkey once with no professional help but lapsed back into the same old patterns nearly a year later. Then my depression got worse than ever, and the abuse of alcohol became as bad as it had been in college.

Even though this is an anonymous blog, allow me a little room for rationalization here. I was never a Bloody Mary in the morning or bottle in the desk guy. But I was a prolific binge drinker. After Katy Perry-like Friday nights, I’d be hung over until Wednesday. And then I’d start again on Thursday with heavy drinking.

And it never, ever made me feel better. Only worse. My first therapist equated it to pouring gasoline on a fire. It’s simple, really. Alcohol is a depressant. Depressed people, umm, I should say people like me that I can relate to, probably don’t need more depressants.

If you want to read a great blog about depression and alcohol, which is the chicken and which is the egg, check this one out. If you want to read some scholarly articles about alcohol and depression, click on this link.

Praise God, alcohol abuse is not a problem for me right now. Not today at least. We’ll see about tomorrow.

The signs of major depression were there

The signs were there. This is what my journal said one day last spring, about four months before I slipped into a painful, debilitating depression.

Not doing well today/this week. Dejected. Tired. Trouble getting to sleep. Frustrated. Stressed.  Racing thoughts won’t stop. I want to quit my job and get my  life back. Reality is I can’t or won’t.

Anxiety is high. Not getting everything done at work. My focus is inconsistent. Am I ADD too? When I start spiraling down, I can’t seem to stop it.

That’s what I wrote on March 30, 2011. When I saw my therapist that day, her advice was simple: Get through this crisis!

I was going through a stressful episode at work. Like a lot of anxious people, my therapist astutely observed, I attract the anxiety of others around me like a magnet. If they are anxious, I pull in their anxiety.

My therapist also told me to gently bring my mind back to the reality that my job is no different than others. Everybody has stress. It may feel like it, but it’s not literally a dragon that I must slay or face a terrible death. It’s a job!

So what went wrong? Why did it all come crashing down four months later?

I am still trying to figure that out with the help of new medicine, more therapy and some self-reflection.

I’m reading a book about co-dependency, which is a broader term than I had previously thought. It’s called “Codependent No More” by Melodie Beatty. Codependency is about more than being an enabler. It’s about learning self-care and, sigh, self-love. That’s not easy for men.

When I entered a partial hospitalization program last summer, I learned some techniques through group therapy. We studied the Crisis Survival Strategies  by Marsha Linehan at the University if Washington. An expert on borderline personality disorder (which I don’t have unless you count when it’s questionable whether  I have apersonality when I’m really depressed), Marsha also writes about how to distract ourselves when we feel threatened by a mental health crisis.

Her handy way to remember the steps is “a wise man ACCEPTS.” The acronym goes like this:

Activities:  Exercise. Do a hobby. Clean. Attend an event. Call or visit a friend. (You get the idea).

Contributing: Volunteer. Do something nice for somebody you love.  Or just say something thoughtful to somebody you work with.

Comparison: Compare yourself to others, especially those who are worse off. (It will remind you that it could be worse and you are probably quite fortunate).

Emotions. Watch a movie or listen to music that will change your emotions for the better. (Don’t watch “Mommy Dearest” if you are depressed. Maybe go with “Old School” or even something lame like “The Sound of Music”).

Pushing Away: Push the situation away by leaving it for a while. Take a break from your worries. (Maybe pull up He now puts up bits every day that are “fantastic,” as Jerry might say).

Thoughts: Count to 10, watch TV (not the news), read, or do anything that will change your thought pattern (Remember our thoughts determine our feelings. Simple but profound truth).

Sensations: This one sounds nutty if you’ve never been in therapy. One proven technique if it’s a really bad day is to clutch a piece of ice. Or squeeze a ball. Or have sex (that one really is on the list, honey).

Maybe one reason I crashed this summer is I didn’t know these techniques. They don’t always work, but knowledge is power, and effort, any effort, to change our negative thinking is better than stewing in a pot of self-pity.

Source: From Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan.

Think you are depressed? Man up!

Smart people who study mental illness say twice as many women suffer from depression than do men.

I find that hard to believe.

Since I began sharing my struggles with depression with close friends, I’m amazed at the number of men who tell me they are probably depressed.

Is the science wrong? Probably not.

Yet could it be that research shows twice as many women experience depression because men are less likely to admit they need help? Probably so.

I’d be interested to see what effect the Great Recession has had on the number of men who suffer from depression. Suicide rates reached an all-time high in 1932, according a Bloomberg article that references an American Journal of Public Health study.

You don’t have to be a history buff to know that was the height of the Great Depression. (That’s a really sad pun). They may have been the most difficult time in American history for men—at least in terms of mental health.

An article published in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution this week said the suicide rate for middle-aged people (ages 45-64) is the highest it has been since 1998.

The only place I’ve ever met men who tried to commit suicide was in a dual diagnosis program for people who suffer from mental illness and/or addiction. The men I know in my personal life that are struggling with what could be diagnosed as depression aren’t suicidal, but they don’t exactly have a sunny outlook, either.

Several male friends of mine have come to me for advice. They’ve asked me if they could be depressed.

Since I’m obviously not a doctor, I tell them to talk to one. But I also urge them not to stop with their primary care doc if they don’t get the help they need. With all due respect to doctors, internists don’t seem to understand mental illness very well. It’s not enough to get on a drug. Therapy is often needed, too.

If your doctor isn’t helping, ask for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist, or look one up on your own online. That’s what I did.

It’s normal to get the blues. But if you feel hopeless, exhausted, persistently sad and have lost interest in things that once gave you pleasure, it might be worth your time to check out this FACT SHEET on men and depression. It comes from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

So guys, if you think you are depressed, man up! You are not alone.