Tag Archives: depression

Compulsivity, Depression, and Coping Skills

Rehab, the psych ward, or prison — no one ends up there, because they have great coping skills. My attempt at levity….

It’s hard for me to write about addiction and depression, because those two subjects involve pain, suffering, and stigma, and the science explaining addiction or depression is complex, yet inconclusive. It is much easier to fictionally portray characters struggling with either. However, I know a lot about fighting depression, because of my own journey. Many of the effective coping skills I learned to fight depression resulted from using my research and interviewing skills courtesy of the education in journalism with which I was blessed.

Humor is one of my coping skills. Study after study demonstrates that laughter is relaxing and therapeutic. Also, making fun of yourself allows you to step back and see your part in the equation of whatever is getting under your skin.

BTW, one of my favorite comedy clips, Sebastian Manascalco — Ordering at Subway.

In 2016, I will focus this blog on reviewing articles, books, fiction, and Internet resources related to addiction, depression, creativity, and education. Some random thoughts below.

Benzos don’t teach you how to cope
I couldn’t help but vent about how much I hate benzodiazepines, benzos, in my last blog, Did addiction claim yet another creative — Scott Weiland. The problem with the long-term use of benzos is that they don’t teach you how to cope with anything, let alone addiction or depression. I have watched friends slide deeper into their other addictions while convincing themselves that the prescribed Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc. they could not live without were helping them, because these highly addictive minor tranquilizers so effectively numbed their anxiety.

Research has only scratched the surface
Why someone becomes an addict or remains an addict is still somewhat of a mystery. To add to the mystery, addiction can be intertwined with mental illness. If there weren’t such stigma to mental illness and such superficial treatment of addiction, research would be further along, treatment would be more effective, and neither would be so enigmatic.

Is mental illness even the correct term?
In 2013, the former head of the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Thomas Insel, gave a TED Talk, Toward a New Understanding of Mental Illness, and emphasized that until mental illness is regarded as a brain disorder instead of as a mental or behavioral disorder, the stigma persists and research is stalled.

Compulsivity and Addiction
According to author, educator, and counselor John Bradshaw who has written many books on healing from addiction and family dynamics, compulsivity lies beneath addiction. Addiction/compulsivity, which can be the sub-conscious desire to self-destruct, the inability to experience one’s feelings, the ticket to remaining a child or adolescent emotionally, or…. It must be damned near impossible for someone with a healthy sense of self, i.e. most M.D.s, to understand its dynamic

In his book On the Family, Bradshaw defines addiction as “any pathological relationship with any mood-altering experience that has life-damaging consequences.”

A 2010 article by George F. Koob and Nora D. Volkow in the scientific journal Neuropsychopharmacology, Neurocircuitry of Addiction, explains the chemical changes that the brain undergoes during various stages of addiction.

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Did addiction claim yet another creative — Scott Weiland?

“Half the world is on Xanax,” Carson Daly commented recently during his morning show on AMP Radio as his producer Angie read the list of drugs found on Scott Weiland’s tour bus, which TMZ described as “a pharmacy on wheels.”

Half the world… Why not the whole world? Xanax must have been invented by a lazy drunk. No storing bottles, no washing wine glasses, and no mixing drinks. Xanax works on the same receptors as alcohol, but all you need is a sip of water and a tiny pill — you can get “drunk” in one simple swallow. Actually, you can get better than drunk. Xanax erases your anxieties and leaves your speech and motor functions basically intact sans the telltale scent of alcohol.

Xanax, Valium, and Ativan are benzodiazepenes, a.k.a. benzos. These minor tranquilizers are highly addictive, have few side effects, and let you achieve the land of no worries in 20 minutes or less.

Taking benzos is one certain way to advance a career in addiction, whether the career path be via drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, binge eating, overspending, or any other compulsive, destructive behavior.

If you struggle with anxiety, bipolar, or bipolar depression, as a bonus, benzos insure that you will never have to learn how to identify your triggers or explore effective coping mechanisms such as deep breathing, meditating, or weeding out the toxic people in your life.

I am sad and angry that we lost such a prolific, highly original artist. (Buzzbands.la interviewed Scott Weiland two weeks before his death and published a eulogy.)

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Rick Springfield—Sex and Depression and Rock and Roll

Reading that rock and roll singer/actor Rick Springfield penned his first novel reminded me of his 2010 memoir Late, Late at Night. I had been drawn to it, because it detailed his lifelong struggle with depression.

Curious about the novel, I went online and found an October 2012 appearance of his on Dr. Oz. I was touched by Springfield’s courage in being so forthright regarding the most highly personal of addictions, sex addiction. I also admire his wife for supporting his decision to go public.

I researched sex addiction 10 years ago for a not-quite-done novel whose main character is a highly creative rock musician who kills time creating abstract art, moonlights as an actor, and amuses himself with “mini love affairs,” which become more and more unusual as he sinks further into his addiction. One of the books I found insightful was Don’t Call it Love: Recovery from Sexual Addiction by Dr. Patrick Carnes.

Although, as a writer I have always been more fascinated by the shades of gray within human behavior, such as individuals who cannot sustain intimacy, rather than the more extreme behavior one would term sex addiction.

Springfield is not as unlikely a novelist as some might think. Not only did he write an autobiography first, he has been writing songs, interpreting scripts, and creating characterizations for decades.

Despite Springfield appearing slightly mischievous, athletic, and much younger than his 63 years (at time of taping), he recollected a suicide attempt at 17 and intermittent struggles with depression since his teen years. He described how he feels during his bouts, “I feel worthless. I feel like I get no joy out of anything.”

Sex as an Antidote to Depression
Springfield recounted how sex helped ease the depression, albeit temporarily, “There is no outside source that can heal that depression. Although sex helps.”

He deadpanned, “The orgasm is the only time you are truly at peace.”

Springfield explained how he used sex to escape from his symptoms, but that ultimately it was not effective, “It’s a great coping mechanism. It’s a dead end. It’s an outside source.”

Depression Triggers
Regarding what causes the depression, “I get overwhelmed really easily,” Springfield said. He also discussed how the demands of the entertainment industry could trigger depression, “There’s always work to do. I get depressed when I write. I get depressed when I don’t write. I get depressed when I don’t work. I get depressed when there’s too much work.”

Integrative Remedy
Springfield took time off from the music business to focus on figuring out how to beat depression without using extramarital sex or alcohol. He settled on an integrative approach that, at times, included medication. In addition to music, meditation, writing, and his pet dog became his most effective weapons.

The Link Between Creativity and Depression
Springfield is far from the first famous creative to struggle with depression. There are several theories as to how creativity and depression are linked; they are probably linked in more than one way. My theory is that those born with sensitive and empathetic temperaments sense other’s feelings and pain, which drives them to create as a way of releasing the accumulation of intense feelings. Psychologist Elaine Aron wrote a number of books about sensitive temperaments including The Highly Sensitive Person.

Also, creative brains are able to jump around, make unusual connections, and go in many directions, which, at times, can be overwhelming as it can be very difficult to follow through in multiple directions, and that frustration can lead to depression.

CreativeSomething.net’s blog, The Link Between Creativity and Depression and How it Can Be Good for You, expresses another theory, “…Countless psychologists and psychiatrists tend to agree that major depression is amplified in those who tend to ruminate on their thoughts. Rumination… is one of the major keys of thinking like a creative genius.”

The blog explains another link between the two, “For creatives, this depression is what amplifies motivation to do their work better. It’s not enough to keep doing what you’ve been doing as a creative, you have to do more, and do it well.”

Scott Barry Kaufman’s blog for Scientific American, “The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness” assesses several studies. He writes, “It seems that the key to creative cognition is opening up the flood gates and letting in as much information as possible.” Too much information can lead to overload.

The Dark Side of Creativity: Depression + Anxiety x Madness = Genius?” by William Lee Adams for CNN is another blog that explains studies that explore the link between creativity and mental illness including depression.

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The Mystery of Suicide and L’Wren Scott

Why would fashion designer L’Wren Scott, a beautiful, highly accomplished woman, kill herself? Although it has been reported that her label was financially troubled, her practical and elegant designs were on the verge of becoming accessible to many via Banana Republic.

Suicide has nothing to do with character and everything to do with brain function. Distorted thoughts make suicide seemed like the reasonable solution to the intense pain those thoughts create. We can see the career and personal options Ms. Scott had, but she could not.

In an August 2014 presentation at the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) California conference, film producer, author, health activist, and actress Mariel Hemingway shared her insight into the mindset of someone who commits suicide, “They believe that leaving is the solution to everyone else’s problem…. they come from such self loathing, such a dark place.” (The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will air her documentary Running From Crazy that examines the factors leading to the seven suicides that her family experienced.)

Within the novel The Bell Jar, author Sylvia Plath insightfully described this progression of distorted thoughts. As her protagonist Esther becomes more and more depressed, her perceptions become darker and darker, and she further and further isolates herself. As the mental anguish Esther experiences becomes acute, it becomes painful to turn the page as Esther effectively builds a case for herself that suicide makes sense.

What is fashion, but wearable art? Highly creative individuals with enough drive and daring to make a living out of art and realize their creative vision sometimes have brains that tend towards depression. Highly analytical and highly creativity brains crave intense stimulation. That perfectionistic drive to create can isolate one and sometimes enable one to not know what is most important in one’s personal life.

Why anyone would end his or her own life began to fascinate me in high school. I fell in love with a couple of Ernest Hemingway’s novels and his short stories before learning that he had ended his own life. Then I fell in love with the dark humor in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and became aware that she had killed herself.

And then, one of the most honest, powerful, compelling rock-n-roll singers who ever lived, Kurt Cobain, killed himself in 1994. Reading between the lines of Charles R. Cross’s sensitive and insightful biography of Cobain, Heavier than Heaven, I could see the chaos resulting from the untreated depression that most likely fueled his drug addiction.

The Stigma Factor in Seeking Treatment
In some professions, being treated for a mental illness such as depression can be detrimental to say the least. Because of the stigma, those experiencing depression also often lose out on the outlet of discussing their struggle with friends and associates.

Treating depression is not an exact science. Mental health is a complex equation and many doctors do not take an integrative approach that examines nutrition, lifestyle, spiritual conflicts, family systems, hormonal fluctuations, and many other variables. At 49, Ms. Scott could have been experiencing perimenopause, which could exacerbate tendencies toward depression.

Ironically, in some ways those who have struggled with addiction and mental illness and adopt an all-encompassing spiritual approach towards reconstructing their lives have an advantage over those who have not struggled with addiction along with mental illness.

With Hope
I met a mom who lost her beautiful, high-achieving 14-year-old daughter Amber to suicide, “As a freshman she played varsity soccer and still had time for her family, her boyfriend and her friends. She was silly. She was bold. She was encouraging. She was determined.

“We now know, Amber was also profoundly sad and didn’t believe that anyone else had felt the way that she did.  She didn’t reach out for the help that was available. She masked her pain in the midst of all her talents and accomplishments. She hid her pain from a community of people who truly loved her.” (From With Hope‘s website.)

Amber’s suicide seemingly came out of nowhere. Her courageous mom started With Hope, a foundation dedicated to preventing suicide through outreach including educating high school students about depression, what could be the subtle clues of someone contemplating suicide, and what to do if one suspects a friend might be suicidal.

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Paleo Diet Month Two

The more I study nutrition, the less I know…  In six weeks I lost approximately five pounds (five to ten to go), but more significantly my taste buds are changing, I am eating more fruits and vegetables, and I am less hungry.

Paleo Diet in a Nutshell

Dr. Cordain, a PhD in health, spills all his secrets on his website thepaleodiet.com.  His What to Eat on the Paleo Diet page tells you which food groups to eat and which ones to avoid.  In summary (85% of the time), everything except grains, dairy (eggs are the only allowed dairy), refined sugar, salt, processed foods, potatoes, and refined vegetable oils.

Lisa Rudy from Huntington Beach, California has been on the Paleo Diet 14 months and says, “I wasn’t expecting a sense of improved mental clarity.  I would say it was quite dramatic.  It was an unexpected welcome benefit.”

Rudy admits, “At first you feel like it’s a lot of work.  After a while it just becomes second nature.”

Cordain’s research is convincing, but I know too many healthy, productive, good-natured individuals who eat grains to believe that this restrictive diet is for everyone.  For those of us with sugar sensitivity, this could be a reasonable plan.

Cordain does make convincing arguments about the detrimental effect of a typical American diet in regards to:

  • Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • High content of Omega 6, which wipes out the benefits of Omega 3 such as reducing symptoms of mental disorders including depression and schizophrenia
  • Acid-base balance and how it affects calcium retention and osteoporosis
  • Insulin levels that bounce around and affect mood and energy levels

Benefits of Protein

Quoting Cordain (The Paleo Diet, revised edition 2011), “Remember, protein is your ally in weight loss and good health.  It lowers your cholesterol, improves your insulin sensitivity, speeds up your metabolism, satisfies your appetite, and helps you lose weight.”

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Writing Dream Walking: A Novel of Madness and Healing

In 1996, after eight years of writer’s block, I began writing my first novel, Dream Walking.  I had not written fiction since high school, yet fiction intimidated me far less than journalism, the career I had abandoned.

The first draft read like Nancy Drew without a plot, so I decided to turn it into a memoir.  The genre had exploded, and I loved reading them.  Ultimately, I felt uncomfortable writing a memoir and decided to turn it back into a novel.  However, my agent became uncomfortable with me and ditched me.

My favorite memoir (The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls) reads like a novel.  It was liberating to not have to rely on memory, condense characters, make up scenes, and take dramatic license.

The novel took me such a long time to write, because I kept putting it aside and working on short stories, screenplays, reality TV treatments, other novels, stand-up comedy, and eventually journalism features.

The novel’s main themes:

  • Mental health is a complex equation
  • Manic depression (aka bipolar disorder) is often braided with addiction, which complicates treatment of each
  • Addicts often trade addictions
  • Spirituality is a critical component of healing

Because of some of the reader feedback I received, I decided to recreate the two brief early teen chapters that my agent had me take out, because he thought they made the main character too unsympathetic.  I am almost done, and then will figure out the whole print book thing.

Aspiring novelists out there, you must buy a book I am almost done reading that would have saved me years of angst, Stephen King’s On Writing.  Quoting the Cleveland Dealer, “The best book on writing.  Ever.”

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Fight Depression by Absorbing Some Sunlight

Vitamin D helps fight depression yet most Americans don’t get enough Vitamin D.  Just how much is enough?  Certain experts make a strong case that the US government’s recommended daily allowance (200 to 400 IUs depending on age) is way too low.

Vitamin D from Mr. Sun

The most beneficial way to get your Vitamin D is from sunlight, which is trickier than it sounds.

  • Only exposed skin minus sunblock can absorb Vitamin D
  • The darker your skin and the more clothes you’re wearing, the longer it takes to absorb Vitamin D
  • During winter, it is impossible for Northerners to get enough Vitamin D from the sun

Vitamin D’s Other Health Benefits

According to research cited in Deborah Kotz’s article for USNews.com,Time in the Sun: How Much Is Needed for Vitamin D? adequate Vitamin D prevents:

  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Insomnia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Overactive immune system
  • Various cancers (including skin cancer)

More Info on Vitamin D

Sunlight/Mood Bright… How Does Vitamin D fight depression?

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