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Depressive Realism

February 7, 2014


Depressive realism is the theory that that depressed individuals make more realistic inferences than non-depressed individuals. Although depressed individuals are thought to have a “negative cognitive bias” that results in recurrent, negative automatic thoughts, maladaptive behaviors, and dysfunctional world beliefs, depressive realism argues not only that this negativity may reflect a more accurate appraisal of the world but also that non-depressed individuals’ appraisals are positively biased.

In other words, depressed people see the world, their place in it, and their chances much more realistically that happy and optimistic people do. Of course, everybody would rather be around a happy and optimistic person, whether to work with them or be friends with them. It was just my dumb luck to become a depressed person during college and my first go-round at grad school at the end of the ’70s. Perhaps “luck” isn’t the word…genetics, environment, early education, all of these play a role in creating a person’s lifetime outlook.

It wouldn’t be fair of me to convey the life of a CPS patient without talking about depression – specifically, my depression, and the crushing weight it’s put me under these past 8 to 10 months. This past year, I have been deeply depressed.  When I look back over my life since high school, I can see the destructive role that depression has played in my life. Its main destructive force has been that it has disposed me to think that a fight is not worth the candle. I can see that this has been what has happened to me.  The financial situation in my home has been *terrible.* Ever since Sandy, we are in an active foreclosure process., and the mortgage company will no longer negotiate with us. I awaken almost every day expecting to see a Sheriff’s Sale notice taped to the front door. Our business has suffered so grievously in the past year, between the decline of the middle class and the decline of the PC, that we barely bring home enough gross in the month to cover utilities, food and gas. I haven’t gone to my doctor’s in almost a year, because I can’t afford the $125 bucks. My doctor has therefore refused to refill my antidepressants and one of my muscle relaxants –  which has made it almost impossible to sleep more than 3 hours at a time.  I have no way to earn money, and am selling things on eBay to pay for our oil this cruel and freezing winter.

All of this financial pressure has put a tremendous strain on our marriage. Jack told me today that neither of us have cheated, or are thinking of cheating, on each other – and that may be as good as it gets. After 25 years, isn’t that enough? After all, he cannot forget the things I did that he believes are the reason we are where we are today: my breakdown that led to the end of my English doctorate; that I never found a career in the next 20 years; that we spent $3,000 on deposits and inspections on homes we didn’t purchase; that I didn’t find new customers for our business; that I haven’t made any money since my stroke. He can’t forget these things – and I can’t forget that he thinks that way. I honestly feel like I am a failure because I spent the last 20 years dominated by illness and fear and temporary, non-career things such as getting the Greater Brunswick Charter School off the ground, literally, by getting it into two temporary and its final permanent home, or getting us into our own home. I had wanted to own a home so  much, after living in an apartment for 25 years, that a lot of my energy 10 years ago went into finding, acquiring and fixing up the home we are in now. The decisions I made seemed correct at the time, but they assumed a future in which I would always have my health, and living in an America where there would be employment opportunities. Now those decisions look like those of a fool, because I am facing penury, the end of a loving marriage and homelessness.

These pressures have driven my pain through the roof. The pain is so energy-sapping, and so brain-fogging, that I can’t do much thinking by the end of the day. When I do think, I see myself rolling down the sloop of “middle class disappearance” into a pit filled with the bodies of the ill and unlucky. I will become one more object lesson, one more story about how the unfortunate or the undeserving drove down the life expectancy numbers in America in the 21st Century.

One of the saddest things for me has been the loss of almost all off my friends from the CPSF. The organization was moving forward well until we got to the point of deciding how to apply for our 501(c)(3) status, To apply along the regular channels would have taken over 18 months. To get an approval faster would have meant getting an “expedited review”; to have an application approved in such a manner, there must be outstanding promises of grants that would expire if the receiving organization wasn’t approved as of a certain date. Other projects, such as developing a Volunteers Committee, have fallen by the wayside, as the Board members got sicker, or pursued their own hectic lives. I needed support I received from them, and fell into an even deeper funk. (Here’s a shout–out, however, to my Vice-President Lisa Budzinski, who has always been there for me.)

But the CPSF isn’t about me – or not just me. It’s actually about every one of us who have incurred this scourge from whatever cause – a brain injury or a spinal cord injury. A year and a half have gone past since I began this work in earnest, and the past half year has been almost completely non-productive. I may not be able to save my house, or ultimately my marriage, but I can theoretically control whether the CPSF comes to life. My sense of my own failures is a terrible burden, though. Do I know enough to make this work? I don’t know any 1%ers, the movers and shakers of capital that have no real use for a little person like me, one of the 300 million living paycheck to paycheck.  How can I create a vibrant, influential 501(c)(3) – which is what all the people with CPS need and deserve – if I don’t have the connections or the knowledge, and very little information on how to gain them?

The only way to avoid ending up in that pit of the damned is by clinging to the sides and pulling myself out. I must find the will and the strength to overcome it, or I will not be able to survive the potential catastrophes ahead of me.

There are a few things that have improved this past year, my physical health being one of them. I’ve lost 25 pounds and my blood pressure has responded modestly. The loss of the equivalent of constantly carrying a toddler has relieved some of the spasticity pain. I’ve begun a modest program of resistance training for my upper body, which is both strengthening and toning my extremely weak and flabby left arm. (One of my goals is to be able to extend my left arm completely towards the ceiling.) It’s easier to write; the words float out of my brain more fluidly. I don’t even need my cane anymore.  So Eyes on the Prize – things can improve.

But there is a whole world from which I remain cut off, and in which I long to participate. Is this just the fate of CPS patients? The longer we are in pain, living by sufferance of the drug companies whose nostrums must be consumed every 6 hours,  the more isolated we become, and the more depressed. Even people within our own families grow frustrated with us, and just plain tired of being around us.

The medieval Catholic Church taught that there were many horrors of Hell. There was, of course, its unspeakable pain, pain caused by fires that could never be quenched and that burned the body without consuming it.  There was its eternal nature, the fact that you would know that you could never, ever escape: it was your fate for all eternity. But, perhaps, most cruelly, there was the condemned’s endless remorse. Trapped in Hell, you would always be aware that it was *all your own fault.* You yourself, and your actions, were the reason that you were doomed to suffer for eternity.

Talk about a reason to be depressed.

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