“How To Win Over Depression” – review 1 – 27

“How To Win Over Depression” – review 1 – 27 April 24, 2015

Howtowinoverdepressionby Samantha Field cross posted from her blog Defeating The Dragons

Before I get to what Tim had to say in the first two chapters, I want to begin by making sure we’re all on the same page, especially since Tim is going to confuse this issue in very serious ways.

First, there are different kinds of depression. There’s major or clinical depression (which can also be chronic,) mild depression, seasonal affective disorder, and the depression that is a part if bipolar disorder (as well as others). Tim doesn’t distinguish between any of these, and his reasoning for why he mixes all of these up will become clear once we’re further into the book. However, the book focuses on helping people who have major or clinical depression– but then confuses that with mild, temporary, situational depression.

Second, these are the symptoms that doctors look for in order to diagnose major depression:

    • difficulty concentrating, sometimes referred to as a “brain fog”
    • feeling worthless, guilty (I refer to this using Captain Awkward’s term “JerkBrain“)
    • hopelessness
    • sleep disturbances (insomnia and/or oversleeping)
    • irritability
    • disinterest in things previously considered enjoyable
    • appetite changes
    • persistent pain, headaches, cramps …
    • persistent sadness
    • suicidal idealization

However, the only “symptom” that Tim gives any credence to in “The Problem of Depression” is unhappiness. He references several ancient writers who describe things like the disinterest and the feelings of worthlessness, but then spends the rest of the chapter talking about how depression is “universal,” (19) that “everyone will be depressed at some point,” and that our society is “starved for happiness” (20).

This is one of the ways that he conflates serious depression with “a general feeling of being sad and unhappy,” which is infuriating and wrong. Yes, everyone at some point in their lives is going to feel sad for a stretch. Life is full of pain and bad things happen to everyone, and we’re going to feel unhappy about it. That is obvious. That, however is not what major depression is.

I’ve talked to a lot of people who “feel blue sometimes,” but then they are able to snap out of it. Frequently these people say things to me like “just find something you love to do!” or “stop that negative self-talk!” and think that’s all it takes. It becomes obvious fairly quickly that these people have never dealt with paralyzing apathy or JerkBrain. When Handsome asks me a question like “what do you want to do?” it takes a serious amount of effort for me to respond with something besides I don’t care. I have spent many, many days over the last few months staring at a spot on the wall for hours, unable to care about anything enough to drag myself off the sofa.

Then there’s JerkBrain, which is a constant voice in the back of my head that I wish I could shut up, and it is different from negative self-talk. I can control the negative self-talk. I can keep myself from fixating on my cellulite and love handles, I can stop myself when I start thinking things like “I’ll never be as good a writer as so-and-so!” However, none of that changes the overriding belief that I am worthless, and the constant, unending feelings of guilt. My brains’ automatic reaction to all conflict is you are a horrible, disgusting waste of a human being. You are nothing. You deserve nothing.

But Tim is one of those people who think I can just change the way my brain thinks (27) and then I’ll be happy. Right.

Moving on to chapter two, where Tim describes some of the different ways depression manifests itself. Before he gets into that, though, he links having depression to emotional immaturity. He blames people who have depression partly on parents who didn’t let their children cry it out (22-23). He describes it as a form of teaching infants and toddlers to emotionally “walk,” because apparently he knows absolutely nothing about developmental psychology.

But, moving on: he says that people with depression are “exhibitionists”– according to him, we struggle with our depression by throwing an extended temper tantrum (24). This apparently takes many forms, including vandalism, but he then goes on to spend a significant amount of time talking about he can tell how depressed a woman is by how short her skirt is (hint: if she’s wearing a mini skirt, she’s sooooo depressed) Also, he says things like “Studies have indicated” without citing a single one, and that “promiscuous” and “oversexed” women aren’t really interested in sex at all– they just feel insecure. Men aren’t promiscuous or oversexed, though– they have “sexual conquests.”

Another way depressed people can act is by being “clingy.” He gives six examples, five of which he genders as female: talking on the phone too much, continuing to nurture children after her own children have grown, being an ambitious hostess, buying love, or exaggerating illness for attention. The one male example: being a workaholic.

There’s no misogyny here, y’all. Not even a little bit.

My reaction to this description was what in the world is he talking about? The human race is pretty diverse so I’m positive that at some point some depressed person has done one of these things, but I’ve been depressed off and on my whole life and when I’m depressed “let’s throw a huge party!” would never cross my mind in a million years. Neither would talking to anyone for extended periods. Or trying to get attention through faking illness. Those could be unhealthy behaviors depending on why you feel the need to do them (seriously, what is wrong with throwing big parties or enjoying long conversations?), but none of these things are symptoms of depression, or even typical of depressed people.

update 4/22/15: I didn’t realize this was going to be a problem, but I have received multiple comments like this since I posted this on Monday. If you’ve never commented before, I will not publish comments on this series that tell me and my readers about some “cure” for depression. You can share your experiences, but don’t come here promoting some “method” or “system” when you’ve never participated before.



Samantha blogs at Defeating The Dragons and is a member of The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

Read Samantha’s detailed review of Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book “Real Marriage”

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9  

Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13



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  • SAO

    One of the problems depression (and most other mental illnesses) have is that there are no clinical signs, only symptoms. Symptoms are what the person feels, signs are what a doctor or other person can see or measure. Take a fever, for example, some people are self-pitying and might feel like they are on death’s door with a fairly mild fever. Others are stoical and say they are a little under the weather with a higher fever.

    The other thing is that depression is often episodic, particularly for people not taking anti-depressants. Someone might have a period of deep depression (for months or perhaps a year or longer) and then come out of it. This means if you do some random thing consistently, eventually many people with clinical depression will “recover.”

    Both of these things make complicate legitimate research and provide great fodder for anecdotal evidence.

  • I don’t get why people think there is something ‘wrong’ with depression. It is part of life. When it comes to chemical depression, which is terribly genetic, a family
    must basically deal with it. You can’t talk yourself out of it. Positive doesn’t help. Neither does an overdose of religion. Medication does. What I don’t understand is why people consider this form of depression a mental illness. It is very much a physical malady, no different from any other disease.

    Right now, I have every one of the symptoms listed above. And, no, I’m not depressed. I’m so stressed I can’t function as a normal person. It is never-ending. All the medication in the world won’t help. I do think, though, that depression can be situational.

    There are no simple solutions.

  • Evelyn

    Wow. I had no idea that it was part of my depression and “clingy” that I am a tremendous help to moms of many in my town because I really enjoy spending time with their little kids when they themselves are touched out. I’ve always thought of it as being an auntie, and considered it a privilege and a joy, as well as a fabulous excuse to play in mud-puddles in my middle age. This is consistent with the CP mindset, though, that says mom can’t be asking for help or admitting a need, except when it comes to forcing her own daughters to mother their younger sibs.

  • Nea

    continuing to nurture children after her own children have grown

    Um, what? This is bad… how? Seriously, a straight read of this suggests that the “non-depressed” woman’s reaction to a grandchild is “Get that out of here, I’m done with raising anyone.”

  • Jenny Islander

    For depression, at least, I’ve read that the link between disrupted serotonin processing in the brain and in the gut is becoming a more widely recognized thing. Some doctors are now looking at a patient who reports certain digestive issues and looks weary or grouchy and suggesting that they take a depression screening.

  • SAO

    Actually, although anti-depressants increase serotonin in the brain, there’s no evidence that people with depression suffer from problems with serotonin processing. One way to look at it is that aspirin is an effective blood thinner, but that doesn’t mean that headaches are caused by too thick blood. Without more data, it might be a decent theory, but it’s not proven.

    Read the Epidemic of Mental Illness by Marcia Angell. She was the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and has extensive medical credentials. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/

  • Quadratic Wizard

    Depression and anxiety have been a permanent feature of my life and recently I learned that in my case, this was largely due to Autism. My brain is different and processes emotion differently (and often not very well). As with every other sensation, physical or otherwise, I’m super sensitive emotionally. Its just a fact of life that I deal with. I have learned to give my autistic brain the nurture and respect it needs to function. After all, it is also the source of all my strengths and talents.

    I have often wondered if ‘mental illness’ is just that, or if, maybe it is just a certain type of brain wiring with it’s own pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses and unique needs. Many people who are talented, intellectual or especially kind and caring, also deal with what is often considered ‘mental illness’.
    Maybe depression is a side effect of living in a society with a ‘one size fits all’ approach to neurology, or maybe it’s the operational side effect of a brain that moves in unusual, wonderful ways? I don’t quite know, but I’d like more research to be done on it. Either way, I suspect that a sweeping ‘cure it’ isn’t the be all, end all.

  • jennabobenna

    The women on my mom’s side have a history of anxiety and depression. My mom takes medication for OCD, depression, and anxiety. My sister is medicated for just as many different things, and I’m on Lexapro for mild depression and moderate-to-severe anxiety. I speak for all three of us when I say that none of us can just “turn off” our negative Nancy thoughts. Having depression and anxiety is like listening to the opposite of a hypnotic self-help tape. You can’t turn it off, and you can’t ignore it. It’s just there, and it’s unnerving. And you can’t stop it. Your mind is on a sick merry-go-round and the only thing that can bring the ride to a grinding halt is medication.