When Everything Isn't Enough
Other than fame, wealth, power, prestige, and popularity, what do the following people have in common? Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Sheryl Crowe, Buzz Aldrin, Lady Gaga, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, J.K. Rowling, Bruce Springsteen.
They all have courageously and publicly shared their private struggles with debilitating depression. In the tragic case of Robin Williams, his depression became so severe that he took his own life. What could possibly lead these people, who by worldly standards “have it all,” to become depressed?
In recent years, through brain studies and clinical experience, professionals now understand that clinical depression is not something you can “snap out of,” or wish away by whistling a happy tune and thinking sunny thoughts.
In November, 2018, Bruce Springsteen—nicknamed “The Boss”—spoke about how there was one area of life he could not boss around—his inner turmoil.
"All I do know is as we age, the weight of our unsorted baggage becomes heavier . . . much heavier . . . With each passing year, the price of our refusal to do that sorting rises higher and higher. . . . Long ago, the defenses I built to withstand the stress of my childhood, to save what I had of myself, outlived their usefulness, and I've become an abuser of their once lifesaving powers. I relied on them wrongly to isolate myself, seal my alienation, cut me off from life, control others, and contain my emotions to a damaging degree. Now the bill collector is knocking, and his payment will be in tears.”
I was struck by Springsteen’s comment “Long ago, the defenses I built to withstand the stress of my childhood, to save what I had of myself, outlived their usefulness, and I've become an abuser of their once lifesaving powers…”
That is a key insight. Defenses that served to protect us in childhood, later in life only serve to isolate and alienate us. They build walls where bridges ought to be.
If your coping mechanism was being funny, eventually people will have a hard time taking you seriously. If it was being aggressive, you become known as a bully. If it was withdrawing into a shell, you will find yourself increasingly isolated. If it was “retail therapy” (shopping), you will run out of money. If it was sex, you will lose the capacity for true intimacy.
If you are struggling with depression, and you think “If only I was richer, better looking, more popular, etc.,” remember all these rich, beautiful, popular people for whom that didn’t fix the problem. Reach out to a mental health professional. There are very effective treatments available. And if you find your old coping strategies aren’t working so well any more, again seek help from a professional. Life can be full of love and meaning, but we all need help finding the right path.