Dr Judith Guedalia

Depression And Help From Our Friends Shaul, King David, Iyov and others...

By Dr. Judith Guedalia and Jenny S.



·         "I'm so depressed I gained five pounds over the last holiday!"

·         "The economic situation struck so hard, I'm down to cleaning help just once a week. I'm feeling really depressed."

·         "My so-called boyfriend has not called me in over a week, I'm really depressed."

·         "Recession is when your friend loses his job; Depression is when you lose yours."

·         "Did you see that woman shopping, it's not for me to say, but doesn't she look like she's in a depression?"



      When I relayed these remarks to Jenny, she almost jumped out of her chair as she exclaimed:
            "Depressed Depression!  People who use language with total disregard to its meaning make me want to explode."
            Jenny S. (not her real name), who is blind from birth but doesn't consider it a handicap, has been plagued by extreme dizziness, from seemingly neurological issues. This condition has caused her difficulties with balance, which has impacted on her independence and landed her here, in my office (we are writing this together). 
            Over the years we have had a revolving door relationship.  We met for a time when she was 12 years old, and now when she feels the need to talk, she schedules an appointment. 
Jenny is a very unique individual; she has an innate skill and joy when it comes to learning and using language.  She reads and writes in Braille as well as in Hebrew, English and Arabic all of which she also speaks fluently - "Of cause no one can speak Braille!"
She continues: "I have an annoying case of where-to-go!"
            Catching that on the first bounce, I say: "Vertigo" a great Hitchcock classic.  "Talking about classics, I think Um Kultum's song is the best" and she begins singing it in Arabic, deftly using all the quarter notes that I am used to hearing on the radio channels as I surf for Israeli music!  For my sake she translates the title and main theme: "Patience has Limits." 
            I am quiet and she says: "Don't go all psychologist on me."  Not a chance.  I'm just thinking of my two favorite "get-me-through-it" songs: "You'll Never Walk Alone" from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel, and Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."
            She knows those songs too and begins to hum and sing.  But then she stops.  "They're ok, but as far as I am concerned still don't capture depression with a capital D."
            As I said, Jenny loves to turn-a-phrase and so she metaphors on:
            "Even when the storm ends, the sea is still not calm.
"I feel that the Big 'D' is more akin to being at sea on a small craft, even when beached on terra firma onenever feels stable.  In spite of having a raincoat, the anxiety/fear that not only will the storm return, but also maybe the weather conditions will become even worse, persists.  The next storm might catch this little flimsy boat at sea and not on dry land!"
            She breaks her train of thought, raises her head and looks at me.  "After going through feelings such as I just described there are no suggestions from the 'outside' that help.  Sure family and friends say (and worse yet, think) 'what you need is something inspirational, uplifting and then you'll be on the road to getting-over-it.' This I feel is the biggest difference between depression and sadness.  Sadness is to depression what a cold is to cancer.
            "Anyone who tries to 'cheer up' a depressed person by telling them how bad someone else's life is, shouldn't be surprised if the person they are trying to help gets furiously angry."
            Furiously angry, sounds like emotional energy that may be not too far from the surface, I say.
            "Let me advise friends and family of the depressed, don't help unless you are asked.  Don't assume the person needs help.  Never make a depressed person feel guilty for his depression. Never let him feel 'bad' or 'broken.'"
            "What can they do when they see their loved one in so much pain?" I ask.
            "Even though it may seem drastic to family and friends, going to a psychiatrist and getting a proper diagnosis and medication may be the best and most economical, and therapeutic path to follow.  I am not a professional, but have gained my experience the hard way.  I was clinically depressed! I saw so many people during my journey and many drastic measures were taken to help me.  In the end the lifting of my depression came from changing my neurological situation and being significantly helped by psychiatric meds.  No one should be ashamed of saying any of those words.  Depression is an illness that can be overcome.  Hashem created the people who developed the medicine that truly saved my life.
            "Another reason to go straight to a 'shrink' is because you can't speak to depression and you can't reason with it.  The meds make you available to think.  I liken the experience to being able to survive in the stormy sea without a life jacket.  Even if you know how to swim under normal circumstances, you can't in a stormy sea, and don't forget one can't reason with the waves."
            I ask her what she thinks about Talking Therapy.  
            "Again, from personal experience, it may be helpful after the person has been stabilized by the medication.  There are side effects to medications, however, there maybe side effect from the therapy that are not so obvious as well.  
            "Side effects from a 'bad' therapist may include exacerbated feelings of defenselessness.  I'm still troubled by some of the therapists who said: " you are hiding something that is keeping you from getting well."  I didn't have the energy to even whisper, that it is not true, but I still felt like a 'criminal,' denied the ability to speak for myself, just because I was depressed."
            I told her that music as she mentioned before helps.  Whenever the evil spirit (dark mood) came upon Shaul, King of Israel, David would take the harp and play it (Shmuel I).  Shaul would become refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.  Who else do we have that we can learn from?  Iyov (Job) comes to mind, but he seems to be in deep mourning rather than depressed.
"Iyov, hmmm," she says and from the tone of her voice, I know that some idea is being 'hatched,' "that reminds me of Eeyore, quite a depressed character."
            Eeyore is a favorite for most admirers of Winnie the Pooh characters, a loveable donkey who is mostly gloomy.  Eeyore, who is about 18 inches in height and 27 inches in length, resides in an area marked as "Eeyore's Gloomy Place: Rather Boggy and Sad." His favorite food is thistles. Eeyore doesn't expect much of himself and remains quiet for most of the time.  Eeyore has few expectations from his friends and always expects the worst whenever they come to help him.  Here is where his friends come in handy; they dismiss his gloomy thoughts, which cause him to feel grateful to them. Eeyore's biggest problem is his tail falling off, which happens frequently. Looking for it and then reattaching it is where his friends help him the most. 
            Iyov is the quintessential icon for loss. In fact many of our minhagim regarding Shiva, (the first seven days of mourning) come from the Book of Iyov. However much he has lost, in the end Iyov has a new family and has learned from the 'experience' about humility, loss and man's place in G-d's majestic world.
            Maybe we too can learn how to do bikur cholim when we are with a depressed person.  We should learn to not expect much in the way of conversation from them; rather we should be there for them as an anchor attached to the bottom of the sea, helping them re-enter the world slowly.  This too is a part of the Shiva process, which can give us signposts as to how to act in the presence of such pain.

             In a small voice, Jenny says, "I do appreciate those around me more now that I was so close to losing not only a piece of myself, my 'Eeyore tail,' but also my whole Self." 



Tags: Braille | Depressed Depression | Jenny S. | Jewish Press | Patience has Limits | Talking Therapy | Vertigo