Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Resilience: The Opposite of Depression

The opposite of depression is not happiness, according to Peter Kramer, author of “Against Depression” and “Listening to Prozac,” it is resilience: the ability to cope with life’s frustrations without falling apart. Proper treatment doesn’t suppress emotions or dull a person’s ability to feel things deeply. It builds a protective layer–an emotional resilience–to safeguard a depressive from becoming overwhelmed and disabled by the difficulties of daily life. If a person is treated correctly, the brain itself–through therapy, medication, and other tools–toughens up, on a cellular level, so that it develops “bouncebackability” from the trauma of depression.
Kramer writes:


One way to envision resilience is as a force that makes the world safe for caring. Given more resilience, those exposed, through attachment, to the risk of loss would no longer suffer deterioration.

Neurologically speaking, resilience means that a depressive’s prefrontal cortex cells would not be stripped of protection, and that her neuronal connections would stay intact.
That’s my primary goal of recovery: to get more resilient. I want to toughen up so that the least disappointment (like if my number of Beyond Blue pageviews decreases) or reason for anxiety (my darling daughter sits down in the middle of ballet class and wants snacks) doesn’t throw me into a tailspin requiring a medication adjustment or leave of absence from my primary responsibilities (which is impossible as a mom without tons of support nearby).
In trying to solve the relapse dilemma of last week–figuring out why I got sucked into the Black Hole for a few days last week and why I’m feeling much more anxious lately–I’ve come to this conclusion: I have a dangerously thin ozone layer around me right now. Even minimum exposure to the sun will most likely burn the heck out of me because I’m without a cushion that absorbs the smaller letdowns, disillusionments, confrontations, and bummers that God packaged with the type of creation he called Homo Sapiens.
“How do you think we should go about building that extra layer of padding around you in order to become more resilient?” Dr. Smith asked me last visit.
I spilled the beans on Eric’s assessment of my fragile state–that it’s a result of running myself ragged, not stopping to drink some water between projects–and she agreed with him. I should consider unpacking my schedule in order to allow for downtime, because I need it just as much as I do exercise, a healthy diet, regular sleep, and a therapeutic level of medication.
“What are some ways in which you might try to relax?” Dr. Smith asked me.
Chugging a liter of vodka and taking a half-dozen tablets of Xanax came to mind.
“I suppose I need to use some of my sitter time to do things like talk on the phone with friends, or read a book, instead of trying to be productive every second that she’s on the clock.” To do that required that I stop calculating every half-hour of sitter-time as six bucks. If I talked to my sister for forty-five minutes of sitter-time, that’s a nine dollar phone call, plus the cell phone charges. (I’m cheap and OCD.)
“That’s a good start.”
“And Eric and I need to start doing date night again once or twice a month.” I was beginning to sound like a cheesy article in a woman’s magazine: “Ten Quick Ways for a Fragile OCD-Perfectionist-Manic-Depressive Workaholic On the Verge of a Breakdown to Chill Out and Have Fun.”
“I think that your goal right now needs to be to have no goal,” Dr. Smith said. Even as making goals last year helped me to climb out of the Black Hole, I could certainly see where too many of them, coupled with my OCDish perfectionism, had me in a precarious and threatening position, more fragile than I should be.

  • Nathalie

    Dear Therese,
    Reading your columns has help me so much for the past months. I suffer from anxiety and people around me (my mom, my ex-husband, my boss) have trouble seeing that as a “real” sickness.
    I am actually on sick leave from my work and I realized now that I should have gone earlier when everybody was telling me to leave. But I felt that I just couldn’t abandon the office so I stayed, and felt bad, and cried in front of my computer and got physically sick…until I had a breakdown in my boss’s office and was put on sick leave. My boss is very unhappy with the situation, she felt I’ve put everyone in the office in trouble and that I ruined her vacation.
    Now, I’m trying to get better so I can either go back to this work or find a new one. I walk (my weight is slowly going down, people don’t ask me when the baby is due anymore) and I work a lot on my self-esteem, because the last months have made me believe I was worthless and incompetent.
    I’m reading right now a book on resilience and I was so happy to read about the same subject here today. I do believe it’s all about “bouncebackability”, being able, when something goes wrong, to learn from it, then let it go and hop back on the train. It’s easy to write but so tough to do. For me, the past 5 years have seen a lot of wrongs: I got separated, my son went to live with his father, my dad died, my work description changed, I became an overeater and over-spender, putting me 60 pounds overweight and 30,000$ in debt. But *today*, I believe I will bounce back. I don’t know how and I don’t when, but I *will* bounce back.
    Thanks for reading this, I wanted to thank you for your presence for a long time.

  • Larry Parker

    I admire Peter Kramer endlessly, and I think he’s right … for the most part.
    I certainly don’t think it’s a matter of those with depression being so insular as to not be able to care. We care about others in abundance — to the point of exhaustion (as in you). But we don’t know how to care for OURSELVES. And I don’t mean it’s just something we can turn on a light switch and learn, IMHO; it’s as if it’s not in our DNA. (Which, since depression likely has a genetic component, is possible.)
    To the extent we can develop some coping/self-healing skills, it does require major quiet time to avoid relapse/breakdown. I don’t mean not being around or caring about other people at all — that’s self-destructive too — but I do mean focusing on yourself to the point of what society would call selfishness. And I don’t know if that’s even possible with a much-loved family like you have (one reason I’ve chosen not to have one) — although their support must help at least some.
    Even with constantly trying to “work on myself,” though, depression makes me feel so BRITTLE. And the sad part is (and here is where I might veer from Kramer slightly), no matter how much therapy I have, no matter how much medicine I take, no matter how many books I read on this nightmare, no matter how much I try to take care of myself physically (that I could stand a little improvement in, admittedly), no matter how much reaching out I do, that fragility continually and measurably gets worse and worse over the years.
    And that scares the bejezus out of me.

  • Lisa K

    Well Theresa, first i have to say thank you for the belly laugh in your comment about vodka & Xanax. You are not the only one! I have progressed from vodka & xanax to a glass of cheap wine & xanax.
    And Larry….I feel where you are coming from. I do scare the heck out of myself knowing that this is probably just going to get worse with age. I just read another book with insights about who we are. Pema Chodron says ” Our brilliance, our juiciness, our spiciness, is all mixed up with our craziness and our confusion and therefore it doesn’t do any good to try to get rid of our so-called negative aspects, because in that process we also get rid of our basic wonderfulness.” If you’re looking for yet another ‘book to read’ try Pema Chodron, “The Wisdom of No Escape;and the path of loving kindess” I don’t have it down, but I’m still working on it. Let’s work on it together. Thanks to you both.

  • Margaret

    Since people are recommending books today, might I suggest Kay Redfield Jamison’s “An Unquiet Mind” for those of us who’ve been diagnosed as bi-polar? I don’t have it in front of me at the moment, so I can’t quote her, but I CAN tell you that it was like discovering a roadmap to this disorder drawn by someone who’s traveled there herself. Although I still don’t claim the disease ( I claim depression, but don’t experience mania in my opinion), there were moments of Dr. Jamison’s narrative that were very familiar to me! I recall it as extremely witty, non-judgmental (Who needs that?) and extremely informational! Her insight into the reactions of family members steered me through many a difficult moment in my own voyage in those turbulent waters.
    I also wish to share that I believe those of us who experience deep depression are given a consolation prize by a loving Father in that we also (though admittedly not as often) have the capacity to experience joy more keenly than our “normal” counterparts in today’s world. Years ago, someone wrote to me an old saying which I cannot credit (it’s source wasn’t included,) “The greater your sorrow, the greater your joy! On my own I have also concluded that we seem to have an additional measure of empathy that allows us to comfort others who are going through hardships, and THAT is a blessing that I wouldn’t trade even to rid myself of my familiarity with the abyss! I think back to my late mother, God bless her!, who led a life that modeled empathy and loving kindness as a lifestyle, and am thankful that God in his wisdom knew that would prove a more valuable inheritance than being heir to millions!

  • Cindy

    Hello Dear Friends~
    I’m sorry, but I need to unload a real burden. I had a major set back or melt down today, as something awful came rushing back from my past. I began to sink further and further in the pit of despair and cried and feel to the floor. I felt so bad, that I wanted to physcially hurt myself. I took a pair of scissors and began to mark up both of my arms. Not to the point of blood, but made definite streaks up and down. Each streak represented something bad that I had done in my past.
    My husband walked in from work and found me sitting on the floor and mutilating myself. He began to yell and right away took the scissors from my hands and sat down beside me. After he calmed down, he began to pray over me and sprinkled holy water all over my body. I had taken 3 lorazipam (like xanax) to help me calm down. After my melt down, I slept for hours and woke up somewhat refreshed, but very embarassed that I put my husband through that. It’s not fair that I keep burdening him with my looney behaviors. Has anyone else ever done anything like this? Should I be in the local psych. ward? I really don’t have the courage to end my life, I just want my pain to stop!!!!
    Tonight, I’m exhausted and mellow. Thanks so much for listening to me.
    Bless you all,

  • linda

    i want to add that a unquiet mind is a great read :) i think i mentioned it before…)

  • linda

    Personally cindy, I think you should go to your doctor and see if you can get out-patient therapy….if you are cutting your self or having sucidal ideation (thoughts and actions) then you need to go to the doctor! And stop being your self up for past mistakes…as for getting back on the train, i tend to feel horrible when i do something to make my friends upset accidently but i have to get up and go again.

  • Lisa K

    Most of us with a brain disorder whether it be bi polar as I have, or some other disorder are just looking for a way to make it stop. A drink or two,,,a lot of sex….over working,…whatever it is for you is not healthy. But it’s what we know at the moment and we shouldn’t bring ourselves down further for looking for ways to numb the pain.Jamison states it quite eloquently when she says “Eventually, Dr. Jamison said she felt her thoughts “getting scrambled one too many times.” She returned to lithium, and with the help of psychotherapy and a lot of work has found a balance in her life.” Balance is what we all need if that means meds, thx, journaling (a lot!) then do that…and keep writing on here. But yes, do get some professional help soon. I’ve found this very cathartic and have appreciated Theresa immensely and all the other people who’ve written and shared. We are not alone and there are a lot more of us than we’ve been lead to believe. Peace be with you.

  • Babs

    Oh, Cindi,
    Reading your posting broke my heart. I, too, practiced self-mutilation on and off for a period of about a year. I am still often tempted to do it, but made a vow not to and have kept it for about four years. I used razor blades and cut my arms (and other places not as visible). I did the same as you, and have scars on my arms that will not fade. When people asked how I got them, I said that I had been working around bushes that cut my arm.
    I understand the depth of pain you must be enduring, because I have experienced it, and know the anesthetic effect that comes from cutting.
    Depression is anger turned inward (as my counselor says) and cutting yourself is a way to escape overwhelming anger. But it doesn’t work. It is addicting and removes you from reality.
    There is a lot of literature on cutting, but unless you have stopped, it is very unwise to read it, as it can provoke another cutting incident. People who haven’t done it, don’t understand it. It is frightening for anyone to witness. I assume you are under a doctor’s care. You must see him or her and let them know what you have done.
    This is what worked for me. I was sitting on the bathroom floor, intently slashing and watching the blood run. Then I “saw” Jesus sitting opposite me. His face was full of sadness at what He was witnessing. I then realized that I was not alone. The Savior had shed blood for me, and here I was, mutilating the body given to me by God. I knew I had no right to do it. I stopped,made a vow never to do it again, and hung a crucifix above the door in the bathroom (where no one would notice it but me) to remind me of my vow.
    If you have a family, cutting will take you away from them. It becomes an all-absorbing way to escape intense pain. You don’t want to die — you want help and peace. Please see your mental health professional. Don’t be ashamed. Get help.

  • Teresa

    I have not experienced self harm. But i have done things in the past that i am ashamed/embarrassed about. Now i try to deal with things more constructively and accept that i wasn’t capable of being as rational then.
    I have found the author Dorothy Rowe very inspiring.
    She is a great believer in people taking control of their own lives, no matter what psychological illnes we suffer from, without the need for medication (at least ultimately in the long term).
    I also think the behaviour of people around us (including well meaning ‘loved ones’)is not always helpful.

  • Lisa

    I am so NOT resilient.
    Posted a while back on the subject of multiple losses … since then my place of employment is undergoing a complete restructuring which includes the loss of two people with more seniority than me (gulp)… and the one thing I had hanging out there to look forward to, a weekend trip to NYC for a friend’s wedding (I’ve only flown or been out of my home state a handful of times) came to an ignominious end when American Airlines cancelled my flight Friday night, leaving me stranded in Chicago and on my way back home the next morning.
    In other words, the losses … and the childish but persistent feelings of being punished/cursed continue.
    This is really a great poem, though. Kind of with that T.S. Eliot/”East Coker” vibe:
    I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
    For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
    For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
    But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
    Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
    So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
    but more accessible. I thought it was cool. It’s called “Wait” by Galway Kinnell:
    Wait, for now.
    Distrust everything, if you have to.
    But trust the hours. Haven’t they
    carried you everywhere, up to now?
    Personal events will become interesting again.
    Hair will become interesting.
    Pain will become interesting.
    Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
    Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
    their memories are what give them
    the need for other hands. And the desolation
    of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
    carved out of such tiny beings as we are
    asks to be filled; the need
    for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
    Don’t go too early.
    You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
    But no one is tired enough.
    Only wait a while and listen.
    Music of hair,
    Music of pain,
    music of looms weaving all our loves again.
    Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
    most of all to hear,
    the flute of your whole existence,
    rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
    Galway Kinnell

  • gina wood

    I just put my cat of 16 yrs old to sleep. multiple problems, I hope I did the right thing.

  • Justin

    Thanks you for writing this. I think that accepting the opposite of depression as resilience, as opposed to happiness, is a very powerful subtlety that, coupled with mindful efforts, can lead to healthier ways of living through one’s depression.
    Good luck to you as you work to build your resiliences; I’ll be working on mine.

  • woman companion

    Really cool article to pay attention to to my mind. A small question, why don’t you send that article to social media? That will bring pretty big traffic to this article.

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