Because I’m on vacation this week, I’ve decided to publish posts from the two-week test pilot of Beyond Blue back in October of 2006, two months before its initial launch in December 2006. We’ve come a long way!
Ghandi once wrote that “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” The “happy doctors,” scholars who study the science of optimism rather than mental illness, say that charitable works win you greater self-esteem, and altruism can even increase your immune system.
They make it sound like if you worked for a homeless shelter you wouldn’t need meds. Which is what I thought for two months last fall.
After medication combination #17 didn’t work, I sought a holistic psychiatrist. Our plan was to wean me off my meds (even though I was still suicidal), and pump up my meditation, yoga, vitamins, and service work. Speaking from experience (he had endured a two-year depression that almost cost him his job and his marriage), this doctor claimed that his time at the soup kitchen on Saturday mornings is what ultimately pulled him out of the hole.
I signed up to tutor college students in writing. I contributed to food and clothing drives at church. And I lugged David and Katherine around to visit some elderly people in our neighborhood. But it wasn’t enough. I still wanted to die.
One evening Eric walked through the door from work to find me sobbing (no big surprise there), and holding the faucet for balance as my shaking hands tried to load the dishwasher.
“I need to volunteer for the homeless,” I said. “That will help. My problem is that I’m too self-absorbed. If I see people without shoes, I’ll stop shaking.”
“Bull,” he said. “Absorbing the world’s problems isn’t going to cure you. This isn’t about doing more good in the world. This is about an illness for which you need medication.”
“Service work pulled Dr. F out of his depression.”
“He doesn’t have the same chemistry as you.”
I finally gave in, not because I thought serving soup wasn’t beneficial, but because if I was still trembling, I couldn’t hold a ladle. Which is a good lesson for all depressives. Losing yourself in service is a way to find yourself. But make sure you have the balance to hold that ladle, or you won’t be of much help to anyone.