When Situational Depression Turns Clinical

Patient Expert

A blast from the past:

Imagine waking up one fine day in 410 AD, only to discover that Alaric the Visigoth has sacked Rome, thereby launching the Dark Ages and making stupidity fashionable. That’s kind of what happened to me one bleak and miserable November evening of 2004 when I returned home thinking I had fired the President, only to discover the very opposite had occurred.

I wrote that paragraph in 2009 on my personal blog, Knowledge is Necessity. Please forgive the political overtones - I’m not proselytizing, only reporting what happened and how I responded.

Basically, I went into a deep funk that looked every bit like an actual depressive episode. In actuality, I was experiencing a kind of faux depression, what the experts refer to as a “situational” depression.

But the depression was real to me. I felt miserable. Moreover, I couldn’t focus on my work. At the time, I was putting out a weekly newsletter. It was clear I was going to miss my deadline. Here’s how I handled the situation:

I shifted my attention to another project, an incomplete draft to a book on depression and bipolar I had been working on earlier in the year. Somewhere along the way, I had run into a creative cul-de-sac that I could see no way out of.

In the mood I was in, I was dreading looking at my draft. Instead, to my unexpected surprise, I saw a way out of my the hole I was in and got cracking. Next thing, I was churning out the chapters. I was going to finish this thing, I felt it in my bones.

I sent off an email informing my newsletter readers that I was taking a brief sabbatical. A few months later, I had a completed manuscript. Not long after, Harper Collins offered me a contract. In October 2006, Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder hit the book stores.

As I like to joke, I should have dedicated Living Well to George W Bush.

Obviously, my situational depression had a happy ending. But could it have turned clinical? The experts refer to “adjustment disorder,” what the DSM-5 now calls “stress response syndrome.”

Basically, many of us have trouble handling whatever life may throw our way. A disappointing election result is generally not one of them. Book or no book, I would have gotten over it. Life goes on …

But what about something far more serious, such as receiving notice that you are about to be downsized? In this situation, that feeling of the life being sucked out of you is a perfectly normal response to a horrific event. So is the monumental ton of worry you are experiencing.

In theory, should you immediately find another job your depression and anxiety would lift. But in the world we’re living in, we know that is unlikely to happen. Forget adjustment disorder - that depression is taking on a life of its own. It is about to turn clinical.

Here’s the cruel twist: In the state you are now in, you have lost your ability to regroup, take charge, and do whatever it takes to find other employment. I can’t even begin to relate the number of stories of people who never bounced back once their economic security was yanked out from under them.

If you are one of them, you have my full understanding and support. I wish I had some encouraging words I could offer. Alas, alas …