Elizabeth Gilbert, Elaine Aron and the depression thing

This post was written by Megan on March 9, 2010
Posted Under: burnout and depression

Elizabeth Gilbert and Elaine Aron on depression

In the best-selling book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert called them 'goons'. She was referring to 'Depression' and 'Lonliness'.      

The goons arrived to meet her as the sun was setting over the Villa Borghese in Rome. Despite the beautiful situ, Depression took her identity while Lonliness interrogated her about her motives for happiness.

It can happen anywhere. And you don't always need a reason.


About burnout and depression

If you are burned out, you've got a pretty good reason right there. It is hard to sing 'My Favourite Things' when you're wearing a fatigue straitjacket laced with lead. 

With that said, it is amazing how many of us manage to pull off a great Julie Andrews performance through those half-closed eyes. Have you done that?  Big applause from this end. You fooled them.  

Yes, I know. Sometimes we 'do perky' just to fool ourselves. This is not a bad strategy by any means. Sometimes the fooling can shift to reality. Even if it's just for a moment, it can definitely be worth it. 

But, for some of us, the distraction of enforced positivity can wear off. And then you might find you don't have a choice anymore.


When you don't feel you have a choice anymore

If you are burned out and are feeling more than a little low…stuck in that permanent dark night of the soul…you are not alone. I'll say that again. You are not alone.

Yes, the stats are already telling us that depression is a critical mental heath issue in Western society. Massive numbers of prescriptions for anti-depressants are another indicator that there's a big bunch of folks out there with 'the goons' for company. Strangely, statistics rarely make one feel comforted when you are 'in it'.


What do we mean by depression?

A 'major depressive episode' (i.e. not just feeling a little blue for a bit) means you would have to be depressed most of every day, most days over a two week stint.

Medically-speaking, you would have to have at least five of these nine signs: finding no pleasure in things, insomnia, sudden weight loss or gain, being either slowed down or more agitated than usual, feeling worthless or constantly guilty, fatigue, trouble concentrating, or recurring thoughts of suicide.


The other dancing partner… 

Burnout and depression tend to be predictable dancing partners. Anxiety often joins in, particularly if your adrenals are tapped out. None of these guys are particularly light-footed, but they often demand your participation nonetheless.


What's it all about?

General psychology has determined that depressive disorders are often caused by a combination of genetic, psychological and environmental factors, but can also be caused by other illnesses. Voila!: chronic fatigue, etc.

As a friend recently said to me "For Godssake, Megan. Your body isn't well – and hasn't been for ages. Of course you feel depressed!" I could have kissed him. There's something about external acknowledgement that – at the critical time – is even better than chocolate.


What Elaine says

Author of the bestseller 'The Highly Sensitive Person', Eleanie Aron talked about depression in her February 2010 issue of 'Comfort Zone Online'.

Her article was warmly titled: 'A few "happy" things about depression'. And she offered the following:

"One good treatment is to spend more time in non-competitive atmospheres…Too many defeats, or if you keep imagining defeats, then you will develop chronic depression. To solve it, get out of those competitive environments where you have to fear being judged, rejected, or seen as a failure, and stay around those who like you."

This is good advice, but what if you've already done that?  Many of us in the burnout zone have had to give up work and sports completely.  

I think it's that last part of Elaine's advice that is the pearl:  "Stay around those who like you". That doesn't mean you have to turn into Julie Andrews again in order to remain liked. Stay around those who like you as you really are right now. This might require mustering some faith in other people. And, yes, you can do it.

Elaine also recommends considering medication and counselling as a pigeon-pair.


The medication thing

Everyone seems to have an opinion on medicating for depression.  Elizabeth Gilbert knew she had to explain her point of view in 'Eat Pray Love'.

Chapter 17 starts with "I'd stopped taking my medication only a few days earlier.  It had just seemed crazy to be taking antidepressants in Italy. How could I be depressed here? I'd never wanted to be on the the medication in the first place…."

It's a little further down where the crunch comment is made about her first experience with the right antidepressant for her:  "Quickly in less than a week, I could feel an extra inch of daylight opening in my mind. Also, I could finally sleep. And this was the real gift, because when you cannot sleep, you cannot get yourself out of the ditch – there's not a chance."


You and medication?

It's a personal choice. But it should also be based on an informed opinion. Feel free to visit a couple of good doctors and hear their low-down – and raise any concerns.

If you do go down the medication road, take note: one size doesn't necessarily fit all. As Elizabeth Gilbert found, you sometimes need to try different medications before you discover the one the suits you. The side effects from these medication can be pretty debilitating, particularly in the beginning.


You and counselling?

As mentioned before, Elaine Aron recommends finding some support by way of counselling. Antidepressants aren't supposed to be forever. They are designed to let you breathe so your body can get the basics it needs (like sleep) and you can start making some better decisions about how you are living. And that can be done with the assistance of counselling.

Of course, counselling on its own can be highly beneficial. But, either way, it is important to find the right person for you. Someone with whom you can be completely honest.


Whatever you do, take it one step at a time… And remember, it's your body and your mind, no one else's. You have the power to choose what is right for you.


This post was written by Megan Hills.  Megan is a writer and cartoonist who has realised that her way isn't the only way and does her best to keep reminding herself of this…but sometimes she forgets.  Find out more about Megan

Reader Comments

I love that book!   Depression can be one of those wake up calls that say- hey- I want something I'm not getting in life and it's really not okay with me (or my body) to keep doing the same things that are unfulfiling.  Depression is like the tipping point  that shows things are way out of balance in certain areas of your life, the hard part is finding the courage move towards meeting your needs (instead of putting others first etc)- reclaiming your balance and your right to read 'Eat pray love' and do other things you find nourishing as often as you like.

Written By Amanda Dearden on March 9th, 2010 @ 3:10 pm

Okay, I know I'm really behind the times here but I just finished "the book" and although I really liked it overall I had a number of major disappointments, one of which is very relative to this post. Why haven't I seen any criticism of Gilbert's negative comments regarding medications for clinical depression. I mean, this woman finds herself spending the night with a knife in her hand ready to cut herself before she finally decides she needs help, and then stops taking the medication cold turkey without consulting with her psychiatrist? Anyone who knows anything about clinical depression knows this goes abruptly against the recommendations, and is quite frankly, a dangerous message. I would have thought so much more of Gilbert if she had at least made a single comment that her opinions of anti-depressant medications should not discourage anyone else who believes they are being helped by them. It is more of the Tom Cruisism "oh you don't really need those nasty pills, just learn to be happy" b.s. It was the first insight into how self-serving this writer was, not really understanding the potential impact her words might have on people who are really in trouble.

Written By Pamela Graham on August 1st, 2011 @ 11:46 pm

Hi Pamela. Thanks for your thoughts. The part that I quoted from the book shows that Elizabeth Gilbert supports the choice of anti-depressants and that she does not subscribe to the “oh you don’t really need those nasty pills, just learn to be happy” mindset. To me, it was her holistic approach that became the value of her message.

Written By Megan on September 10th, 2011 @ 8:23 am

Amanda, I would just like to say that I completely agree with your description of depression.  I feel the exact same way and have always had a hard time getting someone else to understand that about depression. Well-put and extremely eloquent!

Written By Claire on January 10th, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

Thanks a bunch, Claire!

Written By Megan on January 10th, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

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