Power: The Cure for Depression


I was a formerly depressed person.  Sometime after I stopped taking antidepressants—but was still frequently depressed—Mary Lou Rubenstein, a friend, told me that the trigger for depression is the perception of powerlessness.  Everybody in her family was depressed—parents, siblings and children—but she wasn’t.  She was a liberal, activist social worker until she was diagnosed with incurable cancer.  Mary Lou was an activist; she got things done.   When she became a depressed person, she turned to her friend Dr. Alan Yasowitz (https://annecwoodlen.wordpress.com/2010/10/20/depression-what-your-psychiatrist-doesnt-know-or-wont-tell-you-part-ii/ ).

Periodically, the system would get Mary Lou jammed in. She was “powerless” and could not move, except that Mary Lou never saw herself as powerless. She would sit down, take a legal pad, swivel around to look out the window, and she would think. She would think of ways to act. She would examine and reexamine the whole situation until she found the way out—until she found power. Then she would swivel back and say to me, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do”—here’s how we will act.

But Mary Lou Rubenstein had finally met the one thing over which she had no power: death. And she came down with the family disease: depression. Mary Lou always had prevented her genetic tradition from kicking in by acting powerfully in her own life but when confronted by her ultimate powerlessness, she got depressed.

She had a conversation with her friend and colleague, Dr. Alan Yasowitz. Dr. Yasowitz is a neuropsychologist who is always referred to as “the brilliant Dr. Yasowitz.” He explained to Mary Lou that she was depressed because she felt powerless; she, in turn, explained it to me, and I went to see Dr. Yasowitz. He did an enormous number of tests and spent a lot of time working up a report and recommendation for me, even while knowing that I could never give him full payment for his work.

After some marvelous discussions about depression and powerlessness—and my expectation that he would recommend something new, different, and wildly effective—Dr. Yasowitz told me to take more pills. I had told him that I could no longer tolerate any medication for anything, but he didn’t take me seriously (this also is typical doctor thinking). My question here, years after the report, is this: Doctor, if you think powerlessness causes depression, why did you recommend drugs? Why didn’t you recommend a course in power management?

Depression starts with a bad gene and is triggered by powerlessness. Powerlessness is interactive. Being powerless is an event that occurs in the context of the world: you are less powerful than something or someone else. Your depression is not your problem: it is a problem between you and something or someone else. In short, if the sons-of-bitches would just stop screwing you, you’d be all right. There’s a lot of truth in that statement.

In this country in this time, we like to treat depression as if it is cancer: it is in you, the patient. It’s your problem. For example, it has nothing to do with the doctor who is making a lot of money and won’t treat you because you have little or no insurance. They say it has nothing to do with the doctor keeping you sitting in the waiting room, not answering your questions, and not returning your phone calls. Since you have less money than the doctor, and he has so many patients that he doesn’t need you, you are relatively powerless. You get depressed; your doctor doesn’t. Depression is interactive, not in you.

It’s things like this that make one cultivate a close relationship with Jesus who said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about what you’ll eat and drink—God knows what you need.’ (Luke 12)

There are alternatives in every situation of powerlessness, including death. The alternative to the feeling of powerlessness that you have about death is to ground yourself in a theology or philosophy that encompasses death as a part of the continuity of life, not as the dead-end that most Americans perceive it to be. Here we’re talking about what causes depression, and powerlessness on top of short genes causes depression.

I spent a lot of time working on these things—figuring out how it all fit together—because I was subject to intense periods of suicidal depression.  Twenty-six years of taking antidepressants had created depression in me.  Yes, antidepressants do that.  I no longer could take any drugs to dampen the impact of depression. So every time I got depressed, I started looking for the powerlessness trigger, and then designing a way to reverse the trigger.  It’s a pretty simple equation when you get right down to it:  depression is triggered by powerlessness; learn to act with power to reverse the trigger—and I had to, otherwise I was at risk of death by suicide.  In those early years after I stopped taking antidepressants, there wasn’t a month that I wasn’t suicidal.  To save my own life, I had to learn to act with power.

So that’s who I was but who was Wayne Freeman?

When I got “the bitch” fired from Medicaid transportation, I learned the first step in how to get government systems changed:  go over the head of the person who’s giving you trouble.  Always—always, always, always—climb the ladder of the bureaucratic hierarchy.  Talk to the supervisor, then talk to the supervisor’s supervisor, then talk to the director.  Go up the ladder until you come to the person who can make a change.

The second step is to ask questions and listen.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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4 Responses to Power: The Cure for Depression

  1. Paul PHD Psychology) says:

    No medicine in this world would cure the idiotic moronic things you write about . It only shows your limited intelligence . Your facts are based on what you perceive as being cured . medicine given in the right doses along with proper therapy has helped millions . Try reading some expert books on the subject of depression and not what you read in a comic book . Narcisistic and being egotistical as you are in your writings does not make you any kind of expert .

    • annecwoodlen says:

      And you are no more a psychologist than I am. “PHD” is incorrect; a doctorate in philosophy–which makes you a psychologist–is a Ph.D., and what’s with the close-parens after “Psychology)?”

      I figure you to be about 22 and a college drop-out with an I.Q. of about 112, which means you are smart enough to turn on a computer but not to understand what you read. And you neither can spell nor use the spell-checker; it’s “narcissistic.”

      What really puzzles me is why you bother to read or post. Obviously, you haven’t got enough intelligence or life experience to understand what you read, yet you write with such abusive anger. Why do your medications mean so much to you? You’re afraid of going off them, aren’t you? Afraid that maybe taking them isn’t the answer and if that’s not the answer, then what? That’s what has you so scared, isn’t it? The great unknown. What if you can’t trust your doctor? Where will you turn then? Who will tell you how to live?

  2. Rachel Gail Smart says:

    While I do not particularly agree with your blog this time around, you are entitled to your opinion and viewpoint. I have never had depression of any sort, but I do recall vividly when my own Father was severely depressed. Medication as well as some short term therapy assisted him greatly, medication and therapy continued for about six months and he suffered no ill side effects. IF you are saying medication is ALWAYS wrong, with that point I disagree. Each individual needs to do what works for them, and it may not always include medication, for some it does. You seem to write about first person experiences in your blog,and I certainly cannot fault your spelling or punctuation. Having known a few exceedingly brilliant people, often they misspelled words and used words incorrectly at times. Good grammar, spelling and punctuation is a skill that even the highly intelligent in the world can sadly have poor knowledge and command of such skills as these. My IQ is only 118, so I guess in the eyes of some I am a moron. What I do know is people and how to listen to them and reflect back what they say to me and glean some sort of lesson from everyone I come in contact with. In my 63 years on this Earth, I have made few enemies, helped countless people without expecting any type of homage or remuneration for this. I have been labeled as altruistic and a bleeding-heart by some, but others opinions of me are only reflections of their own and not necessarily who or what I am in any way. I read your blogs as I find them thought provoking and interesting . I do not wish to offend, only reflect on what your blog says to me and my situation.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Did your father have a heart attack or other medical crisis, as did my mother? The standard treatment is antidepressants and psychotherapy, but don’t you have to wonder if psychotherapy alone would have worked? If the trigger is powerlessness then what happens to our body can certainly trigger depression. Ultimately, our bodies will fail and we have to deal with it. This is where developing a theology or philosophy that encompasses death can reverse the depression.

      There is nothing wrong with taking an antidepressant for six months. In fact, the manufacturers of antidepressants–and the FDA–only approve them for six months! If you need a jump-start to get a grip on changing your life, then there’s no reason not to take antidepressants for six months.

      I followed doctors’ orders and took them every day for 26 years. THAT is what is terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad. In our culture, every day doctors violate the prescribed restrictions on antidepressants and nothing is done to stop them.

      I am 66 years old and the most important lesson I’ve learned in this life is that it is more important to be kind than to be right. Love trumps smart.

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