Title: Transcending Depression: Quest Without a Compass
Author: Larry Godwin
“Your book about depression is incredible. I only wish I had read it before my husband attempted suicide jumping off the roof of the home we were building. It is invaluable to everyone, particularly those who have depressed spouses or children and don’t fully understand the feelings and consequences of not getting the appropriate help.”
In 1971, at age 29, I recognized I suffered from depression. This personal narrative represents the chronology of my illness, the highs and lows, as well as my attempts to understand it and cope with it. Selected entries from my personal journals constitute the source and follow an authentic progression over time. In them, I relate insights about the origins of my disorder. I also describe thoughts and feelings that arose and my reactions to events that took place at various times, as influenced, for better or worse, by psychiatric medications and supplements.
The primary motivation for presenting my history is to encourage others who grapple with either chronic depression or occasional bouts. I hope my journey resonates with some, validates feelings, and sparks the thoughts I’m not alone and I will feel better.
This book can also help family members and friends of the mentally ill find compassion and enable them to understand the struggle. It could, as well, benefit those who care for the depressed, and interest the curious and the voyeur. My goal is to save lives.
My roller-coaster odyssey with depression has spanned 49 years. Despite wishing to state otherwise, I have not found a lasting solution and cannot wrap up my story with a bow. However, I believe I have transcended my illness in the sense of coming to terms with it and rising above it. Although coming upon a cure seems unlikely, I have reached a comfort level that allows me to tolerate depression, live with it, and function acceptably much of the time, interspersed with periods of contentment, happiness, and even joy.
Although I contemplated suicide many times, and developed concrete plans once or twice, I never gave up. Rather than take the emergency exit, I searched relentlessly for remedies and coping mechanisms. Although often feeling worn down and deeply discouraged, I persisted in hoping better times might come.
Shortly after the onset of my mental illness, I acknowledged it and sought help, figuring I wasn’t going to recover on my own. Over the decades, many therapists and psychiatrists, most of them competent and caring, have lent their expertise, and I usually embraced their recommendations and heeded their advice. At the same time, I declined to surrender my quest for recovery to them and instead played an active role myself. Thus far I have experimented with 36 psychiatric medications as well as over two dozen supplements, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbal and homeopathic products, hormones, stomach enzymes, and probiotics. I kept meticulous notes on each, recording dates and strengths, and analyzed the results to determine which helped and which worsened my condition. I also tried acupuncture and hypnosis.
I continue to ask my loved ones for support, providing them the fulfilling opportunity to help, and they give it without reservation. I indulge my cravings for protein and chocolate, both of which are sources of amino acids and, in the case of chocolate, many other mental nutrients. I pray, exercise, and meditate. During the midst of a depressive episode, I usually stay busy, minimizing idle hours when negative thoughts might come up. I structure my time and stick to routines, which furnish mileposts to carry me through the day.
I continue to journal, often daily, exploring thoughts and feelings to discover direction and find validation. I employ introspection and converse with myself through writing. I remind myself this hopelessness, endless as it seems, is temporary and I will overcome it. Rereading the entries months or years later, I recall previous hard times I weathered and recognize the healing accomplished. My wisdom, resilience, and strength often surprise me.
As a consequence of adopting these strategies, I have acquired an imperfect compass to navigate the depression labyrinth.
During the course of my journey, two paramount truths emerged. The first is that the intensity of my mental illness is not constant. Rough patches, even excruciating ones, prove short-lived and abate long enough for me to breathe and gain perspective.
The second is that living is important, for each year I accomplish much good that serves others. If I’d taken my life along the way, I would have denied those I love, acquaintances I care for, and, through my writing, strangers I’ll never meet, these gifts: empathy, support, and encouragement.
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In 2018, 1.4 million Americans attempted suicide and 132 died by suicide each day. It was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
My goals, through this book, are to save lives and help eradicate the stigma attached to mental illness. The primary motivation for presenting my history is to encourage others who grapple with either chronic depression or occasional bouts. I hope my journey resonates with some, validates feelings, and sparks the thoughts “I'm not alone” and “I will feel better.”
Transcending Depression differs from many other books on the topic in that it is not grounded in clinical experience, scientific research, or empirical evidence, which may make it more approachable than some. It’s not a how-to book, not a model for depressed people to follow, not a toolbox. On the contrary, it shows rather than tells the reader what he or she might do to feel better.
Appendices include my Depression Survival Guide, which offers 36 suggestions to bring relief, and Chess in the Labyrinth, a metaphor that compares defeating depression to winning a chess game.
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Runs January 1 – 31, 2021.
Drawing will be held on February 1, 2021.
My first book, Surviving Our Parents' Mistakes, debuted in 1999. My articles about depression have appeared on the websites of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Canadian Mental Heath Association. I live with my wife, Cathy, in Missoula, Montana.
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