Living with Depression: Why Biology and Biography Matter on the Path to Hope and Healing

A Book Excerpt By Deborah Serani

As a young girl, I always felt this looming sense of sadness. Often, I remember feeling tired and sullen a good deal of the time when I was in elementary school. These feelings didn’t get much better when I was at home either. Like Eeyore, the glum little donkey from the Hundred Acre Wood, sometimes family and friends saw me as a sad-sack. Unaware of what depression was or how to detect it, I descended into a major depressive episode when I was a 19 year old college student. Hopeless and suicidal, I nearly took my life with a handgun. Luckily, my attempt was interrupted, and swift medical help was sought. I found a psychologist who helped release me from the grip of my unshakable sadness and taught me about the mood disorder called Unipolar Depression. Not only did psychotherapy save my life, it inspired me to become a student of its practice.

It was good that I studied many years as a psychologist and learned about mental illness in all its forms, because the second time I had a major depressive episode in my 30?s, I was better prepared. Now in full remission, I use my personal experiences with depression to inform my clinical work. This dual approach gives me a unique perspective because not only do I know what it’s like to to diagnose and treat depression… I know what it’s like to live with it too.

Now, a therapist doesn’t need to live through an event or have firsthand knowledge to help someone heal. However, the subjective experience of my mental illness, its long-standing trajectory, and my familiarity with medication informed me in ways that clinical training and education never could. I lived within the layers of depression and knew the identifiable, the indescribable, and the insidious textures of it. When working with children and adults, I was better able to recognize the roadblocks that came from neurobiological aspects of depression versus emotional resistance in the psychological sense.  I understood the shame patients experienced needing medication or how they felt betrayed by their body’s neurobiological weaknesses. I could relate to the stories of frustration from side effects and to the decisions to stop medication because side effects were intolerable. And I’d experienced the cold hard stares and stigmatizing remarks from others when they discovered I had a mental illness.

All of these experiences led me to write Living with Depression, a part memoir, part self-help book that distills all my personal and professional experiences living with a mood disorder. Beyond the academic and literary praise for Living with Depression, high profile individuals who’ve openly talked about their own experiences with depression such as actress, Delta Burke, activist, Jessie Close, talk show host, Dick Cavett, and US tennis champion, Cliff Richey, are just a few who’ve become fans of my work.

My emotional journey has taken me from sadness to despair, through adversity to resolve. Through it all, I discovered within myself hidden reserves of strength and spirit—what many in the field call resilience. Writing about depression and advocating for those who experience mental illness have become the silver lining of my depressive cloud. It is my hope that Living with Depression will serve as an encouraging reminder that depression can be treated – and that there’s no shame living with mental illness.

Deborah Serani, Psy.D. is a psychologist  in practice for over twenty years. She is also an adjunct university professor, publishing on the subjects of depression and trauma. She is the author of “Living with Depression” by the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group and also writes the award-winning, syndicated blog Dr. Deb: Psychological Perspectives. Serani is a go-to expert on the subject of depression and her interviews can be found in ABC News, Newsday, Psychology Today, The Chicago Sun Times, Glamour Magazine, The Associated Press, and affiliate radio station programs at CBS and NPR, just to name a few. Beyond the academic and literary praise for her work, high profile individuals who’ve openly talked about their own experiences with depression such as actress, Delta Burke, activist, Jessie Close, talk show host, Dick Cavett, and US tennis champion, Cliff Richey, are just a few who count Serani as a bold and gifted author.

The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. To contribute to ‘Professional Perspective’ contact Michele.


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