Monday, September 19, 2011


I’ve always thought of myself as clinically happy. Despite the glibness of that phrase, I mean it quite literally: Whatever the chemical wash is that douses the brain in depression or cheer, I got the happy stuff. When knocked down, I get up. When disappointed, I’m OK after five minutes. But recently I had a one-two punch that knocked me back for more than a few minutes – enough to give me a sense, however limited, of what people who suffer actual depression might experience.

I want to pause here and explain that I’m just fine; those who love me (thank you) need not wonder what veiled sorrow I’m hiding. In fact, the purpose of this post is not about my temporarily depressive burden, but about the fairly simple way it was lifted.

Although I’m more than willing to describe the various items that were weighing me down, I won’t do it here, not because I’m trying to hide them, but because they would cause anyone with real problems to respond, “Oh, boo hoo!”

Part of it was quantitative. To borrow a description that I once heard my friend Jeff use: “I don’t have a full plate – I have a Lazy Susan spinning in front of me!” It was a number of things coming together in what was a busy season to begin with – kind of like that “Stress Scale” that you’ve probably seen:  The Christmas season, 12 stress points; a new baby, 39 stress points; moving to a new home, 20 points, etc.

The only thing that I’ll mention specifically is the tax audit, because that’s what seemed to affect me out of all proportion. It was like throwing a large ham onto the spinning Lazy Susan – a sort of crash. (It was a routine and not a “targeted” audit.) But all of this is just set-up to what inspired this little essay: the "take-away."

My take-away from this episode (or episodes), which are now mainly behind me, is the therapeutic value of having someone to talk to. I’ve known of this concept all my life; I’ve preached about it; I’ve taught it; I’ve written about it in this blog, and it’s not that I’ve never applied it to myself before, but, at least professionally, I’m more often playing the role of the listener. But every once in a while I rediscover the healing benefits of talking to someone about what’s on my mind.

In the case of the spinning plate of cares, I benefited from talking to different people about different things – sometimes I did so purposefully; in one instance I connected somewhat accidentally with someone with whom I had a helpful conversation. The most surprising revelation was how much better I felt after I talked to the tax auditor. The content of our conversation was not all that positive (the audit, in fact, did not go well for me), but it seemed as though the combined psychological and physiological elements of talking with another person had a biochemical effect on my brain and my body. Endorphins? Ions? It’s like taking a shower after a grueling racquetball game – even in defeat. The shower washes away the defeat along with the grime, and, post-shower, all the world seems new. I felt a bit like the young man who once told me, after a counseling session, “I think ya done me some good!”

An obvious element of the dynamics of this is that – especially with something like an audit – the mind can work mischief, so the value of talking is not only psychological, but also factual: One’s imaginings may be worse than the real story – so better get the straight scoop.

A woman once approached me to unburden herself of something that had been bothering her for six weeks -- something she had said to me the last time we talked. I didn’t want to seem unconcerned, but I had to tell her honestly that I had forgotten it about ten seconds after she’d left my office. So I’m glad she carried that load for only six weeks and not six years. Talk it out.

Perhaps a word about the nature of my audit conversation is in order: I found the auditor’s office in a nondescript building on the outskirts of a nearby city. I’m glad that I had decided ahead of time not to try to be funny or smart, because when I walked in, sitting behind a gray steel desk was Agent No-Nonsense. She reminded me of Mrs. Narsgaard, the Sunday School superintendent who took over our sixth grade class when we literally ran our teacher out of the room. We straightened right up. And so did I, on the other side of the audit desk. I don’t mean this mockingly. I came to love Mrs. Narsgaard (she was actually my Mom’s best friend), and I liked the straightforwardness of the agent. I can only imagine the number of times that woebegone clients, sitting in the same chair I was in, succumbed to fear, trembling, and tears. Although she was, in one way, as steely as her desk, something in her manner convinced me that she would treat them fairly and gently.

I shed no tears, but she was kind, firm, and (unfortunately) thorough. I felt as though I’d been heard, and a load was lifted. Later, in a follow-up conversation, she actually said something very much like, “Now, I hope this has been a lesson for you.” But by then it sounded like a word from Mom.

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