The statistics on depression or ‘The Black Dog’ as it is sometimes called in the United States are horrifying. The CDC put together an estimate of how many people suffer from depression in the United States, read it here.
“Dancing With the Black Dog: A Survivor’s Guide to Depression,” by author and filmmaker Calix Lewis Reneau, (“A Night at the Silent Movie Theater-“), is a helpful guide for the layman.
I had an opportunity to speak with Calix about his book and depression in general.
Terra-Hello Calix, nice to meet you.
Terra-You suffer from depression yourself?
Calix-Yes, I’m talking from experience. I’ve been in and out of therapy. I’ve had the diagnosis’ of depression, manic-depression and major depression. It’s hard to nail down an exact diagnosis. It takes years sometimes. I’ve been told the worst thing that can be said to a person with depression, “why can’t you just be happy?” This is the mindset of some mental health workers.
Terra-When did you become aware that their was something wrong?
Calix-When I was in High School I felt isolated. I figured out a pattern. I was purposely weird. I felt unlovable. Whenever someone got close, my behavior, my misbehavior would confirm that I was not worthy of love. My worries were self-fulfilling.
This is my ‘core idea,’when we have feelings we have emotions and we have to justify them, somehow.
We build our conception from our feelings. Feelings are the fundamental level of existence, the root of how we exist. We put meaning in our feelings. We spend a lot of time on feelings.
Terra-How did the depression hurt or affect you.
Calix-In elementary school I have memories of my teacher taking me out of the classroom. I had to be separate from the class as I was disruptive.
In high school I’d have high energy days, staying up a day or two at a time. Inability to focus or hyper focus . Lots of suicidal ideation. I Engaged in highly dangerous activities.
I locked myself in my bedroom. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve not been hurtful of myself. I’m afraid of pain.
In about 2003, I was spending hours in bed everyday. I went to UCLA for filmmaking. I’d go to school and then home to bed.
I was put on anti-depressants.
This is when I was introduced to cognitive therapy.
Terra-Did therapy work for you?
Calix-Cognitive techniques works for me. Mental health treatment is just now moving away from leeches and other old methods.
Taking anti-depressants is fine, but difficult to find a pill at a dosage that works. It takes four-six weeks to build the medication up in your system. If it doesn’t work you start over with another pill. then switch and repeat. In between tries, they have to wean the patient off one and build up the other. The medical profession is doing the best they can.
So many other things make a difference to depression. Sunlight, exercise, diet, they all make a difference.
There are several chapters in the book on try this, try that. Treatment is not consistent and it’s a trap. Biochemical component, wasn’t a selective component.
Terra-Was there someone in your family that had depression?
Calix-Looking back as an adult, I realized that my father’s behavior wasn’t ‘normal.’
My father isolated himself, he had depression. When my father ways dying from cancer, I had the opportunity, and I’m so glad I had this opportunity, to talk with my father while he was medicated. They were giving him morphine and he talked without barriers. It was a very good thing for me.
Terra-Is depression genetic?
Calix-My father was ill, I have depression. My oldest daughter was also born with it. But, this is really simplistic. There are two sides of the same coin. You can’t just get over it because it’s genetic. On the other side, people must have some responsibility for what they do and how they feel.
When I was researching this book, I came across a website with brain scans. The scans of the people who were medicated were the same as the people who had been doing exercise regularly. We know that exercise is one of the things that helps hold off depression. Sleep also regulates brain chemistry.
Terra-You went to North Carolina Sate and then to UCLA, but you never finished or got a degree. Was that because of the depression?
Calix-Not really, it was more like I was moving on with my life.
I don’t spend a lot of time looking back or thinking what if. Those thoughts give you a great deal of frustration. I am who I am. Root causes are not useful to look at.
Writing the book was great for depression. Writing is always good for depression.
Terra-How are your relationships?
Calix-My most unhealthy relationship is with my mother. I’m horrible at dealing with her. My kids turned out well, they deal with their brokenness better than I do.
In reality, everybody is broken. This world is suppose to be something different. We are all insane, the world is broken.
My life is hard, this is the reason I wrote the book. The “Survivor’s Guide to Depression” is unique to me.
I was a writer first before I was a filmmaker. I’m always jotting down ideas. I have lots of files with lots of ideas in them. Being a journalist started it all.
The book was originally about techniques, how I feel about, exercise, diet, etc. It’s about 20% how I see life. It’s also a self help book, how I’m going through depression.
Terra-Has anyone told you they were helped by your book?
Calix-I haven’t had a lot of people who don’t like the book. A lot of the feedback “OMG, this book really helped me.” I want more people to get help from the book.
I have a dear friend who has a teen who has a learning disability, maybe autism or something like that. He refuses to have it diagnosed , he doesn’t want his son to be labeled. He doesn’t want a disability to define his son.
Terra-Calix, what do you want people to walk away with from your book?
Calix-That, we’re all making this up as we go along. You can design the life your higher self needs to live. I want them to have a sense that you can be alright even if you’re messed up. That’s OK. In this book there are tools to take control, to better be the person they want to be. We all aspire to be fixed. How do we be normal?
Terra-interview over, below are my thoughts.
I found Calix Lewis Reneau to be a dear man who wrote his book to do two things. First, to put straight his thoughts and his experiences. Is he working through his challenge? I think he is. Secondly, he truly wants to help others work through their challenge in life.
Make no mistake, depression is nothing to take lightly. People who suffer from this disease need every bit of help offered. Over 60 % of people who commit suicide also suffer from depression. There are other statistics available online, check some of them out here.
I would like to thank Mr. Reneau for taking his time for this interview, it was a great experience. I want to also remind you, dear readers, that I will have a review of “Dancing With the Black Dog: A Survivor’s Guide to Depression. The book can be purchased here.