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How Depression Stole My Desire to Learn

May 2, 2022

“Nothing matters,” echoed my dark inner monologue, “There is no point in anything….” Depression can manifest in diverse ways and over varying periods of time for those of us who suffer from this condition. For me there was a shroud of disabling disinterest that took over my life -- – loss of interest in those things that used to motivate me, both at work and home. This was punctuated at times by angry outbursts at the slightest irritation.

The turning point was a ruined evening at a concert my wife had waited a lifetime to attend. I realized then I needed to seek help or risk losing all I held dear. I knew depression and anxiety were often due to a biological process--a chemical imbalance in the brain--but for reasons even I can’t describe, I had resisted seeking treatment. When I did, however, and the dark fog began to lift, I saw another impact on my life: depression had stolen my desire to learn and grow, as both an individual and in my work. From a career standpoint, that can be derailing. From a life perspective, it is devastating.

As a scientist and senior leader within a large company, it’s critical that I continue to learn, be curious, and grow. In fact, I think it’s important that as adults we’re always learning, be it areas of personal interest, career, or simply understanding better the world around us.

Yet, when your brain is telling you “Nothing matters,” the desire and perceived need for learning new things and further exploring your world simply vanishes. I stopped reading journal articles and writeups on new methodological innovations. I spent more time in my hotel room at conferences than out in sessions and talking with industry colleagues. I no longer added entries to the family cookbook I had been keeping for nearly a decade. Even my beloved drum set, which I have had since I was 18 and played daily, sat untouched for more than a year. I simply stopped learning and growing.

I’ll confess, the most difficult part of my road to recovery was that first phone call to the mental health specialist to make my first appointment. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was terrified of having someone probing into my head or asking me to reveal deep dark secrets. But it wasn’t like that – okay, it was a little like that.

For therapy and treatment to be successful, you need to be as honest and open as you can be. Good therapists or clinical mental health workers will help you feel at ease. Their focus is to help you get to the root of the issues causing your depression and anxiety and then through a series of both mental and physical exercises – sometimes accompanied by medication as needed – help you work your way back to being the person you know you can and should be.

For me, treating my depression and anxiety is likely to be a continuous, lifelong road. Initial therapy along with medication to “even out” the chemical imbalance in my brain has helped tremendously. As my desire to learn returned, so did my curiosity and thirst for knowledge. I’m back to focusing on how we can use best-in-class data collection techniques for our clients and innovate to help them solve real world problems. This past year I taught a short course on innovative technologies and data science, where I delved into the latest innovations in those fields with relish.

On the home front, I’ve not only resumed entries in the family cookbook but also audited online courses on the chemistry and biology of food, dug into what it means to really adhere to a Mediterranean diet, and in the process lost more than 90 pounds. Living in north Georgia near the Blue Ridge Mountains, my wife and I now hike regularly and have taken up investigating the wide array of wildflowers, mushrooms, and even snakes in the area (you hike in the mountains, you best be able to recognize the various snakes!). And yes, I’m back to keeping the beat daily on the drums – once a drummer, always a drummer ... the beat goes on, as they say!

I’m not a psychologist nor a mental health clinician. But as someone who knows the experiences and effects of depression and anxiety first hand, I’d encourage you to seek assistance from a medical professional if you believe you are suffering from this condition or if close family or friends are noting that you seem to be exhibiting signs of depression or anxiety. The hardest step is that very first one – admitting you need help to understand how you are feeling and acting. I’m proud to work at Abt Associates, a company that takes the mental well-being of its employees seriously and offers an array of services, not just for depression and anxiety but for a wide range of various emotional or mental health issues folks may be experiencing. In the end, however, it is up to you to take that first step. I encourage you to do so. Learning, growing, living outside of that dark inner monologue – that’s what life is all about!

Do you or someone you know need help? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) runs a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-662-4357. Crisis services are also available 24/7 from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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