A personal commentary to “Lost
by the British journalist, writer, columnist and podcaster, Johann Hari.
been separated from my family in England for a long time. I have
never been more aware of that than I am now. I would like to have
conversations, look them in the eye and put my arms around them
instead of just writing. The short time I had whenever I was in
England did not go beyond scratching the surface. The conversations
could be described as warming up, but no more. This means that
conversations now are strained by the knowledge that I have
there are also friends and acquaintances from my past here in Germany
whom I basically just left behind as I went on. I did not keep in
touch and was so absorbed in what was in front of me that it is not
surprising that people also distanced themselves from me. Every now
and then I have email contact to former employees with whom I got
along well, but it is only superficial. These people too, given the
fact that they know I struggle with depression, would find it
difficult to be at ease with me.
people who are around me every day are very considerate and really
concerned about me. The problem is that it is also marked by a
separation. I am no longer the one who was entertaining in
conversations, but now the one who is shown understanding. It is of
course no use to long for past. Rather, I have to look forward. I can
try to connect with the contacts I had, but I have to accept that
things are not the way they were.
Hari gave an example of how the community spirit, especially when
rallied around a worthy cause, can overcome depression and bring
about conditions that no-one could foresee. His second example was a
nurse on a psychiatric ward who suddenly realised that she couldn’t
go on. She disconnected for seven years. Reconnection proved
difficult, but the group task of building a garden on a scrubby patch
of ground, usually used for dogs, against all odds and despite all
difficulties, helped. Reconnection to nature opened her eyes and
inspired her. It’s call
social-prescribing, therapy through horticulture.
is up to me to find a way of re-entering the community in which I
live and find a role to play. I find that my anxiety is my biggest
problem, a worrying anticipation that I could overstretch myself. It
will be a struggle, but perhaps worth it.
from childhood trauma
I have always described my childhood as ideal, it is strange when I
speak of a childhood trauma. However, because I was the introverted
child who absorbed everything, especially emotions, I experienced
many things as minor traumas that followed me into the night. I had
basically grown up safe and sound, and apart from much upheaval
caused by my fathers posting, I had no idea of the world before I
stepped out into the world. The night brought many horrors,
nightmares, fantasies, fears resulting from a multitude of
experiences that were probably not perceived in the same way by my
When I had met people, I was interested above all in why they did what they did. I have always been curious about people in this way, as long as I can remember. To begin with it was the teachers who hurt us children, or the destructive bully at school, but it was also the scout leader, who made the children sexual advances, and later at work the young women who give themselves up for pornography or prostitution and many others. I tried to understand – which obviously didn’t work. Above all, I did not understand myself, which was probably the real reason for my attempts to understand others. I was such a mystery to myself that I often despaired, which has been compounded by depression. The break with naivety was perhaps the greatest traumatic event of all.
Hari found it helpful to acknowledge the trauma and work to overcome
it. For a long time I tried to just forget the bad side of being an
introverted child with an over-active imagination and concentrated on
the good side of my childhood. There were dark sides, however, and I
must confront them so that they stop occupying my dreams.
from meaningful values
subject of lost values is one that I can identify with. I noticed
that the stress I was feeling ultimately obscured my view of values.
I had become a machine that had to be well oiled, a show that had to
go on. The values, which I had previously tried to uphold in training
courses and lectures were no longer in focus. My old values,
especially at work, were a thing of the past, although I stayed
identified with them. I needed to believe in what I was doing. It had
to be meaningful.
The church unreasonably became a spectre of horror after I had my crisis there. Not only my depressive episode contributed to this mental representation, but the strife that was going on in the parish, and, of course, the reports in the media contributed to make the church a rather dubious part of my life. However, the way I shrugged it off wasn’t appropriate. The people there were not to blame, and if at all, they were also trapped in the structures that I saw as harmful. I also justified my separation that way. I was not angry about the people, but about the structures.
then oriented myself to values that were supposed to replace the lost
values. The new conceptual model at work was one such example. But
also the „noble truths“ of Buddhism gave me direction. But
really, the values I found were not much different to Christian
values. They were acceptable with the general population, so it
couldn’t be very different. However, when I noticed that these new
values were not taken so seriously by my employers, and a „see
to it“ culture developed, I had renewed problems with
identifying with what I was doing.
from status and respect
To become depressed, especially when one is striving for efficiency, prestige and respect as a leader, is a falling into insignificance. Of course, I blamed myself the most, calling myself a failure, I struggled with the symptoms, and didn’t want it to be true. I only saw it as a temporary stress reaction that I would overcome in three weeks. But that wasn’t the case. What my head didn’t want to admit, my body forced on me. I had always thought that depression is a mind problem, but now I know that the mind has only a slight influence on the condition.
people have compassion with you, it is beneficial for a while. If it
lasts, however, it becomes embarrassing. To be treated like a raw
egg, especially if you notice it, is not tolerable. You notice how
you have become a poor drip that everyone feels sorry for. You fight
against it but your body resists your efforts. You say to your body,
don’t do that! Get up! Do something! You react, have small moments of
success, but efficiency is something else. I had become the kind of
person I don’t like. I had no respect for myself, and still fight
with it. I answer the question as to how I’m feeling with hollow
phrases, because it would take too long, even if I could explain how
I feel. If you have no respect for yourself, it changes your reaction
to others. Many of the things you set out to do you cannot do.
Sometimes you don’t start at all. You get on your own nerves and talk
yourself into believing that you get on other people’s nerves as
from the natural world
If you crash in depression, the world you’ve been in has been in some way toxic. I have found that returning to nature is a tremendous help. We moved flat in the first weeks of my depression and the view from our living room is priceless. The trees were starting to sprout, as was the whole scene and watching the progress of nature in spring was a great resource. Previously we had another house blocking our view, now we could look out into a landscape the reminded one of a park.
Before the depression, nature was just what flows past your car. You don’t smell anything, you don’t hear or feel anything, you are a machine. Although you notice how a short walk can help, there was usually no time for it. It is often dark when you come to work, and often dark when you go home. You move into an artificial world with computers, numbers, data, and paper. Time is scarce. When people are stood at the door, it is a disturbance that you want to get rid of as quickly as possible. You even stay away from children. They could demand feelings, which could cause the whole house of cards to collapse. You move where you have control. You’d rather take 10,000 paces on a treadmill than in nature because you have nothing under control in nature.
But nature is what you need, where you can give up control, where everything is „perfect“ in a different way and time is not a feasible measure.
from the hope of a secure future
had hoped that all the effort and the uncertainty would pay off in
the future. I just had to hold out for so long until I retired,
another year or two, then everything would be fine. Of the many
factors that contributed to the crash, the bursting of this bubble
was perhaps the biggest. Suddenly realizing that the number of years
that determine when and with how much money you can retire may depend
on Brexit did something to me that I cannot explain adequately. I had
paid contributions for seven years in Britain. However, since 2010,
you are only entitled if you’ve contributed for ten years. In my
thoughts I saw myself forced to work at least four years longer, but
I knew I couldn’t keep up the stress I was feeling for another four
the prospect of having a situation from the age of 65 that would
allow me to choose what I did after that, it was like pulling the
floor away. Then, facing the stress that was rushing at me every day,
a chain reaction was triggered in me that made it impossible for me
to go on. Only I didn’t know it then. The crisis had been triggered
in the subconscious and caused more stress than I could bear. It also
prevented me from recovering as fast as I wished I could. The ongoing
insecurity has been something that still causes problems.
from meaningful work
My career choice had more to do with meaningful work than many people suspect. I also felt that choosing a career was a calling but was warned that too much idealism often has problems when it comes to practical, daily work. Nevertheless, many of us thought that nursing care for the elderly should be reformed – by us. We had found bad conditions that we wanted to change. I have had some success, but it has been very exhausting and the preconditions have worsened.
According to everything I heard from my colleagues at the time, many failed to live up to these ideals and many soon stopped working in inpatient or outpatient care. One of them, the best in the class, did a work placement with the social support team in my home when I was already in charge of nursing. He wasn’t able to work in nursing any more. The way I heard it, I lasted the longest. Probably because I, despite crashes, found a way through the chaos, until I finally couldn’t go on any more. That was after 22 years.
64 I was drained and avoided contact with large groups, which caused
me considerable unrest. The day-time therapy slowed me down and began
helping with my anxiety disorder, and it became clear that I should
seek an early pension. I
still think that I can contribute in the field of geriatric care, but
more in one-on-one contact, or at best with small groups. I have
noticed how I had gradually worked myself into a corner and couldn’t
find the support I needed. The problem was and is, that there is no
work for someone who has turned 64 and