This may seem more like a leap than a turn, but none of the great wisdom traditions would look upon this segue with surprise. Go far enough on the inner journey, they all tell us—go past ego toward true self—and you end up not lost in narcissism but returning to the world, bearing more gracefully the responsibilities that come with being human. Those words are more than a device to weave these chapters together—they are a faithful reflection of what happened to me once I passed through the valley of depression.
At the end of that descent into darkness and isolation, I found myself re-engaged with community, better able to offer leadership to the causes I care about. It seems immodest, even self-aggrandizing, to think of ourselves as leaders. When we live in the close-knit ecosystem called community, everyone follows and everyone leads. Even I—a person who is unfit to be president of anything, who once galloped away from institutions on a high horse—have come to understand that, for better or for worse, I lead by word and deed simply because I am here doing what I do.
If you are also here, doing what you do, then you also exercise leadership of some sort. But modesty is only one reason we resist the idea of leadership; cynicism about our most visible leaders is another. In America, at least, our declining public life has bred too many self-serving leaders who seem lacking in ethics, compassion, and vision.
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But if we look again at the headlines, we will find leaders worthy of respect in places we often ignore: in South Africa, Latin America, and eastern Europe, for example, places where people who have known great darkness have emerged to lead others toward the light. The words of one of those people—Vaclav Havel, playwright, dissident, prisoner, now president of the Czech Republic—take us to the heart of what leadership means in settings both large and small. In , a few months after Czechoslovakia freed itself from communist rule, Havel addressed a joint session of the U.
The communist type of totalitarian system has left both our nations, Czechs and Slovaks…a legacy of countless dead, an infinite spectrum of human suffering, profound economic decline, and, above all, enormous human humiliation. It has brought us horrors that fortunately you have not known. It has also given us something positive, a special capacity to look from time to time somewhat further than someone who has not undergone this bitter experience. A person who cannot move and lead a somewhat normal life because he is pinned under a boulder has more time to think about his hopes than someone who is not trapped that way.
We…can offer something to you: our experience and the knowledge that has come from it. For this reason, the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility. Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better…and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed—be it ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization—will be unavoidable. The power for authentic leadership, Havel tells us, is found not in external arrangements but in the human heart.
Authentic leaders in every setting—from families to nation-states—aim at liberating the heart, their own and others, so that its powers can liberate the world. Consciousness is. Awareness is.
A Journey Through Darkness
Thought is. Spirit is. These are not the ephemera of dreams. They are the inner Archimedean points from which oppressed people have gained the leverage to lift immense boulders and release transformative change. But there is another truth that Havel, a guest in our country, was too polite to tell. It is not only the Marxists who have believed that matter is more powerful than consciousness, that economics is more fundamental than spirit, that the flow of cash creates more reality than does the flow of visions and ideas.
Capitalists have believed these things too—and though Havel was too polite to say this to us, honesty obliges us to say it to ourselves. We capitalists have a long and crippling legacy of believing in the power of external realities much more deeply than we believe in the power of the inner life.
How many times have you watched people kill off creativity by treating traditional policies and practices as absolute constraints on what we can do? This is not just a Marxist problem; it is a human problem. But the great insight of our spiritual traditions is that we—especially those of us who enjoy political freedom and relative affluence—are not victims of that society: we are its co-creators. External reality does not impinge upon us as an ultimate constraint: if we who are privileged find ourselves confined, it is only because we have conspired in our own imprisonment.
The spiritual traditions do not deny the reality of the outer world. They simply claim that we help make that world by projecting our spirit on it, for better or for worse. If our institutions are rigid, it is because our hearts fear change; if they set us in mindless competition with each other, it is because we value victory over all else; if they are heedless of human well-being, it is because something in us is heartless as well.
We can make choices about what we are going to project, and with those choices we help grow the world that is. Consciousness precedes being: consciousness, yours and mine, can form, deform, or reform our world. Our complicity in world-making is a source of awesome and sometimes painful responsibility—and a source of profound hope for change. It is the ground of our common call to leadership, the truth that makes leaders of us all.
A leader is someone with the power to project either shadow or light upon some part of the world, and upon the lives of the people who dwell there. A leader shapes the ethos in which others must live, an ethos as light-filled as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A good leader has high awareness of the interplay of inner shadow and light, lest the act of leadership do more harm than good.
I think, for example, of teachers who create the conditions under which young people must spend so many hours: some shine a light that allows new growth to flourish, while others cast a shadow under which seedlings die. I think of parents who generate similar effects in the lives of their families, or of clergy who do the same to entire congregations. I think of corporate CEOs whose daily decisions are driven by inner dynamics, but who rarely reflect on those motives or even believe they are real.
The Turmoil of My Teenage Years
Leadership is hard work for which one is regularly criticized and rarely rewarded, so it is understandable that we need to bolster ourselves with positive thoughts. But by failing to look at our shadows, we feed a dangerous delusion that leaders too often indulge: that our efforts are always well-intended, our power always benign, and the problem is always in those difficult people whom we are trying to lead! Those of us who readily embrace leadership, especially public leadership, tend toward extroversion, which often means ignoring what is happening inside ourselves.
This, of course, allows the shadow to grow unchecked, until it emerges larger-than-life into the public realm, a problem we are well-acquainted with in our own domestic politics. Leaders need not only the technical skills to manage the external world—they need the spiritual skills to journey inward toward the source of both shadow and light.
Spirituality, like leadership, is a hard word to define. But Annie Dillard has given us a vivid image of what authentic spirituality is about:. In the deeps are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. This is given. It is not learned. Here, Dillard names two critical features of any spiritual journey. One is that it will take us inward and downward, toward the hardest realities of our lives, rather than outward and upward toward abstraction, idealization, and exhortation.
The spiritual journey runs counter to the power of positive thinking. Why must we go in and down? Because as we do so, we will meet the darkness that we carry within ourselves—the ultimate source of the shadows that we project onto other people. In , that depression compelled Havel to write an open letter of protest to Gustav Husak, head of the Czech communist party. Annie Dillard offers a powerful image of the inner journey, and tells us what might happen if we were to take it.
But why would anybody want to take a journey of that sort, with its multiple difficulties and dangers? Everything in us cries out against it—which is why we externalize everything. It is so much easier to deal with the external world, to spend our lives manipulating material and institutions and other people instead of dealing with our own souls. We like to talk about the outer world as if it were infinitely complex and demanding, but it is a cakewalk compared to the labyrinth of our inner lives!
Here is a small story from my life about why one might want to take the inner journey. In my early forties I decided to go on the program called Outward Bound. I was on the edge of my first depression, a fact I knew only dimly at the time, and I thought Outward Bound might be a place to shake up my life and learn some things I needed to know. I chose the week-long course at Hurricane Island, off the coast of Maine. I should have known from that name what was in store for me; next time I will sign up for the course at Happy Gardens or Pleasant Valley!
Though it was a week of great teaching, deep community, and genuine growth, it was also a week of fear and loathing! In the middle of that week I faced the challenge I feared most.
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One of our instructors backed me up to the edge of a cliff feet above solid ground. So I went—and immediately slammed into a ledge, some four feet down from the edge of the cliff, with bone-jarring, brain-jarring force.
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You have to get your body at right angles to the cliff so that your weight will be on your feet. I knew that he was wrong, of course. I knew that the trick was to hug the mountain, to stay as close to the rock face as I could. So I tried it again, my way—and slammed into the next ledge, another four feet down. The next step was a very big one, but I took it—and, wonder of wonders, it worked. I leaned back into empty space, eyes fixed on the heavens in prayer, made tiny, tiny moves with my feet, and started descending down the rock face, gaining confidence with every step.
In order to get down, I would have to get around that hole, which meant I could not maintain the straight line of descent I had started to get comfortable with. I would need to change course and swing myself around that hole, to the left or to the right. I knew for a certainty that attempting to do so would lead directly to my death—so I froze, paralyzed with fear.
The second instructor let me hang there, trembling, in silence for what seemed like a very long time. To this day, I do not know where my words came from, though I have twelve witnesses to the fact that I spoke them. My teacher spoke words so compelling that they bypassed my mind, went into my flesh, and animated my legs and feet. In some cases they will cause an individual to take their own life. There two types of clinical depression, major and minor, "to be diagnosed with major depression, you must have five or more of the symptoms listed above for at least 2 weeks.
Major depression tends to continue for at least 6 months if not treated. You are said to have minor depression if you have less than five depression symptoms for at least 2 weeks. Minor depression is similar to major depression except it only has two to four symptoms U. Only this time instead being born here, life events have returned me back in the dark abyss. Throughout my life I have worked to see beyond the shadows to understand what is real.
Now, I find myself metaphorically sitting in the darkness looking at the fussy images being projected on the wall, unable to turn my head to see the world around me. Since my eyes have experienced the sunlight I am at first blinded by the darkness. Over time as my eyes adjust, it become easy to sit in the darkness not having to think. I start to accept the darkness around me as a tolerable alternative, because the gloom allows for only limited information to penetrate. In the murkiness of the cave, strapped in the chair unable to turn your head creates a feeling of isolation in a sea of people.
This relationship of depression and darkness is supported in an article by Dr. Jeffrey Kiehl, Vice-President of the C. Jung Institute of Colorado. Unlike the predictable occurrence of night, this darkness comes whenever it wants, and does not leave at a foreseen time. This unpredictable and chaotic nature of the dark mood enhances its depth of being. With darkness comes loneliness, and isolation that seems unbearable. Looking out into the world, but feeling separated from the experience of this world" Kiehl. Depressions keeps you from seeing the world in the sunlight, therefore you cannot see your life for what it is.
The darkness focuses on the shadows created by the cutouts which are highlighting the negative images of the object. Hence people can only see the bad in their life; the joy of the light is ignored. Returning to the light represents change and at first the change is painful. Having made the climb up the cave path before, I can remember the discomfort of transitioning to each level of understanding. The discomfort was caused by the new information challenging something that is familiar and safe.
Socrates describes the dilemma each individual faces when they start the journey. Unregulated life events have caused me to return to the darkness of the cave. At first the descent was slow and unnoticeable over a period of years. Until I came closer to the floor, the path suddenly became steep. Then I spent the remainder of the fall down tripping and stumbling out of control. Once there, I was unable to get completely comfortable and became agitated. At first there was a feeling of an internal betrayal because I know that there was more to see besides the shadows, but I had become too afraid to look.
The longer I remained in the darkness the harder it became to get out of the chair. In one sense the darkness appears to be safe, there are only a limited number of images to be perceived and the complexity of the world becomes masked. Once my eyes have become adjusted to the darkness looking at the fire and the sunlight behind me becomes painful.
Over time I allow the chains to hold me fast to the chair, but the internal agitation remained and grew causing a conflict within my soul. Some of the links in the chains that keep me in place and the reason why so many do not seek help with depression are forged by the social stigma that accompanies mental health illnesses. Yes, depression is a form of mental health illness.
Mental health is a very broad term covering a multitude of conditions, often what happens when the label has is placed on a person, and people with little understanding of the condition apply a worse case stigma to it. Frequently mental health issues are portrayed as a personal weakness or character defect. Once identified as having a mental illness, questions arise about a person's ability to function within society. An August , article on the website Everyday Health highlights the stigma associated with depression. They may try to fight depression on their own instead of seeking help.
One of my current work responsibilities is to act as Americans with Disabilities Act ADA coordinator for a large organization. As such, I have worked with employees who suffer from depression to establish reasonable accommodations. During the ADA process I have also listened to managers who do not want to or cannot understand the condition.
They the managers usually present to me a long list of rationalizations of how the employee is just lazy and is trying to get out of work. When I tell people about my current situation I usually get one of the following responses:. What is interesting about these statements is the duality of them. They are false and true, positive and negative at the same time. They also represent a lack of knowledge of what depression is.
To precede each of these perceptions will be addressed separately to help you understand their impact. Recently I was asked by a dermatologist, who was removing yet another section of my skin for testing, what was my secret to living as long as I have with cancer. I have a great attitude towards my cancer, it is one of the reasons that I have survived as long as I have. I do not look at my life with the disease as a battle; my cancer is a part of me that cannot be denied.
Yet it is a relationship that I did not voluntarily enter into. Fighting a battle implies that there is a winner and a loser. To win the fight is to be called cancer free and live. However we all die, not to sound depressing but it is the truth, I just have a better idea of what I might eventually die from. Also, even to be called cancer free, the legacy of the disease will still have an impact on my life.
The trick is, and what I am still working on, is how I live. I lost sight of that this year; I began focusing on the battle, not the life, which is a contributing factor for my current state of being. Just because I have come to accept the reality of cancer, that does not mean I like having the disease. I do get tired of the pain, the emotional roller coaster, and the changing of treatment programs.
All these things take a toll on the body and spirit. In addition, all the medication I have taken has had a negative impact on my body which directly impacts my mental being. Also focusing in on only one issue in my case cancer , has taken my attention away from other areas of my life. Sometimes the public display of joy is often just a false front; it is pretending to be fine so others do not worry. There are days that I feel like I am part of the lyrics out of an old Smokey Robinson and Miracles song:.
Now there's some sad things known to man But ain't too much sadder than the tears of a clown When there's no one around Cosby. I can present a good attitude and front about certain aspects of my life, yet feel completely inadequate in others. I have to remember that it is the whole, not just part of my life that needs to be taken care of. Meaning that no matter how bad I feel, there are others who are in a worse place.
That does not mean the issues are not painful or serious, but there are others, for example, whose situation in life does not allow them access to the medical treatment or support system I have. An example of this phenomenon was presented to me in , during a hospitalization that was caused by a bad reaction to a treatment program. At the injection site I had a skin temperature around and a core temperature around I was lying in bed over miles away from my family, hurt, in pain, with a high fever, and feeling very alone. Then I got my roommate. He was an older gentleman who was in the advanced stages of cancer.
In the three days we shared a room together my family came every day, he had but one visitor. While I was taking pain medicine, he was on a morphine pump. In my mind I can still hear the click every time he pushed the button trying to get some relief. His condition did not take away my situation. I was still in trouble, with a high fever and infection. But, I was thankful that I was not alone in my pain. With time it has become easy to lose sight of this lesson.
Understanding that there are others who are in worse shape does not mean that I am wishing bad things to happen to them. But, it helps to put my situation into perspective. Depression prevents me from appreciating every aspect of my life. I am not looking for excuses for my past behavior and I know that all the medications in the world will not stop life from happening.
But if I do not take the time and put in the work to understand my disease I am doomed to repeat the behavior over and over again. Thus preventing me from ever being fully engaged. For me depression is not a justification for past behavior, the clouded thinking may have been a contributing factor, but I have to take the responsibility.
I have to realize that depression not only impacts me, it affects my family and friends. I could sense there was something not right within me; I was not processing information rationally. When I first hit the bottom, there was nothing in my toolkit that would allow me to ask for help in an appropriate manner.
Instead of dealing with the situation they engage in self destructive behavior. People will often turn to alcohol, drugs, and other addictive behaviors or in worst case scenario suicide. When people are saying this, it is not to offer support it is a denial that the condition exists.
People are often confused about the symptoms of depression, because they have experienced similar things for short periods of time. For example most people feel sad when they lose a loved one, but they were able to work through that emotion in a relatively short period of time. With major depression the person is not able to move beyond that feeling and it starts to impact their total perception of the world. This stance is related to one of the dumbest statements I have ever heard associated with depression, "It is all in your mind.
Part of the reason I was in trouble was due to my inability to ask for help. For me the first step in dealing with depression was to reach a level of personal acceptance about my condition. Part of what pissed me off, and contributed to the denial, was I thought many of the issues coming to light had been dealt with in my past. I could not accept I was in trouble until I hit the bottom of the cave, where I no longer had a choice, either I got better or die.
Once I recognized where I was then the question became, how do I move from the shadows back into the sunlight? What I have come to learn is there are many paths out of the darkness. There are those who believe that depression is caused solely by a chemical imbalance in the body. The homepage of the Stanford School of Medicine website supports this position.
Antidepressants work either by changing the sensitivity of the receptors or by increasing the availability of neurotransmitters in the brain" Stanford. This sounds too easy; if I pop two pills a day then I will feel great for the rest of my life. I have a hard time placing unquestioning faith in a medical system, especially since I have spent a great deal of my life questioning everything else.
Experience has taught me that there is fluidity with the pharmaceutical industry. For instance, the drugs I am currently using for my melanoma were not available when I started this journey in What is a medically sound practice this year, may be proven ineffective or detrimental the next year. If you look hard enough you can always find "scientific" studies that will attempt to nullify other scientific studies.
The following article about the effectiveness of antidepressants was published in the Wall Street Journal. I am not suggesting that people go about ignoring what their medical professional is telling them, but it is incumbent upon the patient to advocate for their own health plan with educated questions and discussions.
Just because a TV commercial a fine example of a shadow on the wall tells you that a little blue pill will fix all your problems does not mean it is true. Understand that medications do not act the same with everybody. What works for your neighbor may be hazardous to you. That is why when you receive a prescription of antidepressants there will be a page and a half of very small print listing all of the possible side effects of the drug, to include causing suicidal thoughts.
To help me understand the complexity of my condition I turned to the work of another philosopher, Rene Descartes and his discussion on the dualism in each human. Descartes believed humans consist of two parts the body and mind. His famous statement, "I think therefore I am" Descartes, Discourse helped him establish in a later work, Meditation , that only through the mind could he prove that the body existed.
A part of Descartes' motivation was to prove the existence of a soul that could transcend the body at death. Descartes was trying to say the mind could exist without the body, hence the ability to transcend into heaven. In this plain of reality the two work together to form a person. If the mind is not well, the physical being will be impacted.
Just like diseases that ravage the body may also have a profound impact on the mind. You cannot treat one without addressing the other. Hard sciences have a difficult time accepting the metaphysical idea of a soul mind , which is separate from physical or empirical body. In his book Descartes' Error , neuroscientist, Antonio R. Damasio's claim is that since the brain and the body cannot exist without the other, then it is kind of silly to have this argument.
While Descartes wanted a solid division between the mind and body, scientists such as Damasio wanted to definitively say that no such dualism exists. The American philosopher John Searle describes this age old debate. On the other has, there are physical things; we think of them as having mass, as extended in space, and as causally interacting with other physical things.
Most attempted solutions to the mind-body problem wind up by denying the existence, or in some way downgrading the status of, one or the other of these types of things. The body and mind need different things to address the disease of depression. While medicines may address the physical aspects of the disorder, there is a second part that Descartes, Damasio, Searle all agree which is an understanding where you are at in your cave.
All the pills in the world will not help you with becoming fully engaged with the world. The mind not just the physical brain has to address the issues that life presents. There is something more to being human than just mechanical processes, there is an awareness of self.
Searle highlights this point, "The most important of these features is consciousness. I, at the moment of writing this, and you, at the moment of reading it, are both conscious" Searle, page To realize consciousness is a metaphysical, not an empirical operation. The medication will not take you out of the darkness, addressing the chemical imbalance will only start to illuminate your cave.
But the individual suffering from depression has to have the courage to move out. Not unlike when we were children starting to engage the world, there is a learning process that each person goes through. As we grow older each person has the fortitude to challenge the images in front of them, but they have to be open to taking that step.
Socrates thought the ability to learn is universal trait within all humans. With the right tools, environment and willingness everyone has the power to learn through their depression. As I move up the pathway, the pain of stepping into the light addressing the issues at first it feels as if it is infinite even though it is finite. There is a level of comfort staying with the known, even if the present reality is not fulfilling.
It takes a measure of courage to begin the journey that for me will last the rest of my life. There are treatment protocols that support the idea of looking internally for the causes of depression and have shown to be effective in helping patients by itself or in conjunction with medication. Allen Beck in the s. It is a process in which client, with their therapist, work together to find the root cause of the depression.
For some, depression creates a perception that everything in the world as bad. CBT is designed to help the patient gradually illuminate the darkness by changing the messages that they tell themselves. In an interview with Judith S. Beck, PhD. But," she adds, "the depressed person distorts or exaggerates the reality of the situation.
With cognitive therapy, a person learns to recognize and correct negative automatic thoughts.
Over time, the depressed person will be able to discover and correct deeply held but false beliefs that contribute to the depression. People find that when they think more realistically, they usually feel better. The way cognitive therapy works is a patient learns to "disassemble" problems into these various parts. Once a person does that, problems that seemed overwhelming become manageable.
CBT helps the patient break down the problems into manageable pieces. There is an old saying, "How do you eat an Elephant? The idea is to reduce the size of the issue to be addressed by creating small steps. That way the individual can establish a consistent pace which will begin to bring light back into their life. To get to the "I", I have to take a journey into my own soul, but I cannot take that trip if I believe that the obstacles in front of me are impassable.
To end this discussion I would like to introduce the story about a young Ojibway boy Mishi-Waub-Kaikaik on a vision quest. And Mishi-Waub-Kaikaik ranged within his own soul in quest of his fears. He discovered things that he had not known because of his preoccupation with the activities of man and the immediate and concrete world around him.
He discovered things that would be hidden to others unless he revealed them. When he began to understand these things, Mishi-Waub-Kaikaik felt better. Part of the purpose of the vision quest is to gain spiritual guidance which will lead the quester to find the meaning and purpose of their life. Mishi-Waub-Kaikaik had to look within his self to find the answers and source of his fear; it was through this process he came to know himself as a human. Even though the vision quest ends with a solo event, the preparation for it involves several people. The parents, tribal elders, peers and Shamans all help young Mishi-Waub-Kaikaik prepare for his journey.
This same group is there to help the quester understand what they have experienced. Just like any therapy program there are several people who are there to support you. In the end the quest is your own. Understand this is not a one and done experience, mental well being is a lifelong process. For me this is still an ongoing adventure, I am exploring the depths of my fear that holds me prisoner.
Just like my cancer, I have to be aware of my depression so it does not rule my life. Therapies such as CBT have been shown to be effective in managing and preventing relapses of depression. But, is incumbent on me each day to have the courage to face the world. I know that there will still be bad days, but if I look for one thing that is good in my life, I can build the rest of the day upon that. The morning I was seriously contemplating taking my own life, I had trouble finding that one thing. Many times in this piece I have used the term "courage" to begin the journey back into the light.
That does not mean that some are weak or a coward for not moving. They are not at a place that will allow them to proceed. It could be that the physical part of their condition is so out of balance that prevents them from working on the soul. Even if help is asked for, there is no guarantee any will be there that works for you. A recent article written by former Marine, describes his frustration when he was seeking help for depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disease.
He was reluctance to reach out for assistance, because he blamed his pending discharge from the military on asking for aid. They had convinced me that I was not a Marine in pain, but someone looking for free benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. At work, at home, in bed, all I could think about was how my career in the corps had ended in such a terrible, tasteless fashion, with my peers and leaders turning their backs on me because I had enrolled in treatment" Brennan.
Two days before his retirement, the loss of identity and the lack of support drove him to attempt suicide. After a forced three day stay at a psychiatric facility he concluded, "I had wasted three days — three days that convinced me I would never ask for help from someone never again" Brennan.
Too often the first time or several times a person seeks out help, none is given and the darkness grows deeper around them. The story of this Marine has been told by many other veterans, but the phenomenon is not just limited to former or current service members. It is a tale that I have heard from many people seeking help and I have felt the same way on numerous occasions. There is a feeling that the mental health system in this country has failed them. The problem is that we live in a cookie cutter world; our society likes answers to fit neatly into a box.
Combating mental health issues does not have a predetermined solution. The trick is finding the resources that work for you and being open to receive it. I cannot give you a step by step road map out of your cave. Depression, like my cancer, is a personal and individualized disease. That does not mean you are alone, but the path out has to be your own. The only steps that I can offer are:.
If these four things are not done then all the medication and counseling in the world will not help you escape from the darkness. Item 1 has to be first, no one else can tell you where you are at, and if you do not recognize the darkness then you will block yourself from the light. Items 2, 3, and 4 can happen in any order. To begin my journey out of the cave. After I acknowledged where I was, I gave myself permission to be human. Before I could work my way up the path, I had to learn how to walk again by taking small steps. So each day I look for that one thing that makes it all worthwhile.
Once found it then I can build my day around it. If it cannot be found I know I am in trouble and to seek assistance. While I am not completely out of the cave yet, I know that I am in there. This was the start of working my way out. While writing about my depression, I am not looking for your sympathy or pity. I am going through this exercise, because it is through writing that I come to understand the world and myself, so it is a part of my therapy.