Surprising benefits of Depression
I had a client come in to me today who complained of procrastination. He is a successful manager of an IT team with 50 people reporting to him. He is very well paid, and highly respected, and an expert in five IT disciplines. And he is very unhappy.
He told me that he was frustrated at not achieving enough. And yet at the same time, he feels resentful at the way other people take advantage of his success. Other people dump work on him, give him extra responsibilities, put him in charge of things. Because they know that he will get it done. And he lets it happen because he always puts other people first. He has no boundaries.
I have seen this client twice before. In our first interview, it became clear that he has dysthymia, a form of depression. This is very common, but usually not diagnosed. People who have dysthymia just think that they are lazy or angry or withdrawn by nature. They are in fact ill. Dysthymia and anxiety underlie a great deal of the behavior that I deal with every day.
This client had his 50th birthday coming up, and felt that his life was slipping away from him. He was working endless hours and felt that he was getting nothing but money in return. Even that didn't help. His wife was using him and spending the money as fast as he earned it. He told me that he "just feels empty".
I pointed out to him all the good things he had in his life. And he said "Yes, but think of what I could have achieved if I hadn't felt this way." He looked very surprised when I said to him "the reason you have your success at work, and your high salary, and your ability to run complex international projects is because of your depression. Depression is making you successful."
"What are you talking about? This depression has been the curse of my life." I then had to explain to him that in fact all of his professional success was a side effect of his depression.
Benefits of depression
Mild depression causes circular thinking. In circular thinking you go over the same things again and again. You over analyse things. You worry about things all the time. These are ideal traits in a project manager.
Mild depression also causes perfectionism. People with perfectionism are always looking to be better and better. And they get annoyed when they don't reach their own expectations. And this causes them to take action, to get angry, irritated, and to be moved to do something about it until it does reach their high standards.
Another side effect of depression is the inability to form deep and meaningful relationships. You are not unfriendly, but you are completely comfortable in your own company. Again, this is an ideal trait in a project manager. You can communicate well with people on a business level but don't get bogged down in social relations when you have to put the hard word on people.
Similarly, people with dysthymia are easily bored. They have to be doing something all the time. And need constant stimulation. So they check every last detail of whatever it is they're working on, and build checklists, and schedules, and plans, and everything else to keep their mind occupied.
The fifth main area of depression is around self esteem. People with depression feel not good enough, worthless. When things go wrong is always their fault. They get validated by achieving external results. They can perform extremely well on some external task, but when it comes to looking after themselves and their own interests they tend to self sabotage.
Accepting the benefits of depression
This is exactly what my client was doing. He is working himself into an early grave. He is getting lavishly rewarded by his employers, but inside it all seems pointless. And he still feels worthless.
I have met several clients were very successful in business because they need to check every detail, they're willing to spend endless hours at work, they are constantly striving to reach a level of perfection that is unreachable.
It is ironic that the thing that makes them unhappy is also the thing that makes them successful.