I'm successful but depressed

I did everything right. I won all the cash and prizes. So why do I not feel life is worth living?

Published May 2, 2013 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)


You are an amazing voice of reason out there, so I am writing to you. In a nutshell, I am miserable. I am 39 going on 40. Anyone looking at my life from the outside would think (and they are correct) I have nothing to complain about. I have three great kids, wife of many years, am a successful professional who makes enough money to perhaps not be a 1-percenter, but certainly a 5-percenter. Heck, I was a college athlete and am still in good shape. So why do I feel so worthless?

I am OCD and depressive. I used to drink, and stopped cold-turkey several years ago because I figured out I was drinking myself into a stupor to turn off the feelings of hopelessness, and the next day, when I would be sick, was the lowest. And as my kids got older I did not want them to see me out of control like that. I was not "addicted" to alcohol, i.e., I was able to stop. It was simply my therapy of choice for these feelings of wanting to be dead.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I work in a profession that does not allow for a nice nervous breakdown, i.e., have to soldier on and on. Do I feel this way because I am moving in on 40 and realize I have always lived the easy route? Because I went to a top undergraduate university, a top law school, have always been "comfortable," and never took any chances? But what chances? It should be enough that I am able to care for my kids, and I do, and they want for nothing (they are not spoiled). And this makes me feel even more self-indulgent to be depressed. Why not just have a good, stiff upper lip?

Literally nothing interests me, which is the scariest thing for me. I am there, but I feel like I am simply tuned out to everything. I know you will probably say go to therapy, which I do plan to do. However, I did that a few years ago for a few visits when the OCD was diagnosed and my therapists simply said I was doing great and I was amazingly highly functional (Thanks! the highly functional mentally ill person) and frankly that is not what I needed to hear. I do not want validation, I want to be interested in being alive.

Thank you.


Dear High-Functioning,

Man, my heart goes out to you. You are in trouble. You know you're in trouble or would not be writing to me.

You have obsessive-compulsive disorder and you are depressed and you quit drinking a few years ago without the aid of any support program. That takes a lot of guts. But it will kill you in the end if you don't get some help.

Your therapists told you you were high-functioning and you didn't like hearing that. They probably wanted to help but also wanted to be honest with you. You are high-functioning. But here's what they may have missed: I'll bet you've heard that your whole life -- people say you are high-functioning, you are such a winner, look at this nice house and this nice wife and these nice kids and this nice job. Well, thanks a lot, you're thinking, because I'm dying inside! And you feel like you don't have the right to say anything because you're supposed to be so grateful for all the  stuff. And you're supposed to keep a stiff upper lip and soldier on.

I think this is just a con. It doesn't benefit you. It benefits the undertaker. You are in danger of destroying yourself because your courage is being used in the service of martyrdom. One of the taboo male archetypes in our culture is the male martyr. I wonder if you have a bit of the macho male martyr in you, the one who sacrifices everything for others and then when he isn't rewarded, cannot express his anger and disappointment, since he has been secretive about his expectations, or hasn't even been aware of them himself. So he turns the anger inward and it becomes depression.

If you continue to ignore your true self you will get into trouble. If you continue not to treat your OCD and your depression and your alcoholic tendencies you will get into trouble. Things will get worse, not better. That's just a simple fact. It's not crazy, mystical, woo-woo stuff. It's empirically observed that if you continue to sacrifice your own needs and hide your feelings and reactions and not treat your dysfunction, this will result in increased pathology. Your own needs and feelings are a form of information. They are  signs that you must heed in the same way that you must heed physical signs of distress such as pain in a muscle or joint.

Why in such an enlightened society in some ways can we still be so backward about the human emotional life, especially the emotional lives of professional males?

Go ahead. Cry for help. Change your life. Slow down. Save yourself, man!

By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis