Maybe It Isn’t Depression?

–by Laura Dennis

I don’t know about you, but parenting a child who has suffered trauma and been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder can bring out a side of me no one should ever see. I’ve yelled far more than I care to admit (it’s a miracle I still have a voice with which to speak) and I’ve locked myself up to cry. I’ve revved up to fever pitch, then just as quickly shut down. I’ve been on and off medication, in and out of therapists’ offices. Thankfully, the darkest days are largely behind me, thanks to a hodgepodge of practices that pass for self-care and a support network that is second to none.

Those dark days would have ended sooner, I think, if I’d found ATN and if I’d already met therapist and author Hilary Jacobs Hendel, the real subject of today’s post. Hilary has blogged for ATN several times this past year, including popular posts such as “Head, Heart, Repeat” and “What Mad Men and Don Draper Taught Us about Power and Shame”. She is also the author of “It’s Not Always Depression” and “The Healing Power of Hugs” in the New York Times, and now of an exciting new book, It’s Not Always Depression.

In this “non-toxic prescription for wellness,” Hilary describes the role the core emotions play in our lives, the ways we feel them in our bodies, and the profound need our society has for what she aptly calls an “emotional education.” We have a lot of head knowledge, she says, but few of us are aware of all that goes on from the neck down. Her aim is to change all that, not only in her therapy practice, but also in this book.

The author describes It’s Not Always Depression as a science-based yet jargon-free, reader-friendly work, directed at lay readers and therapists alike. Using the AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy) model pioneered by Diana Fosha, who also wrote the book’s forward, and the Change Triangle, the book interweaves the author’s personal story with stories from the many clients she has helped over the years. Each section concludes with exercises the reader can try at home…and having talked with her myself, I think she means it when she says “exercise!” Remember, we already live too much inside our heads…

While It’s Not Always Depression does not target the attachment and therapeutic parenting communities in particular, it does address the deep and lasting impact of childhood trauma in people’s lives. Perhaps the biggest significance for our particular community will be the tools it offers parents. Trust me when I say the author totally gets how hard parenting can be and that those difficulties are multiplied a thousand times over when dealing with a child who has suffered trauma and attachment wounds. This book proposes safe ways for parents not only to vent their feelings, but truly to work through them. Maybe we will even find ways to alleviate the sadness, anger, guilt, and shame that so many of us often feel. And if we can re-connect with ourselves, we’ll be better equipped to connect with our kids. Isn’t that the goal?

It’s Not Depression goes on sale today. Find it at Random House, Powell’sAmazon, Barnes and Noble, or your bookseller of choice. I know I’m putting it at the top of my TBR pile, and when I’m done, I’ll be back to share more. Happy reading!

I am a solo mother of three, all adopted as older children from India, all of whom have been affected by early childhood trauma, particularly my youngest, who was diagnosed at age six with RAD, ADHD, and ODD. We had struggled along as best we could for more than two years before that, whereupon I started learning all I could about trauma and attachment. It has changed our lives for the better. Not only has it set my son on a path that could –maybe– lead to eventual healing, it taught me the type of help my eldest would need as she dealt with her own past en route to young adulthood. Perhaps best of all, it led me to ATN, who not only helped our family, but also gave me the chance to pay it forward by helping families like ours find the support they need. In my “real” job, I am a World Languages professor and department chair at a private liberal arts college in the Appalachian mountains. I have found a way to merge my passions by researching the depiction of intercountry adoption in world literature and film and guest-lecturing for education classes about diversity, inclusion, and trauma-informed instruction. In what passes for my free time, I enjoy long walks, reading, writing, playing piano, and caring for our dog and cats.