Linda Dano — Depression Is Another World

Circa 2006

Emmy Award-winning television star Linda Dano, lauded for her long-running role as Felicia Gal the large screen to the small. But America knows her best as the celebrity of daytime drama, a dynamite performer on shows like “All My Children”. “As the World Turns””One Life To Live” and “General Hospital”. Throughout her career the multi-talented performer-who is also a designer, author, columnist and former talk show host-has kept the drama on-screen, leading a fulfilling off-screen life of love, family and friendship.

Because of Dano’s success, abundance of support and consistently positive outlook on life, she and those around her were surprised recently when she was diagnosed with depression. In September of 2004, Dano lost her husband Frank to lung cancer, and on the day of his funeral she received word that her 93-year-old mother had died. These tragedies drew Dano into a web of misery from which she could not untangle herself. “My husband and I were great friends, and he filled all of the areas of my life,” she explained in an interview with ABILITY Magazine. “Everything I did, he was involved in. He was someone I trusted and could count on. He was more than just my lover and my mate.”

Immediately following her husband’s death, Dano began experiencing severe symptoms of depression, falling into what she calls “a dark hole.” She had trouble sleeping, ate erratically, lost interest in the activities she once loved, had trouble remembering things, was wracked by physical pains and cried constantly. She believed she was simply mourning the loss of two loved ones and would surely “snap out of it with time,” but as the months wore on she came to a point of hopelessness. “In those moments in my life when things have been tough, I have always drawn strength from inside myself and somehow gotten through the hard times,” says Dano. “This was the first time in my life I couldn’t get through it-I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t care about anything. And as time went on it wasn’t getting any better.”

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After seven months of these overwhelming feelings, Dano sought a professional diagnosis, and her doctor recognized that she was experiencing clinical depression. Dano decided against medication-though she believes it can be helpful for some people-but she did begin therapy. She also found that the support from her friends was critical in helping her survive her darkest periods. “I had three or four girlfriends who literally made it their business to take care of me. They called every day, came by, brought me dinner, walked the dogs, listened to me cry. They wouldn’t tell me, ‘Oh, come on. Snap out of it. You’ll be fine. No one did that. And they became my support partners.”

Several months into her recovery, Dano has seen improvement in many of her symptoms, and her hope for the future has returned. Still, each day presents its own struggles. “I have to talk myself into getting out of bed every morning, and I used to bound out of bed. Mornings were my time! And now mornings are not my time, because the depression makes me not want to get up.” Importantly, she still relies on the emotional sup port from her girlfriends to sustain her. “My friends will call and ask, ‘How are you doing today?’ And I’ll say, ‘I’m okay.’ Then they’ll press me, ‘No, how are you really doing? How’s your head today?’ So I’ll admit, ‘Um, today wasn’t such a great day.’ And then we’ll talk about it. Somehow it just makes all the difference in the world.”

As she began emerging from the darkness, Dano decided to use her experience with depression to help others. She wanted to create awareness not only to help people with depression cope, but also to help their loved ones cope with the illness. “If you name 10 people whom you would never believe would have depression, I would be at the top of that list. I figured if I could talk about it, then I could reach all those people who are afraid to speak about it, afraid to take the first step,” she explains. “I think there is a large segment of the population that is depressed and hasn’t said it to a soul, and they live a sort of second life when no one is around.”

Indeed, as Dano has begun speaking publicly, she has found that other people who have depression have felt comfortable opening up to her. “They tell me their whole story, what’s happened to them and why, and what they’re feeling,” she says. “They go into great detail. It’s almost like they’ve never spoken about it before, and they want to be sure I understand exactly how they’re feeling and how similar what they feel is to what I feel.”

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Shortly following an interview Dano gave on The Tony Danza Show, her first public appearance after the deaths of her husband and her mother, the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly (the manufacturer of Prozac) and the National Women’s Health Resource Center approached her to lead a depression awareness campaign they were launching, called Support Partners. The program helps people who are depressed receive assistance and support conveniently and at no charge, showing them how to enlist those around them to help in their recovery. Dano explains, “Depression isolates you; it makes you feel completely alone and afraid. The most important thing is to see a doctor and get yourself diagnosed, and to also have at least one support partner-a friend, a therapist, a clergy member, a neighbor, someone at work-someone you can talk to, with whom you can be yourself and share what you really feel. Someone you could just sit in a room with and never speak. Just someone.”

With Support Partners, people have access to download able guidebooks that provide an explanation of depression and its symptoms, suggestions for finding a support partner, and tools for how to reach out effectively so that others will be able to help. The guidebooks also assist support partners, explaining how to help a friend or loved one who is struggling. “What most people are afraid of, I think, is that they will finally have the courage to admit they’re depressed and someone will respond, ‘Snap out of it. It’s fine-everybody goes through that.’ That is devastating,” says Dano. “You need to really know how to pick a support partner. You need to know what to say to that person, so that the outcome will be a positive one for you.”

Dano notices that the outreach program has already been successful. She has received an abundance of mail from people affected by Support Partners. She has even been approached in public by people she has unknowingly helped. “A woman came up to me at the theater and told me. ‘Ms. Dano, I’m sorry to bother you, but I have to thank you because my mother is suffering from depression, and she wouldn’t do anything about it until she heard you speak. And now she’s gone to a doctor, and I feel hopeful that she’s going to be helped; I’m beyond grateful to you.

Getting back into the swing of things, Dano recently made a notable return to television on the prime-time hit “Desperate Housewives” and is excited again about acting. In the next few months, she will return to QVC where she established herself for 11 years as a respect ed accessory designer-with the new show At Home Accessories with Linda Dano. She notes, “If I can be better, and I can take everybody with me, isn’t that a wonderful thing?”.

by Dahvi Fischer

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