Saw an interesting article on high-functioning depression. It appears to be written from a female perspective on a predominantly female issue. Good article but it acts as though men weren’t equally affected.
I think depression is just as much a male problem as female. We get really good at denying and hiding it. A man can’t act depressed or it cuts off all kinds of life possibilities. By just saying you are depressed you ruin your image of masculine confidence and situational control. REAL men don’t get depressed. And if they do, they shake it off. They tough their way thru it without letting it show. (This attitude is especially toxic for those with PTSD.)
If an ordinary man publicly shows his depression, now he’s become an easy mark for those who can push his buttons – and just looks like another self-absorbed “emo” twit to everyone else. He’s seen as weak, defective – and maybe a bit frightening. Nobody wants to hang out with Hamlet – but if he can just project an image of Lancelot, he can still be cool. Seeking help would confirm his own “failure”, so he doesn’t.
It is that ability to continue to project Lancelot (Or perhaps Xena for the ladies?) that makes you “high functioning”. Understand that most people are pretty shallow creatures to start with. Many social and business decisions are based on first impressions. It is what you project that wins friends and influences people, not who you are. If you want to achieve in this world it is desperately important that you keep that facade up 24/7. The next person you meet might be that opportunity you’re looking for. The person who grew to know you as a strong and confident warrior might just re-evaluate you. Depression comes with its own closet.
Maybe the “emos” have it right. Wallow in it. Let it all hang out. There are a few advantages to this. That way you save the energy of the facade and don’t risk disappointing others if your secret leaks out. There isn’t the internal dissonance between who you are and who you project. Nobody expects you to strive and achieve – you can be as lazy as you want. There are people in the world who desire a needy partner. (Not many, but they exist. I actually had one once.) There are people in the world who will reach out to an obviously depressed person and try to direct them to counseling. That doesn’t happen to those who are high achievers. And don’t forget, self-pity has its own weird rewards. Of course, there are also those who take pleasure in kicking those who are already down. So it balances out.
I have been depressed my entire life (dysthymia). My earliest clear memory of elementary school is of being alone and friendless. I didn’t know why that was. It just was. I walked the playground alone. I doubt I could have named half the members of my class. We all have a self-image that tells us who we are and how to act. My self-image was of a nobody. The round peg looking about for a sense of belonging and finding nothing but square holes.
Perhaps it was my depression that kept others away. My skin was thin and issues that would bounce right off other kids would leave me in tears. I was a first grade Hamlet in a world of wannabe Lancelots. Probably didn’t help that I was saturated with ADD. I could not focus on the drone of the teacher or the day’s lesson. My head was elsewhere, sometimes exploring other worlds or digging up fossils. And sometimes just wondering why I was such a fuck up. I’d guess at answers on homework to avoid the pain of working out the stupid problems. Goddammit, I already know how to do all this! I was dying to read and draw and even write. (God knows, I had no friends to play with.) Homework was keeping me from doing this on my own terms.
A couple times per year we’d get reading tests. Always tested two grade levels ahead of where I was, mainly because the test couldn’t go any higher. We all grasp for something to hang a bit of self-worth on and these tests told me I was smart. At the same time, I got the message from teachers and parents that I was lazy and wouldn’t amount to much. I wish I had been able to spin this into something positive but for years I ended up just wishing I were normal and reading books to escape.
I managed to develop a weak ego simply around the accumulation of knowledge. You run with what you got. I was intelligent even though I didn’t often make any effort for good grades. Science seemed to be my destiny. I was a brain and did my damnedest to suppress any emotions. (Didn’t always work when it came to girls.) When Star Trek finally hit the small screen I found my role model. It was Spock.
I was about 10 when I started puberty – or at least started having a sexual interest in girls. Also the earliest memories of thinking about suicide. Probably related, the hormones will do that to you. I had a terrible crush on a girl named Dawn in my class. She was a science weenie, like me. Unlike me, she was very pretty. A couple times we got to do things together, like wandering off to a nearby creek to collect aquatic life for class. I was ecstatic and started to feel less alone. This lasted until literally the entire class got together on the playground, teasing and taunting us.
Dawn and Freddy sitting in a tree, K – I – S – S – I – N – G
That was the end of that and she didn’t want to see me anymore. She was so good at avoiding me I didn’t see her for almost 5 years. (That is quite an accomplishment in a school that only had 100 students per grade level.) Next time we crossed paths was in 10th grade. I barely had the time to get, “Hi Dawn!” out of my mouth, when she asserted quite vehemently that anything that had happened in the past was over and she didn’t want to have anything to do with me. I felt like I’d just been skewered.
She was still very pretty. I was still a toad. Many years later I learned she eventually developed a reputation as the class “slut”. It hurt to hear that. I never judged a woman that way and held nothing against her. Was she confusing sex with love or just drowning pain with endorphins? I never knew. I was the most accepting person around and the very last guy she’d consider befriending.
I did manage to develop a crush on one girl in 6th grade. Her name was Clare. Not a science weenie but rather someone in the social thick of things. Pretty, as likable as I was awkward, intelligent but not brilliant, a fine athlete to my clumsy oaf, clever and a great sense of humor. This time around I kept it to myself. I’d learned the lesson well. Young love wasn’t going to be mine, even though she was my imaginary lover on many occasions. Love was never going to be mine, young or old, so I kept it all hidden away. I alternated between marathon masturbation sessions and long nights of weeping and soul searching and suicidal thoughts. This pattern kept up for the rest of secondary school.
My sister left home when I was ten. Got pregnant, married and away from my mother, who was quite toxic. (My father was a nice guy, if old-fashioned and very passive. He was rarely there, working swing shifts in a factory an hour away.) It was a radical shift from near total freedom to being under a hostile microscope. From then on life was a constant series of harangues and scoldings and diatribes of my failures as a human being. I understood well why my sister fled any way she could.
To top it off she got my father to sell the 80 acres of semi-wilderness we lived on for a pittance and move to a motherfucking trailer park. (Hadn’t needed to sell it but she’d decided she just hated the country life and wanted to sever everything.) Never did get over the loss of freedom and nature and it still shapes who I am today.
As I grew into my teens the conflicts with my mother escalated over the stupidest things. Maybe I laughed too loudly at a TV comedy. Or wanted to ride my bicycle to school. Or refused to wear galoshes to school when there was no snow. Treated me very much like I was retarded and frequently told me how stupid I was. Lecturing on and on about communist conspiracies, world government and requiring me to watch Billy Graham’s Christian Crusade every time it came on TV. She was not right in her head. However, I know I didn’t get my depression from her – since Mom and Dad had done my sister and me the incredible disservice of adopting us. This childhood did nothing to help me overcome my depression, only compounded it.
There was a girl in high school. Brilliant mind and incredible musical talent. Very pretty and vivacious, always upbeat and supportive. We kind of hung out in the “brains” clique, a half dozen kids playing spades or hearts at lunch. Never had the courage to try to move beyond a casual friend. Never thought I could be a worthy boyfriend. Then in my senior year, she got engaged to a guy who went off to a national military academy. I knew I’d been right. I could never have competed with that.
I know today it was just all rocks in the road. For decades, though, it dominated my search for why I wasn’t quite right. I’d been “right’ all along, just in the wrong place.
Understand that what makes a normal person sad can push a depressed person to the depths. This doesn’t mean you should walk around on eggshells with a depressed person. They’ll sense it and that will be depressing. Treat them normally. If a few eccentricities show up, treat them as the harmless things they usually are. I can’t imagine the pain felt by a young person who was depressed and gay in a hostile environment. When I was a child the world wasn’t forgiving of such things. Of something that should need no forgiveness, just loving acceptance.
The feeling that nobody will ever love you because you are fundamentally flawed in a way you don’t understand and can’t repair is the ultimate despair. Nothing brings you closer to death than this. Death became a friend of mine. A very close and inviting friend for a long time to come. That may be a reason why I didn’t kill myself despite flirting with it repeatedly. No matter how bad things got, death was always with me, ready to ease my pain. There were times when that was the only solace I had, hanging on to the knowledge that there could be an end. I had no fears of what dreams might come. I lost that soon after I lost Santa Clause. Knowing that there was a way out if it got too bad helped keep it from getting too bad.
Now there is a suicide prevention tip you won’t hear. Some children come up with imaginary friends. Mine was the grim reaper herself.
Somewhere around junior high, the masturbation went off the charts. Portnoy had nothing on me. Several times a day. Little jolts of endorphins to hold back the darkness. Another suicide prevention tip you’ll never see.
There is no sadder creature on this earth than a depressed child. The low functioning child will act out in all manner of horrible ways. Drugs and alcohol, self-destructiveness, violence, promiscuous sex. The low functioning child is lucky to make it out of bed. When he/she does they keep the “bed” with him/her all day long. The depression, dysfunctionality, and unhappiness are plain for all to see. (However, never underestimate the willingness of parents and school to not see that which is inconvenient to learn.)
Ok, so we move up the scale to the high functioning depressive child. The grades are there. The test scores are good. May even be academic or athletic honors. This kid has it made, right? Well, maybe not. Life is still painful and the depressed person feels just as inadequate. All that hurt gets turned inward. The self-loathing and chronic sense of unworthiness are still there. The facade allows sad reality to wear the cloak of normalcy. And no amount of achievement or praise can fix it.
The high functioning depressive child may well “strive” them self all the way to greatness and never feel they have accomplished anything. Or they may strive until at some point they give up and everything falls apart. Or it may seem so bleak that striving serves no purpose. (That’s me.) They may have friendly acquaintances but no close friends. Being high functioning they can’t allow the world to see the “real” them, a person they secretly loathe. Many of the same behaviors as the low functioning depressive, only they are kept a secret. Drugs, booze, adrenaline and sex as self-medication. Eating disorders and cutting as self-harm. Obsession with virtual reality to the exclusion of real life. Watching all the “happy” students with envy and despair that they could ever be that way.
Being the omega boy of the pack, having no money, and living where I did, I didn’t have access to sex and drugs and booze until college. That may have been a good thing but it didn’t seem that way at the time.
Two high functioning depressive teens will meet each other and each wants desperately to trade places with the other – who appears to the casual eye to be happy. Each one feels like they are the only one in their world to feel that way. How ironic!
Never being one to fit neatly into any category, maybe I was a medium functioning depressive. Nobody would ever want to trade places with me, yet they thought I was who I was because that is what I wanted to be. I was a bully’s delight until I learned a trick. If you can deliver even a little damage to a bully while he is pounding you into a bloody pulp, you win. You get brownie points added to your status for showing courage – and bullies are inherent cowards. A cut lip or a bloody nose and they were done picking on you. Yet another unlikely survival tip for depressed folks who endure the pain of bullying.
Today’s bullies may be a bit more on the psychopathic side and faculty more likely to blame the victim and not the perp. It is easier for them to handle disturbances that way. Your mileage may vary.
It is not like good things never happened. They did. The joy was always short lived and as you slip down into the depressive state the high points are easily discounted.
Youth and old age are where depression bites deepest. When you are young, you have no perspective on life. King Solomon had a motto of “This too shall pass away.” It kept him from getting overexcited when things were good and from getting depressed when things were bad. Young people don’t have a good sense of the future. To a teenager, a month can seem a lifetime and a year is an eternity. It doesn’t help that raging hormones amplify everything. Feeling good isn’t enough, you want to feel ecstatic. Nothing is ever just bad, it is the depths of hell. Boys who cannot find a girlfriend experience a combination of intense sexual frustration and a special sort of worthlessness. It is a time of sorting and jockeying for position in the pack. Self-esteem takes a constant beating and if you are not strong, you slip down to omega status.
One common coping mechanism among teens is “Fuck the world!” If nothing really matters, nothing can cause despair. Everything kind of melts down into a blur of rebellion and hedonism. (Although it is still hard to avoid existential despair.)
The elderly have their own issues. Pain is often their constant companion. Not being employable anymore, they may feel useless. If they are lucky, retirement can be financially comfortable and their medical needs taken care of. If they are unlucky, there will be poverty, isolation and only minimal medical attention. The mind slows and the physical plant decays. If you haven’t had that great adventure you always dreamed of yet by now, you never will. Not to mention having lost every shred of physical attractiveness you ever had and quite possibly most of your sexual functionality as well.
The few years you have left will be all downhill. I am not now the man I was. I’ll never be the man I wanted to be. The kids have all moved away. Maybe they visit or maybe they don’t. Maybe there are grandchildren or maybe there aren’t. Then a partner passes away – or worse yet, slowly declines into dementia – and you see your own future. It is no wonder how a book on how to commit suicide became so popular.
Too few years behind you or too few years ahead. Both are powerful amplifiers of depression.
True depression isn’t unhappiness over a bad turn of events – although enough bad things over a long enough time might well “teach” depression to a vulnerable person’s mind. It is a switch in the brain that doesn’t trip when it should. It is a transistor with too high a bias voltage. It is looking at the world thru blue colored lenses you can’t take off. If the life of a normal person looks like this:
Then the life of a depressed person looks like this:
Do you see the difference? The depressed person takes less joy when things are good and deeper sadness when things go wrong. A deeply depressed person might never pop above the mid-way point under normal conditions. The only joy they feel would be under extremely happy conditions. When their endorphins are flooding in during sex. Or perhaps the stimulus of a powerful drug. Or a game where they can leave reality behind and create a whole new persona. You often see almost desperate pleasure-seeking among many depressed people. Children are no exception.
The opposite of depressed is not happy. It is manic. Manic is a feeling of energetic euphoria for no particular reason. It is normal to feel euphoria during sex or new found love or achievement of a life changing goal. You might feel euphoria upon finding you made the college you wanted or got a promotion. I felt crazy euphoric after the births of both of my children. This is normal. (You could even say that feeling euphoria under the influence of a drug was “normal”.) A manic person wakes up euphoric and boiling with energy for no particular reason. Manic behavior is typified by launching high-level projects with no thought or preparation and with irrational levels of enthusiasm and optimism. It could show up as megalomania. It could show up as extreme irritability or perfectionism. Or by becoming a high-level business executive.
A person who cycles between manic and depressed states is said to have bipolar disorder. A person who is stuck in one state has a unipolar disorder. If in the low state then it is unipolar depression. If in the high state, you may someday try to conquer the world. In the low state, the world has conquered you.
Depressed doesn’t always mean suicidal and black. It more often means bored and tired. Or jaded. It can also be anger. The opposite of euphoria is not pain, it is despair. The energy is gone. The optimism is gone. Even the most trivial of jobs becomes impossible if you are constantly exhausted and don’t think it matters anyhow. There is no hope. Depression causes great psychological pain and in order to survive, one learns to go numb. Perhaps the best description of it I have found is in the song Desperado, as sung by the Eagles:
Don’t your feet get cold in the winter time?
The sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine
It’s hard to tell the nighttime from the day
You’re losin’ all your highs and lows;
Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away?
For all our science, doctors do not have a good handle on what causes clinical depression. If you are lucky enough to get attention, treatment consists largely of psychological therapy and administration of SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). A reuptake inhibitor increases the supply of something by reducing the rate at which it is removed. Prozac is the classic example. The theory is that somehow there isn’t enough serotonin (a neurotransmitter thought to regulate mood among other things) so we’ll reduce the body’s ability to remove it. (Someone who is taking an SSRI and also does a recreational drug which mimics serotonin can suffer serotonin poisoning. Don’t do it.)
My own uneducated and illiterate feeling is that they are close – but not quite there. For some people, SSRIs don’t work. Other antidepressants include norepinephrine uptake inhibitors, dopamine uptake inhibitors, monoamine oxidase inhibitors and a number of other meds that don’t fit any good category.
There is a region of the brain which modulates mood, the limbic system. These cells have to be stimulated by multiple neurotransmitters. If the dopamine production is faulty and that is why you are depressed, you might take SSRIs until the cows come home and not get the help you need. On the other hand, many people find relief with more than one type of antidepressant or even a combination, indicating a deficiency in one neurotransmitter could be potentially compensated for by increasing the stimulation in a different type of receptor. Or maybe one might have multiple types of weak neurotransmitter production. There could be many roads to happiness.
Consider recreational drugs. The point of doing recreational drugs is to achieve a state of euphoria. There is no other reason and nothing really wrong with it in moderation. Many people enjoy the slight buzz from a beer or the morning pick-me-up of caffeine. (Yes, Virginia, even caffeine is a street drug.) It kicks up your norepinephrine levels. It is addicting. The number one cause of weekend headaches is not drinking as much coffee as you would on a work day. And you build up a tolerance.
My college life involved some experimentation with LSD, ‘shrooms and rather more than “experimenting” with pot. All are known for serotogenic effects. I did speed and rather liked it. I did MDMA and rather liked it a lot. I did coke and didn’t care for it. No heroin or anything of the sort but codeine made me nauseous. Not to encourage drug abuse but I will not pretend all those drugs aren’t out there and I won’t pretend a depressed person wouldn’t try them. (Back then, there were no SSRIs available for someone like me.)
It is possible to use psychedelics for a voyage of self-discovery. I did and it was valuable. It is also possible to destroy yourself. Contaminated drugs, overdose, psychotic reactions, psychological dependency, serotonin syndrome, out of control behavior, arrest and just plain “bad trips” all await the unwary. Very sad that their illegality prevents their legal use under controlled conditions with mental health professionals. Proceed with extreme caution – if you must – and don’t take anything you haven’t seen someone else take first.
I remember sitting on the window ledge of the common room on the 9th floor of my college dorm. I was skipping classes and failing to stay focused in those that I attended. A bully had just sabotaged a budding relationship with a young woman. Got in trouble for streaking and narrowly averted disaster. I couldn’t see a future. Had no money and my parents weren’t about to help me. Close my eyes and lean forward and it would all be over. Still dealing with bullies, still dealing with people who hated me for reasons unknown. Make sure to land head first and I’ll never feel a thing. The thought of dying was so pleasant I actually started to enjoy it.
So close! Today it reminds me of the scene at the end of All That Jazz. Death as a beautiful and kind woman. Irresistibly drawn to her. Not sure why I didn’t silently slip off. Obviously, I didn’t in reality but in my mind, I did a hundred times.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
Hamlet should have jumped from that castle wall. Instead, he killed everyone around him, innocent and guilty, loved and hated, before dying. Isn’t there a better way to go? Accept your inadequacy. Fight for yourself rather than surrendering to your demons and taking out your frustration on the world. How many lives would this have spared at Columbine? At Sandy Hook? I just didn’t have the hate. I understood I only had myself to blame. (Not a common line of thinking in depression awareness classes.)
Then I met a kind, beautiful, woman, 7 years my senior, who reminded me of Doris Day and had a wild affair for the second semester. I secretly moved into her room in the girl’s dorm and rarely returned to my own. The other girls on the floor kept it a secret. Lots of winking and knowing smiles going on and the other girls on the floor were actually quite friendly. I’d found someone who wanted to nurture me through my sadness. In the end, I felt dissatisfied. I felt like I was a child and she was mothering me a bit too much. However, no more thoughts of suicide until after the term was over – and I lost my scholarships due to academic failure. (Fortunately the next school I applied to reinstated them.)
When a depressed person finds the euphoria and emotional anesthesia caused by drugs, it is a very short step to habituation – and addiction if the drug is addictive in nature. It is half-assed self-medication for those who are depressed but have no access to official channels for help. Look at what street drugs do. LSD binds to certain serotonin, dopamine and epinephrine sites. (There are many subtypes within the different receptor types. Which subtype makes a difference.) MDMA increases the release and slows the reuptake of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Amphetamines primarily stimulate dopamine and norepinephrine. Nicotine stimulates the release of norepinephrine and dopamine, among other neurotransmitters. And so on. (I won’t bother getting into the opioid/endorphin mimics.)
Legal prescription drugs for depression do the same things street drugs do at a lower level, for longer times and without as many side effects. Instead of an intense peak followed by a major downer, you (hopefully) get a constant low-level stimulation without the development of tolerance typical of the repeated use of a street drug. Discontinue them at great risk. Depression is not a pharmacologically curable state. Taper off the antidepressants and unless you have really changed, you’ll go back to your previous state. Stop them cold turkey and you will crash lower than you have ever been. Long-term use of antidepressants creates dependency. Your body adapts to them and it takes time to adapt to not having them.
If scientists truly had a handle on the problem, they could send exactly what was needed to exactly those cells that needed it. They don’t. Any antidepressant regimen is a shotgun approach. Consequently, whatever drug is being administered also ends up affecting neurological centers that don’t need it.
Prozac and other SSRIs are well known for zeroing out one’s libido, affecting appetite, interrupting sleep, sometimes causing impotence or even preventing you from being able to orgasm. (That itself is seriously depressing. I’ve been taking Prozac for 25 years now.) Some antidepressants put you to sleep. Others keep you awake and jittery. Some make you absent-minded and careless.
Ironically, antidepressants have been known to increase suicidal thoughts in children and young adults. (It is possible to be so depressed you can’t even get the energy up to think about suicide.) They also may not be effective forever. Prozac poop-out is a problem among the elderly.
After all this, the question that remains is how to handle an existing depression problem. Well, of course, you should see a therapist and perhaps get a referral to a psychiatrist who may or may not prescribe an antidepressant. This is conventional wisdom today. I think it is a proper – but inadequate – response in that it takes the control and responsibility away from you. Somehow it becomes “their” job to fix what only you can fix in the end. They can only listen and make suggestions. The drugs just help you climb out of your hole enough to start doing things for yourself.
When I was a kid, conventional wisdom for fixing depression was to get closer to God. If you are the faithful sort, actually a pretty good idea. Deep prayer, like meditation, has profound effects on brain chemistry. It gives you hope. Hope is the opposite of despair, one of the main characteristics of severe depression. (Somehow lacking in faith, religion was a non-starter for me not long after I discounted Santa Clause.)
Or another conventional wisdom was to put up the happy facade so thoroughly that it replaces depression as the new reality. Not completely without merit. Sometimes just the act of smiling and pretending to be in a good mood will actually put you in a better mood. It certainly improves other people’s reactions to me. Misery may love company. However, the feeling is not mutual.
When others approach you positively, accept it for what it is. Your immediate response is that they are just reacting to a “fake” you and would dislike the “real” you. A better response is that they are responding to the person you were meant to be. The person you are fighting to become. The “you” of the bright future and not the “you” of the unhappy past.
Yeah, I know. Not so easy to change the perspective of a lifetime, is it? But understand that the depressed perspective you’ve been living with is just as false. Since your world is going to be colored anyhow why not replace blue with rose? If you can manage it, you will be happier.
Or, “You are a man, so cowboy up. Deal with it.” Not always the best response and clearly doesn’t help women much. However, there is a different way to approach this that does make it useful for all. Another way to say this is do not visit your unhappiness on others. When you hurt and there really is nothing to do for it, don’t wear it on your sleeve, like our “emo” friends. Misery loves company but making those around you miserable will only make you feel worse. It lends credibility to the false notion you are a broken person and ensures that those who may be friendly acquaintances won’t want to approach you closer.
In Star Trek, The Final Frontier, The crew of the Enterprise is offered release from all the pain in their lives by Spock’s brother. Almost everyone accepts without question except for Spock and Captain Kirk. Spock says he has come to terms with his past and it is no longer painful. Kirk refuses, saying that his pain is what makes him who he is. Who is better off here? Is it just possible that our pain can give us strength if we handle it correctly?
What works for me is sort of a “Zen” approach but the shrinks like to call it “radical acceptance“. I stumbled on to this on my own. Later, when I was researching such things, I saw a parallel in many other philosophies. The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes is full of it. You can see it in Greco-Roman Stoicism and the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi. There are powerful hints of it in the writings of Muir and Thoreau. The principles were brought to its greatest fruition in Zen Buddhism.
There is a traditional prayer that expresses the idea. It goes:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Today a common expression of that prayer is found in the overused phrase: It is what it is. There is great truth here. A rock in the road is just another rock in the road. Maybe you can move it. Maybe you need help to move it. Maybe you have to turn around and seek a different way to your objective. Maybe you have to find another objective. Maybe this isn’t even the place or time to have objectives. How you feel changes nothing, so don’t focus on feeling. Being angry at a rock does nothing but cause stress. It is still just a rock doing what rocks do – and not a challenge to your validity as a human being. Depression is a psychological rock. Do not give it moral or emotional value.
I really don’t want it to be this way and it should be some other way and it is unfair and the world hates me! Uh, yeah, that’s how we all feel at times. Self-pity has its own kind of perverse pleasure but is best practiced in solitude or with someone who really understands depression. It fixes nothing.
We are so harsh in judging, most especially ourselves! A person is not a success or a failure. A person is just a person in a particular place in life. Depression isn’t a moral shortcoming or a mental illness. It is just another rock in the road. So stop being so hard on yourself. Be kind instead. Pretend you are a troubled stranger you met along the way.
You aren’t a salmon, struggling desperately to avoid being eaten while swimming upstream to spawn. You can decide – instead – to sit on the beach sipping a piña colada while watching the sun set. Anyone who judges you as less of a person for it is not a person worthy of your concern. You have free agency. That is something neither a machine nor a simple animal can do.
Remember, the rat race is just a bunch of running rats. The cheese is an illusion to keep them running. Almost all bureaucracies have as their policy the dehumanization of the lower tiers of employees. Don’t allow yourself to become a cog in someone else’s machine. No one but you can decide what is important in life. Don’t be afraid to walk away from the abusive employer – or the abusive partner, for that matter. Your life is more important than a paycheck or even a roof over your head. There is always an alternate way to get by. Look harder. Be open to radical change.
Do not live in the past, constantly revisiting prior hurts and old pain. The past is what it is and you can’t change it nor can you fix it. By dredging up the past you contaminate the future. Your hope for change is to make the future a blank slate with no expectations. The more control you exercise in creating the future and the less you allow past pain to interfere with it, the better it will be. Do not expect rainbows and unicorns. Do something or don’t do something – but make it your decision.
There are positive things you can do, things that will make life better. Everybody has something in life that gives some joy. Even depressed people. One thing that does it for me is music.
Gimme the beat boys and free my soul.
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll
And drift away.
Depressing music depresses. Happy, upbeat music that paints a false picture depresses even more. Find music that speaks to the good in you. Find music that features superb talent, beautiful sound, and real meaning. In my youth, it was the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, the Rolling Stones. There have been a lot of good bands and artists since. I am always on the lookout for one that piques my interest. It is a source of ready support when I’m feeling blue. Singing or playing an instrument is effective too, regardless of your musical merits. Sing those blues out, loud and clear.
Song sung blue, weeping like a willow
Song sung blue, sleeping on my pillow
But you can sing it with a cry in your voice
And before you know it get to feeling good
You simply got no choice
Playing an instrument is effective too, regardless of your musical merits. Play those blues out, loud and clear! It is an entire genre of music after all. (Best not done around judgemental people.)
Another experience that does it for me is nature. Nothing is better than a stroll deep into the wild to watch and contemplate. There is no good or bad in nature. Everything just is. It doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you. If you do something stupid you will be hurt or die. I go where other people are unlikely to be found. It maximizes my own freedom of action and preserves solitude. It is there I experience my most zen moments; surrounded by beauty, pleasurably tired and free of people pressure.
Every library has books on wilderness survival, hiking and backpacking, hunting and fishing, the flora and fauna, the history and geology of your area. Read up on it. Start short and work your way up. One day you’ll do an “easy” 15-mile day trek thru wilderness and suddenly realize you have a confidence and a skill set most other’s don’t. Wow! How’d that happen? All you did was walk. Maybe set your sights on backpacking one of our nation’s long trails. Maybe write a book about it. You would not be the first to beat depression on the trail. (The “runners high” to be had from working yourself at a fair pace for many hours is not to be sneered at, either.)
You’re alone in the wild? Something bad could happen to you. You could be incapacitated or get lost and nobody would know where to look for you. Bears and mountain lions and snakes and…. oh my!
That makes it more fun! Now you have to be mindful of the world around you. To accept responsibility for your own welfare. Dependency on someone else for your well being is… well… depressing!
This segues into exercise as a depression treatment. Study after study, as well as my own anecdotic experiences, tell us that exercise relieves depression. You don’t need to be a competitive athlete. (In fact, unless you have a natural talent organized athletics might not be a good idea right off.) Walking is one of the best exercises, as is swimming, but don’t skip calisthenics and perhaps some weight training. The whole body needs fitness, not just the legs and lungs. It is a good way to clear out all those stress hormones, get freshly oxygenated blood into the brain and will stabilize your blood sugar. (If your blood sugar is low, nothing is right.)
It also segues into seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. As it turns out, full spectrum sunlight is important for our mental well-being. Artificial lights don’t cut it. During winter, the shortened days add considerably to the amount of depression we feel. In the winter, especially, you want to get as much sunshine as possible. SAD’s kissing cousin, cabin fever, is the result of being confined inside by inclement weather, another reason to get out even if it is frigid. Full spectrum lamps can help but many employers won’t allow such things. A move to a sunnier clime might be what the patient really needs.
Pick up a freaking hobby! Find something that keeps your mind engaged and do it. I’ve had many hobbies in my life. Every hobby has offered some release for depression. Reading, writing, hiking, backpacking, off-roading, shooting (OMG!! A depressed person with a gun! Run for your lives!), photography, computers, classic movies, anime, wargames, astronomy, coin collecting, martial arts, acting, singing – even nudism, all have helped make bad times less bad and sometimes even good. Plus they give you a chance to join clubs of like-minded people. If you share an interest, the chances of positive relationships are increased.
While I am at it, the power of writing to ease the pain of depression is amazing. Just write about it. Maybe a blog, a private journal, poetry, music or fiction, but just write. Doesn’t have to be spellchecked or have proper grammar or even make sense to anyone but you. Writing it down clarifies things. It vents destructiveness in a constructive way the spoken word cannot. Read what you wrote last week, last year and last decade. You will learn more about yourself than a score of therapy sessions could offer. Writing this blog has greatly brightened my mood during a bad time in my life.
Pain amplifies depression. Depression amplifies pain. Pain is just another rock in the road. If you are in pain, see your doctor. Get the best possible pain relief you can. Maybe that’s a pain specialist or a specialist in your condition. Maybe a physical therapist. Don’t think that narcotics are a solution. Abuse them and you’ll have a ticket to hell in the fast lane.
Find something to love unconditionally. A dog, a cat, a hamster, it doesn’t matter. The care and feeding of a pet that can return your love will motivate you to keep going. As a child, my dog was my best friend. I could talk to him, cry to him, cuddle with him. He didn’t care that I was such a misfit. As long as I threw a bit of kibble his way, petted him and gave him the occasional scratch behind the ears, he’d follow me anywhere and treat me like a king. In return, he was my best friend, kept me warm and safe at night and shared all my “adventures”. You may find as you grow, how you treat a pet will be later reflected in how you treat children and the disabled.
Don’t be afraid to cry. Cry for sad. Cry for happy. Cry for beauty and cry for ugly. Crying is your body’s natural response to many powerful feelings. It produces endorphins, which in turn reduces stress. Women report they often feel better after a “good cry”. Men do too, they just won’t admit it.
Depressed adults often don’t have a regular sex partner, and younger ones never do. Masturbate often and at the slightest provocation. Hell, make a ceremony out of it – turn it into a long, slow, self-seduction. Be your own lover. See yourself as sexy. Find ideas or imagery that turn you on. It is something that is easily done solo and is completely risk-free – with a bit of privacy. (Or it can be a quick way to train your mother to always knock before entering your room.) A little slug of endorphins every day to look forward to. Keeps the plumbing well oiled and strong. Makes you a better partner when you do find someone. All the more important if you are on an SSRI, for SSRIs can be very tough on sexuality.
If you know someone who has long-term depression – and you actually care about them – you need to be forgiving and nonjudgmental, at least as far as behavior that is not criminal or harmful. Variously they may need a shoulder to cry on, a confidante with whom to share dark secrets, a helper, a friend, or a cheerleader. Personally, I think the friend is the most important. You may need to softly push them into the therapy that can help them. You need to gently encourage then to do the things they can do for them self to make their life better. And you should never take it upon yourself that you are somehow responsible for the depression – any more than they are. Nor that you can fix it.
Despite your best efforts, you will still have bouts of depression. Of all the things you can do, only the drugs are 24/7 and they only lessen the burden. They don’t remove it. The difference between thinking about suicide every day and only thinking about it on occasion is real. That’s what an SSRI does. What keeps you alive then? Is it stubbornness? Is is love? How about duty? How about gallows humor? Maybe just falling asleep after a good crying jag? For me, it is all the above.
Do not lash out towards others. It is not their fault you are depressed. It is just a switch in your brain. A rock in your road. Some people will sense it and try to make your life miserable in order that they might feel a little less miserable. They will become more rocks in the road. They are dick heads. Laugh at them. If anything, be even more true to yourself to spite them. The world isn’t conspiring against you. Most of the world wishes you no harm and would rather you NOT be depressed. It is painful to hang out with Hamlet and your acquaintances are not therapists. Forcing your pain onto others is the ultimate confirmation that the emotional bullies were right.
I am stubborn by nature. When life pulls me one way, I pull the other. It is a trait that years of schooling and decades of corporate employment and marriage have not tamed. I am uninterested in a psychological facelift. Sometimes this. manifests itself as an FTW attitude. I’m not hurting you and I don’t give a rats ass about what you think of me. As Popeye was always fond of saying, “I yam what I yam!” And I’m not about to change for anyone.
I love my family dearly. If you love someone and they love you, suicide is a non-starter. Why would you hurt the one you love? Hanging on thru some altruistic notion of NOT hurting other people’s feelings? Yup! That is what love is all about, wanting the other guy to be happy.
Hmmm… duty. There’s a word that lacks currency. People lack any notion of duty in this hedonistic and profit driven age. Civic virtue is another lost concept. They tie you down and prevent you from thinking about your own needs. Today’s ideal seems to be self-satisfaction above all else. Ask not what you can do for your country unless they are willing to pay well. Children aren’t blessings, they are unwanted restrictions on your personal pursuit of happiness. Me-ism is ultimately depressing. It is voluntarily acquired bonds to the world at large that brings satisfaction. If you want something worth living for, look for something worth dying for.
Some people hate gallows humor. Only a nasty person would find humor in a sad situation! I must be a really nasty person. I can find humor in a nuclear war. Laughter is often the only solution in the face of star-crossed life. A depressed person needs a good sense of gallows humor in order to laugh at their problems, to make sorrow bearable. Adversity can be laughed at, cursed at or cried about. Use whichever one helps you deal with it best.
Except possibly for an extraordinary change in environment, there is no “cure” for depression, no more so than there is a cure for having brown eyes. There are drugs. There are therapists and counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. There are religion and philosophy. There are things you can do for yourself to improve your mood. These are but mitigations. Shit happens.
There will always be that time you can’t get to sleep, that “Dark Night of the Soul” where all your inner demons come to stare you in the face. Where life just seems a cruel joke in a black tunnel and you wish there were a train coming at you, just for the light and finality it would offer.
Well, laugh at the cruel joke. The demons are a part of you and you are a good person. Accept them! Love them! (Demons aren’t evil, only misguided.) Let them know that the whole of you is far greater than any few parts and that they aren’t in charge. You are. Grab them by the horns and use them to power your creativity. You are the author of the story of your life. Everything else is just a setting and props. Make it an interesting story, be it comedy, adventure, romance or tragedy.
It will be a best seller, even if you are the only one to read it.