It’s time for us to have a deep and meaningful discussion about the Black Dog: Depression.
Disclaimer: I am not a qualified psychologist, psychiatrist, or neuroscientist. I’m a coach. I have a degree in Psychology (but that’s worthless). Before we get into this, understand that I am not a professional practitioner in the psychology sphere. I am a self-appointed coach. Everything I say should always be taken with a grain of salt, and is more opinion than fact.
To find a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist, check out this site https://www.betterhelp.com/online-therapy/
With that in mind, I am very sure of my opinions – as we all are – and today I’m going to be presenting a view of depression that runs counter-intuitive to most fields of psychology out there. It’s very similar to what you’d see in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), though not entirely the same.
Right away, I want to lay it out there: I do not agree with the concept that depression is “bad;” that it is a problem that needs to be fixed.
DO YOU “SUFFER” FROM DEPRESSION?
This post is essentially written for people who suffer from depression, and trying to “fix” it has not worked. This is for those of you who have already engaged in therapy, medication, Vipassana retreats, mindfulness meditation, etc. and that stuff is still not helping with your suffering around depression.
I’m also talking to those of you who may have never been diagnosed with depression – like myself. Maybe you don’t really know if you’ve ever had depression, but you do seem to get the “blues” and dark moods on a regular basis. You know; those times where you just lose motivation and energy for weeks or even months at a time, you struggle just to function, and it’s an effort just to get out of bed in the morning. Maybe you’ve never gone to a doctor or sought help for it, but it’s a recurring theme in your life. This thing just keeps knocking you off the path, and sometimes it keeps you down.
I USED TO FIGHT AGAINST IT TOO
As a bit of a teaser, I’d like to share that for the last 3 days before writing this, I was depressed. I don’t write that with any sense of shame. I don’t write that with any sense of victimhood – like something bad happened to me – quite the opposite! What we’ll discuss today is how I was helped by being depressed.
These days, I have almost no motivation whatsoever to prevent myself experiencing depression, now or in the future, because of how differently I view depression (compared to how I viewed it in the past). And because of just how practical it has been to let go of fighting against it.
The reason I’m writing this is partly because of my experience but also because I’ve seen a theme with my coaching clients recently. I’ve had a few come to me after being knocked down by depression, and I can clearly see that the way they handle their depression is the main cause of their suffering.
They were all doing the same things, and all suffering for the same reasons. That’s what I want to discuss with you today. I want to share a new way of looking at depression, of handling and managing it – I don’t even want to use the words “treating it” because that implies that it’s a disease or illness.
DEPRESSION IS NORMAL
We’re going to be looking at depression today as something that’s normal, rather than something that’s “wrong” with you. We’re going to be looking at it as if it’s a normal, natural human experience, which – NEWSFLASH! – it is!
Find me someone who’s never experienced depression, and I’ll show you a psychopath, because they’re about the only people who cannot experience depression (as an emotion) and the only ones who will not regularly see recurrences of it throughout their lives.
However, the scale measuring how much people suffer from depression does vary significantly.
But I’m here to tell you it’s not because of depression. What I really want to focus on today is differentiating between depression (a “dark” emotional state) and Depression (a disordered reaction to the original onset of dark emotions).
IT’S FIGHTING AGAINST DEPRESSION THAT HURTS
The first seed I want to plant with you here is the suffering you experience in relation to depression is caused by your fight against it. Just like panic is your fight against anxiety and rage is your fight against anger.
Dark emotions are uncomfortable but relatively painless. It’s almost pain-free to experience depression as an emotion. It’s your response to the emotion – the one that happens so quickly it seems to be the emotion itself – that’s hurts. That’s what we’ll be investigating today.
I want you to open your mind today – while remaining sceptical – to the idea that maybe the very concept of depression being “wrong” or “bad” or “an illness” is in fact the cause of your pain in the first place. If you could just see depression as something different than a problem that needs to be fixed, and if you welcomed it as a necessary emotional state – something that you need to regularly experience – the whole world of depression will change for you.
And this applies to any other emotional state that you struggle with, like anxiety, anger, boredom, confusion, or fear. These emotions are helpful, necessary, and absolutely guaranteed to happen for the rest of your life.
It’s your reaction to them that sucks!
It’s the way you treat your emotions, not the way they treat you, that needs work. These emotions are not happening to you; they’re happening within you. They’re yours! So any struggle with them is yours, too.
You choose to struggle. You might not choose consciously, exactly, and it wasn’t your original plan to struggle. When you experienced bouts of depression as a small child, you probably didn’t fight against it, but you do now, and that’s why it hurts.
You’ve been trying to “treat” or fix one of your most helpful emotions (more on this later), like it’s an illness. This approach prevents you benefitting from depression. And because you’ve always done that, you’ve never benefitted from it, and that continues the story that depression is somehow bad for you.
It’s like people who have never benefitted from anger. They’ve always bottled it up and had massive tantrums, so that’s all they know of anger. They’ve never been able to use anger for passion or assertiveness. They’ve never seen how helpful anger is, once you know how to use it – once you embrace it, accept it, and manage it, rather than treat it or try to control it.
OUR IDOLS GET DEPRESSED
Depression used to be more acceptable. Take a great artist like Van Gogh – a deeply troubled man (he cut his own ear off) – excellent artist. Mozart, another troubled soul – excellent musician. Many of the greatest artists from our history show all the hallmarks of depression.
Look at Marcus Aurelius – the poster-child idol of the Stoicism philosophy. If you read between the lines of his opus Meditations, you see someone constantly struggling to follow his own principles. You see the depression in his words. There are clearly times where he’s been battered down by life and is trying to talk himself into getting back up.
Some of the greatest leaders in the world had dark moments.
Winston Churchill didn’t get out of bed until 11am and drank a bottle of whiskey every day – he obviously had his problems, and yet what an incredible man he was. The idea that depression somehow held him back is ludicrous; he achieved the height of human leadership performance. What’s much more likely an explanation is that depression aided him in his great leadership. Perhaps it caused him to have the deep reflective moments that built his wisdom.
WHAT IS DEPRESSION? THE OFF SWITCH
In my opinion, depression is simply a feeling that we’re turned into a pathology. An emotional state that we’ve turned into an illness.
Depression is emotional apathy – it’s the off-switch, for when you’ve been under too much stress and pressure. That’s what it’s for! It’s a circuit-breaker.
I see this so commonly in my clients. What happens before depression is lots of anxiety and stress and pressure. And then one day – Boom! – suddenly they stop giving a fuck about anything.
It makes perfect sense. You’re overloaded, the engine is about to burn out. You’re running low on gas. What does a smart machine do in this situation? It turns itself off. It allows time for the engine to cool down.
The only way your brain can survive all that pressure is by occasionally turning itself off to get the stress levels back to zero. There’s usually very low stress-levels in depression, have you ever noticed that (when you’re not fluctuating between depression and anxiety)? And have you noticed how stressed you were before it? You think that pattern is random, a coincidence?
Or, is it quite clear that you are – unintentionally – inviting depression, like you’d call the fire service if your house burning down. You’re overheating; you need to cool down.
Now, after your house-fire has been put out, everything inside seems ruined, right? Well, you can’t blame the firefighters for wrecking your house.
And this is similar to how depression works. You blame depression for feeling like your whole life is ruined, yet you called depression with your behaviour and stress!
OK, not all depression is bought on by stress or pressured behaviour – you can get depression seemingly out of nowhere as well – but make no mistake; your brain generated the depression.
Your brain is programmed to ensure your survival. There must be a way to utilize this helpful depression service. Depression is designed to rescue you from going too hard, worrying too much, caring about too many things that just don’t matter.
What we commonly call “Depression” is actually our reaction to it. The initial off-swtich circuit-breaker is helpful. The part where we then go:
“Oh no, something’s wrong with me!”
“Oh no, I’m having suicidal thoughts!”
“Oh no, I can’t get out of bed!”
“Oh no, I don’t care about my friends any more!”
“I’m sick! I better get to the doctor and get medicated for this!”
… THAT’S the struggle.
Your depression is just sitting there, watching this whole mess unfold, and it’s saying “What the fuck did I do? I came here to help!” Yet you attack depression like an enemy.
THE PROBLEM WITH “REVERSE ENTITLEMENT”
I got this idea from Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.
Notice how differently you treat your own depression compared with how you treat others with depression.
When your best friend has depression, you probably don’t put any pressure on them. You don’t criticize them. You don’t give them any shit. You’re caring, sympathetic, patient, and helpful.
And yet when you have depression, how do you treat yourself?
Pressure. Criticism. Hate. Busyness. Unhelpful behaviours and instant gratification. None of the stuff you’d do to your best friend.
This is what I call Reverse Entitlement – you believe you’re entitled to worse treatment than others. Think how bizarre that is; everybody else gets better treatment from you than you do! And that includes when they’re experiencing emotions with which you also struggle.
Now that’s not always the case – some people do treat others with depression poorly too. This post isn’t just for people who are nice to others. There are plenty of you out there, when you see someone else with depression, you say “Come on! Just cheer up!” And you treat yourself that same way.
But there are many of you out there – my clients included – who are nicer to others who have depression than they are to themselves, as if somehow they “deserve” a rougher treatment.
Why they believe this is beyond me, but I know I used to do it too! I used to be caring, sympathetic and loving to people who were struggling. But then when I struggled, I became my own worst enemy. I’d call myself a useless bastard, a lazy loser, and pressure myself to “Get the fuck outta bed and do some shit! Stop whinging, stop complaining, stop being sad!”
I’d never say things like that to a struggling friend. Never. But I’d say it to myself like it was nothing.
THE STRUGGLE SWITCH
Dr Russ Harris, a GP and ACT practitioner, has an excellent video about the Struggle Switch:
This is where you experience a painful emotion, and then have other emotions in reaction to that initial feeling.
So you feel depressed, and then you get angry about being depressed, and then you have fear about being angry about depression, and then you have guilt about being afraid of the anger that came from your depression…
This is the struggle. We compound painful emotions on top of each other and become overwhelmed by them.
I personally believe this is one of the leading causes of suicide. It starts when someone gets the initial suicidal thoughts. These are totally normal to experience during depression – your brain just wants to escape, and that’s how it paints a picture of what it wants; the ultimate escape from stress and pressure and suffering.
And then you become pathological about these thoughts – “I shouldn’t be thinking these things, it’s so bad to have these thoughts, what’s wrong with me?! What a loser I am for having these thoughts!”
Eventually, you start to confirm the thoughts as “real,” rather than just recognising that your brain is stressed. It’s picturing suicide because it represents the ultimate expression of stress-free. That’s all. Your brain doesn’t actually want you to kill yourself – it’s wired completely opposite to this agenda. It’s just having some confusion between staying alive and avoiding pain.
But if I worry about these thoughts – if I shame myself for having them – it won’t be long before they become real. If I just tell myself “Oh well, these are normal thoughts during depression,” they don’t escalate.
MY LATEST DEPRESSIVE EPISODE
My depression over the last 3 days went a lot different to how it used to play out in the past.
In the past, depression for me would last weeks, possibly even months. I’d suppress it and fight against it. Some people hide under the covers and escape from the world when they’re depressed – I was the opposite.
I’d put on a big fake fucking smile, and binge on sugar and drugs and alcohol and porn and Facebook. Like someone crawling over broken glass, I dragged myself through depression, in such a way that nobody else could even see it happening.
Because of this approach, depression would last a very long time for me. There may have been entire years where I was depressed. I know for sure that I was pretty down during the 3.5 years in my early twenties where I didn’t have sex (because I was just so terrible at communicating with women). I know that sex was very important for me during this time, so this problem seemed to constantly escalate in my mind. It’s quite possible that I was depressed that entire time.
That was the old me.
So, for a lot of people, I think depression is like what I used to go through. It begins as a small reaction to something genuinely upsetting in life. The off-switch kicks in because you’ve been stressing too much. And then, as you beat yourself up over it, it just goes on and on and on.
Soon, I’ll discuss the difference between how I used to beat myself up and how I dealt with this latest bout of depression (which was a very helpful experience).
DEPRESSION DOESN’T HURT YOU… IT HELPS
Depression has been getting all the blame and criticism, despite being something you called up with your stress, or difficult lifestyle, or chemical imbalances.
The way you treat yourself during your depression – as if there’s something wrong with you, and your attempt to “fix the problem” – that’s what’s causing your suffering.
It’s interesting how we can easily recognise some of the greatest leaders and creative minds clearly experiencing depression on a regular basis, and yet we stigmatize it rather than recognise it.
It’s so possible that depression is a natural reaction to intelligence. You can see that the smarter someone is, the moodier they tend to be. I used to be jealous of “simple” people, because they just seem to get over things quickly and weren’t bothered like I was about small, petty events.
Lately I’ve been watching a show on Netflix about great chefs (I’m not into cooking but I love watching people who are awesome at what they do). These chefs are the very top – 3x Michelin-star type guys. Yet they’re moody as fuck! Their emotions are wild. They report having entire months where they can barely leave their house.
This represents many great artists. Think of all your favorite rock stars and movie stars in the “27 Club” (committed suicide or otherwise died aged 27 years). Christ, their minds must be nightmarish. Their moods are all over the place.
When you look at someone like J.W. Goethe – a great poet, scientist and statesman – depression is obviously correlated with some of our most admired traits – creativity, expression, leadership and intelligence, to name but a few. And yet we treat it like it’s unwelcome?
It’s like a high-performance car engine making a loud noise. The more powerful the engine, the greater the noise. Saying depression is bad is like saying the engine’s noise is a “problem” rather than a natural reaction to high power.
We can also assume that the more creative and intelligent you are (generally speaking), the more often you’re going to need a release from pressure and anxiety, because you’re going to be more of an over-thinker. Your brain will constantly torment you with possibilities and ideas all day long.
I used to work with schizophrenics. I remember one guy describing schizophrenia as being like “having a thousand great ideas all at once and being unable to act on any of them.” An overwhelm of sensation combined with complete powerlessness. Schizophrenia is basically creativity to the extreme end of the spectrum – an absence of moderation or filtering; you can’t turn it off.
Depression is quite clearly needed for a creative mind. You need an off-switch for any super-computer that burns hard. If you don’t have fans cooling down the hard-drive, you better have an override reset button available.
My 3 days of recent depression was like a fan, cooling me down, as opposed to my previous bouts of depression that were more like complete system shut-downs; a total fuse-break that left me with only basic survival functioning, because I’d burnt the system out.
PAIN IS NOT BAD
Your depression is not a problem, it is the fucking cure to caring too much! You’ve been trying to cure yourself of the cure.
The only problems you can have any real influence over are the unhelpful behaviours leading up to the depression, and your reaction to it after it comes on (where your deeper pain – your suffering – is coming from).
My past reactions to my depression were what caused the thing we commonly call Depression; long bouts of apathy, helplessness, powerlessness, and sadness. These are actually symptoms of our struggle against depression. Depression has been getting a bad rap for that struggle, even though it didn’t cause it.
Many of us have a simple belief that “pain is bad.” This belief plays a key role in how we treat depression, anxiety, anger and other painful emotions. We think: “If it hurts, it must be wrong, so it needs to be fixed.” That’s an incredibly harmful belief to have, and a very fucking inaccurate one at that.
Show me a single human who hasn’t regularly experienced pain throughout their entire life. Go on, find me one. I bet ya can’t! Does that not cause you to reconsider the belief that pain must be bad?
Maybe, pain is the original source of pleasure.
The idea that pain is bad can be easily disproved by two things: exercise, and laughter. They are two things during which almost anyone engaging in them will agree that pain is good.
When you’re exercising, you don’t stop the second it feels uncomfortable, you go until it really hurts. That’s what exercising is; if it’s not that, you’re just moving around comfortably. We enjoy the pain we feel at the gym, or during rock-climbing, or when we go for a run. The “runner’s high” is an adrenaline rush you get after suffering in pain.
And laughter is a pain reaction. We get it from emotional shock and surprise – these are painful emotions. We often respond to tragedy with laughter. It is born of pain and suffering.
Sometimes we’ll even laugh so much it physically hurts. Some of my best laughs scared the shit out of me and made me think I was going to die. I remember one time a friend of mine told a silly sex joke when I was high on weed and I laughed so hard I thought my jaw was going to break. Nails of pain drove into my temples, my vision started to white out, and my ribs were straining to the point of fracturing.
To this day, it was one of my favourite laughs ever.
We know that pain is not always bad, and yet we apply the belief that pain is bad to our emotions, so every time we experience a painful emotion, we try to “treat” it like it’s a problem.
It’s our belief that’s the problem; the emotions are just fine – even when they hurt, they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.
HOW DO YOU TREAT YOUR CHILDREN?
One exercise I’ve been doing with my clients is around thinking of your emotions like they’re your children. Visualise the way you treat your emotions like it’s how you treat a child.
Think of how you treat your depression as an emotion, and compare that to how you treat happiness, or calmness. Think of the difference. Imagine those emotions as different children, and you’re the parent.
Notice the Happiness child getting all the best presents at Christmas. Their drawings get displayed proudly on the refrigerator. They get dressed and chaperoned like royalty. They have no bedtime – they can stay up playing as long as they want. They’re allowed to speak whenever they want and are always listened to and encouraged.
That’s how you treat your emotion of happiness, isn’t it? Happiness gets anything it wants; it’s treated like a most welcome guest in your house.
Now, how does that compare to your treatment of the Depression child?
For most of my clients, the comparison is akin to the Depression child being locked in its room, without being given anything to eat. Every time it talks, you shout at it and abuse it and criticize it.
How do you think that child is going to grow up, and develop over time? A healthy, functioning member of the family? Or a fucking nightmare delinquent?
The way your depression shows up these days is a direct reaction to how it’s been treated by you in the past. It’s like a child acting out after years of abuse.
What happens to a child you ignore? It screams louder. What happens to a child you abuse or neglect? Eventually, it bites back. What happens when you try to shout over a child who’s throwing a tantrum? They lose their minds and make a scene.
This is your relationship with your depression.
Because depression doesn’t feel welcome into your home, it throws a tantrum. It screams and tries to get your attention, and the whole time it’s been trying to help you, so it really feels abused by your reaction to it.
IF DEPRESSION SHOWS UP, IT’S BECAUSE YOU SUMMONED IT
It’s like you’ve called the Fire Department, yet when they show up to put out the fire you suddenly start punching them in the face. It’s so confusing for them, they’re shouting at you saying “Hey, what the hell! You called us!”
That’s what you did with your depression. You called it somehow. By over-thinking. By not caring for yourself. By saying yes to too many projects. By not standing up for yourself. By not living by your core values. By indulging in instant gratification to manage stress. By failing to notice and manage chemical imbalances in your central nervous system.
You may not have consciously been aware of it, but it was you who dialled that number yourself, and then you punch it in the face when depression shows up? Not the best behaviour.
But I get it, because I used to do that too. Changing my reaction to depression showing up made all the difference.
ENOUGH FOREPLAY – HOW TO REACT TO DEPRESSION
First and foremost, you must change your beliefs about depression, or at least act as if your belief system has changed.
There is no part of reacting to depression that can include:
trying to fix it or get rid of it
trying to speed it up
trying to reduce the size of it
…these are all counter-productive reactions. If you treat depression like a problem, it becomes a problem. This is called self-fulfilling prophecy – when you neglect a child, it becomes a problem-child.
When your depression shows up, it must be both recognised and respected. It must be welcomed into your home, just like happiness is.
I imagine my emotions as characters inside my head, and they’re watching how I treat each of them differently. I can clearly see the bitterness build up, as Anger and Depression sit next to each other and say “Fuck, there’s Happiness, getting the special treatment again. Every time he’s happy there’s a party, but whenever we come out suddenly it’s like this big disaster.”
I can see my emotions talking to each other in this way, and that’s why they often come as a package-deal. I often get anxiety, depression and anger all together at once, because they’re rebelling against my harsh treatment and favoritism. They’re saying “Fuck you – if you treat us like shit, we’ll behave like bastards.”
I can see this mutiny happen inside, and how can I hold that against them? If I was treated poorly – if I was the less-favored child – I’d lash out too. You’d see me getting bad grades at school, and getting into drugs and trouble with the law.
You must give your depression the same status as happiness. They need to be seen and treated as equals. You don’t have to outright feel this at first, but you need to act as if this is true.
Try to behave according to the principle that all emotions are equally helpful to your enjoyment of life overall.
Put it this way; I guarantee you haven’t tried this approach before! Everything else you’ve ever done about your depression hasn’t worked, and all those different attempts had one thing in common: you were trying to “fix” the depression, end it, avoid it, or detach from it.
Even if you’ve gone and tried mindfulness meditation, most likely you did it with the intention of detaching from your depression; rather than swimming in it, embracing it, and allowing it to exist. You don’t see people trying to detach from their happiness or trying to fix it, do you?
What you’re about to try comes down to a key difference: your intention has changed. You are not trying to get rid of your depression. Instead you’ll be trying to learn from it, embrace it, accept it, and welcome it for as long as it wants to stay.
“HI DEPRESSION! COME ON IN!”
As soon as you notice whatever your onset “symptoms” are for depression – and that’s the wrong word because it’s not a disease – welcome it.
Say “You’re back! I must have called you… I don’t remember calling you, but obviously I did. I must have drunk-dialled ya! Well, here you are. Obviously, you have some lessons to teach me. I’ve gone and followed a pattern of behaviour that brings you out again, haven’t I? I’ve got a lesson to learn here, don’t I? Well, welcome, come into my house and teach me that lesson.”
This is genuinely how I view depression nowadays, and this is how I reacted last weekend when it showed up. I noticed my depression onset on Friday night, when my girlfriend and I went social dancing. I got really bummed out and I didn’t want to participate, I felt like I was forced to be there – when usually it’s something I love doing.
And that’s when I went “Ah, it’s here, The Black Dog… I’m having depression right now, that’s what this is, I know this.”
When I can’t enjoy something I usually enjoy; when I want to bathe in self-pity constantly; when too many people around me feels like I’m drowning… this is depression. Welcome!
“To be fair I didn’t want you to come right now, but you’re here. So come on in.”
And so I left the dance party early. I initially fought against accepting the depression – I’m still not perfect with all this. But rather than fighting with it for weeks or months, I just struggled for a few minutes before I said “Ok, my bad, you’re welcome here, that was totally rude of me, come on in.”
WHY ARE YOU HERE?
Once it’s shown up, I ask depression to explain why it’s here. It’s here for a reason – I called it – I just don’t remember how I called it. I don’t remember the drunken text messages I sent depression at 3am, saying “I’m stressed, come and help me!”
I want depression to tell me about what I’ve done.
I will get out a pen and paper, or I’ll talk it through with my girlfriend, or I’ll engage in some other form of reflection, where I identify why depression has shown up – why I required a system shut-down.
“Teach me,” I tell my depression. “What behaviours invited you to come here? What system have I been running too hard, for too long? What has built up to this? What are my problematic behaviours?”
This time around, one of the things I noticed immediately was a pattern of instant gratification. Looking at pretty ladies on the internet; eating lots of sugar; and especially, scrolling through my phone and social media – I saw a lot of that in the last couple of weeks.
Big surprise, right? Lots of instant gratification – lots of bingeing on dopamine – and then I crash. Why should I be surprised that depression would show up after a consistent pattern of behaviour like that?
What else did I see? I also saw avoidance of the valuable stuff I should be doing. I saw avoidance of joining that new Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class that I’m scared to try. I saw avoidance of practicing my Czech language with strangers to learn quicker.
Ah, so depression’s here to tell me that I’ve been dropping the ball on my values, too. Thank you depression, I appreciate that awareness. Time for me to step up my game.
I listed everything that I’d been doing that had invited the depression to come.
I’d asked for a system shut-down – unconsciously – and now I must wait for the computer to reboot itself. I can’t rush that process. I have to enjoy the shut-down period.
WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW?
My next step, once I’d looked at all my behaviours, was to return to my depression and acknowledge that it’s here to do a job – to shut me down until I’m ready to go again. Now, as much as I might feel ready to go again, if the depression is still here then obviously I’m not yet ready.
I must now engage in behaviours which allow depression to flourish. Things like going for a walk, reading a nice book, doing nothing, relaxing with my girlfriend (we went to a spa for my birthday which is where I noticed my depression start to leave) – all these things involve taking care of myself, because I haven’t been for a while.
This is not the same as hiding under the bedcovers, bingeing on drugs, porn and alcohol, burying myself in work, and all the other unhelpful reactions that many people take when reacting to depression.
“I CAN’T GET OUT OF BED!”
Well, you can, actually. You totally can.
The only reason you’re stuck in bed is because you’re obeying the voice in your head that claims you can’t get out of bed. That’s what stops you. All you have to do is swing your legs over the side and stand up. It’s the easiest thing. And there is no amount of depression that can prevent you doing it.
Depression has never tried to stop you doing helpful, healthy things. It’s simply trying to shut down all the pressure bullshit.
The reason you don’t want to get out of bed is because you know, deep down, that it won’t end your depression. There’s that unhelpful intention again. If you relieve yourself of the burden of ending your depression then getting out of bed is easy.
Treat yourself like you’d treat a best friend who’s experiencing depression (unless you’re one of those people who try to “fix” your friends). Help without trying to fix – actions that allow depression to do its job, rather than trying to avoid, detach or rush it through.
If you’re going to meditate, meditate into the depression, not away from it. Don’t try to convince yourself that you’re somehow separate from your depression. You are, but that’s not a helpful practice – you wouldn’t do that with happiness. Go into it, explore it, try squeeze every bit of knowledge out of it while you can.
Ask yourself “Why am I feeling depressed? What have I done that’s lead to this? What is my depression trying to teach me? Why did I need a system shut-down? How have I been overloading myself?”
WHAT LEADS UP TO DEPRESSION
You’ll find common things. You’ll see the instant gratification habits – that shitty, short-term reward behaviour that unbalances your neurochemicals. You’ll see the avoidance of standing up for yourself and asking for what you want directly. You’ll find the pattern of backing down to other peoples’ priorities, instead of putting your needs first.
You’ll probably find a long-term pattern of dishonesty. You’ll see that you’ve been lying to yourself, and to others, over a consistent period of time.
You’ll see all this leading up to the depression.
You’ll often see anxiety come before depression. You’ve been worrying about things you can’t control. You’ve been trying to influence things that are outside of your realm of power. You’ll see a LOT of that before depression.
One of things my depression always reminds me of is that I have a tendency to unconsciously allow my focus to wander. It goes from what I can control (my decisions and actions) to what I can’t (everything else). When I’ve done this for too long, depression shuts the system down.
Reset. Focus on what you can control. You can get out of bed. You can make yourself some breakfast. You can be honest with your girlfriend about your depression.
No, you can’t control her reaction. No, you can’t control the amount of money in your bank account. No, you can’t control the fucking weather.
That’s what depression teaches me and reminds me about.
STAY DEPRESSED AS LONG AS YOU NEED TO
No rush. It’s here to teach you. It’s giving you a welcomed break.
Depression is like a holiday, but you must wait for work to call before you can go back in. So wait for the call. You’ll know it when it happens – you’ll feel the lightness return.
You will not feel it, however, if you’re still fighting the depression. Remember, all the reactions I’m discussing here have nothing to do with trying to fix depression. Depression is not your problem; it’s your problems that called out for depression.
And those problems are mostly your behaviour.
WHAT TO AVOID DURING DEPRESSION
Depression is quite an antisocial mood. For some people it’s absolutely right to avoid socializing during this time. I won’t go social dancing while I’m depressed, it’s just too overwhelming for me.
But trying to hide away from all other people is unhealthy – especially by hiding the truth in what you say.
Avoidance isn’t just physically staying away from people, it’s hiding your darkness too. You might have to force yourself a little, but just let people into your life. You can tell them to leave when it gets too much. But let them in, let them listen to you, yet also be confrontational if they start trying to “fix” it. Let them know you’re not trying to fix it – that in fact you need it.
It’s important that you manage how other people help you during this time. Let them help you with the practical things. Rather than trying to help you get rid of your depression, let them help you with making some food, doing chores around the house, dragging you out for a quiet coffee or walk in the park.
Like putting a dog on a scent, point people towards what will help you so that they don’t feel compelled to try fix you. This allows them to feel useful without shaming your emotions.
Scrolling through Facebook. Mindlessly bingeing on Netflix. Alcohol and drugs.
Avoid anything that distracts you from real life. Anything that takes you away from the depression. Anything make you feel “good” so you don’t feel “bad” anymore – that’s all instant gratification shit. Cut that shit down, that’s the shit that bought you here in the first place. Shit.
When it comes to drugs, I’m including medication – and this is where what I’m saying is certainly more opinion than fact.
There are some people so lost in their struggle against depression that they do need some Prozac to just be able to focus enough to apply more helpful strategies. Just understand; if you are going to take medication, don’t take it with the aim of ending your depression – take it with the intention of ending your struggle against depression, so that you can just get back to normal levels of depression.
Self-Pity Victim Parties
I know it hurts to be depressed, but you’re not special. Everyone experiences it. Avoid the temptation to wallow as an entitled snowflake.
And no; your life is not unfair. It’s really not. The way you treat yourself is unfair – that’s the unfair part.
When you’re sitting around saying “Poor me, my life’s so hard,” rewrite that story: I’m depressed either because I’ve been treating myself like shit, which was a choice I made and I can choose to act differently, or because my chemicals are out of wack, which is something I have no control over.
There’s no-one out there who suffers from depression after a long period of time spent treating themselves with kindness and compassion at all times. No one. They still have depression – you’re always going to have bad things happen to you in life. Fucking newsflash! there’s no end to that. They just treat it differently.
Sometimes your depression will have to come along simply because you’ve been dealt a particularly rough hand – even when you’ve been behaving in a healthy way. Sometimes you just need a break. Great! Take a break. You didn’t notice a build up of stress was happening? All good, take a break.
But know that at no point in time have you been unfairly treated, by anyone other than yourself. If someone else has been treating you badly, it’s because you let it happen! You stayed in that job, or you stayed in that relationship, or you stayed in that conversation. So you treated yourself badly by staying there.
Take responsibility for the reason you’re depressed. You invited it, somehow you bought it on. You called it to your house, so welcome it in. It’s not a punishment, it’s a CURE. It’s not fair to invite someone to your house and then say “Na, you can’t come in.”
Most of all, avoid dishonesty. The most likely reason you are depressed is because you’ve been lying to yourself and others about how you feel and how you’ve been treating yourself.
When I was depressed, the first thing I did was tell my girlfriend, “Something’s going on with me, I don’t know what it is.” That was the most I had to say at the time. Later on, I said, “You know what? I know this, I think I’m getting depressed. It’s back.”
I didn’t want to admit it to her – I don’t like to look weak and so on, all that bullshit ego stuff – but I just got it out there. As soon as I did, I could already feel myself on the healthy path. I knew it would go alright in the end.
So, those are my thoughts, my very opinionated thoughts, on depression.
I spent my whole life trying to fix it, and as soon as I stopped trying to fix it and treated it as a friend instead, depression started having a beneficial influence on my life. I now welcome it when it comes.
Depression hurts – it’s a bit like having a smelly house-guest, you don’t really want it to be there. But, just like you don’t want to have to call the fire department when you’ve burned down your house, sometimes you just gotta do what’s right.
Hopefully that helps you all. Get in touch if I can be of any further use to you firstname.lastname@example.org