Transcending situational depression (building a life that works)
I’m depressed, and I know why.
Or I’ve got theories, anyway.
My theories aren’t always exactly aligned with reality…
But sometimes with life and depression, coming up with a working theory and playing with the variables is the best that can be done. For a while. Then the theory and the variables need to be recalibrated later to match the developing information and circumstances.
I could keep ranting along these lines, but I’d probably be avoiding getting to the heart of the matter moreso than saying anything vital.
So what’s important?
Well, I don’t want to be depressed anymore.
I don’t want to be crippled by anxiety anymore.
Never again, if I can help it.
These last few years have been an epic mess.
Everything has gotten so twisted up…
Through the thick of it, I’ve trusted on some level that it’s all part of a bigger picture. That I’ll be able to use life lessons learned in this downtime to propel myself forth from the mire in provocative ways.
But then other times, I want to just go to sleep and not ever wake up. Would be a lot easier that way.
I’ll try not to overly dwell in the pity party aspect, though.
So, what happened? How did I get this way? Where’s the undo button?
Well, I’ve struggled with depression since I was 15.
The root causes are probably related to my feelings of:
-not understanding how someone like me can possibly fit into this human world as it’s currently set up
Maladaptive coping mechanisms
When I was a kid, I quickly (without consciously realizing it) discovered that there were certain foods I could eat in copious quantities to temporarily neutralize mental discomfort.
I say I have struggled with depression since I was 15, but it was probably before that. When I was 15, I found a label for it.
Dealing with mental discomfort by overeating didn’t work out too well for my body and my mental concept of myself.
They called me Grande’ in high school. Which I pretended to like, but then went home and raided the pantry to smother my true feelings.
Overeating all that junk food also caused fatigue and sluggishness, while also being an expensive, wasteful habit.
And it made me more Grande’ than ever.
Habits with compelling rewards easily become dependencies. Or addictions, if you prefer.
An addiction is a habit on a crazy power trip.
To this day, overeating is a problem for me.
And for the same reasons as ever.
It’s a temporary escape from unpleasant thought and feeling patterns.
Escape is a keyword here.
Because almost every self-limiting dependency I’ve ever developed was an escape.
Food is not the only way to escape.
As a child and teenager, I realized how much I loved escaping into videogames.
Videogames are a wonderful form of escape, because they also give me a sense of control. If I feel out of control of my own life, at least I can control what happens on the screen.
Gaming also fulfilled me by inflating me with a sense of importance and adventure. Life was mundane and out of control, but at least I got to save the world in Final Fantasy.
Then in my late teens, some drugs entered the picture.
Alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine were amongst my first that I knew of (unbeknownst to me, I’d already been consuming addictive chemicals in the food I’d been eating my whole life).
Partying was fun, because it got me out of my anti-social bubble. People seemed to genuinely admire me for how much vodka I could slam down all at once. Which, in a weird way, gave me a sense of importance (I felt like people liked me).
Let’s go back to that list of feelings, because these are definitely connected to why people cope with life by escaping and by doing seemingly-inexplicable things.
(By the way, people don’t really do inexplicable things. It’s all quite explicable when you understand their motivations…)
A sense of unworthiness. Unimportance. Incompetence. Not fitting in.
There may be more. But that’s enough for now.
When I think back on my life, what was golden to me was anything that neutralized or transformed those feelings.
Junk food and alcohol. They neutralize just about everything, at least temporarily.
Videogames. They provide artificial feelings of worthiness, importance, competence, and fitting in.
A lot of the time, artificial is more than good enough for me.
Plus, an activity like gaming bleeds over into real life.
Some of my best friendships formed from sharing our gaming experiences.
Games, like any form of art, can also inspire new ways of thinking, intense emotional experiences, and actionable ideas (like going into game design, or using ideas inspired by games to develop art in different mediums).
So my point isn’t that gaming is bad.
Videogames are effing spectacular.
But it’s problematic when they become a habitual escape from thoughts, feelings, responsibilities, and so on.
In the above sentences about videogames, gaming is interchangeable with nearly anything.
Some of my best friendships formed over sharing recreational drug experiences. People bond over gluttony, too.
Certain drugs inspire new ways of thinking, intense emotional experience, and actionable ideas.
So my point isn’t that drugs are bad, mmk?
Some drugs are pretty incredible when used responsibility (still incredible when used foolishly, but with caveats).
But it’s problematic for them to become a habitual escape from thoughts, feelings, responsibilities, etc.
In the culture I was raised in, we have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
So in most cases, if you get into recovery from an addiction, a primary goal is to abstain totally from your drug of choice.
But that’s a limited paradigm that can only go so far.
It’s like going through a garden and cutting all the flowers at their stems.
The roots are still down there…
The flowers will grow back.
It’s no wonder that many proponents of abstinence-based recovery also think of addiction as an incurable disease.
If you don’t address what’s going on at a root level, the symptoms will keep manifesting, ad infinitum.
I am generalizing a bit.
Most recovery programs do attempt in some way to address the underlying symptoms, while also promoting abstinence.
And in a ton of cases, totally abstaining from a drug of choice may be necessary and optimal.
Not every case, though.
Because believe it or not, there may be legitimate reasons for engaging in certain behaviors that have beget negative consequences in the past.
And if someone defends or justifies their right to make a stigmatized choice, that doesn’t automatically mean they are in denial and lying to themselves.
Stigma. A word I learned from Final Fantasy (add vocabulary expansion to gaming’s positive attributes).
Stigma is defined as: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
When a behavior or concept is stigmatized, that mark of disgrace precedes rational thought and thoughtful analysis.
Cultural stigma is when those marks of disgrace are so ingrained into us on a cultural level, that we pre-judge people with labels and rigid notions.
There is a massive cultural stigma towards what many people still refer to as alcoholism and addiction in general.
There are other cultural stigmas towards mental illness, suicide, and people who dress up like animals (yet for some reason, it’s OK to dress animals up like people).
Stigma is fueled by unchecked preconceptions.
And stigma is a total asshole (and the reason “asshole” is perceived as an insult is because of frivolous cultural stigmas we have about our bodies).
It’s an asshole, because the witch hunt is on nearly any time someone opposes a stigma.
If I were to go outside naked right now to get some sun where the sun don’t shine, I could be arrested.
People would potentially be shocked and repulsed by the unexpected sight of my naked body.
I was born naked, and nobody seemed to mind…
But now it’s such a big deal that my freedom could be taken from me. Just for being in my natural state.
Short answer: Stigma.
Enduring against stigma is like perpetually swimming upstream.
But not everyone is cut out for accepting society at face value, and conforming to it despite its nonsensical undertones.
Some of us need this world to make a little more sense…
Some of us have a genuine need for society’s norms to stand up to scrutiny.
And we need there to be more space for us to be ourselves, without judgment and obstruction from those who are able to settle for the norms as they are.
I’ve often been stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Unable (or unwilling) to conform, yet completely beat down from fighting against cultural stigma.
Eventually, it seems the only thing left to do is shut up. Be voiceless. Be stagnant.
All while still having a guiding truth in my heart that tells me to stand up, speak out, be bold.
Having no voice, while also having an important message to share, is hell.
Having no freedom or space to be yourself, while everyone around you tells you that you’re free, is hell.
This particular brand of hell is the mind-made prison I’ve been in for the better part of the last three years.
It’s probably the major factor in why I am depressed.
So, I’ve been in a process of garnering up the courage to admit speak my truth again.
And finding the conviction in my heart, to speak it even when my voice shakes.
And it’s not just about hearing the sound of my own voice. It’s not merely about expressing myself.
It’s about contributing to a world that makes space for human beings to be free and authentic, rather than disregarded and subjugated over stigma and misunderstanding.
I’ve followed the radar in my heart this far, and I am not going to stop now.
The fires of hell can disintegrate us, hurt us so badly that we run away, or forge us into the strongest force on Earth.
An evolutionary force, that can change everything for the better.
That’s a cause worth going through hell for.
It’s a cause worth standing up for, even through all the mockery and resistance shelled out by those who think the status quo is the only realistic option.
It’s worth getting back up for after tumbling down and being beaten within an inch of your life.
It’s even worth dying for. Undoubtedly.
But even more than that, it’s worth living for with all of our hearts.
It’s been said a million times that the only constant is change.
But people don’t always realize, that constant change isn’t some uncontrollable force.
We are the change. You are.
No matter what you do:
You’re the change you want to see in the world, or you’re the change you don’t want to see in the world.
You don’t get to be neutral and inconsequential. No one does.
So here’s the bottom line.
I know this post was a bit all-over-the-place.
An act of self-discovery and gaining clarity, while also serving as self-expression.
And it may not make total sense, because some of the concepts expressed here are tips of icebergs. Connected to vast assortments of unseen details.
I do not know if there’s anything for you to take away from this.
But here is what I am taking away from it:
When I can’t concede to certain aspects of society, I must speak up.
When I speak up and am met with resistance, I must endure.
Not for the sake of arguing or fighting.
The endgame is peace.
Peace for me, peace for you. Peace for everyone.
Space for people to be themselves without judgment, condemnation, or unchecked stigma.
The world won’t know what I need if I don’t speak up.
The world won’t take what I need seriously if my conviction isn’t strong enough to speak my truth while still being respectable to other people’s truths.
It’s not that the whole world will just instantly embrace making space for me to be myself.
I’ll get called a snowflake, for sure. Or pretentious. Or selfish. Or any other number of things.
But that’s OK. Because this is important.
If I want someone to give me space to be me, I need to give them space to be themselves.
And to doubt me.
And to criticize me.
And maybe some people will never accept me, no matter what I do.
But some people will. Some people do.
That’s my tribe.
My little corner of the world I can go. A corner of the world will never find me if I don’t speak up and stand my ground.
Finding my tribe has been an arduous, lonely process.
Especially without a voice. Without a beacon.
But I’ve known in my heart all this time, the loneliness is worth it.
The times of voiceless dismay. All worthwhile.
It’s part of the fuel that propels me forward.
Forward, towards what?
A life of feeling worthy, important, and competent. A sense of belonging…
A life that transcends the purgatory state of depression.
Originally published at Andrew L. Hicks.