Depression: how to make it though
First day: a little tired from work. Second day: let’s just take it easy this weekend. Third day, you realize this is just the beginning. Here’s what I’ve learned from years of these downs and how to take care of yourself during the process.
You don’t fight it (directly)
Emotions are self-actuating. When you “fake it to you make it,” in my experience there seems to be a debt that builds up. At some point you pay the debt plus interest. People see right through it, the brain sees right through it, and you’ve not dealt with the problem. You eventually collapse under the weight of fakeness. I’ve gone to Tony Robbins, and I’ve exercised “instantaneous state changes.” It’s an incredible concept, but so far, in my experience, with depression, the brain sees right through it. Give it month of that, and soon it stops you; it demands you listen. It’s not fooled.
That’s not to say don’t try to feel happier, but if you do, deal with your emotions like you would deal with a conversation with a friend. You don’t go to your down emotions and bring happiness; you go to your down emotions, mirror with down-ness first, and then express a little less down. Don’t smile when you are sad, just start with sadness, then move up the corners of your lips up half a millimeter. That’s your part, and look you’re a little bit happier and it feels natural.
You might be feeling the wrong thing
Emotions are self-remediating. Sadness (and helplessness) puts you in a state of contemplation. The reflection should help you avoid tragedy in the future or at least mourn a loss so you can move on. Anger, should spike your energy so you can take action. This isn’t just in our outward-facing lives. Biochemically, a similar thing is happening: emotion stems from a change of chemical balance, and the right emotion will bring the chemicals back into balance.
Some of us don’t have certain emotions in our repertoire. For me, this emotion was anger and rage. I just never learned to feel anger growing up or at least it was taught out of me. Yet, it made me seem like a very spiritual person at some points that I didn’t fuss about about someone taking advantage of me or stealing several thousand dollars or whatever, but in the end I paid the price — not just externally, but I paid the price in sadness. I should have felt anger, but instead I felt nothing. Weeks later, I’d feel sad and not know where it was from. I remember the time I felt I was hopelessly slipping into depression, but somehow the sadness converted to rage. That lasted for a few hours, and then it dissipated, both the sadness and the rage. Yes, I’m a little less “spiritual now;” yes, I get impatient and frustrated; yes, I’ve had to go back and apologize, but I’m much better off with anger in my emotional manual than without it. With sadness, I was biochemically trying to drive in nail with a screwdriver. Find the emotions you aren’t allowed to feel and learn to feel them.
Run for 30 minutes
It doesn’t matter if you have the world on your shoulders right now: You many have to fail at work, miss the deadline, let down people who are counting on you. Oxygen is plummeting and the mask you need to put on is your own. You you first for once. When you’re depressed, you have very little drive; everything will take 2–5x as long, so you won’t have any extra time, but this is something you ABSOLUTELY must do. You cannot beat depression without it.
When you force yourself to run and you have heartache, that heartache becomes louder and louder and then just when you think you can’t take it anymore, it cracks. Tears roll down your face. You let out a whimper. You’ve released something. I’ve learned your body and mind have a certain capacity for pain, and once you cross that line, your body becomes kind to you and releases you from it’s tyranny. The worst possible situation is riding that line and never going over, because if you do that, you may never be free from the pain.
Run for 30 minutes every morning until you get better. For some reason, 30 minutes seems to be the magic number. Not 15, not 25, but 30. Set your watch for 30 minutes. It seems like you’re spending too much time, but you’re not. You need this. Do this every morning until you get better.
Deal with physical pain
It’s like what I said about unfelt emotions above. With physical pain, just because you don’t feel it, does not mean you’re not experiencing the effects.
It was a long time before I realized that my sadness was very often coupled with upper back pain/tightness. I also realized that if I could massage it out, the sadness would often miraculously dissipate also. At one point, I went to see a good chiropractor 3 days in a row. That made a world of difference for me.
Explore your body. What doesn’t feel quite right? This might be hard, because you can be desensitized to pain after a while, but your body and mind still feel it. Next time you feel depressed, try to take an Advil. Don’t do that all the time, but just do it once to see if it helps. If it does, see if you can figure out if there may be a physical contributor to this emotional pain.
Let go of dopamine-spiking drugs / activities
Dopamine is the nectar of life. Nothing will make depression seem to vanish for a second like a shot of dopamine. When I was at my worst, coffee and Coca-cola were the only things that seemed to magically lift me up. Without it, I was on the floor; with it, I could be the life of the party. When it was bad, several times per week, the porn on my phone would let me forget my pain for long enough to sleep through another night and make it through another day.
The difficult truth is, at some point you are going to have to let go many of these self-treatments if you really want to be free. The problem is without dopamine, it’s nearly impossible to get out of a rut — you have no desire for life. You NEED dopamine, but if you’ve ever suffered from depression in the modern era, you probably don’t have too little; you much more likely have too much. If you’re like 99% of people out there, you have certainly found dopamine highs to help you avoid the pain, whether it’s drugs, video games, porn, social media, sex, or masturbation. These bump you up enough to help you get through the day, but you pay the price of desensitization — dopamine receptors literally fall off their neurons. They can’t handle it; they get fried away. Your chance of feeling the normal pleasures of life is near zero. The time it takes for the receptors to come back to full sensitization isn’t days: it’s months or even longer.
At some point, you have to see how you are self-medicating and quit, not just reduce. You have to get through the emotional lows, the headaches, the fatigue not having that medicate inevitably results in. You just have to make it though. Try to get to a point when you’re not running to these things every time something hurts inside. Every intense high is just reminding your brain that it was a good decision to burn off those receptors, and without those receptors, you cannot fully experience the normal pleasures of life.
(ps.- if you’re looking to quit porn and you’re a guy, I would highly recommend “Brain Buddy” on the app store; I found it to be a very helpful app)
Give up the past
One of the hardest things to give up is our memories of suffering. It somehow makes us feel like we’ve earned something. It somehow makes us feel like we’ve stockpiled savings that we can one day cash out when someone judges and we can say, “you have no clue what I’ve been through!” We could write about it in our memoir, and people can be inspired by what we went through. It somehow feels like it defines us, without the memory of the hardships, who really are we?
But that’s not really true. We are who we in this moment by what we do and how we experience life. The rewards of the pain of the past is that YOU ARE STILL HERE. You didn’t give up. You are still alive! Yes, it was harder for you to get here than some, but you are here; you’ve made it, and if you are lucky, you are a kinder and more empathetic person because of it.
You have to ask yourself, would you let it go? If you could press a button to wipe away your memory of the past and that would mean you’d live an amazing future, would you? If you are living in the present moment, is there really even a past? I’m not asking you to deliberately forget the past; I’m asking you to stop trying to deliberately remember it. That’s a decision you have to make for yourself. For me, I know there was a long time when felt I “needed” to remember the past. It hurt to remember, but if I forgot it, it felt like I was losing a part of myself. Now I realize the suffering of the past has crafted me into a better person in certain ways (but not every way), and that’s enough of a prize for me without having to remember the play-by-play. Soon we will die, and some of us may even have dementia even long before we get there. Whatever the case, our memories will be wiped from the human consciousness no matter if we are King Tut, Bill Gates, or Vladimir Putin. At some point, even historians need to prioritize what they study; they’ll forget about us, but how we live, how we interact with the world, how we feel night now: what’s with us “for our ever.” A speck in human history is all of eternity to the one living it.
The cycles become shorter
Does depression ever go away? I don’t know, and at this point, I care very little.. All I know is if you do these things that I’m writing about, the cycles become shorter. You might have been depressed first for ten years, and this time it’s two, and next time it’s nine months, soon it’s one month, then one week, then it’s just a few days. Early on, growth is just feeling hints of normal experience. Then you have a week or two of normalcy in the midst of down-ness. Then it’s the depression that is the anomalous experience. Then it become less bad, and less bad, and less bad. The battle might never end, but you’ve become a stronger warrior, and at some point, you can fight with your eyes closed, and some point you can live life effortlessly in the midst of the crossfire.
If overcoming depression is like cleaning a house, the house only really becomes clean when you learn the habits of noticing when something is out of place and remediating right away. You may have to do some deep cleaning early on. You may get to a point when feel like you’ve figured everything out, but then realize you don’t and you have much more work to do, but as you become more nuanced in your awareness and reactions, messes cease to last very long. No house is ever clean on its own, but you can get pretty darn good at upkeep, so that at some point it’ll seem like little work at all.