depression is depressing

breaking the cycle is harder than you might think

NOTE: I originally published this article back in 2014 but later unpublished it when I started applying for full-time software jobs. I foolishly thought I had somehow gotten over the whole “not being a 9-to-5 person” thing. After getting one of those jobs and then having to leave due to depression, I now know I was right the first time. As always, I have to learn things the hard way. Hopefully you won’t have to…

Imagine this:
You’ve been chained to your bed for several days. The chain is heavy and made of iron, and it’s held together by a massive padlock. The chain reaches only as far as the bathroom. Your whole body aches, and it’s impossible to get comfortable. Sleep (when you can get it) is the only relief. After days of struggling, you finally manage to break free somehow, and you feel righteously liberated! But then you notice that the key was around your neck the whole time. A few days after that, you come to realize that there was no chain, no padlock, and of course, no key.

It sounds like an episode of The Twilight Zone — the thought itself is enough to make someone feel depressed or at least disturbed.

So now you not only feel depressed again, but you also feel kind of stupid for not realizing that you had the key the whole time, which makes you feel bad. But wait, there was no key! The downward spiral is emerging…

Breaking out of this vicious cycle is not easy. It involves facing things that you may not like about yourself and admitting to friends and family that you need help. Medication can help get the brain chemistry back in check, but if the underlying issues remain, it’s likely the beast will be back.

For me, the “cure” (if there is such a thing) is this:

  1. Acknowledge that you have this thing. I hesitate to call it only a “problem” because, in some ways, it can also be a gift.
  2. Accept that it is a part of you, not some foreign invader to be attacked and driven out. While it can feel liberating at first to see it as an external affliction, this type of thinking often leads to disappointment (and more depression) when the “invader” proves difficult to extract. I’m not disputing the fact that depression is a physiological disorder or claiming that “it’s all in your head” (it is, of course, but not like that — your brain is in your head, and so are the neurotransmitters that for whatever reason aren’t functioning correctly). What I am saying is that because the problem is inside your brain (the most complex organ in your body), it’s not quite as simple as, say, type 1 diabetes resulting from your pancreas not producing enough insulin.
  3. Stop beating yourself up. Yeah, you have this thing, and yeah, it’s unpleasant sometimes. That doesn’t mean you have to feel bad about it. You can choose to be okay with it. Really.
  4. Do your best to stay well, but if you feel really bad, take a sick day or two. Use this time to recharge your batteries and catch up on sleep (or your Netflix queue!) I realize that you don’t always have this option. You gotta go to work, right? Which leads me to…
  5. If at all possible, get a job that allows you to tap into your productive, creative self while also allowing you the freedom and flexibility to do work when you’re at your best. Full disclosure: I’m still trying to figure this one out myself. For me, at least, a lot of the negative thoughts I used to have while depressed centered around feeling like I had failed somehow, or that “I should be able to work 9–5 like other people”. Guess what? You are not other people. You are you. Letting go of unreasonable expectations is the path to true happiness and fulfillment. Some of the most brilliant people who’ve ever lived have struggled with depression and feelings of failure. The fortunate ones learned to harness it to drive themselves forward and achieve their goals. The unfortunate ones destroyed themselves. Which do you want to be?
  6. Engage in activities that nourish your body — exercise, eat healthy, practice moderation. Even though we can sometimes get lost in our thoughts, we are, first and foremost, physical beings. The fact that we are conscious of our experience and able to contemplate infinity is a happy accident of evolution, and we should value it as such. The hardware that your fancy thought software runs on is fragile, messy, and prone to failure. Take care of it!
  7. Share your experience. Talking or writing about it really does help. Depression is a lonely experience. Sharing makes you feel less lonely, and hearing about other people’s experiences can give you perspective on your own. Helping other people who are struggling with something you have been through is also tremendously rewarding. And as with teaching, you often gain a deeper understanding of a subject by explaining it to someone else.

In the end, you and only you are responsible for your own happiness. Living with depression can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to take over your life. You get to choose your own adventure and your own perspective.

Enjoyed this story? Recommend it! Disagree? Screw you. Just kidding, leave me notes. I’m far from perfect, and so are you, but your opinion matters just the same.