I’ve flirted with depression throughout my life.
The usual teenage angst, that I hardly think warrants the name; the occassional low points during University; a longer period after graduating and wondering “is this it?” when I joined the hamster wheel of the 9–5 grind.
The most intense period was during the later stages of a failing relationship. I had been OK for a long time, coping with someone I desperately wanted to help out of the black hole of depression or borerline personality disorder (we never got a diagnosis). Since I couldn’t see any practical way to help either of us at the time, I became intensely depressed. That was what, subconsciously, my brain thought would “work”.
If you haven’t seen the Aronofsky film “The Black Swan”, watch it.
This film woke me from that short, sharp depression I had been in.
But that’s not what this story is about. The experience of that bout of depression and somehow being triggered out of it by the film profoundly changed me because I realised the biggest tricks the brain plays are on you. Your brain can utterly convince you of anything. After all, if you’re not convinced, how are you going to convince others?
Fast forward a few years and I thought I had everything sorted.
I’d figured out the meaning of life (more on that in future stories I suspect!); got an interesting and well-paid job; married a beautiful, intelligent woman who is truly my life partner; bought a house. All the usual trappings of a successful, modern life.
But then it began to unravel.
Not much, but just enough to trigger the depression.
It crept up slowly as I began to enjoy my job less — it had become more corporate; more stressful.
I tried going part-time. That worked for about a year.
Then I quit. Without a job to go to.
Fortunately, I’d been partially lucky with some investments in the company’s shares and partially smart enough to always pay myself first and keep my outgoings reasonable, so I could survive with no job for quite a while (about 3 years if push came to shove).
I enjoyed the first month off. I was even happy (happier?) for a while — crazy life changes can do that.
The second month, not so much. I was getting more depressed being “home alone” while the rest of the world moved on around and without me. The paranoia of not having a paycheck was beginning to bite.
Luckily, by the third month, I found a job that sounded interesting. I could learn new things. Spend time with people. Get out of the house! Pay the bills!
But I still wasn’t happy and I kept feeling empty.
I kept thinking:
“How am I supposed to know what to do if I don’t want to do anything?”.
“Why am I so unhappy?What have I actually got to be unhappy about?”
“What am I supposed to do with my life?”
Over, and over, and over.
It had now been about a year of feeling low. Not talking much. Not being happy. Not having any interest in anything. It’s only with hindsight that I can see this clearly. It’s only now, that I’m me again, that I can see what had gone wrong. It was my brain getting stuck on a loop. A negative feedback mechanism that I didn’t know how to break out of.
Only three weeks ago, I started using a guided meditation app. I figured it was cheaper than therapy and if it didn’t work out, I could try that.
I wish I’d done it sooner.
I began to feel better in the first week.
70 minutes of getting my brain to shut the hell up for a while was beginning to shift the stylus from the “How to be depressed, Part 56” track to the “Dude, what were you thinking?, Part 1” track.
Even though I’ve now only got 5 and a half hours under my belt, I can confidently say I’m back! I’m me again! The positive, confident, happy guy I used to know and love!
Thank you, Sam Harris for waking me up.