Living Strong with Low-Grade Depression

Accepting reality and debunking the myth of perfect happiness

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been just a little bit depressed. It’s never been debilitating. It’s just kind of always there in the background.

I’ve found myself feeling tired even though I had slept plenty and hadn’t exerted much energy. I‘ve found myself feeling anxious in business meetings and on edge in social situations. I’ve let politics and economics upset me more than they should.

It’s always been hard to do certain things that seem to come easy to other people. It’s prevented me from forming relationships with some people and discouraged me from putting myself into challenging business situations.

I blamed my low-grade depression on low-grade depression itself. Finding an external factor to blame allowed me to avoid considering my own responsibility in the matter. It allowed me to avoid questioning my surroundings and the mindsets I had developed as a reaction to my surroundings.

I sought out self-help books to “cure” my malaise. Such books had the effect of helping me ignore my concerns and motivating me to get rich no matter what it takes.

But failing to consider the basis for my underlying thoughts, and deflecting responsibility for them, was disempowering and ignorant of reality.

The self-help motivation stuff eventually “wore off” and I found myself depressed again — questioning the world around me and my reaction to it. So I thought more critically about longer-term solutions…

I had previously ignored politics out of fear of it making me more depressed (even if for good reason). I decided to finally take the unpleasant risk of studying political philosophy as a way to better understand the world.

More importantly, I worked on better understanding myself. I started actively participating in determining my values and goals instead of letting them be dictated by my peers or popular culture. I determined what I wanted and cared about — things like being healthy and helpful — and how it differed from what popular culture told me to want — things like money and social status.

The reality that I came to realize, is that there are real problems in the world that provide reason to be a little depressed and anxious. It wasn’t just my low-grade depression’s fault that I was feeling depressed. Issues like the election, national debt, and legitimately dangerous people actually exist and having anxiety about such things is simply a survival mechanism.

Once I accepted the reality that there are real reasons to be concerned, and that it wasn’t just the result of a chemical imbalance, I had three choices about how to react…

For one, I could let the depression debilitate me. I could live a life of sadness and fear. I could give up on striving for anything in life, let alone building up the motivation and energy to accomplish anything.

Second, I could choose to ignore everything and barrel through it all with the help of a consistent drip motivational self-help books like I had tried before.

My third option was to accept the reality of the world around me and to accept the reality of my reaction to those realities and then make the best of it.

I chose the third option.

Once I accepted reality, I began identifying the factors within my control that I could influence to achieve a healthier state and what actions I could take to live a fulfilling life.

I started exercising. I started eating healthy. I started looking for the good in every situation. I started expressing gratitude for what I already have.

With a healthier state, mentally and physically, I realized that some of my concerns were overblown. I’m not going to get attacked in a business meeting. And there are smart people working on the many important problems in the world, and many more good people who mean well.

Some of my anxiety was just my brain trying to keep me alive. Our brains care less about what’s actually true and more about what will help us stay alive and reproduce.

With a better understanding of myself and the world around me, I’ve been happier and more productive than ever before.

Am I perfectly happy 100% of the time? No. That’s not something I ever want to achieve nor is it even achievable for me. If I was happy 100% of the time, it would be a result of self-help motivation “brain washing” — it would have no basis in reality.

What I have done is reduce my anxiety and depression as a result of…

  • Differentiating between what I truly should be depressed about and what there’s no need to be depressed about
  • Not expecting or desperately seeking a state of mind that would have no basis in reality
  • Living by my own values instead of someone else’s
  • Focusing on what’s in my control and taking action to improve myself everyday

Now, I don’t blame myself or the chemicals in my brain for feeling depressed. I don’t let low-grade depression debilitate me. I’m making the best of everything and moving closer to my own definitions of success everyday. Tonight, I‘m flying to Chicago to be with my girlfriend and her family. It will be a great ending to one year and beginning of another. I hope you have a great end of 2016 and start of 2017 as well!

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