This is in no way a comment about myself – I used myself and my past situation as a case-study. I am not looking for pity, encouragements or anything. I talk about it because, maybe, somebody might find useful bits in it, to use them on themselves or on the dear ones.
I used to dismiss depression. Well, “dismiss” is a little bit strong. I knew it exists, yet I thought only a few people are touched by it, that it is caused by deep organic imbalances. I was always a pessimist, nihilist, dark person – yet joked about things that hurt me, spilled it out and managed to go ahead.
In 2007 life helped me understand it better. Confronted with a sudden, unprepared request for a divorce, I found out the viciousness of a panic attack. Then, in denial, I pulled myself up and tried to fight a battle already lost. After these first struggles, the realization of my new situation hit me and with it, The Depression settled. Coming to an empty home on a cold November night, living alone for the first time in my life can do this to anybody.
I am less well-read than people believe. My strength comes from intelligence and good memory. As such, I have to constantly “reinvent the wheel”. In those times of little hope, I discovered what I had to do to stay alive, pretty much all by myself. I was never interested in clinical depression, didn’t care much for it, when I was depressed it was more of a poetical and metaphysical sadness, so I really didn’t know much. I coped with it, I stayed functional – staggering many times, falling and picking myself up and trying again. Since then I had the chance to observe this depression in many people but I found it very difficult to help them. That is mostly because I am not a very patient and/or political person. I am blunt and direct. To be honest, I think this is what depressed people need – a little bit of tough love that can show them that what they feel/want to do is NOT good for them and what looks horrible and uncaring will do them good in the long run.
What follows is an attempt to organize my thoughts about this affliction. For me analysis and understanding is crucial because one cannot control what one doesn’t understand. I simply describe what I did and helped me because I believe that, with modifications made to suit personal cases, the basic principles can be applied to anybody.
There are medical situations where depression has no real cause. I leave those for the doctors and shrinks. The ones I went through and witnessed have always a real and – most of the times – a very clear cause. Loneliness, debt, and low self-esteem are just a few such causes. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for these problems. Finding another partner takes time; paying huge debt cannot be done overnight. Of course, taking action for fixing – even in the long run – the underlying issues, is VERY IMPORTANT but coping with the long time horizon until the problem is fixed is the troublesome thing. It is a burdensome task and its immensity crushes the spirit into the eternal question “What’s the point of all this?”
Why don’t I answer this question?! The answer is simple – There is no point to ANY of it! Do you think that Universe would crumble if Earth would vanish?! Or maybe that humanity would vanish because one individual would die?! Why do you have life? Why were you born? Why was that squirrel born? Existence in itself is pointless – it is our mind and our will that gives life a point. The sophism I hang onto in those times was “The meaning of life is giving it a meaning”. It is our duty to give it a meaning.
So, as I was saying, action needs to be taken to fix the basic problems: place your profile on dating websites if loneliness is creeping on you, make new friends, keep in touch with the old ones; if in debt keep a tight budget and evaluate every expense. I am positive that most of the people are not so stupid as to not know that loneliness can be cured by finding a companion, that debt can be fixed by increasing the revenue and cutting the spending and so on.
Still, this is a crisis situation of one’s life and it doesn’t help to know that you will be cured by the problem in 5 years, if the depression might kill you next month. Exactly that is why we need to buy time, day after day, give us hope and keep the spirit alive until the “resurrection”.
Cover the basics. It might sound silly but I know that works. It stems from my high-tech diagnosing and debugging philosophy: remove all the minor issues and what is left is the real problem. In depression, I believe that we need to tackle all those things that could add to the imbalance that makes us see the world in such dark colours. It is not complicated (but you will see later why so few people implement these common-sense advices):
- Have a predictable, organized life: wake up at a reasonable hour, even if you don’t have to. Eat well, at scheduled times. Go to sleep not too late so you can always rely on 8h of sleep
Take vitamins. This is no BS: read here. Somebody told me that vitamin B6 is called “the vitamin of happiness” and while taking it I noticed that it did stabilize my moods.
- Exercise – run, jog, go to gym, and exorcise those devils out of your mind. It is known to improve the production of serotonin – “happiness hormone” (which is not a hormone at all).
Don’t dwell morbidly in your problem – talk it out with friends, psychologist but know when to stop. I didn’t believe when somebody told me that talking drains your energy… but then, paying attention I realized I feel exhausted after a long, long telephone conversation.
- Stop using electronic devices 1h before going to bed – you will sleep better.
- Take care of yourself!
Seek minor personal victories. The idea crossed my mind when I remembered the story of the strategy employed by a Roman consul Fabius Maximus against Hannibal. After a number of crushing victories of Hannibal, the 63-years old dictator took the decision to avoid any fight with the great Hannibal. Instead he focused on minor skirmishes, attacking supply lines and so on. He did this because he realized that the Roman army, in a direct confrontation with the hero who inflicted on them some of the worst defeats (with THE worst – Cannae – still to come) would simply turn around and run. He understood that he needed to rebuild the confidence of his troops before accepting a frontal confrontation. A depressed person, in my experience, needs quite often (even if minor) victories to keep them going until the big battle can be won.
This leads me to one of the basic issues of our modern life. Many people (mostly women but I think that is because they can articulate more their feelings) complain “My life is empty”. Of course is empty. In search of comfort we avoid any challenge. Without challenges to confront, we don’t have the chance of overcoming those challenges.
What challenges?! You know better. It could be something as minor as cooking a new dish, running ½ km more or even cleaning up the house. It could also be something more elaborate – like learning a bit of a foreign language, taking a new course/certification, losing weight – anything. In my case, in those somber days of late 2007, early 2008, I decided that I have to become the best dad as I can be. As such I used the model of my mom – and cleaned up the house from top to bottom, started cooking, trying new recipes, I tried to quit smoking (and it worked for 6 mo) and got a new professional certification. And yes, I asked myself the same question mentioned before “What is the point?! Is this going to solve my problems?” – NO, but it bought me time, time to heal, time to find hope. More ways to handle rationally this question are “But does sitting on a couch and watching 12h of TV has a point?” or “The only problem without a solution is death!”.
Giving yourself these challenges (the ones you perceive as a challenge) and overcoming them will fill you with that good, wholesome feeling. And yes, because the victory is small and always overshadowed by the larger problem, it will not last – but it will give you an extra day or an extra week of healing time.
Put your problems in perspective. It might be ridiculous, it might be disgusting and definitely counter-intuitive what I am about to say but it is the truth. Contrary to what most people do, I watched depressing documentaries – about the squalor of slums, the hardships so many children have to face… I am not saying it was easy. Often tears would come to my eyes or even drip down my cheeks – but after all the sufferance I have witnessed would diminish my problems and help me see the truth. Divorced?! Hah – try carrying 25L of water 20 km when you’re 10 years old. Sad, depressed?! How about having no education, living in a hut, being handicapped in a poor country … I am sure that scolding yourself works with other issues as well. Let’s try: Bankrupt?! No matter how bad your life would be going through bankruptcy it would always be 1000x times better than that of the Chinese children kidnapped and kept 10-12 years as slaves, working on a kiln. You will lose everything and feel like you wasted 20 years of your life?! Then start making the ones remaining REALLY count.
Keep busy. “Idle hands are the tool of the Devil.” goes an old saying. I also remembered the words of the platoon commander I had during those 9 months I spend in Romanian Army (the quote is approximate): “Do you really think we need the ditches we make you dig? Or maybe that the guns need shinning every day? Or that the sky would fall if your dormitory is not spotless? No – these are simply tasks to keep you busy from dawn till dusk. Why?! Because this way you will not have time to ponder and realize the shit-hole you’re in.”
This recommendation goes hand in hand with those victories I was urging the depressed person to seek. Tedious projects, hard work will lead you to accomplishments AND will fill your time, leaving little time for those dark, ominous thoughts to infiltrate one’s mind. If debt/money is the issue – a second job is the answer to short-term issues and the long term ones as well. Wouldn’t all that hard work stress you more?! Of course, but it would be a good stress, one with a direction, not the swamp that is the lack of hope. Let the boss yell at you – it is good in all its evilness : you now have somebody to focus your hate, a problem to solve.
As you see, I am not discovering America here. Most of it is all known, clear, simple, and intuitive. And yet, many people who know all this can’t help themselves… that is because they don’t follow the MAIN RULE of depression, which I’ll describe soon.