Ah, an article on depression. There are millions of them out there with people claiming to have answers to a problem that has plagued mankind since before written history. Ever taken the time to ogle the self-help section at Barnes & Noble? It’s hard not to be cynical when all these ‘happy people’ are neatly packaging their depression cures for public consumption. My ideas are not my own, in fact they are a culmination of my own research along with decades of having friends, family, and coworkers suffering from depression. If it’ll help you put me into a stereotypical box: I am age 30, male, and was diagnosed with depression at age 21. My father was diagnosed with a rare form of schizophrenia back in the 1970s and was told he should never leave the mental institution. He has since suffered from extreme bouts of depression for most of the years I’ve known him.
I’ve been hospitalized three times for suicide attempts and treated as an in-patient for about a week each time. The last stint was in 2013. Even so, my depression has not had a hold over me since early 2017, and I’m here to tell you the how and the why. Read on, dear friends. We’ll make quick work of some pertinent topics before arriving at oodles of revelations.
Is Medication the Best Way To Combat Depression?
Listen, I’ve taken SSRIs, SNRIs, Tricyclics, Antipsychotics, and others that I’ve simply forgotten about. Medications are not a cure-all, nor are they ineffective. They are most often aids that can assist in keeping certain suicidal ideation or anxieties at bay (sometimes having the opposite effect as well). I do not, however, enjoy the swallow-and-wait approach that doctors take with medication. Since no doctor on the planet can tell you precisely or even vaguely how any particular medication will affect you, it’s simply a guessing game. “I think this medication will work for you, but we won’t know for sure until the three-week to one-month mark.”
This guessing game is one that can end up being worthwhile as tracking your symptoms and mental health while you wait for the medicine to do its job is a decent habit to pick up. Learn yourself.
Is Psychotherapy Worthwhile in Treatment for Depression?
Yes. Sure. Therapy with the right person, that is. I have been regularly visiting the same therapist since 2014, nearly a year after my last institutional visit and suicide attempt. I had bounced around to different people until I found M. She was spastic and ADHD as they come, but she genuinely cared. When I was afraid to leave my house, or drive a car, or even check my email, she did not mock. She understood. I’m married now and she feels like she sees victory whenever I come to visit. It’s true; the right therapist can help you turn yourself around. A trained professional can give you advice or simply just a different perspective on a something you’ve been going over constantly in your mind.
Oftentimes you just need to talk, or more specifically, have someone listen.
Even so, psychotherapy and medication aren’t why you came here. You want to know about hidden secret techniques passed down from monk to monk in the Himilayas, yes? Yeah me too. For now, let’s go with this.
It’s All About Control
To control your body, you must first control your mind. To control your mind, you must know your mind intimately. This requires daily reflection in the option of journaling, praying, or any real quiet introspection of the day’s events. For all of this, we’ll create an elaborate metaphor for the mind using something we’ve all seen or been on: a school bus. How many wheels does your bus have? Does it go fast? Does the driver get distracted by squirrels? These are important question to ask your…school bus.
Now imagine this school bus has two dozen children and one very…tired driver. This driver is constantly yelling at the children to be quiet and finds that she has less and less motivation to keep things quiet. Thoughts and emotions can be seen as each child. The child as an entity is the thought, and its actions are the emotions. Screaming, yelling, cursing, crying. You know those types of children. Everyone’s mind has a few passengers they wish would get off at the next stop.
Control is about taking stock of what all is in your mind. Your thoughts, feelings, aspirations, motivations. These are the abstract qualities that make you a person and not just a human.
Work Toward Increasing Your Sphere of Control
My good friend Ian is to credit for this phrase. When he first told me of it, I had to ask many questions. As I understand it, it relates to sitting down one-on-one with each of the children on your mental bus and having an in-depth conversation. Understand your mind. Understand why you choose to do certain things. Understand which things make you smile. I know some of these things may be seen as henna (strange in Japanese) but that’s what makes you an individual.
As your sphere of control increases, so does your ability to handle what happens or doesn’t happen during daily life. Understanding breeds control. Control breeds peace.
Controlling Your Body Can Help Take Charge of Your Depression
Notice that I call it ‘your depression.’ You have to own it, friendo. This depression wasn’t given to you by your ex or by your parents. You found it and gave it a home. Now, just like a good pet-owner, you must take charge of what you own.
Look at your hands and feet. Slowly. Don’t attract too much attention. That would be bad. Our hands and feet offer so many possibilities in life. My best friend of 23 years has limited use of his body. Due to an incurable disease, he cannot quite brush his teeth anymore. Or wipe his ass. He can only walk for a few minutes at a time. He’s only a year younger than I am, too. And yet, through his depression and anxieties, he still manages to get the fuck out of bed and do things. I’m very proud of him. What’s your excuse?
As for me, with my hands, I work with tools to make tables, chairs, and bookshelves mainly. I love woodworking. I also work on and build computers, fix eyeglasses and play video games. With my feet, I walk nearly ten miles a day, walked along the beach where I got married, and walked to a local grocery store earlier. Don’t get caught up in the connotation of the situation. Doesn’t matter what what you’re doing is seen as objectively small potatoes, when it’s big potatoes for you. I love potatoes.
Yes, yes. I realize that I have potential to do things. So what?
What I’m saying is more subtle than that. I’m not saying that because you can do things, therefore you must. What I am saying, is that by exerting your control over your body to choose to do things, anything, is a step toward mental stability.
Charles Darwin first posed the idea that emotional responses influence our feelings in 1872. “The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it,” he wrote.
There are hundreds of studies out there that postulate that smiling, even with a fake intention, can produce brain chemicals that craft the happiness that we so dearly desire. That’s a nice idea, but I’ll give you something more concrete to work with. Craft something. Whether it be your hair or a barn-wood table. Make something. Take the time to do it right. You may not be feeling anything during or right after, but ’tis a good exercise and habit to acquire.
How Many Things Do You Actually Have Control Over in Your Life?
Can you control your teachers, coworkers, bosses, friends? Can you make them do things? It’s possible to change the way they see you, sure. It’s also possible to get everyone to like you. From my own experience, that takes a toll. Doing so changes who you are to suit others.
The only one you can truly control is you. Know your mind, know your body, know your limitations. Endeavor to create rather than destroy. Try to build bridges rather than burn them.
There are so many times in daily life that we feel as though we have no control over what happens. I’ve been blindsided by denied promotions, relationships gone awry, and family members’ deaths. Feeling helpless and hopeless are the easiest responses to these situations. I challenge you to not take the path of least resistance, and fight instead. Gather ye armor and do battle with the darkest thoughts of your mind. You have taken the time to know yourself, have you not?
Know Your Enemy: Despair
Depression is essentially despair with a side order of the void. Everyone’s depression manifests differently, but the two types that I’ve seen most often are these.
- Pervasive sadness and lack of hope.
- Loss of feeling toward anything and anyone. Loss of motivations
Both have a tendency to end up in the realm of despair. I have been in both arenas at once, and it’s quite easy to give up. I’ll tell you of a story, briefly. The year was 2017. Due to extreme stress, relationship struggles, and the death of my son, I found myself laying in a field. It was a field near-ish to my home, yet it felt like somewhere I could just stay forever. I did not have any motivation to live or to leave. I was done. My girlfriend sat near me in a patch of grass, watching me with bated breath. She knew that if she got up and went home, she’d never see me again. So she stayed. She was as tired and sad as I, but yet she still desired life. I did not understand it at the time, but I had given in to despair.
I had taken the enemy’s hand and chosen to lay down and give up. Only by my significant other’s help did I stand up and limp home. I don’t mean it figuratively. I limped. I stopped many times, as well. I’m not proud of myself, but it’s the truth. I was done. Done with everything. Since then, I’ve gotten to know my enemy despair very well, so that it holds no sway over me at all.
I Have Control Over My Mind, Body, and Self. What Next?
Do some good. I know it sound silly, but it really isn’t. You can really make someone’s day, or do a great job at work. No one will likely pat you on the back, but you will know. Back to that metaphor of the bus, won’t everyone be just thrilled if you take the time to bring snacks for the trip? Every time you do something positive for yourself or another, it’s like giving your brain some chocolate. Tastes good, and is quite satisfying.
At the end of the day, you’re the only one that can help yourself. You have to get off the damn couch and seek to crawl your way out of the abyss. You are the only one that can control you. Why wouldn’t you want to take charge of yourself? I believe in you. I write these articles as a sort of conversation between myself and my readers. I’m talking to you, and I believe in you. Start small and keep grinding away. You’ll get it.
One Last Secret Technique For Fighting Depression
This one is mine own. I’m sure you could find similar ideas elsewhere, but this one is my baby. In essence, it’s a compartmentalization of our thoughts, but I’d rather see it in the form of imagery rather than concept. If your mind was a row of mailboxes, with your thoughts being the mail itself, how would you label the mailboxes themselves? Let’s use one that I’ve been working on recently.
You have two mailboxes:
All of your thoughts can be whittled down to these two categories. As the mail comes in, sort through it and place them in their separate boxes. Constructive thoughts are worthwhile. They are positive, helpful and pragmatic. Destructive thoughts are harmful. They don’t help anyone. Envy, jealousy, greed, wishing harm on others, misplaced anger.
Now imagine that second mailbox has an open back and its mail just conspicuously falls into a trash bin. Ah, isn’t that better? So nice not that have to listen to those unhelpful thoughts. You see them, recognize them, and then let them pass on by. It sounds simple, and depending on you, it can be. Try it out. What’s the worst that could happen?
Learning to sort through your thoughts impassively, without scorn and yet with sound judgment is a learned trait. This is not something that is taught by parents or teachers of this era, sadly.
Depression Is For Life
Those that have true depression, know that it’s a lifelong thing. Just like eating a proper diet is a lifelong thing, so too is managing and learning to control your depression. You are the only one who can arrive at the conclusion that life itself isn’t meaningless. That your actions matter somehow. Like I said before, I believe in you. If you know yourself, learn your enemies, and learn not to ruminate on destructive ideas, you’ll be fine. Maybe even find a glimmering slice of happiness again. Good luck, dear friend.