“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.” Mark Twain
Depression DOES lie, but that is a simplification, Depression also cheats, it exaggerates, it can twist your thoughts and feelings around to serve its own dark ends (as Wheaton succinctly puts it, “Depression is a Dick”). It can raise doubts in your head on a perfectly normal, even great day which will cause your perception of the world to come crashing down around you.
It can get to anyone. With the current news cycle that just keeps spinning and spinning it can even get to those that have not been diagnosed with a Manic Depression (like I have) or Bipolar Disorder.
To describe the mania of the “Manic” real quick, for those who might not know. It is like being in a world, to borrow a Spinal Tap reference that “has been turned up to eleven” everything is brighter, louder, your ambition and confidence lights up (on the positive upswings) and the negativity and doubts blacken your perspectives (on the downswings). It’s my understanding that those diagnosed with bi-polar get the mania amplified yet again, pushing the depression and the mania to more extreme territories.
Something that I have been asked a lot lately from people I am just getting to know, or friendships I am rekindling after being away in my own self-imposed hermitage for several years. How do you fight depression? What makes it better? If you are down and depressed, or with a down and depressed person, what steps can you take to improve things?
Fighting is not the point, the Depression and the Mania are ingrained within your personality. The notion of fighting it is nigh impossible, on good days we co-exist. On the best days, the trinity of mania-depression-personality become dance partners, one motion and action supporting and bouncing off another in a neutral to positive manner.
Here are some notes on my approach.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, these suggestions are not medically endorsed in any way. If you are in a real funk or need the BIG help dealing with depression, please seek out professional help – clicking through here is a good place to start. Or if in a real funk, National Suicide Prevention Hotline (US) is 1-800-273-8255.
THE GOLDEN RULE:
BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU ARE TAKING IN.
The key is to be conscious of the choices we make and the situations we place ourselves in socially. If you consciously enter into a situation that is full of triggers that push your mood in one direction or another, then you can consciously move your self away from that situation to a better one. If you are not paying attention, you may get overwhelmed and side struck and end up in a full-blown depressive funk that could have been avoided.
If you are on the upswing and want to ride that wave on up. Seek out positive things, people, and energy. If you want to ride up, now is not the time to do that David Fincher film festival, or listen to Roger Water’s late-era Pink Floyd. Now is the time for Funny Comedies, Katrina and the Waves Walking on Sunshine . On the flip side, if you are on the upswing and want to slow it down or reach a more neutral plateau … do watch the David Fincher movies and listen to Pink Floyd’s The Wall – put please be careful, as you don’t want to go so far as to promote an actual downswing or depressive crash.
BE AWARE note, the songs, movies, music, etc. you used to love back in high school may have gained some additional baggage as you have grown. So pay attention, if it starts to bring you down, remove it from your joyful playlist.
Here is a list of things that give me joy. Your individual mileage may vary (we are all wired differently) but if nothing else I encourage you to make your own list. Write it down in BIG TEXT and put it in a high traffic area of your home and office. This way, when you see your happy list, whether you are feeling down or not, you have this visual reminder that depression does not OWN you. And you can take steps to wrestle it to a manageable level, or maybe even reach the point where you can start dancing with it.
“I stopped fighting my inner demons, now we are dance partners.” – Unknown
Music is a great soul cleanser, particularly if you can directly interact with it in some way. Sing in the shower, dance in your living room, play Rock Band or go to the karaoke night at the local hot spot. Feel the music and take part. You can do this in the privacy of your own home, or go out with some friends or total strangers and dance, sing, celebrate – you don’t need a reason.
For anyone interested, my Plane of Positivity Playlist on Spotify
Watch things that make you happy. For me, this tends to revolve around watching people with rough social problems (sometimes) getting by. Shows like MARON or LOUIS or LADY DYNAMITE can cast my problems in sharp relief, an “at least I don’t have it that bad” kind of therapy. I also really love family films like FANTASTIC MISTER FOX and MONSTERS INC. One of my favorite movies is THE BIG LEBOWSKI, a narrative exercise in finding order from chaos, which is a theme I find myself drawn to again and again. Why can’t we just all be more like The Dude, and drift through life like a Zen master watching as things always come together to make a kind of karmic sense?
Similar to television, with little endorphin kicks as you are involved in the avatars narrative. For me, these either fall into two distinct categories:
- Games that are good for blowing off angry steam, the militaristic murder simulators, “let’s blow some shit up because I’ve had a miserable day and am feeling stressed out”. Stuff like DOOM or HALO or UNREAL TOURNAMENT. Great at what they do, but not generally positive experiences if we are honest.
- Games that are more exploratory, puzzle solving, more about traveling from point to point and all the fun that can occur along the way. Games like PORTAL or SKYRIM or JOURNEY
Or combinations of the two. Like FAR CRY or GRAND THEFT AUTO or THE WITCHER. Great for traveling around vanquishing your enemies, but also great for just running around in the vast game worlds, taking in the sights, listening to the winds whispering through the trees, or driving your car down an endless freeway listening to the radio.
“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” – Edward O. Wilson
Biophilia is the concept that we have a basic, primal connection to the natural world rooted deep in our physiology. There are many studies and articles linking natural world textures, sounds, patterns to healing. So if you can, take a walk outside. Find a park and spend some time on a bench looking at the trees. Walk the dog, get a little fresh air and exercise, see some natural daylight. If you are stuck in the city, you can still experience the benefits of Biophilia, go to your local library and look through books of nature photography. Rent a documentary of wildlife (BBC’s EARTH series is wonderful – ). Even if you do nothing else but find streaming audio of waves hitting the shore, or rainfall. This can register in your physiology and psychology at a subtle level and have a calming influence.
PETS and CHILDREN
“A good dog is the closest thing to a miracle angel from God that I can think of. Dogs are the ultimate role models. They are selfless and show unconditional love. They are noble and exhibit sincere companionship, fearless devotion, and courage. They contain within them a genuinely psychic intuition, and a tireless cheerful energy. Dogs are geniuses of loving kindness.” – Andrew W.K.
If you have a dog or have access to a dog through a friend or family member, spend some time with that animal. All the dogs I have ever known are endless fountains of nonjudgmental affection (that said, do not go up to random dogs you meet on the street, do get owner permission and guidance whenever meeting a new dog, like people, dogs are all wired differently and all have their own defensive triggers). Cats can be nice too, but they are a little more complicated to deal with, as they are little fuzzy manic depressives themselves. They can be full of light and love and energy one moment and then a second later need to have their own space and anyone entering that zone is likely to fall victim to claws or bite.
Children, if you have access to them through a friend or a family member, can be great to spend time with too if you catch them at the right age. Try and see the world through their eyes; clear, where magic is possible and life is full of opportunity. Play with them, have them tell you stories. Learn from them and be like them.
If you have a counselor or therapist, obviously, talk to them. If you don’t, talk to a priest, talk to a friend, talk to a family member. If you don’t have access to people, talk to yourself, aloud. When you get your challenges out into the open they can appear smaller. Or your friend might offer advice or perspective that might not make your challenges seem so overwhelming and bad. And when I say TALK I mean actually using those vocal chords. IM texting and social media tweets are not helpful, as it is extremely difficult, if not altogether impossible to convey the subtlety of emotion in these formats. Unless you are some kind of trained writer and your audience are trained readers, context and subtext will get missed or misinterpreted and that can cause a big stress inducing mess. THAT said, if you lack the means to actually physically talk to someone, I have found it helpful to keep a journal. Write that stuff down for yourself. It can help keep things in order, and with words on a page, challenges can seem more manageable, and the act of writing literally means you are thinking your way through things, rather than stagnating with a singular thought or mood.
Bake some cookies, write a poem, draw a doodle, make a vision board collage, write a list of things that make you happy, make a grocery list, make a playlist on Spotify, color a coloring book … do something to get out of the stuck depression rut in your head. It is difficult to be focused on how terrible everything is while carefully measuring flour for chocolate chip cookies.
PEOPLE, BE AROUND THE GOOD/POSITIVE ONES
It is common sense advice really. Keep the friends who make you feel good closer than the acquaintances (can you really call them friends if they make you feel bad?) who bring you down.
Keep in mind, no one is perfect, and even the best, most positive people we know can have their bad days. But there are those people out there, (given enough time and experience you can spot them), where their bad days and bad qualities outnumber their good qualities. These you should consider letting go of, or at least distancing yourself from. People grow and change over time, that best friend you had in high school that matched your personality so well twenty years ago is on their own path, just as you have your own things you are working on. Send them off with love, you will always have the memories of the good times, do not let the memories of the bad times eclipse those good memories altogether.
In the same boat. Follow heroes you want to emulate for their positivity. For me that’s people like Andrew W.K., Erika Napoletano, Amanda Palmer and businesses like Crahmanti, DoubleFine and Valve. On the flip side, stay off the Twitter and Facebook feeds of those nonHeroes who bring you confusion or sadness. You know who I mean.
A note on PHYSICAL CONTACT. Hugs can be powerful healers and mood lifters. I find it soothing to get my head petted by my partner. Backrubs, massage and other more intimate activities can all be uplifting. THAT SAID, keep these interactions consensual, and not creepy.
If you are sans partner, you can simulate by hugging yourself, or buying a full-length body pillow and cuddling with that. Or head to a cuddle clinic such as this one in Portland Oregon if one happens to be in your area.
DIET and DRUGS
I avoid caffeine, I take supplements of Fish Oil, Sam-E and St. John’s Wort, along with regular Ibuprofen. I eat things that make me happy, for me this includes meat and sugar and eggs – I am unapologetic of that, the truth of it is this it is the food I was raised with and while I have tried alternate diets, any health-related (or other) benefits these diets might have had were short sided by the fact that I was no longer getting joy from food. I need that joy.
Of course, everything in moderation. I am not 17 anymore, and can’t do things like consume an entire coconut cream pie in one sitting without consequences, but I can certainly enjoy a slice every now and again.
I have tried pharmaceuticals prescribed to me by a wide range of psychiatrists but found the side effects too harsh, or the numbing of the mania too extreme (imagine no upswings and no downswings, but just a steady dull gray neutral, all day every day) to make it worth continuation of the drugs. So after talking about it with my doctor, we put together a program where I could ween myself off the drugs and have been trying these other ideas instead ever since.
Mania note on food. Upswings love sugar, as do the downswings, for entirely different reasons. When in a downswing, try to make it a point to eat healthier and lighter. If in an upswing you can try to neutralize by having the heavier meals.
I like to read books. I like jigsaw puzzles and playing board games with my partner. At some point in the near future I am going to take up tabletop RPG’s again. Use the imagination. Enlist some friends to join in. Exercise the brain outside of computers and smart phones and social media.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH WHAT YOU LOVE
If something makes you happy, be it gives you a wry smile or the giggles or full blown laughter and jumping up and down SQUEE, WOOT or WHEEEE of excitement do those things more. Particularly when you feel a downswing either in effect or on the way.
That is what I do.
What about you? What do you do to co-exist with your depression? Please leave comments below.
Reference Notes/Further Info:
While on the subject of depression, in my view the most concise example of what depression is and how it affects you is from the online blog HYPERBOLE AND A HALF by Allie Brosh ADVENTURES IN DEPRESSION PART ONE and PART TWO
The “winds whispering through the trees” video link is from the video game WITCHER III: THE WILD HUNT.
The Andrew W.K. Dog quote was grabbed from a longer article written in his advice column for the village voice. entire article can be read here.