si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Category: self-improvement

Depression

I can’t speak to your experience with depression, I can only talk of my own. Hopefully this may help – either you or someone you love.

 

A COUPLE OF CAVEATS

I’m not a mental/health professional, duh.

I am NOT suggesting to do what worked for me INSTEAD of other solutions. Try everything you can that feels right for you.

Why the need for caveats? Because today everybody is an expert on depression, it would seem. I’m not, I’m just one guy sharing his experiences.

 

SOME BACKGROUND

My family has a history of depression, going back to before it was really recognised as “a thing”, ie, multi-generationally.

Decades ago, I would get what I called “industrial strength depression”, where I would basically just crash in bed for two or three days, unable to do anything.

I’ve never taken medication, but looking back I suspect it may have helped. Several members of my family have and it has helped them.

As well as being a massive drain on my productivity (eg months where I’ve got zero real work done), I’ve had girlfriends break up with me saying “You were sad, and there was nothing I could do to change it.” In short, it’s had a significant, negative effect on my life.

 

THE CORE EFFECTS OF DEPRESSION

The key problem with most well meaning “solutions” (go out! get some exercise! talk to people! seek help!) is that they radically underestimate the core effects of depression.

 

1. Apathy

The first? Apathy.

I’ve had times where I haven’t left the house for three weeks. If I hadn’t had a dear friend coming around and bringing me food, I probably would have stopped eating too (god knows I couldn’t afford to buy food at that time).

When I’m feeling seriously down, my head is just spinning over and over with the same bullshit.

The idea of picking up a phone (ugh, effort!), finding the right number (ugh), maybe having to explain why I’m calling (ugh), being asked to be put through to the right person (ugh), having to explain again (ugh), then going through all that shit in my head, again, for the millionth time, with someone I don’t even know (a gazillion times ugh), when it’s unlikely they’re really going to be able to help me anyway (ugh). It’s all too exhausting. Particularly when lifting my head off the pillow just sounds like too much work compared to going back to sleep.

When I’m down that far, getting dressed is too much effort (let alone choosing what to wear). Showering involves standing up, and really, who gives a fuck about that?

Some of these times even lifting my head off the pillow feels like too much effort. “I’ll give it a go in a few hours”. Or maybe tomorrow.

 

2. Resilience

The second? Resilience.

When you’ve been mired in the dark cloud for too long, what gets worn down is your resilience.

What this means is that your ability to do deal with setbacks is reduced to, well, zero.

Every tiny little problem becomes insurmountable.

Friends ask you out, but your shoes haven’t been polished in months and if you go out with them looking like that people might guess how bad you are (and you’ll have to Talk. About. It. UGH), so you text your (obviously meaningless) apologies, switch your phone off (No. Talking.) and go back to bed.

There’s no food in the house, so just drink water. And go back to bed. Or (as I have done), realise that pancakes are just flour, water, eggs. And since the only ingredient in the house is flour (and tap water), fry that up (no oil) and pretend they’re just crappy pancakes. That was a good day – I managed to organise “food”.

A bill comes in, or a threatening letter from a creditor, and after a couple of hours of lying in the fetal position crying, go back to bed for the next three days until you can bear to do something, anything about it.

Obviously, on a normal day, all of these kinds of things are 2 to 5 minutes work to resolve, if that. Which is exactly the point.

Whatever you (in a non-depressive state) think a depressed person can or should do is very likely to be way, way more than they’re capable of handling. (Hence the common, usually unvoiced, reply: fuck off).

 

3. Helplessness

The third, Helplessness.

Obviously this ties into both resilience and apathy, but it’s worth mentioning on its own.

You feel helpless, powerless. Completely lacking in control, over anything.

You’re completely, utterly, unable to “fix the problem” – whether it’s the depression you’re feeling, or whatever-it-is that your thoughts are revolving around.

If you genuinely, deeply feel powerless, then why bother trying anything? Apathy.
If you genuinely, deeply feel powerless, so even the smallest thing is beyond you? Resilience.

This, in a way, is the worst thing. Because any possible solution is immediately met with “It’s not going to help anyway.” It’s nearly impossible to counter, simply because it becomes such a powerful, self-fulfilling belief.

 

 

THE USUAL APPROACH – ESCAPE

The usual approach, when your head is that full of shit? Try and escape it.

So, sleep is a great option (cheap, easy). Watching movies/TV (find a new 8 season series to watch and there’s a guaranteed 126 hours you won’t have to think about the shit in your own life. Video games. Farting around on the internet. Sex (if it’s around), or a new partner (always lots of easy avoidance to be found there). Masturbation/porn (which never really help anyway, and usually just leaves you feeling worse). Booze (adds up cost wise, risky/depressive but effective). Drugs (also pricey, can be hard to source).

Obviously, none of these things actually HELP in terms of moving you past the depression, or sorting your life in general – but they help you avoid having to THINK about it. They offer some, any respite.

When you’re in a state that low, even thirty seconds peace is blessedly welcome. 43 minutes of a TV show is like heaven.

 

THE WALLS OF DEFENCE

One of the reasons it’s so hard to see when the people around you are seriously depressed is that one gets very good at hiding just how bad it is.

It’s pretty similar to how an alcoholic will drink vodka because it’s less detectable.

For a start, you can see your friends getting sick of “trying to help.” All their well meaning suggestions failing because of the core effects listed above.

Secondly, since your crap is constantly bashing you in the brain, and your friends are obviously sick of hearing about it too, the last thing you want to do is vocalise what sounds like the same tired brain noise, for the umpteenth millionth time.

Thirdly, despite how common it is, there’s a LOT of stigma attached to depression.

So, as long as nobody sees how messy your house is, or notices how much weight you’ve lost (or put on), it’s trivial to play-act like “a normal human being”, for short periods of time at least.

“Oh sure, yeah, things are great. Definitely picking up. Or, seeing some great progress. Feeling pretty good.”

Or, an eternal favourite, simply deflect the conversation onto them, and ensure it never gets around to REALLY talking about how you are inside.

This is why asking someone “Are you ok?” is rarely going to get an honest answer, and why just telling them “I was thinking of you, and wanted to remind you that I love you” is so much more helpful. It’s not dependent on honesty from them – either with you, or themselves.

 

SUICIDE

Ever notice how many times someone kills themselves, and the people left behind say “I had no idea it was so bad”? Yeah, that’s not a fucking accident.

The key thing is – if someone you know or love kills themselves due to depression, do NOT think for a second you could have helped them “if only you’d known.” They hid it from you for a reason. And that was THEIR CHOICE.

Just like killing themselves was their choice. Ok, agreed, definitely a shitty choice – and god, it can do massive damage to those left behind (I’ve seen it rip families apart). The thing is, when you’re that low, in that much mental and emotional pain, you kill yourself because it feels like the only possible way out.

You kill yourself because you can’t take it any more.

You kill yourself because you just want to end the pain.

ALL THESE THINGS ARE FALSE. Of course.

Easy to see if you’re not depressed.

But while you’re in it? They FEEL true.

If you’re left behind, as much as you may disagree with this choice (and for many valid reasons), however much you may hate them for making it, be angry at them, curse their name – RESPECT their choice. It’s theirs to make. Yes, it’s the ultimately shitty choice (since it removes all other possible choices), but it’s still their choice.

Most importantly, NEVER blame yourself for their choice. What’s done is done. Your responsibility is to the living, yourself included. Be loving (when it’s finally possible). Be forgiving (when it’s finally possible). Look after those around you. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.

 

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO IF SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS DEPRESSED

As I mentioned above, I can only talk about what has helped me. Here’s what’s really made a difference:

Help out with the side effects of depression

Maybe bring beer, crank up music and clean their house (IF IF IF they’re ok with that). Take them out somewhere cheapish (to minimise guilt) and pay (if money is what’s depressing them). Hang out their washing or look after their kids. Hugs, long hugs, always hugs. It really doesn’t matter. What you’re doing here is making their life FEEL “less bad”, without forcing them to think about their shit. That’s key. As long as they don’t feel like you’re babying them, or being condescending, you should be fine.

Be compassionate

Don’t try to “fix” them. Just be patient, empathetic, understanding and give them a LOT of leeway. See above re resilience, apathy and helplessness.

Look after them in non direct ways

In my case, I had a friend who brought me food around, every week or so, for six months. Easy stuff that required no effort. I wouldn’t have eaten if it wasn’t for her. Spend time with them (go to THEM, if needed), and talk about non-emotional stuff, or just general junk. It’s helping them be social (often useful) but with minimal effort from them, and, most importantly, allowing them to avoid thinking or talking about their shit. So yes, escapism, in a way – but healthier escapism.

If they want to talk, let them, WITHOUT JUDGEMENT or “telling your story”

This can be tricky. Often when listening we’ll want to “share our similar story”. There’s a time for this, but if they barely have the energy to get out of bed, they definitely don’t have the bandwidth to help you with your shit. Remember, you’re the strong one in this moment. What you’re aiming for is empathy – understanding and sharing their feelings. Pointing out how things could have been worse is rarely helpful. Offering solutions (unless you’re going to do it for them AND they’re ok with it) is probably not helpful. If they’re talking, just open your heart, shut up and listen. Make them know you’re paying attention (eye contact, whatever level of physical contact they’re comfortable with, encouraging noises), but other than that, this is their time to talk. This can be VERY helpful.

 

All these things, really, come down to one thing: MAKE THEM FEEL LOVED. Of course, you can’t MAKE them feel anything, but you can do a hell of a lot to make sure the right signals are being sent out from your end.

Now, coming right out and saying “I love you” isn’t a terrible idea, but it’s very possible it won’t get through. They’re in a dark place. However, actions speak louder than words. Particularly non-confrontational actions that don’t remind them how crap everything is; maybe distract them a bit, and make their life that tiny bit better. THAT kind of love does get through – even if they’re not in a place where they can vocally acknowledge it.

 

 

THINGS THAT MAY HELP YOUR DEPRESSION

Here are some of the common solutions:

EXERCISE

This is good for a few reasons. It gets you out of the house. Forces you to interact with people. Gets endorphins pumping through your brain. Helps your lymphatic system remove toxins from your body. Gives you a target to aggressively burn off stress. All these things are net-positive.

In my experience? When I was seriously low, I was also exercising to an insane degree. Eg, beyond the point of muscle fatigure (I couldn’t stand up), almost every day of the week. Did it help? Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think it made me feel significantly better, but I do know I would have felt a lot worse if I wasn’t. Plus, it was a GREAT way to burn off stress energy (from the dozens of shitty things that were happening in my life at that time).

 

DRUGS

Several members of my family have taken these, and they’ve helped. I never have, but I suspect I may have benefited. Sadly, when I needed it most, I couldn’t even afford to go to the doctor to get a prescription.

The key thing to remember is this. SSRI’s (common anti-depression medication) do NOT make you happier. What they do is smooth out the peaks and troughs of your emotional state. So, they cut the terrible crushing lows out of your life, but they also cut off any highs you may have been experiencing. They numb you. You don’t feel incredibly shitty any more, but mostly because you don’t really feel much of anything any more.

You also have to be very careful with WHICH meds you take. Many of the side effects are worse than depression. Eg, extreme anxiety (which doctors, ever helpfully, then prescribe anti-anxiety meds for as well – coz hey, more drugs are better, right?). Some SSRI’s I’ve read about include significant risk of suicide. Yes, anti depression drugs that massively increase the likelihood of you killing yourself. Seriously. Do your research. Pay attention to how they make you feel, and changes in your mood, behaviour and health.

Also useful is to only be on them for a short period of time, say, six months. Often this will be long enough for you to get the rest of your life together, and that’s all you need. Long term drug use (any drugs) can be quite damaging on the body, or even seriously life shortening.

Remember: pharmaceutical companies make money from selling you drugs, not from making you healthy. Their ideal patient is one who feels terrible but doesn’t quite die. In a lot of ways they’re extremely evil; don’t trust them. By all means use their products if you think they’ll help, but don’t ever, ever trust them – or their marketing departments.

Now, one thing I have found to be useful – for VERY short periods (eg, drinking too much yesterday and feeling a bit lower than usual today) is 5-HTP. You can get it from a lot of supplement shops, although you may have to ask for it. Don’t take it more than 3-4 times a week, but it’s definitely a very useful “get my brain chemistry up off the floor” tool. Once it kicks in and you feel less like death, you can then apply everything else here.

 

BE SOCIAL

As long as it’s possible to do so without exacerbating what you’re feeling (eg spending money you don’t have, seeing someone who’s hurting you etc), or talking about your own problems, this can be helpful.

Definitely there’s positive neurochemicals that get released when we socialise.

If you have a loving family, this is perfect. They already know all your junk anyway, so you don’t need to talk about it much. They’ll be mostly infinitely patient with you (they’ve put up with you this long, right?) and really, nothing is going to phase them. It’s a perfect combo.

 

SUNLIGHT/VITAMIN D

Can’t argue with this one – just for goodness sake wear sunscreen!

Low vitamin D levels are directly co-related to depression. This is also one of the likely explanations behind Season Affective Disorder.

 

DRINK WATER

Your body is 70% water. It NEEDS water. Not juice. Not coffee. Not beer. Not soda. Water.

Every organ in your body needs water in order to work properly. Very likely, a LOT more water than you’re currently drinking.

Just do it. You’ll thank me.

 

EAT LESS CRAPPY FOOD

Junk/fast food makes you 51% more likely to be depressed, according to one study. Either way, artificial sweeteners, colouring, flavouring and high levels of fat, sugar and salt can NOT be good for you. They do evil things to your body AND brain chemistry. Every once in a while isn’t going to end the world, but by all means do all you can to drop your usage, if possible. It’ll help.

I definitely noticed a strong correlation between eating crappy food and feeling bad afterwards. On a couple of occasions I noticed the effects still screwing me up several days later. It’s bad stuff!

 

DRINK LESS CAFFEINE

I think in my earlier “industrial strength depression” days, a large factor in feeling so bad was how much coffee I was drinking – up to 8 or 9 cups a day.

In brief, this fritzed out my energy system. Made me super tense/stressed. It threw my body into fight-or-flight mode, and my adrenal gland into overdrive.

These days, I avoid caffeine altogether, and I’m feeling a LOT calmer, and much less likely to slump.

The other thing that caffeine does is disrupt the regularity of your heart beat, ie your heart-rate variability (HRV). These heart rhythms regulate your entire physical system. Studies have shown that disrupted HRV is heavily correlated to depression, anger etc, and that improving your HRV will show immediate improvements in your well being.

Also remember, green tea has caffeine, and decaf doesn’t mean no-caf. Decaf still has about 30% of the caffeine of regular tea/coffee. This is because they start with regular tea/coffee and remove the caffeine, just not particularly effectively.

 

MINIMISE/AVOID ALCOHOL

This is a biggie. Alcohol, while initially a stimulant (gets sugar into your blood stream quickly, and makes you feel slightly “up”) is ultimately a depressant.

I remember a few years back, walking to work and screaming in my head how much I hated my life. Then I had to stop and look around. I was walking along the Thames on a gorgeous sunny morning, to a job I really enjoyed that paid extremely well, had a loving girlfriend and a fantastic apartment. What. The. Hell. Then I remembered – I’d had two pints the night before. It wasn’t actually my life that was awful, just residual alcohol screwing me up.

It’s very common to feel a LOT better if we can cut down (or out completely) the booze from our lives.

 

MINIMISE/AVOID SUGAR

Yes, sugar makes you feel better – initially. But, much like alcohol, then there’s a crash that comes after that. Doing that manic up/down to your nervous system isn’t good for you, and definitely doesn’t make you feel better.

These days, I have almost zero sugar in my diet, and I feel a ton better for it (plus my skin looks great).

You don’t need to go crazy about this. Less is always better, but if you want to eat that chocolate? Go ahead and do it. Being loving to yourself is WAY more important than being militant.

On a related note, a lot of alcoholics are actually sugar addicts (or, specifically, their brains have certain imbalances that make them crave sugar). So, they go cold turkey and eat a lot of sugar instead, which gets them hyper, then slightly more depressed, so they eat even more sugar… eventually, they get so low, they have another drink. Voila, recidivism.

 

MINIMISE/AVOID TV

TV is a brilliant escape mechanism. However, its primary effect is merely to help us avoid thinking about ourselves. Additionally, it fills our head with the stories we’re seeing. Which, if you think about it, are someone else’s stories, not the stories we want to create for ourselves in our lives.

If you’re watching people be chopped up, struggling with life, and in pain (ie, DRAMA), guess what is going to be whirling around in your head?

Now, there is always a place for watching something inspiring, or something that you know will unfailing cheer you up. However, balance is critical, and it’s super easy to overdose on TV, simply because it’s so low effort, at a time when we have zero energy left for anything else.

 

HAVE STRUCTURE IN YOUR LIFE

This is one I haven’t always managed to do so well.

For example, if you have a regular job, it (more or less) forces you into bed at a semi-reasonable hour; out of bed at a consistent time; food in the morning; some exercise; some socialising, etc. Even on your most lack lustre day, you can say “at least I went to work.” These tiny wins can make a HUGE difference.

Having regular patterns makes it easier to do the things that we know will help us: Eat regularly; exercise; minimise crap TV etc. It helps us to achieve things that will help us, without feeling like it’s requiring effort. We get the win without the feeling of pain or struggle.

As well, there are little patterns of structure that can be helpful.

I’ve found that forcing myself to make my bed every day makes me feel better about my life. (Duvets are great). It’s a tiny thing, but it means when I look at my room, a large swathe of it looks tidy, beautiful, perfect. So, my head fills with thoughts like that, rather than “ugh, everything’s awful.”

See also keeping my desk clean(ish). Always keeping a glass of water on my desk. Unsubscribing from the endless streams of daily emails I never read anyway but just stress me out. Chucking dishes in the dishwasher (I haven’t actually DONE any cleaning, but at least I don’t have to see the mess) and so on.

 

GET ENOUGH SLEEP

Most people need 6-9 hours sleep. Long term sleep deprivation is positively correlated to depression. Also, allow yourself a few days or a week of this before you pass judgement. It can take a while for our bodies to recover if we’ve been hammering them hard for a while.

Of course, there’s also the issue of oversleeping. If you’re struggling to get out of bed after ten hours, you might be having too much sleep.

It’s a tricky balancing act, but these days the vast majority of people are sleep depped. You probably are too. An hour or two more a night will make you feel marvellous.

 

GO EASY ON YOURSELF

This is critical. Allow yourself to be slack, without feeling bad about it. You’re already struggling, you don’t need to make it worse by beating yourself up.

Give yourself time and space. Be gentle. Lower your self expectations. BE LOVING. This is more important than anything else.

 

 

AN APPROACH THAT WILL DEFINITELY HELP DEPRESSION

Here’s what helped me (apart from all the little things above). This is the biggie.

 

1. Get rid of the crappy thoughts

Very often, horrible life events (or even just unending, grinding ennui) will drive us into depression.

We can look around and see completely defensible, valid reasons to be depressed.

I’m not going to argue that.

However, there is one thing that happens that really doesn’t help us at all.

We start thinking about all those crappy things.

And what does thinking about something miserable do? It makes us feel miserable. This isn’t rocket science.

The more miserable we feel, well, the closer we get to actually being depressed. We stop looking after ourselves. We stop enjoying ourselves, and the whole sorry mess spirals down the drain.

There’s no denying the external facts of our life. BUT! We have complete control over what we think about.

So, here’s what I’ve done that helped me achieve that.

The first thing is – saying we have complete control over what we think sounds like bullshit. And if we’re depressed, lethargic and miserable, it’s going to FEEL like bullshit too.

But, there are tricks.

The first real issue is the automatic thoughts. Stuff that just echoes constantly in our heads.

If we were talking about requiring self-discipline to get this done, yep, we’d be screwed. If we can’t control our mind enough to get out of bed, we’re hardly in a position to stop our automatic thoughts. Fortunately though, you can get this done without requiring any self-discipline at all.

Myself, I used EFT/tapping on every thought I had more than a few times a day. Sounds like a lot of effort, but really, it’s mostly the same very few crappy things repeating over, and over, and OVER. Tapping on them got them the hell out of my head. This brought serious relief.

The other good thing with tapping is, you don’t need to be in an emotionally strong place to use it. Or sober. Or calm. In fact, the more upset you are, the more beneficial it is. I’ve had times where I’ve been lying on my bed, or on the floor in the shower, crying, and tapping. It’s desperate, but it really helped. A few rounds of that and the energy passes, the thoughts subsume, and I started feeling better (and thirsty!)

The short version is this: If you’re not enjoying any thought you’re having? Why have it. Tap that sucker out.

These days I’m mostly in a much calmer place, so I can use other, often faster tools – eg releasing, or just choosing to focus on and let that thought/energy go.

It all helps. Every thought released is one that doesn’t own you any more. YOU’RE THE BOSS OF YOUR HEAD. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, you will get there, eventually.

 

2. Get rid of the dark cloud

This is a bit more subtle, but it’s what I experienced.

Once I had cleared my head of most/all of the negative automatic thoughts that swirled endlessly around, I could see something else.

Now, this was a very subtle thing. Sort of like the kind of thing you’d only ever see out of the corner of your eye.

What I sensed was this endless, eternal dark cloud. It was like a heavy blanket, laid over everything in my awareness.

It was definitely a “below the level of consciousness” thing. And it wasn’t attached to any specific set of thoughts or situation. It just WAS. Always.

Once I saw it, I could address it. Silly little thing, but really, all I did was talk about it – describe it, how it felt, etc. Sent it some love (ie, let go of resisting it), and tap a few rounds while thinking about it and talking about it. As I did that, I could watch it dissolving in front of me.

Really, that was all it took. Very simple – once I saw it.

I’ve done this maybe three times in total? The first level went, and a few months later I could see/sense a slightly more subtle (less overwhelming) black blanket, with different texture and feeling. Then again with a very light grey one a couple of months after that. Now I don’t feel one at all.

Life FEELS different.

 

3. Refocus on the positive

Exactly the opposite of letting go of focusing on the negative.

If thinking about miserable junk all day makes you feel bad, how will thinking about exciting, joyous, invigorating stuff make you feel?

Now ok – there’s a reason this is step three. Start with the big ugly stuff first. However, once that relents a little, the time is perfect to really kick it up a notch.

Think about stuff that makes you feel really, really good.

This is the key. It’s not really about the thoughts. It’s about the feelings attached to them. You want to think about things that make you FEEL amazing.

This is why “just think positive” never really works. You have to FEEL positive too. Of course, easier said than done – but once again, we have some (not so) secret tricks.

When you start trying to do this, your brain will be screaming in protest – wah, how can I, all this stuff in my life is broken ETC.

It’s all bullshit.

Consider worrying. We all do it. What are we doing? We’re imagining stuff that hasn’t happened yet. Negative stuff.

So, how is imagining positive stuff that hasn’t happened any different? We should be great at it!

It’s not. It’s just that our brain is geared to focus on the negative – particularly when we’re feeling down.

Here’s the secret though – that part of your brain that screams in protest if you try to imagine and FEEL something good happening? THE PART OF YOUR BRAIN THAT IS COMPLAINING IS WHAT IS CAUSING YOU THE PAIN.

How does that work?

If something bad is happening in your life, but you don’t care about it? It’s not going to affect you negatively, is it? It’s only the fact that we judge things as bad that allows them to affect us. It’s only that our brains continue to spew negative crap when we’re trying to focus on the positive (be thankful, be grateful, enjoy life etc) that makes it so difficult to consistently do so.

Here’s where, once more, EFT (or other healing tools) can be damn useful.

Sit down and tap (or whatever tool feels right for you) while you focus on things that make you feel great. Then just let all those horrible complaining screaming voices come to the surface. The EFT (or whatever) will clear them all out. Seriously.

In fact, in a weird kind of way, doing this exercise (tapping while focusing on the positive) is even more effective than tapping while focusing on the negative voices. However, it is useful to clear a decent amount of the negative stuff first. It just helps.

Remember, it’s ok to start small. Maybe your positive thought for today is how nice you’d feel, all clean after a shower. Or how much better you’ll feel if you do some washing. Or change your socks. Or smell the grass. That’s ok too. That’s perfect, in fact.

These things will build up over time. If you feel amazing dreaming of being on a yacht, then do that. If you feel amazing dreaming of having new slippers, do that. The size doesn’t matter, only that it makes you feel good. You can always work your way up to bigger dreams as you start to get your life in order.

When we’re depressed, we spend every second of our day thinking negative, miserable, dis-empowering, non-loving thoughts.

Even if we only get five minutes a day where we’re thinking the exact opposite, it’s going to help enormously. It’s the first crack in the dam. The split in the concrete through which a tiny leaf of joy can start to ever so hesitantly grow.

 

4. Take it a day at a time

One problem with our brains is that we instinctively worry. When we worry, we’re usually panicking endlessly about things that haven’t happened yet – or worse, may not ever happen.

To get back on track, you have to just let go of all of this junk. The rule that worked well for me was – if it wasn’t happening in the next business day, I just wouldn’t think about it. Or I’d put off thinking about it as much as possible, unless there was genuinely something I could do about it.

Even just the “I’ll think about that next week” brought relief.

The key is – focus on today. What small things CAN be done. What will improve my life, even a little? Half heartedly push a vacuum cleaner around? Ok, I’ll do that. Leave the house for the first time in almost a month? Well, ok, but just to walk around the block. Sit in the shower? Well, at least I’ll be clean, ok then.

These little steps are important. They’re you loving yourself, which matters. They’re also you helping your life.

Most importantly though they’re you going easy on yourself. Letting go of endlessly beating yourself up. Accepting that you’re in a bit of a hole so the rules are different, AND THAT’S OK.

Try to relax all the muscles in your body. There’s typically specific places we hold our mental tension (shoulders, upper back or neck are common). Relaxing the physical muscles helps us let go of that mental stress.

Try saying I love you to yourself. Just repeat it like a mantra. I know it’s a bit whack, and you very likely do NOT feel like it’s true. That’s ok. Tap at the same time if you want to kick it along a notch. Just try to let go a little of the parts of you that don’t believe it. The more you say it (and let go of the opposition), the more it’ll feel true.

Try improving your posture, just a teeny bit. Sit up instead of slumping. It’ll help.

Forgive yourself for your mistakes. Forgive those around you for hurting you. And ask for their forgiveness. No, really.

All these little things help. But really, it’s just about getting through today. Trying to make today, IF you feel up to it, slightly better than yesterday. But if you don’t? That’s ok too. Have a good night’s sleep and tomorrow you can try again.

Shrink the size of what you’re looking at trying to achieve until it feels possible. If breathing for today is it, then that’s totally fine. Keep breathing for today. Tomorrow you can always try a little more.

 

 

IN SUMMARY

None of these things are quick fixes.

If you’re depressed, it typically feels like things will NEVER get better. That’s ok. Just allow yourself to accept that maybe that’s not totally true.

It’s a long game, so give yourself space to take time with it.

Even with the healing stuff (which often feels utterly miraculous), I’ve just kept chipping away over the last decade or so.

I haven’t felt that industrial strength depression in years. I wouldn’t go back for all the money in the world. I feel like, and am, a completely different person these days.

In general, even if I’m not feeling exactly HAPPY all day every day, I am so much calmer. So much more content with life. More peaceful, more loving. Much quicker to laugh. More so than ever before.

It’s not a journey that’s over yet, for me at least. These tools are things I’ve found helpful, and things I’ll continue using into the future.

If we’re lucky, some of them may help you or someone you love too.


 

Are you depressed?

The Burns Depression Checklist

Rate the following questions according to the scale. Sum the total from all questions.

Ratings Scale:
0 = not at all
1 = somewhat
2 = moderately
3 = a lot

  1. SADNESS: Have you been feeling blue or “down in the dumps”?
  2. DISCOURAGEMENT: Have you been feeling that the future is bleak and hopeless, that thingswill never change, or that problems will never be solved?
  3. LOW SELF-ESTEEM: Have you been feeling inadequate or worthless?
  4. GUILT: Have you been blaming yourself for your weaknesses, shortcomings or mistakes?
  5. INDECISIVENESS: Have you been struggling with making decisions?
  6. IRRITABILITY, FRUSTRATION: Have you been feeling resentful or angry a good deal of the time?
  7. LOSS OF INTEREST IN LIFE: Have you lost interest in your career, hobbies or daily activities?
  8. LOSS OF INTEREST IN PEOPLE: Have you lost interest in your friends, family and partner?
  9. LOSS OF MOTIVATION: Have you needed to push yourself hard to do things? Have you been procrastinating?
  10. POOR SELF-IMAGE: Have you been feeling negative about your appearance?
  11. APPETITE CHANGES: Have you lost your appetite or have you been overeating or binging?
  12. SLEEP CHANGES: Have you had difficulty falling asleep and sleeping soundly? Or conversely, have you been excessively tired and sleeping too much?
  13. LOSS OF LIBIDO: Have you lost interest in sex? Are people whom you once found attractive no longer appealing to you?
  14. HYPOCHONDRIA: Have you been excessively worried about your health or preoccupied with your aches and pains?
  15. SUICIDAL IMPULSES: Have you thought that life is not worth living and that you would rather be dead? Have you been having suicidal fantasies or impulses or making suicide plans?

Score:
0–4 = minimal or no depression
5–10 = borderline depression
11-15= mild depression
16-25= moderate depression
26-45= severe depression

Professional help is recommended with a total score over 11 points.

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    How We Hate Ourselves

    No matter how wonderful our life looks from the outside, there is almost always some dissatisfaction on the inside.

    Of course, we wouldn’t necessarily admit it on Facebook (or anywhere public), but it’s there.

    If your life is going particularly well, that dissatisfaction may be what drives you to greater heights. You can always improve, after all.

    The worse you feel your life is going, the more there is to complain about.

    Even if we do outwardly complain though, it’s the internal monologue that’s of real concern.

    We are, as is commonly known, our own worst critic.

    So, while I’ve talked of disapproving of ourselves before, in our weaker moments (tired, drunk, stressed) the truth may come out:

    We hate ourselves.

    Not in total, of course. Maybe only in certain tiny ways.

    However, it’s there.

    Even if it’s only heard in the cruel voice in our head, it’s always present.

    Hate has many names

    A lot of times we dress up or disguise this hate. Maybe it’s things we’re disappointed with, or that “we’d prefer were different”, or even “a minor niggle.” It’s just hate-lite, but it’s still hate. It’s still non-loving. It’s still not helpful.

    So, we have a negative voice in our head. Big whoop. Now what?

    Well, pretty obviously, a strong negative emotion like hate isn’t doing us any favours. Getting rid of it MUST improve our lives.

    It’s very easy to underestimate the power a small but persistent negative voice can have in our lives. This is why it’s recommended to let go of toxic friends.

    What can we do though if that toxic “friend” is really just our inner voice?

    Since we can’t run away from our brain (however we may try) The only solution is to heal it.

    First though, how do we easily identify this self-hatred?

    Here’s a good tip: Don’t look inwards, look outwards.

    Things we hate in our lives

    If there is someone who drives you bonkers, they’re in your life, QED they are part of your existence.

    However much we try to deny it, we’re the boss of our existence. Our choices have created it.

    In other words – hating someone who is in your life is, in an indirect way, hating yourself.

    Wait a second. How does that work?

    Well, think about it this way. Does hating someone else feel good or bad? And, don’t we really apply these same judgements to ourselves?

    We might like to pretend that hating something or someone feels good, but the bottom line is we’re dredging up negative feelings. Whether they’re aimed inwards or outwards is of minor difference.

    (yes, the recriminations and acrimony are generally larger when criticizing ourselves, but bear with me here.)

    Now, I’m not talking about hating someone on TV, or a random celebrity du jour.

    No, I’m talking about people that are in your life on a daily basis.

    Remember, what we hate most in others is what we typically hate most (or fear might be true) in ourselves.

    The people around us are nothing more than mirrors on ourselves.

    I’ll give you a few examples.

    “Fat people”

    Let’s say you find fat people repulsive. Not the most loving attitude to have, but surprisingly common.

    Maybe when you see a fat person, somewhere in your head you think “ugh, glad I’m not like them.”

    Now, how do you think you’re going to feel towards YOURSELF, if you see even the tiniest bit of fat, anywhere on your body? Right. Repulsed.

    Same emotion, this time aimed inwards instead of outwards.

    Another example.

    “Poor people are lazy”

    Let’s say you think poor people are lazy. Another common one.

    You’re going to have a very specific set of emotional responses when you see (or think about) poor people.

    If your income goes down, or you have any kind of financial struggle in your life, guess how you’re going to feel? That’s right. That exact same loser/lazy attitude, aimed at yourself instead of others.

    Ok, one last example.

    “Ugly people” (or clothes, frankly)

    Pretty much everyone has an idea of what “ugly” is. Much fewer people will watch a movie if there’s ugly people in it than if it’s full of “beautiful people.” Or, there can be ugly people, as long as there’s enough beautiful people to balance it out. Or if the ugly person becomes beautiful through the movie. You get the idea. In short – we prefer looking at beauty to looking at ugliness.

    Now, a movie is easy to point out. What about when we walk down the street? Same thing. We see someone we deem beautiful (although ironically beauty standards vary enormously across the globe), and our brain will send out all sorts of happy vibes (particularly if that beautiful person notices us).

    If we see someone ugly – let’s say, we’re stuck behind them in the queue at a supermarket, so we’re FORCED to notice them. What then? That’s right. Same thing in reverse. Our brain fills with all sorts of non loving nonsense.

    Now, think about yourself. Everybody has at least one small part of themselves they don’t like. Something we consider “ugly”.

    Those same feelings you’re aiming at ugly people on a movie or in your queue? You’re now going to be aiming them at yourself.

    This is how we hate ourselves.

    In a way, the world is just a mirror that reflects our energy and emotion back at ourselves. Whatever we’re sending out, we’re getting back.

     

    Things we love in our lives

    Similarly to attachments and aversions, things we feel overly positively about can be a way of hating ourselves.

    Uhh, how?

    It’s very simple. Let’s say you find tall people appealing. How is that going to make you feel about your own height, if you’re not what you would consider “tall”? Bad, right? Or at least not great.

    If you find foreign accents exotic and appealing, how will that make you feel about your own voice?

    People who are competent and accomplished – how about your own productivity and achievements?

    Of course, this all comes back to judgement. Looking up to things outside ourselves is an justification to judge ourselves as lacking. Looking down at others is just straight out filling us with negative emotion.

    Either way, it comes back to hating ourselves, or some variant thereof.

     

    Now what?

    As I suggested above, really the only way out of this is to heal it.

    The good news is, it’s REALLY easy to see how loving we are to ourselves – simply look at how loving (or not) we are to people around us.

    If we’re still hating ugly people? We’ll be hating the ugly parts of ourselves. If we hate it when people draw attention to themselves? We’ll feel that same disgust if we’re ever pushed into the limelight.

    Obviously, there’s a ton of ways you can work through all these subtle levels of hate. You could sit down and judiciously work through each issue in turn (using whichever tool floats your boat), but here’s a slightly more fun (and faster) way.

    All this hate – it’s just energy, floating around.

    So, go for a walk. Somewhere with lots of people.

    Watch yourself. Watch your reactions to the people in front of you. Try to watch your thoughts as they float up about each person you see.

    Now, as you notice each nasty, horrid or judgemental thought pop up, welcome up all RELATED thoughts around it.

    So, if you see someone fat and think “how disgusting”, just welcome up “all the fat people disgust” that’s in you.

    You may feel a surge of energy inside you, or maybe a clutching in your stomach or chest, or it might be a little hard to breathe, or perhaps it’ll bring some slight tears. Whatever happens just go with it. Welcome it all up and just let it pass through.

    Keep going until you can look at the same person and those thoughts and feelings aren’t there anymore.

    This sounds like a huge task, but really? You can do it as you’re walking PAST someone, if you’re attentive enough.

    If that’s requiring more attention than you’ve got, try sitting down and doing it with the people walking past – so you have a little more time.

    What you’ll notice is that you start to have fewer and fewer judgemental thoughts popping up. Additionally, you’ll feel more peaceful inside yourself. Why? Because you’re judging yourself less too.

    You’d be surprised how quick it is to drop massive amounts of negativity.

    Just keep paying attention. Go easy on yourself, and try not to freak anyone out by staring at them too hard.

    Have fun. Enjoy the progress. Every little thing you let go of makes your life that tiny bit better. You’ll be amazed how quickly it adds up.

     

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      Stopping The Downward Spiral

      Learning to love ourselves is generally seen as an upward path. With practice, and over time, we gradually treat ourselves with more compassion, respect and care.

      Life, however, is rarely so straight forward. The journey to this self-loving nirvana is fraught with dangers and challenges, peaks and valleys.

      Until we do reach this magical destination we can gain a lot of forward traction by watching downwards instead of up.

      Rather than looking only to treat ourselves better, how about treating ourselves less worse?

      I’ll explain.

      It’s pretty normal for things to upset us. That’s part of life, and of growing.

      Of course, there are lots of ways to help reduce this (and in fact, remove these stressors permanently) but I’ve banged that drum enough in the past. Right now, I’d like to talk about what happens after we get upset.

      Often? We start to spiral. Downwards. Fast.

      We get grumpy so we make bad decisions, which makes our situation worse, which makes us grumpier, which…

      You can see how it goes.

      I can remember when I was much younger, if something seriously upset me it wouldn’t be too surprising for me to be angry and in a bad mood for weeks (unless I got drunk and forgot about it or had a good rage out). Not particularly healthy – or fun for anyone around me. Yikes!

      Thankfully these days all that junk is well gone, however this basic pattern is part of human nature:

      Something upsets us, and then we do things that make the situation worse for ourselves. After that, we spiral downwards into a gigantic cesspit of doom. Doom doom doomy doom.

      The good news is, when we’re starting to get into this kind of space, we can make gigantic improvements with only a tiny modicum of self control. Not a huge amount of self-control, just enough to stop us seriously self-harming.

      So, what are some of these crappy self-harming things we might do?

      • Eat a ton of sugar or junk food (eg, *cough* an entire packet of donuts)
      • Drink too much (*facepalm*)
      • Take it out on those around us (thus flaring up other issues, which never helps)
      • Stay up too late at night
      • Engage in risky or dangerous behaviour (casual sex, cliff diving, starting fights)
      • Worse

      The trouble with all of these behaviours is that they have side-effects that last much longer than the period of time we might otherwise have been upset for.

      Eg, if I eat a whole bunch of junk food, generally I’ll break out and otherwise feel crappy for the next few days. A serious bender can leave me feeling maudlin and low for as many as three days. Staying up too late is guaranteed to screw up my next day. And so on.

      Of course, the real problem is this – it’s all very well pointing OUT these behaviours, but when we’re feeling crappy, we feel compelled to do them. Merely knowing they’re bad isn’t going to help us. We know they’re bad, but we don’t care. If we had the self control to not do them when we were upset, we wouldn’t be doing them. Hello? We’re upset!

      So. How do we get around this?

      First of all, acknowledge that it’s ok if we do these dumb things. Really. They’re just choices. Beating yourself up for making a bad choice is often as bad, if not worse than the actual behaviour itself. How long can guilt last for? Do you think our body is going to optimally process whatever poison we’ve put into it if we’re also pouring massive amounts of hate its way as well?

      Another drum I’ve beaten to death in the past.

      Here’s something new though.

      If, even while we’re upset, we can acknowledge that we’re going to do something dumb, we can easily take tiny steps to minimise the damage.

      Sure, go ahead and eat all those donuts, but follow them up with washing your face before you go to bed and drinking a bunch of water. Then tomorrow when you’re feeling a bit better, do some crunches and have a salad to “balance it out” (yes, those are air quotes).

      If you wanna get hammered, go ahead and do it. But do it somewhere safe – eg, at home, not at a bar where it’s going to cost you way more and you might get in a fight (or worse). Drink something you know won’t give you a terrible hangover (for me, avoid white spirits and stick to Guinness or whisky). Before you start, line up pints of water and make sure you down ‘em so you’re WELL hydrated before you sleep.

      If you know you’re going to take your bad mood out on those around you, get the hell away from them. Just say “Shitty mood. Need space. Not you. Will come back.” Whatever minimum communication you can grunt out to ensure that the other person doesn’t think it’s their fault, then go burn off that energy some other way – even if it’s screaming and swearing your whole way down the street – getting angry around people who don’t know you (and thus don’t care as much) is way less damaging than being around those who know and love you.

      If you have the compulsion to go randomly fuck someone – make damn sure you (or they, or both) wear a condom. The last thing you want is to wake up post-anger with a kid or a disease. For bonus points, have casual sex with someone you already know and care about. It’ll be less harmful to you emotionally and energetically (but that’s a whole other blog post).

      When we’re in a seriously shitty headspace, finding the discipline to not hurt ourselves is often outside our reach. This is totally normal and nothing to be ashamed about.

      However, finding enough discipline to minimise the damage from this behaviour? That’s much easier. And you know what? It’s still loving ourselves.

      Most importantly, it’ll shrink the post-blow-out damage. Instead of feeling crappy for days, we’ll cut it back to feeling crappy for hours instead. This is a huge win. It gets us back in a higher energetic space sooner. It stops our lives from spiralling uncontrollably downwards.

      Sure, it’s not as perfect as immediately dropping whatever’s upset us (which is quite feasible, with practice) but it is a huge step in the right direction.

      The sooner we’re back in a happy place, the sooner we can deal with whatever’s upset us. Minimising self harm and thus preventing a larger downward spiral is a great improvement. It’s a practical way to love ourselves that doesn’t require superhuman self-discipline.

      It’s still loving ourselves, even in the midst of disaster. It’s still taking small but certain forward steps, and that’s what this journey is really all about.

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        Look Where You Want To Go

        There’s a simple trick for creating the life of your dreams: Look where you want to go.

        The only catch here is: our brains are not our friends. They’re useful tools, but they’re not our friends.

        One of the key ways they’re not is by constantly focusing on what’s negative  (search for “cognitive biases” for others).

        There are sensible evolutionary reasons for this.

        In life-and-death terms, good things (eg delicious berries on a bush) are lower priority than, say, a tiger that’s about to eat our head (generally known as “a bad thing”).

        So, we’re tuned: Pay MUCH more attention to bad things. They’re more urgent, they’re more important.

        However, now we’re roaming the streets not the savannah, this evolutionary priority isn’t helping so much.

        These days, our actual life-and-death risks are much more probabilistic and long term – heart disease, cancer etc. They’re no longer things that jump out of a bush and try to eat us as we’re walking to work.

        In fact statistically, surprising events are generally pretty benign – spilling coffee on ourselves, bumping into someone on an escalator, a boss shouting at us at work. Not great, sure, but no longer life threatening.

        [obviously if you live in a war zone or an otherwise rough area, you're in the modern equivalent of tiger jumping territory, so things are a little different for you.]

        The real problem is, our brains still treat negative events as if they were ALL life and death.

        Which doesn’t help us at all.

        Of greater concern is the larger effect of our brains instinctively focusing on the negative.

        After all, what are our lives but the sum total of our experiences and memories?

        Our lives are simply the sum of everything we pay attention to.

        If we are focused on negative events – particularly fears and worries (which, almost by definition haven’t happened), then that is what will fill our existence.

        This is particularly obvious in relationships.

        We may have a perfectly fine relationship with someone, but if what we’re most focused on is some negative event that happened, or some fear that didn’t – how is that going to colour our feelings towards them?

        What’s actually an otherwise decent relationship will seem utterly awful.

        Now obviously, I’m not suggesting being myopic. Every relationship has issues and these should be dealt with.

        However, if you WANT the relationship to be good, focusing on the positive aspects will create that much more reliably than constantly looking for what’s wrong.

        If your partner does something a bit off, assume they mean well. They love you and want to be with you, right? So why hold the picture that they’ve intentionally tried to hurt you? It’s only destructive.

        If you get quiet and pay attention, you’ll be able to see this in action.

        When you look at someone, what’s the general feeling you’re filled with?

        THAT is the sum of all your most common thoughts about that person (whether conscious or subconscious)

        • If they’re mostly negative thoughts, you’re going to feel pretty crappy.
        • If they’re mostly positive thoughts, you’re going to feel pretty great when you think about them.

        (here are some techniques for dumping those non-loving feelings)

        Of course, this goes for everything in our lives.

        Think about your job. Your home. Your commute. Your family. Your wardrobe. Your bank balance.

        You can instantly feel what your predominant thoughts are.

        Is your brain focused on the good or bad aspects?

        Look where you want to go.

        If you want a boring life, focus your attention on the boring things around you.

        If you want a happy life, pay attention to what is already around you that brings you happiness and joy.

        If you want a peaceful life, pay attention to what’s peaceful and choose to let the rest of it go.

        Our eyes and ears face forward for a reason: Look where you want to go.

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          A Simple Meditation

          I’d been feeling pretty crappy for a couple of days.

          None of my tools really seemed to be doing it for me, and all in all I’d been feeling quite lost.

          Here’s what I started doing to fix it.

          Saying “yes”.

          And then saying “yes” some more.

          And some more. (and some more)

          Here’s the thing. By a huge margin, “yes” is the most positive thing we can say. Kinda obvious I know.

          Interestingly, it also has a disproportionate effect on our brains when we say it.

          Don’t believe me though. Try it yourself.

          1. Say “No” repeatedly and emphatically for ten seconds or so. Now see how you feel.
          2. Say “Yes” repeatedly and emphatically for ten seconds or so. Now see how you feel.

          It’s not an accident there are so many books (yep, that’s over 500,000) pushing people towards “yes”.

          In any kind of sales or negotiation (which if you stop and think about it is most of life), if you can get the person saying yes ABOUT ANYTHING, they’ll be significantly more likely to say yes to the specific thing you want them to (eg “buy this car” or “make me a sandwich”).

          Saying yes changes our brains.

          Now of course, even though saying yes by itself might be helpful, there are some simple ways we can really step this up a notch.

          First is tweaking our posture. Improve our posture and we’ll immediately improve our state of well being.

          So, I did that. I sat up straight. Ok, so I jammed myself against a wall, since I didn’t really feel like sitting up straight. But it still helped.

          Second thing is to let go of any angry or opposing thoughts, or any physical tension that arises while we’re saying yes.

          Yep, release the mental and physical noise.

          Why does this occur?

          Well, let’s take it in steps.

          Why are we feeling crappy? Well, there’s going to be something upsetting us, right?

          So, instinctively, we’ll be resisting this (because it’s upsetting). Ie, saying “no” to this whatever-it-is.

          Now, when we consciously choose to say yes, what are we doing? We’re loving whatever-this-awful-thing-is.

          We’re choosing to be loving about it. Which is always helpful.

          However, any resistance is going to come racing to the top – ie, anything in us that is the opposite of loving.

          Usually it’s pretty obvious. We’ll feel clutching or a physical tension in our stomach or chest. Our brain will be screaming “What the hell? No WAY am I saying YES. That guy’s an asshole” (etc *yawn* etc)

          Well, that’s all very nice, but really, that resistance IS the reason we’re feeling crappy (not whatever the resistance is actually about).

          It’s not the event that affects us, only our reactions to it.

          It’s nothing to do with what’s outside us. It’s actually (as always) what’s INSIDE that matters.

          Events don’t bother us. Our reactions TO those events bother us.

          So anyway. Saying yes brings all this junk to the surface.

          And then we can let it go.

          Mantras are all very well and good. It’s definitely smart to focus on what you want. Eg, feeling more positive.

          However, unless you actually work on the energy surrounding it, you’re not going to get very far. In other words, clear your FEELINGS about whatever it is that’s bothering you.

          Saying “yes” externally while internally you’re screaming “no” is just gonna leave you spinning in an unhappy circle.

          Hence, posture. Hence, releasing.

          Oh, and water. Water is always recommended.

          (I also find physically tapping anywhere I feel tension helps to unblock the energy and let it out too).

          So anyway. This is what I did. I sat up straight. I drank some water. I said “yes”, over and over to myself. I let go of any noise (physical, mental, emotional) that floated up.

          And you know what? I did start to feel better. Not the fastest I ever have – but when you’re super low, you’re really too low to do very much. It all helps.

          The key thing is, it lifted me up enough, just enough that I could start using more powerful tools.

          It got me back on track.

          And really, isn’t that just what’s needed, at least every now and then?

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