Knowing My Depression
I have suffered from intermittent bouts of depression since I was in college. Over time, the incidences have typically become shorter and less severe, but it isn’t exactly linear. I’m not a doctor, but all of the time I have spent in contact with this state of being has given me some insight on the nature of the beast, and also some tactics that I can personally vouch for. The following is not medical advice, and should not be considered a substitute for the care of any medical professional. But for those of you interested, here is what I have learned first hand--I hope you find it helpful. And by the way, I’m not going to mention supplements or anything that costs money other than a book in this entire guide. You can research all that stuff on your own.
The first thing to recognize is that feeling depressed is normal. An estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States have had at least one major depressive episode (6.2% of the entire population). Just because you get depressed, it does not mean that you are broken or have a disease. There are some that would like to tell you that every time you get sad it means you are malfunctioning, but they are often scared or have prescription pills in orange bottles they are trying to sell you.
Depression is an important part of the resistance training of the psyche.
It is in pushing through those periods that one builds the strength and resolve to accomplish great things. Abraham Lincoln is a classic example of this. He suffered from severe bouts of what was then called ‘melancholy’ - and guess what? Fighting through those periods of despair was part of what gave him the strength to stand up to injustice and hold strong to his principles.
Does being depressed suck? Yeah it does. But we shouldn’t look at every uncomfortable stretch as a curse. Perhaps your depression and my depression are blessings.
Comfort, after all, is the antagonist of growth.
Part of my impetus for writing this essay at this very moment is that I just barely bounced off the bottom of another stretch of my own depression. Another dive into the depths, and another chance to emerge with a pearl.
So where does my depression come from? I have often pondered this thought, and I believe that I have an answer.
Depression is the exasperation that comes from believing in false premises.
It is a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that the world, and yourself, as you understand them, is broken. But it isn’t the world or yourself that is broken, it is just your understanding that is deluded.
Here are the two most common beliefs that lead to my depression:
1) Something outside of myself is responsible for my happiness.
2) I am responsible for other’s happiness outside of myself.
Ultimately, both of those premises are false. You alone are responsible for your own happiness. Nothing external can validate you, nor can you ever validate anyone else. You can do your best, and others around you can do their best, but ultimately each individual holds the keys to the gates of their own heaven and hell.
Allow that to take the pressure off. It’s not your job to make anyone else happy. And nothing else is possibly capable of making you happy. We think that we can make someone happy, or they can make us happy, but all that anyone can do, yourself included, is create favorable conditions for happiness. It is each individual’s choice whether they are happy or not. Because we have all been in situations where someone is really doing their best to make us happy and we won’t accept it. And vice versa.
So here you are. You can’t let anyone else down, and no one can let you down. So just decide how you want to be from here. If you are still learning from your depression, that’s okay. Keep learning. You don’t have to be happy in this life.
You are not a failure as a person if you are unhappy--it just means that you are currently learning from your sadness.
But if you decide you want to be happy, and you would prefer to learn that way, here are a few steps to help you get there.
1. Stop destructive avoidance patterns.
Drinking, smoking, excessive masturbation, etc. All of these are attempts to cure your depression, but they are ultimately exacerbating the issue. Stop them. Look at your storm head on, and face it.
Here are some great books that might help you break bad habits:
2. Start positive patterns.
Change your state, get in the hot or cold. Dance. Float. Meditate. Surf. Work out. (More on this in the next section).
Here are some great books on starting positive habits:
3. Give to others.
Maybe happiness isn’t going to happen for you right now. But you could do something to help someone else. It doesn’t mean you are responsible for their happiness, it just means that you are doing your best. Take care of their basic needs. Give your spouse a massage. Help your kids with their homework. Help your friend move out of their apartment.
Here is a great resource highlighting the need to give to others:
My heart goes out to any of you who are suffering or who have a loved one suffering. But whether it is you or someone you love, I would ask that you look at depression in a different light. Look at it as a way to learn. Don’t agree with the judgment that it is a disease, or that it is a failure, or that it is shameful. It is simply a way to learn and know the self. Is it a pleasurable way to do it? Hell no. But in some cases, it might just be the only way, or the best way.
If someone around you is depressed, know that it is not your responsibility to pull them out of it before they are ready. Do not rob them of their chance to face the storm and be a hero.
When the affected is ready to try a new way, that new way will present itself. There is a maxim that says “when the student is ready, the teaching appears.”
A Primer to Your Hardware
It’s important to understand that Depression is a condition manifested from two sides: your biology and your psychology. Where the first section is focused on the psychology, this section is a guide to optimizing your biology.
It’s important to understand that depression is a type of human experience, and all human experiences are made up of two parts:
1) The experience itself as created by your nervous system (hardware/biology)
2) The story your conscious mind creates about your experience (software/psychology)
A metaphor that may help is that your experience is like that of a movie-goer. Your nervous system is the machine generating the image, and the moviegoer is like your conscious mind that judges the experience projected on the screen.
Your nervous system is your hardware, and your conscious mind is like software.
(This metaphor breaks down if you’re Yoda or Buddha, but for most of us mortals, this is how our experience unfolds.)
Cognitive Psychologist Donald Hoffman’s TED talk on our perceptual system is a great introduction to this perspective.
The reason this metaphor is important to understand is that, if your movie projector is playing a distorted, glitching, muddled movie, it is going to be very hard for your moviegoer to not want to just leave and ask for a refund. If you clean and optimize your hardware, the movie improves.
There are three critical habits we all can optimize that will improve our hardware. They are Sleep, Diet, and Exercise.
Don’t let the fact that you already know these are healthy habits cause your eyes to glaze over. Knowledge without action is nothing. Each section will explain the habit, what it is doing to help your hardware and a clear path about how to implement these into your life.
Go Hero, Go.
PS. Sometimes our hardware can get so fucking clogged that the idea of even making ourselves food feels impossible. One of the symptoms of acute depressive episodes is a complete lack of energy and motivation. For those who haven’t been depressed, it’s impossible to imagine this state, and it is in this state that even the most anti-prescription health experts will then recommend a prescription. If you find yourself at this state, I’d speak to a doctor familiar with ketamine therapy. Ketamine may not cure your depression, but it might relieve the acute depressive symptoms long enough for you to begin changing the habits to upgrade your hardware. If my depression was persistent enough, I would choose ketamine immediately.
Ketamine Research Articles
- Rapid Antidepressant Effect of Ketamine Anesthesia During Electroconvulsive Therapy of Treatment-Resistant Depression
- Repeated intravenous ketamine therapy in a patient with treatment-resistant major depression
- Ketamine for Depression: Where Do We Go from Here?
- The Role of Ketamine in Treatment-Resistant Depression: A Systematic Review
Hardware Habit #1) Sleep
If you doubt for even a moment that sleep is the most important pattern to get right in order to optimize your hardware to sail the sea of your depression, listen to this Joe Rogan podcast with Dr. Matthew Walker. He’s a Cognitive Psychologist who studies sleep. I also wrote extensively about sleep in Own the Day, Own your Life and covered some important info about the value of napping as well.
Basically, to keep this guide pragmatic, what is important to know is that sleep regulates the repair of every system in your body. We live in the echo of entropy, and our body is taking damage everyday. These systems are the foundation of your conscious life, and when they get weak, the feelings of Depression grow.
These three podcasts are great resources for helping people optimize their sleep:
Hardware Habit #2) Diet
If the dietary recommendations here offend you, you’re missing the point. There is no one diet that is best for all humans, but there is a specific diet that is bad for all humans. And recent research found that a bad diet, which is any diet that triggers chronic increased inflammation, also directly contributes to feelings of depression.
What is now being called the “Inflammatory-Cytokine Model of Depression,” is a relatively recent discovery that a high-inflammation diet directly increases symptoms of depression, and that when severely depressed people move from a SAD diet (Standard American Diet), their depression improves, and in some cases completely vanishes.
- From inflammation to sickness and depression
- Cytokines sing the blues: inflammation and the pathogenesis of depression
There are many types of diets that will reduce inflammation. The three that we’ll recommend here are:
- The Paleo Diet (Probably the easiest to transition to from current diet)
- The Ketogenic Diet (A little harder to transition into, but capable of providing dramatic effects)
- The Carnivore Diet (The most simple diet to follow, but dramatic and difficult for most)
Hardware Habit #3) Exercise
What if I told you there was an actual miracle drug? It could make you skinny. It could make you sexier. It could build your muscles. It could relieve stress. It helps you live longer. It helps you sleep. It relieves depression. It alleviates pain. It can even help you remember things better. And the kicker? While you can pay for it if you want, you don’t have it. It’s totally free. It’s called exercise.
We have evolved to move, to play, to hunt, to fuck -- to use this biological machine daily. And most of us don’t, and one of the signals our depression is sending us, is to use this meat suit we’ve been endowed with. This study has found that regular exercise leads to a 40% reduction in depressive symptoms after 8 weeks. There are dozens and dozens of studies that say the same thing: move your body, improve your brain.
It can truly be as simple as walking for 30 minutes a day, playing catch with a friend, or swimming at a local pool. Especially when your goal is to help your depression, do not overthink how or what. Simply do. Move your body. Dance. Play. Sweat. You will experience the miracle of this drug.
For more details, you can follow the workout from Own The Day, featured here.
It’s important to forgive yourself. Sometimes your hardware is in such desperate need of tuning and repair that Depression feels impossible to overcome.
If you can hone these three habits, you will dramatically add to your capacity to dance with your depression and extract the pearl from the depths. Go with love, with heart, do not go gently into that dark night.
Hardware Habit #3.5) Sex
The reality is, sex and reproduction are at the core of what it means to be human. To incentivize it, to make sure we do it and propagate the species, is it any wonder that we’ve evolved so that sex makes our bodies and our minds feel so great? We’re designed to do the deed, to like the deed; now we just need to rediscover the desire to do more of it and do it better.
We are literally designed, from our physiology to our psychology, to maximize our chances of having sex. Depression, on some level, is a reflection from our bio-machine that we are not maximizing our potential to procreate. When you find yourself in the warm embrace of a lover, or as you are reaching the peak of a climax, depression cannot co-exist in that space. Love, and it’s physical expression as sex, is the ultimate dispeller of depression.
I cover the ‘How’ of sex in Own The Day, and what I wrote there will be more thorough than anything I can provide here. Nonetheless here are some gems I should reiterate. First, the number one thing you can start doing today that will dramatically increase your potential for having more sex is to be authentic. This means to be aware and to be honest, with yourself and others. Don’t try to be something you are not. People are experts at smelling bullshit, and nothing quite like the smell of shit will evaporate your procreative prospects faster. Second, you will probably have a lot more sex as you work on yourself in all the ways outlined in this guide.
Depression is a Dragon best slayed with allies. This section is where you will find your allies. My team will constantly update and hone this resource section to best aid each of you on your hero’s journey through Depression. Good luck and good love.
Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist and thousands of people have sent him emails and letters telling him that this lecture series changed their lives, helped them through depression, suicide, and addiction. I could not recommend it more highly.
This is Jordan Peterson’s more advanced lecture series that deals more with philosophy and neuroscience, but if you found the previous lecture series useful and you want more, I would offer this as the next step in your journey.
Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist who ended up in the worst concentration camps in Europe during World War Two. While amidst one of the cruelest and most savage environments we can image, Frankl wrote this book in his mind, and when he published it, it changed the world. It is one of the most recommend books I see everywhere, and it will give you strength, that if this man could endure this, we all can endure our dark night of the soul.
I sincerely put everything I had into creating Own The Day, and this video series is an overview of all the best habits I know and use to manage my depression.
Robert Sapolsky is one of the clearest thinking Scientific Materialists I know of, and it’s good to see how someone like him views depression. For the first 38 minutes, he focuses on the Hardware piece of Depression, from minute 39 till the end, he gets into the Software. This is one of the most popular lectures about Depression on the internet.
Andrew Solomon is a Pulitzer Prize-Finalist who wrote about depression. In this TED talk, he describes the experience of Depression more accurately than almost any other resource I’ve ever found. There is a sense of healing when we find others who share the experience we have, and watching this talk may provide you that.
Co-Written by Erick Godsey