How to Beat Depression

At the outset, I want to say that I am not a mental health professional. My advice on this subject is probably worthless as hell. But I share it because it makes sense to me.

People become depressed for a variety of reasons. For instance, a mother with postpartum depression is depressed because of a severe imbalance in brain chemistry. Others are predisposed by genetics to be melancholy. It is in their DNA. Depression is not a character flaw. For these people, meds may be the only answer.

Other people become depressed through events. These are things like a death or a divorce or some other tragedy or setback. The depression that follows from this can lead to self-destructive behaviors which lead to further depression. This spirals into an abyss that many people find it difficult to come out of. Once again, meds and/or therapy may be the only answer here.

Finally, there are people who become depressed because they have some faulty thinking about the world. For instance, if you believe that everyone in the world is utterly corrupt and evil, it will be hard for you to have close relationships. Since this distrust leads to isolation, depression is often the consequence of such thinking.

Depression is ultimately pessimistic thinking about the world. Or as a wise person put it, depression is anger without enthusiasm. You get mad at the world or your life or what have you but feel powerless to do anything about it. Desire plus impotence leads to frustration, rage, and disappointment. In time, it corrodes your thinking, and you surrender. It really makes sense. It is learned helplessness.

Many of you probably remember the experiment on learned helplessness involving dogs. Dogs who were shocked but had a way to escape the shock learned to avoid the outcome when the alarm was sounded. Dogs without an escape simply learned to embrace the shock even if later they had an escape.

These reactions are similar to the attitudes in humans of optimism and pessimism. Opimists believe they can change things. Pessimists do not believe things will change. A person who is depressed is fundamentally a pessimist.

The problem with pessimism is that it is often correct. No matter what, you are never going to change the fact of your ultimate death. In addition, you are never going to see people become selfless altruists who always do the right thing. And shit will happen to you.

It is foolish to tell depressed people to cheer up or try to feed them some bullshit about tomorrow being a brighter day. The problem with optimists is their credulity. Pessimists may be dour, but they have a firmer grasp on reality.

Optimists and pessimists both have one thing in common. They both will tell you that things will never be better than what they are now. I reject this because we can see both progress and regress in human history. Things can always be better. They can also be much worse.

My approach to life is what I call Balanced Thinking. Optimism and pessimism are extremes that are not representative of reality. Balanced Thinking comes from my embrace of skepticism. I have learned to take it all with a grain of salt. I realize that the sunny optimists and the gloom-and-doomers are full of shit.

I know I am on the right track because everyday I hear two criticisms that are utterly opposed to one another. The first is that I am "negative" usually told when I debunk some pie-in-the-sky horseshit. The second is that I am "full of shit" usually when I point out the flaws in gloom-and-doom thinking.

This blog here is a very good example of my thought. You will see both highs and lows here in my writings, and you will see the criticisms I talk about. The fact is that optimism and pessimism is a false dichotomy. My optimism and pessimism on any given issue is dependent upon the facts. But I am not an optimist or a pessimist in any general sense. On average, I think life is pretty good, and I hope it stays that way.

People become depressed because they feel powerless. They want to change things, but they can't. I find that the way to overcome this powerlessness is to exert some control over a small thing. It might be something as trivial as cleaning the dishes. When you are done, you can reflect on the fact that you made that difference. It feels good to have changed things even if it was simply moving the dishes from a state of dirtiness to a state of cleanliness.

Depressed people are usually inactive people. This is because of the feelings of impotence. They stop moving or acting. That is because they feel it makes no difference. Happy people are active people. They do things. As I have learned from Aristotle, happiness is an active thing. It flows from a life of purposeful activity.

For a depressed person, the thought of constantly doing things seems utterly exhausting. But I find that feelings do not precede actions but are often the consequences of those activities. I can honestly say that I have never felt like going to work or school. But I am usually happy as a result of my almost near perfect attendance in these matters. I never call off from work. And I hate having a day off.

My advice for the depressed is elemental. DO. That is it. Just do something. It can be anything but simply move. Make things happen even if it is nothing more than taking a shower and checking your email. Getting things done causes good feelings to emerge, and this brings enthusiasm. It may not assuage your anger and may even increase it. But if depression is anger without enthusiasm, I find the best solution is to get robustly pissed off and act. Telling people not to be pissed off seldom works.

I am not a shrink, but if I were, I would make all my patients do some kind of work or activity. The way it stands now, shrinks tell people to get in touch with their feelings, or they put them in hospitals or clinics where they sit in idleness. It is the psychological equivalent of bloodletting. Depressed people simply need to do something.

There is a reason depressed people are so creative. It is because it brings relief. Depression has birthed many novels, paintings, and songs. Creative activity changes things. Nothing brings happiness more than creating something. If you fill your life with such activity, you will be happy.

In conclusion, all I can say is that you never should wait to feel good before acting. You must act in order to feel good. You will encounter setbacks, and you should simply get pissed off when it happens. But don't give up. Take that anger and make something out of it. Just keep moving. And if you wonder where I got this advice, I got it from Bear Grylls of Man vs. Wild who tells you to keep moving even if you are making mistakes. It seems the greatest threat to your survival is your decision to give up. Just move even if you aren't sure it will be worth anything. Move move move.