12 Jul Some Personal Reflections on Dealing with Depression
One of the major differences between my “Facebook friends” and my “real friends” is that my Facebook friends might be tempted to think that all I care about is politics and economics, whereas my real friends know that all I care about is politics and economics … Okay, that is not true – the financial markets and USC football are even bigger passions, but the point is that I don’t blame people for thinking I lack an interest in matters of real life concerns. But the reality is that I have been meaning to write for some time on a subject that means a great deal to me, and that is how to deal with (or not deal with) those rare times in life when one is just in a really bad funk. There are light versions of it, and there are really, really serious versions of it. But it is serious business, and few things in life have affected me more than seeing loved ones go through a prolonged period of depression. I am no expert in the subject, though I have been involved in trying to help more people through certain “matters of the heart” than I could possibly enumerate. Whatever they are worth, the following represent my very brief “tidbits” on how I believe people can try and move past prolonged periods of pain, heartache, and even depression.
(1) Absolutely no sleeping in past 7am. Earlier is better. But along with this comes a need to be asleep before 11pm each night. Depression is never worse than when someone is in bed. Late mornings (or afternoons) are a panacea. Get up and get at em’. It sucks. But it beats the alternative. And staying up until 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning not only guarantees that one will widdle away in bed until noon or later every day, but it also exposes one to the darkest part of human existence – those hours from midnight until 3am, when virtually nothing good has ever happened.
(2) Exercise. I know, this is about as cliche as it gets, but there is probably not a better “magic” in the world of depression-curing than exercise and physical activity. I think that the family struggles I went through at age 15 and 16 were almost single-handedly dealt with by time on the basketball court. I can not explain why physical activity works so well, but I don’t have to – it just does. So much of depression comes from the feeling of lifelessness, a real and potent problem. Exercise kills it, because it produces energy and life. Sweating, for lack of a better word, is good. So is getting your heart rate up. It facilitates life. No matter how hard it is, getting physically active is an extraordinary antidote to depression.
(3) Allow me to create a positive by discouraging a couple negatives. Do not over-eat, and do not over-drink. While this may seem to be pretty obvious, it clearly isn’t, because virtually everyone I know has tried one or both of these things at various low points in life. God knows I have tried them both. And it is not just that they do not work, but rather, that they have the exact opposite effect one intends them to have. Over-eating and over-drinking provide a very real and temporary benefit and comfort that is probably over-compensated by a factor of ten in the damage they do in the other direction. Depression is not cured by digging in deeper to guilt, escape, poor self-image, regret, and destruction. Over-eating and over-drinking do all of those things. Period. I think this is a tough one to digest, because there is no way that any rational person doesn’t already know it. And yet these things are tried with daily frequency by those wallowing through a funk. Don’t let your funk become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Avoid the self-destructive behaviors that perpetuate awful feelings.
(4) Read the Bible and pray, all the time. And at those moments that it feels totally fake and disingenuous to do so, do it anyways. Just do it, and do it, and do it, and know that it will pay off. It will help. Your efforts will be responded to. This requires a strong faith. And I will not say that it always feels like your prayers are being answered or Bible-reading is encouraging you. But if you faithfully persist, the comfort and hope that comes from this access to the loving creator of the universe is going to heal you. It will.
(5) It overlaps with the earlier points about not wallowing around in bed all day and in getting some exercise, but do your best to spend time outdoors. I have never seen an ugly golf course, and I have really never seen an ugly park, beach, mountain, or trail either. The outdoors provide that same sort of “lifefuleness” that exercise does. It is no coincidence that the most favored pasttime of incurable manic-depressives is to isolate indoors for extended periods of time. A friend of mine told me once that after cooping himself in his house for nearly a year once after a tragedy had ravaged his spirit, he believes he was cured of his depression when he forced himself to go have an ice cream cone at Laguna Beach. He said he stared at the sand and the ocean for hours, and was just positive that he had found paradise. Of course, he had. And in finding the outdoors of Laguna Beach, he began to leave behind the misery of what he was hiding inside.
(6) Last but not least, work, and work hard. I know this is not always easy for people to do. But I have barely ever known a perpetually depressed person who is actively involved in some function of production. Whether it be a hobby, charity, or actual paying career, the feeling of non-productivity feeds depression and self-pity better than anything I have ever, ever seen, and the reason is simple: We were created to be producers. I am not being insensitive; I realize some people do not have the energy to work when they are struggling with a personal heartbreak. But I believe that the sooner that they can muster up that energy, the sooner they can get on the road to recovery. We are not meant to be at peace when we are non-productive. Peace and production go hand in hand, and never more so when a part of us feels empty inside.
I doubt too many of the people who normally read my political and economic diatribes even made it through these six points. But I stand behind them, and hope that they can in some way bless at least one person. I promise to resume my normal practice of one-dimensional ideological obsessions tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope all of my friends will be at real peace, and have real joy. They are available for us if we want them.