Throughout my life, starting shortly before puberty, I’ve had episodes of deep depression. Depression is common. Most of us have first hand knowledge of it, or somebody close to us does.
The mind is incredible. It learns to process data from this crazy reality incredibly efficiently, to make life easier and more fulfilling.
This attribute of the mind is what allows us to use language, tools, run from danger, think rationally and so on. But as with all things, it has two sides.
The mind is incredibly good at developing habits. Whatever it repeatedly does, it gets better at, and whatever it is becomes easier.
The dark side of this aspect of the mind is that while we can and do develop useful and good habits, we also develop negative habits that hold us back.
In my experience, depression is the result of the highly negative habit of dwelling on unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or events.
These thoughts, emotions, and events almost always originate from our memories of the past or predictions (speculations) about the future.
Depression can only arise when we’re overly focused on the past or future.
The reasons for depression are simple, but dealing with it is anything but.
As anyone who’s had to deal with bouts of severe depression can tell you, getting out of the negative thought patterns that arise seems absolutely impossible.
Whatever our circumstances, whether we’re chronically ill, or we feel stuck in life, or we feel unloved, or whatever they may be, our reaction to them is a choice.
A difficult choice, to be sure. When I was dealing with a horrific illness for the last two years, choosing to be unhappy and depressed was way easier than choosing to be happy.
In fact, choosing to be happy at that point was impossible for me, because I wasn’t even aware of the fact that I had a choice.
As the saying goes, you may not be able to control the wind, but you can adjust your sails. We don’t choose our circumstances, fate does. But we do choose the way we react to the cards that fate deals us.
So this is kind of a paradox.
Am I saying that people who are depressed are simply choosing to be depressed? In a sense I am, but it’s not that simple.
When we’re depressed, we are naturally inclined to be in that state. If we suffer misfortune or just sink into a pit of negative thought patterns, depression is the natural result. We feel like we have no choice.
As with all things, if we aren’t aware of the all of the possible choices presented to us at any given moment, the hidden choices might as well not exist.
Imagine a sparrow who for some reason thinks it’s a cat. It’s standing in the middle of the road, and a car is speeding towards it. It’s too late for the sparrow’s short legs to run out of the way, so he should just fly straight up, right?
Well, remember, he thinks he’s a cat. He isn’t aware that he has the choice of flying out of the way.
So he gets hit by a car.
Surreal allegory aside, we humans are worth more, capable of more than most of us could ever imagine.
We have such inherent power that it’s hard to believe.
We can literally change reality with our thoughts. We imagine something, and then we create it.
We are creators.
When we’re suffering from depression, we’ve forgotten our true natures, and we’ve become ignorant of our powers of change and creation.
In the spirals of self-doubt and destructive thought patterns, we’re unaware of our capacity to change our circumstances.
Depression is characterized by a dreadful feeling of utter hopelessness. Hopelessness towards the future, jaded with regards to the past, and ignorance of the present moment.
Why do I say we’re ignorant of the present moment when we’re depressed? Surely we’re feeling the pains of depression in this very moment?
That much is certainly true. The pain of depression is our only anchor to the present moment, but we ignore it. We ignore the sensations of the present in exchange for ruminations on the past and future.
We project our current circumstances into the future, and we dwell on the mistakes of the past.
This causes pain in the present, but as it goes untended, it stays unresolved.
The way to overcome emotional pain is to fully feel it.
When we decide not to run away from our pain with our medication of choice, be it a substance, porn, TV, sugar, cigarettes, sex, whatever, and instead we sit down and consciously feel what’s going on in the here and now, our depression will start to lift.
Keep in mind, this is a process.
This is in no way a quick fix. It is, however, a permanent fix. Or at least a permanent tool, which can be used as effectively in future bouts of depression.
So what are we doing here?
There’s a term for this process: mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the act of remaining aware of the present moment. Remaining aware of whatever you’re doing here and now.
There are a myriad benefits to practicing mindfulness, such as reduced stress, clarity of mind, stability of mood and, for the purposes of this article, lifting of depression.
I feel like mindfulness has a lot of woo surrounding it, even these days, when it’s become a popular word often thrown around in the spiritual, self-help or even fitness communities.
There’s really nothing supernatural about it (well, I guess it depends on what you call natural). Calling it a method or an activity is a bit misleading, since in itself, mindfulness isn’t a doing, but rather a being.
What I mean by this is that you can be mindful at all times, whatever it is that you’re doing.
You can be mindful of walking, eating, talking, thinking, writing, having sex. getting drunk, your emotions, bodily sensations, any mode of operating as a human entity.
Being mindful is being aware of what you’re doing, feeling, and thinking.
You don’t do mindfulness.
When we get sucked into that headspace, that gnawing negative thought cycle, it feels like we can never get out. It feels like resistance is futile.
The longer we allow the state of depression to drag us down, the more complacent we become, and the more difficult it becomes to get out of the pit of despair. Believe me, I know.
I should say that for me, mindfulness hasn’t been the cure for my depression, but more of a catalyst.
When I managed to become truly mindful of my mental state, and then made that awareness into a habit, I proactively started to research ways of making myself feeling better.
I researched all kinds of exercise, diets, breathing techniques, meditation techniques, psychology, and environment design, in order to set up a life that would be conducive to happiness, health, and fulfillment.
This is key.
Use mindfulness to break the depressive state. Then, before it manages to close in on you again, develop a new habit.
You may already be meditating, or eating relatively healthy, or you may be the worlds laziest couch potato with not a single good habit to talk about.
Whatever your circumstances, they can most certainly be improved.
If you don’t already meditate regularly, that’s the habit I would recommend you instill first. The benefits of regular meditation are so enormous that they outweigh all else.
After meditation, I would recommend cleaning up your diet and exercising, starting a journal, and going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, in that order.
There are plenty of other great habits to start, like deep breathing, cold showers, nofap, and so much more.
But don’t get overwhelmed!
The key here is to start small. Trying to kick-start a two-hour-daily meditation habit from the get-go is a recipe for disaster.
Trying to start a habit of writing five pages in your journal will meet a similar fate.
Listen, always start according to your circumstances. If you’re physically ill, starting an intense exercise regimen won’t be a good bet. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise though!
Go for a walk, do some pushups, and for god’s sake, do it in nature if you possibly can.
The internet is more than saturated with information on everything. Be selective, but be persistent. Research everything that could possibly help you work through your depression and into a more stable, happy mode of being.
Sustained well-being is actually possible! You may not believe it, but it’s true. There are people, sharing this same reality, who feel good almost all the time.
If nothing else, you should strive to be one of them.
After you get the hang of being mindful of your state of being, you should never stop.
You should aim for mindfulness to be your default. Mindfulness is the key to sustained well-being. It’s not the only thing to strive for, but it’s one of the most important.
When I first discovered mindfulness, I might as well have been sleep-walking in life.
I wasn’t aware of anything.
Everything was foggy, everything was unclear.
Life happened to me, rather than me actively participating in life. It’s stunning to me, looking back on my life, how much time I’ve spent being hardly conscious of my own existence.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from being mindful every second of every day, but that is what I’m aiming for. It’s hard work, rewiring your brain that way.
You must learn to become mindful of your thought patterns.
This is probably the most important aspect to overcoming depression.
Take time out of your day to just sit down, and after a brief warm up of mindful breathing, move your awareness to your thought-space.
This feels weird at first, if you’ve never been consciously aware of this space before, but you’ll get used to it, and you’ll probably come to love it.
The thought space is that place in your mind where your thoughts pop up.
Notice that you don’t actually generate your thought, though you can do that with conscious effort. Rather, thoughts come to you.
This point is important. The thoughts that come to you are the results of mental habit.
With conscious effort, these thought patterns can be changed. If you’re often feeling depressed, chances are your thought patterns are generally highly negative.
This is obviously not good. The first step to changing this is becoming mindful of the thoughts themselves.
The thing is, we think we’re conscious. I mean, here I am, right?
We’re actually semi-conscious, most of the time, at best.
We’re on autopilot, almost all the time. We’re creatures of habit. We find a routine, and we stick to it like spaghetti to a wall.
The art of becoming conscious of our unconsciousness is the path to happiness and fulfillment.
Be mindful of your thoughts, and notice what’s going through your mind. Don’t try to change anything yet. Just becoming aware is half the battle.
Be especially aware of thoughts pertaining to yourself.
Now that you actually know what you’re thinking about yourself, it’s time to instill a habit of changing these thoughts as they arise.
Check out the posts I linked to above, and then research some more online. Knowledge is power, my friend.
This is an uphill battle. Maybe even a up-mountain battle. But it’s the most worthwhile battle you can ever undertake. The battle for your sanity.
Collectively, we need to take responsibility for ourselves.
We need to realize that, while circumstances may be crappy, while our bodies may not be functioning properly, while we may be battered, beaten and betrayed, we can still take responsibility for our reactions to life.
This means doing everything we possibly can to improve our lot in life.
Small steps, by all means. Just a little bit at a time. But every single day, seek to make your life just a tiny bit better.
I hope with all my heart that this article will help somebody climb out of the horrific pit of despair that is depression.
Know that I feel your pain, and I know it’s hard, but you can overcome this