There are positive things you can do, things that will make life better. Everybody has something in life that gives some joy. Even depressed people. One thing that does it for me is music.
Gimme the beat boys and free my soul.
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll
And drift away
Depressing music depresses. Happy, upbeat music that paints a false picture depresses even more. Find music that speaks to the good in you. Find music that features superb talent, beautiful sound, and real meaning. In my youth, it was the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, the Rolling Stones. There have been a lot of good bands and artists since. I am always on the lookout for one that piques my interest. It is a source of ready support when I’m feeling blue. Singing or playing an instrument is effective too, regardless of your musical merits. Sing those blues out, loud and clear.
Song sung blue, weeping like a willow
Song sung blue, sleeping on my pillow
But you can sing it with a cry in your voice
And before you know it gets to feeling good
You simply got no choice
Another experience that does it for me is nature. Nothing is better than a stroll deep into the wild to watch and contemplate. There is no good or evil in nature. Everything just is.
Nature doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you. Think about how liberating that is!
Your age, your wealth, your success or failure in life do not matter. Your ability to start a conversation or read subtext and secrets codes in what people say does not matter. A place of quiet and peace. If you do something stupid you will be hurt. But it is a matter of knowledge, prudence and later, experience. There are no social conventions to violate.
I go where other people are unlikely to be found. It maximizes my own freedom of action and preserves solitude. It is there I experience my most zen moments; surrounded by beauty, pleasurably tired from the hike, and free of people pressure.
The modest but long-lasting cardio stimulation clears the cobwebs out of your brain. Many great thinkers see the world clearest during long walks. If you walk with a purpose and for long enough, the exertion causes your body will start to produce its own endorphins. Those are some of the several natural “happy” drugs your body is supposed to produce. It is commonly called “runner’s high”.
This segues into exercise as a depression treatment. Study after study, as well as my own anecdotal experiences, tell us that exercise relieves depression. You don’t need to be a competitive athlete. In fact, unless you have a natural talent, organized athletics might not be a good idea.
Walking is one of the best exercises, as is swimming, but don’t skip calisthenics and perhaps some weight training. The whole body needs fitness, not just the legs and lungs. It is a good way to clear out all those stress hormones, get freshly oxygenated blood into the brain and will stabilize your blood sugar. If your blood sugar is high or low, nothing is right.
It also segues into seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. As it turns out, full-spectrum sunlight is important for our mental well-being. Ordinary lights don’t cut it. Plus, during winter, the shortened days add considerably to the amount of depression we feel.
In the winter, especially, you want to get as much sunshine as possible. Full-spectrum lamps can help but many employers won’t allow such things.
SAD’s kissing cousin, cabin fever, is the result of being confined inside for many days by inclement weather, another reason to get out even if it is frigid. A move to a sunnier clime might be what a person really needs.
Find something that keeps your mind engaged and do it. I’ve had many hobbies in my life. Every hobby has offered some release for depression. Reading, writing, hiking, backpacking, off-roading, shooting (OMG!! A depressed person with a gun! Run for your lives!), photography, computers, classic movies, anime, wargames, astronomy, coin collecting, martial arts, acting, singing – even nudism, all have helped make bad times less bad and sometimes even good. Plus they give you a chance to join clubs of like-minded people. If you share an interest, the chances of positive relationships are increased.
While I am at it, the power of writing to ease the desperation of depression is amazing. Just write about it. Maybe a blog, a private journal, poetry, music or fiction, but just write. It doesn’t have to be spellchecked or have proper grammar or even make sense to anyone but you.
Writing it down clarifies things. It vents destructiveness in a constructive way the spoken word cannot. Read what you wrote last week, last year and last decade. You will learn more about yourself than a score of therapy sessions could offer. Writing this blog has greatly brightened my mood during a bad time in my life.
Pain amplifies depression. Depression amplifies pain. Pain is just another rock in the road. If you are in pain, see your doctor. Get the best possible pain relief you can. Maybe that’s a pain specialist or a specialist in your condition. Maybe a physical therapist. Don’t think that narcotics are the solution. Abuse them and you’ll have a ticket to hell in the fast lane.
Find something to love unconditionally. A dog, a cat, a hamster, it doesn’t matter. The care and feeding of a pet that can return your love will motivate you to keep going. My dog is my best friend. I can talk to him, cry to him, cuddle with him. He doesn’t care that I am such a misfit. As long as I throw a bit of kibble his way, pet him and gave him the occasional scratch behind the ears, he’ll follow me anywhere and treat me like a king. In return, he’s my best friend, keeps me warm and safe and shares all my “adventures”. You may find as you grow, how you treat a pet will be reflected in how you treat children and the disabled.
Don’t be afraid to cry. Cry for sad. Cry for happy. Cry for beauty and cry for ugly. Crying is your body’s natural response to many powerful feelings. It produces endorphins, which in turn reduce stress. Women report they often feel better after a “good cry”. Men do too, they just won’t admit it.
Depressed older adults often don’t have a sex partner and most older men – and many who are middle-aged – suffer from some degree of erectile dysfunction. Not to mention the libido depressing effects of antidepressants and cultural messages that sexuality and the elderly are a disgusting combination. Pills aren’t always a solution and if you don’t have a partner, what’s the point?
Yet sexuality is an important part of a happy life for most people. My suggestion for those who find themselves both alone and frustrated is… masturbation.
Masturbate often and at the slightest provocation. Hell, make a ceremony out of it – turn it into a long, slow, self-seduction. Be your own lover. See yourself as sexy. Find ideas or imagery that turn you on.
It is something that is easily done solo and is completely risk-free – with a bit of privacy. (Or it can be a quick way to train people to always knock and wait before entering your room.) A little slug of endorphins every day to look forward to. Keeps the plumbing well oiled and strong. It makes you a better partner when you do find someone. All the more important if you are on an SSRI, for SSRIs can be very tough on sexuality.
If you know someone who has long-term depression – and you actually care about them – you need to be forgiving and nonjudgmental, at least as far as behavior that is not criminal or harmful. Variously they may need a shoulder to cry on, a confidante with whom to share dark secrets, a helper, a friend, or a cheerleader.
Personally, I think the friend is the most important. You may need to softly push them into the therapy that can help them. You need to gently encourage then to do the things they can do for themself to make their life better. And you should never take it upon yourself that you are somehow responsible for the depression – any more than they are. Nor that you can fix it.
You can’t. But maybe these folks can help.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
Hearing impaired services at: 1-800-799-4889.
The Samaritans: 1-877- 870-4673 (HOPE)
Call or text any time.
Trevor Project Lifeline – 1-866-488-7386
Hotline for LGBT youth.
Child Help USA National Hotline – 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
For youth who are suffering child abuse.
Online crisis services:
Despite your best efforts, you will still have bouts of depression. Of all the things you can do, only the drugs are 24/7 and they only lessen the burden. They don’t remove it. The difference between seriously thinking about suicide every day and only casually thinking about it on occasion is real. That’s what an SSRI does.
What keeps you alive then? Is it stubbornness? Is it love? How about duty? How about gallows humor? Maybe just falling asleep after a good crying jag? For me, it is all the above.
I am stubborn by nature. When life pulls me one way, I pull the other. It is a trait that years of schooling and decades of corporate employment and marriage have not tamed. I am uninterested in a psychological facelift. Sometimes this. manifests itself as an FTW attitude. I’m not hurting you and I don’t give a rats ass about what you think of me. As Popeye was always fond of saying, “I yam what I yam!” And I’m not about to change for anyone.
I love my family dearly. If you love someone or if someone loves you, suicide is a non-starter. Why would you hurt the one you love? Hanging on thru some altruistic notion of NOT hurting other people’s feelings? Yup! That is what love is all about, wanting the other guy to be happy.
Hmmm… duty. There’s a word that lacks currency. People lack any notion of duty in this hedonistic and profit-driven age. Virtue is another lost concept. Today’s ideal seems to be self-satisfaction above all else. Ask not what you can do for your country unless they are willing to pay well. Total “me-ism” is ultimately depressing.
Voluntarily acquired bonds to the world at large will bring you purpose. If you want something worth living for, look for something worth dying for.
Some people hate gallows humor. Only a nasty person would find humor in a sad situation! I must be a really nasty person. I can find humor in a nuclear war. Laughter is often the only solution in the face of star-crossed life. A depressed person needs a good sense of gallows humor in order to laugh at their problems, to make sorrow bearable. Adversity can be laughed at, cursed at or cried about. Use whichever one helps you deal with it best.
Except possibly for an extraordinary change in the environment or a long and difficult journey of self-discovery, there is no “cure” for depression, no more so than there is a cure for having brown eyes.
There are drugs. There are therapists and counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. There are religions and philosophies. There are things you can do for yourself to improve your mood. These are but mitigations. Shit happens.
There will always be that time you can’t get to sleep, that “Dark Night of the Soul” where all your inner demons come to stare you in the face. Where life just seems a cruel joke in a black tunnel and you wish there was a train coming at you, just for the light and finality it would offer.
Well, laugh at the cruel joke. The demons are a part of you and you are a good person. Accept them! Love them! Demons aren’t evil, only misguided.
Let them know that the whole of you is far greater than any of your parts Tell them that they aren’t in charge. You are. Build a sandbox for them. Let them know that only if they are nice will you let them come out and play. Grab them by the horns and use them to power your creativity.
You are the author of the story of your life. Everything else is just a setting and props. Make it an interesting story, be it comedy, adventure, romance or tragedy.
It will be a best-seller, even if you are the only one to read it.