I wrote this guide to help, encourage, and hopefully give you something you haven’t heard before when it comes to tackling the emptiness you feel with depression. I write a lot about depression on my website, but if I was going to give you the core principles that have actually helped me long-term, this is it.
It’s important for me to state that I’m not a therapist, instead, I am someone who has had nearly twenty years of low mood and bouts of depression. Because of this, I have learnt some key depression hacks that I believe will greatly help you.
And you’ll be pleased to hear I’m not going to tell you to light a candle or run yourself a hot bath.
I believe these depression hacks can help because you’ve likely read all of the popular articles online about overcoming depression. Whilst you’ve probably found some value in them, I feel like having a more personal guide is important. Because although we’re all different, you can see what’s actually helped an individual to start to raise their state of mind.
That way, you can start to apply some of the things I’m about to tell you in your own life.
This guide is not designed to be ‘fluffy’ or thin because I understand that you want to know what really helps someone move out of depression.
And the ‘move out of’ bit is important.
That’s because you can read all the articles you want to read about self-care and exercise and still feel rubbish about yourself and where you are right now. And that’s not your fault. You probably haven’t got the motivation to even start exercising because you feel so low.
We often want to end the way we feel but we forget the bit in-between. It’s the bit between depression and better mental well-being where we’re actively doing things to change our perspective. It is a journey that we must undertake over a period of time.
You didn’t become depressed right away, and so you’re not going to feel better right away.
And that’s okay. That’s normal. And I know that sounds a bit flat, so let me describe how I define normal in this context;
“To change anything in a human beings life, he or she must undergo a transformation based on a time frame that involves them learning and overcoming obstacles.”
I’ll be brutally honest with you because I believe that’s the only thing that can truly help. Depression is not sadness or loss of joy like some people might tell you.
It’s an empty hole of worthlessness, meaningfulness and a complete loss of hope.
It is that sliding slope of loss in meaning in life that can, unfortunately, take an individuals life.
The first important lesson I have learned that I want to share with you is this – there is no one way out. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but it is the truth.
Why is this the truth? Well, simply it is because of your genetics.
You see, some of us will find medication helpful, for some it will be CBT therapy, and for others, it might be changing their diet.
So whilst there is no ‘one thing’, different degrees of different things will have a positive impact on some people. Or some people will stick with one thing in particular and have a great experience.
For me, I know that I need a few depression hacks in my life. I need different perspectives working together to create a better mind that can see light and joy in the world.
You can compare this to the weight loss industry for example. Some people will find they have better results on diet A, and some will find that they have better results on diet B.
Neither diets are wrong, but both work to different degrees for different people.
Your genetics will determine what you respond the best too.
The depression I have felt in my life ended up leading me towards the slope of no hope. I deeply questioned what my existence meant to myself and others and what use I really was to the world. I did not feel suicidal, but instead, I felt confused.
Confused by all of it. What was I doing existing, breathing, and waking up each day? It was as if I had entered a realm of never-ending questions that no one could answer based on their very nature.
Because of this loss in hope for myself, my identity and my place in the world, I tormented myself by going over these impossible questions over and over again. I quickly realized that this was the path to insanity. I wanted these questions answered whilst understanding that they could never actually be answered.
Why did these questions torment me so much? It felt as if I was the only person on the planet that was really bothered by these questions. Looking back on the depression I felt at the time, I realized that it had been building over a number of years and had finally come to a head.
Since I was very young, I wanted to believe that I mattered to the world and I would go on to do something important. To me, if I didn’t ‘become something’ I would just be another blip in history that no one would remember. By my rationing, that would mean that my life would have meant nothing at all.
This was not an egotistical need, instead, it had always been built into me, and to be honest, I wish I could escape this need in life.
Like me, you might feel guilty about your current state of mind. You might feel like you have most of the things you need in your life. You might have a reasonably good job (maybe not amazing) but good enough to get by. You might also have a partner that you love and they love you. You’ve probably got a roof over your head and clean clothes.
So why do you feel like there is an empty hole inside of you?
My state of mind at the time had brewed due to a mixture of things and it would only take one more thing to tip me over the edge. I grew up aching for some kind of purpose to live my life by. As I got older, that feeling never really went away, even though by most people’s standards my life got better.
Trouble with money would soon tip me over the edge and put me into helplessness and loss of hope.
It had felt for so long that I had been struggling up a steep hill and I’d finally been pushed all of the way down and into the dirt. Everything I had done felt unfinished, I felt like I hadn’t achieved my full potential and as if I hadn’t lived up to my beliefs.
I felt a failure, as if there was no hope for me, and having no hope came a loss of meaning.
That was when I started to plague myself with the thoughts about my own existence;
“If I was not here, would the world notice?”
“Am I useful to the world?”
“ Was I born for a reason that I need to figure out?”
“What if my parents met one minute later? I would not be here feeling this turmoil, so am I even relevant?”
These were some of the thoughts that came to the surface. And it was no joke. No joke at all. If a man feels as if he has no purpose, what can he do?
For me, I didn’t want to do anything. I felt like I’d been ‘doing’ for so long and getting nowhere.
People wonder how people could harm themselves, and I wondered this for a long time too. So although I was not suicidal, I felt as if I could see the beginning of that pathway. And that was I knew I had to do something.
And this was also when I learned why people can’t ‘snap out’ of feeling depressed like they can if they were sad.
That’s because I believe they have very strong beliefs about who they should be and what they should mean. It is a burning belief that is built into them. When reality doesn’t match these beliefs, depression and helplessness can become weights almost too heavy to lift.
You can tell somebody sad a hilarious joke and they would crack a smile. You can tell that same joke to someone who is depressed and it will be met with a black face.
Like me, you’re probably sick of reading the click-bait titles about “overcoming depression”. The problem with these (there’s more than one) is they’re not created to truly help you. Instead, they are designed to get clicks, as if capitalizing on people’s misery in a world where depression is on the rise.
But this is the rabbit hole I entered for probably the 5th time. Looking everywhere for something to shove me in a new direction in my thoughts.
After some time, I begin to think that no one really gave a shit about helping their fellow man, instead, all they wanted to do was profit above everything else, and this increased my feeling of humanity only being about bullshit vanity and gain.
My thoughts caused me existential depression. As in, I began to question the core meaning of my life, as if there must have been one. I turned away from reading the thin advice that you usually find online and started to give myself to think about my thoughts.
I consider myself a creative, a thinker, and someone who searches for answers. I began to think it was no wonder I had worked myself up to this point. When everything felt like it was falling apart, I had no choice but to question what my existence meant, if it did indeed have any kind of meaning.
These are the types of questions that we avoid because they end up giving us headaches. They’re not really the types of questions we think about in daily life, especially when we feel content.
However, I believe it IS important to visit these questions because the subject covers everything you do, believe and try to be.
In fact, exploring these questions is what helped me to change my perspective on who I was over a period of time. I began to feel enlightened to the fact that depression was not only a chemical imbalance in my brain, but more a symptom of how I was living my life, and more importantly, my outlook.
You see, up to this point I had lived an introverted life. I would never feel confident and only had thought processes to how worthless I was. It is my belief that depression is a very selfish condition. Not because the person who experiences it is selfish, but because it causes cognitive distortions about themselves and the world around them.
I had a bleak outlook which was the only one I knew, the only one I had lived by.
So my path out from depression was more of a philosophical one than anything else. For me, this offered a long-term solution, unlike medication or meditation alone.
Because I’d only thought about how I was feeling for so long, I neglected what it truly means to be a human being because I’d never questioned it. Once I started to do just that, new doors and beliefs started to replace the unhealthy ones.
It was as if I couldn’t rest until I found something that made sense to the difficult questions I had.
And so, I was pulled in different directions as I started to explore. My journey lead me to different religions, speakers and philosophies. And the research I conducted lead me to find snippets of things that made rational sense to me that over time combined to create my new perspective on my existence, leading to a reduction in my depression.
Everything I encountered reinforced what I had begun to think – the depression I felt wasn’t a broken part of my brain. I was not ‘broken’, and neither are you. It was instead the life I had been living, the beliefs I had about myself and my outlook on life.
The first and biggest hurdle we must overcome with depression is accepting that we are not broken. There will be biological factors at play, but it is largely down to your beliefs.
When we visit our doctors, we’re usually told that there is something very wrong with us and we should just take some medication to heal. Being told this by a medical professional only reinforces what we’d been thinking about ourselves – that something must be wrong with our brains, we are broken.
I am not broken, and neither are you.
There is no one simple solution.
Over time things heal. A wound will close and repair itself. A distorted view of the world will change if given enough time and patience. The problem is, we find ourselves in states of despair which only makes things seem permanent.
1. Life Is Suffering
The first depression hack to cause me to change my way of thinking was the notion – “life is suffering.”
I found this way of thought by studying Buddhism. I wanted to know what Buddhists in the East were doing differently in their lives. As I am not religious by nature, but I was intrigued to understand what Buddhists believed in their culture as I wondered if I could find anything that could help me.
Up to that point, I had lived and breathed a very ‘Western way of thinking.’ That is, work all the time, gain as much as you can, and be happy about it.
That seemed to be the biggest difference between Eastern and Western cultures as far as I could see. In cultures like Buddhism, the need for personal gain and admiration was non-existent. In our lives in the West, we are taught to chase personal gain, trophies and acceptance. We have a structure that puts personal gain before our welfare as animals.
We work until we are sick, attend jobs we cannot bare and forever chase admiration on social media for example. If we are not succeeding financially, we are seen by ourselves and others as failures. We spend all of our time chasing wealth and love from others that we neglect what it means to be actually happy.
The sources of happiness we chase are outside of our control. Is it any wonder why we become depressed by this?
The Western idea of happiness is to chase the ultimate happiness that is dangled in front of you.
“If you just buy this car, you’ll be happy.”
“If you just earn a bit more money, you’ll be happy.”
It is as if there is a utopia of happiness if you just do ‘one more thing’ and then ‘one more thing’.
Buddhism understands that by its very nature, life is suffering. Times of pain are unavoidable, like the death of a loved one or the breakdown of a relation. So often we find ourselves running from this pain as if it won’t exist if we don’t pay it attention.
The logical approach to pain and suffering in Buddhism is not a negative one, instead, it offers us the chance to appreciate each and every day for what it is – another chance to breathe the fresh air or feel the warmth of the sun on our skin. If we can accept that pain is an underlying factor in life, we can appreciate things more when we’re not experiencing it.
They say you only appreciate something until it’s gone. I would argue that there has never been a truer thing said.
You might have a loving family that is healthy. Whilst this might be something you cherish, perhaps you don’t really think about what that means. These things that we cherish often become so familiar we forget to be grateful for them in daily life. It is only when something tragic happens we feel their true value to us.
Thinking about life ‘being suffering’ does not fill me with fear or anxiety, it instead fills me with gratitude and a sense of belonging. For me, it has been a simple case of acknowledging this fact instead of the opposite which was always running from fear and pain. I believe I was depressed because I was chasing the fairytale happy ending that we all believe is out there.
We think that once we reach it we’ll be free from pain, which is simply not the case. Facing this raw reality in life caused me to look at things differently.
Life is in a constant cycle of growth and destruction, much like a simple flower or the universe shrinking and contracting. You and I are no different. We are not separate entities in all of this however much we like to believe it.
2. I Am Nothing And Everything At Once
I wanted to be everything to someone but felt like I was nothing to everyone. I wanted to be important and live my life like there was some meaning to it. Because I had a lack of meaning and felt as if nothing I did was important in the grand scheme of things, I became depressed.
This next depression hack was developed from within myself and birthed with it a new philosophy that I took under my belt. This is the idea that a balance in life is crucial and whilst you might be depressed right now, there is also a glimmering hope inside of you that cannot reach the surface right now.
I realized that I couldn’t be everything, but I could be something.
I realized that I was nothing in the sense that I am indeed no more than a blip in human history. It would be naive of me to think that I am anything else.
I am nothing in the sense that I am just an incredibly smart ape that has a sometimes unuseful sense of awareness about myself. Although we put ourselves in boxes and define who we are by what we do in our careers, we are simply very smart apes that currently populate this planet Earth right now.
Once it was inhabited by Dinosaurs, now it is us. The creatures that roam this planet are products of it. I began to think;
“How foolish are we to have this sense of self-importance?”
How foolish are we to have these beliefs about ourselves when the planet we inhabit doesn’t even make any sense! I mean think about it, is it any wonder you become confused, depressed, and feel as if you don’t know what to do with your life? Life itself doesn’t make any sense. How can you possibly be expected to have everything figured out for yourself?
The earth we stand on travels at thousands of miles an hour in a galaxy in space. Who knows how many other galaxies are next to us. None of it makes any sense.
You and I are tiny ants in all of this. We are tiny products in all of this confusion. So we should not beat ourselves up for being confused about life. I would argue;
“Is it any wonder we become depressed and confused when there is this overarching mystery in our existence?”
But there is a balance to all of this.
I Am Everything
The fact that none of it makes any sense has beauty in it. I realized that although I am a tiny ant in a vast space of questions, human beings are nothing short of amazing. Most of us are lucky enough to be given healthy bodies at birth. We have the ability to learn at amazing rates of speed, arms to help us throw, legs to help us run and brains to help us conquer.
However, the most amazing part of it all is – there is no meaning.
Yes, the very thing that had caused me so much pain has turned into something so positive.
Because there is no meaning in life, it means we get to give it our own meaning. There is no right or wrong way to live it. You can argue that there are good or bad ways to live your life, but there is not a right or wrong way to do so.
We get to accept the pain that is built into life and then give it our own meaning, instead of flailing around going in no direction at all.
I am everything in the sense that I am a node in a larger network of nodes. So often we become depressed and feel as if we don’t matter to those around us. But the truth is, if we go down, those nodes around us suffer and eventually the whole network collapses.
A single man or woman can, in fact, have a larger impact on the entire world.
Just take people like Mother Theresa, singers like Elvis, or Martin Luther King JR. These people have impacted all over the world. Sometimes bad but mostly good. They instil hope and dreams in people who feel less important than them.
But they are all individual people, tiny ants in a wider world of questions.
You and I are no different.
We all have the capability to share hope and encouragement. We are full of potential at any given time and are everything to everyone if we choose to be.
Whilst there might not be any meaning in being something to everyone sometimes, the important thing is to have some kind of impact, because when you help other people or communicate with them in a positive way, you’re creating a positive emotion in your immediate network that has the potential to ripple out and touch thousands of others.
3. Become Useful
And so this leads me onto my next philosophical depression hack – becoming useful.
Understanding that there is no ‘one meaning of life’, I decided that the only true meaning to mine was to be useful to someone. I mean, how can a community, a society or country progress and be healthy if people are not being useful in some way?
Does it not make sense that a true meaning of life could be being useful? We all need people in our lives to help us move along. As a child and even as an adult, we need the help of other people.
The tornado that is life needs people to support those being spun around inside of it. The race for personal gain is often at the mercy of those who truly need someone’s help. I’ll use the ‘depression cure’ clickbait titles again as an example of this.
I began to question what usefulness meant and I came to the conclusion that it meant that as a human being I should communicate in ways that actually help other people in some way if they want the help.
It also meant that I should become a more useful father, partner and employee. Without putting my personal need first every time, I would be useful to others and see how it made them and I feel.
The idea of being useful really came down to me getting out of my own head and not looking at my own ‘problems’ and realizing that I was, in fact, part of a bigger network of people who had their own needs. And if I could give advice or help them I should.
4. I Chose My Damn Sacrifice
My next philosophical depression hack was inspired by psychiatrist Jordan Peterson. Whilst he had attracted a lot of controversies, a lot of his videos rang true to me. Nothing rang truer than his teachings about the ‘man child’.
The man child is the young adult that has never really committed themselves to anything. Because of this, they end up in their thirties or forties in the exact same confused state as they were in their twenties. They don’t sacrifice their youth to become something.
Instead, they try to remain as balls of potential that dream about doing amazing things but never actually commit to doing them.
A part of growing up is sacrificing the bad habits you had in your youth to allow you to become something. Whether that’s committing to a job or getting your own house, a sacrifice must be made somewhere along the line. If it is not, the ‘man child’ ends up in a type of NeverLand.
For many of us, growing up can be something we put off. We don’t want to end up as the bitter middle-aged people we might know, so we try to hang onto our youth for as long as we can.
The trouble with this is, a sacrifice is made whether we like it or not. So the best thing we can do is to choose our own sacrifice. That might mean cutting back on holidays with our friends or drinking alcohol every night as we did in our twenties.
I realized that I needed to face the fact that I was going to need to sacrifice something, and soon.
I chose to commit to my job, to be the best father I could be and be present, and talk about my experiences with anxiety and depression in the hopes I could be useful to someone.
It became very apparent that I was clinging onto the past, imagining it better than it was and feeling as if my present was worse than it actually was.
But that was simply not the case.
The problem with sacrifice is, it’s scary. Nobody wants to end up old and confined to an adult structured life.
But I realized that there was power in it. More importantly, it was coming whether I liked it or not.
The beauty is, once we choose our sacrifice, we can work towards rediscovering our childlike selves down the road.
So the important lesson was this – sacrifice is very real and it was coming whether I like it or not. I allowed this to empower me, not scare me.
4. Welcome Responsibility
The next depression hack that changed my life in a way sums up everything that I have outlined above. Understanding that suffering is a real part of life and that it is unavoidable, paired with facing sacrifice, the next thing I had to do was load myself up with responsibility. I didn’t want to end up as the man child that I was heading towards.
Responsibility can be scary because it makes you accountable for something. I think that’s why some people have a hard time commiting to it. However, the alternative to commiting to responsibility is much uglier, and that is becoming depressed abut life further down the line.
When you are depressed, you want nothing but to hide away with no responsibility.
But I wonderd what would happen if I faced responsibility and actually committed to it.
This is where I beleive we need to take action even if we feel terrible. Because even though we feel as if we cannot recover, it ultimatly comes down to us.
And there is something powerful in that.
A tiny ant on the face of the Earth can change everything for themselves and others if they choose to. I realized that I had no choice but to take on responsibility for myself.
Maybe it was the ache for some meaning in my life, but I decided to fully commit to everything.
That was in the form of;
- Being a good dad
- A good partner
- Helping around the home
- Being a good employee or as best I could be
I commited to the idea that I was responsible for myself and my loved ones.
I stopped romanticing depression. What do I mean by that? I mean I stopped going down the depression rabbit hole. I felt as if depression was a part of me, as if it defined me as a person. However, it’s only when we can seperate ourselves from that label can we truly see what’s happening.
Depression became a convenient thing to fall back on. It was like a faithful partner that had always stuck by me. But the truth was, when I felt low, I chose to fall into it rather than give myself a cvhance to think about things logically. Sometimes I felt depressed but in reality I was just feeling low a lot of the time.
I decided that I would take responsibility in how I truly felt, instead of labeling myself as a victim of depression right off the bat.
These philosophical depression hacks are ongoing things that help me to see life in a healthy and realistic light. Overcoming depression is a journey that takes time. So, I would encourage you to seek out information that rings true to you. These depression hacks are very personal to me, but I hope that you find some value in them too.
This post was previously published on Projectenergise.com.
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The post The Depression Hacks That Actually Changed My Life appeared first on The Good Men Project.