Depression fucking sucks. No need to moderate our language here: it sucks big old donkey balls. There you are, minding your own business, when BAM, it hits—a wave of lethargy and emptiness draining the color from your world and motivation to get up in the morning, making your world one of ‘going through the motions’.
There are different forms of depression: mild, moderate severe, Bi-polar… but each have something in common: they make life difficult. Some people lose the battle and take their own lives. Others live with it in an uneasy truce. I struggle with depression and so I understand the feeling of never-ending strife. Like there is no end to the war and you will always be either dependent on pharmaceutical aid, drugs, or alcohol. It is not a happy situation to be in.
This guide doesn’t exist with the presumption that it is a superior guide to the plethora of other such guides on self-treating depression out there. However, it does hope to do two things: (1) give a down to earth perspective on treatments and various self-help methods, and (2) provide a platform where others can share their experiences of depression, treatments, medication, and the like. The points contained in this guide are, one the one hand, provisional: they are but my own experiences, while on the other hand, they are open to criticism and input from other persons struggling with depression.
This guide is meant to be interactive—please leave a comment below; feel free to discuss your general feelings, struggle, and experiences about any aspect of living with depression: to how medication makes you feel, to how your cope without medication (if you take medication at all), and what you think triggers a particularly severe episode; feel free to even pontificate on the philosophical ramifications of depression. I figure since this “guide” will be me running my mouth, it is the least I can do in return to you, dear reader, for taking the time to devour the lines.
So without further ado, let’s begin!
- Some Tips for Living with Depression
Take-up a physical activity.
As has been said in many guides over the internet, and by many commentators in the mental health complex, physical activity helps release serotonin (the so-called ‘happiness’ hormone): this in turn wards off some depressive thoughts and moods and feelings. To get the full benefits of this release you have to, what in traditional parlance, is known as “working up a sweat”. Only when you have gotten a real physical work-out will your body produce serotonin.
Now for the real question: does this actually work?
Yes and no. Yes for the fact that working out or walking will produce serotonin which will, in turn, take the edge off of a depressive episode; but that is the devil in the details—at best it can only lessen the impact of a depressive episode or temporarily lift you up for a little while. It will not have a real (lasting) impact.
In my experience, when handling a major depressive episode, rigorous activity only blunted the emotional deluge while numbing my body. During such harsh moments the work-out did help but only minimally. Outside of depressive episodes, where I handle the everyday effects of depression, my work-out activity (fast-paced walking), though helping when done on a regular basis, lost its edge if I didn’t consistently perform said activity; additionally, much like an addict, every once in a while I found that I had to increase (sometime dramatically) the amount of walking I did to receive the benefits.
Now, it should be mentioned that I enjoyed walking even before I found out that it released serotonin. So that helped to a degree as well: of course one is going to be happy engaged in an activity one enjoys. I would sometimes walk as many as fifteen miles a day (that certainly helped with the serotonin!)! While I do not do so much walking anymore, not with academic work eating up so much time, one has to consider that though an effective activity, physical activity will only ever be a crutch in a hard time and at best can only serve as a distraction. One shouldn’t expect it to have a significant impact one living with depression; this being said, I would still recommend taking up such a physical activity since it will help at least some, in addition to keeping you in the health zone.
Music and Art and Hobbies
I have found that art and having some kind of diversion helps. With me, it is music and theory. Mostly music, though. I enjoy listening to the track and finding its emotional and psychological resonance; when I do so I feel as though I am connected to something a bit greater (though not in a spiritual or religious sense). The same can be said in terms of theory (both academic and philosophical): when I read and study texts and investigate society and how it might be changed, I extend myself to new horizons and make my voice be known—I contribute to knowledge and the discussion pertaining to that knowledge and so make myself greater than I am alone. These things give me meaning in an otherwise un-meaningful world. They augment my personage and give me a kind of closure which, although not chemical, does help me through those instances which try and strip me of my voice. Capitalist society is superb at alienating us from each other, even as social media connects us more than ever; this, of course, exacerbates depression and causes us to feel isolated when, in reality, there are others… they are just difficult to find. Understanding how you work in relation to the arts, crafts, and intellectual traditions of the world, and then finding your place, should you desire, in those traditions, may be a useful way to find some deeper meaning to an otherwise blank existence.
- My Nuance of Living with Depression
Do I take Medication?
Many people living with depression take medication. Some are forced to take it, others do some voluntarily; some find it helpful while others don’t. Whether or not to take medication is a question everyone living with depression has to grapple with at one time or another. So any long-time reader of this blog may be wondering if I, as a Queer Liberationist, take medication.
The answer is no, I do not. The reason can be boiled down to simply the fact that I do not want to become dependent on it; I don’t want my body to barely function should I run out of doses and have a day lost to mental dysfunction. Additionally, being a creative person, I find that while depression is no walk in the park, it does influence my academic and creative outlooks: my disposition allows me access to perspectives normally closed off to the medicated or non-depressed.
I am not saying that because of this depression is a gift, or even a “blessing in disguise”, but that I value the methodology of my mind as it currently exists and wouldn’t want to jeopardize that ability because the negative aspects are intensifying. I prefer to be able and find coping mechanisms which eschew pharmaceutical help. This isn’t because I loathe “Big Pharma’s” business practices (they are much like any other large corporation with a monopoly) or because I hold incorrect conspiratorial views on vaccinations or New Age homeopathy medicine. No. Although I view medication as being highly valuable in many situations to many people, the flip side of this ease is—as I said before—dependency. I simply enjoy creating my own methods of survival instead of finding one in a pill, one which alters my brain chemistry.
Do I Self-Medicate (illegal drugs, alcohol)?
If I am honest I must say that I do, on occasion, self-medicate. When depression has hit hard and I feel paralyzed, as though I can’t or don’t want to do anything, I have been known to either take a few prescription strength painkillers or to down some glasses of high-purity liquor. However, I rush to add that self-medication comes along with the same guide as medication: dependence. Whenever I self-medicate I am careful to ensure that my usage doesn’t evolve into an addiction. Because of this I only self-medicate on occasion, and not every time a depressive spell hits.
Would I recommend self-medication?
Painkillers and alcohol run with increased risks of medical consequences which are otherwise absent from prescription based medication. Alcohol dependency is both an expensive and cancer causing cause of death worldwide. People react differently to alcohol and it has a tendency to overwhelm someone’s life and destroy relationships. Much is the same with painkillers or any mind-altering or numbing substances. Due to these risks I would say that only use self-medicating techniques when recourse to other forms of help are not available. Do not utilize self-medication as a cure all miracle every time you suffer a bout of whatever ails you. If you do drink yourself into a stupor or swallow a few pills every time an episode hits then expect to become an addict in a short while. Only self-medicate as a last resort and sparingly. Be aware of the dangers which come with using drugs and alcohol. The negative effects will sneak up on you, so don’t think you are somehow immune. Be smart about how and when you self-medicate and don’t think you are above the chemical hardwiring such substances have been known to induce.
Views on professional help
Personally, I am conflicted about mental health professionals; not because I feel their career is irrelevant, but rather because of their tight connection to the state and the pharmaceutical industry. Although I did enjoy those times when I was able to discuss my issues with another, qualified individual, such sessions never got very far since I refused to take medication—if you refuse to take medication, then you will find yourself at a dead-end fairly quickly since you are, to the professional, refusing part of your treatment plan. Additionally, with professional help comes the attached legalism: you have a record, essentially, under surveillance via your consumption of medication and usage of mental health professionals. It is easy for assumptions to be made and for your history to be used against you (or it is to me, at least). I would prefer to avoid this baggage. Why pay the funds to receive, at best, if any, treatment, especially when said treatment will give you that background which may, or may not, hinder your future? I would not go as far to say I see all such professional services as pointless; on the contrary, they are capable of helping immensely for many people, but that for me personally, I see such services as more of a trap than anything else. If you find yourself at the end of your rope, then perhaps said services are worth looking into as they could help you greatly… but perhaps not.
- Alienation and Connectivity
I am an introvert. Social interaction does not come easy to me. And yet, here the contradiction lies, for humanity is a social animal, and though everyone, bar those with mental disease, has their own toleration when it comes to interaction, everyone does need interaction—to a degree.
This does not mean any interaction but rather very specific interaction, interaction which completes you as a person. Now, ‘completes’ is a strong word. So perhaps it is better to say ‘adds depth.’ The point is, you need more than the cold nothingness of the void. And, as I said, here is the contradiction: capitalist society is an expert at tearing us apart and alienating us through the mode of accumulation; our social interaction becomes devalued, as a means to an end—profit, while everything else is pushed to the wayside. This is doubly so for Queer people, who experience alienation not merely as the alienation of their labor, but their identity as well; add in mental illness, something which is strongly regulated and scapegoated (think of a mass-shooting, now remember the inevitable ‘blame the mentally ill individual the media pundits play), and you have a third layer of alienation.
If you are stuck, if you are caught between a rock and a hard place and don’t know how to get out, think of the following: why? What role does alienation play in keeping you glued to this abyss? More than you think; to overcome alienation is a difficult task because we are alienated everyday through not only our surplus-value being appropriated by the capitalists, but by our class position: when you lack transportation, when you are dependent on others, when you lack funds to ‘move up in the world,’ when you can’t do what you love, when you don’t have access to those individuals who may help you cope… what can you do?
Very little alone. You need others. But, as was just mentioned, how do you find others, especially when you lack so much? The big picture is to participate in a mass-revolutionary movement which seeks to violently overthrow alienation—however, we are focused only on the small picture, and that is to find your muse, that noun—person, place, or thing—but let’s say person, who identifies with you more than merely a friend.
Your muse is not merely a friend, though. It can be a combination of people, support groups, online communities, hobbies and art, and emotional and psychological fulcrums and the like. But primarily, it is people: people who perhaps you don’t consider well enough to be buddies but individuals who don’t run away from you when you begin discussing suicide (as a concept or personal contemplation), people who not only listen to your stories of daily struggle, but maybe share their own as well; muses become an integral part of your life because they are part of the same assemblage you are a part of—struggle under alienation. Muses are other introverts (for me, anyways), people who feel the sting of capitalism more acutely than those individuals who have privilege within the system—muses are not merely friends because friends do not always understand your struggle; muses are ‘friends+1,’ fellow travelers on the road to a better life.
I will give a simple example from my own life.
One day, while in the university cafeteria, a woman sat down across from me; she asked if she could sit with me (something she would repeat every time we eat together). The funny thing was that I did not remember her… yet, she knew my name and asked to sit with me; perhaps we had a course together. IF I thought hard enough I seem to maybe recall that class, but perhaps it is merely false memories. Regardless, she was a kind woman and as we conversed together; as we conversed, and told her of my research with Queer Marxist theory, and she told me of her ambition to be a filmmaker, I got this fuzzy feeling in my head. Thankfully, it was a nice fuzzy feeling.
The feeling is complex because it was built over time: she did not forget me and I did not forget her, despite my bad memory. Unlike with other students, who if they talked to me, it was never more than for a fleeting while and for but a day, this interaction, innocuous in the extreme, and built on truth, was based on difference, I think she was rather conservative, and yet respect; we listened to each other with manners and allowed one another to speak. Our banter was not juvenile diatribes (unlike a lot of what you see on university campuses).
One day, as we were discussing things, specifically, how interpersonal friendships, she told me something fairly personal: I won’t repeat here what that activity was but let’s just say it was something which society at large would view as ‘deviant.’ I replied to her that I didn’t feel it odd at all, because you never know when others will leave you. Upon my saying that, she got this smile on her face; it wasn’t grandiose or sentimental, but peaceful and sincere, it was a smile which said, ‘someone who understands.’ I was honest in my remark since I have plenty of ‘deviant’ habits myself and just because the wider society looks down on certain behaviors, does not mean they are wrong.
I remember this moment and speak of it now in relation to muses, because when I had these brief luncheons with this woman, I felt my despondent mood lifted. Here was another individual who was not like the others: she was courteous, polite, not obtuse, and she had her quirks which others would frown upon if they knew. We had a link.
We were only ever acquaintances. We never hung out. Honestly, I never even learned her name. But I can honestly say that I enjoyed her company far more than any other student. She was a muse for me. Someone who, though not a close associate or someone who I would call if my life was falling to pieces, she was a person who made me feel less alone—we glimpsed at each other’s deviances and found them refreshing.
Muses can take many forms but they all share a single frame, to help you. They help you pierce the alienation, if only momentarily. These people are difficult to find, yes, and more often than not they are only people you stumble onto, but that is the point: you stumble onto them during your everyday routine. They require you to have that minimal level of interaction which is needed, however painful it may be, to help you help yourself (and while doing so, helping another).
Well, this is the end of my guide. As I said at the start, I am not saying this is the ‘end all’ guide or your one-stop shop for dispelling depression, or that these tips and stories will even help, just that these are the things I have experienced as a young man living with depression, and they have brought me both help along with a degree of comfort. So feel free to share your own thoughts and to help me make this guide better or to just add your experiences. Per the norm, I hope this helped you to some degree, made the darkness seem less monster filled, or just gave you a smile for a second. Till next time.