For the bulk of my life I have struggled depression. I was officially diagnosed at the age of 19 but I can pinpoint it to the age of 13. In my time dealing with it I have seen multiple therapists, general practitioners, psychiatrists and while I have lost count on the number of mental meds they put me on it was over 20. None of it worked.
I had some help with a few of the therapists but nothing notable. The psychiatrists just kept me on a pharmaceutical treadmill. The medications they put me on would sometimes make things less severe but it would be hard to say things were better. Yeah, maybe my lows aren’t quite so low but the baseline level of happiness would often get even worse. I would turn into an emotional zombie with no libido, desires or ambition. Often I would gain a large amount of weight which is a very common side effect of almost all mental meds. Other times I would have crippling side effects such as:
- Sleep paralysis
- Non-stop Nausea
- Brain ‘whooshes’
- Eye zaps
- Extreme fatigue
Perhaps on a questionnaire designed to give either the medication or the practitioner credit that progress was happening we would see results but ultimately MY quality of life didn’t improve. My experience actually aligns with some research that suggests, from the patient’s point of view, antidepressants are just placebos with side effects. What happens is that when a pharmaceutical company has a study that reveals negative results they end up burying it. After 20 years of relying on modern medicine and science to treat my depression I was offered only one other possible option, electro-shock therapy. I considered it. Things were so bad I really did consider it.
Traditional treatments for mental illness are failing and often barely beat out placebo, if at all. There is a myth that depression is a chemical imbalance. That was a theory quickly floated when the very first antidepressant was accidentally discovered. It was never studied or even considered a hypothesis. The drug companies latched unto it, however, because if you tell people that their depression is a chemical imbalance then it seems to make sense to take a pill to fix it, right? Aside from this theory never being tested, the idea that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance implies we know what a chemically balanced brain looks like. We flat out don’t know what a ‘balanced’ brain looks like. If this notion was true then we would diagnose depression by taking a blood test and measuring things like serotonin levels. We don’t do that. It’s a lie made to sell you medications.
Luckily, I found some other paths that don’t appear to be on the radar for most medical professionals. These 4 items helped me quite a bit. Mental health issues are always unique to the individual so I can’t guarantee you will have success but these are certainly worth your consideration.
“Modern society has perfected the art of making people feel unnecessary.” – Sebastian Junger
I love things like the internet, video games, pizza and being able to travel but there is a trade off. Our brains and bodies are still designed for the paleolithic era. Our ability to develop technologies has far outpaced our bodies ability to evolve. It’s no coincidence that if you looked at the countries with the highest rates of depression they are all ‘modern’ countries. When you look at the list of countries with the lowest rate of depression they are countries most of us wouldn’t even consider visiting. They are places where large portions of the population still live in a fairly primitive manner. It seems to be an inescapable fact that the further we drift from our paleolithic routes the more unhappy we become.
While the reasons for this might be multifactorial I would make an argument one of the biggest problems with modern society is that as individuals all of us feel useless. We follow the path that’s led out for us which leads us to spending all day in front of excel spreadsheets, operating a cash register or being middle management in a B2B company whose products you really don’t care about. We end up in an endless grind that doesn’t align with our core values. When we get home we just reach for whatever helps us relax and then repeat again tomorrow. The rat race has never been a more apt description for the lives people are leading. This isn’t even a new problem. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden was written a 150 years ago but touches on this topic and can be noted in this simple quote:
“The masses of men living quiet lives of desperation. Resignation is confirmed desperation.” – Thoreau
It doesn’t have to be this way and finding something in your life that provides meaning is a huge boost to your base level of happiness. This alone can really turn ones life around. Imagine being excited to get up each morning? Imagine being excited about it being MONDAY?! It’s possible.
There is a catch, however. Back when we were hunter-gatherers our purpose was pretty simple. Help keep the tribe alive. Today we don’t have any immediate survival threats, which is nice, but it does make it a bit harder to find that thing that really tickles your pickle. Here are some tricks you can use:
- What is something you have been passionate about in the past? Passion is rocket fuel for purpose.
- Stay engaged with a hobby or interest long enough.
- Realize that purpose doesn’t need to be your career. Many people find purpose in their children, with a church, a social group or in a hobby.
- Consider trying a wide variety of volunteering efforts such as at animal shelters, homeless shelters, food drives or mentoring disadvantaged youth. This will typically make you feel better on it’s own, you will be helping people in need and it may spark an awareness of purpose
- Start cutting out the ‘noise’ from your life and meditating. This puts your mind in a more open state so when you notice that something aligns with your core values and excites you you are aware of it.
- Your purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose. I know someone whose purpose could be summed up with the word ‘bicycles’.
I was in my 30s when I finally found my purpose. What clued me in is I noticed that when I help people out it seems I like I defied the laws of physics. I would expend energy to help someone and instead of feeling drained I was MORE energetic and wanted to keep going. Ultimately you just need to keep an open mind and keep trying new things.
If you have trouble with this, one of my strengths as a coach is helping people find their purpose and then pursue it. Feel free to check out my coaching page and reach out to see if I can help you.
When you are dealing with depression or anxiety it feels like a problem that needs to be fixed. It’s miserable. For those who haven’t experienced it, mental anguish can be much worse than physical pain. With physical pain there’s usually a threshold and, in most cases, you know that it is temporary. Mental anguish can be endless and since it is so hard to find a solution it can feel hopeless and endless. Our natural reaction is to struggle against it. How is that working for you?
One of the biggest breakthroughs I have had with depression and anxiety was to stop resisting it. If I feel a big wave of anxiety coming on I stop what I am doing, take a breath and just allow myself to feel it. It’s usually a very sharp sensation but it comes in one big wave and then washes over me and I feel much better moments later. The anxiety doesn’t escalate and just dissipates. The same goes with depression though often depression won’t dissipate quite so quickly but it can prevent it from escalating. It’s almost like depression or anxiety is a living being and if you acknowledge it, validate it and listen to it without trying to fight it, it calms down. If you resist it it turns into a heated argument. Ultimately, depression and anxiety are often signals from our subconscious that something is wrong and if we ignore it or try to fight it something deep down realizes you aren’t getting the message so it’s going to keep on trying to warn you the only way it knows how. Acknowledge it, let it rant and it will tire itself out like a toddler.
Increase Social Connections
“You aren’t a machine with broken parts. You are an animal whose needs are not being met. You need to have a community. “ -Johann Hari
In Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections he goes through extensive lengths to show how a lack of social connection is a rather large contributor to a lot of mental health woes. No matter how introverted you think you are, humans are social creatures. You know what happens to human beings out in the wilderness alone? They die. In hunter-gatherer tribes being exiled from the group ends up being a death sentence. We are programmed to have social bonds and connections.
You don’t need to be a social butterfly but occasionally meeting new people or even just having 1 on 1 interactions on a regular basis will go a long way to lift your mood. Here are some ideas on how you can increase your social connections:
- Join local interest groups. Facebook groups and Meetups are great places to find these.
- Use a friend finder app such as Bumble BFF.
- Take classes in something that interests you.
- Make an effort to engage with acquaintances, friends and co-workers on a more regular basis.
Drugs? Not really. Psychedelics have been used throughout many, many cultures across thousands of years as a tool for basically therapy and growth. I made an article that gives you an introduction to psychedelics for growth if you are interested but to sum it up psychedelics are a legitimate and safe medicine that can be used to help with depression, anxiety and even be used to make mentally well people make huge leaps in life. The key is that it needs to be done responsibly AND you need to do a lot of work to integrate your experiences into real life. It’s best to have someone experienced in helping you integrate. I strongly believe if I hadn’t had assistance I would not have seen as much improvement.
Remember where I mentioned that a big thing that helped me was that I stopped resisting? That came from a psychedelic mushroom journey where there was a dark/black and white child that was sneakily going around my visions and sabotaging them. Eventually it dawned on me that the child was the embodiment of depression and like a deaf-mute child it didn’t know how to communicate so it was just causing problems to get attention. It needed someone to listen and acknowledge something was wrong.
That’s just one epiphany. I have written many, many pages on what I have learned, though most are gone but in more ways than one I wouldn’t be here typing this if it wasn’t for those experiences. I can say that immediately after my first session I felt 100% better… but nothing was fixed. The effects wore off after a few weeks and it wasn’t until I started working with someone to help me integrate my experiences into my life that real, lasting change happened. I feel confident in saying that the future of mental health treatment will be in the psychedelic field. Don’t believe me? MDMA was a runner up for a Nobel prize. After just a few sessions it has an astounding 90% success rate in treating PTSD even year out after the last session. In the 50s, before they were made legal one psychotherapist noted that “It’s like having 10 years of therapy in one session.”.
If this is something that interests you but you don’t know how to get involved in the ‘underground’ then I recommend looking at retreats. Here in the United States it’s very common for people to fly to Central or South America for a few days. I do not provide any psychedelic substances nor can I really tell you where to get them illegally but I am available for integration or if you have an interest in it I offer a free quick consultation call.
All paths to treating depression are different and none of them are easy. It’s tough. It’s really tough but there are options out there if you find traditional modern medicine isn’t up to the task. This post isn’t even close to a conclusive list of alternative treatments but it’s a few more options for your consideration. The main thing you want to remember is that there are always possibilities, there is always a path forward and you are in control.