A Comprehensive Open Letter To My Fellow Depressives
One: What this is and why I’m doing it
Hi, you. It’s me, you. Or at least I’ve been you. Scratch that, I’ve been my version of you.
Listen, I’ve felt a lot of the same feelings, or at least feelings very similar to, what you’re feeling right now. There would be no malady called depression if there weren’t lots of us out here with the same symptoms. You are neither alone nor fundamentally broken.
I want you to know that I care a lot. I don’t want you to be in pain. It matters to me that I could help you get out of it even if it’s just for a little bit. And what’s more, there are millions of people just like me who care, too. None of us even have to know you to care.
I’ll tell you why — they don’t need to know you to know that they would never wish that pain on anybody. From their most loved to most hated. Nobody deserves that, and that means you don’t either.
All that unbelievable weight. The pushing and straining it takes just to get through a normal day. The way your bones are bent from all the years of effort trying just to stay hidden behind the mask. The way it feels like it would take an army of engineers just to figure out a way to get your heart out of this fucking hole, and the incredible frustration that entails. And the cruel things you say to yourself because you must be so stupid if you can’t even figure out this problem that should have a simple solution. This pain problem. And then the way the pain grows heavier and heavier on the parts of yourself it is making you eat.
You don’t deserve any of that.
And you never did.
And I want to help.
Because I’ve been there. And even though sometimes I still feel myself start to slip that way, for the most part, I got out.
And when I was there I was desperate for something that could cut through even my cynicism, and tell me something real that would help.
Some things have occurred to me, and I think maybe just maybe they might be things that could help someone who is in the thick of it right now.
I’ve picked up a few truths, I think that’s what they are at least.
I would never presume to be smart enough to have access to the truth. These are just mine right now.
Just some stuff that’s helped me, and I throw this out there into the void of the internet with the hopes that it’ll hit someone who needs it.
And if only one person is given a lift here, I hope that person is you.
Two: OK, let’s take a look at you
First let’s get to work on addressing the symptoms currently happening.
Right now, just take a step back and acknowledge that you’re feeling this thing. Don’t judge it, don’t try to rationalize it, just experience it. OK. So there’s this really painful thing you’re feeling right now. Just sit in it for a bit, you’ll be OK.
Still OK? Cool. Now imagine someone you really really care about. Put that person in your head.
Now imagine that person is feeling like you do right now.
If you could, what would you do for them?
Great idea, now do that for yourself. It can be big or small, whatever. Free or expensive. Whatever you’d be willing to give up to make that person feel better, be willing to give that up for yourself right now.
I know you don’t feel like it. I wouldn’t. I can hear that nasty little voice in your head talking, because it still talks in mine. It’s saying you don’t deserve it, and it’s making a long and convincing argument why you don’t. But you and I both know deep down that that’s the depression talking, telling you to stay put.
Or maybe you just don’t feel like moving. This is going to be great, I swear. Force yourself to stand up and get to doing whatever that gift to your friend (that’s you) is. The point is just to comfort yourself immediately. Just go do it.
Oh, one caveat: It has to involve actual participation in some form, and and not passivity. You wouldn’t try to make someone feel better by putting them on the couch to watch Netflix alone, for example.
I think you get my point.
Go do that thing. I’ll wait... Or just read the rest of this, and do it afterwards, since that’s probably what you’ll do anyway. Just don’t stop in the middle. But when you’re done here then you really have to go do it. Or plan it. You and I both know that if you tell yourself that you’ll just get around to it whenever that you’ll never ever get to it.
It’s OK, me too. No judgement.
Three: The more permanent treatment
Feeling at least a little bit better? I hope so. Or I hope you do after you finish this article and do it. Because as soon as you finish, it’s time. I’m serious.
OK, now we’re making a game plan. Let’s get to the journey out.
Oh, and it should go without saying that ideally this includes therapy and figuring out a regiment of anti-depressants with your doctor. By the way, that anti-depressant stuff involves a lot of trial and error. It might take time to find the right combination of prescriptions or the right therapist for you. It’s OK, no matter what happens you’re walking the right direction, be patient.
That said, start writing every day. Starting today. Take as much time as you like. You can start with only a little bit at first if you need to, but write. Write. Every. Day. This is part of your life now.
And here is what you will write. Your truth. Write the truth as you see it. Whatever that means to you. The point is just to be honest. Very, very honest. It can be about anything as long as you are honest about it. It can be about the cat, an episode of TV or the basis of your deepest fears. Whatever. It doesn’t even have to be good because it’s just for you. Just keep writing.
Got writer’s block? Keep writing. Writer’s block doesn’t mean you can’t think of anything, it just means that you think everything you are thinking of sucks. Fine, then it sucks. Write it. It will lead to something or to something else that leads to something else. Writer’s block or any other hindrance is always just a phase, and phases by definition don’t last. So just keep writing, wait out the phase. It’ll pass, it always does. Just like the phases of great inspiration do. Through all phases keep writing.
Eventually you’ll start landing on these little kernels that make a lot of sense. You might call those your truth or the truth. Whatever it is, when you land on it, always be asking what else is true if that is true. None of these kernels or nuggets or even boulders of gold are conclusions, it’s always just the thing that leads to the next thing.
If you really don’t see a way further in, no problem. Start somewhere else, anywhere you want, and start digging some more, maybe a deeper way into the last thing will occur to you later. Just keep following your honesty.
Tell yourself the truth. Every day.
Four: Why I think this might work for you, too
There’s several reasons to start, but one of the biggest reasons is that you are training your brain to hold yourself accountable. It’s learning to create new habits. And this will be the first habit you will make out of what will hopefully be many. Eventually. Don’t worry about what those are now.
You see, the brain is an interesting thing. About 98 percent of our thinking is unconscious. And a lot of our choices are automatic. And the choices that are the most automatic are the ones we have made the most.
When you make a decision, the brain shoots a signal from one place to another. That signal will always travel on the path of least resistance from point A to point B. And the path of least resistance is the choice you have made the most. The one you always make. Your habits.
For our purposes, let’s say that brain signal from point A to point B means laying in bed.
So, and this is literally physically true in your brain, in that path from A to B there is a deep crevice that makes traveling that path easier. The deeper it gets, the more automatic it gets. And that crevice gets a little bit deeper every time you decide to lay in bed, and that brain signal fires along that path from point A to point B. The deeper the crevice, the easier and more automatic the choice becomes. Until you get to the point where you aren’t even thinking about it anymore. You just do it. Almost automatically.
It’s the same principle that explains why accomplished musicians had to spend hours and hours doing the painfully slow process of getting good and failing endlessly before it they got where they are now. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Deeper and deeper crevices until it’s so automatic that the musician can focus on other things. Like singing. Because everybody hates a guitarist that won’t help with the harmonies.
Now let’s say you want to send a signal from point A to point C. And for our purposes, let’s say the path from A to C represents getting up and writing. Now this is the hard part. Because it’s basically like trying to change the path of a river. And that is going to take awhile. Especially early on, there is going to be a lot of resistance.
Luckily for you, those new paths form much faster than rivers.
And also luckily for you, it gets easier the more you do it.
But you’ll still encounter resistance. The most automatic habits (and thoughts, by the way) have this kind of defense system. And it acts like a hyperactive two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum.
Maybe it’s something in our brains leftover from somewhere within the billions of years of evolution. Maybe it’s got some great evolutionary purpose. Maybe it’s actually because there’s something about that habit that works really well for you for some reason. Like how laying in bed is making you die inside, but it is also protecting you from the world. It doesn’t matter.
Whatever it is, it’s there. And when you try to make changes you are fucking with that hyperactive two-year-old’s routine. And it is going to throw a fit.
In real life terms this two-year-old fit comes in the form of you hating the idea of starting to write. That feeling going, “Ugh, I don’t want to get out of bed and do this.” Or, “Well, maybe after I do this one thing.” Or my favorite, “Fuck it, what’s the point?”. And anxiety hormones get released. Rationalizations to quit. Fear. And all this other stuff just to get your from messing up your own brain’s routine. It uses your body against you.
And it is really hard to then force yourself to do it anyway. And then do it again and again and again especially when you don’t want to.
You are going to suck at this writing every day thing at first.
And that’s fine. Miss a day? Cool. Do it today. Stay with it. Miss a week? Same thing. OK, stand up. Try again. We’ll do this as long as it takes.
There is now a person living in your head that will always be there for you, no matter how many times the wrong thing happens.
And this person only ever says two things:
“Cool! Let’s keep going!”
“Cool! Let’s try again!”
Allow yourself to make mistakes. And for the love of peanut butter sandwiches don’t beat yourself up over it. That defeats the whole purpose.
Take this in, remember it: Changing behaviors is hard, but it is without even half a doubt that it is far, far better than following the story being written about you right now.
It is hard, but worth it, to change the story yourself.
And it bares repeating, it gets easier the more you do it.
I really believe that until you can be stronger than your impulses and habits, you are not free.
I think the ability to do that is exactly what free will is.
So, goddamnit, start writing every day.
I love you.
Five: Some warnings that you don’t have to worry about right now
OK, so don’t worry because this won’t happen for a while, not until you’re ready. Your brain wouldn’t do that to itself before it was. But eventually you are going to need to accept some truths even though they are going to hurt.
If a truth hurts, take a step back, assess where this truth is coming from. Because you need to make sure it isn’t depression trying to sneak by as truth. Depression sneaky that way.
This is an incredibly easy trap to fall into. So slow down and take the time to step back and think about it. Was that voice motivated by getting to the truth? Or was it motivated by getting to hurt? What was the impulse there?
If there is anger attached to the impulse, you can be sure it’s depression. That’s one tell tale sign.
The biggest sign of all is that it is lying.
For example what I bet is the most common depressed thought about all this is, because it’s exactly what I would think, “This is hopeless stupid bullshit and it will never work.”
And we can tell that is depression talking because that’s a lie. The idea that it is hopeless and will never work is neuro-physiologically simply untrue.
So watch out for lies.
If there’s no anger there, not much of any emotion just a neutral acknowledgement. OK, it’s a painful truth — let’s deal with it. What next?
Can you do something about it? Well, hell, you’ve already proven you can start new habits and change your brain paths with this writing thing. So make a new one if that’s what needs to happen.
If you can’t do anything about it, well, you’re just going to have to let that one go. It does nobody any good for you to latch yourself onto things you have no control over. That’s like taking poison and hoping it works on something else.
And if a truth about you comes up that feels bad. Know this, you will 100 percent survive acknowledging your own bullshit. It will hurt and the change won’t be easy but that’s just the burn of wound disinfecting. The sting doesn’t last long, and I promise you’ll be better for it. And happier. And more free.
Again, don’t worry; a lot of that is way down the line. I’m just trying to give you an idea about what the work has produced for me and what it might produce for you. The whole experience could be totally different for you. This is my journey, I don’t know yours but I suspect there could be some overlap in experiences.
All you need to know right now is that you need to sit down and tell the truth to yourself every day.
Six: Where I’m at
Here are some thoughts I’ve had along the way that have helped. Hopefully they resonate in some way with you. Maybe these are thoughts you’ve already had. I don’t know. I’m certainly far from the first person to have them.
And, again; Not the truth. Just my truth.
I think a lot of the hardest things I had to deal with in my depression was not only being in constant pain — physical and mental pain — but the constant growing feedback loop that comes up in the face of a complete absence of point. That means that along with all the suffering and constant little cuts of blech, I am also forced to beg face first into a pillow for the answer to why I am doing this when it is so incredibly painful. Dear God, somebody tell me what the point is. It is getting harder and hurting more and more and I feel like I am about to hit the eject button on this shitty ride because my hope is drowning.
That hunger for meaning makes it so much worse. And that’s the question that has been asked ever since the question could be. And nobody in the history of science, philosophy, art, or anywhere else has ever been able to crack that nut. At least not in a way where it works for everyone. Nobody has found the equation to that natural law, if it even exists:
“Holy fuck, why?”
It’s really no wonder the best answer after tens of thousands of years remains basically, “Eh, I don’t know.”
What I’m saying is that is a really tough question.
And that sucks because having that could have made things a lot easier. Maybe even stop the feedback loop.
That was my experience, anyway.
So here is where I’m at right now.
All the time before I was born adds up to 14 billion years since the big bang, and all the time after I am dead adds up to infinity.
It is true that in the context of the universe my entire life is an almost imperceptibly small temporal blip on the radar.
Notice that I said “imperceptibly” not “insignificantly.” Stay with me.
It is also true that being alive in the context of the Universe makes you an infinitesimally rare piece of universe. Look around you, most of this stuff isn’t alive. There just isn’t much living universe around. Sure, there’s a lot going on in this tiny sub-sub-sub pocket of the universe, but you and I both know that’s a real small part. And hell we don’t even know how long that will be the case in this sub-sub-sub pocket. Stuff happens. The entire history of life on Earth itself could be a blip.
And that’s OK. Stay with me.
It is also true that life is the universe experiencing itself. That’s not some bullshit feel-good phrase, that’s real. I mean, right? I sound Carl Sagan-y but he was a smart guy. We’re made out of all the same stuff as the universe, we’re in it, we’re dependent on many parts of it. We literally are the universe, reality, whatever you want to call it. I’d say that passes the bullshit test, even if it sounds like flowery language.
Think of it this way: Imagine all of existence as a blanket stretched horizontally. Every once in awhile, a finger pops up from the bottom and creates a upwards gumdrop shaped dent in the blanket. And that little upwards divot can look around at the blanket and go “whoa” and pretty much do what it wants, and have actual feelings about what it is like being the blanket.
You get to be a you. You get to experience things. Your combination of DNA and experience will never ever be repeated. Ever. The universe, reality, will never ever exist in the way you are ever.
This isn’t about making you feel special. “Special” suggests a certain kind of inborn superiority and therefore privileges that make us angry because we can’t have them even though we know we are equally deserving. I’m not saying “special”.
I’m saying rare.
And in the context of infinite time, only one ever of living, when living things themselves are so extremely rare? That’s pretty rare.
And you get to experience it.
So when I’m asked the question, “What is the mother of god fucking point to this could there possibly be to all this horrendous painful drudgery?”
What I have landed on currently is, “What reason could you possibly need to get to be this?” This is cool, it is its own reason. I get to eat food. What ultimate purpose do you need to eat food? Yes yes, it keeps you alive. But what I’m getting at it is that it feels good to do it anyway. Even if you didn’t need food to survive, you’d still eat. I would. Hell, I’d eat more. love eating.
And that’s just one thing out of millions that I can’t experience in base universe mode. I need to be that incredibly rare thing called ‘alive’ to get to experience that or anything else at all.
That’s so cool to me. That’s it. Its reason is itself. I realize that may seem really simple, perhaps overly so. But you’re right, It is really simple. My answer to, "Why?", because it is cool. I like it. And that is all the reason I need.
And, don’t worry, I hear you. You are saying that this thing that I think is so cool is very, very painful for you. Because, and everybody knows this, life can be so devastatingly hard. Sure, food is good — woopty effing doo. In the meantime I am barely keeping my head above water with the bills and responsibilities and now dad’s gone and I have such a long list of painful decisions to make that I can barely feel my fingertips.
All true. Every single sentence. That’s part of what being life entails. Pain is part of it. And I really hate that part. One of the prices of admission to being this rare piece of reality that can actually feel is that it can feel bad things too.
And right now it feels like that price is feeling ridiculously too high.
Yep. Been there.
Had that thought.
I’m getting there, I promise.
OkOKay, so I’m this incredibly rare blip in the universe, I get to be an “I”. Cool.
So, okay. So what the hell am I supposed to to do with this?
My only answer is just to try and enjoy it as much as I can. I can’t think of anything else a blip that small should do.
And yes part of that means responsibilities and doing things we don’t like sometimes.
And I think that, for me, enjoying life means enjoying the process of finding the truths and then building the new brain tunnel habits based on them.
Keep writing, tell the truth, find the things that you value most, and get better at living up to them. Enjoy the process of doing that, even though it is sometimes a very hard process.
So in real world terms here’s what that means to me; I’ve been calling myself out on some past behaviors, for example. Holding myself to the standard of making the new habits I need to make so that I don’t make decisions like that anymore. I have been writing lots of stand up and hitting up mics. I’m reading more. Playing less video games. Taking note of the things that feel comfortable but are really limiting me. Stuff like that.
Maybe you want to be a better attorney, brush your teeth more, find more time for your family, save money. Whatever.
It really can be whatever you want. But whatever it is that you decide to grab onto and commit yourself towards, enjoy the process of doing that.
Do not ever, ever, ever attach your happiness to something you have no control over.
This is not about success, this is about just getting better at things. And enjoying getting better at them.
When we talk about “success,” a lot of the time we’re talking about something we want to happen when ultimately it is up to someone else to decide whether it happens or not. Decide to hire. Decide to cast. Decide to love.
That is their call. All you can be is the best possible you in order to make it more likely that they will want to make that decision, whatever it is.
Now obviously I’m not saying don’t send in your writing packs or job applications or try outs or auditions or go out on dates or whatever. Do those things. You should still do the real world work it takes to get what you want, just don’t attach yourself to the results. Because they aren’t up to you. Put yourself out there, keep getting better, keep going.
And also let us not forget about success’ fickle cousin, Completely Random Chance.
Let that all go. Just enjoy the process of getting better and better. And it gets easier and easier to get better at more and more things. Remember, those behaviors become automatic over time. And it can be anything you want. Just enjoy doing it instead of attaching your enjoyment to winning at it.
People obsessed with winning are never truly happy.
The better you are at redirecting those river paths in your brain, the easier it gets to create a new one.
The more control you have over your own mind, the more free you are.
The more free you are, the easier and happier your life becomes.
It just so happens though that being free also involves a lot of work and honesty.
And it all starts by building your first habit with the writing.
I’m not great at this yet, but I’m working on it.
So that’s it. The process. That’s my purpose. My answer. Whatever you want to call it.
I’m just trying to enjoy being alive by enjoying doing what I am responsible to do in order to make sure that happens. It gives me problems to solve.
It gives me purpose.
And hopefully I can keep doing that for as long as I can until I go back to being the universe unaware of itself.
I think I came to a place where I realized the thing that I was struggling for was the thing making me struggle for it.
I’m not saying it’s the truth, I’m saying it’s my truth right now and I’m still following the thread.
I know this isn't perfect, but it's what I have to give right now.
For me it has started with the writing.
Seven: I say it: “Different strokes, different blokes," you might not like it that way but you know what they say, “Different strokes, dIfferent blokes”
If all that fits on you,
Well then you are the one I made it for.
If it doesn’t fit on you at all,
Go find your fit.
Now go treat yourself.