I woke up today damn early, 5:45 and I was up at 6, feeling well rested. Funny how going to bed at 22:00 suddenly fixes your sleep quality and generally does not fuck you over day after. Anyway. The mood is good. Great actually. Made some coffee, read some articles, and I stopped at this one. Norwegian media article sent in by a 20 years old girl who writes about her depression, every day challenges and the stigma that comes with it. I had a “few” cups of coffee, so it got me going.
Depression is something that hits close to home. In fact, it hits me in dead center of “Me™”. I had a challenging childhood and adolescence. Most likely not worse than the average (what is average anyway?), but it was tough. Without making a sob story out of this, point has to be made. “I’ve felt some shit”. In fact, it wasn’t until my late twenties that I realized that I was depressed on and off for 10 years. At some point I crashed and burned, no surprise. But that’s not the point. The point is that after putting a label on it, realizing what it is, it piqued my interest.
I’ve always loved science. Ever since 8th grade in Ukraine when geometry, chemistry and physics were introduced, I said “good bye” to my social life. I LOVE this science shit, and not once have I lost interest for “all things science”. In the past few years, my own head became a laboratory for me. A kind of playground. Some people have garages where they work on cars and bikes, some people have studios where they draw paintings or make stuff, my head is that place for me where I analyze the processes, observe, adjust and try out new things in order to improve myself. It’s exciting as fuck to me when I try out a new “ugly hack” (“here and now” solutions like comfort shopping) or a more long lasting change (attitude adjustment) and I observe improvement. Ever since I started lifting I became obsessed with gains. All kinds. Any improvement is better than none. This isn’t a fitness post, so I’ll stick to mental gains.
Throughout this process of self-improvement I came to several realizations. One of them is that this is an ongoing process. “Enjoy journey, not the destination” bla bla bullshit and all that. The second is that there isn’t any definite answer to what a good life is, or how you’re supposed to live it. The answer is “however the fuck you want”. The last one hit me like a truck one day. I was all like “Ok, so….if I’m to live a life however the fuck I want….what’s it like then?”. I literally drowned in possibilities. I spent most of my youth adapting to situations that I didn’t have to be a part of, adjusting myself to an environment that was not my own, just to “fit in”. I cannot describe the freedom of “Fuck it”. The moment you take charge. Fuck Jesus, man, he ain’t takin’ this wheel.
One of the many challenges with depression is that you rarely know when it hits you until you suddenly realize “wait a fucking minute. I’m feeling blue as fuck. What happened? I wasn’t like that a week ago”. You notice that you emotionally check out, become unavailable, everything is shit, the light at the end of the tunnel goes out, your mind alienates people around you by changing your perception of them, you give everything up, kneel, bow your head and patiently wait to die. Until it hits you: “The fuck is this shit?” followed by a pause and a “ahhh, right. Depression” and the fog starts to lift. What happens next is crucial. It’s what separates those who stay depressed and sink deeper and those who strap in, check their mental rifle, reload and charge against an army of demons that seem to gnaw on you and come out victorious. The answer is mental fitness.
That’s right. I said it. Mental fitness. Everyone is on about physical fitness, cod and broccoli, vitamins, minerals, sets and reps, cheat meals, cardio and rest n shit. I don’t see anyone talk about mental fitness. And that’s where we as a society fuck up. Royally.
In my eyes, mental fitness is as crucial as physical. “The body cannot live without the mind” said Morpheus in The Matrix. We fix our physical machinery, but forget the mind that is running the bloody thing. See, I learned how to live with depression. I kind of settled with the idea that sometimes my mind will try to run me over. I think everyone subconsciously knows that. That snide remark from someone, that unanswered text, not being invited somewhere, overheard rumors or some shit. It all hits us equally hard. The difference is how we deal with it. Some give fucks, some don’t. Mark Manson wrote something like “the older you get the less fucks you got to give, so save your fucks for things that really matter” and I agree. Think about all the fucks you gave in high school. Makes me cringe. When you know the nature of your mind and your reaction patterns to external stimuli, you will find out how to stay positive eventually. I’m not dismissing depression at all. It’s a real thing and kills more people than we’d like to admit. I mean, come on, it killed Robin Williams. We still don’t have drugs that “cure” it either, we just have “emotional painkillers”. We got dampeners, but not a working fix. Partially because we still don’t know 100% how our brain as an organ works, but also because we all have our different demons. Different demons require different approaches. That’s why I sometimes seemingly say some dumb shit trying to comfort or motivate people. It takes time to get to know others (and it also depends on how much of their demons people share, and how well they do that). Shit that works for me isn’t guaranteed to work on others. It’s a constantly changing map. In spite of depression being a real disease, I believe struggling identities in many cases can be…uhm….fortified. You might not be able to fix it, but you sure as hell can do SOMEthing (talking to a therapist is obviously one of them).
However, general you-can-do-this-at-home-pointers for me personally are:
– Do things that make you happy. Always. You have a set number of hours a day, which some go to work and the rest is freely available to you. Make the most of it. What do you enjoy doing? Do it. Preferably stay away from drugs and alcohol, but you know. I don’t judge. However, this leads me to another point.
– Take care of yourself. You are, most likely, a grown up human being. The responsibility for your physical and mental health is yours. Besides, no one can love you like Kanye loves Kanye except yourself. You are all you have. Respect and love yourself. Do stuff that is good for you, and I don’t mean comfort eating. Book a week-end out, go to spa, get a massage, I don’t know. Get some RNR. Everyone needs it.
– Invest in yourself. This is somewhat a part of the point above, but deserves it’s own section because of it’s importance factor. Self investment is the best kind of investment. Be physically active (run, swim, bike, lift weights, climb shit, I don’t know) and keep your mind engaged. Don’t check out. Read books that interest you, have great discussions with your friends (and if you don’t have friends, you can always go Reddit and find a sub-reddit about something that interests you. However, I encourage you to dare to open yourself up and meet new people). Learn something new. Try something new. Get a new hobby. Get several new hobbies. I don’t care, just do something.
– Take charge. By taking charge I mean take charge of how you live your life and how you spend your precious time. Sitting home, binge watching Netflix or raiding 7 days a week in WoW isn’t going to do anything productive in the long run (and I mean by the time you ding 60 IRL, you filthy casual).
– Manage your stress levels. This one is a huge and includes many sub-topics. Identify things that rub you the wrong way and reduce your time of exposure to them, or cut them out completely. Life is really to short to feel shit about something or someone (even though it’s perfectly OK and normal to feel so, it’s just not really productive in a positive way). Clean your life up. Personally this includes to stop watching TV. I’m not saying burn your TV, delete your Facebook account and degauss your hard-drive (even though I drunkingly deactivated my Facebook account at some point). But for me, there isn’t much of entertainment on there. It’s mostly reality shows (that hardly are reality, because they are manufactured to sell and generate viewer numbers) that make me lose faith in humanity, and commercials. I can get my TV-show fix elsewhere (like Netflix). I also occasionally clean up my social media (like Snapchat and Instagram). This one was a big one for me. I liked a few pages on Instagram cos they posted funny cats or memes, but quite often it’s more about selling apparel or posting nudes than memes, so I unfollowed them. Good riddance.
– Manage your environment. Social environment affects you more than you would like to admit. Create a social atmosphere that is aligned with your values, that also enriches you as an individual and boosts your good sides, while respecting the differences of others. We’re all different, we value different things. Some values clash, but you’re OK with that. Some values clash, and are in a direct conflict with yours. That’s hardly positive or enriching, so respect those values, but remove yourself from that environment. Why be in a harshly conflicted environment when you can be in an environment that is aligned to your values and bring you a positive lifestyle? Life is too short, remember? Plus something about fucks to give and all that.
– Have goals. YOUR goals, not someone else’s goals. Step the fuck back from what everyone else wants you to do and think long and hard about what YOU as an individual want to do. And then do it. If it’s something huge, split the goal into smaller sub-goals. Keep splitting them until they are achievable. Then do them. Continuity and determination is key. Because, you guessed it, life is too short, no time to waste. Let’s do this shit. Cos this is the shit YOU, as a person, actually want to be doing regardless of what others think about it. It’s your life anyway, why the fuck give fucks about what people think about it? It’s you who is living it, not them. They got their own.
– Will you care about it when you’re 60 years old? This one is gold for me. It’s so easy to get caught up in some irrational, depressed thought pattern and get consumed by fears, insecurities, shame and whatnot. Fuck that. Will I care about asking this girl out when I’m 60? “But what if she rejects me”, “yes, she might. But will you care when you are 60 years old about that one rejection 30 years ago?”……”no”. I’m not gonna pretend that I’m all pro n shit, cos I’m not. I’m still working on this one. A combination of “will I care when I’m 60” and “Ahhhhh, FUCK IT” is a good one however. Keep it in mind. And take baby steps out of the comfort zone. This is more of a reminder to myself than you.
This is more or less it. I don’t really do some advanced mediation techniques, breathe into my balls, or believe in some deity. Nah, man, I’m just a middle aged guy doing his thing and enjoying it. I’m not perfect, I fuck up at all of the above points occasionally, but I’m fine with that. Self-acceptance is one hell of a drug. And it’s good for you.
And remember, whenever you are here
Just keep walking. It will pass. It always does. Take responsibility for your own happiness. You can’t be constantly happy, and it’s OK. Just be aware of your emotional state, know yourself and adjust accordingly.