Brad' site where he mouths off about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.

For most of my adult life, I’ve suffered from what I euphemistically have described as melancholy. And like most people, I mistakenly considered it to be a “mood” as opposed to a serious physiological issue.  If I just did X, then I’d feel better. 

When the issue began to seriously affect my life, I readily accepted “advice” that included “appreciate what you have”, “look on the bright side”, “try to reduce stress from your life”, “don’t sweat the small stuff”, etc.

However, that type of advice is about as relevant as telling someone who suffers from severe migraines or epilepsy that they can “cure it” by changing their attitude about it. 

Understanding what depression actually is

Depression isn’t caused by external events.  Not the type I’m talking about anyway.  Obviously if enough bad things happen to you, you can be pretty down.  But major depressive disorder is an event that occurs in the brain where your serotonin levels drop very low.  Because the symptom of it is simply being in an extremely “down mood”. Unfortunately, people who suffer this are inclined to try to just push themselves through it which only serves to exacerbate it.

In video game terms, if one’s mental well-being can be described as mana, then everything we do each day results in actions that give or take a bit of that mana.  A bad event, like a death or a divorce will take away a lot of mana.  What makes MDD so serious is that it is a largely random event that essentially drops your mana to near zero. Suddenly, those day to day events that might not be that big of a deal become potentially life threatening (or sanity threatening).

For example, some people talk about seasonal depressive disorder.  I think a better way to think of it is that during certain times of the year, the conditions result in a steady trickle of mana. For most people, this might be no big deal or maybe a mild case of be somber.  On the other hand, if you are unlucky enough to have an MDD event around this time, that steady mana trickle can take you to a very very dark place.

There is no cure, there is only management

Being an engineer, I tend to focus on solutions. The idea I couldn’t “solve” depression seemed ludicrous.  Throughout my 20s I had a mantra: “The cure for the blues is achievement.”  I made an ambitious bucket list to work towards by the time I was 40.

And so 40 hit and I had done everything I had hoped to do by then. My family life was wonderful. I had beautiful, wonderful wife of nearly 20 years. 3 healthy, happy children. A beautiful home. More money than I could ever need. My book had been published by Random House and was at every book store I went to. Good physical health. Lots of friends. Good support network. Awesome job.

But accomplishment has nothing to do with depression. Depression doesn’t care. It’s a physical disorder.  It’s like suggesting that someone with diabetes just needs to get a big promotion at work and suddenly they’ll be cured.

Depression doesn’t make people any more sensitive

Having talked to other people who are in a similar situation, one of the most frustrating aspects is that many people think that those with depression are just more sensitive or that you need to be careful what you say around them.   Again: Depression is NOT caused by external factors. 

Just as depression can’t be cured by good events, it can’t be caused by bad events. It is not caused by some relative saying something rude or getting a mean email or some Facebook argument. 

The only time external factors become an issue is right after an MDD event has occurred that has brought your mana down to zero. Then it matters and the onus is on us to understand that and manage it.

How to manage it

Once I began thinking of depression as a physical issue, I was able to start effectively researching ways of managing it.  Here are the techniques I’ve learned over the past 3 years (I’m 43 now, it was 40 when I finally accepted that there was no magic accomplishment bullet).

None of these things will “cure” it. This is simply managing it so that you don’t go into “negative mana”:

 

  1. Mindfulness.  This means focusing on the moment. MDD events tend to cause people to dwell on everything that they imagine is bad. “I’m wasting my life”, “I’m not living up to expectations”, “Why am I still alive? What’s the point?”, “Nothing is worth doing anymore”.  You can’t talk yourself out of these things at that moment. Instead, you just need to distract yourself and focus on the moment.  For me, that means something as simple as taking a peek at the conservatory in the house at the lizards and watching them do what lizards do (answer: Not much).

    Mindfulness does NOT mean: Going for a walk, exercising, reading a book, etc.  It means find something around and focus on it for a bit. The simpler the better.
  2. Deconditioning. Where I work, I have a standing policy on “brain times”. We only care about what accomplish in the bigger scheme of things. We don’t care if you’re accomplishing it at 2:30pm on a Wednesday. If you need to take a brain break (defined as: working from home and at 2:30pm you instead read a book or do something in your garden because you’ve had “an event” recently then do it).  

    Deconditioning is, by far, the hardest thing to do because MDD comes with “I’m not living up to other people’s expectations” and therefore it makes it even harder to force yourself to just not do something that requires mana even if it’s in the middle of a work day. 

    I still struggle with this a lot and I own my own company. Yet, middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday I will force myself to read through a contract or some proposal or status report or some other thing that sucks the life out of me simply because it’s a work day in the afternoon. But I’m getting much better at simply rescheduling things so that I either spend that time doing something I enjoy (like writing code) or something unrelated (reading a book, playing with the dog, whatever).
  3. Drugs. There’s no way around this. SSRIs and related drugs are a life saver. Find ones that work for you and stick to them. Yea, it sucks to have to take something every day forever (until they do find a cure). But I already take a multivitamin.
  4. People. How you deal with people in this situation depends on if you’re an introvert or an extrovert. I’m an extrovert so I tend to enjoy being around people most of the time. I gain mana from socializing. But introverts lose mana from socializing.  So if you’ve had an event, deal with the people issue appropriately. You don’t go flying with a severe ear infection and you shouldn’t go present at a company meeting if you’re an introvert and you’ve recently had a MDD event (reschedule! Yes, DO IT).
  5. The right job. People say “Life is short” and proceed to live as if they’re immortal.  I had a financial advisor friend who joked that if I quit “messing around” I could be worth 9 to 10 figures instead of “merely” 8.  That gets back to the obvious: Having money has very little affect on MDD. MDD doesn’t care.  Epilepsy doesn’t go away if you have a lot of money either.   Instead, the right job means having a job that provides as many “mana generating” opportunities as possible with the fewest number of “mana absorbers” present.

    Where I work, we have an in-house fitness trainer, a nutritionist and (again, since hitting 40) it is forbidden to have anything resembling “crunch”. If someone is working a lot of hours, they’re asked if they’re doing it because they enjoy what they’re working on versus because they have some sense of obligation.  If it’s the latter, it’s discouraged and we can discuss the underlying issues.  A big part of this is employee retention.  Working with people you know and care about for many years is extremely helpful. 

    Having an environment where people feel there’s a lot of flexibility to learn and do new things over your career (tired of concept art? How about game design? Or how about cinematics? There’s time to learn).  At the same time, it also means having a lower stress environment where people are less likely to have anxiety or not get along as a result.
  6. Diet and Exercise.  These aren’t cures. But holy cow, making sure I am not eating crap can go a long way.  I love my mochas in the morning (they really help me) but I’ve moved away from fast food and the other garbage I used to ingest and just feel better. Poor diet is more like a drip drip drip to mana.  Similarly, it’s not so much that exercise will make you happy as much as inactivity is a constant drip drip drip to mana.
  7. Accepting what it is. Last but not least is accepting what MDD is. It’s a physical issue that has no simple cure. It is not some weakness in character. It is not a failure on your part to appreciate what you have.  It’s just as physical as epilepsy or diabetes or some other physical ailment.
    The only difference between MDD and any other ailment is that the symptoms of an MDD event come in the form misery that, if unmanaged, becomes utter despair that can be very dangerous.

 

I hope this helps others. It has taken me some years to get to this point.  Until recently, I’ve really not talked about this outside my family and a few very close friends.  But I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a lot of people out there facing these same challenges.

Most people who know me know me to be a pretty happy person. That’s because I am a happy person much of the time. Just like people can be very healthy until they have the flu, I am happy until I have an MDD event that requires me to have some care in how I manage it.


Comments (Page 1)
on Mar 19, 2014

meditation

+ breathing techniques

 

saved my life.

on Mar 19, 2014

I am not that sure if this is entirely physical issue. I am under impression the affinity to depression or anxieties mightily influenced by ones character traits (which could be again down to physical properties of the brain)...

Anyway in my case personally i think its all down to my predisposition to obsessive thinking, now that not meant as mental disorder, rather trait of my personality. Obsessing about something without ability to stop that train of thoughts can easily fuel the feelings of strong anxiety, restlessness or lack of joy - rather than some simple chemical imbalance IMHO. Or it can be both things, bottom line i think its all pretty interconnected, and while its true you cant just talk yourself out of misery, i would say its pretty possible to talk yourself into it. 

on Mar 19, 2014

Timmaigh
Obsessing about something without ability to stop that train of thoughts can easily fuel the feelings of strong anxiety, restlessness or lack of joy - rather than some simple chemical imbalance IMHO.

That's OCD , not Depression/MDD ....

on Mar 19, 2014

Thanks for your insight.  

 

 

on Mar 19, 2014

Tagging for later.  Thanks for posting this, Brad.  Had/have similar issues after my dad passed. 

on Mar 19, 2014

I've suffered from MDD for most of my adult life. You did a very excellent job of describing what it's all about. I still take my medication to keep it under control. I've been doing it for so long , it's like second nature. Thanks for the post. It's really great to hear someone else address the issue. A nice little reminder that we are not alone in our struggle to manage & cope with the disorder.          -- Ace  --

on Mar 20, 2014



Quoting Timmaigh, reply 2Obsessing about something without ability to stop that train of thoughts can easily fuel the feelings of strong anxiety, restlessness or lack of joy - rather than some simple chemical imbalance IMHO.

That's OCD , not Depression/MDD ....

Nope, i am pretty sure that its depression and anxiety induced by obsessive personality traits. Which may or may not be a result of just physical state of the brain/body.

on Mar 20, 2014

If one has been on a med for a long time (>1 yr.) and symptoms seem to be increasing, it might do to discuss this with your Doctor. You might need a meds change or an increase...

on Mar 20, 2014

     The program I'm part of requires that I see a therapist twice monthly. In the beginning I had to see an psychologist whose job it was to come to some kind of diagnosis to qualify me for the program. We talked and in short he couldn't understand why I don't stress over things like most people do. Even my therapist asks me how I do that. I did not have an answer for him because I don't know. I was diagnosed with mild depression. Okay fine...so I'm mildly depressed. To me that sounds like something the average person deals with on a daily basis. One thing I told him was that I believe in the Serenity Prayer. Change what you can and don't worry about the things you can't change but know the difference between them. Don't sweat the little stuff, as the OP said. Even during those times I spent on the streets I didn't stress over things, I accepted it until things changed. I live one day at a time. I don't worry about tomorrow, it'll take care of itself, until it becomes today then I deal with it. I can't spend my time worrying about this, that or the other thing as it interferes with what I need/want to do. I keep a positive outlook, I never had high blood pressure, something the docs are amazed at because according to them I should have all things considered.

     I always knew that depression was a physiological disorder not a psychological one. I figured that if a person wanted to 'get out of the rut', as it were, they'd simply sit down and think things through with family or friends to help them focus. The mind might be willing but if the body itself isn't that's different. That they came up with labels to describe different manifestations of the same thing, OCD, MDD, ADD and ADHD and so on, sounds like a way to deal with those differences and find ways to combat it. Most but not all recommend this pill or that pill to help regulate the chemical imbalance in the brain because it is that imbalance that causes it. I detest popping pills, drugs are not for me. I do however recognize that there is a real need for it, just not for me. I'll be the first to admit that, on occasion, I will indulge in nonviolent illegal activities. Smoking weed may not be acceptable to some but there is no denying the benefits and the fact that its becoming legal is IMO a testament to that. Like alcohol, which I don't like at all, can't stand the taste, if done in moderation there is no problem. But like in all things there are those who over-indulge and that's when it becomes a problem. I'm not advocating anything, just expressing my opinion.

     These things need to be put out there and recognized for what they are. Depression can be debilitating to say the least and downright dangerous in the extreme. Given the state of reality these days its no wonder that people find it hard to cope. I've been down that road and all I can say is that those who suffer from depression, in whatever form, should seek help from those willing to sit down and hear them out, be it family, friends or a professional. Having someone in your corner, an advocate, is the first step in regaining control of your life. I did it and if it can work for this stumblebum then it can work for anyone. To make a long story short it all boils down to a person's willingness to seek help.

     Where I hang out sometimes during the day I see what it can do. There are those who go there just to have a place to be during the day. Then there are those who are actually using the resources that are available. You can't change diddly if you're not willing to do it. I've been going to Crossroads for six years and its only been the last two that I've been able to say in all honesty that taking advantage of what's available really does work. In those six years I know of four people who are still in the same boat, still homeless, still sleeping on the streets. Why they don't get up off their butts and change that is beyond me. Maybe they're not ready, maybe they don't want to change what is, I don't know.

   Hope I didn't hijack this thread.

                                          

 

  

on Mar 20, 2014

Can I suggest that before you start using the acronym MDD you introduce it -- just change the first occurrence of "major depressive disorder" to "major depressive disorder (MDD)". I went through the entire post not knowing exactly what it was, and even after I decided to figure it out I couldn't Ctrl+F for the first instance.

I appreciate that you didn't wait till you were all the way through your depression to talk about it some, that's hard to do.

I am currently not depressed but am wrestling with the fact that life in general cannot be cured, only managed. Early life feels like leveling up and now I've levelled off and it's not good enough yet. I wonder what percent of the people around us have given up on making things better already.

on Mar 20, 2014

Noumenon72 ...when I see embedded links I get all curious....it screams out 'spammer'.  It's best to avoid impulsive exiling and stick with 'normal' site URLs ....

 

Re your comment....life isn't about being 'cured' or 'managed' it's about being experienced....and in an ideal world that's not desired to be an endurance test...

on Mar 20, 2014

Yes. This. 

And I think that exercise does have a happy type of effect on me personally. I always feel better about myself after working hard on some type of fitness activity.

Also, I've found that surrounding myself not only with the right job but the right people is important. Being selective about that 'inner circle' of people who can be mindful and accommodating on the days where you need a mind break is crucial. "Life is too short" to be around negativity! 

Great read, Brad.

on Mar 20, 2014

@Jafo, I'm just showing my age -- there were no URL shorteners when I started on the web. However, URLs disrupt the flow of a post and text links allow you to build curiosity and context for the thing you're linking to, so I am going to continue doing them.

IMO it's not an ideal world, in fact there are many things about the design of natural selection that prevent it from ever approaching an ideal world, the question is whether you are going to help others make it through (the endurance test) or just give up.

on Mar 20, 2014

Noumenon72
@Jafo, I'm just showing my age -- there were no URL shorteners when I started on the web. However, URLs disrupt the flow of a post and text links allow you to build curiosity and context for the thing you're linking to, so I am going to continue doing them.

You can simply insert a link as 'link' instead of within sentence continuity....that's the realm of the spammer.  Usually something like 'hard to do' will end up as a site selling rip-off Nikes or Bridalwear, etc.

All you need is the second tell-tale....very recent membership...and the ban-hammer striketh.  'Tis best to not emulate the spammer...

As for 'age'...I remember a time before calculators ...

And I agree...it's certainly not an 'ideal world'.  In an 'ideal world' there would be no MDD ...

on Mar 20, 2014

I think that since starting medication (I'm now on my second) adopting a more positive attitude has helped.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when I still feel like crap.  I'm really not very productive right now.  But then I don't have to be and I don't have to guilt myself for not writing X pages or something.  I can sit and watch Sips and co playing Prop Hunt.  Which is hilarious, by the way.

What I'm getting at though is that I can find ways to enrich my life, whether it's by cooking my own scones or hanging out on some forum sharing my experiences.

Diet is really worth looking at.  I haven't cut a lot really, I stopped taking sugar (so I use sweetener now, even in baking when I can) and I switched to decaf tea and coffee.  And as I mentioned, I try to bake my own snacks.

I think what I struggle with most is lethargy.  And I've had to accept that sometimes, I just need to take an early night instead of clutching at wakefulness.  Even when I really want to play one more hour of Banished.

 

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