Start with Something

In The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck the author makes a compelling case for improving your life, starting with something simple. Something small. This is not easy. As the author says, “It’s simple, but not easy.” If you have depression you know this is very true. So true in fact, that starting something, where that something is getting out of bed, can be a huge challenge.

In Lost Connections the author talks about how different treatments positively impact depression. One of the scales he references, Hamilton Depression rating, notes that many patients that use anti-depressions only see a 0.25 increase in their overall mood, while a good night sleep gets you that much or more.

I’ve always had problems getting to sleep. It can take me up to an hour to fall asleep after I’ve gone to bed. This is a combination of anxiety, too much screen time – which can mess up your ability to fall asleep, and just being a super light sleeper. So, I’ve decided to start with something where I have a decent amount of control. Where it’s easy to make a change.

For Christmas my brother got me a start set of the Philips Hue lights. I didn’t know much about them, but i wanted to try using them to see how it impacted our house. So, I put a bulb in the nightstand by the bed. I found out there’s a setting that allows you to wind down the lighting before bed. So I’ve started to use that setting. It gives you about 30 minutes to wind down as the light dims. I’ve made it my routine to go to bed about 15 minutes before it starts that process. I use this time to get ready for bed and do some night time writing or reading. I’m also going to start adding in some nighttime meditation to help me unwind.

This really helps me get away from the screens. It pulls me out of the hellscape that is social media. It allows me to write creatively without typing on a screen or read an interesting story. Writing has really helped get ahead of my anxiety because, whatever I write just kind of comes out.

The meditation is also a great addition, because it’s another way to address the spinning that your mind goes through at night. You are intentional about your mind spinning. You intentionally walk through the past day. You then put that aside and tell your body that it is OK to relax. This short circuits the spinning and anxiety. You control your night.

This is something small. I’ve made sure that it’s been relatively easy to make the change. I started with the light and time away from my computer. Then I added the writing and reading. Last night I added the meditation. These changes have positively impacted my mood. I’ve gotten better sleep and that, has helped with my depression.

Start with something. Start with making it easier for you to sleep well.

Talking about Depression

Writing and talking about depression isn’t easy. It’s not easy because we have a stigma around depression. Add a general lack of understanding of what depression is, you have a mix that means people end up talking past each other. Depression is hard to talk about because it is the opposite side of the anxiety coin. Even if you don’t realize you have depression, if you have anxiety, you have depression. Conversely, if you have depression you have anxiety. Being anxious about things makes dealing with your depression even harder because you want to talk with people about it. You want to get help from friends and family, but because you’re anxious about it you are afraid of being a burden on that person. You aren’t going to be a burden. Most of your friends probably know that you have your moods or get defensive about things or whatever else. They don’t understand why you always behave the way that you do, but they are concerned about you and would want to help you.They may not know the best way to do so and may, in their ignorance, say unhelpful things like “Cheerup” or “this will pass you’ll feel better.”

The first step to helping the people around you understand depression is to get a better understanding of what it means to you. You’ll need to develop the right language so you are able to articulate exactly what’s going on. This isn’t easy. I’ve been going to therapy for over a year now and I now feel like I’m developing the correct language to discuss it. In many cases it’s actually been the joint therapy sessions with my wife where I’ve developed the interpersonal language to describe what’s going on between her and me.

So to develop the right language, I strongly recommend reading Lost Connections. Once you’ve made your way through that, you’ll have a better understanding of what is the major driver of your depression. That will really help you articulate what’s happening. If you get through it and feel that all of them are contributing to your depression, don’t feel overwhelmed. Focus on one of them that you think might be easiest to address through the help of your friends. Friends will be a key part in helping you recover from your depression. Being open with them about this will help them understand what you really need.

If trauma is the root cause of your depression or could be, then I recommend reading a much more emotionally difficult book called The Body Keeps The Score. This book will help you understand why you might be having the reactions you’re having when you have an event that triggers a memory of that trauma. Yes, being triggered is a real thing. It causes you have to a similar physiological response that you had during the actual trauma. However, keep in mind that lashing out at your loved ones will not really help you resolve the trauma.

Next you should begin meditating. This will be hard and scary. It’s terrifying and you’ll feel like you’re doing it wrong because you cannot sit with your emotions. You cannot be still with your self, because it means you’re still with your depression. No, it is not easy to do. It’s difficult to stick with it as well. You aren’t alone in feeling scared of being with your emotions alone.

It’s important to do because this is a way to cognitively digest some of your daily anxiety. It’s a way to allow you to look at those feelings. Turn them over and then pass them. The pause of meditation can help immensely when you’re having an anxiety attack. Even if you only do it for 3 minutes. This is because you begin to focus on your body, calming your body, which allows your reptilian/emotional mind to calm and to allow your mammalian/rational mind to hug and hold your emotions.

A Competition of Values

I’ve written about values in the past and it was something that I’ve felt was really important to me. However, it wasn’t until I had read Lost Connections (see my review here) that my values, education as a Lean practitioner, and my work environment was a major source of my depression. I think at some level I knew this, because I would get frustrated often and talk about it with the one or two people that really understood it. When I read two sections of Lost Connections, I put a couple pieces together.

In one section, Hari talks about how being unable to control things in your job, regardless of the type of work, completely destroys someone’s sense of worth and drives you into a state of hopelessness and depression. This can lead to anxiety and the inability to plan, because the depression and anxiety shrink your time horizon down to the immediacy of dealing with the person in control of your work life. This is something that his abhorrent to Lean, Agile, and Six Sigma methodologies. Where the goal is to push down decision making to the person closest to the actual work. In companies that really focus on driving down cost or having the single point of decision making, this can be anathema to the company culture.

The second section that hit home was the portion about our culture being at odds with our intrinsic values. Considering that I’ve been immersed so deeply with Lean, I have a strong sense of what i believe is fair for technology and social policies, it’s unsurprising that the current political environment was contributing to my depression. I had tried to fight this by writing, but I had just felt beaten down. I didn’t feel like I had anyone around me to talk with to support my values, this plunged me into farther depression.

This is where you need to find like people around you and I completely failed in that. I needed support for my values to be able to compete with the unhealthy cultural values i was thrown into at work. While I threw myself into an unhealthy amount of news and media about current politics. These two together over a series of months and years really started to take a toll on me. I suspect that I’m not alone in this. No matter what your principles are, you need to have a strong support network to keep those values healthy. You also have to be aware that your values are under attack by a society that values things very differently than you do. By a society that’s trying to exploit your anxiety to take your money to make you feel better. Because that item is the only thing that will make you feel better.

I had thought I was immune to that because I read a lot. I wasn’t out on Facebook or any places like that really trying to keep up with the Joneses. But I believe that I just dealt with that issue in other ways, including eating more than I should when I’m depressed, having a couple more drinks that I needed, or by shutting myself away from friends and family through gaming or reading or staring off into nothingness.

However, I now know that this is a thing that has happened to me and I can stop and listen to what I’m feeling. I’m going to with help of my friends locally and online to discuss my values and how I’m feeling about things. I’m going to sit with these feelings to understand them and figure out what it is that is in conflict causing me to feel this way and then make a plan to address it. As it is, i’m going to be working with my wife to figure how to get more connected with nature and how to get connected with more people in the area. As a way to get connected and be healthier.

I’m really glad I found this book, because it’s helped me feel a lot lighter about things. It’s helped me understand that I’m not broken, I have problems that cause depression, but they are solvable and I just need to ask for help and figure out to fix them with my partner.