I don’t talk about this often in public, but I’ve dealt with at times crippling depression ever since I was a teenager.
If you were to take one part self-doubt, one part crushing anxiety, and add in a robust program of negative self-talk, you’d have it.
I always called it depression even though I never did, or ever will, see a shrink about it. The head-docs would write me up a script of the latest Big Pharm-approved mental tranquilizer and send me on my way.
I’ve known my personal share of the “successes” with these drugs and all I have to say is that I’d rather fight the demons on my own if it means keeping my soul intact.
Besides, there’s something else going on besides neuro-chemical imbalances and sad feelings of gloom. Drugs are like a band-aid on a surprise amputation.
What goes on in the Gloom is this persistent feeling of existential hopelessness that makes everything look ugly. Down in the worst of it, the self-loathing is so intense that you don’t want to get better. You don’t believe you deserve it.
That’s more than “being sad”. There’s a complex network of emotions, moods, feelings, and thoughts, beliefs, and desires that work together to create this pallor of despair over everything.
I simply do not believe this can be written off as “brain chemistry”.
One of the greatest discoveries of my life was when I found out how much of those “mental” feelings started inside my organic body. For many years I confused feelings of tension in my throat and upper chest with an emotional disturbance.
You know how you can get that lump in your throat when you’re upset? It was like that but much more intense and spread out.
Some years back I found out that the psychologist-philosopher William James wrote that emotions are feelings experienced in your body. I figured, what if he was right? Next time the anxious feelings happened, I paid close attention to exactly what I felt and where.
Turned out that I wasn’t sad or gloomy at all, as seen from inside my mind. The change in physiology created a set of feelings that I interpreted as psychological distress. My body was stressed out in a way that felt like sadness, and that’s the story I told myself.
A few deep-breathing, stretching, and relaxation exercises could make it vanish in a few minutes like Thanos snapping his fingers.
Those techniques, combined with a healthy intake of omega-3 fats and vitamin D (from sun or food), have all but ended my life-long struggles with gloomy anxiety and self-hatred over the last several years.
And this, by the way, is only half of the equation. Inside your mind, your habitual patterns of thinking and making judgments can turn rotten, too. Mind and body have to collaborate in existential despair. That’s a whole different topic.
Here’s the real punchline. Once I understood that my own story was playing into the negative feelings and thoughts, amplifying them and giving them power, it got real easy to put the brakes on.
I can experience the bodily feeling of anxiety without giving it the meaning of existential sadness.
That’s what led me into my current obsession with tools, techniques, and tactics for focusing, concentrating, directing, and enlivening the mind.
Whatever modern medicine may have to say about profound mental illness (and I don’t write it off totally in the extreme cases), when it comes to intellect, emotions, and the inner worlds of experience, The Science knows squat and jack.
I expect this is one reason why the pills have a half-aced track record. The placebo effect is such a force that it can make sugar pills cure cancer and voodoo curses cause heart attacks.
The pills don’t come with an “instruction manual” for how to use the mind for positive change. Maybe the poor soul gets a little excited and feels better for awhile, but all motivation wears off. Without serious adjustment of their beliefs and behaviors, they’re right back where they started.
Consciousness, self-awareness, understanding, will, and imagination play a far greater part than you’re allowed to believe in polite company.
This isn’t only therapeutic stuff to fix what’s broken, either. We’re talking about methods used by top performers to achieve peak performance in most any activity you can name. You can heal and you can elevate.
I remind you that I am not a medical doctor, therapist, or any sort of credentialized expert, and this is not advice, medical or otherwise. I am relating my personal experience and opinion. Do with it as you will.
If you’d like to see more about how I put these tools to use then click here.