Read to the end for a new feature in the cool dude zone
Hey, you didn’t ask for pitches, but if your next podcast was an interview series where you host successful people and talk about their mental health challenges, I would absolutely listen to that shit.
A lot of your posts make me cry. This is one.
It's so fucking hard. Particularly when you're a parent and have to think but how are my struggles affecting my child/ren. I'm barely coping, and I realised the other day quite how much of my life has just been fucking miserable. And now I'm trying to work while functioning as a grown up while parenting my kid who is autistic and ADHD and thinking shit maybe I'm also autistic and ADHD and that might explain why everything is so hard? I dunno, I really enjoy my job but trying to do it while also doing everything else? Just feels impossible.
Just, know that there's a Brit in her late 40s who is really rooting for you and who is really upset that someone said that to you - even though it sounds like they meant well, that doesn't make it ok.
I think you’re setting up a false dichotomy, Alex. Looking at photos of cats and writing a list of three things you’re grateful for every day isn’t going to fix whatever is chemically imbalanced in your brain. Nor is letting yourself off the hook because something is imbalanced and so why bother trying to fight it? As in all things, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Don’t be so quick to poo-poo the idea of arranging your world in such a way that the good is emphasised and the rage-inducing, soul-crushingness is diminished, but don’t expect it to be the panacea the group chat seems to think it is either. It could be one piece of the puzzle for you, or it might not make any meaningful difference whatsoever. The thing is, and what I suspect your old friend was trying to say but made a hash of it, you have to actively try to find the pieces that fit even when it feels pointless or too hard. You’ve got a lot of people behind you. ❤️
Thank you for sharing. I feel this to my core. I’ve always struggled with depression, but it’s been so much worse since I had my baby 18 months ago. I was talking to my therapist about the depression, as well as the trauma and anxiety that came with my early baby and his NICU stay and surgery. The therapist said, “Yeah, but baby is fine now. So you don’t need to worry about it anymore.” I never went to see her again. People who haven’t been through mental health issues can never understand. (And perhaps shouldn’t work in the mental health field.) That misunderstanding hurts. So much.
Thanks for sharing this, Cool Dude. As a mildly bipolar person I can definitely relate to a lot of this. Especially how someone else's inability to understand what you're going through can send you spiraling. A few years ago I was dating someone who held the depression against me as a personal failing, and it had the effect of intensifying my feelings to the point where I'd break down and have a full-on panic attack whenever the topic came up with her. Now I'm with someone who seems to understand that sometimes I have sunny days, and sometimes I have cloudy days, and she sympathizes when the clouds occasionally prevent me from having a good time. Moreover, she values my perspective, recognizing that both sides can make valid points (it's a beautiful day today AND the global climate systems are collapsing). When others reject my depressive side, it makes me more depressed; but if they accept it and don't stubbornly demand that I "just get over it", it makes it so much easier for me to bear the weight of it.
I see it in my husband (bipolar3 which manifests as mostly depression) as a full time job of ever sifting balance of chemicals in the noodle. Depending on chemical changing drugs 100% won't work. And believing in the woo woo 100% won't balance a brain out either. It's gotta be a balance of each day and how much woo woo magic you can come up with and the meds that doc (actual psychologist prescribes). And even then the balance doesn't happen every day.
But we have made conscious efforts to enjoy good days.
Talking about the complexities of this is not giving anyone permission to do anything. It's about telling the world that it's not one way or the other it's a grey area and the shade of grey varies on the day.
What you are describing is what I feel—that depression is Other, it is outside myself. I can feel it coming, like a dark storm, or like starting to fall. Churchill called it “the black dog”. It feels like something that happens to me from an outside force (your demon), and once it’s upon me there is nothing I can do. Immobility. The bottom of a hole without light. A tiny voice can say “it will pass; it always passes,” but it doesn’t matter. I sleep. I sleep and sleep because it’s like death, and one day I wake up and feel a little bit better. Enough to get up and eat, look around, and feel this thing slowly passing.
I’m a machine learning engineer and I know this is stupid but learning about neural networks really helped me to stop feeling like “this is just The Secret bullshit” (which I swear to fkn god is literally just cognitive behavioral therapy for people from California.) But anyway. The depression is like sourced from Monkey Brain screaming “bad bad pain agony suffering.” That’s the input to the net, which then tries to output a logical response. And the thing where you literally force yourself to think “Actually I have good qualities and my friends like me” is like backpropogation??? Like it’s reforming the neurons to think that the way to react to “bad bad pain agony” input is NOT to output “ok then I’ll just die!” but instead to like totally devalue that input.
And when people with a psych degree try to convince me of this type of shit I’m like “that’s bullshit and implies the only thing wrong with me is ME!” but I do have a huge degree of faith in multivariable calculus and I DO think that healthy people’s monkey brains aren’t screaming “bad bad pain agony” all day so they’ve never had to learn how to deal with the poisoned input training data.
Because of a quirk of my life, I ended up majoring in philosophy in college. I was focused on analytic philosophy (essentially math), but the existentialism class I took has really stuck with me in a way I would have never imagined. I honestly hated the class, and I honestly don't care for most existentialist writers, but Camus just did it for me. He seemed to treat the "the answer is to create your own meaning in life" as masturbatory, and pointless. I am a human animal, and happiness an evolutionary adaptive feature. The idea that I ought to be happy has it backwards, we don't live for happiness, feelings of/seeking happiness is part of what perpetuates life.
Camus stories are all based on people who basically rebel against this pointlessness. Camus' point is that we can choose to live in spite of the pointlessness, instead of trying to find a reason to, and that this is a perfectly reasonable way to live. E.g.: the doctor in The Plague goes on even though he can't stop the plague he's living though.
I try to work on things that could help society, even though I think they will likely come to nothing. I like a cup of coffee in the morning. I like to play golf. I like to go to a trivia night at a bar with close friends. Does this make me "happy"? Ehh... I don't think so. Still, I'm intentional in choosing to live this way, in spite of chasing an elusive happiness.
I take mental health seriously. I see a therapist when it gets too much, I'll see a psychologist when I need to. I try to do things that will leave this world better than when I started here, but don't think my perceived lack of happiness that others have is something I need to focus too much on. Perhaps the way I deal with life and my bouts of depression is not helpful to you and your depression. Perhaps you're living through pain. I just hope that the awkward existentialism that has helped me through many parts of my life his helpful to a few other people out there that haven't considered this perspective.
I mean, you cannot remove depression (which is chemistry in your brain and not your fault) by being grateful. Science is pretty clear that certain cognitive methods do improve resilience (gratitude journaling is one of them) but in my experience (I teach mental health to academics) it tends to work best as a preventative measure or as sort of a life skill, and it’s hard to learn new life skills when we are in the bottom of the abyss and flooded with unhelpful chemistry. I am personally a deeply committed pragmatist (that is, I strive to live the life I have with as much joy as I can) but it’s because of a time I was almost murdered (a truly ridiculous event) and I don’t know that it is a practical strategy to almost get murdered. I stopped being depressed but like, it could have gone the other way, I imagine. Humans are weird! Anyway we are all doing the best we can with what we have, more or less. If you could do more, you’d be doing it, I mean, who wouldn’t?!
This resonated with me in a way very few things ever have. It doesn't mean much, but I feel you. Thanks for articulating something I can never find the words to describe.
Hey, Alex. I don't have anything insightful to share, but your post reached me and stung me and made me pause just a minute for introspection. I share some of your struggles while some you describe are less familiar. All pain is valid, no matter how far we've made it on paper. You can look for the logic and sometimes you'll find some but usually you won't. At least that's my experience. There's no good answer to "why are you depressed?" and I doubt there ever will be. But your work has helped me over the years and thousands of others and depression or no, I hope you feel proud.
I never understood when people say that they choose to be happy and focus on the bright side etc... apart from being blissfully ignorant it also feels strangely competitive. Going through childhood with adhd I have always been told that I could do better, put in more effort, challenge myself. Took me 30 years and therapy to realize that I had every right to be angry, anxious and depressed because it was outside of my control and I was already living the best and only version of myself.
This too shall pass.
Good read, Alex. It’s such a miserable disease to be living with. Would you ever give the “woo woo” a try? Meditation and mindfulness seemed like complete nonsense until I gave it an honest go.
also though, fuck the secret, fuck manifestation, fuck the law of attraction, fuck louise hay et al, and even fuck "the secret garden", which I was surprised and dismayed to discover is an early example of all of that nonsense, barely-hidden in a children's book, incorporating Theosophy: