I started writing a post about depression more than a month ago, but I eventually abandoned it after several attempts at finishing it. After all, I thought, people visit Bamboo Nation for its desperate-yet-successful attempts to entertain and for its occasional intellectual stimulation, and that's all!
But after noticing a considerable amount of chatter in the blogosphere from people experiencing general existential malaise and after observing some of my friends' forays into dark nights of the soul, it became clear to me that something foul is in the air—and it's been affecting far more people than I had realized.
First of all, let me clear something up. I'm not talking about serious clinical depression here, and I'm not a doctor. So don't look to me for professional medical or psychological advice. In other words, don't sue me. What I'm writing about is what some people call the "wintertime blues" or "mild depression" or "bouts of sadness" or, if you want to get all technical, "seasonal affective disorder."
I've felt mildly depressed for the better part of a year (sometimes convincing myself to get up in the morning can be a challenge), but I've been in good spirits as of late and it's mostly because I've been implementing a couple of the techniques I've learned in my studies and travels over the years.
So I thought it would be beneficial to share how I am beating the blues—without the aid of antidepressants, which really aren't for me. (Jesus Christ, could you imagine me on prescription pills?! That's a recipe for disaster if there ever was one.) Perhaps some of you will find these two techniques—in addition to your own personal favorite treatments—helpful? (Those of you who are perfectly happy can skip this post and do a search for the toilet-training videos I put up.)
Technique One: Appreciate Something. Anything. You don't have to be some new-age nutjob (that's a term of endearment, by the way) or alternative healer or crunchy hippie or Eastern philosopher to believe that everything is energy. After all, at its core, Albert Einstein's famous equation, E=mc², expresses that succinctly. And Albert Einstein was a fucking genius.
[On a side note: It took me a while to realize that the idea of a person's "energy" and "reading" it is not some esoteric endeavor for those who believe in things like auras and chakras and stuff like that. In fact, I used to bristle anytime anyone would mention those kinds of things—it is in my nature to mock what can be mocked. But strip away all that terminology, and the idea of energy is pretty easy to understand.
What kind of energy you are projecting in any given moment is not a mystery. It's just that most of us don't pay attention to ourselves enough to notice.
Your energy, very simply, is translated through your body. Notice your body right now. Are you leaning forward? Slouching? Sitting up? Are you reading slowly? Skimming this text? Looking at some sentences over and over? Are you paying attention to just this post? Or are you also thinking about other things? Like getting something to eat? How cold it was today? The sound of cars going by outside? How are you feeling? Impatient? Relaxed? Confused?
Your body reads your energy, and, if you merely pay attention to your body, you can read your energy too—no aura or chakra expertise necessary. (And I still snicker at the thought of those things.)]
So if you've got a case of the wintertime blues, if you're feeling down, if you're on your way to becoming overwhelmed by negative emotions, all those things are translated into energy. And, as you can surmise, the quality of that energy is probably very dark, as dark as the cloud that you imagine is hanging over your head. So the question then becomes: "How do I change my energy?"
I have learned that the most effective way to transform your energy instantaneously is through appreciation. And the great thing is that what you appreciate can be anything. Literally anything. When a friend of mine called me recently in need of some words of comfort, I said, "Appreciate something. Anything."
In your sad state, you don't have to force yourself to try to find gratitude in "the beauty of life" or "the miracle of birth" or "the wonder of nature" or some such crap. You can appreciate the shirt you're wearing. The trash can in your kitchen. Staplers. Seriously. The palm of your hand. That bird that just flew by your window. Zac Efron's earlobe. The energy of appreciation is so abstract that appreciating anything results in the same outcome, leads to the same sense of temporary uplift. It neutralizes negative states.
The power of appreciation becomes clear when you look at the word itself and how it's used in the context of real estate. What does it mean, for example, for a house to "appreciate?" It means to increase in value or price, especially over time.
Most of us interpret the act of appreciation as being thankful for something, and it is—but we often lose sight of the second meaning. When you appreciate, you increase in value. In other words, the quality of your energy goes up, inflates, improves. And over time, it gets raised higher and higher, until your head is above the water and reaching for the sky.
Moments of appreciation can seem like short and trivial periods of relief that won't amount to much. But let me ask you: Is it better to feel shitty 99% of the time or 100% of the time? Don't you deserve at least 1% of the day when you're not stuck in unnecessary repetitive thoughts? And maybe the next day you'll convince yourself you deserve 2%, maybe more, who knows? You wouldn't expect a kindergartner to jump into college without the proper education. Allow yourself the same understanding—lifelong bad habits take time to let go. So:
Appreciate something. Anything.
Perhaps the most accurate description of how this works that I have ever come across is, surprisingly, Aimee Mann's startlingly astute song, "Momentum." The lyrics characterize how our problems—which spawn corresponding thoughts and feelings—snowball "for the sake of momentum." It may hurt, you see, but at least we're moving. In the chorus, Mann sharply sings, "Even when it's approaching torture/I've got my routine." Most of you know what that's like. Sometimes it's easier just to wallow in your misery. Listen to the song below. Lyrics are here. Listen:
It's exactly like Newton's First Law, right? The Law of Inertia states that "a body in motion continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by an external force."
As I explained above, appreciation is an external force strong enough to push your energy in a different direction. But, as I also explained, appreciation lends itself to short, temporary periods of relief. I know some of you have "gratitude journals" (ah, the power of Oprah) or do "rampage of appreciation" exercises, but occupying your time with those things doesn't last very long.
So to stop the snowball effect for a longer period, my second technique is to do something you love to do. This is a way to connect back with that part of yourself that is untouched by worldly concerns, to help you return to your authentic and purest self, to put you back in touch with the real you.
First, you have to understand a fundamental truth: You are what you love.
In his brilliant book, How, Then, Shall We Live?, Wayne Muller devotes an entire section to exploring this question: "What do I love?" Here, he describes a visit to a couple of friends:
Gaylon took me aside to show me a selection of teapots they had collected in China. The pots were made of clay and were very old, some several hundred years old. Gaylon told me the Chinese say that after a hundred years of daily use, the pot becomes thoroughly seasoned. You need only pour hot water into the pot, and the pot itself will make tea.
When we do what we love, again and again, our life comes to hold the fragrance of that thing. When we hold something in our hands day after day, our hands conform to the shape of what we have held. We become what we have cared for; our lives are shaped by what we love....
With our every action, word, relationship, and commitment, we slowly and inevitably become what we love.
Many years ago, I had the good sense to make a list of all the things that I love to do. And for some time after that, it was always kind of in the back of my mind, this list. But after a while, the list just sort of slipped out of my consciousness, and it just sat in a folder on my computer.
While in a deep funk last year, I stumbled upon my list, opened it up, and realized something that almost brought tears to my eyes. Somewhere along the way, I had stopped doing many of the things that I had one time claimed brought me pleasure, gave me joy, made me happy. Every day I had multiple opportunities to check things off that list, but, here I was, letting weeks go by, letting months go by, without doing many of things I loved to do. Sure, there were some activities on the list that I did regularly—but other activities languished because they were being ignored.
Earlier, I wrote that I've been in good spirits lately. And when I sat down to examine why this is so, I realized the shift in my general mood coincided with one particular event. You might find this connection utterly preposterous, but, if you've known me long enough, you'll know why this makes sense. I started feeling better a couple months ago after the special two-hour 24 TV movie aired on Fox after the series had been on hiatus for a year-and-a-half. Seriously. It sounds lame, but I love that fucking show. And love counts for something, doesn't it?
Make a list of the things you love to do. And do them. Do not let a single day go by without doing several things on that list. And don't let some of the "bigger" ones wither and die.
When you're feeling down, doing things that you love to do will not only divert your attention away from things that ultimately do not matter, but they will also show you who you are—because, if you really think about it, the wintertime blues, depression, existential malaise, dark nights of the soul, bouts of sadness, all these things are, fundamentally, just complicated ways of asking yourself the same question over and over again: Who am I?
Do Something You Love to Do. Anything.