Tag: depression

Living with anxiety

It’s taken me a long time to admit it to myself (and my wife) but while I don’t currently suffer from depression, I do live with a low-level general background anxiety that seems to have developed during my adult life.

Wil Wheaton, “actor, blogger, voice actor and writer” and all-round darling of the internet has written in the last few days about his struggles with mental health. My experiences aren’t as extreme as his — I’ve never had panic attacks, and being based from home has made my working life more manageable — but I do relate.

This, in particular, resonated with me from what Wheaton had to say:

One of the many delightful things about having Depression and Anxiety is occasionally and unexpectedly feeling like the whole goddamn world is a heavy lead blanket, like that thing they put on your chest at the dentist when you get x-rays, and it’s been dropped around your entire existence without your consent.

The smallest things feel like insurmountable obstacles. One day you’re dealing with people and projects across several timezones like an absolute boss, the next day just going to buy a loaf of bread at the local shop feels like a a huge achievement.

We like to think we can control everything in our lives. We can’t.

I think it was then, at about 34 years-old, that I realized that Mental Illness is not weakness. It’s just an illness. I mean, it’s right there in the name “Mental ILLNESS” so it shouldn’t have been the revelation that it was, but when the part of our bodies that is responsible for how we perceive the world and ourselves is the same part of our body that is sick, it can be difficult to find objectivity or perspective.

I’m physically strong: I run, swim, and go to the gym. I (mostly!) eat the right things. My sleep routine is healthy. My family is happy and I feel loved. I’ve found self-medicating with L-Theanine and high doses of Vitamin D helpful. All of this means I’ve managed to minimise my anxiety to the greatest extent possible.

And yet, out of nowhere, a couple of times a month come waves of feelings that I can’t quite describe. They loom. Everything is not right with the world. It makes no sense to say that they don’t have a particular object or focus, but they really don’t. I can’t put my finger on them or turn what it feels like into words.

Wheaton suggests that often the things we don’t feel like doing in these situations are exactly the things we need to do:

Give yourself permission to acknowledge that you’re feeling terrible (or bad, or whatever it is you are feeling), and then do a little thing, just one single thing, that you probably don’t feel like doing, and I PROMISE you it will help. Some of those things are:

  • Take a shower.
  • Eat a nutritious meal.
  • Take a walk outside (even if it’s literally to the corner and back).
  • Do something — throw a ball, play tug of war, give belly rubs — with a dog. Just about any activity with my dogs, even if it’s just a snuggle on the couch for a few minutes, helps me.
  • Do five minutes of yoga stretching.
  • Listen to a guided meditation and follow along as best as you can.

For me, going for a run or playing with my children usually helps enormously. Anything that helps put things into perspective.

What I really appreciate in Wheaton’s article, which was an address he gave to NAMI (the American National Alliance on Mental Illness), was that he focused on the experience of undiagnosed children. It’s hard enough as an adult to realise what’s going on, so for children it must be pretty terrible.

If you’re reading this and suffer from anxiety and/or depression, let’s remember it’s 2018. It’s time to open up about all this stuff. And, as Wheaton reminds us, let’s talk to our children about this, too. The chances are that what you’re living with is genetic, so your kids will also have to deal with this at some point.

Source: Wil Wheaton

Depression as an evolutionary advantage?

It’s been almost 15 years since I suffered from depression. Since that time, I’ve learned to look after myself mentally and physically to resist whatever natural tendency I have towards spiralling downwards.

I found this article fascinating.

Some psychologists… have argued that depression is not a dysfunction at all, but an evolved mechanism designed to achieve a particular set of benefits.

The dominant popular view seems to be that there’s something wrong with your brain chemistry, so exercise, antidepressants and counselling can fix it.

Paul Andrews, an evolutionary psychologist now at McMaster University…  noted that the physical and mental symptoms of depression appeared to form an organized system. There is anhedonia, the lack of pleasure or interest in most activities. There’s an increase in rumination, the obsessing over the source of one’s pain. There’s an increase in certain types of analytical ability. And there’s an uptick in REM sleep, a time when the brain consolidates memories.

However, for me, the fix was to get out of the terrible situation I was in, a teaching job in a very tough school.

If something is broken in your life, you need to bear down and mend it. In this view, the disordered and extreme thinking that accompanies depression, which can leave you feeling worthless and make you catastrophize your circumstances, is needed to punch through everyday positive illusions and focus you on your problems. In a study of 61 depressed subjects, 4 out of 5 reported at least one upside to their rumination, including self-insight, problem solving, and the prevention of future mistakes.

I suffer from migraines, which are bizarre episodes. They’re difficult to explain to people as they’re a whole-body response. Changing my lifestyle so I don’t get migraines is a micro-version of the kind of lifestyle changes you need to make to stave off depression.

These theories do cast some of our traditional responses to depression in a new light, however. If depression is a strategic response that we are programmed to carry out, consciously or unconsciously, does it make sense to try to suppress its symptoms through, say, the use of antidepressants? [Edward] Hagen [an anthropologist at Washington State University] describes antidepressants as painkillers, arguing that it would be unethical for a doctor to treat a broken ankle with Percocet and no cast. You need to fix the underlying problem.

I can’t imagine being on antidepressants for any more than a few weeks (as I was). They dull your mind, which allows you to cope with the world as it is, but don’t (in my experience) allow you lead a flourishing human life.

Even if depression evolved as a useful tool over the eons, that doesn’t make it useful today. We’ve evolved to crave sugar and fat, but that adaptation is mismatched with our modern environment of caloric abundance, leading to an epidemic of obesity. Depression could be a mismatched condition. Hagen concedes that for most of evolution, we lived with relatives and spent all day with people ready to intervene in our lives, so that episodes of depression might have led to quick solutions. Today, we’re isolated, and we move from city to city, engaging with people less invested in our reproductive fitness. So depressive signals may go unheeded and then compound, leading to consistent, severe dysfunction. A Finnish study found that as urbanization and modernization have increased over the last two centuries, so have suicide rates. That doesn’t mean depression is no longer functional (if indeed it ever was), just that in the modern world it may misfire more than we’d like.

Source: Nautilus

Meaningless work causes depression

As someone who has suffered in the past from depression, and still occasionally suffers from anxiety, I find this an interesting article:

If you are depressed and anxious, you are not a machine with malfunctioning parts. You are a human being with unmet needs. The only real way out of our epidemic of despair is for all of us, together, to begin to meet those human needs – for deep connection, to the things that really matter in life.

Meaningful work is important. Our neoliberal economy is removing much of this under the auspices of ‘efficiency’.

Source: The Guardian