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My own day to day anti-depression strategies


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BACK to Burnout and/or depression can lead to a heightened risk of suicide for some folks.

I'd love to publish the original email I received to spur my response below, in its entirety, and exactly quoted, so you could see why it affected me so. But I won't do that, just as I won't provide the sender's identity, in order to preserve their privacy. So here's just my own much clumsier synopsis, instead:

First, they told me they shared many of my opinions on various topics, as seen on my web site. But had lost all hope themselves, due to recently being ousted from their volunteer position at a local organization. They had no family or friends, no job, had failed at college, and been divorced twice. They told me they were terribly depressed and lonely all the time, and followed that with how much money they had to live off of every month (it wasn't a lot).

They told me they weren't smart or attractive, just barely surviving month to month, and alone in their place nearly 24/7. They said they were afraid of everything and everyone around them, and had no hope of things ever getting better, because they felt like anytime they dared not to be that way, they got metaphorically kicked in the head for it.

This person said they had no reason to get out of bed in the morning, and hated themselves, and everyone and everything else in the world. They said they were sick of all the hopelessness, and the futility of starting over and over again, endlessly, with nothing ever getting better for their efforts.

They had no way to change their life, and couldn't imagine it ever getting better, no matter what, but only ever worse, instead.

They asked me to please give them a reason to live. To give them something they could use. Because my old text didn't do that for them.

Below is my (edited) response. This exchange occurred in 2014. I have changed the sender's name to the unisex “Jess”:

Thanks Jess!

I haven't seen my own best friend since 2001. Prior to five months in 2001, I'd last spent time with him in 1990. I don't know if he's even still alive today. I don't think you could say I have any friends anymore, as I sort of cut myself off from most people long ago, since their presence only seemed to be exacerbating my own loneliness and unhappiness (largely because they possessed significant others while I did not, and worse still, often expected me to referree the arguments between them and their partners). However, I do have an extended family, whom I've associated with a lot more over past decades, in an effort to stave off the worst health effects of living a hermit's life.

I also went into self-employment in the early 1980s, which kept me largely isolated from other people work-wise (I considered that one of the perks). Although on rare occasion I have taken short term consultant jobs for corporations, I've not established any long term friendships with anyone new since high school. I also don't join clubs or attend church, and so have no connections there.

Being as anti-social as I am also drastically cuts down on my money making opportunities. So I've most of the time been pretty impoverished myself, too.

I went to engineering college, but didn't finish. Never been married. No kids.

I'm unfortunately not nearly as smart as I'd like to be. Others have sometimes heaped praise on me for my smarts, but that was usually just them trying to encourage me to keep reading all the technical manuals for them, so they wouldn't have to.

As you'll see, I'm no big fan of my own circumstances or prospects either. And yes, I consider the vast majority of people to be far more trouble than they're worth, to get to know or be around. And maybe I even hated myself too, long ago. But after a while I decided that so long as I was doing the best I could with what I had (and being decent to others where possible too), I wasn't someone to be hated, but someone worthwhile. Someone that didn't deserve to be hated.

I long ago decided I preferred to laugh rather than cry. Even if I strongly agree with the sentiment in this image from the Scrubs TV show.

Jess, if you've already read all my online bits about suicide, then you're sure not leaving me much wiggle room here! :-)

But right there in that little smiley face is one bit of advice which can help a little: just PRETENDING to be less sad or unhappy than you really are. I started doing that decades back, and the beneficial effect seems to get stronger over time. I began doing that because of reading about it somewhere. I did it not just for myself, but those around me, too. For I had friends back then (high school/early college) who were often depressed as well, and I didn't want to make them feel any worse with my own troubles. Later on I had jobs wherein I ended up sometimes having to find ways to help co-workers get past problems of their own, and so I often pretended to be upbeat there, too. Sometime after that, I did lots of self-employment stints, and couldn't afford to turn off existing or prospective customers, so I faked a positive attitude then, as well.

Many years later I was babysitting a little niece and nephews a lot, and sure didn't want to make them cry, so I pretended to be happy for them, too.

These days I care for my elderly parents, who face mounting health challenges of their own, and so I pretend to be upbeat for them as well.

Practicing all this fake perkiness really does help some to make you feel less sad and lonely yourself. But staying busy helps even more. For if you're sufficiently busy, you just don't have the time to feel bad as often.

Fortunately, being impoverished usually increases the number of daily chores you must do, and so can often help in respect to staying busy. Of course, now that I'm nearing retirement age, I sure am growing tired of all the extra work being poor brings upon you. But like I said, it does provide the benefit of keeping you busy.

Whenever stuff like that did NOT keep me sufficiently busy to ward off the blues, I'd add new chores: like special do-it-yourself projects. In high school, I got deep into rebuilding my Mustang for this, and along the way learned some mechanics/repair/maintenance stuff that's helped make my life a bit easier ever since, as well as had some memorable adventures I never would have otherwise.

Of course, different people have different interests, and must seek out what sort of projects would appeal the most to them.

One thing which has helped me immensely my whole life in other ways, also helped me in regards to choosing the projects I undertook: reading. I've always loved to read, and even before depression set in around my teens, reading was helping me to cope with childhood poverty and bullying, and the fact that I too wouldn't be considered handsome or charismatic by most. I'm just average sized, or maybe slightly smaller for a man my age (5-8), and in high school was basically a scrawny runt, and unwittingly nerdy besides (I wore glasses too).

All this was especially unfortunate in an unusually backward rural county in the 1970s.

But even when nothing else about my life was good, I always had a chance to find something interesting and even useful, via reading. And to this day, the simple act of reading helps me tremendously. To the point that I can't see how folks who don't read can stand it.

Of course, living alone in an echo chamber is not something most people can stand for very long: for human beings need and crave social interaction. Even those who are, like me, basically a hermit, who will frequently go far out of his way to avoid encounters with other people, merely because I long ago decided it was usually more painful than it was worth. Yes, even we hermits must have some social interaction to avoid going over the edge loneliness and depression-wise, as well as in terms of physical health.

So eventually I established a web site, where I published research I'd done on my own into various matters, and got email feedback about it from visitors (this was basically my latest do-it-yourself project back then). Over time I expanded into describing how I fixed the computer problems of myself or others, and even began writing up some stories and other items. The reader feedback from that helped me for a while.

I mention all this because there may well be internet forums somewhere that would offer you some welcome feedback on many matters too. Or you might even start your own web site about some topic of interest to you. Believe me, cranking up your own web site can be pretty demanding of you, and help with keeping you busy, and/or distracted from your problems (and it can be done very cheaply, too; even free, if you prefer).

And now, these days, you can even write a whole ebook and publish it on Amazon, for really little more than some studying of the basics, and lots of typing: sort of the ultimate version of online writing. I've done that too (many of them about my days driving that car I mentioned earlier).

Did you notice the idea of distraction? That's another key point: distracting yourself from your troubles.

Don't get me wrong: if you have a problem you can actually do something about, I recommend wholeheartedly that you do that, rather than seek out a distraction from it instead. But, as you know, there can be some problems for which there doesn't seem to be any good solution, at least at the moment. For those types of problems, distraction can help tremendously.

Several of my car adventure books I wrote while going slowly blind. Luckily I managed to scrounge up enough money to fix the blindness when it became almost total. Then, some years later, I began to go blind again. And fortunately was able to fix that too. But boy, did I have some scary moments! I remember watching the TV miniseries Tin Man just after blood vessels had burst in one of my eyes, and the doc said I could lose my sight permanently at any moment. I recall thinking the show Tin Man might be the last TV I ever watched.

It's tough for me to imagine a much worse fate than being poor AND blind; or poor and paralyzed.

But luckily I managed to survive all that. And can actually see better now in some ways than I ever did before.

Something else that helps with melancholy is good health, and good sleep. It's tough to get either without regular rigorous exercise and eating right. Seriously: working out and eating better will make you start feeling better. I'd bet that there's plenty of people in the world in lots better circumstances than you and I, who are still suffering in quite a few ways which could all be addressed with nothing more complicated than working out more often, and eating less junk food.

Jess, note that some exercises will also make you stronger and more confident. Better able to stand up for yourself, and fight back if necessary (Or run away really fast, when needed! Ha, ha). And keep in mind endurance will sometimes serve you even better than speed in a chase, if someone's after you.

This world can be tough for all of us at times, in terms of physical danger. And so it's only natural to be fearful at such moments. But there's also usually steps you can take to reduce your fear, or cut down on the instances where you feel it.

For one thing, please wear reasonable shoes at all times. That right there will make you more nimble and agile and a faster runner if necessary. Something like sneakers seem just about ideal to me, for everything but rough country hiking. There's even dark special versions you can often get away with in upscale offices, or at formal events, if you look hard enough for them.

There may also be cheap or even free self-defense classes available somewhere in your area. Taking those could help. And might even aid you in finding a new buddy or two as well.

But getting back to depression, loneliness, and other big problems...

Me, I've got plenty of problem issues. So I've had to use every damn trick in the book to survive them, and feel halfway decent on a regular basis. Maybe you're in the same boat.

Fortunately, we have an advantage over people our age and disposition who had to live without the internet. For we can Google up all sorts of possible leads for fixing various things.

Yeah, sure: maybe we can't fix our very BIGGEST problem or two: but we can certainly fix lots of the smaller ones. And sometimes that in itself can be enough to make you feel better: feel like you're making progress, or gaining more control over your life.

And that's another point: feeling like you have some control over your life, or are making progress on something.

If you take on a project, you can often see progress in that, if nothing else. And it can be gratifying. If you start exercising regularly, you're taking a little more control of your life, and that's another way exercise can make you feel better.

Of course, there's also that pesky need for human interaction again. Sometimes it won't be enough just to get feedback from the internet. Sometimes you need some face to face time with other people, in some context.

Unfortunately, if you're like me, you may be unable to get the sort of contact you'd most prefer, or crave. But fortunately, that most desirable contact isn't really essential to keep you mostly healthy and reasonably sane. No, you can actually get by with much more mundane interactions. Like helping an elderly neighbor on occasion. Or babysitting for someone. Or doing various church work. Or taking on a new job. Etc.

Yes, lots of that stuff will be inconvenient or annoying in the extreme. And often get you roped into lots more such things than you're prefer. BUT... it turns out being annoyed or inconvenienced in those ways regularly enough can help you actually appreciate getting some alone time afterwards. Which is only logical, if you think about it.

But of course there's not much of a way to completely turn off the longing for something more to life. So the way I handle that is twofold: one, although I can see no plausible way for things to get better along those lines for me personally, I refuse to give up. Because as long as I'm alive and capable, there MUST be some tiny chance somewhere, somehow, for me to achieve it. I just have to find it (or at least that's what I tell myself).

Yes, I don't have much time left, being as old as I am now. But I'm still looking, and still trying. I may fail every single time, but that's not stopping me. Because I'm stubborn, damn it. And refuse to believe that my personal story will never have any happiness in it anywhere, ever. And as long as I don't give up, I believe I'm deserving of that happiness-- regardless of whether I ever get it or not. And I'd much rather feel deserving, than not.

For if I struggle to my last defiant breath to attain it, regardless of all the obstacles in my path, then if I die without getting it, the universe will have done me a grave injustice. And I'd much prefer that, over thinking that maybe I DIDN'T deserve happiness after all, and so got exactly what I was due-- partly because I gave up.

But maybe all that's peculiar to my own rebellious-towards-authority personality. But I do hope you can see some way to use it too.

Okay: I said it was two-fold. Here's the second item.

I hold close to my heart the fantasy of happiness. I really have no choice about it. Because decades back I became afflicted with terrible insomnia. It was partly caused by genetics: my mother frequently has insomnia, and my own gradually seemed to come upon me in my late thirties/early forties. But I eventually discovered some of mine stemmed from a particular nutritional deficiency too, which meant I could remedy that part of it, afterwards. But I went 10 years without knowing about the nutritional part. So my insomnia became far worse than my mother's.

There's two major parts to insomnia for me: the falling asleep part, and the staying asleep bit. In my worst insomnia days, my best chance of all for falling asleep came from imagining being happy, with someone I love. That was much tougher at some times than others, but it's worked almost without fail about helping me fall asleep most nights, ever since those days.

In some of my worst moments over the past ten years, I went beyond that wishful thinking for falling asleep, to actually writing up the same type of happiness in stories. And publishing them, to boot.

So I injected some little bits of that fantasy happiness into my books: my automotive adventure books, inspired by my real life youth. Thus, whenever you read about something terrible or scary happening in those stories, that part is more likely to be true, and something which actually happened to me as a young man. But wherever you read something about me being happy in those accounts, that's almost certainly a fiction that I added to the story for the reasons explained here.

And I might do more of that. For going through the gauntlet of writing a book about such things may be the closest I'll ever get to personally experiencing them. And if you do it right, you'll feel a lot of the same emotions you would if it was real (or at least it seems that way to me).

And there's also this: I figure maybe my books could sort of be like romantic lottery tickets: that is, maybe the person I'm looking for will read one of them someday, and contact me, and I'll end up finding happiness after all.

Again, I mention all this in case it might give you an idea for some project of your own. Like writing a book yourself of what your own happiness might entail, then publishing it. You could also publish under an alias, if it was too embarrassing for you otherwise.

Like I said, I'm not giving up. My chances of success are apparently zero, but I don't care. The universe has already hurt me about as bad as it can: there's not much else left it can do to me. And not much time left for it to do it, either.

I'm doing my best not to get blindsided by a health problem along the way, by trying to eat right and exercise regularly (so the universe has less chance of tripping me up there). And I keep my eye out for new opportunities, scanning the online news every day. On occasion I find something interesting or useful to my circumstances or goals.

And I try to answer my emails too (for occasionally you can be pleasantly surprised there, as well). :-)

I hope something here strikes a chord in you, Jess. It's the best I can do at the moment. It's basically how I've been getting from one day to the next for maybe forty something years now.

-- J.R.

P.S. For whatever it's worth, I ran across some new and unusual job ideas online recently. Maybe something among them could be interesting to you.

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Surprising salaries for jobs you’d never imagine

Copyright © 2015 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.