Depression is no laughing matter. I said this a long time ago to my then girlfriend, a psychologist. She found it funny, and ended up using it as the title of a presentation that she gave to a group people suffering depression. I doubt they laughed much, given that depressed people are rarely so inclined, except I suppose, sometimes at their own expense; so maybe there was some resigned chuckling.
I’ve written one of those annoying listicles. Before I give you the list though, here’s my general observation. Sadly, pretty much anything that is going to make you feel good without doing any work, will make your depression worse in the long run. This is because what makes you feel good or not good is a change in the levels of chemicals in your brain, and the brian is a very complex and highly adaptive machine. It senses when things are out of balance and will rectify this with physical changes. So if you ‘artificially’ flood the brain with too much of the neurotransmitters that say ‘make me feel good’ (primarily, dopamine), the brain will physically change to make you less receptive to those feel good neurotransmitters – this is known as tolerance. Dopamine tolerance can be short-term (usually), or permanent (in the case of serious drug abuse), or something in between. It seems that the brain sees its job as keeping you alive, which means keeping you alert to danger, not keeping you stupidly happy all the time.
1) Drinking – Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, but that’s not why it’s bad for depression. It’s bad for depression because it releases dopamine directly into the brain’s reward centre. This is great while you’re actually drunk, but tolerance eventually develops. The more you drink, the worse you’ll feel – both in the short-term e.g. from spending shit loads of money, having sex with people who are ugly/misogynists/assholes/STD infected, crashing your car, getting into fights, making a fool of yourself, experiencing crushing hangovers etc; and in the longer term due to dependence, addiction, relationship problems, and contracting cancer. Worst of all, if you drink a lot your brain will become less receptive to naturally occurring dopamine, making it generally harder to feel good. If that’s not depressing I don’t know what is.
2) Reading Depressing Books – Right now I’m reading Leaving Las Vegas by John O’Brien. It’s brilliant, but it’s got every depressing element imaginable. Firstly, the protagonist kills himself…by drinking himself to death. Secondly, the ‘heroine’ of the book is a hooker…a gambling addicted hooker….who gets raped…and bashed…more than once. Thirdly, the protagonist is more interested in killing himself drinking than he is in being with her. Finally, he dies…but slowly. Here are some of my other favourite books: The End of the Affair, Graham Green; Lolita, Nabokov; Anna Karenina, Tolstoy; Infinite Jest, Foster-Wallace; A Confederacy of Dunces, Toole. It’s a subjective call to say whether or not these are depressing books of course, but it has not escaped my attention that half of these authors killed themselves (No, this is not a cry for help – please don’t call the cops or send me the number for Lifeline).
3) Having Sex With People You’re Not In Love With – It may be great at the time, but ultimately leads to a horrid feeling of emptiness, or guilt, or both.
4) Drugs – Don’t even think about it. Here be monsters.
5) Unrequited Love – Better than no love? No, actually. It’s great for them, and no good for you.
6) Thinking – Depends on how you think of course. If you think positively, constructively, optimistically, creatively, mindfully, or about setting goals and achieving them great! But you don’t do you? Because if you did, you wouldn’t be depressed.
7) Spending Lots of Time Alone – You’re better off spending time alone than spending time with assholes, narcissists or people who drink a lot, but generally, being alone a lot is not great for depressed people. The problem is that you’re far more likely to spend time alone now that you’ve given up alcohol and find going to bars to be about as much fun as dental work. Plus, if you’re introverted, going out with groups of people will fall within a range somewhere between work and outright anxiety provocation, and so will not be high on your list of priorities.
8) Eating Shit Food – e.g. chocolate, ice cream, chips, giant blocks of cheese, cake, doughnuts, soft drink, energy drinks, etc etc. These release higher levels of dopamine into the brain than healthy food, and ultimately contribute to dopamine tolerance. Anything with big hits of sugar, caffeine or other stimulants will make you feel good for a very short time, and then cause you to crash below your previous baseline i.e. you’ll feel worse. The sugar will also make you FAT! Thus you’ll now feel depressed about the fact that you’re fat and miserable. Once you’re fat it’s much harder to exercise and thus a very bad spiral develops – feel crap, don’t want to exercise, eat shit food to feel better, get fatter, repeat.
9) Watching Commercial TV – Depression on steroids. An endless stream of insidious ads trying to guilt you or trick you into buying shit you don’t need, often by portraying people who are happier, richer, and more beautiful than you. Generally a total waste of time that has you sitting mindlessly on your ass instead of exercising or doing anything productive. Even watching just the news is no good, unless you find wars, sinking asylum seeker boats, murders, shootings, accidents, and corrupt sleazy lying politicians to be uplifting somehow. The thing is an idiot box. Turn it off, sell it, throw it away – there’s nothing good on.
10) Watching Porn – Should be a no brainer, but apparently not, as there’s 58 billion porn sites out there covering like 3 billion types of porn, a lot of which is so twisted it’ll make you gag to look at. Most porn, if not outright abusive, is misogynistic and degrading to women; creates unrealistic expectations of any real sexual relationships you might have; and is addictive (for some, highly), because masturbating like a wild monkey releases dopamine into the brain. It’s also a sleazy waste of time. Depression city.
Because I’ve written this in the negative voice i.e. here’s what will make it worse, I now have to say something positive…becuase that’s how it works right? We must focus on the positive. So this is me practicing what I preach. Here are 19 and a half things that will make you feel better, both in the short and long-term (there are many others):
1) Exercise (especially running!);
3) Healthy food;
4) Sex with someone you love (if they also love you);
5) Laughing (about something funny, not at your own or someone else’s expense);
6) Being with friends (real friends, not toxic ones);
7) Playing with children (obtain permission first);
9) Listening to music;
10) Being in nature;
11) Patting a dog…or a cat…or some other animal that won’t rip your arms off;
12) Making art (if you are so inclined);
13) Helping someone in need;
14) Smiling (but doing this to strangers can win you some weird looks);
15) Climbing a tree;
17) A cup of tea;
18) Swimming in the ocean;
19) Watching a good movie;
19.5) Bouncing on a trampoline…. that shit is fun!