My next-door neighbor took his own life three days ago.
It was a crisp and sunny Friday, one of the nicest since the arrival of spring. I enjoy pacing around on my back deck and pondering, it’s where a significant amount of my writing emerges. I enjoy staring off into the quiet woods and contemplating, this time I was noting the explosive vegetative growth that had occurred in only a few short days. As I reflected, the siren of an ambulance interrupted, as it drove through my neighborhood and wove through the woods down the path to my neighbor’s house. During winter, I can see through the barren forest over to their house, but spring’s vegetation obscured everything but the flashing lights of the ambulance. Throughout the day, people came and went, and the police lingered for quite some time. I was sure that something gravely serious had occurred, but accidents are common out here in the country, perhaps he fell off the roof cleaning gutters. Turns out, he’d committed suicide.
Just the morning before, I’d been out walking the dog and waved at him as he drove by in his pristine Corvette. He always waved and helped the neighbors and seemed to be fine. Often, we don’t always know the internal battles people wage with themselves, as people have become exceedingly adept at maintaining a stoic face while hiding severe inner turmoil. We have reached a point where I doubt anyone would deny that we have serious mental health issues in this country. Depression is an insidious parasite that starts small as a vague sense of unease and gradually grows and expands into an endless abyss. I’ve been there; and that’s why I’m writing this article. I can’t say I’ve totally beaten it, and I can’t say I have all the answers, but I feel I can help, as I’ve beaten back the darkness many times over. Let me preface this by saying that although I have a great deal of fitness, diet, and research experience, I am not a doctor, so consult yours, but understand that these are the techniques and tactics that have worked for me over many years, and are also supported by science. In the writing of my book, I conducted extensive research, and I will also link many articles throughout this blog. With the disclaimers out of the way, let me start with the central premise of this article:
If you have depression, you must get help. However, anti-depressants are not enough. I’ve taken anti-depressants and I can say with a high degree of confidence, that they do work, but only to certain extent. They cannot solve underlying issues that poison your mind. Ask anyone taking anti-depressants if they are actually happy, and as I can attest, the answer is usually no. They blunt the edges of depression, but as long as the root issues remain, you will need additional help. There is only one way to truly combat depression and defeat it. You must wage a multi-front war on every aspect of your life, because it ALL matters in the fight.
Let’s go step by step, first a few of the multitude of reasons for depression:
1. Brain chemicals cause depression. This is the predicate for every anti-depressant prescription. You have a chemical imbalance, and Drug X will fix that imbalance. Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins, Oxytocin, and others all contribute to your happiness and state of well-being.
2. You can become depressed by circumstances and stress in your life. Perhaps you’ve been abused, cheated on, or fired from your job. All of these can contribute to depression.
3. Nihilism and dissociation can cause depression. Perhaps you have a misanthropic view of the world. You belong to nothing, and believe in no higher purpose or entity, be it religion or any cause greater than yourself. This creates a sense that nothing and no one matter in the grand scheme, so why bother caring about anything?
You may even have a combination of all three or something else, which makes solving the riddle of depression a daunting task. Now comes the difficult part: the truth. An anti-depressant, by itself, will not fix your mental health long term. To make sustainable changes, we must understand one critical piece that is left by the wayside in many of these discussions: We can, to a large degree, influence our own brain chemistry. Every action we take, from eating, to exercise, even just the act of getting enough sun, all influence the mix of chemicals swirling around in our head. We know exercise induces endorphins, and different foods and vitamins can influence serotonin and dopamine. Even just sitting in the sun can bring about more serotonin production.
Earlier, I used the metaphor of a multi-front war. Think of your mindset as a battlefield. When a country goes to war, there isn’t just one type of unit or soldier, there are hundreds, that all comprise the theater of war. Used correctly and in conjunction, ships, soldiers, and planes all combine in a full scale battle plan. In the mind's battlefield, you must view each tactic as one piece of the strategy to win the war. With this in mind, let’s look at a comprehensive battle plan to beat back the unrelenting assault of depression.
1. Anti-Depressants: The starting point. These can be necessary in the early stages to blunt the edges of depression, but make no mistake, they will not SOLVE the issue.
2. Exercise: It is a fact that exercise releases and regulates both Endorphins and Serotonin. If you are not exercising, even if it’s just a walk with the dog, you are leaving a potent weapon on the table. Attempting to fix depression without exercising would be like going to war without the Navy.
3. Sunlight: Yet again, studies show sunlight influences serotonin, as are other bodily functions and vitamin production. Even if it is just sitting or walking the dog, try to get some level of sun infusion each day.
4. Diet: We all know junk food triggers dopamine and makes us feel good temporarily. However, studies have shown that a healthy diet can blunt the effects of depression, as there are many foods that can affect a positive mindset long term.
5. Stress relief: Be it video games, shooting guns, playing with dogs or children, or journalling, find the activity that warms your soul and make sure you are getting enough. I’ve found writing to be a great tool for pouring out emotions, especially journalling.
6. Belief: I see people every day who have accepted their fate, who believe that this is just the way it is and they can’t do anything to change it. Do not allow this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that, you will find ways to make it true and fail. You can beat it, and once you start to believe it, radical changes will come.
7. Toxic People and Environments: The reality is, it will be difficult to beat back the inexorable assault of depression if you have toxic people and behaviors influencing your life. I’ve had to end friendships of over twenty years because I could not sustain the toxicity of those friendships any longer. These people and situations will poison your mind and make progress difficult.
These are just a few of the tactics I’ll cover in this series. It is a daunting task to take your life back while standing at the precipice of the abyss. I intend this to be a series where I will tackle each of these more in depth. If you have questions or need more specificity in the interim, hit me on email or social media. I wish you the best, and I hope these articles will help someone in their struggle. If there's an area you'd like to see addressed, let me know and I'll get it done.
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