Thursday, July 13, 2006

Do antidepressants work?

Living a lie is unsustainable

What works best to beat the blues? That depends on how chronic the depression is and a host of other factors. Depression doesn’t just happen; it’s the result of ingrained habits, habitual thinking and an addiction to thinking paths and patterns.

One could begin by saying, ‘If you’re suicidal, antidepressants are a must.’ That’s too broad a stroke. Since a large proportion of suicides happen as people are coming off antidepressants, it’s good to develop the fortitude to not become dependent on a chemical crutch in the first place. So what to do?

First of all, understanding depression is all important. Using antidepressants is just symptomatic treatment. You feel bad, you’re unhappy and debilitated, and your coping strategy is to swallow pills? How does medicating a mindset (that doesn’t work) change your circumstances, and even more important, your mindset? In short, it doesn’t, and it probably never will.

My definition of depression is living incongruently over the long term. That means being untrue to yourself (your spirit) for the majority of your day, your week, your year, your life. In time, the spirit rejects this chosen lifestyle (yes, you chose it), and starts to impose sanctions until you stop, or do something else. The mad part is that people tend to want to insist on continuing with their destructive behavior and unhealthy habits, and want to ignore or repress or chemically extinguish their depression.

Depression manifests as a result of doing things every day that aren’t good for you. This may be spending long hours in a job you hate, or being trapped in a marriage with a partner you’ve given up on (or who has given up on you), or just being completely divorced from any sense of one’s own being, being disconnected from what’s real and true. This resistance to reality is a source of constant pain. It can be changed either by accepting the present, changing the present or changing oneself. All require some kind of internal paradigm shift, a coming to terms with oneself in terms of reality.

If that sounds convoluted, here’s an even simpler explanation of depression, and it goes to the cause of this mental malaise. Depression is the inability to function (or be aware of) the present moment. Depression arises by being constantly burdened by the burdens of the past, or the perceived pressures of the future. It’s in the reality of the Now (and also the only reality) that the key lies to salvation. It’s in the Now that we need to be in order to not be depressed. Now is all we have, and all we will ever have. But being in the Now also requires us to face those things we’ve being trying to escape from (and escapism takes many forms, from listening to music, watching TV and movies, to reading, to sex, to shopping, to sleeping).

Constantly chewing on thoughts that have no final answer (especially playing back unsolved mental dramas from the past) and depriving ourselves of meaningful answers and things to do (solutions in the present) is a highway to hell.

Depression in fact is a healthy response. The body slows down and needs to stop functioning. It’s not unlike a physical ailment. The mind’s habitual thoughts slowly poison the body, and the body responds by becoming paralyzed and resistant. Our mental resistance to reality is mirrored by a physical resistance to participate in that reality. It cannot thrive on poison and starts running out of energy (or inspiration). Depression is another way of our bodies saying to our minds, “Please stop.” Stop and listen to your self.

It’s important to respond to the message of depression. It might be enough to simply accept that you’re taking strain and continue on the same track. Probably, some change will be required, and herein lies the secret. If you have depression and you make no significant structural changes to your lifestyle (or your mindstyle), expect depression to continue. If you’re blue and you make no changes to yourself, how can you expect to feel differently?

The question then arises, ‘What must I change?’
Actually, the answer is simple. Depression and laziness are often interchangeable. Laziness is perhaps the precursor to depression, but without doubt, depressed people come across as very lazy, especially when they are advanced cases. How to spot a depressed person? Someone who sleeps a lot, who can’t get things done, who’s irritable, who blames, who procrastinates and importantly, who never exercises. Depressed people are often overweight. They’re full of excuses, and are professional time wasters. Change (by facing) your laziness.

So, ‘Where to start?’ Start by doing what you know you must do. Do what you fear the most. The focus must be on what you can do. Not on what to think, or say, or feel, but what to do. Acting healthy leads to being healthy. Smile, even if you don’t want to, and see how your feelings and thoughts change. How it works is thoughts lead to feelings which lead to actions. But it also works in the reverse order, and if your thoughts and feelings are out of sync, it’s very difficult to start there. You’ve been focused on thinking, and now balance needs to be restored. Focus on your body, and spirit.

Stop wasting time. Start by exercising. The easiest is to run. Yes you will hate every step of it in the beginning. You will hate to even expose your face to the streets, but go out and take it from there. After a week you will start to enjoy it. Or swim, or do some other physical activity. Get into the habit of exercising. Start modestly. What’s happening now is chemicals are being activated in your brain that need to be (serotonin, dopamine and endorphins). Not only that, you’re learning to put yourself in a painful place, and manage that process. And the bonus for all this suffering is a wonderful sense of control, an improved appearance, and over time (probably a lot), an improved sense of self. Exercise is a great way to spend time in the now, alone, with yourself. Get to know who you are again. Knowing what you don’t want or don’t like is halfway to knowing what you do want, what you do like and who you want to be.

Once you’re in the habit of exercising, start to focus on your spirit. Without thinking, breathe, and feel who you are. Do this whenever you have a moment. Experience your being. Now build your spirit. Read something that enriches you. Go for a walk in a forest, commune with nature, connect with your self.

Any person who exercises (knows the benefits) and will scoff at the idea of using antidepressants. In the same way, people who use antidepressants will aggressively defend themselves, reminding you of all the painful things in their lives, and reasons why medication is helping them to live. Be patient. If you’re using antidepressants, fine, use them; just remember that using them alone is changing nothing. It’s simply lessening the burden. The onus to change remains. Try using antidepressants and exercising. Perhaps one day you’ll find a way to your self. Believe you will and your will will find a way.

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