You’re laying in bed.
You know what you have to do today, but you don’t have the courage to do it.
You have to go to the bank. You have to pay your hydro bill. You have to buy a Christmas present for your mentally retarded cousin. You can knock it all out in an afternoon. But the first step is getting out of bed, and you’re not ready for that yet.
It’s noon and you’re still exhausted. You’ve been staying up late because you’re afraid of mornings. You’re incapable of the most basic tasks. You’re stressed because you’re falling behind. You’re angry at yourself for being weak, then you’re angry at yourself for being angry at yourself.
Weeks go by. Clients get angry. Leads go cold. You cancel plans with friends. Opportunities pass you by. You open Word documents and write about how you’re going to get back on track. You start a dozen new tasks every day, and finish none of them. You start planning out new projects so you can avoid working on what you actually need to do.
You’re smart enough to know that to fix yourself, you need to change your mindset, so you start reading books and blogs that usually get you fired up, like Danger and Play, James Altucher, and Bold and Determined. Somehow it seems hollow, like these guys just don’t understand how hard it is to mail a cheque and buy a stuffed animal.
You put on a mask and hide the ennui from people close to you, out of shame, but also because you want to be a leader. You want to be a source of strength to others. You don’t want to bring them down.
Sometimes you forget to eat for a day. Sometimes you eat too much. You waste time on Reddit and Twitter. You jerk off. You watch entire seasons of garbage TV shows.
It’s December, so you go to a dozen parties. You have fun. You think: maybe things are turning around. Then you realize that all the times you’ve felt good over the past month have involved binge drinking and drugs, and that scares you.
You thought you had purged all the fragility from your psyche. Turns out you were wrong. You recognize that you’re going through a rough patch, but you’re still in denial. You start writing a blog post. As you write, you realize that you’re in much worse shape than you thought. You look back at your behaviour over the past two months, and you understand what you need to do.
You need to ask for help
You talk to your father, your sister, and your best friend. You tell them there is nothing to worry about, but you want them to know you’re going through a rough time, and you need their help to maintain good habits and a positive attitude. You tell them that you’re scared. You don’t know what you’re doing with your life. You’re having a hard time bouncing back from failure.
After talking to people you love, you feel better. You realize that you’ve been burning a lot of your energy pretending to be happy. You stop pretending.
You’re still afraid. You’re afraid of failure, and not living up to your potential. You’re afraid of being alone. You’re afraid that you don’t know what to do in your career and life. But at least these are real problems, with real solutions.
You get back to basics
Slowly, you work your way back into the light. The world starts to come back into focus. You’re not out of the woods yet. But you’re on a path.
You go on a three-day juice fast. You shock your system back into good healthy habits. You immediately feel lighter, clearer, and happier.
You start waking up early. You hit the gym every morning, heavy and hard. You look better, stand taller, and feel invigorated by the blood flow and testosterone boost.
You stop wasting time. You block garbage websites, stop watching TV, and limit your personal email and social media to one hour per day.
You clean your apartment and make it a happier environment. You buy more plants. Keep your curtains open. Start making your bed in the morning. You realize there is someone toxic you need to cut out of your life, and do what needs to be done.
You make a plan to get your life back on track. You were in denial. You accept that your twenties were a series of false starts that didn’t work out the way you’d hoped. You accept the fact that you’re almost thirty, and you’re not even close to where you had wanted to be. You forgive yourself.
You realize that maybe, for some stupid and reckless reason, you wanted to be in this situation. You wanted to fail. You wanted the opportunity to build yourself back up from nothing, so you took too many risks.
You make a checklist of good habits and stick it on your bedroom wall:
- Wake up at 6:30 AM
- Tidy apartment and make bed
- Gym and/or yoga session
- Dress sharp
- Sit down and start work at 9:00 AM
- Juice for lunch
- Finish work at 5:00 PM
- Do something every evening that is fun, social, and enriches your life.
- Write in your journal
- Meditate for ten minutes
- Plan out the following day
- Go to bed at 11:00 PM
Every day, you check off each item and congratulate yourself on these small victories. You’re not perfect. But you’re getting better.
You start to regain control over your world. You return calls. You pay your bills and get your finances in order. You stop spending time with people who bring you down. You set goals and make a plan for 2015.
You block off all the negative, distracting, soul-poisoning influences in your life. You spend your down time with Danger and Play Fitness Podcasts, Elliot Hulse, inspiring movies, and quality documentaries.
You do little things that have always brought you joy. You read great books. Play with your dog. Spend time with friends. Listen to happy music.
You still don’t feel good. But at least your actions are good:
- You’re not bouncing out of bed, eager to start the day. But you are getting out of bed.
- You’re not strutting into the gym like a beast, excited to crush some personal records. But you are in the gym.
- You’re not working at full capacity, building your business, finding new clients, and doing great work. But you are moving forward on projects and meeting deadlines.
- You’re not happy. But you are doing things that you know will make you happy, if you have the will to keep doing them.
You write this post over the course of several weeks. You’re tempted to wait until you’re back to 100% before posting it, so you can give it a nice happy ending. But that would be cheating.
What Is Depression?
Let’s not get too dramatic.
What I’m going through is pretty mild. Almost every man reading this will have a similar low point, probably more than once.
Some people suffer from random, crippling, severe depression that results from maladaptive neurochemical imbalances. Some people suffer from severe PTSD. This is ‘real’ Depression.
But most cases of depression are related to external factors. Depression is an adaptive response that encourages us to slow down and re-orient our lives.
I didn’t just go to sleep one night and wake up sad; the last two months of 2014 were genuinely hard on me. I lost a lot of money. I let my health suffer. I worked long, hard, stressful hours. I was betrayed by someone close. I’m scared of getting older. Whatever the cause, I ended the year feeling pessimistic, lethargic, and alone.
How To Cure Depression
Some people will react negatively to any suggestion that they can control their mental health.
Their theory is that Depression:
- is a disease over which you have no control
- strikes innocent people randomly, and
- there is nothing you can do to prevent or manage it.
I think this perspective is harmful. It allows people to make up stories to absolve them of responsibility. They take the easy way out.
Yes, depression and anxiety are random – to an extent. But they are treatable. Rather than give up and accept mental illness as part of your identity, why not try to build a new identity based on the strength and force of will necessary to overcome it? I think the first step to overcoming depression – or anything else – is to start viewing it as within your locus of control.
This is the approach that has worked for me. I haven’t discovered a ‘cure’ for depression. I think that’s an unrealistic goal. All I can say is that I’ve stopped being self-destructive. I’m not brimming with joy every minute of the day, but I am waking up at dawn and doing what I need to do.
You can’t always control how you feel, but you can control how you behave. I haven’t completely cured myself of depression. But I have successfully cured myself of behaving like a depressed person.
Here are the habits that helped me get back on track. Try them for yourself, and see if they work for you:
1) Free writing
Open up a journal and just start writing. Write about what you think is causing you stress. Write about how you’re going to solve those problems. Once you’re done, keep writing whatever comes into your mind. Don’t stop and think. Eventually you’ll get to your real issues. Do this every day, for at least one full page. In a week, you’ll realize that you’ve been lying to yourself. About what? I don’t know. And neither do you. So start writing.
2) Good habits
You might feel silly using a checklist to make sure you eat breakfast and make your bed every day, but when you’re not capable of winning the big victories, you need to shoot for the little ones:
- Wake up early
- Eat healthy
Don’t get too ambitious and try to create a daily routine of sixteen straight hours of life-enriching productivity. If you were capable of that, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Start with modest goals and add more as you make progress.
The most important item on this list is waking up early. If you’re out of bed and lifting weights at 6:00 AM every day, you can’t be screwing up your life too badly. There is also evidence that a sleep fast can cure depression. If you commit to waking up early, you will almost certainly subject yourself to a few sleep fasts as your body adjusts to the new schedule.
3) Tell the truth
Most of my fear was tied up in hiding, so I made a rule: No more lying. No more false confidence.
Lying takes energy. When you stop lying, you have more energy to work on yourself.
Lying also makes it easier to lie to yourself. Before I started being honest, I had two separate stories. One was for the rest of the world (“I’m great! Never better!”) and the other was my own private internal monologue (“Boo-hoo, poor me, blah blah”).
Both of these stories were lies. I was lying to the rest of the world about feeling great, and it was emotionally exhausting trying to pretend that I was.
More importantly though, things aren’t nearly as bad as my inner monologue made them out to be. True, life isn’t going exactly according to plan. But I’m still an incredibly fortunate person by any reasonable standard.
Once I committed to honesty, I was planning to admit to friends and family that my life was in shambles. But when I tried to tell people, I couldn’t figure out how to explain it.
Gradually I realized: If I can’t explain it, maybe it isn’t true. Maybe things really aren’t that bad. I’ve had a few rough months, and I have to work hard to get back on track. But ultimately things are going to be OK.
Regular exercise will make everything better. It’s a cliche for a reason. Building lean muscle will make you more energetic, more confident, and happier.
Lifting weights will also naturally increase your testosterone, which will improve your mood.
Placebo? Coincidence? Maybe. But for me at least, the major inflection point in my mood and optimism was a three-day juice fast.
There is plenty of evidence supporting the health benefits of intermittent fasting, and consuming lots of vegetables.
There’s evidence that a diet made of of fruits, vegetables and protein can prevent depression. Also see: Diet and Depression.
A juice fast also created a memorable psychological boundary between two shitty months, and the future. It created a narratively compelling scene break in the story of my life. Why does this matter? The human brain understands the world through stories and narrative. If you want to change your circumstances, you have to give yourself a narratively compelling reason to do so..
To summarize: lift weights, eat healthy, be honest, wake up early, and keep a journal. These are good habits whether you are depressed or not, and they have been clinically proven to treat depression. You don’t have to cure yourself entirely. Just start acting like someone who has.
Will This Work For You?
I don’t know.
I’m good so far. But this is all new to me, and my story is still being written.
All I can say is this: The habits and thought processes in this post have helped me. If you’re depressed, and your current plan is to wait (and medicate) until you feel better, maybe it’s time to try a new plan:
- Wake up at dawn
- Lift heavy weights
- Drink fresh juice
- Keep a journal
- Be honest with yourself and others
That’s it. Try it for a week and let us know how it goes. You can start your new habit of honesty by writing about your situation in the comments below.
Here are some links I came across when I started doing my research on curing depression:
Hyperbole And A Half: Adventures In Depression. It’s a much more severe experience than I can personally relate to, but I still found it beautiful and poignant.
Fit Juice: Does Juicing Cure Depression?
Rogue Health and Fitness: Breaking The Depression Feedback Loop
Bold and Determined: Cure Depression The Old-Fashioned Way