The term “crippling depression” isn’t clinically recognized.
And it’s not a medical nor psychological term.
But we use it when the shit hits the fan with our depression.
You know, when depression takes a toll on our lives. When it becomes painful and harmful.
If you have ever dealt with depression, you know how painful it can be.
Maybe you are still dealing with it and fighting it; in such a case, you need no one to tell you about it because you can feel it yourself.
If a loved person is battling a crippling depression, you know how stressful and painful that is.
Maybe some people are destined to become more depressed than others.
And maybe some of us have to battle this shit more than others do.
If you are one of these people, accepting this fact can be relieving more than trying to make it go away.
If you are not one of those people, then it can be hard to relate unless someone you love is going through this.
But anyway, depression sucks!
And when I say, ‘it sucks!’ I mean that it’s not only painful but also it can affect your life in profound ways.
We will go through this in seconds, but I guess you can think of a few ways it can screw your life up.
Before we start, this article is not the ultimate solution to depression.
It’s not a ‘fix’ that will solve everything wrong with your emotional world.
And it’s probably not for everyone.
Read this article if you have problems in your life so big that they make you feel depressed.
Read it if a loved one is going through hell, not to fix or save them; merely to understand and then be helpful based on this understanding.
While this article can help, it’s not a cure for clinical depression, and it’s not a substitute for professional help.
I will just share what I know about depression, mine and the one I saw loved ones fight.
I will not share it as ‘opinions’; I will share it based on facts and research as much as my competence allows me.
Let’s start with no further ado.
Positive feedback loop
You get a hangover after you drink.
One of the best ways to make this hangover go away is to, well, drink again.
It relieves you from the withdrawal symptoms.
When you drink again, you will get another hangover, usually a stronger one.
How to get rid of it?
Drinking gives you positive, immediate outcomes, which are the relief of the withdrawal symptoms and the hangover.
But it makes them come back again even worse.
Now, this is a loop; a devilish loop!
It can spiral you down and make it harder to stand up again.
This can happen with many things in life, including depression. Depression, and even anxiety, which usually accompanies depression, can create such loop as well.
It is hard to get up and do something about your life when you are depressed. Helplessness, low energy, and cognitive distortions (or negative filters and outlook) are not a joke.
This can make your life more screwed up and thus make you more depressed.
When more depressed, you end up doing less and screwing things up more.
And the loop continues.
Depression can make you withdraw from the people you love because of feelings of shame or feeling like you are a burden-some. Or even feeling that you might hurt them when you are in this state.
You will feel lonelier and isolated because of the withdraw.
This can worsen your depression.
And when your depression is worsened, you will feel more shame and feel like a burden-some more, which will lead to more withdraw and shutting down.
You get the idea.
This loop might not be the cause of your depression. But it contributes to its exacerbation.
I intend to use this same loop to help us reduce depression instead of the opposite. And to generally help us become slightly better people.
Here is how.
Positive feedback loop and the upward spiral
We have seen how positive feedback loop works with drinking and, more importantly, with depression.
But it’ does not have to be only about negative things.
This loop can help reach positive results.
We can use it to spiral ourselves upward (even if we are not depressed and just want to improve).
More specifically, we can use it to make our crippling depression less and our fighting chances better.
First of all, recognizing these loops and how you are using them to manage your emotions is a good start.
You might not be able to break it easily, but a loop that is broken by %10 percent is less damaging than a full loop that goes unnoticed.
This leads us to the next point, which requires you to look at your depression a bit differently.
Look, depression is not something that I can underestimate.
It is painful and it has a life on its own inside our brains and hearts; a dark life that darkens us.
But I believe that this way of describing depression can be too artistic to induce changes or provoke any healing.
We need a rational way of looking at depression, not to dehumanize it or make those suffering from it look lazy; we need it to help those suffering from it (us!) find their way out.
Empathy is good; it’s even better when it precedes advice. But we do need advice. And we sometimes need solutions.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, this is not an ultimate solution nor is it a substitute for professional help.
But I believe it’s helpful. And I believe that if this loops thing made any sense to you, so will this piece of advice.
So, back to the topic, we need to think of depression differently. One of the ways I believe is helpful is the BSM (Behavioral Shutdown Model). You can read more about it here, but in brief, it’s about depression being a defensive mechanism, just like pain is, that tells us there is something wrong with our emotional world. And usually, our emotional world is about things in our physical world.
So, it’s about things you are going through. Troublesome things. Things that are making your life worse. And depression is the signal.
This doesn’t deny the effectiveness of medication totally. Some people might need them to some extent, alongside with therapy sessions. But the point is, there are problems in your life.
‘Problems’ is a word that I chose just for the sake of simplification. In real life, there are dreams, desires, needs, longings, fears, traumas, and stresses that are triggering pain. Let’s just call them problems.
Before we do anything, let’s deal with the shame of having problems. I have written about it here.
It’s important because this shame can be more dangerous than the problems themselves and can end up adding fuel to the fire.
Some people have less complex and more straightforward problems.
For instance, making money or studying.
Those challenges face almost everyone. However, not all of us cope well with these problems well and not all of us have fair situations. So, some suffer more.
Other people have more complex problems with more underlying issues.
Those problems might not be obvious or straightforward. They are usually about abstract meanings such as safety, love, meaning of life, freedom and so on.
They, sure, can overlap with some seemingly obvious problems.
For instance, money can be, for someone, a means to have freedom and safety, which are incredibly important to him as they had been taken away from him and he has always felt threatened because of not obtaining them.
Let’s talk about problems.
And let’s talk about how positive feedback loops can help us solve problems (instead of worsening them).
Problems are good to have
I don’t wish you would have problems that weigh on your shoulder more than you can carry and handle. But to wish for a life without problems is merely wishful thinking.
So, problems, even those problems that are making your brain respond by pain, are inevitable.
But it’s not a bad thing.
Problems can give meaning to your life given that you step up to the challenge and accept the responsibility for handling them.
They can make you as much as they can break you.
And if your life lacks meaning, then stop looking for shinny goals and start looking for your own problems and hold yourself accountable for dealing with them. Your own problems, not the world’s problem. Your own shit that’s making the world a shitty place.
That’s not selfishness; that’s wisdom in knowing the boarders of your competence.
Being aware of your problems is the first step.
Apply some self-awareness and some self-acceptance so that you don’t hate yourself because of your problems.
You are probably aware of some, if not of most, of your problems. You know where your life sucks and where you are suffering. That’s the start.
The next step is, obviously, solving those problems. Or at least attempting to and starting to apply some solutions.
Many people fall prey to the monsters of hopelessness and helplessness. They don’t believe they can be in a better place; they believe that doing anything is fruitless.
That’s where a positive feedback loop can be helpful.
You need to find a tiny thing that you can do.
A tiny solution.
The smallest and most trivial thing you can do, over the next few days or weeks, and stick to it.
Sticking to it should be easier because it’s so small and easy for you.
When you do this thing, over and over, a few things will happen.
First, there will be at least a %0.00001 change or improvement.
This small improvement will slowly amplify things like self-respect, strength, courage, discipline, and tolerance.
They might be amplified quite unnoticeably at the beginning, but we are looking at a snowball right here.
And sticking to this %0.00001 improvement is a lot easier than trying to stick to big commitments right away.
Now, having those things I mentioned (courage, self-respect, …etc.) amplified will help you pick up something bigger and more difficult and do it.
It will help you carry on with doing this tiny thing until you have what it takes to do the next ‘bigger tiny thing.’ And so on.
People get overwhelmed because they think about those big solutions they need to apply. And depression sits there at the corner laughing at us and questioning how on earth would we do all that with this minimum energy and gloomy faces and knotted feelings. And it’s right! How the hell are we going to do that? We can’t. At least, we can’t right now.
But we can create a tiny loop that will enable us to break free.
So, find a small thing. A trivial thing, even.
Call it boring or seemingly-useless, but do it anyway.
This will end up amplifying good things within you. And that, in turn, will help spiral you upward, slowly but steadily.
We try to find one-time, big solutions to our problems. One or two things that will heroically solve all of our problems. This is a sign of impatience. And it doesn’t work with the more complicated problems. We should focus on finding tiny things to do that will contribute, in the long run, to solving the problem and improving the situation.
Stop looking for ‘ultimate’ solutions and start applying the ‘tiny’, ‘boring’, and ‘seemingly-useless’ solutions. Snowballs are accumulated; they don’t fall from the sky.
This way, you can have a fighting chance. You can take down crippling depression one piece at a time. One day at a time. And you are making your life better in the process. Being at the rock-bottom isn’t fun at all; drag yourself out one inch at a time.
And for those helping a loved one through this, be strong for your own sake. And if that’s too much, be strong for their sake. By ‘be strong’ I merely mean creating those tiny positive feedback loops that will spiral you upward. Take care of yourself if you wish you would take care of someone. Do that and be there for them. Your presence would help. Your courage could be contagious and inspiring. No super-hero stuff. Or maybe this is what real super-hero stuff is.
Putting This Into Action
Here are 3 tips that somehow sum up what you should do.
Set a routine
Routines can help your mind cope with uncertainty.
They can also help you develop a set of habits that can spiral you upward.
I can’t tell you what to include in your routine, for it has to be as unique as your case is.
But generally speaking, try to include what follows.
Set a time to wake up. Ideally, you should wake up at the same time every day. Sleeping time should be the same as well. And then you need to have a healthy breakfast.
Those are ideas derived from the book 12 Rules to Life. And I discussed them in more details in my free course right here.
A healthy breakfast and enough sleeping hours can go a long way.
Sure, think about what little thing you can do every day to help you create an upward spiral.
It can be reading. Creating. Communicating with people. Relaxing. Whatever! Do it in the smallest doses possible to make it a part of your daily routine.
And I said, ‘the smallest doses possible’ because …
Lower your expectations of yourself
You are already operating on your 50% or something close.
That’s not a good time to demand too much of yourself.
In fact, that’s not a good time to even demand what’s normal from yourself.
So, lower your expectations of yourself.
If you could read only 2 pages a day, that would be great. You don’t have to read, like, 10 or 100 pages.
Remember, you are helping yourself. And to demand more of yourself is not realistic during these times. Fuck the self-help and motivation posts that tell you to push yourself. This is not the right time.
Remember that you are not your best self right now. You are not operating on your 100%. Set a minimum baseline. Stick to it.
Get social support
I know, I know. It’s hard.
Withdrawal and isolation seem like the best choices when you are depressed.
Plus, who has energy for any social contact?
And who has the energy to tolerate you being a slack?
And to make matters worse, some people are not comfortable asking for help.
But, screw all this and do it anyway.
Reach out to those you trust. Talk. Tell them what you are going through.
Discuss feelings. Discuss any dark thoughts you are worried about. Ask for reassurance or accountability or whatever that you need. I am serious, ask and be assertive about what you need even when you are terribly depressed.
Take responsibility, however, for your own situation. Realize that people won’t save you or turn your life around. That’s up to you.
Social connection can help a great deal. Feeling safe and connected to people who care about you can be soothing and encouraging. Don’t underestimate its power.