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When You Are Depressed, Make Something (byrslf.co)
684 points by ohjeez 163 days ago | hide | past | web | 339 comments | favorite

When you are depressed, see if there's a serious problem in your life that is causing you to be depressed and devote as much time and energy as you can muster towards exploring solutions to that problem, even if they entail dramatic life-changing decisions, because that's the kind of problem we're dealing with here.

Examples of such problems: you hate your graduate program. You have no friends in your city and no idea where to look. You are unattractive and wish you weren't. You are skeptical of your faith. You have no activities or hobbies that involve other people and wish you did. You are not as good at software engineering as you want to be. Your job is hell. You fake a character in social situations that makes you hate yourself. You are impotent at facing injustice that you perceive in the world. You are uninspired by the prospects of the career or community available to you. Any of the above + you drink, do drugs, or play video games to avoid dealing with it. * Another: your career is pointless or selfish

Short term solutions like exercise, making friends, or talking to people, and making something will only fix the depression if they happen to address the actual problem - which there's a good chance they do. And of course, the whole situation can spiral out of control and compromise your ability to do something about it, in which case professional help + drugs can make all the difference.

I completely disagree with you.

I believe you are describing solutions to problems that can make someone sad or frustrated, which is a fine thing. I'm all about being real about your life situation and doing something about it.

However, depression is a disease independent of external factors. I had it when I had arguably one of the coolest jobs in my life up until that point. I treated it with medication, got out of the slump, and applied techniques to stave it away.

Those techniques are what you called "short term solutions." I think of them as long-term preventative measures to stave off the chemical imbalance that can cause depression. Regular exercise keeps up your serotonin and endorphin levels, as well as helps you maintain a healthy body-image. Interacting with people, also increases serotonin and endorphin levels, and ensures you don't feel lonely. Engaging creatively keeps your brain active and, you guessed it, increases serotonin and endorphin levels, as well as distracts from the "why do I bother" feeling, aka, gives you a "reason."

One of the most important lessons I ever learned when I had a shit job. I kept thinking "if I just get a better job, then I'll be happy." Then I realized how much it would suck if my internal happiness depended totally upon externalities - who's to say a good job is the "best" job? If I adopt that mindset I'll always be chasing the carrot on the stick. The important thing is to do what is necessary to be happy no matter what, and then focus on the externalities (the "problems" you describe).

~~~my anecdote~~~

During my first semester of university, I suffered crippling depression and at some point tried to kill myself. Soon after I entered a mental hospital and started journaling. In one of my first journal entries, I noted that I was fairly smart, had great friends, had parents that loved me, had a full scholarship to university, and yet I hated my life and wanted to die. At the time, my condition certainly seemed like some sudden contingency resulting in brain malfunction.

What I did not then realize, and in fact did not at all realize until last year, was that I spent the first 16 years of my life in a literal doomsday cult. I was raised a Jehovah's Witness, and since that was really all I knew, even when I eventually came to the point where I disagreed with some of the doctrines, it never crossed my mind that there was anything at all nefarious about how that organization treats its members.

What you have to realize is that without exceptional self awareness or being adapt at adopting multiple perspectives, people are mostly blind to context of their own circumstances. That's usually fine; such awareness takes a ton of energy and most people just don't need it to stay alive. But when things do start going seriously wrong, and you're experiencing non-congenital mental disorders, is it really reasonable to believe that your mental state is "independent of external factors"? As if that's somehow the one thing the brain's constant processing of sensory data and immediate experience and past memories isn't effecting?

A relative of mine has been battling depression for decades. After this person retired, they had a noticeable improvement in mood and energy within months, and around two years later had started a new exercise regime, begun doing low-paying but enjoyable work again for the sheer joy of it, gotten involved in local government, and quit medication with the help of their doctor.

It's not clear what "independent of external factors" really means, but in this case quitting the job seems to have worked. It wasn't that the job was bad in the sense of prestige, but rather that the job was a massive stressor in physical and emotional ways.

Now, everyone is an individual, but I'd hate to see someone else spend decades fighting depression without access to every weapon they can use.

>Those techniques are what you called "short term solutions." I think of them as long-term preventative measures to stave off the chemical imbalance that can cause depression

What causes the chemical imbalances? Research on animals show that chronic stress causes depression, so it definitely can be caused by external factors. If your job is causing chronic stress then changing job is obviously a plausible cure for your depression.

To do that, you actually have to both be actually able to find and take a different job plus have the clarity to know that such a thing will improve your situation.

And with depression (or anxiety), this isn't so easy. It gets difficult to see opportunities and easier to blame yourself, thinking, "I'm lucky to have this crappy job and that they put up with me". It can make your job seem crappy, even when it isn't.

I get to see the way the chemicals affect my brain once a month. Once a month, I think I'm going to lose my job. That people dislike me. That people are suddenly treating me harshly and I must have done something wrong. I consider changing jobs.

This is like this even when I enjoy my work and actually like the folks I'm surrounded with. It doesn't stop with work, but is a handy example.

I likely should be on anti-depressants half the month - if you've not figured it out, I'm female and this is entirely hormone-related. Instead, I've adjusted life. Once I realize what is going on, I can relax some on the temporary nature of it all. Sometimes it works better than others.

The thing is when depression hits, for me, it is much like this. All the freaking time. Work becomes a relief from home, home becomes a relief from work, sleep a relief from it all. I literally don't have the capacity to sort out which things in life to change or what to do next. I get stuck.

This is why it is a long-term preventative measure. Gotta catch this stuff before the darkness sets in and messes with your sensors.

>before the darkness sets in and messes with your sensors

I like this language, "messes with your sensors." Depression is a disease within the brain, and naturally it's difficult to observe a system from within that system - especially when those observational tools are affected by the system itself.

So it's really hard to know you have depression and take the steps to treat it, when you have depression.

It is a marvelously true expression. _Whatever_ the cause, a real black-dog depression robs a person of all sense of effective agency. The leg is broken and needs a cast, and for many the drugs do work (personal experience). But then the person needs to learn to walk again. It may be a disease (there is a genetic component) but we don't know whether the observed neurotransmitter problems are cause or effect.

Freud said that the purpose of therapy was to replace neurotic misery with ordinary human unhappiness. Some Californians find that a bit of a downer, but it's true, and we can do something about unhappiness.

Depression seems to be caused by both external factors (such as crappy job) and internal thought processes (worrying too much, negative thoughts, etc) or a combination. And some people are just more prone to depression than others. In your case it sounds like some kind of CBT, ACT or mindfulness therapy might be helpful.

Hormones are well known to interact with the stress system and exacerbate depression.

You make a good point about depression itself causing issues with (for example) your job, making it difficult to know what is the source of the problem. I think the best that people can do in this situation is to take a break from work, and think carefully about what they really want from life.

> Research on animals show that chronic stress causes depression...


That sounds like an oversimplification in my opinion, as there are some pretty glaring problems with using other animals to model mental illness in humans.

Wouldn't the only real analogue be learned helplessness, or am I missing something?

See for example:


>there are some pretty glaring problems with using other animals to model mental illness in humans

Yes, but the research also looks into stress and depression in human subjects (see above).

The paper you linked to doesn't really show that "chronic stress causes depression", though.

The key sentence in the abstract, I think, is this:

    Here we provide an overview of the evidence that chronic stress, which can precipitate or exacerbate depression, disrupts neuroplasticity, while antidepressant treatment produces opposing effects and can enhance neuroplasticity.
The paper states that stress "contribute[s] to the development of major depression in susceptible individuals", as is well known. It also states that chronic stress correlates with features that are associated with major depressive disorder.

Notice there not being any mention of a causal relationship here.

Agreed. I should have said chronic stress can cause depression.

"Chronic stress can trigger the onset of depression in those predisposed", I would say.

Not really a cure, but a necessity. You still need treatment.

It depends. My own depression was completely cured by lifestyle changes, as was my wife's (different causes for each, but mostly related to jobs).

Treatment doesn't have to be medication or therapy, as I said in my post I consider exercise, meditation, and mindset modifications to be forms of treatment. It's certainly how I handle upticks in depression now that I don't medicate anymore.

- However, depression is a disease independent of external factors.

What? No disease is independent of external factors. You even list a bunch of things which affect it. Depression is a pattern, subject to countless factors. I think what you mean to say is, there isn't a single cause of depression, and it can manifest when many of the factors affecting it seem to be "pretty good", and it can not manifest when those factors seem to be "pretty bad".

>What? No disease is independent of external factors.

This statement is true only in the narrowest sense and is actively harmful to people with mental health issues. Let's compare depression and cancer to see why.

It is common to say something like "cancer is independent of external factors" to mean that anyone can get cancer. It doesn't matter how healthy of a lifestyle you live. Due to random chance, the guy who regularly works out and eats fresh vegetables and avoids toxic substances can get cancer when the guy who watches tv all day, eats nothing but twinkies, and smokes like a chimney might never get cancer. The first guy's cancer was out of his control.

When people talk about depression being "independent of external factors" what they're trying to say is depression can happen to anyone. It doesn't matter how healthy your "mental lifestyle" is. Depression, like cancer, is a disease. Some things may make depression more likely, but anyone can get it at anytime and there's nothing you can do to completely prevent it.

No one feels ashamed for getting treatment for cancer because society recognizes that cancer is disease that can happen to anyone. But people feel ashamed for getting treatment for depression because most people believe "depression doesn't happen to normal people." If you make statements like the parent's about depression but don't make similar statements about cancer, then you are actively contributing to the problem even if your statements are factually correct.

No one feels ashamed of seeking treatment for pneumonia, but there's no way you would say it's independent of external factors. That depression is affected by external factors should neither be controversial nor related to your concerns about society's acceptance of its treatment. You seem to be conflating "dependent on external factors" with "arises due to bad life decisions", which is bizarre as it's kinda the exact thing you're worried about.

In a strictly clinical discussion it is fine to use language like "dependent on external factors" with its technical meaning. But when you're talking to someone potentially suffering from depression and not a clinician, you need to be aware of how they will respond to your words. The average person conflates "dependent on external factors" with "arises due to bad life decisions" and so we need to adapt our language accordingly in an average conversation.

I'd think most people would mistake it as implying that depression was caused by, say, lead in your pipes or that time they were mugged and felt powerless. External factors seem to me to push the blame away, not towards, the individual. The alternative of saying that depression is causeless to me sounds more likely to induce people to think it's "just their fault" or "if there's no cause, why can't they snap out of it?" But I don't have much experience dealing with such people to know.

When you are down, nothing can really make you feel like it is not your fault or that you don't somehow deserve the feeling. Except perhaps, at least among the people I know, this knowledge: That feeling of worthlessness, itself, is the symptom of a condition you have. That condition is called Depression, and Depression lies. So the depressed person can maybe make it through for a little while longer by trying to actively distrust their own feelings and thoughts and waiting for the episode to pass. If they wait long enough, the episode will pass. If they can't wait, they may end up taking their own lives, which is really the only other option they see in the worst moments of this disease. So recognizing that it is a medical condition for which you are not to blame could be very useful for people right on the margin of surviving a depressive episode vs not surviving. I hope this was not too much of a reply!

> true only in the narrowest sense

I think it's true in the right-width-of-sense. Illnesses like depression are difficult because they certainly _do_ lie somewhere closer to the symptom side of the "symptom-disease" spectrum than cancer.

Alcoholism is good for comparison, because it presumably falls even further towards the "symptom" side of the spectrum. But there is certainly a spectrum!

So we have Cancer which is mostly-disease and Alcoholism which is mostly-symptom, and Depression which is somewhere in between.

The fact that these complications lead to weird moral baggage (socially-derived feelings of guilt, etc.) is completely separate from a good analysis of the situation. Depression and cancer are just very different phenomena.

This thing you assert hasn't been proven though. We still don't know what causes depression, we don't know what causes cancer and we don't know what causes alcoholism. Out of the 3, we understand how cancer works the most, because it is the most life threatening one, and affects the most people, and is also probably easier to understand. So we are putting more money and effort into cancer research.

There's as many known external factors for cancer as depression. And as with cancer, they've got only a small impact of likelihood of reducing your risks of getting the disease.

It's therefore unknown if depression is caused by external factors, or simply triggered by them, or a combination, and if so, we're not exactly sure what all the factors which have an influence are.

As it stands today, it's still very possible depression is caused by generic defects, bacterial infection, virus, or some other unknown external factor like polution, exposure to some toxins, or very early development problems, etc.

Honestly, I'd love to be enlightened on some very definite research that knows what causes depression, but as far as I'm aware, science doesn't know.

So there is this problem that some people have depression, and we assume it's just there lifestyle, or they were raised poorly. This is due to the nature of mental diseases, which we understand poorly, and often we associate our mental state as our conscious of our own doing free will. Like someone who is naturally grumpy, we say that's who he is, no one questions that it might be he's got a disease, maybe there is a brain anomaly, or a weird communication of his neurones happening that don't balance out his emotions properly and skew him to being grumpy. But being a grumpy guy would never affect your life enough that you'd seek medical help. So people who are depressed, they're like grumpy guy, except it affects their life so much that we put some research into addressing it. Sad truth is we found very little yet.

With that said, we can see how socially we should be careful how we speak of this, because we're often giving the impression that external factors is the known cause, and that a few lifestyle change is the cure. Except that's false. The cause is unknown, and exercise is just the best we got to help. Imagine if we thought similar of cancer, we'd cut funds for cancer research, we'd just tell people they should eat better, stop smoking and exercise. And everyone who gets cancer got it because they probably didn't follow the right lifestyle.

Robert Sapolsky compares depression to cancer in another way.


The acceptance for cancer is great, but I believe both cancer and depression can be avoided with good chance due to factors you decide yourself. Living healthily, eating healthily.

Er, no. You can reduce your risk of cancer greatly by living and eating healthily, but you cannot avoid it. Being alive is in itself a cancer risk, because there are many different cancers and many different ways they can arise - and some of those ways are pretty much purely random.

Having a chance to avoid and reduce the risk of it sounds like the same to me.

Indeed, they do sound the same. They are not.

If I buy a lotto ticket, I have a chance to avoid losing. If I win, it's over. If I lose, it's over. It's only good for one drawing.

However, I have some risk of cancer as long as I am alive. I may be able to do things to reduce that risk, but my chances are infinite as long as I breath. I can choose not to play the lotto, but I can't choose not to get cancer.

Let us assume the goal of a human is to 'lead a long and happy life'.

The chance you win the jackpot with Lotto is miniscule. It is basically so small, that it isn't worth the investment. You're better off not taking that chance because the risk isn't worth the reward. These games are, basically, fallacies designed to manipulate humans, tricking them into behaviour they should not [logically] resort to.

With cancer, you have genetic risks to get (certain types of) cancer, sure.

However, for example living next to a highway increases the chance you get cancer. So, not living there increases your chance of not getting cancer [at a young(er) stage of your life]. Which increases the goal of human life as we agreed upon.

So I agree they're not the same, but your example of Lotto (or similar games) I find rather bad.

I think with regards to cancer this is related to risk/reward. People take risks such as speeding, eating overburned food, or living near a highway. They feel the risk is worth the reward, and they live under the assumption they get away with it.

Brain damage, such as from a concussion, can result in depression along with other psychological problems. Yeah, the concussion is an external factor in the sense that something hit your head, but there's not a whole lot you can do about fixing that factor yourself.

If you think of depression as a self-sustaining feedback loop in your mind, it may very well persist regardless of external factors; in such situation it sounds reasonable to focus on killing off the factors that sustain the feedback loop, with the expectation that once gone, it won't restart again (at least not any time soon).

>However, depression is a disease independent of external factors.

Citation needed. The popular theory of depression being caused purely by a "chemical imbalance" independent of all other factors remains unproven, though it does make for a good and simple advertising ploy for big pharma in that it makes their consumers believe the only way to happiness is through their patented drugs.

I had depression from doing poorly in graduate school.

I felt inadequate and useless. You can call it temporary sadness, but I constantly contemplated suicide and nothing helped.

No matter how much I studied, I still didn't get new concepts as quickly as others and needed to study all the time which sometimes wasn't enough. Once I failed the qualifying exams, I quit and got a software engineering job where I'm doing really well and have plenty of money.

Now I'm really happy and never have such thoughts, so for me it was a matter of fixing a condition where I kept failing.

"However, depression is a disease independent of external factors."

Blanket statements like this (and quite a few in the article too) should be suggestions at best. That might be your experience but it sure as hell isn't mine. I think we can agree to disagree on this and possibly recognize that depression is not a one size fits all disease. What works for you might not work for me. Thus presenting any analysis or solution as fact simply confuses people and can be quite dangerous. Presenting the chemical imbalance theory as fact is especially misleading and extremely dangerous. It's much harder to admit we know a lot less than we actually do, but it's also much more helpful.

"depression is a disease independent of external factors."

I'm not sure this is fair.

Depression can often come from bad or non-existent relationships.

Loneliness, being away from family, having toxic relations with family, esp. those with whom you live, can definitely be sources of depression.

I only get depressed when I'm away from family for too long, for example.

I understand one can possibly shape one's view and change that, but often the 'external' issue is a reasonable thing to address.

But of course, often it's not like this.

I think the observations in your last paragraph are very wise.

I've recently begun to wonder if pursuing 'happiness' is even a useful goal. I'm not really sure what 'happiness' is, or whether it exists. In the past, I have conflated transitory 'ups' in my life, caused by external factors, with sustainable and lasting happiness. When those external factors change, as they always do, it never seems to end well. But it's such a difficult thing to avoid; even being aware of all of this I'm pretty sure I'm going to fall in to this same trap at some point in the future.

Happiness for me can be just as much reflecting on the awesome things that have happened to me in the past, and where I am now, as much as it can be looking forward to the future.

I don't think there's something wrong with setting "happiness" as a goal - I think the important thing is separating that goal from other ones. So not attaching "achieving happiness" to "when I get a raise," instead just looking at internal things you can do to "be happy" in whatever situation.

But exercise, good diet, and not being in a stressful situation does help.

>However, depression is a disease independent of external factors.

Just to clarify, are you saying that systems as intensely interconnected as brains in bodies in the world only ever enter depressive states... for no externally visible reason? What kinds of external factors are you counting (or discounting) here?

Not parent, but I think I can help clarify. As goofy as it can sound: "being depressed" or in a "depressive state" can have many causes and some of them are obvious, but those states are not the disease of depression, exactly. They are serious, of course, and can be life threatening in their own right. But the distinction here is that depression can act like any other disease or illness - like, would making more friends improve tuberculosis? Too often we treat depression as a puzzle that can be solved. But it can just be something a person "has" and is stuck with, and needs medical treatment for.

That's not what the person I replied to said. They said

>However, depression is a disease independent of external factors.

Which sounds like "all depression is a disease independent of external factors". Further supporting this interpretation is that they "completely disagree" with the person they were replying to, as if their comment stood in contradiction.

If we are weakening the parent to just say "There exist cases of depression not caused by external problems" then they don't really contradict what they are replying to. The person they were replying to said "When you are depressed, see if there's a serious problem in your life" because they acknowledged that potential causes of and contributors to depression were numerous and heterogeneous.

When I'm debugging a program, the bug can come from lots of places. When I see a bug, I should definitely see if I'm failing to validate input. If someone told me "I completely disagree. Bugs are caused by hardware failures" I would tell them "if you are saying that all bugs are caused by hardware failures, you are simply wrong. If you're saying that some bugs are caused by hardware failures, then that in no way contradicts the wisdom of seeing whether I'm not validating my inputs".

I think this is mostly about what the formal and informal definitions of being depressed are. Informally people describe depressive states, and feelings of sadness, loss of hope, desperation, and so on as "being depressed". Those feelings are awful, but if they are coherent with real circumstances like grief, or a job you hate, then those feelings are somewhat appropriate and changing circumstances should help. Depression, the disease, is not coherent with reality or circumstances. It unfortunate that the same word it's used for these related but different states.

>Depression, the disease, is not coherent with reality or circumstances.

Where are people getting this idea? I mean, I suppose I could accept it as a definitional exercise in the same way that I can accept the idea that "gurple" is a bluish tint of red. But if you look at, say, a recent DSM, it doesn't say that external circumstances preclude a diagnosis of depression.

I have in my life been very closely connected to several people with depression and maybe that experience is influencing my opinion too much, I will check out some resources and diagnostic criteria, as it has been a while!

It's likely not wise to have a one size fits all approach. I've been in depression in a really bad work/life situation before, definitely beyond the "sadness" you describe. My immune system was compromised, I had an autoimmune flare, I quit work, and slowly became better both physically and mentally.

Then again I think I was very fortunate to have an externally driven depression that I could distance myself from (if I were broke and didn't have parents to support me, who knows if I could have had the courage to quit).

This is advice for sadness, not depression. This is the opening quote in the article: "Sadness is when you feel down because things aren’t going your way. Depression is when you feel down even when all is going well."

Depression may be affected by real life problems but it is more life-enveloping than that. I've been the most depressed at times in my life when things were going objectively great. The people who asked "what's making you sad?" or tried to "fix" my "problems" were the least helpful.

>This is advice for sadness, not depression. This is the opening quote in the article: "Sadness is when you feel down because things aren’t going your way. Depression is when you feel down even when all is going well."

There's no mention of that in the DSM or the ICD.

People with miserable lives can still be depressed; people can have miserable lives without recognising that their lives are miserable. There is no such thing as an "objectively great" life; attempting to define the quality of your life in reference to fixed external criteria is arguably pathological in itself. Part of living a good life is developing an individual and personal sense of what is valuable and meaningful.

The current gold standard of treatment for depression, cognitive behavioural therapy, is in large part a coaching programme to encourage patients to do things to improve their lives. The cognitive aspect of CBT is secondary to the behavioural aspect - cognitive and metacognitive skills are taught in order to facilitate behavioural change.

"There's no mention of that in the DSM or the ICD."

Maybe not in those words, but the DSM does appear to distinguish between a depressive episode and e.g. bereavement: http://www.mental-health-today.com/dep/dsm.htm (I don't think this is the actual text, but it's the best I can find without a copy of the DSM-IV-TR on hand).

IANAPsychologist, but as an ordinary person, the article's distinction between sadness and depression seems reasonable and intuitive enough for a layperson to understand, and that's a step in the right direction in a world where laypeople (including people who might very well themselves have depression) rarely understand anything about the actual nature of depression.

Having a crappy job or psychotic boss is more long-term than an "episode" such as bereavement, and definitely can lead to depression.

Perhaps. This is probably why I ain't a psychologist :)

The definition linked above does seem to generally imply (and in some cases explicitly state) that depressive episode/disorder symptoms better explained by some other diagnosis or situation (like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) should be taken as further symptoms of that disorder/situation rather than a separate diagnosis of MDE/MDD. I guess the question is whether or not symptoms induced primarily by external stimuli (as opposed to when the symptoms are expressed as irrational thoughts regardless of external stimuli) ought to be under a similar banner of "these are symptoms of $SOME_OTHER_CONDITION rather than depression". My (again: non-professional) opinion leans in favor of "yes" being the answer, since it likely has different treatment implications (remove patient from symptom-causing stimuli v. prescribe cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication to patient), but that's the thing about brains: nobody really understands how the brain (and thus the mind) works, and thus it's unclear whether or not such a distinction would actually be useful.

It's difficult to determine whether or not depression is caused by life situation, unless there is something obvious like a recent bereavement.

It seems likely that both external stressors and internal thought processes can both be the cause of depression (and in many cases, a combination). CBT addresses the internal thought processes, but doesn't do anything to address external factors. My wife underwent CBT and took antidepressants, but they didn't really cure the depression. Quitting her crappy job fixed it for good.

Much has been written about the removal of the "bereavement exclusion" from the DSM 5.

Good to know. The vast majority of what little knowledge I have of psychology is based around the DSM-IV, so that's where I tend to stick.

Do the other factors in that particular condition still apply? Namely, "the symptoms persist for longer than 2 months or are characterized by marked functional impairment, morbid preoccupation with worthlessness, suicidal ideation, psychotic symptoms, or psychomotor retardation."?

> attempting to define the quality of your life in reference to fixed external criteria is arguably pathological in itself

Isn't this merely inaccurate rather than pathological, since external criteria are almost never fixed? (cf. inflation)

"There's no mention of that in the DSM"

The DSM changes so often that I wouldn't really rely upon it for a definition.

Our understanding of psychology and the human brain changes so often that I'd have a hard time trusting a source that hasn't been recently updated.

Even with that said, the average time between DSM revisions is, what, every 15 years, give or take? I wouldn't exactly call that "often".

I can't trust the DSM because so many studies, experiments, and results regarding psychology and psychiatry simply cannot be reproduced or repeated with any degree of reliability.

I try to be very respectful about the topic of depression precisely because of the many things you write. That said, there has to be some more gradation between the extremes of "sad" and "depressed". I say this because there were many times in life I was "sad" for a very long period of time and it took a lot more effort to exit that nose dive than going to bed and waking up with a fresh perspective on life.

The problem is that long-term sadness and depression feel very similar and they can be difficult to distinguish. Sometimes you can feel sad about some situation in your life and not even realize it. Or feel sad about something but you're suppressing it because of social pressure. These can look like depression.

Take a really hard look to find things that are making you sad. Especially things you're telling yourself that you're not sad about. If you find it, fix it like GP says. If you don't find it, pursue depression treatments such as the post.

> The people who asked "what's making you sad?" or tried to "fix" my "problems" were the least helpful.

As someone who lives with someone depressed, I find myself guilty of doing this and I don't know any other way to be present for that person. What kind of approaches have you found helpful?

Depression is a sort of severe introspection where your thoughts (often negative) take over. The solution tends to be getting your mind off things.

Instead of asking "why sad," try to simply do things with the person that will get their mind off their own negative feedback loop. This is easier said than done, and if the depression is lasting for weeks or months, I suggest seeing a mental care professional.

I agree. The best way to deal with true depressions (which is not caused by circumstance) is to simply do things.

Anything. (But not passive things like watch something, or read something.)

Make something, drive, hike, volunteer, clean, garden. Whatever.

You can help them by thinking of what activity they often do, and doing it with them. But remember to think of what they do, not what you do.

I've found Zoloft helpful for my depression.

These terms are tricky. I wrote the above because I wish a message like that had gotten through to me (probably just saying it isn't sufficient) at any point in the ~half my life so far where I was, according to this terminology, sad by some circumstance like the above, but also depressed basically I think as a result of being sad and basically having surrendered to it as an inevitable thing: life was by any reasonable measure going well, but I was never happy with it. Some of the above examples reflect my experience, some the experiences of other depressed people I've known. Likely this does not apply to all (maybe most) cases of depression, maybe it wouldn't have helped mine. But I basically feel now, with most of it behind me - I hope - that I never really realized that these sorts of problems could be addressed, or felt ashamed of being unhappy with my situation and therefore decided they didn't deserve to be fixed.

The article clearly shows that in his case, his depression was caused/triggered by life events. Clearly in his case things weren't "going well", as he had just been fired from his job.

That quote seemed wrong, the parent comment actually tries to make that correct.

> The people who asked "what's making you sad?" or tried to "fix" my "problems" were the least helpful.

That's why parent comment says to seek professional help. I believe they wouldn't ask or say those things.

Agreed, although it's worth noting that even if you can climb out, it's going to be a lot harder to stay out of depression if the next rung up is something like Freud's "ordinary misery", as opposed to your "objectively great".

- This is advice for sadness, not depression. This is the opening quote in the article: "Sadness is when you feel down because things aren’t going your way. Depression is when you feel down even when all is going well."

That just means you cannot identify the reason you're feeling depressed. If everything was going well (including your own health), you would not be depressed.

I understand what you are saying sounds reasonable as a person who doesn't have depression, but it is not correct. I mean, unless you're defining "going well" to include "not having depression", at which point I agree, but then what are we even discussing?

This is a good starting point for the medical definition of depression (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtm...). Note the variety of treatments proposed that don't involve psychotherapy. These treatments aren't people taking the easy way out, these treatments are for people treating chemical imbalances in their brain that make it difficult for them to function in their daily lives.

For a more lighthearted discussion of depression, the new podcast "The Hilarious World of Depression" features interviews with comedians who suffer from depression, and how they've struggled with and managed from the disease.

I include physical health in "going well". You clearly do too, hence "chemical imbalances in their brain". I think the problem is, we're trying to parse the world into discrete categories (this is a disease, this is not, this is an external factor, this is not), when the world is not really that easily parsable. All abstractions leak eventually.

> If everything was going well (including your own health), you would not be depressed.

This is tautological, and hence true, but an uninteresting point. Just pretend it says "... Depression is when you feel down even when all is going well except of course for the disorder in your brain."

No, I'm saying depression is when you feel down but cannot account for the cause.

- Depression is when you feel down even when all is going well except of course for the disorder in your brain."

I'm saying this is not a possible situation. The disorder is a result of things not going well, including your own physical health.

Oh. Well, no, that's not what depression is. That's what sometimes causes people who are not clinically depressed to say "I'm depressed about X," but that's not what depression is.

> If everything was going well (including your own health), you would not be depressed.

Sorry, but that just isn't true. People can be depressed for no reason whatsoever. See my reply here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13367913

Sometimes the reason you are feeling depressed has nothing to do with how things are going. My depression was caused by things that had happened in the past and that I didn't spend any time consciously thinking about. Dealing with that stuff took some work, but once I did, my depression lifted and hasn't returned.

Depression means, even if things are going well, you can't feel good about it.

Every effect is caused by something that happened in the past. The physical trauma of past situations reared its head. Sounds like an external factor to me.

I agree with the other poster. Either your point of view is tautological, or you aren't really talking about depression.

> "Sadness is when you feel down because things aren’t going your way. Depression is when you feel down even when all is going well."

Sadness is the feeling you get when something bad happens and you are upset about it.

Depression is the feeling you get from brain inflammation, which might feel qualitatively similar to sadness, but which is usually caused by one or more of: chronic stress, lack of exercise, nutritional deficiency, poor sleep habits, lack of sensory stimulation, infection, or twenty other things.

Once you can differentiate between them, depression isn't actually that hard to fix, at least at the early stages. It's like right now if I were to gain five pounds I'd get acid reflux, but I know that, so if that starts happening I just stop eating as much for a couple days and the problem fixes itself. Same deal with mental states.

[citation needed] ^

In particular, it looks like you're mixing up cause and effect, and I haven't the slightest idea from where you're getting the "brain inflammation" thing (it sure as hell ain't in the DSM-IV, last I checked (it's been awhile, granted, but still)).

> I haven't the slightest idea where you're getting the "brain inflammation" thing from


You shouldn't post this way on this site.

You're claiming matter-of-factly that brain inflammation causes depression. Well, I (we) don't believe you, because that's a far from widely accepted theory. Your condescending google links don't help.

> Your condescending google links don't help

Which I posted in response to getting blatantly gaslighted.

I don't care if you disagree with me, but pretending you don't know how to use Google to try to discredit someone is a lame debating technique.

You weren't gaslighted. That's not what that word means. And everyone here knows how to use google. The problem here is that you said "Depression is the feeling you get from brain inflammation" instead of "there's a theory that depression is sometimes linked to brain inflammation". The former is far from factual, and it's dead wrong to claim it matter-of-factly.

Totally not surprisingly, when you google brain inflammation and depression, you get lots of references that suggest a possible link and none that justify claiming it as a fact. So, [citation still needed], and it's not because we're bad at using google.

> You weren't gaslighted. That's not what that word means.

Gaslighting is a form of personal attack that's designed to make someone doubt the validity of their own senses or personal experience. The reason I took yellowapple's comment as gaslighting is that he was calling into question the existence of a large body of research that shows up with even the most trivial Google search. If you don't buy into the cytokine theory of depression or think that my summary of the theory/research was false or whatever then that's fine. But by implicitly claiming that the research itself doesn't exist and is just something I invented, then at point I take it as a personal attack.

> The former is far from factual, and it's dead wrong to claim it matter-of-factly.

This 2008 paper is already one of the most cited journal articles on depression of all time:


"It has been established that pro-inflammatory cytokines induce not only symptoms of sickness, but also true major depressive disorders in physically ill patients with no previous history of mental disorders. Some of the mechanisms that might be responsible for inflammation-mediated sickness and depression have now been elucidated."

"A role for cytokines in depression was first proposed by Smith in the form of the ‘macrophage theory of depression’ and further studied by Maes in the early 1990s. [...] Despite its originality, especially at a time when depression was thought to be associated with decreased rather than increased immunity, this hypothesis failed to attract the interest of the psychiatry community. Because biomarkers of inflammation in clinically depressed patients are not always elevated, the postulate that common pathophysiological mechanisms link depression to inflammation was limited. Other key components that would support this postulate were also missing, such as a demonstration that stimulation of the immune system induces depression-like disorders; identification of a possible common pathophysiological mechanism between the effects of cytokines in the brain and the neurobiological basis of depression; and proof that decreasing the inflammatory response attenuates symptoms of depression. As discussed below, research in this field has now supplied these key components."

"A growing amount of clinical data point to the importance of the relationship between inflammation and depression in physically ill patients and in conditions that are associated with increased activity of the innate immune system, including ageing and obesity. For instance, the prevalence of co-morbid depression in patients with coronary heart disease, a disease in which inflammation is now recognized as a major contributing factor, is three times higher than in the general population."

"A growing amount of clinical data point to the importance of the relationship between inflammation and depression in physically ill patients and in conditions that are associated with increased activity of the innate immune system, including ageing and obesity. For instance, the prevalence of co-morbid depression in patients with coronary heart disease, a disease in which inflammation is now recognized as a major contributing factor, is three times higher than in the general population."

In order to say definitively that inflammation causes depression there is a lot of stuff we'd need to know that we don't currently know. However, in order for it not to be true, there is a lot of stuff that would need to be false that we know is true. That's why I don't think it's inappropriate to claim it matter-of-factly, even though there are still a lot of missing details that need to be filled in.

> Gaslighting is a form of personal attack that's designed to make someone doubt the validity of their own senses or personal experience.

Asking someone for a source (ie. "citation needed") isn't the same as 'gaslighting'.

There is no need to feel offended when someone asks for a source when you boldly claim something.

Using the website 'lmgtfy' and using this as source however is condescending. Say you are writing a paper. Would you then provide a Google search link as source? You wouldn't. That is why (indirect) Google links are not a source. Google is a tool to find a source.

No one's questioning the claim that research shows there's a connection. You're being rejected because you claimed it was a 100%, if-and-only-if connection. Even if depression is frequently caused by brain inflammation, it is definitely not the case that current science shows depression is always (or always minus epsilon) caused by brain inflammation, so what you said is still wrong.

No one's trying to make you question the validity of your senses. You just need to make claims that are corroborated by reality, at least approximately. It's fine to say there's a connection. It's not fine to say that depression is always caused by brain inflammation, and if you try to do that you'll be downvoted and ignored unless you make an extremely compelling argument (which you didn't).

Based on the research I've perused from google / your references, if you matter-of-factly claimed that some depression is caused by inflammation (or causes brain inflammation? how to tell?) you'd be fine. But to claim depression as a whole -- all of it -- is caused by inflammation? that's still wildly unscientific.

For reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting

"Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target."

There's a clear difference between that and calling out (EDIT for clarification: what I believe to be) incorrect information, and my admittedly-biased opinion is that my previous two comments in response to your own are squarely in the latter camp versus the former. I'd also hardly call one or two comments "persistent", though - again - my viewpoint is obviously biased in my favor.

I'll admit that pulling a [citation needed] was excessively snarky, though. I'm sorry. I ought to know better than to be a jerk, no matter how right I think I am.


With that said, "just Google it" (and similar approaches, like linking to a search engine query or some snarky wrapper thereof) is a very poor rhetorical technique in general; as I've already demonstrated, it's not guaranteed to actually prove one's point, and it reeks of either or both of two hidden meanings:

1. "I don't really care enough about the topic to give a meaningful citation, so I'm just going to tell the other party to find citations oneself"

2. "I don't actually have any source for the information I've provided (maybe I did once upon a time, but I sure don't anymore), so I'm going to tell the other party to 'just Google it' and hope that said other party is somehow impressed by the number of search results regardless of the sites in question or what the linked pages actually say"

Thus, it's generally a good idea to avoid those potential hidden meanings and just provide an actual source.

From your Google query: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/news/severe-depression-linke...

"The Duke team concluded that depression, therefore, is more likely to contribute to inflammation in the body as opposed to arising as a consequence of inflammation."

The Duke research is interesting.

But saying that because they didn't find a pathway that inflammation is unlikely to cause depression doesn't really make any sense, given that major triggers for depression are surgery, infection, autoimmune diseases, etc.

I don't think anyone is disputing that depression also causes inflammation, but the idea that the causality only goes one way just seems very counter to everything else we know.

The point is that there's no clear causation in either direction, and certainly not in even a significant minority of cases (let alone all or even a majority). We just don't know nearly enough about how the brain works to be able to chalk up something as complex as major depressive disorder to "your brain's inflamed; take some Aleve".

In fact, the DSM definition of major depressive disorder/episode (or at least this summary thereof (I unfortunately don't have a copy of any DSM version on hand): http://www.mental-health-today.com/dep/dsm.htm ) explicitly excludes cases where the symptoms are caused by some other physical case:

"Note: Do note include symptoms that are clearly due to a general medical condition, or mood-incongruent delusions or hallucinations."

I would think brain inflammation would count as a "general medical condition" in this context, though whether or not "clearly" is applicable is admittedly very unlikely. Regardless, the DSM seems to maintain a distinction between "depression symptoms caused by some other disorder, whether psychological or physical" v. "only exhibiting symptoms of one or more major depressive episode(s)". In the former case, yeah, totally work on fixing that inflammation with lifestyle changes or whatever. In the latter case, it ain't really that simple.

> The point is that there's no clear causation in either direction

C.f. my other comment. I think there is good evidence for causation in both directions.

> In fact, the DSM definition of major depressive disorder/episode

I wouldn't use the DSM definitions of depression due to, among other reasons, the fact that there is very little iter-rater reliability:


I think the article I linked to in my other comment has it correct, where depression should be considered as something that exists within all people on a spectrum rather than as a mental illness. Now obviously if depression gets to the point where it's causing health problems and interfering with your ability to work and enjoy life then that may be a diagnosable issue, but it's a mistake to think of depression as being something that you either have or don't have in the more general case.

What do you guys think is the point of all our activities if people eventually die?

Most mainstream Judaeo-Christian postulates the immortality of the soul. But it seems to come up against mainstream history and science.

Hasn't anyone here felt these existential questions? Even if you accomplish so much, in the end you can't even answer basic questions about the meaning of it all. You can consile yourself with the idea that this is all there is. But it seems like when you go, it goes back to how it was before you were born. All this knowledge you've accumulated and even more, your continued day-to-day consciousness, it seems this world exists only because you do.

It just seems like such a waste if this was all there was. And consciousness is really amazing, it is at the root of it all.

This isn't exactly depression but an awareness that while the world might go on, you will not always be around to experience it. And everything you do will eventually fade away.

Against that cosmic backdrop, one can conclude that doing something is pretty much like not doing it. That fun party you went to at 17, that sex you had at 28, what trace has it left? So why do the same job day after day? Only because you love it.

I think this is an important point. As a person with foresight such as yourself it is very hard to simply ignore your natural self. Some people can “believe” in a method that allows them to only focus on the present or feel content that a superior entity is in control. I wish I could trick myself in to believing in one of these systems as people who do in fact seem content.

I have however arrived at what I believe to be a meaning of life. I think it may appeal to other science types. The main purpose of human life simply seems to be able to persist and gain complexity. You can play a small role in either part. Help life persist or help build complexity. Right now in this time, we simply don’t have enough complexity to even take a stab at the overall meaning. So saying you have the definitive answer is akin to giving up. Thank you for your contribution to the persisting camp though. Your offspring may help us build some complexity.

But, you can believe that one day we ( mankind, machine kind) will know the answer. So why can’t your belief simply be faith in that one day we will find answers and right now you simply don’t know. Help put the next piece in the puzzle while you are here so the next person has a shot .

E.G. help us get off this freaken Rock! :)

This is the kind of thinking that has, in the past, led me to being depressed. It promotes an unhealthy fixation with the future that sends me into a nihilistic, self-perpetuating spiral of inaction.

My answer has been something closer to Buddhist thinking than western religions. It's an intense effort to focus on the current moment. The past is done and cannot be changed. The future will happen, but it's largely beyond our control. It's much more productive and fulfilling to devote all of one's energy and attention to the present. Out of the past, present and future, only the present is real and open to unbiased observation. And practicing removing one's own bias when observing the present moment feels, to me, like the point of life.

Depression is a chemical or structural issue in the brain. Having existential thoughts did not change the structure of your brain or alter its chemistry.

Suggesting you can "lead yourself" to depression by simply thinking is just as wrong as suggesting those with real depression can just "snap out of it."

I've had a diagnosed depression that I treated for many years with medication. And that course of treatment prolonged my illness and didn't ultimately work. What did work was to alter the way that I thought in the way I described above. And I'm not alone...research has shown that CBT and mindfulness training can be more effective than medication in treating depression.

The view that depression has only biological causes is dangerously naive, if not flat out wrong. Depression absolutely can be caused by unhealthy thought patterns.

> Having existential thoughts did not change the structure of your brain or alter its chemistry.

Of course it did - that's what thoughts are.

> Having existential thoughts did not change the structure of your brain or alter its chemistry.

This seems like a really strong statement that can't possibly be absolutely true. Isn't there some literature on this?

I remember seeing some "self care twitter" posts with lists of things that "don't cure depression" (thinking happy thoughts, sunshine, Vitamin D) but obviously some of those do send it into remission in many people. Isn't that enough?

I don't really see what's controversial about saying that thinking can lead you to real clinical depression.

It's something that happens over time it's not like a switch.

This is called "existential angst", and it comes up on HN every year or so. The best treatment is fill your life with distracting obligations.

I had this realization years ago. Yet somehow, I was fine with it - my mentality was, "When I'm dead I'll be too busy being dead to care that I'm dead."

Then six or so months ago this realization struck me again. Every day since, I wrestle through the same exact thoughts that you posted.

I just want to be content.

There is no point to any of it, and its beautiful. I'm thankful that I'm going to eventually turn to dust and be forgotten. It's such a relief.

There is something very Douglas Adams about your response and I absolutely love it.

I mean, sure, for a religious person touching base with God or exploring existential questions might be fruitful but for a non-believer, focusing on these large questions while being in a depression is not your way out of it, because those questions are too grand. A quite healthy person might end up in a depression dwelling on unsolvable mysteries for too long.

If you find yourself in a depression, your thoughts constantly searching for answers to questions about the universe and why we are here, try to do something more akin to what the person in TFA tell about: create. Your real problem is certainly not that you don't have those answers, it's something else.

Look I create all the time. I don't think I have symptoms of depression at all.

However I am saying that what's happening is similar to depression.

I work hard on building something and scaled back on social hangouts all the time, so I can finish it. But it has been years.

I am dating but never sure if I should settle down with this one, or that one.

I think deeply about what is the meaning of it all, and I see that most people are just trying to distract themselves with work or drinks or whatever else. But ultimately I see everything as being very limited. I guess people with depression feel similar things but far more acutely.

Creating stuff doesn't turn off that thought process. Any more than a videogame character adding currency and amassing items means that the video game won't end. What good are all your virtual points then?

There is also the business of just living, accepting reality and the struggle to make things better... for me when I had kids did that sink in. So you can put "hope" in that context. Some find existential relief in altruism in the sense that helping others makes us feel better. Then there is the discovery process itself that can be rewarding. I think we evolved to be curious and seek intellectual stimulation so those are the activities we seek out. Knowledge itself transcends the generations.

> What do you guys think is the point of all our activities if people eventually die?

For me it's to spend your time being happy. Nothing else really matters. If you spend your life being unhappy and feeling bad, remember that you will die and that will be it.

"Most mainstream Judaeo-Christian postulates the immortality of the soul. But it seems to come up against mainstream history and science."

Does it? Science does not answer questions that defy empirical inquiry.

I have been told that we are spirits first and that we are having a temporary in-body experience. We don't currently remember our time before because this period of our eternal existence is a special test. It's a time of development and preparation. After death we will resume our real lives and eventually get our bodies back, permanently, thanks to Jesus Christ.

My whole life I've been considering ways to either prove or disprove that narrative, but it turns out to be strictly unfalsifiable thanks to the part about forgetting our previous experiences. Does that mean the narrative is false? Certainly not. Does that mean it's true? Again, certainly not.

Should I discard that narrative because it's unfalsifiable? Well, I can't prove empirically that my mother loves me, but I hold on to that belief anyway because I think it's right.

It's wrong to burden science with every important question. When we torture science into answering unfalsifiable questions, we change its definition and confuse everyone. I love that the domain of science is constantly expanding and more questions are becoming empirically answerable every day, but we need to maintain our humility and recognize that science still has little to say about the basic questions of our existence.

I wholeheartedly agree that if this life is all there is, there's something seriously wrong. My wife, my children, my parents, my family, and my friends deserve more than just this. I see evidence of their infinite potential. What can I do to help them reach their true, immortal potential?

I don't think I'm the first person to recognize the infinite potential of others. I think more intelligent people figured this stuff out long before I did. I think some of those smart people decided to do something about all the wasted potential in the universe. I think we are all beneficiaries of those smart people and that life isn't anywhere near as bleak as it seems.

If not, someone somewhere is eventually going to be in the right place at the right time and they will set things in motion so that future people will have eternal lives. They will probably decide that eternal beings should have extraordinary experiences such as 100 year long blind tests in planet-sized classrooms. Oh wait. :-)

Anyway, forgive my ramble. Life is extraordinary and hard to pin down.

I mean like for example the archaeology and genetic tracing of native americans building cities 5000 years ago, Egyptian pyramids built 4500 years ago, vs the story that everything on earth got wiped out by a giant flood 4100 years ago. They can't both be true.

Similarly if the Exodus happened Egypt would have been devastated and overrun by Hittites etc.

Or Herod's killing of all the children. Or the mass resurrection of the saints in Matthew. It would have left behind some independent accounts.

Where is all the evidence? That's what I mean.

It can all still be true theologically. But who wrote these books and if it happens that at least some of stories are embellished then doesn't that kind of throw a monkey wrench into it? On what basis are you sure about what to believe?

I think it's more productive to look at the question of consciousness and immortality outside the context of religious doctrines and narratives. Religion provides answers to this question, as does Science, but they don't exhaust all of the possibilities. There's a deeper epistemological issue here about what we know about consciousness and what we can say with certainty about first-person experience.

If this life is a classroom, as I have been told, then there are teachers and test administrators. The administrators withhold certain evidence of the past in order to help us focus on more important things. They want to help us grow in faith, charity, and other values, not just analytical ability.

People are not perfect and prophets are people. I know of a prophet who said Jesus was born in Jerusalem. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem. Does that invalidate that prophet? No, he was addressing a people who didn't know the eastern lands very well and he was simplifying. Context is everything, even though we don't always know the full context.

If I were sure about what to believe, it wouldn't be belief anymore; it would be knowledge. If I only acted on things I am certain about, I would do almost nothing, since there is very little I am absolutely certain about. Life became more fulfilling and interesting when I learned to act on not only things I know, but also things I believe. Acting on belief leads to growth and ever increasing certainty that I am making choices that benefit me and my family.

This is probably the worst advice about depression I have ever read. "Spend time thinking about how to fix your problems" is about the last thing someone with depression needs to be told.

Sorry. I tried to be careful to say 'see if it's this' - I think people who have spent time depressed either completely agree with what I've said, or completely disagree. Probably there's two distinct things we're calling depression.

Someone with psychiatric history bigger than bible I say it's not a bad advice. People are nowadays oversensitive, you don't need ta apologize front and backwards for anyone who might feel offended.

But your advice works if people have support network, it's tough alone.

And when you realize doctors diagnose everyone out of their ass, you get more depressed. After 10 minutes she claims you lack serotonin. On what bases? I even don't know what to say, life is bullshit but stop with being so sensitive, even if you're wrong, dsm and all your doctors use as much as real science than your average hn commenter.

> Probably there's two distinct things we're calling depression.

If you haven't been formally diagnosed, please for the love of god stop talking about "depression". You have no idea what it actually is.

On the one hand, there's the formal monopoly on the term that you cite. On the other, one is constantly reminded that "millions of Americans..." have undiagnosed cases of this thing. If not depression, what do I call this condition that grounded me for a decade, and did the same to many people I've known for comparable periods? Getting out of the house to get a formal diagnose wasn't even possible. It may be that I have no idea what it actually is. In that case I'd like to communicate with whoever is in a state like the one I was in, but I don't know what to call them. "Being depressed?"

It takes less than 15min to be formally diagnosed with depression and prescribed SSRIs in the US.

If you're bored you can watch the commercials on TV to learn that it's a chemical imbalance, and then repeat that fact every time a discussion about depression surfaces.

Even a formally diagnosed depression can be many different things. Depression (in the formal and clinical sense) can have myriad causes, symptoms, and cures. Everyone who reads about any of these causes, symptoms, and cures needs to be aware that it may not apply to their specific depression. That doesn't mean we should stop talking about the various causes, symptoms, and cures that are out there, just because we fear giving someone with depression the wrong information.

> When you are depressed, see if there's a serious problem in your life that is causing you to be depressed

You are under the common delusion that depression is caused by something in a person's life/environment.

This is NOT TRUE!

Depression is often caused by nothing whatsoever. Someone is simply depressed with absolutely no reason at all.

Depression that is caused by something is not strictly depression, it is a semi-normal response to difficultly and people will automatically fight to try to make life better - you don't have to tell them to do that. (The problem comes when they aren't able, or don't know how, to fix things.)

Depression is caused by nothing. The brain is just not working right. You just have to wait it out, learn coping methods, sometimes drugs, or sometimes you may be able to do a physical activity that gets the brain working right again.

If you can internalize that depression is not caused by circumstance you will go a long way toward understanding people with depression.

Right but your assertion here is completely unfounded. It is a theory. Quantifying that nothing in someones life (or their past) is causing them depression is near impossible. This charade is completely scientifically unprovable.

Edit: changed the word sadness to depression.

No, it is a fact. If you actually spoke to people with depression you would know that.

> Quantifying that nothing in someones life (or their past) is causing them sadness

I didn't say sadness, I said depression. They are not the same.

> This charade


I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you've never experienced depression, and don't know anyone with it.

If that should change you'll quickly realize just how mistaken you were, and you'll feel bad for ever saying things like this.

To put it in context: It's like telling someone blind who still has physical eyes "You can see, stop pretending."

Sometimes depression does have a cause. Some long-standing cognitive dissonance. I finally found some relief when I left the religion of my upbringing and embraced agnostic atheism/humanism. Don't let the true fact that depression often seems causeless stop you from making life improvements or searching for hidden burdens.

Because peoples interpretations of the situation are believable enough to call fact. Subjective interpretations are not reality. If you think they are then we dont have much to argue here. I have experienced depression for most of my adult life.

Is your username based on your depression?

Depression is not sadness; to the extent that it hmay have environmental or experiential contributing factors, the relation between them and the resulting depression is very different than the relation between circumstances causing sadness and the emotion of sadness, and treating depression is generally not a matter of dealing with issues producing an emotional response.

> "Depression is often caused by nothing whatsoever.

I don't agree or like that statement. You're alluding to something approaching a faith-based illness, whereby you fight against anyone looking for causes, insisting there is no cause. "It just is".

But that doesn't fit with what we know about how stuff works in this universe. If the brain is not functioning as it should regardless of good life circumstances including health, family, lifestyle, then something is definitely causing that malfunction. Don't shoot down someone looking for causes to a problem.

caused by nothing [external]

I disagree. Depression is like being caught in a loop. You need to find a way to break out of that by introducing something new. Creating something can give you at least a small sense of purpose and at least from my own experience I depression has emerged when I start to lose that sense of purpose.

A lot of these issues can stem from overthinking/staying within your own bauble of thoughts (for example, no job in a developed country can be described as "hell", so if one thinks that, he's clearly too sensitive or too inwardly focused). Making something can help in that it can make someone stop thinking those harmful thoughts.

> no job in a developed country can be described as "hell"

I know it's fashionable to look down on ourselves, but sleep deprivation is used as a torture device. I and many others have been in a position where we had to undergo it in order to pay our rent.

> no job in a developed country can be described as "hell"

Telling a depressed person that they've really no right to be is, however true, certainly not going to help.

Good point. Solutions to the problem include making it not-a-problem anymore.

Or just making it not-a-problem temporarily. Or even just less-of-a-problem temporarily. Enough difference for you to look up from the rut you've been digging yourself into, assess the situation with a clearer head, and start towards a longer term plan to address the cause as well as the symptoms.

Of course a common problem causing recurrent depression is mistaking a short term fix for something more substantial, so people need to be careful to make sure they correctly identify that when it is in danger of happening.

Excellent post and list. I would only add to that: "Am I with a partner that I want to be with?" or just "Am I overall happy with my partner?".

If the answer is more "No" than "Yes" then you need to figure out the specifics of why that is and either have a long conversation with your partner or find a new one.

Remember: you can't change your partner, but if your requests are reasonable and they truly care about you, then they can change themselves.

Renowned clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson said that if someone tell him that he is depressed he always ask them 5 questions: 1.Do you have a job? 2.Do you have a friend? 3.Do you have a romantic partner? 4.Do you have a serious physical illness? 5.Do you have a addiction? and if you answer on 3 of 5 with yes he can't help you because something of that problems will always again bring you down so first you should solve that problems. So external factors really matter a lot. Here is related video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c3m0tt5KcE&t=44m44s

The problem with trying to create something is once you begin to work hard at it, you realize that you're not very good and others have done it far better than you. I have notice this a lot with math.I will work on a problem and then a Google search later reveals that the problem is not only completely solved but in a way that is far better than I could have ever conceived. Another problem is when you run out of ideas or if the creative endeavor doesn't produce sufficient results. Creativity and execution is really hard, that I'll grant.

Yeah, creativity is hard. As Ira Glass put it:

> All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

(full quote: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/309485-nobody-tells-this-to...)

I really wish "just make something" was that simple, but for people who are already full of self-doubt, it might not make things any better, especially for people with high standards. There are ways to get around this (see the rest of the Ira Glass quote), but it's not the panacea the article makes it out to be.

I've run across this quote a few times recently and like it a lot. But there's always the nagging doubt / imposter syndrome telling that you don't really have taste either.

Like the people who can taste good food, can't necessarily cook good food.

Perhaps it's just enough that you care about something and want to get good at it.

I liked Sal Khan's TED lecture [0] about the possibility of us all having the capacity to be cancer researchers in the same vein that people 200 years ago assumed that only the best would be able to read.

  [0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MTRxRO5SRA

I think developing taste is actually the hardest part. For example, most aspiring musicians start out enamored with a particular style because it impressed them in their early life. It takes years to make sense of things and find your unique personal concept of "good music". Many don't even reach the realization that it's a worthwhile goal. Similar with visual art, etc.

Developing the skill to evaluate something is different from developing the skill to produce it.

If they were the same, then all the front-end developers and UX experts would both work the same job. Some people can, and it's usually those who have developed skills for both.

Self-awareness of your skill level is the first step to developing it.

The problem comes with how you define success.

Do you define it as how your answer or creation measures up to everyone else, or do you define it as you made significant progress in a field you had very little prior experience with. In my math escapades, it's linear algebra, for you it may be differential calculus, etc.

Basically if you always measure success in comparisons to others, you are always going to be disappointed. There are very few times where this isn't true -- such as you entered in a competition for worlds best overall mathematician, which almost doesn't exist, because you have to pick one thing and specialize in it.

Just realize if you take the time and effort to practice, you will achieve success. We all have the same brain, and barring any learning disability, every human has the same potential for amazing learning, the only difference between those seemingly geniuses with perfect answers that solve problems in a way you could never conceive, is they practiced more, and thought about it more.

> every human has the same potential for amazing learning, the only difference between those seemingly geniuses with perfect answers that solve problems in a way you could never conceive, is they practiced more, and thought about it more.

I completely disagree, and I think this attitude, which I find more prevalent in North America, is at the root of a lot of depression and feelings of lack of self worth. It's the same as saying that "person X is more successful than person Y because they wanted it more / worked harder at it"

In the end we do not have all the same brain, and we do not have all the same capabilities, thinking that we do in my opinion makes it a lot more likely to develop feelings of lack of self worth (I still suck at this, it must be my fault)

There's a weird divide here.

Some people find the innate ability mindset oppressive and saddening, and are greatly comforted by "you can do whatever you set yourself to!"

Other people find growth mindset oppressive, and greatly prefer "you can't be the next Gauss, so stop feeling bad about his achievements!"

None of which is a strictly relevant to what's true, of course. The answer there seems to be "lots of skill is inherited, skill plus effort is required to truly excel, but skill and effort are often interchangeable except at the highest levels".

But for whatever reason, I'm in the second camp with you on which narrative is depressing. A lot of growth mindset writing is almost physically uncomfortable for me. I appreciate the value of hard work, but believing that everyone is equally capable completely contradicts my life experience, and implies that 99.9% never fulfill our potential in even a single domain.

I used to prefer the growth mindset and now I agree with you.

I think what changed for me is that I got good enough to regularly interact with people at the "highest levels" of what I do. Teaching probably had some impact on me as well.

I still work hard and enjoy improving, but if I'm completely honest with myself, I'll never be as good as some of the people I regularly interact with. Their minds are gifts that no amount of hard work can compete against (especially because they're also incredibly productive... which in some sense is, I think, also a genetic gift. I need my 8 hours of sleep and can't consistently work more than 10 hour work weeks.).

Since having that realization, I've noticed that most people in my life who prefer the growth mindset happen to work in occupations where there isn't a lot of room for variation -- or where variation in productivity is almost completely explained by factors under your own control. E.g., factory work, truck driving, and the sort of healthcare occupations you can do straight out of high school. Or in one case, a software dev who puts in his 40 doing very standard C# LoB CRUD apps.

Figuring out that there's an essential difference between my environment and theirs was a huge relief -- it's not that I wasn't working hard enough (I definitely was), it's that the type of work I'm doing is much more sensitive to variation in natural ability.

Maybe ignorance is bliss when it comes to the growth mindset.

>Maybe ignorance is bliss when it comes to the growth mindset.

"The more you know, the more you know you don't know."

The less you know, the less you know you don't know.

Being a knowledge junkie, ignorance would be bliss. But once you know you can't easily go back and un-know.

to me it's more that everybody is born with a certain set of multipliers, say the "average" human has 1.0 everywhere, to reach competency level X you need Y * 1,000 hours.

You can be born super lucky to get, say, a 100 multiplier in playing the oboe, you will be considered "gifted" and you will rush past your peers, however all you have is a multiplier, if you put in 100 hours and somebody with a 1 multiplier puts in 20,000 they will become better than you despite your "gifts". But if somebody that has a 100 multiplier puts in 20,000 hours then they will reach levels that you could never ever reach due not having enough time in your life to do so.

On the other hand, unfortunately there are plenty of cases where you might get a 0.1, 0.01 or even 0.001 multiplier, and in those cases you can work hard as much as you want, but you will never ever become more than competent at whatever this is even after a lifelong pursuit. I am pretty sure for example I have a 0.01 multiplier at painting unfortunately.

In the end one always needs hard work, but there should be the understanding that due to how you are born, your hard work might not ever give you the level of performance you would like to have, and that's nobody's fault. This is also why the people that excel at something and go "it was all about hard work, you can do this too if you try really hard" do a great disservice to everybody else.

If you "try really hard" you cannot become an astronaut unless you are genetically lucky and have all the required physical attributes, same deal about becoming a world class anything.

It does feel like the only way not to get depressed is to tape/record yourself regularly at anything you do, always save some of your learning efforts (paintings, musical performances, woodworking things, ...)

I personally am lifelong learning playing the pipe organ, and midi record every single practice I do: when I feel bad about a perceived lack of progress, I play some midi files of six months ago or whenever and I am instantly reminded that yes, I am progressing slowly but I am progressing quite a bit. The only thing I personally have issues with is that no matter how well I learn a piece I will always make at least a couple of mistakes when playing it, I wish I could get a piece perfect but it seems that whatever my multiplier is for "perfection" it is a lot lower than the multiplier for "good enough"

This is a great model - honestly it's much closer to my intuitive sense than what I wrote up.

I think most people can be decent at most things, certainly. Humans are (almost always) normally distributed, and odds are you're between 0.5 and 2 on most scales. If you want to run a 5k, or play guitar for fun, or make a website, your multiplier probably won't stop you.

But if you want to be the best, or you're choosing a goal where demand is short (astronauts, professional tubists, etc), you'd better think about your multiplier. There's a reason music schools are so viciously selective, and it's that hard work isn't going to get you a career unless you're somewhere up in that 100+ territory.

I'm pretty sure I'm down around .1 for music. I'm fairly tone deaf, my sense of rhythm is crappy, and I've never found any part of music intuitive. I've played some instruments, I don't regret it, but I'm certainly not going to go stake much of my time on being even middling-competent.

You touch on one thing that I think is a huge deal - people with big multipliers don't necessarily feel it. That top-notch musician knows they worked their ass off, but can't experience how they would have done with a worse multiplier. It's like listening to successful founders say that you should just focus on your idea and "it'll all work out in the end" - that's sample bias like no other.

I didn't get really skeptical about pure effort and growth mindset until I started working out how specific people learn. The gulfs in effort for different people on the same achievement are shocking, and this model is far better for understanding that.

> If you want to [...] play guitar for fun [...], your multiplier probably won't stop you.

Well, mine did :-D

After 3 years of practice, I could still not accurately do what a kid can do after 1 week, or someone who plays another instrument after 20 minutes.

It was time to throw in the towel and admit that there are hopeless cases and that I was one of them :-)

The worse thing is that I did not have great expectations when I started, since I don't have any interest and even dislike complex music. But I couldn't even reach my very very low expectations... By far... since 3 chords were 2 too many and the other one would never come at the right time :-D

I like this idea of a gift-effort balance. Everyone requires a different mix to shine. But effort seems more important, as I see hard-working "average" people excel more often than lazy geniuses.


But, I think the key realization is that whenever the incentives are strong enough, a lot of hard-working geniuses will be fighting for the prize. Hard-working geniuses are really hard to compete against, and if you don't realize that natural variation is a real thing, you can get discouraged pretty quickly.

Screw those hard-working geniuses, always turning life into a freakin' competition ffs.

Just to clarify, that's not my opinion at all!

Usually, those people are making disproportionate contributions to the world for comparably small rewards. Usually. We're lucky to have Einsteins and Bachs and Taos and an infinitude of less well-known but probably equally capable hard-working geniuses. I'm very grateful for hard-working geniuses who devote themselves to important problems! Some of them do apply themselves toward more secular ends, such as Gates. That's OK too, although the world takes care of gratefulness for me ;-)

It's just important to realize they exist if you ever get into a situation where you're regularly competing with them.

Agreed. At this age, I'm content to let the hard-working geniuses move the world forward and inspire me, while I do the best I can in my limited corner of it.

I learned this one looking at mathematics graduate students. There's plenty for non-geniuses to do, but someone who wants to be exceptional at their work should almost certainly pick a different field. There's a ridiculous amount of brainpower in the field, and if you're not near the top you're never going to be one of the superstars.

> don't realize that natural variation is a real thing

Google shows me nothing but out-of-context biology-textbook material, so I'll ask: what is the relevance here of "natural variation"?

I didn't mean it as a technical term.

I just meant "some people are smarter/more productive than others for reasons beyond either person's control at the time of measurement".

So it could be environmental factors (access to better support or higher quality educational experiences in early childhood). Or just genetic. I'm not positing any specific causes, just making a general observation that I find to be true of the world I see around me: especially at the highest levels, some people really are just smarter than others, and no amount of hard work could close the gap.

I think comparing is inevitable.. going through a lot of this now personally and sometimes i wonder how much a factor is the size of the pond you swim in.

I agree comparing with others is inevitable. I also think you can derive joy and satisfaction in comparing against your self (i.e. your previous work). Admire your improvements, however small, and pat yourself on the back for having persistence. It might seem hollow/shallow, but I really believe it's a powerful way to frame skill-building.

Good point. Also, much of the value in creativity is due to the fact that you do it your way. If you write a poem or a song, it says what you want to say, the way you want to say it. No one else can do that.

> The problem comes with how you define success.

Exactly. With math, you must focus on the journey at least as much as the destination. While the proof motivates the effort, the mastery of math comes not in deriving elegant proofs, but in devising 'A' proof, then remembering how you did it so you can later: 1) use the method again in other proofs and 2) improve on the proof, often by learning from others. Nobody jumps straight from zero to hero.

Like chessmasters, only the best mathematicians invent techniques. Most just employ what they've learned in inventive combination play.

I think the implication is that you should try to create something away from the internet, note how the poster goes to a class and creates a beat and is getting positive reinforcement from people at the class

If he had created a beat on his own, posted it on soundcloud/youtube and posted, say, on reddit, he would've likely gotten trolled or put down or compared to any number of amazing beatmakers and it would have added to his depression instead of helping him get over it.

I don't think we are equipped to deal with the fact that there is somebody younger than us better at anything we can think of than we could ever be, and those somebodies are also instantly accessible from anywhere at any time for comparison purposes.

In the old days, say, you could tell yourself "ok, the teacher/master craftsman/... that is teaching me is so much better than me because they have a lifetime of experience, when I will be their age I will have learned and will be just as good", but now you can find endless amounts of people younger than you already amazing at what you are trying to do, and you think to yourself what's the point when they are already there and you have just started.

Nowadays with most of the world connected you can find hundreds of "one in a million" people you can compare yourself to: and if you are depressed it is really really hard to want to get started at anything, because getting started at something means months or years of being objectively pretty bad at it, months where you can tell yourself "what's the point, youtubeuser999 is a kid and they're already better at this than I ever will be"

It is also hard because one of the ways to get better, is to compare yourself to people better than you and try to figure out what they are doing that you aren't, and incorporate that in your practice. If you are in a beginner art class with a teacher walking around and you are all around the same level, you can get a lot of benefit from looking at others and listening in.

But if, thanks to the internet, you have Michelangelo on your left, Leonardo on the right, Vermeer in front of you and Tintoretto behind, and you are just trying to learn to draw a face that doesn't look like Frankenstein, it is going to be extremely discouraging.

I think the internet's "Michelangelo on your left" effect is more subtle, but equally dangerous.

Say you do truly believe that you can stand out in whatever crowd it is. Certainly that's true of a learners' meetup in person, but that could be an online community, in which you find a niche or a community with a greater demand for creative work than supply. (Soundcloud is not such a place, but consider fandoms as an example.) You believe that you could get positive reinforcement of the value of your work from making something, be it a table or a beat. You find and engage with that community. Awesome, that's the first step!

The problem that then arises is that doing things at the level of quality that folks come to expect from this new world of democratized creation (and you're a perfectionist at some fundamental level, of course, who browses the Internet and will see exemplars of whatever craft you want to pursue)... is that even if you believe you can get to their level, you need to put the time in to practice your craft. Like "the free time of a teenager" levels of time (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikikomori ). And if you're already in a place where you feel guilty for misallocating the hours of every day of every week of every month for a very long time... then the clarion call of huddling in bed, or reading a website, or playing a video game with instant gratification, can quickly drown out the impulse to create. A comfortably unsatisfying safety blanket from which it is very hard to escape.

There's a much lower barrier to entry to writing HN comments, that's for sure...

"I don't think we are equipped to deal with the fact that there is somebody younger than us better at anything we can think of than we could ever be"

This is the plot to Amadeus:


Well said and as someone commented earlier about "building a table" I think there is some sense of accomplishment and utility you can get from that vs something in tech.

Then deliberately set your standards low. I used to have a "bad art night" where I'd create something, no matter how crappy, just to say I'd done it.

Perfect is the enemy of good; good is the enemy of good enough.

This is why I've enjoyed my time taking improv classes. I'm with a group of other complete beginners and failure is encouraged. It has a beginning and end, and whatever happens will only happen once ever. I go home with a sense of completion and accomplishment, but I don't have the feeling of having to show anyone else for validation.

Jim Butcher tells the story, in various interviews, how he started the wildly successful Dresden Files series with trying to write terrible formulaic genre fiction to prove to his teacher that it would be terrible, and ended up with something marketable.

Example interview: https://clarionfoundation.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/interview...

(search for "Writing the Genre Fiction Novel")

That's how I used to get over writers block. I just start off with deliberately writing crap.

I don't think it'll actually help, but I don't think it'd hurt, either. Thanks for that; I'll give it a whirl.

The problem, though, is that I often lack the motivation to do even little things. Sounds like that's the case for folks with depression, too.

If you steer towards areas that don't have a "right" answer it might be easier. I used making a set of shelves out of planks of wood last weekend to manage my mood. They're not going to be the best shelves in the world; there's no "right way" to build shelves. They're not even going to be the best shelves I can make. In fact, as a physical artefact, they're kinda shoddy.

It really doesn't matter: making them got me into a flow state, I got a ton of carpentry practice out of them, and as a handy side-effect I NOW HAVE A NEW SET OF SHELVES. Woo.

(Also I need to buy a finishing saw. Oh no, more tools, whatever shall I do.)

This hits me almost every time I think of something. Recently someone suggested to me a game of "snake" (like the old QB game) that used the tilt sensor in the phone to direct the snake. Should be pretty simple.

A few searches later and I'm looking at super-realisticly rendered WebGL demos of mobile 3D pinball examples and thinking "there's no way I could ever implement something like this".

Anything I can think of already exists, and already exists better than I could do it.

I've had this thing where I'll think about all the things I'll never do.. At 17, I'd go "I'll never be as good as Gauss". At 19, "Jesus, Lagrange taught at college at age 19". At 20, "Galois died at 20..Damn.."

The only thing that I have going for me is that I have dissociated my emotional/psychological state and my intellectual pursuit to become smarter than I was the day before. I can work on stuff when I'm happy, when I'm sad, when tears are wetting the paper, when it's cold, when it's hot, when I'm anxious, when I'm relaxed. The first thing I did after college is trying to come up with a studying schedule to undo the harm of not making the most out of it.

This is great, right? The downside is that, judging myself even more harshly than when I judge myself compared to others: If I can work in all conditions and everyday, how come I still suck at everything and can't do anything well. I haven't found an answer to that, yet.

Mozart died at 35 ... of strep.

I'm missing your point. Do you mean he was unlucky not to have lived enough, or to have died of strep? (the 'or' is a boolean 'or', not a colloquial one. i.e: not mutually exclusive).

Just continuing the theme of, "When so-and-so famous person was your age, he was dead"

Hmm, the only death example was Galois. Not sure we can make a theme out of that. Also, I'm not sure: are you 35 and are talking about yourself or something made you think I am?

I'm adding a synonym to 'pedant' in my online dictionary: 'jugurtha'

My replies to your comments were questions to elicit further details because I didn't understand what you meant (maybe an inside joke, maybe a gem hidden in there) and I didn't want to go with assumptions and possibly miss meaning. You called me a pedant for that.




Think at this as an exercise in programming. You don't write a game of Snake to make THE game of Snake. You write it to learn something and hone your skills (same way as someone taking a Math course solves simple and typical exercises).

Getting over this hump in thinking is hard though - I was crippled for years by "CREATION MUST BE PERFECT". It's only recently I've managed to adjust to thinking "all of this is good practice" and dumping almost everything I make out to the public.

Well, as you might already imagine, that is an unrealistic attitude to have. One of the points of these creative endeavors is to have fun and improve yourself, little by little.

The expectation that you must "dunk over Michael Jordan" to do so is a bit absurd.

Creativity includes discovery and invention. I would assume that if you put all your eggs in the basket of discovery, then you are kind of just throwing the dice. (on Rumsfeldian "unknown unknowns")

That's why Elon Musk says he didn't pursue his idea of using capacitors as batteries. It relied too much on whether or not there was something to be discovered. So he went with things that definitively could be built, where he was sure that "success was at least a possible outcome." ("Known unknowns")

So I would think that you should choose your project wisely, where, again, you can be sure that success is at least possible.

> I have notice this a lot with math.I will work on a problem and then a Google search later reveals that the problem is not only completely solved

It seems to me that you're letting yourself be paralyzed by something that really has no bearing here. You will note that the article does not say "solve a hard math problem first and best". It says "do something with your hands and your feet". The two are not comparable.

It seems like a good example of the described problem, however. I could also attempt to make a table, and I will conclude that I have seen many better tables made, which could make me feel bad.

The hard part is letting go of being the best, or even succeeding, in my opinion. It's cliche, but the attempt is what matters. If you run a marathon to win it, you will almost certainly be disappointed; but if you run it to be a better runner, to be healthier, or simply to say you did, you will be happier having done it than having not done it because you know you won't win.

Pick a subject without much difficult craftsmanship or creativity. One where you can just execute. Grow carrots. You won't worry about there being larger or nicer looking carrots grown by others.

I restore old bikes. It's easy mechanically, cheap, and projects are short enough to never be overwhelming (unlike e.g a car project). It's a nice analog change from computers.

Yeah, carrots are hard to grow. Saying they are easy are going to make people feel even shittier when they try

Actually, I do garden and have a hobby car (which probably frustrates me more than it makes me happy).

But you've obviously never seen a gardening competition. People absolutely worry about growing bigger and nicer looking carrots.

Comparison is the thief of joy. :)

“We have to reinvent the wheel every once every once in a while, not because we need a lot of wheels; but because we need a lot of inventors.” - Bruce Joyce

Keeping your head up while (inelegantly) solving tons of problems yourself is an crucial step to solving them well.

As someone who tries to practice CBT for depression / anxiety, this reminds me of a cognitive distortion, all or nothing thinking. Either it's the best in the world, or it's garbage.

One thing that helped me is realizing that there is ALWAYS going to be someone who does something better than me. You are still learning when doing things, you're still getting better.

It's a corny saying but it's true: winners focus on winning, losers focus on winners.

Plus the web rubs in our faces the output of all of 8 billion people on the planet, of which tons are bound to be far better at what we want to do, while simultaneously depreciating the value of both local talent (since now you compete internationally for attention), and global talent (since the channels are saturated and people have 2000000 outlets to care much for any particular one).

Trying to create something doesn't have to mean being original.

Writing a song is hard. Learn how to make beer. Or fix up an old bike. There are tons of things you can do that involve creating something, that involves physical activity, a sense of achievement and produces a tangible result, but doesn't have the element of creative block or impostor syndrome.

I generate tileable patterns on my phone using Defqt, Decim8, and iColorama. Doesn't require hardly any mental energy and it's pretty certain that you're going to generate something unique. Plus it's a quick cycle (~10-60s) which means you're not getting stuck on any single one.

Don't do the Google search until you're ready to check your answer, and even then don't copy anything you find. It's better for your growth and learning to work the answer out yourself. Not only that, sounds like it's better for your mindset to come to a complete conclusion and then compare instead of getting stuck on how other people have done things. You'll learn how to refine your work eventually, but for now "the problem is completely solved" means essentially nothing. Sounds like your current work is homework for when you start pushing boundaries. This is getting rambly, but maybe you'd benefit from a Coursera class or two in math and then maybe a graduate university night course?

Why do a startup, if someone else or a group may eventually do it better?

You can outsource all the work and spending money to others lol. This is also true of "effective altruism".

Why be so egocentric as to want to try to change the world? It is going to change anyway.

Take these questions seriously, I would like to hear some answers. I think it is to leave some mark because of our desire to exercise power and control over our environment. For men, it is an instinct to leave a trace that is independent of our biological lifespan. (Most women have an instinct to have children.) The desire to get really rich from helping many people. And finally, the desire to do something you like and have it be meaningful.

Perhaps a bit out of the left field, but one suggestion would be to make sketchnotes [1] of some useful idea that you would like to share. For example, a summary of a book or article you read. Do it on paper, snap a picture and post it online. That way you create something which is meaningful to you, but you can also share it and it might help others too. Also, this is the kind of creation where you usually do not have to compare with others.

The obvious con of course is that it can be really time consuming.

[1] http://rohdesign.com/sketchnotes/

Taking your math example, if the people who are currently at the forefront were constantly worried about where they ranked along with everyone else, they never would be where they are now. There are a few exceptions of course but they're the exceptions.

I could give a damn if I'm #5 in the world or number #5,000,000,000 in the world for x. I just want to be as good at x as I can be. I get a little bit of joy every time I get a little better at it.

>The problem with trying to create something is once you begin to work hard at it, you realize that you're not very good and others have done it far better than you.

But the only way to get very good and end up being one of those "others" who make the best things is to push past this point and keep making things anyway. Of course you're not the best in the world at something when you first start doing it. Nobody was. How could you be?

The problem is, everyone who devoted their entire life at something, worked with insane intensity, and devoted themselves wholly to it, is not the best in the world either, except one.

Being "the best in the world" is not necessary. By definition, there can only be one "best in the world" at any given endeavor, so most people will probably never reach that level at anything. There's much enjoyment and satisfaction to be had in doing things for their own sake rather than comparing yourself to others.

I've found three things to help motivate myself in endeavors such as this:

1) recognize that if you really want to be good at it, it will take time and consistent, proper work at it (see deliberate practice).

2) maybe you don't have to be the best; you might be able to muster something that is good enough and that would still be of value to others (by definition, if it's good enough).

3) you're doing it for yourself.

Most of the world's great ideas came from doing something that seemed derivative or insignificant at first. Very few came from waiting for a huge, original idea to strike like a lightning bolt.

This fact surprises many people, because popular reporting of science and invention usually attributes ideas to some instant flash of insight, skipping over the hard work that led to it.

Substitute math by programming, and it becomes easy to see the pitfalls of CS's current "portfolio" paradigm.

Maybe you spend too much time on the Internet checking out what others are doing. Spend enough time and you will find someone who's doing it 10x or 100x better than you.

I can guarantee though that if you keep doing it with focus & dedication, ultimately it's going to work out.

It's why I like computing. There are still thousands of app you could write better.

We all have to start from scratch. Imperfection is what makes it yours.

The first half of the article has a lot of wisdom.

The second half reminds me of well meaning people who make things worse by trying to help. "Just (go jogging, do something creative drink vegetable shakes)"

I would if I could damn it! lol

There is a very large difference between clinical depression and situational depression. The ideas and suggestions of those who have suffered from situational depression are often not very helpful for those who suffer from clinical depression. I think this article is clearly about situational depression, but I don't think people often know there is a difference.

I think the article doesn't know the difference...

The article thinks it knows the difference (by trying to distinguish depression from ordinary "sadness"), but then seems to fail its own test.

yeah it's not the type of depression David Foster Wallace wrote about

Quite. The whole thing with (bad) depression is that it makes you unable to get up and do the very things that help fight it: exercise, create, see friends.

I would also add that it by necessity has to happen dynamically.

In the OP, the author recieves a nudge from his friend, but ignites his spark himself, and connects all the dots.

It's like Inception, you can read however many self-help books, blogs, studies, ideas as you'd like to try to make yourself get out of something, but it won't happen until it's "your" idea.

I have very much experienced this myself, and I can draw parallells between myself and the author, but I know that me telling anyone else won't help them (also from experience), because every transformation happens from within. All you can do is be supportive and present. Nudges and ideas can provide a seed, but they have to grow it. But there's also the risk of appearing pushy and having the opposite effect.

Yeah, might be different for different people but when I'm depressed I can become devoid of passion, and caring about things enough to carry them out becomes a daily struggle

Exactly... the mythos of the "depressed artist" is a joke; if you're truly depressed, it's almost impossible to create. The light within you is extinguished. I suspect a lot of "depressed artists" are actually manic-depressive, which would explain their bursts of creativity.

I've never heard of a "depressed artist". I've heard of a tortured artist, someone who struggles with mental health.

I really wish these advice givers would understand the difference between being down because things are not going well and having depression, which is a disease.

Things are good for me from an objective perspective (money, career, family, health), but I'm miserable and not in a good place. My brain is broken and only certain treatments help. A DJ class isn't fixing me.

I really think these people are confusing burn-out with depression. These are actually two very different things that require different solutions. I wish we were more open talking about burn-out and dissatisfaction instead of just ramping everything up to "I suffer from depression! Halp!" You don't. Once shit gets good for you again, you'll be Mr. Happy. I won't be.

I feel like there's a stigma against discussing burn-out because it really can be seen as a personal failure. You worked too hard for stupid reasons, you believe your dishonest boss or work culture or coworkers, you had unrealistic expectations, you tried too hard for something that was impossible, or you simply failed and its entirely your fault, etc. It seems more ego-pleasing to just jump to talking about depression and kinda sorta equating your situation with people who suffer from major depression, which ultimately is ego-pleasing but the wrong way to go about things. If a DJ class 'fixed' your depression, you didn't have depression, you had burn-out/situational depression, which has nothing in common with clinical depression.

That said, I don't want to trivialize situation depression/burn-out. Why do we only see post-burn-out articles but rarely see burn-out prevention articles? I spend about 20% of my work day considering whether that path I'm taking on this project or interaction violates my own anti-burnout strategies (do the least work possible from a reasonable perspective, do not create drama, let foolish things slide unless they personally affect me, very carefully pick battles, mentally clock out at 5, realize its just a job and that I work to live not the other way around, etc).

Also the above is written from someone with a depressed perspective, so take that as you will.

Heh, exactly. "If you're overweight, just eat less! Problem solved!"

When I tried to exercise to get over a depressing time, I just couldn't manage to start.

Then I one day planned to do it starting the following week and finally got it done.

And so I found that using a physical agenda is the way to keep myself out of depression, it makes me do things

I wonder if the REAL cure was not the creation of music, but instead being around like-minded people.

That can also be a cure, but if the people you are with are not raising your spirits, it can have the opposite effect.

As someone who has periodic depressive episodes, if you're capable of leaving the house to go to a DJ class, you're probably already over the worst of it.

"Just go do x" sort of has a "Get off the couch" pre-requisite that needs to be satisfied.

There are days I can't even leave my bedroom.

Try meditating. My favorite way to meditate is outside sitting up, but on the days were I struggle to even get of bed I'll start meditating right there and try and work my way to the floor and then sitting up. It's not about doing it right, well, in certain positions or any. Start trying to bring your attention to your breath until you feel like you can work your way out of bed to the floor and then upright.

I've also found bike riding can be modified in a similar way. Throw on a hoodie even if its hot out. This allows you to put your head down and your hood up and generally ignore the world. Even when its hot out, its normal enough to wear a hoodie to work up a sweat". Bike riding also works at low enough speeds you can do it in a very apathetic manner(I find it easier than walking.) You don't have to work hard, just getting a little motion starts blood-flow and can provide a small lift. For me its about finding the easiest, simplest, way to provide some sort of lift to start the day and then hopefully you can snowball it.

Yeah, but getting off the couch is the hardest part


Then you don't understand depression if you believe that

I feel like what happened to the author epitomizes the experience of a generation that graduated in the year or two right before the crash of 2008. The first round of layoffs obviously disproportionately effected people that were just starting off their careers at that time (of course other groups were disproportionately hit hard as well). It happened to me being about a year into my career as I was still feeling my way around. It happened to many of my friends as well, and was especially hard on the group of folks that didn’t have the fortune to have gone into the IT field. And once you are out of work for a year or two when the recovery started happening, the resume’s of people fresh out of college look more attractive than the out of work ‘lazy millennial’ which only compounded the problem. Having facebook made it easier to kind of see what was going on with the larger crowd of acquaintances that I maybe would not have explicitly kept track of and though its hard to compare my experience against other cohorts I feel like depression and alcoholism are more of a problem for the group I am describing than others.

In my case I feel lucky for the experience, I was only out of work for a few months and learned that you should never trust the company you are working for beyond the next paycheck. Never work on weekends with the promises you will be ‘paid back’ etc. You are ultimately working for yourself regardless if you are salaried or contract.

> I feel like what happened to the author epitomizes the experience of a generation that graduated in the year or two right before the crash of 2008.

Same could be said for many who were laid off in the crash of 2000/2001. I was one, and in many respects I'm still recovering from it. I'm not entirely happy with how my career has gone since then, but I like where I live enough that I'm not willing to change that, and I realize the tradeoffs.

Passion for your job is not necessarily bad; passion for your career is better, and passion for the work itself is even better, but there are things beyond work, and perspective is a powerful thing.

A lot of people have pointed out how real depression makes it difficult to do the very things that would help alleviate it. In some cases, medication can be the crucial tool that helps you escape this cycle.

At the same time, I have mixed feelings about psychiatry. The field has done a lot of good, but I also can't help but feel that modern antidepressants are seriously lacking. They help some people, but they don't help everyone and can take weeks or months to work; they can also backfire and make some people suicidal. Prior to the 1950s, the common antidepressants were opiates and amphetamines. These fell out of favor due to their addictive properties, but in a way their addictiveness comes from how effective they are at rapidly alleviating depression. If you found a pill that made you happy within an hour, it's easy to see why you would want to keep taking it (and why you might want to take more of it than you need).

It can be very difficult to create an antidepressant that makes you feel better without also having addictive qualities. I often wonder if stigmatizing opiates and amphetamines -- and replacing them with MAOIs, tricyclics, and SSRI/SNRIs -- was a mistake. I'm not saying that they should be first-line treatments, but it seems a little weird that we would rather give people ECT (induced seizures) than psychoactive chemicals that reliably and rapidly alleviate dysphoria.

I've personally found Kratom (a plant with opioid alkaloids) to be very effective at relieving depression and anxiety, and of course states have already moved to ban it. Sometimes it feels like all the useful drugs are illegal, and we're left with these half-assed pharmaceuticals that have a low potential for abuse precisely because they don't do anything useful.

Again, I think psychiatry has done a lot of good, and many medications do help people. But desperate individuals are still committing suicide. We need to do better.

A bit of a digression, but possibly a useful one for anybody wondering if amphetamines or other drugs might be an easy panacea for depression. The answer may well be "yes, and then very much no."

I had my first (and so far only) ecstasy pill a year or so ago, and it was wonderful - lit my brain on fire, caused me to experience the best music festival I've ever been to, and gave me the kind of intense connection with my friends I'd been missing from years of crippling depression. The following week was hell, and caused slight but permanent damage to my family relationships. It took a couple more weeks to recover to even my low standard of 'normal'.

It was only later that I learned that ecstasy, amphetamines, LSD, and basically anything that acts on the seratonin system can cause severe depression lasting a week or more - and if you've already got depression, that can get really bad.

It's worth being careful with these things.

On the other hand - a similar experiment a couple of months later with a small dose of synthetic psilocybin yielded a week of the best mood I've been in for years, with no obvious side effects.

I'd love to see more research on these things. I'm probably not going to do much more research on it using my own brain ;)

> modern antidepressants are seriously lacking

repeating for emphasis

The number of times I have that I felt I could do better - and then I start working on it, get 80% done, but then I struggle with the next 20% - and then almost burnout and give up and feel depressed because I'll never be able to do anything in life, is just insane.

Then I start wondering - what is all of this for? and what's the entire point of even living?

Talking to people does not help either (as it is, I'm not very social and then to add to that, most friends would have a general response along the lines of "oh wow...look at you and your problems", talking to parents is worse - they'll tell me to pray and that's how life is - which I refuse to accept).

Distractions are the only thing that has helped me yet - I distract myself with almost anything I can find - games, cars, tv shows, movies - just so I don't think of anything else.

I write this because, as the author mentions "Make something" - the will to make something disappears. Which is why distractions help.

I believe that if you find yourself needing distraction to keep going you should refactor your life. You should really talk to someone about your situation, distraction is temporary, you'll always end alone with your own thoughts at some point and it doesn't have to be painful.

If you believe that there's more to life then you should keep looking for more. Dream and make your dreams happen, even if it takes time you'll have a goal and purpose.

There is no point in living but there's no point in staying in the box society puts you in and be miserable neither. You can do whatever you want.

Why does living have to have a point?

I generally agree with your sentiment. Anything I do seems to fall so far short of my expectations that it makes me depressed.

My mom used to say "when you reach for the moon, at least you'll climb a tree" but to me the image of man on a tree, reaching out to the moon fills me with hopelessness instead of inspiration.

You're right it'd be sad. But if you climb a tree, you're not gonna reach out to the moon; you're going to be a little out of breath from climbing, and notice your lungs. You'll have put your arms and legs to use. You'll notice something around the tree you didn't. And maybe then you'll do something else.

It's not actually about reaching the moon, but (I think) just doing something. Because purpose and meaning can also come after doing something which previously had no apparent meaning.

Very good front half. The second half ruffled my feathers with conflating lifting other people's work via sampling and tossing flourishes in and suddenly feeling like an authority on creativity. I say this as both a 100% from scratch producer and frequent unsanctioned remixer of other people's work. Glad it's therapeutic for him, genuinely so.

He's wrong though, not every human is "innately creative" in the sense that there's an artist, singer, dancer, drummer, painter, sculptor, or didgeridoo maestro hiding somewhere inside each of us if we only look. That's not fair. Some people will go looking and find disappointment, much in the way I think for some reason I'll never enjoy Calculus II or have much of an aptitude for it. I just think false hope can lead to, eh, other depressive tailspins.

I really think people do themselves a disservice by feeling that everything they do has to meet some imaginary bar.

I'm a terrible flute player. I go so long between practices that I sometimes forget where my fingers go, but the simple joy in making notes with a wind instrument makes me smile me every time. The "bar" is set at "just create tunes" not "be a classical virtuoso."

I agree. I think they are mainly saying to go looking for something to care about. Creation worked for them but it wasn't the actual answer. It is a search for purpose. When you find a purpose, you can focus your energies there for the positive emotional feedback we all so crave.

"I just think false hope can lead to, eh, other depressive tailspins."

This right here. These sorts of feelings are very similar to piloting an airplane in a stall. You can pull the nose up as hard as you can, but unless you fix the problem (e.g. by increasing the throttle) the plane is going to "fix" the problem for you (usually by nosediving and/or spinning out of control). If the engine is broken, then the only recourse is often to point the nose down yourself, and hopefully in the process you'll give yourself enough speed to make it to a nice clearing instead of crashing into the face of a mountain.

You basically just described why the Air France flight out of Brazil went into a stall and dropped 30,000 feet to smack into the ocean. All I can hope in such a scenario, as a passenger, is that the DMT kicks in and I go out in a dream state. What happened was the pilots weren't experienced enough in the emergency scenario to go against their instincts and with their training - granted, there was a mechanical issue of the pitot tube freezing up, but in depression, emotional physiology is also a mechanical issue of sorts. That crash, to me, is an exceptionally clear example of how our own gut feelings can be ones that have to be overcome if we want to survive.

> not every human is "innately creative" in the sense that there's an artist, singer, dancer, drummer, painter, sculptor, or didgeridoo maestro hiding somewhere inside each of us

If the bar is at "maestro" then no, of course not. But I think most people can be creative to some extent even if it's -at best- journeyman level. The trick is to remove the societal / cultural stance that says things must be maestro level or they're not worthy of our attention.

Everyone is different, so I'm not going to knock the author for his views.

What I found over the years is that having a routine helps ward off depression, and by definition almost making something isn't a routine it's a one time event.

I would suggest something much simpler. Walking. Take as many steps as you can every day. Log the results, but really you just want to do something to get you moving so the results don't matter, I just like to compete against myself and walking is something I can do just about any day.

Eventually you will feel like doing something other than walking, but there may be weeks or months or you don't -- and that's OK too.

The point is just not to lie around letting the self-destructive thoughts spiral and lock you in that place you don't want to be. But even when you're there, you can still put one foot in front of the other...

Start with a daily journal. Write down the stuff you did and the thoughts you had. Write down the things you want to get done tomorrow in the same journal and cross them off if you accomplish them.

This way every day of your life will have significance. Even if the day was dreary, mundane, sad, or even horrible, recording the memory records the significance because you lived it.

Journaling didn't cure me of depression, but it helped me build a ladder out of my pit of despair.

+1 to this. I've found this is incredibly helpful in other facets of life - for me, I like to know what I was thinking roughly last january

I have about 100 things that are 5% finished. I would start a neat project and have no willpower to take it anywhere. It was a depression feedback loop.

I discovered I was depressed because I felt like any time I wasn't actively being "productive", I was wasting my life. I would come home from a long day of engineering to jump into more engineering.

Over the holidays I vowed, as an experiment, to just do nothing "productive". Maybe if I play video games and watch Netflix and be with my wife more, I'd end up being more productive in the long run.

These past 3 weeks have been my happiest in years.

The part I'm still trying to figure out is how to convince myself of this truth the next time I feel like leveling my Night Elf while watching Suits with my wife is a waste of time that I could be using to make something really cool.

When you are depressed, please try seeing a professional if you have the time/money/insurance coverage.

We've made a condition that is largely out of your control a taboo and I don't know why. It's ok to want to be functional, and people can help without pretending like your depression/any other condition isn't real.

"We've made a condition that is largely out of your control a taboo and I don't know why."

The reason "why" is (I suspect) because the people who don't understand depression think that it's not out of one's control. Thus, since they don't experience the effects of depression, they insist that people with depression will be magically cured if they just tried to be happy.

This approach to curing depression - much like trying to fix a severed limb by pretending it's still there - is almost always destined to fail. When it does inevitably fail, the non-depressed people - still failing to understand depression - resort to blaming the depressed people for being depressed.

It's very unsurprising, after all, much like how it's unsurprising for a physically-healthy person to take for granted the ability to use stairs, or how it's very unsurprising for right-handed UX designers to assume that users are right-handed (I'm looking at all y'all Android designers...), or how it's very unsurprising for developers to brush aside bugs with their software because it "works fine on my machine, so you're obviously just doing it wrong; RTFM".

No, I already Read The Fucking Manual™; you just suck at comprehending that your exact situation is not everyone else's.

> how it's unsurprising for a physically-healthy person to take for granted the ability to use stairs

I broke my arm a year ago and I was surprised to see how much rote behavior I relied on using my left hand for! It was pretty enlightening and I try to think about what I take for granted from time to time.

I had a similar experience when I tore my ACL; I still don't really feel comfortable going down stairs (up is fine for some reason) even after a very successful surgery.

> We've made a condition that is largely out of your control a taboo and I don't know why.

It says a lot about how humane the society we live in really is.

Friends have worked for me[1]. I've tried travelling, running, working, drinking, innumerable distractions. But having friends who can spot when I'm falling and reach out, because I'll never ask for their help, has been invaluable.

[1] http://hybridlogic.co.uk/2015/11/the-well/

You're a lucky human

I tell myself that every time. Without them I would be lost, so I try and make it up to them in the periods I can.

I agree with this 100%. I find though, that the crippling part of the worst bouts of depression can be the inability to get up and make something. The impetus to create - usually strong - disappears.

My strategy in those situations is to get out my phone, set a timer and say: "I'm going to work on x for five minutes, if I still feel crappy after five minutes I'll stop." That mental bargaining is bizarre in that I know its irrational but it always works, five minutes is enough for me to get enough 'creative inertia'.

Making things isn't a panacea for me, when I'm done working I'll still sometimes feel less than great, but it always helps.

I've had a similar experience in that getting started is a large barrier. I'd like to see an article that bridges the gap between saying, "just do it," and the understanding that someone who is depressed does not want to do anything.

I respond best to very specific instructions that don't require choices on my behalf. For example, "do something active," won't move me. Instead I need, "put on running shoes, go outside, run around the house three times." It's a silly example, but the point is that I won't "do something active" but I will "put on running shoes, ...".

I can fully understand that - I occasionally wind up asking other people to tell me to do specific small things and it can help a lot with just getting through the day.

> The whole world deserves to experience what it feels like to be in your present moment.

I'm glad the author found something that helped him through depression. Unfortunately this is not a silver bullet. It won't work for everyone, or even every time depression hits.

There are many different activities you can try to help battle depression, and they are definitely helpful, and creating things is one of them. But they'll all fail without a key ingredient: realizing that you have to just do whatever you have to do, simply because it's the right thing to do, regardless of your emotions, or how intense they are, or lack of them.

If you live by that philosophy, you'll find yourself doing all the right things, and for all the right reasons, and you may not ever get out of depression, but it won't be crippling anymore.

A major difficulty with carrying this out as a person in tech though is that we're inherently a little more existential and philosophical than others because of the nature of programming being very intertwined with philosophy, and we get paid more generally which means we usually have more time to think too. Combine these with modern philosophy, and you usually have programmers who see no real value in life other than to enjoy it and have a good time (which explains why we love alcohol and sugary drinks like Red Bull so much), and when that good feeling runs out, life feels pointless and empty for us, because we can't find any motivation.

That also explains why there's a steady stream of philosophical and motivational posts on HN's front page. Because usually that good feeling that programming gives you doesn't last forever, so we try to look for explanations, or we try to look for other motivators. It also explains why we keep coming back to exciting topics on here, like bitcoin and the newest programming languages or tutorials on Haskell monads (which nobody can ever understand even though we know we should, so the closer we think we get, the more excited we are).

I don't have numbers on how many programmers are turning to religion, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was growing too, because we're looking for some motivation to keep us moving forward after the excitement runs out (and it always does, and never lasts very long).

I totally relate to the above, the purpose, the drive, it's there until you finish the project or your stuck doing the last 20% which ends up being half the work. You stop and you think why am I doing this, am I just building tools to build them. Start to feel like your grasping for nothing. Then you burn out, go do something crazy for 1-2 weeks come back and like yeah lets start a new project! haha

> realizing that you have to just do whatever you have to do, simply because it's the right thing to do, regardless of your emotions, or how intense they are, or lack of them.

Right, but how do you figure out what the "right thing to do" is? Especially if you ignore emotional response as a guide?

Well that's the point of philosophy, isn't it? To figure out what we're supposed to do. For some people, just living life going through the motions is enough, and they never stop and ask this question. Other people keep bouncing from philosophy to philosophy, or religion to religion, looking for something that fits. Some of those people find something that works, and stick with it. And of course others just kill themselves because they never can figure out an answer that satisfies them, so life seems infinitely meaningless and they see no reason to keep going.

To me, this comes across equivalently to "If you're depressed, start being happy and productive". It ain't like there's an on/off switch in my brain labelled "start being a productive member of society".

I'm not sure if I'd call what I experience "depression" (a doubt that makes me suspect it might very well be actual depression, but I know better than to pull a Freud and try a self-diagnosis), but whatever it is, it boils down to a finite state machine where the only transitions are "feel worthless for being unproductive" and "be unproductive because you're worthless". There ain't any breaking out of that sort of loop, at least not easily.

(Especially!) if your government doesn't give you access to a therapist or if you don't want to suffer side-effects due to anti-depressants, then do :

1. Mindful meditation [free] -> Daily practice (30+ minutes)

John Kabat-Zinn [0] masters the link between science and meditation and has published very valuable books (including guided/audio meditation exercises) [1]. There are a couple of scientific studies which prove effectiveness [2] [3].

2. LSD [$5-10/dose + $25/multi-use test kit] -> One-time experience (every 6 months max.)

LSD however requires one to literally read/understand/know everything about the substance before applying it (minimum literature: "The psychedelic explorer's guide" by Fadiman). Also, order a test kit and test before you ingest. Certain "edge cases"/people should not try it and educating yourself about everything will allow you to decide if it's a good idea in your case or not. In addition, you may be able to access your spiritual dimension, which increases quality of life even further (it is less immediate with meditation).

You may combine micro-dosing LSD with meditation for accessing the meditative state easier (it's quite a challenge for depressed people).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Kabat-Zinn

[1] https://thepiratebay.org/torrent/4180277/Mindful_Way_Through...

[2] http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/01/eight-weeks-to...

[3] http://www.vox.com/2015/8/27/9214697/meditation-brain-neuros...

There is good reason to be cautious with meditation while depressed. Meditation helps people get some distance from their emotional reactions - but depressed people are often already _unhealthily_ dissociated from their emotional state, and mediation may exacerbate that rather than repair it.

I'm with you on the LSD thing, though.


Meditation becomes rather unrealistic once your depression is past the "moderate" level and has become "clinic" (strong), in which case either anti-depressants (mostly with side-effects) or a well researched and full-blown LSD experience can "jumpstart" your brain again (and therewith enable you to start practicing meditation which then helps you avoid falling back into strong depression).

IME, it's hard to do anything when you're depressed. When I was seriously depressed, I couldn't write code :(

Its my favorite hobby, I love creating things, but I often couldn't bring myself to open the text editor or even open my laptop. When I did, I was constantly distracted.

Honestly, I still love to code but I'm yet to find the same gusto even still, when I'm markedly better but not feeling as secure as I was before.

I don't know how writers and other creatives can pull it off when they're depressed, I know I'm much better at it when I'm feeling stable.

Ask HN: how have ya'll delt with depression, other than psychoactive drugs?

For me, I trick my brain with indirection.

When I'm just sitting around saying "am I happy yet?", I never am. It just reinforces the depression by reminding me of the challenges. Happiness, in my experience, is the sort of thing that I can't usually produce on demand.

But I can set yourself up for success. I ask myself what tends to make me happy, and then I make the hard decision to legitimately engage with it: I challenge myself to be swept up in the moment, even though it really seems like I won't be.

For example, I generally find happiness by making progress on the things I'm invested in. But, even though I am invested in being happy, I can't just dive into coding and expect it to work, because coding isn't actually what makes me happy: coding helps me accomplish things I care about, and that makes me happy.

So, first, I find a self-contained goal, like "I'm gonna work on this really cool project because it's really cool", or "I'm going to make progress in this video game because it challenges me to think in new ways". Fulfilling this goal for its own sake, because I'm legitimately invested in it, is what makes me happy. In order to succeed at happiness, I carefully choose a different target, and focus on it instead.

That's what's been working for me recently, anyway.

I have been struggling for 10 years and honestly have no answer for this. So if someone honestly could share some insight, I would be greatly appreciated. I can't rely on weed for temporary happiness most of my life.

When I'm feeling depressed, the last thing I want to do is jump up, and start working on something. This sounds like advice written by someone who has never been depressed. Like a skinny dude, telling a fat guy to stop eating.

Ooof. Like many of the previous comments, this "solve depression with creativity" isn't for all.

I'm recovering from 2 years of clinical depression, and lemme tell you, trying to write songs while you doubt every single goddamned thought, bone, and instinct in you is a bad idea.

Creativity requires a modicum of self-trust and curiosity. Major depression is so mentally engulfing that there's no room for those two things.

Actually, when you are depressed you should seek some help. First.

Then we can talk.

As someone who was in OP's shoes literally, ( my 1st job was a 4 month contract with an option to extend, which never happened) you tend to shut out people. It just happens. I can't explain it why but it does. I consider myself as a social person who can't live without friends, but i ended up just sitting in my room. When i graduated and while i was working i could never imagine me not going to gym but guess what, i hated going to gym. Heck i stopped going to gym even though i was sitting at home all day. I can't explain why it happens but it does.

One of the core symptoms/phenomena of major depression is anhedonia - the inability to experience pleasure.

It’s very difficult to imagine what that would be like - until you experience it. Hope you’ll seek out some effective help. It’s hard to dig out all by oneself.

Have you ever tried to seek help when you were depressed? This can be very depressing by itself.

You should read this article and discussion. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13164925

"Sane Thinking about Mental Health Issues" - it discusses the phenomenon where in some cultures 'getting professional help' before reaching out to friends or family is absolutely necessary, and that 'abnormal' mental health related feelings should not be shared or discussed.

Your comment reminded me of that attitude. Maybe it would be enlightening for you to read about other perspectives

But in order to seek help, I have to talk

So I texted this link to my mom and told her to read the comments, she's struggled with depression her whole life, as have I, but thought her experience and response might be insightful or interesting to some: (She's 60, single, of Christian faith, and just got back from a year in Kenya/Madagascar a few months ago. Last year, she quit her stressful job as CFO of a construction company in Cleveland, Ohio and moved to Nirobi to volunteer in an orphanage. After about 7 months the foundation who runs the project heard of her accounting experience, and offered her a volunteer position setting up the financial system for a new clinic in Madagascar being built by the Freedom from Fistula foundation, which she took. She's back in Cleveland now, but still remotely assisting in the payroll and accounting as they transition to local Madagascar permanent employees handling the finances. She just started a new position with a different local Cleveland construction company as she plans/saves for retirement. Her new position is much less stressful, according to her mainly due to the respect and treatment from the owner which she was not afforded from her previous employer)

Her response: [Wow. I didn't read the article either but the comments are really insightful. There is no "right" answer for everyone, but it's reassuring to read that people who are susceptible to depression can acknowledge it, find ways to fight it, and live well in spite of it. I think that's much healthier than looking for a 'cure'. I believe that I will always be the type of person who struggles with depression, but over the years God has given me the coping skills to have a full and joyful life as who He created me to be, not who other people think I should be. Does that make sense?]

Note that I am not advocating nor denouncing a faith based approach here, but as many here have recommended, I think openness to complete lifestyle changes is something to seriously consider for those struggling.

As always, thanks for keeping these discussions civil, insightful and constructive!

Fascinating how depression is one of the hottest topics in this community. Are hackers particularly vulnerable to it? Or just particularly aware? Or is it simply one of the next big issues entering the public mind?

It touches each of us or someone near us:

"In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. ...6.7% of U.S. adults."


When selecting the thing to make, please avoid the child option. Making a kid to cure your depression is not a good idea.

I have decades of experience with depression. Two insights have helped greatly. One was noticing how I'm typically either on an upward emotional spiral, or a downward emotional spiral. Maybe that's because I'm bipolar. Anyway, as the article argues, I've found that it helps to make things. Or more generally, to accomplish things. That's often enough to put me back on an upward spiral.

In saying "accomplish things", I'm not focusing on the issue(s)/problem(s)/etc that triggered the downward spiral. Those are often too difficult. Rather, I find it useful to accomplish something that's easy, and enjoyable. Sometimes that does involve making something, manually. Cooking. Repairing stuff. Whatever.

The other insight is that emotions reflect what I'm thinking about. Part of a downward spiral is thinking about what went wrong, how I screwed up, etc. And also, thinking about all the previous times I've failed, what's wrong with me, and how it's hopeless.

So I've trained myself to notice when I'm doing that. And now, that awareness always brings a smile to my face. Because it's funny how someone would get into such a stupid loop. Often there are epithets that come with that, classics involving Jesus, chain-link fences, and razor wire ;)

next post in series:

When You Break Your Leg, Walk It Off

I'd like to encourage anyone feeling depressed to take a good, hard look at their diet and to consider the possibility that they lack some essential nutrients.

I'm not saying that a poor diet or lack of nutrients will necessarily be the only or even the main cause of depression, but these factors could have an impact (sometimes a profound impact) on the severity or frequency of depression.

For most of my life I've had a pretty poor diet, and while I knew diet could affect one's mood, I really didn't realize how profound an effect it could have until poor health recently forced me to make drastic changes in my diet and to consider and study the potential effects of diet on mental and physical health.

What I learned was that many, many nutrient deficiencies could have very severe consequences on one's mental (not to mention physical) health -- including depression, dementia, and even death. Symptoms of a nutrient deficiency are not always obvious, and some of them take a long time to manifest -- so long that they kind of sneak up on you and you could almost feel like what you're experiencing is "normal" or just the way you are (ie. depressed, just because you have a negative outlook on life).

Once I improved my diet and started taking supplements for essential nutrients which my diet still lacked, I felt so much better, and have had much more energy than I'm used to, don't need as much sleep, and my mood and motivation have dramatically improved.

I now firmly believe that many people who suffer mental issues, including depression, may be malnourished or nutritionally deficient in some way. Taking one's diet seriously, reading up on it, and improving it could really change your life.

While I believe depression has biological contributors, it's amazing how much learning techniques to combat the mental spiral can do to help avoid depression, along with the "maintenance" of proper sleep, food, and exercise. It seems strange that learning "thinking techniques" can have such an impact on "chemical imbalance," but in my experience, anyway, practicing these techniques works better than drugs do for affecting chemically-connected depression, though that may strike you as controversial. Two things that have been helpful to me are Dr. David Burns's book Feeling Good (https://feelinggood.com/books/) and Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication methods: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmHVrkdzr8A.

To all the people who are posting "if you are sad" answers, you're wrong, and woefully uninformed. Depression is not sadness. I'm going to repeat this, depression is not sadness. The article is describing a component of cognitive behavioral therapy. Your "opinions" are ignorant, please stop.

There should be some distinction made between "I'm sad" and "I'm clinically depressed".

I've had first hand experience where making something or doing something makes me less sad. I've never been clinically depressed and those who are sometimes can't get out of bed. Making something might not be solution for someone who is clinically depressed.

I'm not sure whether if he experienced a true depression but this article doesn't give any answers. Plus, it can be pretty harmful for those who don't have any 'loved ones'. I'm a depressed student who don't have any friends nor family to talk with. This article make me think I don't have any chances. Anyway, it could help some.

The accuracy of this struck a chord; when I was at my lowest point during depression one of the worst symptoms was that I no longer enjoyed what I thought I liked (making things, in my case particularly with tech).

What helped me slowly find my way out of that place was forcing myself to do those things regardless of whether I was perceiving enjoyment anymore + taking on a new hobby (coincidentally music). It took a lot of time but the things that made me enjoy it in the first place started to become more clear and I got over that slump, with a new interest to show for it.

The depression certainly hasn't disappeared completely but the fear of losing passion for certain things is more manageable given that I've gotten it back before. Not to minimize the negative impact of depression but the understanding of that fear has often pushed me harder towards progress than I would have pushed myself under normal circumstances.

Might not be the standard experience but this post still this resonated with me.

Depression is nature and unescapable, you just have to bare it and build endurance to lower the threshold of the stimulus that trigger it. It needs to be running simultaneously with your other natural brain activities.

In 2011, I found a job of my dreams, but it ended in 2012, since then I began to took jobs that I'm not comfortable and I do not like just to provide for my family, it was hard and sad, and it lasted from 2012 to 2016. Now I'm happy I have a new job that I'm very comfortable with.

Depression is not new to me, I've experienced it since childhood, teenage period and throughout college. There's no OFF switch for it, the only way to turn it off is build strength and endurance for it, sooner or later it it will attack again, but it would be too weak to affect you.


A huge part of the problem is we think we need to be happy/succesfull/whatever and any discomfort/pain is a existential problem.

It's not. It's life. It's got ups and downs. Don't let the downs get you too down[]. Find joy when you can.

[] This doesn't mean you have to just "be happy". But rather, recognize there is a problem and actively try to get help so next time you are more resilient.

Yeah, just make something. And while you're at it, stop being so sad. Be awesome instead.

When you're depressed find something you are truly enjoying. Sometimes it can be a hobby like it was in the author's case. Depression is often caused by forcing ourselves into doing something that we don't like. Up to the point where we start forgetting what we like at all. Question "what do I like?" stops having not just clear answer -- any answer at all! That's why strong and stubborn people can be more susceptible to depression -- they can be exceptionally good at doing something they don't enjoy. If you find yourself depressed -- find something that you enjoy. Honestly, truly and deeply.

Here's a popular track on his prolific SoundCloud account: https://soundcloud.com/treblesandblues/clear-skies-ahead

1986 - I feel sad. Well that's life.

2016 - I feel sad. It must be that I'm depressed, let me read more about depression so I'll know even how I fail in life, because everyone around me on social media is so much successful and happy.

2016 - I feel sad. There's a constant litany in the back of my head saying, "Maybe I should just die. If I was dead I wouldn't have to go to work. Can I just go back to sleep? Sleeping is nice. Man, what if got hit by a car? Then I'd be dead but it wouldn't be my fault. Then no one would be disappointed in me that I failed at life and killed myself. Oh I'm driving over a bridge, what would happen if I just yanked the wheel to the right really hard? I'm depressed, my meds aren't working as well as they worked earlier in the year. I need to see my doctor. That means making an appointment. I can't even get out of the bed though. Maybe I'll manage to call tomorrow. Maybe I'll die in my sleep."

This is unfair. It's more like:

1986 - I feel sad. Well that's life. Kills self six weeks later

In other words, it's not that people today are getting treatment for things that people in the past just knew how to live with; people today are getting treatment for things that people in the past died from. People drank themselves to death, or ODed on drugs, or put a rope around their neck, all because they couldn't calm the storm raging inside their head.

What bullshit (the "I feel sad. Well that's life. Kills.. " triggered me :))

Feeling sad is part of life. Dealing with it requires practice. I think people did it a lot better before our age of needing to be happy all the time or worry something was wrong with us.

I don't really grasp how people who have only ever felt sad and have not experienced clinical depression are so quick to assume that only the former exists. Like, if you'd only ever had normal headaches and met someone with cluster headaches, would you just insist to them that their head just hurts and they need to deal with it?

Sorry my comment comes off as "just feel better".

But, as someone who was actually depressed and that due to things that in retrospect don't really matter, I do think that if I had been more resilient I would have had an easier time.

Precisely, developing coping mechanisms to deal with sadness is crucial from childhood on without suppressing it with pills and/or stimulants (and yes modern day Internet + Social media is just that). No wonder there's more people "depressed" then ever.

One of the things that helped me was teaching myself a new skill. Finishing a Udemy course and knowing that I have a new (and marketable) skill is a great feeling that encourages me to find projects to apply it towards.

When you are depressed

1. talk to people who care about you - face to face at every meal if possible but at least at every lunch if not. Be around other people and interact with them. Join communities where performance is not needed but people are thankful if you just show up.

2. do small tiny things. Eg: buy and cook eggs and eat them, clean your apartment. As you do slightly bigger things, do things for other people. Send $10 to a charity online or to a watsi patient.

Its a constant struggle and its hard as hell. But small tiny steps and support from others help a lot.

Two things I've noticed that are surprisingly small but significant:

- leaving your home - talk to people

They switch your mind off some inner loop. As an ex loner that loop was my favorite mode, but abused you end up grumpy, acid, somehow depressed.

Just being on the move changes that. And talking to people even short polite chit chat will feed your brain with .. I don't know .. negative entropy ? external energy that refull your mind in more efficient ways that most your lonely activities, even those you love (music, painting, reading, programming).

This seems like good advice, but it's based on one example. If you want depression advice from a psychiatrist who's reviewed the academic literature on depression, try Things That Sometimes Help If You Have Depression from Slate Star Codex: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/06/16/things-that-sometimes-h...

I wonder how much depression is mislabeled. When you are sad, it's a natural state. It's not something that you're supposed to medicate. What you need is healthy human relationships and a sense of meaning and importance.

I see a strong incentive to mislabel sadness as depression, as it releases the society and the individuals living in that society from the responsibility of actually taking care of people who aren't doing so well socially.

When you are depressed seek HELP. Help from people qualified to provide it first. None of the internet advice, friends, family etc. are alternative to this HELP.

Bring nature to your own place, Thats what helps me. I do gardening to help myself.

Just seeing them growing everyday, Give me some kinda of hope and makes me feel i'm not alone.

Its so easy to start with and so rewarding, Just get some pots and soil and start planting your own vegetable or flowers! I promise you'll be happiest person on earth when your chilli fruits!

You can try to make your own coffee/tobacco or medicinal herb if you have enough space!

Heh. That's fine until the plants die :P Living things can be tricky sometimes.

It's good advice in general though. Having plants that depend on you to do something - even if that something is so simple as watering them - can mean the different between doing nothing on a day and doing one useful thing. And perhaps that one useful thing is enough to not have to write that day off as useless.

Great insight. I never thought of it this way. Perhaps this is the best justification for art education. It is not about producing beautiful objects. Perhaps it is about our mental health. More like meditation. It is the process that gives us value, regardless of whether other people are willing to pay for the art that we make.

As someone who started out messing around with trackers in like '98 with FastTracker 2, and who hasn't made anything I would call a "real song" to this day, but spend hundreds and thousands of hours on it, I can absolutely confirm. I wrote lyrics that were decidedly not about making beatiful objects.. more like a process to clean myself, which produced dirty rags. The really mean and ugly ones I deleted after I had outgrown them, the rest I still love dearly even as they make me cringe from tip to toe haha. Art is a bit like dancing, it's awesome when people share it, but it would be tragic if they never did it just for themselves.

A little bit of smile, a little bit of patience, and a little bit of self-compassion brighten me up.

I have a theory about why some people create art.

When you're happy and things are going well, there's no need for any external purpose for your life because living and experiencing it are their own purpose.

When things are going badly and you aren't happy, then you tend to start looking for ways to justify your existence, like maybe your life kind of sucks but it still has some higher-level meaning because you can still make something beautiful or that makes other people's lives better. I think a lot of good art came about in this way, and I think it's usually good for the creator of the art as well as the rest of us who are enjoying the things they created.

Helping people directly rather than through art is another thing that a person might do, but that's harder, especially when you're going through hard times yourself.

Of course it is quite possible to be prevented from creating art by depression, in which case other ways of dealing with it (such as seeking professional help) may be in order.

Bacteria in the gut can also influence depression: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4662178/

This sounds alarmingly like "don't be a baby and just get over it".

I feel good for the author that he found a way to battle his depression, but it's more of a luck thing, not a repeatable treatment.

What about being depressed that you can never be with any of the most beautiful women, whose model photos consume you when you open Instagram

When you are depressed your reward seeking behavior (dopamine) basically shuts down so it's really hard to get excited and do something.

> Talk to your loved ones. Don’t be afraid of judgment. You’ve already encountered the worst of it: your own self-criticisms.

so true man, so true

Realizing that you are feeling depressed and that you don't have to feel that way is the first step. Eventually you learn to recognize it and analyze the underlying cause. For me it's usually just something physiological that's been thrown off. Eating, sleeping, etc. However, coding is always a sure fire way to clear the mind. I've found that I am always happy when caught up in coding something.

To me it seems like depression is a mindset issue.

After all if depression was caused by external factors only wouldn't all poor people, ugly people, disabled people be depressed? Didn't the majority of the world always live in poverty? How would we have come so far if most people were depressed?

So the question is how can you truly adopt a positive mindset once you got a negative one? Doesn't that feel like self-deception?

My question to you is, how can you change your unconscious thoughts and behaviors?

Think of this in relation to thought crime, from 1984 by George Orwell. You say to yourself, "Okay, I am depressed. I have thoughts of suicide and in general, I am miserable 24/7. Let's stop"

What do you do when, untriggered, a mistake from your past or even a happy memory of what once was comes to the front of your mind and you begin to dwell on it?

Do you tell yourself "Okay, stop thinking about this now"?

It doesn't really work like that, especially when you don't have someone to talk to.

I've struggled with these things for some time, largely alone. For me and a lot of people I've come across, depression isn't just sadness, or immense sadeness.

Depression is hopelessness, dread, [lots of] anxiety, self loathing and loneliness.

Depression is wanting so badly for someone to help but the few that are willing can't since you're unable to articulate what you need because you don't even know.

Depression makes you feel isolated and different from all of the people around you, forces you to be withdrawn. You want to break out so badly but you can't, and at worst people (friends and strangers alike) actively avoid you because you seem so off. Conversations are ended abruptly, odd looks are given, and that just adds to all the stress.

Happiness (perception of success) is usually relative. We haven't evolved to a point (culturally at least) where life isn't a zero sum game.

So, when exposed to others successes, esp in areas we lack, all the time, we start to think something is wrogn with us.

There was a post here with someone recommending LSD, just curious what happened to it.

Did the mods delete it or did the user?

Thanks, just missed it I guess.

I've found DIY restoration and home improvement therapeutic. It's time consuming but rewarding.

We are all slaves to dopamine. The higher the karma a user on HN has, the more enslaved he or she probably is ;)

More seriously, making things and having a sense of accomplishment was one of the dopamine-triggers I used in my new system for breaking bad habits: https://repla.xyz/

"When you can't make yourself do anything, do this thing that we recommend."

I don't feel like it

For me making something is like a drug. I have a lot of fun working on it and even immersing myself but after a while the fun runs out. If I finish what I am working on I feel awesome then almost immediately sad. Then I have to find something else.

Just make sure not to share what you made on hackernews

I think being able to draw would really make me happy but I just can't make it through those countless hours of deliberate practice I would need to put in before I can produce any worthwhile art.

I've got talent w.r.t drawing. Never seriously practiced it. But, I've always been the "best" and have sold some skteches/paintings on etsy on the side.

So two things: 1. There are lots of areas where I suck: I just happened to get lucky with one thing. The point is I don't focus on what I lack, rather I focus on what I've got.

2. Ekh. What is worthwhile art? Anyone who seems my stuff at home is amazed. It's a great ego boost. But, I'm not Picasso. So really what's worthwhile to you? An ego boost? Maybe there are better ways to get it?

Instead of

That's crazy talk. How good would you have to be before your work was "worthwhile" enough to make you happy?

It would just have to not look ridiculous.

It doesn't take long at all to teach the basic tricks of how to draw. Maybe find a short course of evening classes at your local college? And have fun :)

Edit: I hope that doesn't sound patronising, I am assuming you are a beginner but of course you might just be someone with impossibly high standards

Or we can just automate more. The more automation, the more time to explore our inner self. I must say, we work hard to avoid all kind of depression, not to suffer from it.

Eckhart Tolle Force is strong with this one

And what do you do when you are depressed because you are banned from making something you love most?

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