I can dream, but I’m stuck on the implementation phase!

Help me out of my depression! I want a great life but I'm afraid I'll never achieve it

Topics: Since You Asked, Psychology,

I can dream, but I'm stuck on the implementation phase! (Credit: Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I’m exhausted and desperate. All the time. You might think it wouldn’t be possible to feel such intense emotional states all the time, but that’s where I am. Because if exhaustion and despair are the lack of energy and hope, I’m at a big zero.

Cary, I’m a young(ish) adult who is unemployed (partly by choice) and chronically depressed. Before you tell me to go get some damned medication, I have. And I take it. And it does help because it hurts less when I take it. But it doesn’t fix the existential problem, which is a fancy way of saying I just don’t want to exist.

It’s not always like this. A month or so I thought of some life options that could fill me with energy and hope. Just THINKING about them helped. But now I’m having trouble following through. I’m scared that I’m going to sabotage myself again like I’ve been doing all my life — turning away from things I really want because I’m afraid I won’t get them or, worse, just unwilling to do anything serious to make them happen.

I don’t believe this can all be chemical. There’s something bigger at work here. I want to have a life. I want to have a fabulous life full of friends and creativity and work that I love. At times in my life, I’ve even had that, and I want it back so badly.

Why can’t I do something more toward achieving that besides writing you a letter? Why can’t I wake up in the morning and fill out a hundred job applications and network and do paperwork and all that horrible, soul-destroying stuff that actually makes things happen?

I’m blinking back tears as I write this letter. I doubt this is publishable, but any response from you would be greatly appreciated. You described your writing once as lyrical, and it is. It’s also strangely reassuring. I could use just a little reassurance right now.

Thanks. No seriously, thanks

Saboteur

Dear Saboteur,

I’m writing back to you primarily because of one thing I found interesting and hopeful in your letter.

You see, I am interested, as an amateur, in the science of depression. As someone who just recently fell into a rather bleak and desperate spell of depression, and sought medical help for it, I have more than a personal interest in it.

I get excited whenever I see a glimmer of hope.



So when you say, “I thought of some life options that could fill me with energy and hope. Just THINKING about them helped,” I get excited. I also get excited when you describe the kind of life you want, and when you say that you have had this kind of life in the past.

So I’m going to suggest — and this may be way unscientific but I’m not claiming to be a scientist — that you repeat the action that made you feel better. In this case, it’s thinking about those life options. That made you feel better. Do more of that.

Plunge into that. Make that your lifeline for now. Do whatever it takes to magnify and enhance those thoughts. Draw them. Make cartoons of them. Write dialogue. Create characters who act out these life options. Make a collage. Find photos and artwork and articles that relate to these life options and tape them onto a big piece of paper. Visualize these life options. Just spend time thinking about them. Write about it. Talk about it. Make it real to yourself. Live there. Spend some time living in this new life. At least in your mind. It will cheer you up. You’ll enjoy it. There’s no law against it. It will help.

It might not cure your depression right away, but it will help. It will be a refuge.

Next: Definitely look into cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy is built on the very connection you discovered between thought and mood when you found that thinking certain things made you feel better.

You also discovered the converse of that — you saw how your negative thoughts can affect you.

It looks like what you did was move prematurely from the wonderful, life-affirming effect of thinking these thoughts to the deadening, discouraging effect of implementation failure. You devalued these thoughts by moving immediately to the implementation phase, where you could predictably fail.

So spend more time developing your vision of where you want to be. You don’t have to implement right away. Strengthen your vision. If it seems silly, think of it as preparation. Think of it as research and refinement. Acquire information. Become an expert. But don’t set yourself up for failure by going to the implementation phase too fast. Acquire tools and equipment. Fortify yourself. Do the actions that make you feel strong.

You also ask, “Why can’t I wake up in the morning and fill out a hundred job applications and network and do paperwork and all that horrible, soul-destroying stuff that actually makes things happen?” There is another body of psychological knowledge regarding motivation. I read a book about it once.  That book was for writers. It was called, “Motivate Your Writing!: Using Motivational Psychology to Energize Your Writing Life,” by Stephen P. Kelner Jr.

Though it was for writers, the nugget of truth I took from it was that where we find the motivation to do things is in our emotional makeup, not necessarily in our aspirations. I took the little test that was in the book and actually got some surprises, so I’d recommend that book even to somebody who isn’t trying to write, but just trying to get motivated to do something.

Also, and perhaps more important, because what you really need to do is apply what you’ve noticed about the connection between your thoughts and your mood, get that book, “Feeling Good,” by Dr. David Burns. And get yourself some cognitive therapy. If the person who prescribed you the medication will help you find a cognitive therapist, or if that person practices cognitive therapy, that would be great.

You obviously have found the key. The key is to change your thinking so instead of driving you into depression your thinking is driving you into happiness, joy, optimism and energy.

I know it sounds maybe too stupid and simple to be true. But that’s the obvious truth of it. It is pretty simple. Scientists have discovered that the repetition of certain negative thoughts leads to depression, and by altering that practice, a person can emerge from depression.

One might wonder how thinking can change mood. My layman’s assumption would be that since mood can be changed electrochemically, and because thought is an electrochemical action, that it’s not so surprising that thinking could alter mood.

On the other hand — and here’s where I part with people who say that thinking can make money appear in your pocket! — the connection between visualizing something and making it actually materialize seems more remote. What is the medium of connection between my thought and a pile of money? Maybe there is some unseen connection, but I find it a lot easier to understand how thinking could affect our mood than how thinking could affect our bank account.

And, as I say, what was so interesting and cool was that you discovered it, experimentally, empirically, on your own. You just didn’t have a program to back it up. Cognitive therapy is that program.

So get with it. You don’t have to go down that road. You don’t have to be depressed. You can be cured.

A complete cure might not be immediate. You might have lapses. But give it a shot. You don’t have to be depressed.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>