Hello everybody, welcome to episode 43 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino.
We’ve got an adult-sized question today, folks. Powerful stuff, important stuff. Stuff that I believe can help anyone. We’re going to talk about depression, and how we can use measurement to both identify it and recover it. Here’s today’s question.
QUESTION: “I was recently at a retreat for 30 days to deal with my depression. As it was also a rehab, I got quite envious of the alcoholics and narcotics there. Please note that I am in no way discounting their struggle, yet it seems to me that they have a clear cut measurement of their success: they either drink or do drugs or they do not. Based on this achievement, they receive 1 month, 1 year, 2 year medallions and so on. As someone who is dealing with depression, what do I count? What do I give myself medallions for? How can I really measure if my recovery is effective?”
The Ambiguity of a Depressed State
Man, is this ever a good question. I’m so appreciative of this question being sent in. It really does a good job of highlighting the ambiguity of depression, and I’m telling ya right now, if you ever wonder why mental health isn’t taken as seriously as many would like it to be.
It’s because of that ambiguity — that inability to measure it.
How Do We Measure Suffering?
Measurement has come up a lot lately. I know it’s been talked about in a few episodes, and it seems to me to be a more and more important tool in helping people identify and recover from their struggles for various reasons.
But let’s talk about how measurement plays a part when it comes to people like yourself and others in the retreat; so people suffering in very real ways as opposed to people who are just looking to make a few lifestyle changes.
People who depend on alcohol and narcotics to numb their pain aren’t very different from you or others who struggle with depression. As a matter of fact, the only difference that’s relevant to this conversation is how their pain is manifested. They’ve faced a lot of trauma just like you have, but due to different genetics or environments, their pain is lived our through alcohol or narcotics, both of which are very easy to identify.
Everyone can physically see someone take a swig of alcohol one time or a thousand times. Everyone can physically see the immediate affects of alcohol. Same goes for narcotics. There’s no hiding it; there’s nothing to wonder about. The evidence is clear, so few people, especially outsiders, choose to dig any further.
“That person drinks a lot. I see the effects. It’s the drinking that is causing their life to fall apart. If they stop drinking, they recover.” That’s the line of thinking.
The “Why” of Treatment
Needless to say, there’s still a “why” underneath, which is what the retreat would’ve helped these people if the counselors there were doing their jobs correctly.
But even if people with these addictions still struggle with the reasons for which they’re TEMPTED to drink or do drugs excessively, there’s inevitably some progress being made if, on the outside, they can see that their lives are changing through palpable ways, such as less consumption.
What’s up to you to figure out for yourself is how your depression manifests, if not through alcohol or narcotics — which, again, is something I hope the counselors at the retreat started to help you with.
We can touch upon it here, though. I think there are two comparisons for you to make, so listen up.
1. Depression: Before and After
The first comparison to pay attention to is how your depression effects things now vs. how things were like before you were depressed. If depression has been a lifelong struggle, this won’t be a very useful comparison, but that’s okay because the second comparison I’ll provide in a second will be plenty helpful.
Otherwise, if feeling depressed has NOT been a lifelong battle, hone in how things were different and more preferable before the depression set in. What things did you used to do that you would like to do now, but can’t muster up the strength to?
Depression is a slow moving thing whose effects are gradual and sometimes hard to see, but if you can get a clear look at the differences between now and then, things might become clearer. You might also ask a loved one to help you with this comparison, someone who has known you and seen you since before your depressed state.
The opinions of an outsider in situations like this can be super helpful.
2. Depression: Before and After
The second comparison to make, regardless of when your depression set in, is how your depression effects things now vs. how you’d like things to be.
This is basically you getting clear about what in your life is not working the way you want it to, and what changes you visualize happening for a life that you’re happier with.
Create a very specific vision for yourself maybe 6 months, 1 year, 5 years down the road. Do your best to get clear about how you want your life to be, or as many aspects of it as you can, and then work backwards to create steps you can take now to make it that way.
The visions you conjure up of a life that’s more desirable might crossover between the two comparisons. A future you want might include things that you used to have, or brand new things. Doesn’t really matter.
What does matter, and the point, is that someone addicted to alcohol or narcotics recognizes a better life as a life without alcohol or narcotics. So they create steps towards that and reward themselves based on those steps. Your means of change and rewarding yourself for change works the same way. Once you create a framework for how you want your life to be, you can reward yourself by taking steps towards changes that reflect that life.
Maybe you want to go out with your friends as much as you used to. Medallion for every time you initiate hanging out with them. Maybe you want to start helping others who are troubled. Medallion for every time you do volunteer work. And so it goes.
A Sense of Control…and Hope
This approach helps you regain a sense of control, and more importantly, a sense of hope. Mind you, just like those who are suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, you aren’t going to be void of struggle. Someone can be sober and the world can cheer them on, but they still might battle with destructive thoughts that make them want to drink.
Depending on the specifics of your depressed state of mind, these exterior changes you can make towards a more meaningful life can help a little or they can help a lot. A startling number of studies and research in recent years allude to the vast majority of depression being due to lifestyle rather than a chemical imbalance, so if you’re one of the many people who can be helped greatly by simply making a few, unexpected changes, this approach will likely work wonders for you.
Regardless, though, I do feel it’s important to handle your depression with both strategies like these AND ongoing consultation from a therapist.
All right, I’m going to wrap this episode up with another book recommendation.
One of the best books I’ve read dealing solely with being depressed — specifically, depression derived from lifestyle choices — is called Lost Connections by Johann Hari.
Unreal book that really flips depression on its side for those who thinks it’s some sort of untreatable life sentence. Definitely check the book out and prepare to be intrigued.
For now, thank you SO much for this question. It sure was important, and it sure was a privilege to answer; I appreciate your vulnerability.
For everyone else out there, you know how it goes: if you have a question of your own, something you’re struggling with that you’d like our help on, there’s zero shame in seeking help, so email us your question at email@example.com
We’ll do our best to help you out here on the show, and we’ll send you a free book from our collection if you’d like one.
Hope you enjoyed this one as much as I did, everyone. Really hope you’ll stop in for the next one. I’ll see ya there.