For those of you who might have missed it, recent research has debunked the idea that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. Instead, it’s caused by a variety of factors: genetics, stress, trauma, your brain just being bad at regulating emotions, even diet.
My title is a bit of a misnomer – depression isn’t fake but it’s not simplistic as I used to think. Adding more serotonin to my grey matter won’t necessarily fix things. (But I will be continuing to get little treats to boost my serotonin).
However, this research does support my own personal, not based in any real data, probably only relevant to me, theory that approximately 80% of my depression is circumstantial. Meaning that if I can change my situation, I can change how I feel.
I’ve noticed that the times in my life that I’ve felt the most depressed have also been the most isolated. My first year of college was the worst- I felt utterly adrift. Alone in a new city where I didn’t know anyone, suddenly thrust into the nascent beginnings of semi-adult life with little preparation. I suddenly had so much freedom, but I had never felt so lonely in my entire life.
Second up was my junior year of college, when I moved off campus. My best friend also studied abroad that year, I spent an abominable amount of time studying for the LSAT, and I off and on again dated a man who in retrospect simply did not like me at all.
Lastly, were my first few months in DC. I only knew a couple of people who all already had their own lives here. It would take time for me to build my own community, my little life raft of people.
I don’t think my depression can be cured but I now know that there are many things that shrink a mammoth sadness into something you can scoop into your pocket (even one of those tiny, utterly useless women’s pockets).
For me, and I think for many people, the most powerful antidote to that silly little mental illness is community. I truly believe that community care and love are innate to human nature. I won’t go into the Marxist and anthropological meanderings of why I believe this, but I do know that we feel better and *are better* when we are integrated into a network where we are given and where we can give to others.
Knowing that there are people who will show up for you and also having people to show up for is critical to happiness. Or at least critical to not wanting rot in your bed for days on end. I don’t think it’s as simple as having friends or having people to do things with. Rather, I think it’s about having a “web” where care and relationships are put first and intentionally cultivated.
For the philosophers out there – it’s sort of like care ethics for depression! (This is a really fun line of thinking if you know anything about ethics).
Anyways – the other secret to not being depressed is being unafraid to be cringe.
I’m totally serious. Being cringe is basically Prozac. Or Wellbutrin. (I was one of those insufferable people who refused to go on medication because I didn’t want to dull my *sparkle* so I’m not familiar with the most popular anti-depressants and I’m not in the mood to go down that internet rabbit hole).
You know how they say you have to heal your inner child? I think it’s equally important to heal your inner teenager. I’ve noticed that I’ve started circling back to some of my adolescent hobbies and interests: fantasy, greek mythology, marine biology, the art of pining, and wanting to be a whimsical nature witch on a commune in the woods.
I drifted away from some of those things because I felt like I needed to have mature interests like the stock market or jogging. There is also a deep element of cringe involved in being a grown adult giggling over a book about fairies.
But in reality – I’ve circled back to those interests because I genuinely love them. The more time and effort and adult money I invest in these so-called silly pursuits, the more happy and myself I feel.
Some examples of what this looks like:
- I don’t moralize the types of books I read. If you are reading for enjoyment – all that matter is that you’re enjoying it. Most of us probably will not become happier by reading Tolstoy.
- I try the types of things my teen self would probably think is really cool: acting classes, film photography, mushroom foraging (this is upcoming and highly anticipated), painting while listening to french music I don’t understand.
- I refuse to be embarrassed. Literally about anything. And you may think, oh that’s so easy Sydelle you’re incredibly cool and chic and effortless and never do anything embarrassing. Unfortunately – I am a person who somehow innately will often make the choice with the most potential for humiliation (I am a chronic double texter and in general someone who does not know how to take a hint). But I just push past the feeling of shame and in the meantime my friends enjoy a good giggle at my behavior.
So if you’re reading this and you struggle with depression, I invite you to be your cringiest self. I promise it will be the most fun you’ve ever had.