Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hacking Your Depression

Over the years, at various times, I've been diagnosed bipolar I, bipolar II, and have been seen for Major Depressive Episode. I've tried Prozac, Zoloft, Effexor, Pristiq, Serzone, Wellbutrin, Remeron, and lots of other antidepressants, with and without Abilify, with and without Lamictal (and Depakote), and for me (maybe not for you) the drugs have been of very little value, by and large. I've also tried talk therapy (and tried it and tried it, with about 15 different therapists over the years), with spotty results. And as I talk to more and more people, I find that others have had much the same "spotty experience" with drugs and therapy. It's hit or miss.

The single biggest thing I ever did that resulted in meaningful progress against depression was go off alcohol in September 2012. (For the whole gruesome story behind that, go here. Download the PDF and read my account at your leisure.) Tons of people had told me to give alcohol a break, but I ignored them for years, unconvinced abstinence could possibly make that much of a difference. As a drinker (of beer, in what I thought was moderation), I was utterly convinced that beer was the only non-placebo in my life that was doing anything worthwhile to tamp down the cacophony, the endless blare of bullshit that was driving me nuts.

But then I actually tried abstinence. (For ten days, at first. Then a month.) And much to my surprise, it made a difference.

Once I was free of alcohol, I found I could apply different strategies to my problems, "try on" new coping styles, if you will.

Slowly, over a period of months, I began to find things that worked for me. Some were things I learned in therapy, from an ex-Mayo organ transplant counselor who turned out to be a terrific resource. Others were things I learned from various books (like Steve Chandler's 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself). Still other techniques were tricks I taught myself.

Over time, I accumulated about three dozen specific techniques (some are like mantras; others are like little philosophy lessons; others are practical daily living techniques) that I found to be extremely powerful and effective methods of maintaining sanity and increasing my subjective sense of well-being. I decided to round up all of these techniques, and combine it with everything I know about recovery from depression, in a book called Hack Your Depression. (There's a picture of it on this page, above.)

If you know someone who's suffering from depression, I urge you to give that person a copy of Hack Your Depression. It picks up where drugs and therapy leave off. And it's not a rehash of feel-good platitudes (which don't work for me). This is a crash course in getting your life back.

The Table of Contents will give you some idea of what's in Hack Your Depression. But I urge you to sample some of the chapters. Take a look at any of the following, in any order.

The Introduction to Hack Your Depression explains why I wrote the book, what's in it, why you should care, and what your options are, if you're in psychological pain.

The Root of All Evil is a short discussion of what tends to cause anxiety and depression.

Reject False Schemas explains why you're programmed to feel bad and what to do about it.

Write Yourself an I.O.U. is an example of an anti-depression stratagem that has helped me by letting me get control over bad habits.

Tapping, EFT, and EMDR is a chapter about various weird-sounding techniques for dealing with trauma, and why (in certain cases) they work. It gives not only an overview of the methodologies, but a plausible neuroanatomic theory for why these things have actually cured certain people.

Tears for Fears is a short chapter on the healing power of crying and why everyone (not just professional actors) needs to develop the ability to cry more or less on demand.

Mind Over Matter is an appendix to Hack Your Depression that reviews a substantial number of well documented cases of people who've recovered from serious physical illness based on hypnotic suggestion, mindfulness techniques, placebo effect, and other effects whose mode of action is largely unknown but nevertheless imply that the mind is capable of amazing feats of healing.

As I emphasize in the introduction to the book, progress toward recovery from any mental affliction is invariably a matter of making many small steps in the right direction; it is rarely a matter of making a "breakthrough." The real breakthrough comes when you realize that, over time, the small steps you've made have put you on a new track. That's what this book is about.

For more info, please visit (and share the link with anyone who might benefit). Also consider adding your name to the HackYourDepression mailing list.

And if I can answer any questions, write me at kas.e.thomas (at Gmail).

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I want to thank the following tweeps, who retweeted me yesterday. Be sure to click into these profile pics (they're live links) and follow these fine folks on Twitter. They really do retweet!