Life may not be worth living, but there's no reason to feel bad about it. Our resident self-help guru shows you how to stay chipper when the chips are down.
There's an old saying among pessimistic bears: "If life hands you salmon, make salmonella."
What does that mean to you?
To me, I guess it means that even though most of us live in what the rest of the world would consider extreme luxury, we still find ways to complain about our luck. Take one of my clients, Sherry (not her real name). She's 28, has a good job, a healthy husband and two children with no obvious disfigurements. Sherry works as a journalist and aspires to be a novelist. She is very beautiful. Yet, Sherry spends most of her time feeling low. She is beginning to struggle with getting out of bed in the morning. She wonders if she will ever be famous, and then punishes herself for being so vacuous. After watching many television programs and perusing many books on the subject, Sherry has decided that she's depressed.
This is why, in our sessions together, I frequently try to smother Sherry.
Now, there's no need to call the authorities on me. The pillow I use is quite soft and we have worked out a "safe signal" in advance (her arms going limp). This is a type of therapy I use with many of my depressed clients, and it tends to work. As an example, here is a transcription of my most recent session with Sherry (again, fake name used to protect the client):
SHERRY: Hello, Doctor.
ME: Thank you for calling me that, Mrs. Crenshaw.
SHERRY: Please, call me Terry.
ME: Okay, Terry. Lie down.
ME: All right, now, Mrs. Crenshaw... I mean, Terry. Terry Crenshaw. How are you feeling today?
SHERRY: Well, I feel a little depressed...
Sudden sounds of struggle, grunting, limbs flailing and slapping.Quiet for a moment.Loud intake of breath, then panting.
ME: So, how do you feel now, Terry?
SHERRY: I'm... out of breath. A little sick.
ME: I see. And during our encounter? While I was smothering you? How did you feel then?
SHERRY: I felt... scared. Panicked.
ME: But not depressed?
SHERRY: I guess not.
ME: Very good. Come back tomorrow and wear that same blouse.
As you can see, when forced to fight for her very survival, Sherry did not have time to be depressed. I think this is very telling, and what it tells us is that "depression" is a malady unique to the world of leisure. Only those with food in their bellies and roofs over their heads have time to be depressed. It is a disease of the entitled, this depression, a fop's disorder. But it CAN be overcome. Let me give you another example.
I have twenty or thirty cats. They've all been neutered, declawed, and are not allowed outside of my apartment. Now, a few years ago, one of them, Tuffy (fake name used to protect the cat), began exhibiting symptoms of depression – listlessness, lack of appetite, a sudden curiosity about fringe religions – and so I took him to the vet. Here is a transcription of our encounter:
ME: Hello, Doctor.
VET: WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS ANIMAL?
ME: He's depressed, aren't you Fluffy?
VET: DO YOU PLAY WITH THIS ANIMAL?
ME: Well, no, not really. You mean, like, scrabble or soccer or something?
VET: NO! THIS CAT IS DEPRESSED BECAUSE EVERYTHING HAS BEEN PROVIDED FOR IT! YOU MUST ENGAGE IT WITH FEATHERS AND JINGLY BALLS! YOU MUST SIMULATE THE HUNT!
ME: Oh, I get it. Since Fluffy is unable to procreate or kill its own food, I should simulate that experience for him so that he doesn't feel he has no purpose.
VET: YES, VERY GOOD. COME BACK TOMORROW AND WEAR THAT SAME BLOUSE!
I should have warned you that my vet shouts a lot. Anyway, I don't mind, because I use a lot of his great ideas with my clients. And what he said about my cat's depression seemed to apply to them as well. Although my depressed clients should feel grateful for living in a land of plenty, their good fortune often leaves them feeling neutered and declawed, just as my cat feels and literally is.
Simulating the hunt, approximating the basic struggles of being human – this is the true solution to depression. It's not in a pill or any ancient practice – it's in play. Just like when I tried to smother Sherry and a few other non-clients in another state a few years ago. We were just playing!
Trust me, if you're feeling down in the dumps, just play! Go for a run. Not because the newspaper says you should do it three to five times a week, but because there's a GIANT MONSTER CHASING YOU! If you don't have an active imagination, just hire a giant monster – whatever it takes! Pretend to worship the moon, wrestle with your husband for dessert, acquire diabetes and hide your insulin – do what it takes to get that play session going! Just do it! Simulate the hunt! I guarantee that you'll feel your depression begin to slip away immediately.
And if none of that works, just remember those pessimistic bears. What did they do with all that salmonella they made? Could it be in your refrigerator? Maybe it's already in your tummy! Not feeling so depressed now, are you? More like frightened and a little nauseous, huh?
Chad Fifer's first self-help piece can be read here. His second is here.
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