I met my friend Janet, at the cafe yesterday morning and she told me about this article by Jonah Lehrer in the New York Times. You can see it here: Depression’s Upside
I’m still looking over the article, but I am very interested in this idea that depression is a process of trying to solve a problem. It takes enormous mental and physical energy, and as long as the problem remains unresolved, even if it goes on for decades, the individual may remain depressed.
Today, walking on the bike path, I was taking in the richly fresh air after long rains, and watching the towering clouds against the blue sky. I was aware of several problems I’m churning on. They’re recurring problems. I could feel the drain inside, pulling me down as I delved into scenarios around these problems. Thinking again about the idea that this is the core of depression, I decided to try something different. I told myself, “Guess what. You don’t have to solve that problem. How about that.” I walked.
I watched a man losing control of his young lab as the dog powered towards a tree where a squirrel had just run out of his reach. My attention flowed toward this scene and I thought, “Buster, you just lost control of your dog.” He had let go of the leash. Again, I could feel in my body that I was giving up energy to a problem. Again, I told myself, “you don’t have to solve this problem.”
I said it several times in my mind, feeling a little lift. Something was moving away from me. Something heavy.
I’m looking again at this article. Lehrer is also talking about the correlation between creativity and depression, something I’ve known about for decades. But there’s more information about the brain here. People who are experiencing a “low mood” are also noticing more detail and remembering more detail than happier people.
As I mentioned, on my walk I was noticing the smells after the rain and the dramatic sky, then observing a little drama. I can tell you many more details. I remember the pattern of the water as I stood on the bridge looking at the creek. The color, a particular beigy-tan, but transparent. The man who let go of the dog’s leash was wearing a dark blue corduroy shirt-jacket, the dog’s leash was leather. The dog was at the base of a eucalyptus tree where I had seen egrets roosting a few weeks ago.
Details? Are you kidding?
I could name details of that ten minute walk for the next hour. Now, I wasn’t necessarily sad when I was on this walk, but I was floating around in a mood that definitely was not light. Problems were presenting themselves to me again and again.
I’ve often thought that depression can become a brain habit. How could it not? Coping with it becomes a lifestyle. So this experience of problems presenting over and over – part of that is a habit too.
Try making a new habit.
I have a new habit now. When I start gnawing on a problem, the first thing I’m going to try is telling myself, “you don’t have to solve that.” Try this with me. And remember to say it over and over, because the habitual brain that keeps returning to the problem will fight back. You can win, though, if you repeat it for a while. I think you can win.