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Where I'm at with Depression & How I Cure it Every Time

Saturday April 7, 2018

This is not medical advice. Always consult with medical experts before changing your approach to a condition like depression.

These notes are based on my personality type code, which is INTJ. The contents are meant for the information of other INTJs, and are not meant for a general audience.

Long ago, I used to suffer from severe, chronic depression. I had no personal plan of attack. I had no idea that I should be doing my own detecting. My formal methods of treating depression were A) therapy and B) visits to a psychiatrist, who prescribed various medications.

Eventually when my circumstances changed and my depression seemed to go away by itself, the psychiatrist told me I was cured of depression. I was very happy about this.

Unfortunately, it came back later.

During that time I had a number of frustrating experiences with therapists and medical professionals. I remember the therapists who gave me advice that, in hindsight, came straight from their own personality type. It was often an awkward fit. One of them, who I’d guess was an ESFP, kept making remarks about my posture and physical appearance, and told me I should join a sports team. I also had to speak in short sentences, or he would start to nod off in his chair.

I also remember the psychiatrist who was just as frustrated as I was, as we tried various medications to treat the depression, while also trying to hold the various side effects at bay. One day he told me “we [psychiatrists] think we know everything, but we’re really still in the stone age.”

Don’t get me wrong: I had some incredibly helpful experiences with therapists, and a psychiatrist who can admit we are still in the stone age is someone worth listening to.

But at that time I started to learn that I had access to, and good reason to use, the following personal tools:

  • The ability to respond to each experience with a plan for the next episode, and possibly a theory about what can help
  • The ability to detect, including taking simple measurements of my mood, and how it may cycle throughout the day
  • And every other INTJ strength: Intuition, research skills, writing, and so on.

I learned how to keep an open mind to new information, and dive in to develop my own model of my depression, as if I might be able to cure it. This started with simple organization of my thoughts and observations and ideas for the future, and it turned out to be immensely helpful.

A Timely Cure

Back when I was severely depressed, a normal period of deep depression would last about 1-3 days, with very low moods lasting for weeks and sometimes months without a break.

Currently, when I feel depression (I hope I never get rid of it entirely; more on that below) it takes me an average of 1-2 hours to cure the symptoms.

While suffering from depression, I have measured my rate of negative thoughts at anywhere from 10-30 per minute. If you’ve been here before, it sucks. Here are some examples of the liabilities one can face while in this mode:

  • You think the worst of yourself
  • You think the worst of others
  • You think the worst of the world

If you have to make any decisions while influenced by this kind of thinking, you are in trouble, period.

After my symptoms have cleared, things are different. Every single negative possibility is severely moderated without any effort. It’s like my brain says, “go ahead, think a negative thought. I dare you.” Things are in clearer perspective and I have the energy and ability to think and act creatively.

Now that I’ve measured the difference between these two states, I can’t not fight back whenever I feel depressed.

Eliminating depression may be wasted effort

From what I can tell, it would be a really stupid thing to “defeat” depression entirely. Depression is a helpful warning system. It is one potentially useful tool that can help us escape to better circumstances, get needed rest, or otherwise change our circumstances.

Looking outside the disease model can be helpful

It is clear to me now that depression is less like a disease in my life and more like a symptom of exhaustion. For me, depression often follows a bout of too much productivity or otherwise manifests as a sort of “you’re worn out” statement by my body. So it will probably be helpful to look at the following cure-tools through the lens of exhaustion treatments.

“I fell asleep as a conspiracy theorist, and woke up as a huge fan of Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam

The quote above is from one of my journal entries as I measured my attempts at treating depression. I fell asleep with the worst possible ideas about the people and things around me. I woke up later singing Head to Toe. I laughed, I felt great, and the change was mind-blowing. I shook my head and knew I had to share this with others.

My first big finding was that sleep is a huge help. If I can take a nap as soon as I feel depressed—even if I just woke up—it will help most of the time.

I aim for either a quick, 15 minute nap, or a complete 90-minute sleep cycle. My measurements show that sleep cycles are important and that waking up in the middle of one can instantly cause depression. I set my alarm clock according to those 90-minute cycles and try to aim for about 5-6 cycles of sleep every night.

Sometimes I cannot sleep at all—I’m stuck. In these cases I often find that it’s best to give up on sleep for now and move on to the next step.

Inflammation seems to be linked to depression

I have become aware of a very faint, dull pain in my head that accompanies depression. I was not able to grasp this before, and I believe that lack of attention to such a problem may be due to this INTJ’s typically weak attention to his senses (thus the lack of an “S” in my personality type, to use a simple explanation). The depressive thoughts definitely speak much louder than the physical pain.

In any case, I found that taking some ibuprofen (I rarely exceed 600mg) makes a big difference. By itself this can also completely erase my depression.

Note: In studying Ibuprofen I was told by others that it can cause liver damage, but this seems to be a less common effect and possibly even an extreme case, based on my interpretation of the papers I read on the topic. As I said above, consult with experts and don’t just blindly follow my method here.

Using a small amount of caffeine as a secondary mood-lift can help a lot

With an average-low mood, I find that a small amount of caffeine can also help me recover very quickly (typically 30mg but very rarely exceeding 100mg). It cannot replace my efforts to attack the pain of inflammation, but it really helps. Used alone, caffeine seems to result in a very annoying state of being more jittery than average but also that burnt out feeling. Which is not pleasant.

30mg of caffeine is easily obtained in the form of zero-calorie diet soda. However, I don’t always want to drink really acidic stuff like that, so I purchased 100mg Jet Alert tabs and cut them up when needed.

With both caffeine and ibuprofen, one can grow accustomed to the effect. I’ve never had this problem. In theory, you could also grow addicted to the stuff in that you keep taking more and more. In my experience, this phenomenon does not manifest itself either. However, when I was in the thick of anxiety problems years ago, I learned from my doctor and our work together that I do not have an addictive personality. Compulsions? Sure, under anxiety I might stress-eat or exercise too hard, but an addict-type I’m not. Just FYI in case it’s helpful to compare against your own experience.

Music is surprisingly helpful in fighting depression symptoms

As a short-form mood booster, music can easily affect my mood for the better, as can movies and TV. I’d be an idiot to leave music & video out of my toolkit, and I often polish off an attempted cure with some upbeat music or a funny Youtube video.

Unfortunately though, it has been my experience that music or video by itself is not typically effective as a standalone depression treatment.

Self-talk helps, too

I find that expressing my thoughts and giving my mood a voice are helpful techniques as well. I have found that saying things like “I’m a grump right now, I’m just going to be a grump all day, I can’t change that, I’m just stuck,” has been helpful. Journal entries also help.

I have also created a log format you may find useful: PDF Format | RTF Format

The Wannas matter

Every day has to have some amount of things I really wanna do or I’m screwed. A day that is full of productivity without many expressions of things I feel like doing is practically a recipe for depression. So I try not to leave for work without listing some topics I want to learn about, or some new software I want to try, or whatever.

I believe that “stuck on the rails” productivity is a very common exhaustion ingredient for INTJs. I have discussed this with other INTJs in coaching sessions. It is important to be able to take breaks, to disengage from a draining project, and to attend to one’s feelings when it’s all just too much, or when it’s not really interesting or motivating anymore.

Circumstances matter a LOT

If you downloaded the log format I linked to above, you can see how I monitor potential circumstance changes.

Many of us, perhaps especially us introverts, believe that we shouldn’t blame our circumstances. I completely disagree. Blame them all you want, I say, if it helps you change them. This has helped me: Noticing where my circumstances suck, pointing that out to myself, and pointing out where other people may even be to blame for how I’m feeling. If you think you might blame yourself too much, try reversing that attitude. Especially if you think it could motivate you to make needed changes to your circumstances.

Going back to the big picture

As I mentioned at the beginning, the key motivator behind all of this is my detecting and modeling meta-system. My gut tells me that if you, the INTJ reader, do not engage your own thinking and measuring gifts, you might not appreciate or even get good results from the techniques listed here.

And finally: This information may change over time as I modify my approach and take new measurements. Please make sure to consult your own medical professionals or other professionals in your journey toward a better life.

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