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How an INTJ can fight depression behavior

Wednesday December 2, 2015

The following is not medical advice. If you are suffering from depression, always consult with a medical or mental health professional.

I wrote a little about depression behavior for INTJs on Reddit today and then really wanted to expand on it, including some possible solutions.

First, an important update: Where I’m at with Depression and How I Cure it Every Time and Some Notes and Tips on Productivity Exhaustion may be useful to you.

Second, a quick article to read afterwards: Modeling and Detecting, Important INTJ Skills — this article illustrates even more things that helped me on my own journey toward conquering depression.

How to fight depression’s loneliness: Interrupting my self-sequestering behavior

In fighting loneliness, I discovered that I could make little decisions that helped me out. Decisions that improved my chances of feeling social comfort and camaraderie. In effect, some of us are able to force ourselves to bring balance back to our lives and include more social activities. We see the problem, then we do something about it. I got great results from following my own plans for achieving balance:

  1. Identify some low-impact, relatively easy, friendship and social activities
  2. If you exercise alone, see if you can do it in a place where you might have an “accidental” encounter with another person
  3. Move away from “extremely-high impact exercise or nothing” mindset. Go on a short walk, for example, or re-visualize and reorganize your bedroom. Such exercise is sometimes more socially amenable.
  4. If possible, I would include values-based activities, like spiritual community participation, community volunteering, etc.

Sometimes I thought that being around other people would make me feel worse. Often that turned out to be right, but not all the time. It helped me to track the severity of my symptoms; this gave me an opening to make my first steps toward more socially-outgoing behavior when the depression symptoms weren’t as severe.

How to fight existential angst during times of depression

To fight existential angst, therapy can be a great option if available. I personally found that if possible, it’s best to meet with a therapist who is a good match for your personality type. When I met with a therapist, I would ask myself—are they:

  • Extravert, or Introvert?
  • Thinker, or Feeler?
  • Intuitive, or Sensate?
  • Perceiver, or Judger?

Here is a helpful chart for reference.

If the therapist’s personality type was not a good match, I found that I could end up with someone who might have helpful tools for me, but delivered them in a strange (to me) way, or someone who encouraged me to develop gifts that they possessed rather than nurturing my own gifts. I don’t really blame them—that’s hard work, softening up your own psychological point of view so that you can recommend that someone else walk a path that seems foreign to you.

Identifying and scrutinizing unhealthy world concepts

I find mind mapping to be a great way of getting mental imagery on paper. This helps me get my thoughts out in a concrete way, so my thinking brain can begin to categorize, systematize, organize, and solve problems.

I would ask myself: What does your vision of the depressing world look like? Why does it look like that? Are there some big pressures on me right now? (School, work, family, etc., list them)

Have I had any recent experiences that led me to think in this way? (Watching a depressing film, hearing some sad news, reading an apocalyptic novel, or whatever)

What would help me to get objective data in this area? For example, someone else’s perspective. The fact that others are positive tells us there may be things out there worth being positive about, no matter how much we feel the opposite is true.

In that case, some shocking perspectives were really uncomfortable but did provide me with quick relief: If it’s school—*If you don’t want to write the final papers, don’t do it.* Quit school and figure out something else to do. Or change majors. Or put school on hold while you start a business. See? Fixed the depression. (You may laugh, but I’ve seen this work. The depression stopped instantly.)

If anybody can quit school, it’s an INTJ, the master contingency planner.

University Admin A: “The objectives and targets always came from us. Who’s giving them to him now?”
University Admin B: “Scary version? He is.”
— Slightly-modified Bourne Supremacy quote.

Fighting thoughts of suicide

Regarding thoughts of suicide, I’ll make a couple of general points:

First: Immediate help such as an outside-ask and things like suicide hotlines are available. An outside-ask is where you ask someone for help instead of continually pushing yourself to work through it alone. You can go to the hospital, or ask someone you trust. I found that even hanging around other people would help, sometimes. Regarding suicide hotlines, people recommend this like it’s some sort of emergency eject button, but some report it doesn’t help them. I have never tried it myself. Still, I always thought that if I was thinking of suicide, I might as well keep the options open and that may include calling a suicide hotline service.

Second—this was an important discovery that helped me: Suicidal thoughts represent very black and white thinking, right? “Things will never go well and I’m doomed to repeat the same patterns over and over.” or, “Success and fulfillment now or imminent death.” It’s almost comically hyperbolic.

Maturity is marked by solving problems with nuance rather than black and white thinking. So, I learned to give myself permission to do a full range of things before seriously going suicidal. For example, quitting school. Wouldn’t it be better to do that than die? Or, before quitting school, changing majors. Or, before changing majors, taking medical leave or meeting with a counselor in person.

Often, counselors will refuse to discuss online if you’re suicidal. Especially via email or Skype. This is unfortunate because these are some of the easiest methods for an INTJ. So I found that I could feel frustrated and blocked by that. But at the same time, it’s not like I was glued to a chair in front of a computer. And a lot of the time I found that I would autodidact (self-teach) my way through some of the issues anyway.

I found that psychiatry could help, when I needed it. Therapists and psychiatrists can make a great team.

I kept a log of these therapeutic experiences and it helped me to identify what was working and what was not.

Many INTJs who are first confronted by thoughts of suicide can get pretty freaked out just that the idea of suicide even came up. This happened to me. However, I also learned that my mind and body were exhausted. They needed a vacation of sorts. They needed support. Everybody needs those things; without them, it can be hard to bounce back from even “normal” problems. So it is freaky, that’s for sure. But I learned not to be too surprised, given the circumstances. Once I found time to rest, the feelings would often pass and I could learn to confront and overcome the feelings in a less-urgent setting.

INTJs are very objective thinkers. However, our specialty feeling process is a subjective feeling process. I found that it was crucial to bring in measurement, like a spreadsheet, like research questions, like third-party input. All the objective stuff. Because subjective feelings can really be unreasonable and near-nonsensical.

I found that it helped to view the suicidal thoughts as a sign that my mind/body wanted attention now. “OK body! Sorry buddy, I’m all ears.” I learned to never ignore it. I would immediately make a plan. I found that sometimes all you need is some proof that you are making a bit of progress. Taking decisive action. Even (or especially) mundane stuff. For example, I made a list of things I felt like doing. If I didn’t feel like doing anything, I would get some sleep first.

I also learned that there may be some important decisions to consider, like quitting a crappy job. Being decisive was helpful. I would try it, see how it went. “Now I’m back to square one, but at least I don’t want to jump off a bridge.” Whether a big decision or not, it felt good to be in control of life again. The next job or opportunity would usually be better.

Fighting over-dependence on others for positive feedback, or for fixes to problems caused by our own behavior

INTJs can become very emotional with relationship partners, children, parents, etc. looking to them as a sort of medication. This is risky behavior for an INTJ since it conveniently masks the need to take responsibility, take control, and be creative. And INTJs are great at those things.

In my experience, dependence on others is likely to get at the wrong means of solving INTJ problems. INTJ thinking (objective research and measurement of actual data) is better than INTJ feeling for this stuff. By a long shot. Sometimes though, I did just need to be around people, and that’s OK.

How I fought a tendency to be critical of others and their motives

I noticed that this biting criticism was very easy when I was exhausted. So I learned to recognize that I should get some sleep first, or meditate. I would make sure I felt rested and relatively calm. Next, I would refer to a journal of progress in working on my own life. For example, I’d make a list of things I needed to do, and next steps on those things. Whenever I do this, I find that I regain control, and as a result, my patience with others would start to come back.

It also helped me to study personality type. Rather than expecting others to “know how to be an INTJ”, I found that I could learn their strengths, and speak to those strengths when I communicated with them.

How to fight a loss of effectiveness at work/school tasks

To fight a loss of effectiveness at work/school tasks: In many cases it was helpful to me to take my planning away from my computer or phone. When I arrive at the computer, I have a plan in mind. I add time-wasting websites to my browser’s “banned websites” tool, or I play a little game where I start with 50 points each day, and lose 10 points for every time-waster website I would visit, gaining back 10 points for every 30 minutes I spent on a values-directed, goal-oriented activity, no matter how simple and fun. The key was fun. I found that some websites were sucking my energy away, keeping me wrapped up in a stress cocoon.

A big danger of the computer is the reinforcement loop. You may know about this from Youtube’s video suggestion features. If you watch one video about “10 Home Improvement Tips” pretty soon it thinks you are REALLY into Home Improvement Tips. Well, I found that my mind has an inner system that does the same sort of thing. A computer can become just one more tool for such reinforcement.

Do you have a list of things you don’t wanna do, but which are super necessary to do? Here’s how I attack those. I call it the Three C’s: Comfort, Clarity, and Courage.

  1. Comfort: Get comfortable.
    1. If I’ve been procrastinating for a while, I probably need to use the bathroom, or hydrate, or get some quick exercise.
    2. Maybe you need to turn the lights on. Or get dressed.
    3. Do some “I wanna do” things. Maybe you want to go to the store really quick, just for 15 minutes. Set a timer, and do it.
    4. Do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable and ready to make your day better.
  2. Clarity: A key to ending the procrastination cycle is to know the details of what you need to do.
    1. Identify where your papers or list of tasks is.
    2. Gather those things.
    3. Make sure each step is written down.
    4. Write down a time estimate next to each step. There should be no step longer than 20 minutes and ideally the steps should be around 2-7 minutes each. This way you really know the details and it’s easy to grasp your tasks.
    5. Identify the easiest things to do first.
    6. Identify the things that call out to you, the parts that seem most interesting.
    7. Now you can choose: Do you want to do the easiest parts first, or the most interesting? What’s the most interesting thing that takes the least amount of time? Things just got a lot easier.
    8. Doing the little stuff will build up “task momentum.” This is why prioritizing by “I HAVE to do this first” is dangerous. It can prevent you from taking any action at all.
  3. Courage
    1. Make a commitment. Gather your courage. Sometimes I say a prayer and ask God for help with my efforts.
    2. Consider putting on some music that helps you feel courageous and in control. Sometimes I put on a movie I’ve seen before (I’ve seen it before, so I don’t need to actively watch it), which involves action or detective work, etc. That’s the mood you want to be in: Kick butt and solve problems.
    3. Write down how you’re feeling: Ready? Or Not Ready? If you’re Not Ready, you need to go back to either Clarity or Comfort.

With this process I have solved gigantic problems. I hope it helps you, too!

As a kind-of fourth C, Communication is also huge. I learned that I could tell counselors, tell professors/teachers/bosses that I was struggling. “I’m struggling right now. If you have some feedback for me, I’d love to hear it. I’m not sure I know how to get through this at the moment. In your class/team/job I seem to be struggling most with X and Y.” I learned to be open-minded and try everything they suggest. Then I would report back to them. Not treating them as if they owe me anything, but just being responsible and keeping communications open.

How I regained the joy found in pursuing my usual interests

Years ago I started a list of my interests. Why? Because I would forget about them otherwise! Someone would ask me what I liked to do, and I’d think, “uh…computers…read books…uhhh” but in reality, my interests in those areas were very deep. So I started a list of my deep interests. There are some peculiar hobbies in there, like collecting little toy race cars with rubber wheels and lots of decals. But that is way more interesting to me to remember than reading “toy cars”.

I also create my own rule-sets and frameworks for lots of things now. Rules for being me, rules for working in the morning, working in the afternoon, rules for the end of the workday. But this also includes the fun stuff. A framework for various hobbies. A framework for taking vacations. And so on. It feels great. I found that it’s most helpful to complete the loop and refine my ideas, or go back and edit them, as I get more experience. Frameworks should gradually become more elegant over time: They should become both simpler and more powerful. Please see more in my article on “Ti”, linked below.

How I learned to fight heavy reliance on sensory excesses

INTJs often find themselves giving into sensory excess when they feel down. This can include: Drinking, drugs, overeating, binge-watching TV or movies, binge-surfing on the web, PMO, other sensory activities (possibly undereating/overexercising too).

I call these “cave man behaviors”. In my opinion, you don’t have to feel guilty if you’ve been indulging in some action films while depressed and have become a sort of aficionado. And sure, it’s important to work on the more destructive ones. But I think everyone has a bit of cave person inside of them.

For us INTJs, the INTJ brain-body system automatically goes here if we aren’t giving our gifts enough attention, or if we are overwhelmed. It’s a cave man response: “Gog no can figure out how to make fire. Gog go smoke a cigarette.”

I found that I could attack these problems with extraverted thinking (Te). Te is like the modern man emerging from cave man mode, to implement the amazing gifts of your INTJ brain. Look up Te and read all you can about it. But here are some steps that helped me:

  1. Keep a log of times and places where these activities occur for you. Where do you smoke? When?
    1. Look for patterns
      1. “Every day at 2 o’clock I start binging on ice cream”
    2. Analyze
      1. Oh, maybe that’s because my 5 p.m. deadline is coming and I usually haven’t done anything. I’m really anxious.
    3. Brainstorm
      1. “OK, I’ll try going to the library to work there, instead of working at home.”
      2. What other systems could you put in place that would help you? Could you test your productivity at other times? Could you experiment with team-based work?
    4. Get organized, you’re INTJ-good at it
      1. This is huge for Te—it is very good at seeing a pile of junk and turning that pile into a system.
    5. Find others who have accomplished great things with systems and organizational thinking.
      1. For example, I like the Ace Productivity podcast (not affiliated)

How I learned to stop fighting individual symptoms and improve my life

I found that I needed to start thinking better and develop my own methods to help me tackle life with huge amounts of leverage. It’s not easy at first, but the better I became at it, the more motivation I discovered, and the more of a happy person I became.

Finally, as an invitation, I hope you will consider starting your own blog or writing an outline on the topic of dealing with depression or good mental health. Why? Because INTJs often learn best by teaching. Funny to think about, but really too true for many of us.

I hope you find this useful. Let me know (email address is up in the sidebar) if it helps you out. I love hearing from my friends of all personality types.

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Own your procrastination with Whole Productivity, a new system → Get my free INTJ COVID-19 Guide → Explore your gifts with my INTJ Workbook → Other Publications → ...and the fake word of the hour: "Loipip." Which I believe is a term used when speaking about friends who overstay their welcome.