Depression Is Your Friend

It’s crazy, right? How can something as unpleasant as depression, the leading precursor to suicide, actually be thought of as a good buddy?

First off, I would like to emphasize that I am in no way praising deep, debilitating depression. Instead, this article is aimed at discussing depression as a form of motivation, not a psychological disorder.

When you think of a friend, what is the first thing that comes to mind? A friend might be someone who you watch a ballgame with. They might even be someone who drives you home when you’re too drunk to drive yourself. For me, a friend is someone so much more than that; someone much different than a family member or spouse.

For me, a friend is someone who attends that ballgame not because they want to get out of the house for a few hours, but because they genuinely enjoy your company. A friend is someone who drives you home when you’re drunk not out of obligation, but out of concern for your safety. Really, a friend is someone who accepts you without question, sees the value that you bring to the world, and looks out for you during hard times.

So how does depression look out for you? Well, for starters I’m writing this post with my fingers. I have a brain that thinks and reasons in order to produce the language that is responsible for the post in the first place. I have a stomach to digest the food I ate two hours ago and a heart that pumps blood to keep me alive. The truth is, depression wouldn’t exist if, along with every organ in my body, it didn’t serve some kind of a survival function. The theory of evolution suggests that our predecessors who did not experience depression were selected against and died off, while those who experienced depression lived on to spread their genes and ultimately create you and me. With that said, depression is as much a part of us as our fingers, stomachs, brains, and hearts are. It is an instrument of survival.

Then again, depression doesn’t get enough credit. We condemn it, scrutinize it, and in many cases medicate it when it doesn’t need medicating. How do you even define depression in a positive light when it is this widely stigmatized and condemnable “sickness of the mind” or worse, character flaw? Well, it’s not an impossible task.

Normal depression, and by extension grief, can be defined as a self-regulatory mechanism in which a problem is continually reflected on and analyzed with the intent of preventing it from reoccurring. It’s almost like trying to solve a math equation that you’ve been stuck on for hours in that you’ll rework the problem over and over until a correct solution becomes evident. The only time the mind-boggling math equation that is depression becomes debilitating is when episodes are prolonged, lasting for weeks and months at a time, and disrupt personal and professional relationships. At that point, you never solve the problem, you just keep staring at it and expecting something to change.

I can tell you with certainty that for every mistake I’ve made and problem that I’ve created, I never would have improved as a human being if I didn’t feel depressed afterward. There were times when I failed a test or said something extremely hurtful to another person, and afterward that was all I thought about for the rest of the day and even the rest of the week. I’d think to myself, “How could I let this happen?” and “What went wrong, and what can I do to fix this mess?”

Don’t get me wrong, depressive rumination isn’t fun. Some of the worst moments in my life were where I would become so emotionally drained, so dispirited, and so, well… depressed, that I couldn’t even move. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t play video games, and I generally couldn’t function normally. Why would anybody want to suffer through such an experience? The answer is that it can be used as motivational fuel when it is channeled into something more meaningful. I look at it this way: you could achieve every major success in the book, but by the time that one failure comes around it’s suddenly the worst thing in the world because you haven’t acquainted yourself with what it’s like to truly lose. To truly face defeat. In this manner, the low points in life help us appreciate the high points and remind us of the progress (or lack thereof) we’re making.

Occasional, not chronic, depression is your friend because it’s got your back. It PUSHES you toward improvement by notifying you that you need to make some much needed corrections in your life. And trust me, you’re better off with than without it.

6 Tips for Writing Good

Don’t worry fellow reader, the title is mistaken on purpose. Instead, it should be, “6 Tips for Good Writing,” because the adjective “good” cannot be preceded by a progressive action. Congratulations, you’re already on the fast track toward becoming a more effective writer.

Oftentimes I cannot fathom why people experience so much trouble with producing a paper. Then I remember that, unlike mathematics and the sciences, writing comes more naturally to me than it does to others. Therefore, I have devised 6 tips that I believe, when applied to your writing, can increase its quality as well as its overall favorability. So let’s begin!

Tip 1: Always speak TO your audience, and never AT your audience.

I was unfriended by a lot of people on Facebook in response to the constant rants I posted. I attempted to justify these unfriendings by (quite euphemistically) pointing out that my rants weren’t even rants, they were discussions. This opened my mind up to the hard truth that people will never listen to you if they feel like they’re being “talked at,” so to speak. Rather, they would prefer to have a larger role in the conversation. For this reason, you should always adjust your tone in such a way that it doesn’t sound arrogant or worse, abrasive. State facts and arguments as is without attaching your opinions to them, discounting any preconceived biases that might distort your tone-of-voice.

Tip 2: Install transition words and phrases.

Transitional words and phrases are incredibly useful because they connect disparate ideas to each other and generally link up paragraphs, creating a special sense of cohesiveness. They can be used to convey similarity, contrast, agreement, and my personal favorite, emphasis. SmartWords.org provides up to 200 acceptable transitions that are commonly employed in many articles and essays.  But also don’t overuse them! It’s annoying when every other sentence begins with a “For example,” or a “For instance,” so use them in moderation.

Tip 3: Write until the point is made.

Have I ever told you that I hate word counts? They’re de-motivational and restrict creativity. If a professor or teacher ever tells you that your paper “must” be an X amount of words, don’t listen to them. Whether or not your paper is 100, 250, or 1,000 words in length, the prescribed word count shouldn’t matter so long as you proved your argument soundly and effectively. Therefore, write every word you need to until the point gets struck. Anything more will leave your readers feeling like you’re just biding time for the sake of it, and anything less will leave them feeling like your work is underprepared.

 Tip 4: Utilize a thesaurus.

At the end of the day, the heart of good writing is the vocabulary you choose. I recommend utilizing a thesaurus for two reasons. One reason is that if you switch out words with more sophisticated variants of themselves, your teachers and professors will grade your papers less harshly. I’m not joking—an advanced vocabulary literally creates the impression of an intelligent and hardworking student, and as such teachers will be more apt to grade your work with a little mercy.

The second reason is that frequent usage of a thesaurus strengthens your vocabulary overall. You begin to speak to your friends, family members, and coworkers with greater eloquence, while your writing takes on profound depth and substance. And plus, who doesn’t like using a few big words here and there to sound smart?

However, be very careful not to overdo this one. You might use so many “big” words that people no longer know what you’re talking about. In addition, you run the risk of using certain words awkwardly or out of context, so always check the dictionary beforehand.

Tip 5: Throw in some adverbs.

Adverbs are wonderful not only because they modify the meanings of adjectives and verbs, but because they help “buff up” your sentences, helping to express thoughts that would otherwise be near impossible to put into words. Take the adverbial version of, let’s say “extraordinary,” and you can pair it up with just about every adjective in the English dictionary and still make a great deal of sense (e.g., extraordinarily smart, extraordinarily stupid, etc.). In this manner, adverbs don’t just modify meaning, they supercharge meaning!

Tip 6: “Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.”

This was a tip my statistics professor shared with my class last summer, and it holds true across all skills you aim to perfect. Don’t practice until you stop making mistakes, but rather practice until the very prospect of making mistakes is incogitable. Master the mechanics of effective writing in the same way that a pilot masters the mechanics of flying a plane, and you don’t even need to worry about screwing up anymore. It all just comes naturally to you, whether you want it to or not.

And that’s it. 6 tips for more effective writing. Do you think there’s some room for improvement, or are you a modern day Shakespeare?

The Dangers of Seeing Black & White

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the narco world, it’s that life is more complicated than you think. Good and bad, they’re relative concepts.”

Narcos (Season 1, Episode 1), Steve Murphy

I used to think colorblind patients literally saw the world in black and white, like their lives were an unending 1940s noir film that lacked in depth and quality. Later, I realized that colorblindness is actually a deficiency of the retina’s cone cells to properly differentiate between colors. It is, of course, still possible to see in black and white, but not in the way that you would expect.

Disclaimer: I take no credit for what I’m about to say here. The purpose of this article is to put my own spin on what’s been known for the entire course of human existence.

You do not need eyes to see. I was introduced to this concept when I attended therapy last year, as I wanted to get a better feel for how the process worked. I only went a couple of times because I didn’t see the value in talking about my problems to a stranger whose job was to more or less regurgitate much of what I already knew. My therapist, by her grace, brought up an interesting point that I will never forget.

She told me, “Well Marc, you seem like an all-or-nothing kind of guy.”

Her statement struck a chord with me because it identified a personality trait that I wasn’t previously aware of. It appeared that my understanding of the problems I was discussing ad nauseum was the real problem, and not external forces. Perhaps if I viewed them as opportunities and not impossibly unreachable obstacles, they wouldn’t be so problematic anymore.

I felt transformed and revitalized, but as time had come to pass, I reverted back to my age-old ways of interpreting reality. Nonetheless, my understanding of what my therapist told me that day became further solidified upon listening to the audiobook Positive Intelligence (2012) by Shirzad Chamine. There was a particular chapter in that book where Chamine referenced an ancient Taoist parable that is also my now-favorite philosophy.

The parable chronicles 5 days in a Chinese province. On the first day, a horse jumps a poor farmer and his teenage son’s fence, causing major property damage. However, by the terms of the local law, the boy and his father were allowed to keep the horse, meaning they would become wealthy and prominent. On the second day, the horse gallops back to the mountains and leaves the farm behind, yet returns on the third day with a dozen more wild horses. On each of these three days, the father dispassionately asked his son, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

On the fourth day, the boy gets violently knocked off one of the horses and breaks his leg. His father, noticing that his son is in tremendous pain, asks him once again with his usual indifferent tone, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” Finally, on the fifth day, the province goes to war, and Army recruiters arrive at the town where the poor farmer and his son live and begin drafting able-bodied young men to go off and fight. Every young man in the town is sent away to certain death except for the farmer’s son, and all because of his broken leg from the day before.

This old but gold parable led to the creation of an idea I call Noir Syndrome, with noir being a reference to the film genre that was traditionally shot in black and white. Noir Syndrome proposes that all of our anxieties originate from our tendency to view life as falling on one extreme or another without taking into account deeper meaning, contrary evidence, and alternative perspectives. All or nothing.

We’ve been conditioned to view life in this way because it is effortless and requires very little additional thought. However, this manner of thinking is dangerous in that it harbors the delusion that everything is always operating on a good-bad dichotomy, when it is anything but. Chamine talks about the same thing in his book. Again, I am not the first person to think of this, and neither was he.

How do you even define what is good and what is bad, or what should fall on one extreme end of the spectrum and the other? The poor farmer could only ever ask this question because he was wise enough to know that it didn’t possess an answer. Technically, every “bad” thing in life is nothing more than a momentary inconvenience, while the extent of this inconvenience is the primary determinant for how “bad” it really is by our standards. Life is a double helix of sorts, and not a straight line; all good eventually leads in to bad and all bad eventually leads in to good, creating a self-contradiction of sorts since the two cannot be categorized independently from each other. They are two sides of the same coin.

You have to search for some shred of good in every tragedy or setback you experience. In fact, you don’t even have a choice in the matter. This is because if you constantly view things as the best or worst, good or bad, all or nothing, you’re setting yourself for unimaginable heartbreak if they fall somewhere in the middle. By that logic, you determine your reality by setting the parameters for how it’s supposed to look in your eyes.

Start seeing grey, and the world becomes a whole lot more colorful.