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To A Young Man Depressed Around the Same Age I Was

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

A friend’s college-age son was depressed and my friend, knowing what I have gone through, asked if I could offer any help. The request generated the thoughts below, which I’m posting in case they may be of help to anyone, whether depressed or not.


 

Find a space to feel in—to let your feelings be expressed with complete permission. To rage, babble, cry, or laugh. Whether alone, with someone you trust, or with a tree. (Trees are very good listeners.) Depression presents as a kind of absolute deadness. But it is really the flimsiest of dams, kept in place by the idea that we can’t allow what we really feel. There is always a river of life waiting to carry us forward if we can allow our feelings. Even—or especially—anger. Allowing anger is not the same as doing violence. In fact, allowing anger prevents violence. Violent acts—harming ourselves or others—erupt when we don’t allow anger. And anger allowed leads to other feelings. All feelings dissipate when truly allowed.


Be present in your moments. Find concrete things you enjoy, savor, appreciate. Love and meaning are forever found in the intimacies of our everyday acts.


You don't need to figure it all out. The mind was not made to do that. Life unfolds, reveals itself, as you go. Follow your instincts at each step. Let your mind be a passenger in a car driven by your intuition. Your mind was made not to criticize but to notice delightful aspects of the scenery.


Your life will not be lived like anyone else's. The sooner you can let go of that idea, the better. Be inspired by others, sure, but do not aspire to be them. Their advice is good to the extent that it resonates within your heart. There is no plan for you, despite what any person or book tells you. But there is meaning in you walking your path.


If you don't have to decide about something, don't. Wait and trust that you'll know what to do soon, or that the decision will simply no longer be relevant. Life is on your side, whether you accept that or not. Accepting it makes the ride smoother. If you have to decide and are unsure, just choose and then assume the choice was right. Nothing is irreversible unless you decide it is. Your choices don't define or imprison you. Your attitude in each moment is what counts. Don’t make the right choice, make the choice right.


Follow your bliss. If you want to do good in the world and for others, it will emanate from your happiness and satisfaction, not from sacrificing yourself for the supposed good of others. Putting yourself second and trying to please others only sometimes works superficially. But it's always brief and it always breeds resentment and blocks the flow of your deeper love.


If you find work you love, wonderful. If not, then work at anything and do what you love on the side. But look for things to love where you work as well. Anything you can find to appreciate will help.


Your life is in the everyday moments—in what most of us write off as insignificant. The “bigger” things—relationships, jobs, success, purpose—all emanate from paying attention to what is in front of you. In our culture, this is a radical idea. But then, in our culture, most everyone is dissatisfied. We all ultimately want to be happy. We almost all believe that's a state we'll get to in some imagined future when we've achieved all the grand things we think we're supposed to achieve. But being happy isn't the goal, it's the path itself.


That said, we are where we are. If you're depressed, let that be OK. See if you can observe it without trying to get rid of it but also without believing in it. This is a kind of detachment but it is not denial. It allows you to step outside of the depression into a you that is bigger than any feeling or idea. This is your truest self, pointed to by every authentic spiritual teaching. No one has ever meditated and found an ultimate truth of misery and despair. They always, eventually, find love and joy.


 

If you have been through depression, what has helped you?

Please share with others in the comments below.

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