My second question usually provokes a smile…
As a family doc I get to meet many depressed patients. I will greet them, introduce myself and sit down next to them. Some of them smile back, some do not, some glance at me quickly and turn their gaze back to the floor. A sign of deep depression.
My second question to them usually provokes a tiny smile. Most of the time just a hint of a smile, just one corner of the mouth turns upward. They make eye contact just for a brief second as my unexpected question sinks in. In that brief second I can see the spark that once gave them hope.
My first question is always, why do you think you are depressed?
Most of the time they are not sure. There are a few who became depressed after losing a job, a loved one or some other life stress. The majority with long term depression cannot give me a clear answer and that’s okay.
My second question,
If money wasn’t an issue, what would you do with your free time?
This is usually unexpected, at first a puzzled look, then it sinks in, and then, that moment that I love so much. That memory of what excites them. From the deep dark dusty storage room in the back of their brain comes a small spark, a hint of enjoyment.
The responses I have gotten are very interesting.
I would do voiceover work for cartoons, a young guy in his twenties told me. I would start a nonprofit to help abused teenagers, a young lady in her thirties told me. I would open a beauty salon. I would make travel documentaries. No joke, these are actual responses from actual people I’ve met!
Now, why do I find this interesting. Look at these responses again, what do they have in common? Each one deals with a creative task, creating something new, desiring passion in something they would like to do.
So why the smile?
This may be a stretch, but some argue the answer lies in the difference between humans and animals.
Check out this book by Robert Greene, he makes a pretty good argument. Mastery
Ok, now that your head is spinning with questions, like what could animals possibly have to do with feeling depressed, let me explain.
Animals are born with certain instincts or talents. For example. A baby fawn is born and as its mother is licking it clean, it opens its eyes and starts moving its legs. Up to this point, nothing different from humans (except the licking part). Here’s the difference, something miraculous happens. The baby deer gets its legs underneath it and attempts to get up. It takes its first steps!!!
It took roughly a year for my kids to learn to walk, scavenge the kitchen for their own food and feed themselves. At just a few minutes old a baby deer will get up, stumble over to its mother and find a teat for its first sip of warm milk. As a father of three, it is such a relief when my kids can finally reach up, grab an apple and eat, it just took a while to get to that point.
So the question begs, what instincts do humans have, what are we able to do naturally that animals do not? Asking for help is one of the first things we do. A baby cries for help and gets nice warm milk. Some will argue that we have other instincts. For example, when a mother’s breast touches the baby’s cheek they will turn their head towards it. This is called the Rooting reflex. It is not an instinct or a talent but merely a primitive reflex. I keep referring to instincts and talents. There is some confusion. Some believe we are born with talents, some believe we develop them after long hours of practice. For the sake of this argument I’m just referring to the difference in animals and humans.
So do humans have an instinct, a unique characteristic that sets us apart from animals? Maybe, we are born with the ability to think creatively, to fashion tools, to make and build things. We have the capacity to think into the future of what a possible outcome may be. The ability to recall memories. We are not sure if animals possess these, some studies try to answer this question but we haven’t really seen anything like an iphone coming out of the jungle. One example of creation denovo in nature is of those Chimps going termite fishing.
How does this relate to depression and the spark I see in my patients eyes?
When we engage in a creative task, we find joy in the process. The happiness emerges from the struggle of making something new. This is the reason behind this blog, the videos and music that I make. I have figured out a way to combine a few of my creative passions into something new.
So if this is true, that humans have this unique ability, is it true that exercising this creative thought will give us joy? From my own experience I believe so, but I can’t speak for every person out there. I can speak for my dog Shaka though. You see, dogs have an inborn instinct to hunt, to chase their prey, this is how they’ve survived until their loving master came along. You can see in some of my videos how much he loves to chase after a stick or a ball. He will go to the ends of the earth to retrieve his ball, he will swim, jump, turn circles, anything just to go chase after his ball. You can see his tail wagging, his ears flapping, a sparkle in his eyes. This is because he is exercising one of his inborn abilities.
So what is the treatment for depression? Depression is very common today. Many people suffer from it on a daily basis. Luckily there are a variety of really good medicines that help. It usually takes a few tries to find the right one, but here is what I’ve discovered. My patients who are not on any medicine, do wish to try some. My patients who are already on medicine still seem depressed. This is very unfortunate. They put their heart and their hopes in me to help them. I feel as if, by just giving them a pill, I do them a disservice.
That is why I came here to write today’s blog, to give a little different perspective, to help you see it from another angle. We tend to get stuck in the daily grind, wake up, get to work, get home, sleep, repeat. We get tunnel vision and forget to look up from our phones every once in awhile and enjoy this amazing thing called life around us.
I have nothing against medicine, I do find that my patients say it helps a little. But I want to encourage you today, take some time and think. Turn off your phone notifications and think. What would you do if money wasn’t an issue? What would you do with your free time if you had an unlimited amount? Then ask yourself why aren’t you doing that right now? What is holding you back? Is it fear of failure, not having time, money?
Do not fear failure, for it is only the universe trying to tell you to try again. Make sure you learn from your failures though, otherwise they serve you no purpose. Here’s the trick though, you have to keep trying. Keep trying to find a way to exercise your passion, your creative thoughts. Start today, take one step toward making something new. Take something old, be bold, and create your mold.
This is your life, your one life here with us. Make it count.