Oh, depression. It’s an unfunny thing.

I find myself continuously falling victim to the compulsion to only discuss perseverance during periods of relative stability – or, perhaps, moments of happiness. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that tactic, nor insidious in the compulsion itself – except perhaps the implicit (and often unacknowledged) notion that there’s not much of a point to being willfully positive when things are already going well.

And, as any similarly afflicted MH persons will know, bringing yourself down when elevated is about as easy as willing yourself to happiness during a depression. More so sometimes in that it seems – and probably is – counter productive. Why the hell would I want to make myself feel worse, especially considering how infrequently I get to enjoy the weightlessness of a good mood? No, my compulsion under those circumstances is to ride the peak with the knowledge of and hard-earned respect for just what a “good” mood is, and why it should be appreciated.

Ultimately it leads me to produce creative things that totally miss the point.

From a purely logical perspective – in the mathematical logic sense – I don’t think many people, lived experience or no, would argue against the purpose of trying to be positive when you’re down. Strange that with equal and opposite completeness there is a complete absence of caveats or even suggestions of trying to be negative when you’re up. Dead horses don’t like being beaten (well, they probably don’t mind, but it’s a funny way to express my post-modern self-referential musings), and this is the last time I’ll pummel the poor bastard – let me simply posit this hypothesis:

Being negative when you’re up is equally important.

Let me save you the suspense you’re not feeling – I’m not up, elevated, hypomanic, [insert flavor of the week mood adjective]… I’m down. This kind of thinking might only be possible when you’re down (at least I think so – wait – shit…)

And yet I am clearly retaining that odd self-awareness-awareness that makes said moments so frustrating. It’s one thing to be down, another to know it – but to know you know it is the pinnacle of frustration. Well, maybe it’s whatever the opposite of a pinnacle is. But I digress.

Let me drop a quick non sequitur here – and I pinky swear this will come full circle, which you may have already realized if you’re ahead of and/or behind me – arguably the most insidious of compulsions is the ubiquitous idea that either you or the world (usually both) ought to be the same static thing all the time. Let me say that again:

Either you or the world ought to be the same static thing all the time.

Eat your heart out, public school education.

What this really means – what this compulsion is derived from – is the unarticulated sense that the objective Truth, whatever the hell that is, is eternal, immutable, and unchanging. Some people or cultures call this God, or Morality, or a post-coital cigarette. Simply put, whether from being taught to think this way or because we just damn do, beneath our external experiences and within our conscious analyses thereof, even the staunchest of atheists ultimately relies on some sort of static concept of Universal Truth. David Foster Wallace said it best: “We all worship. All we get to choose is what we worship.”

David Foster Wallace, known best for his novel Infinite Jest.
David Foster Wallace, known best for his novel Infinite Jest.

He committed suicide in 2008.

I’ve seen humans come close to capturing the flaw in this thinking several times. “The only thing constant is change itself,” or philosophical paradoxes like Epimenides‘ “All Cretans are liars” (he was a Cretan). Sometimes the latter is referred to as the Liar’s Paradox, and is written as “This statement is a lie.”

…is it?

Nietzsche once made a fool of himself with the proposition “There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths” – because this itself is an absolute truth claim. I’ll stop there, because Nietzsche isn’t the guy to read when you’re down, know you’re down, or god forbid know you know you’re down.

When you assume there is one static way to think, to behave, to get out of a depression, you lock yourself into a fundamental, axiomatic assumption that can only lead to a similar paradox. When you’re down, do things that make you happy. When you’re happy… shit! Well, do things that make you happy?

So what the hell is my point here?


In my experience, the greatest of “normie” failings is the inability to comprehend the complete, utter lack of control a person has over their “illness.” And I don’t just mean depression, but also the highs, the hypomanias, the delusions…

In the immortal words of Samuel L. Jackson: YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL! I think those of us with MH diagnoses know this intimately.

…but do you know you know?

Sam Jackson knows his philosophy.  And how to get snakes off of planes.
Sam Jackson knows his philosophy. And how to get snakes off of planes.

That’s the paradox I’m most interested in – how is that knowing I have no control grants me no more control than not knowing – but an awareness of the awareness can ground me? Further, why do I start sounding like a Shaolin Monk on ayahuasca when I try to articulate this idea in words?

Logically – mathematically, linguistically – you quite literally can’t know you know. This is part of the reason Socrates was considered so baller when he said, “All I know is that I know nothing.” In fact, in an effort to discredit this most elegant of thinkers, a rival approached the Oracle at Delphi and asked who is the wisest man in Greece?

The Oracle was all like: Socrates, duh. Now f**k off.


When Socrates heard this, he thought it was paradoxical – after all, he claimed the only thing he knew was nothing, and in knowing he espoused this the Oracle gave him but the maddest of props.


You don’t get over MH issues by trying to be happy – because you don’t get over them by trying. Sounds a bit Yoda-esque (Do or do not, there is not try!) – a banality, a platitude, a (gulp!) cliché.

But, as David Foster Wallace also said – clichés become clichés because of their deep, true, life-or-death meanings. Over time they fall victim to their own simplicity.

So do we.

All I know is that this meme is true.
All I know is that this meme is true.

When we try to think our way out of feeling like shit – especially if we’re of considerable intelligence, as many of the diagnosed are – we devolve into the paradox because we err in believing in such things as axioms, rules, objective truths inside our own heads.

We succeed when we act our way out of feeling down. And we’re not limited to forcibly dragging ourselves up and jogging, or “fake it till you make it” – sometimes it’s as simple as a breathing exercise. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking at a particularly strange plant (maybe that’s just me).

Sometimes, it’s as simple as turning those inward thoughts outward onto paper.

The Greeks believed “life” was composed of two mutually exclusive concepts – the vita activa and vita contemplativa – which, though separate and irreconcilable, when brought together created a kind of third/first/only synergy.

Likewise go the ups and downs.

By no means start poking yourself with sharp sticks when you’re feeling good – enjoy the ups. Hell, even enjoy the up-ups (once in a while). But – not that I’m telling you what to do, go punch a grizzly bear if you really want to – mind this ineffable dichotomy. Bipolar is not depression and mania, but the third/first/only synergy that arises from it – you.

It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

Batman said that.

If you let yourself be happy all the time when you’re up, you miss out on the single most important freedom of life in this world. Could you be even happier if you did more, or did things differently? It’s a sort of reverse-suicide – a near-life experience (please don’t Tyler Durden yourself). Don’t hold yourself to this standard all the time – I hope that’s clear. Seriously, the parenthetical reference is a joke (hey – paradox!) But don’t be afraid to fly a little too close to the sun – how the hell else are you supposed to know what “too close” is?

But I promised I’d leave the poor horse alone – so I will, with this as the final thought –

Did you notice I just flipped from down to up?


John Ward


One thought on “How to Flip Depression

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