“I want to die”
“Life is so painful, everything is a mess and I can’t take it. I just wish I was dead!”
That was me.
I’ve probably screamed that phrase at the top of my lungs at least 200 times in my life.
I had a really hard time growing up.
It’s why I left home at seventeen.
Why I dropped out of high school and followed the Grateful Dead around North America.
Why I moved out to the Islands of British Columbia and lived on a sailboat.
I was running.
Running from the pain.
From the feeling that nobody loved me or really understood me.
From feeling that I was alone.
I figured that the more I traveled, the more likely I was to run into someone who could save me.
Who would love me.
Who could help me find happiness.
Who would give me answers to my existential questions.
All of my teens and twenties were basically spent trying to distract myself from that constant emotional pain.
Whenever I had too much time alone, I’d lose myself in thinking, and I would slowly work myself into another depression.
So I got good at running. Good at inventing distractions. Good at collecting stamps in a worn-out passport.
I looked at the world like a gigantic bottle of Tylenol, and I was constantly searching for new and interesting ways to numb the pain.
Alcohol, drugs, constant parties, short-term relationships, concerts, raves, and traveling…any excuse to hit the road and go traveling again.
But getting depressed on the other side of the world really sucked.
It was dangerous.
I was in a trance and the mantra playing in my head was, “Have fun. Just keep having fun David, and you won’t notice how much pain you’re really in.”
But the only problem was that I did notice the pain and, the longer I tried to outrun it and the more I tried to distract myself from it, the more it came back to haunt me and heavier it would hit.
It took me more than twenty years to figure out why I was constantly falling out and back into depression.
This is what I teach my kids now, so they won’t make the same mistake:
But before I share what I discovered, a disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. Depression is serious. If you’re depressed, you should probably get help. Depression can be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and, in some cases, might need medication to correct it. Don’t try and face depression alone.
I feel horrible.
So what about you? What’s the worst you’ve ever felt?
When’s the most recent time you felt bad, or low, or upset?
What happened exactly?
Take a second.
Picture the last time you felt significantly less than awesome and replay the situation leading up to it in your mind.
Did somebody say something insulting to you?
Or mean…insensitive…or selfish?
Or were you all by yourself, like I was, just feeling sad, and low and crappy without any clue why?
What creates how we feel?
If our feelings get created through our interactions with others, then why was I getting depressed all by myself?
If we create our own feelings, then why do other people seem to affect us so much?
Mom, where do feelings come from?
Eleanor Roosevelt knew where feelings come from. That’s why she said:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
But what was she getting at?
She was getting at research that now shows how our feelings are created by our thoughts.
Yes! What you think creates how you feel.
So, if that’s true, then the reason you feel bad when somebody calls you a loser, or fat, or (fill in the blank), is because you “agreed” with them.
You believed that you are a loser.
And how does it feel to believe you’re a loser?
You tell me.
I can tell you how it feels to believe that you’re different than other people…
Or strange. Or that something’s wrong with you.
It feels painful!
When you get into a cycle of believing negative thoughts about yourself you feel horrible.
Horrible about yourself. Horrible about life.
You may even end up depressed.
That’s why Byron Katie, one of the most notable figures doing work in this field today, says (and if you haven’t heard of her, look her up – her books will change your life):
“Don’t believe everything you think.”
Because what you think becomes your reality!
Like Gandhi said:
“A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes. “
The biggest mistake you can make
So when I first learned about this concept, it was hard for me to digest, probably because I remember being depressed at the time.
When I used to get depressed, I felt so bad that the only thing I could do was to lock myself away from the world in my room, and sleep.
Sometimes, I would sleep for three days at a time.
Sleep was the only thing that helped me avoid wanting to self-destruct.
But sleep wasn’t the cure. It was only a reset button.
The cure for my depression was learning to tune into the thoughts I was thinking – and subsequently believing – about myself.
The mistake I made for most of my life is the same mistake many of my clients make when we first start working together.
They believe: “The voice inside my head is my voice, therefor whatever I am thinking is the truth”.
But that is a lie.
And believing that lie is like setting off to sail around the world, but cutting huge gaping holes into the fabric of your sails.
It’s like driving in a Formula 1 race, but dumping ninety percent of your fuel at the starting line.
It’s like SCUBA diving in the most exotic place in the world but letting out ninety percent of your air before you even put your head under water.
It’s the greatest lie in the world and believing it is the biggest mistake you can ever make.
The thoughts in your head are not you; you are the consciousness witnessing those thoughts.
Many ancient traditions say that.
Your mind is only a machine. It’s not you.
Just like your heart was designed to pump, and it never stops pumping, your ears were designed to hear, and they never stop hearing, your mind was designed to think…and thoughts never stop rolling through it.
Thoughts pass through your head all day, just like clouds in the sky, and your mind will pull you into discussion over every one of them if you let it!
But the question to be asking is: “Does it serve me to believe this thought right now?”
“Will focusing on and believing this thought take me where I want to go or lead me off course?”
And that really is the million dollar question:
“Where do you want to go?”
Like the famous quote attributed to Alice in Wonderland (but it doesn’t actually appear in the book…):
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
At very least, our feelings are the bi-product of random thoughts going through our head.
At worst, they’re the bi-product of very negative thoughts about ourselves that we are believing to be true!
The key to overcoming my depression
My depression was caused by thinking and believing negative thoughts about myself over and over again and the resulting collection of unbearable negative emotions that would create.
If you want to learn how to overcome negative emotions and save yourself years of suffering, anxiety and depression, here’s the key:
1. Notice the thinking
Learn to notice the thoughts going through your mind. Just observe them, like clouds passing in the sky. “Oh look, there’s a thought in my head now saying I’m fat,” or “Hey, there is a thought that is saying I’m a miserable failure.” At first, your habit may be to respond and react to these thoughts, but return to the practice of simply noticing them, without trying to own them. Try this for two weeks. When you get good at noticing the thinking going on in your mind without reacting to it, then you can move to step two.
2. Is it true?
Now that you’ve learned to put “some distance” between “you” and “your thoughts” without automatically owning or believing them, you can now start to take control over what you choose to believe. If a negative thought about yourself comes up, take control of the conversation and ask yourself, “Is this true? Is it true that I am a failure? Will believing that help me achieve more?” Remember, belief is a choice – and your life will always be a reflection of what you choose to believe. (In coaching, I listen for the beliefs that underlie what my clients say. Often times, what’s in the way from getting the results we want in life, is only what we’re believing!)
3. What do I want to create?
Once you get used to taking control of the conversation in your mind, ask yourself the question: “What do I want to create?” If what you want is to open your own business or find a job that excites and challenges you, ask yourself, “What do I need to believe – about myself and about the world – in order to create that?” Believing that you are worthless or a failure may be familiar (it was to me!) but it will not help you create what you want. Believing instead, “I am determined, smart and every mistake makes me wiser!” for example, will probably take you a lot farther towards where you want to go, and you’ll feel better and more empowered along the way.