The four questions

A couple of years ago, I went to my doctor for a yearly physical. This was at the height of my drug use, so needless to say, I wasn’t in very good shape—physically, mentally, or emotionally. During the exam, I told the doctor that I’d been very depressed lately and wondered if I should seek professional help or some kind of medication.

He then told me something I’ll never forget. He said, “You know, I see lots of young people like yourself who are struggling with similar issues, and I always ask them the same four questions about their lives.”

Here are the questions he asked me:

  1. Are you exercising on a daily or at least regular basis?
  2. Are you eating an (at least somewhat) healthy/balanced diet?
  3. Are you getting good, regular sleep?
  4. Are you moderating your use of drugs and alcohol?

After I had (rather sheepishly) said ‘no’ to all of these, he told me, “Anytime someone answers ‘yes’ to three or four of those questions, I advise them to explore options for treating their depression…. but almost none of the 18-25 year-olds answer ‘yes’ to even one or two.”

Now the argument can obviously be made that those suffering from chronic depression are very unlikely to be doing any of those four things precisely because they are depressed, and that’s a fair point. However, it seems equally plausible that lack of exercise, a poor diet, insufficient/sporadic sleep, and drug & alcohol abuse will almost certainly cause depression in those who would otherwise be quite content with their lives.

Something I learned in rehab is that more and more people in the medical profession are realizing that if someone is abusing drugs and alcohol, it’s nearly impossible to accurately diagnose them with a mental disorder. I was convinced I was bipolar before I got sober. It made total sense at the time; I checked all the boxes. However, I was completely ignoring the fact that turbulent and unpredictable mood swings and heavy cocaine use go together, as the philosopher Gump would put it, “like peas and carrots.”

I suppose my point is this: if you are suffering from depression, if you are as mired in that thick, suffocating fog of apathy and dread as I once was, try your absolute damnedest to get to a point in your life where you can answer ‘yes’ to at least two of the questions above, and see if you don’t feel a bit better…. or maybe just not quite as bad. Then try for three, and then four. Will it be easy? No. I’m still working on the diet part, and my sweet tooth is fighting me every step of the way. But no one said it was going to be easy, or that it’s supposed to be.

But I’ll tell you what I do know: it’s easier than wanting to die. It’s a hell of a lot easier than waking up every day and having your first thought be, “Well, fuck—I’m still here.”

Wouldn’t anything, no matter how challenging, be easier than that?

Earn your fun

For the last month, I’ve been on short-term disability because of an injury at work. For the first few days, being off work and avoiding any physical activity that could aggravate my injury was a nice bit of relaxation. Within a week, however, I was starting to go stir-crazy. Two major parts of my routine—going to work and spending time in the gym—had suddenly disappeared.

 

I typically start my shift at 5:00am, and after just a week, I’ve found myself sleeping past 9:00 every morning. I’m not getting exercise, at least not the kind of strenuous exercise to which my body has become accustomed. I’m wasting hours a day on Netflix and Youtube. I’m eating like crap. And I’m getting paid to do it.

The point is, I’ve found myself doing what most people wish they could do: sleep in every day, watch TV, eat junk food, avoid exercise, and still get a check in the mailbox every other Friday, and I’m not enjoying any of it. I feel like a lazy, unmotivated piece of shit, because deep down I know that’s exactly what I’ve let myself change back into in less than a month’s time. When I was getting up early, busting my ass at work for eight hours, and then hitting the gym until I was drenched in sweat, everything I did to relax and unwind afterward felt deserved. I didn’t feel guilty about watching a movie on Netflix while having a dish of ice cream, because I knew I had earned it. So that’s my admonition for you today: earn your fun. If you don’t, your brain will know it deep down. If you take shortcuts and put fun before your responsibilities and your long-term goals, you won’t truly be able to enjoy itself. Some people think having a “cheat day” is a diet is a good idea, others don’t. But I think we can all agree that the whole idea of a cheat day is defeated if it’s not accompanied by six “non-cheat days”.