Nothing ever changes until something changes. It seems like such a simple statement that it almost does not even make sense. It is so obvious it does not even really even reach full cliché status, much less the lofty heights of being a proverb. On its best day it might be called “words of wisdom”. Yet, despite its lowly status amongst oft repeated phrases, it is actually the solution to so many issues faced by so many people all around the world.
Humans in general have two conflicting prevalent desires or attitudes. People are never satisfied- whatever level one achieves, they want more or better. This is not a flaw, it inspires progress, improvement, and the reaching of ever higher levels and capabilities. The other general attitudes is the dislike of change, the desire for things to remain constant and the same. This also is not a flaw despite being so contrary to the first as it inspires stability and considered thought as opposed to impulsive or impetuous decisions.
Taken together though, these two contrary desires often result in great dissatisfaction with life and the way people live. We want things to be different and better and for there to be progress, but many times our fear of change and longing for stability and comfort with the known prevents us from taking the often times obvious steps needed to result in a better situation and happiness.
While the ‘nothing ever changes until something changes’ truism applies equally to great geo-political issues and world policy issues such as climate change and world hunger, looking at it on the smaller more personal level of how we live day to day and the effect it has on our happiness and contentment in daily life will allow us to consider some new ideas that can have a near immediate effect on happiness and quality of life.
We are Creatures of Habit and Routine
People tend to be creatures of habit and routine. We do things over and over again day after day and develop the habits and routines that allow us to function in the fast paced world we now live in. If you were to list every single task done each day from get up brush teeth go work – all the tasks at work or school – getting to wherever going – drive, turn left here , stop at sign- eat lunch etc. etc. you would have a list of hundreds of tiny tasks you do each day. The only way to manage this many tasks is by force of habit or routine. The majority of them are done without conscious thought because they have become so routine. This is a necessary coping mechanism to deal with the complexity of modern living and lifestyles.
We tend to fear or at the least be uncomfortable with even minor changes to our routine because life experience tells us that changes to our routine cause difficulty and stress. It often boils down to the simple concept of fear of the unknown. We are not necessarily happy with the way something is going, but we know what the result will be. When we change things we have a hoped for result but also the possibility of failure or making things worse. If things are already hard, the risk of making things worse can cause a person to settle for bad result instead of even risk a worse.
The Downward Spiral to Depression
The smallest things can have the most dramatic results, particularly when dealing with depression. Depression often becomes a seemingly endless cycle. Getting out of bed or leaving the house may physically hurt when the depression gets bad enough. The needed routines to cope with the complex modern life style become too much. Everything just feels like too much.
Instead of following the established pattern and going to work or school, the choice is made to stay home, to stay in bed. Instead of getting dressed you might stay in pajamas, and since all the patterns changed, the shower, shaving, and whole range of other things stop to. Once the big routine breaks down, it is all gone and it becomes too hard to try to remember to do all the little things out of order so instead none are done.
After even just a few days of this however, and that is the new routine. The aversion to change that routine starts. We do not want to shower or go out of the house, or do the chores because our new routine involves none of those things and even though life sucks, we are managing. We often say that is the way we “cope” with extreme depression. Except that is not coping with depression at all. That is allowing the depression to become the habit we live and pattern we live by.
We do not want to change it because even though it hurts and we say we cannot take the constant depression and pain anymore, we do not want to risk the possibility of more pain by going out of the house. We want to avoid the potential pain of going back to school or work. While we are ready to die to end feeling so bad, we are not ready to take a shower and start changing the depression routine we have gone into.
Part of that routine often becomes the fixation on how feeling so awful, and the fixation with sadness and death and heartache. Listening to sad songs, searching for suicide methods online, looking through social media to prove our lives are worse than others. It all comes back to rationalizing and justifying how we feel, and therefore why we should not change. We tell anybody that will listen we will do anything to stop the pain all the while we do nothing but embrace it. We ask how to fix it and overlook the most simple.
We feel the sadness, isolation, and despair because that is how we felt when we stopped getting up, stopped socializing, stopped engaging with life. We are continuing on or increasingly doing all of those things (isolating, staying in bed or room, and avoiding normal hygiene) and yet say we are waiting for our mood to change, for the depression to lessen. We are listening to the sad music, focusing on the negative, searching out suicide methods type things more, so the depression deepens, not lessens. Nothing changes until something changes. The only way to make the cycle stop is to change something. Get out of bed and get dressed. Pick up the room. Turn off the sad music and put on something else. Resume the typical chores associated with normal living. Get out of the house and live even if you do not feel like doing it.
What Triggered the Depression?
The not wanting to do anything else is a function of both mood and habit/routine. It gets comfortable to isolate and changing is both hard and seems like it has risks. After all, it was “out there in the world” that this started, right? Not usually. If you actually look at it, “out there” started as a bad day or two or something bad happening. That made us upset or sad. The sad and upset changed our good routines into the isolation, and the playing sad songs “to cope”. That isolation and intentional immersion into our own place then grew by itself, as a product of the repeated actions we took in reaction to something hard or sad. The depression was not triggered by the relative dying, or not getting the job, or boyfriend breaking up with us. The depression was actually triggered by our reaction to that event– the isolating and playing sad songs, and withdrawal from life that initiated the new routine as opposed to by the event itself.
Just like a change from the other routine may have gotten us here, a change from this current routine is needed to get you out of this dark place. Some call it “fake it tilt you make it”, but it is not about pretending to be happy and suddenly you will fool yourself into being happy. People are not that simplistic and dumb.
Changes to make Happiness at Least Possible
It is about putting yourself into situations and changing the way you are doing things so happiness is possible. It is damn hard to feel happy listening to sad music and watching sad shows on TV and reliving every sad or bad memory you have ever had hour after hour, day after day. None of those things are apt to make you suddenly start smiling and feeling good. If doing those things suddenly made you happy and feel good then you would have a serious mental issue.
The changing to a situation where happiness is at least possible must be a conscious and intentional process. It will not happen spontaneously in somebody deep into depression, yet that is what the person in depression feels like needs to happen. They want to feel different before doing different and that process is as simple as the “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Yet that is what the typical depressed individual is doing. You have to change the action first to result in a change of mood second.
When somebody says you have to “snap out of it”, “just pull yourself together and put it behind you”, or other such maddening advice pause before jumping to anger. On first pass you may think “If I could do that then I would” and let it anger you and push you back further into the isolation believing they clearly do not understand. Try to hear it differently. They are not saying you can stop the depression on a whim. They are saying you must stop putting yourself in a place where it is impossible to feel anything else.
They see you not leaving your room and being sad for not friends and lonely, listening to sad music, watching heartbreaking shows on TV and can’t stop feeling sad. They see you looking through Facebook and talking about how great others are doing while you are stuck alone in your room not going to work and see the other issue you are missing. Nobody could feel happy in that situation, so snap out of it means to change something about that situation you are in so that happiness is at least possible.