Depression and anxiety were really starting to bug me. Not my own depression and anxiety, and not anyone else's either. It was the very idea of depression and anxiety. For months, whenever I heard someone casually talk about either of these topics, they seemed to be speaking in code. The words "depression" and "anxiety" seemed to be standing for something else. Why were so many people choosing one of those words or the other to describe their emotional struggles? Could they be complementary parts of some bigger picture? I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Over dozens of conversations and counseling sessions, I started to see a pattern forming. It is no mere coincidence so many of us are anxious or depressed. This is not merely an epidemic of "mental illness". Something basic about human nature unifies depression and anxiety, and makes them both relevant to everyone. The article below is the grand pattern as I have come to make sense of it. I hope if you can see the pattern as well, that it will help you to bring yourself, and the people you care about, from depression and anxiety back into balance.

Depression, Anxiety, and the Mismanagement of Aliveness

The armies of the anxious, and the droves of the depressed, continue to swell in number. Their members yearn to unlock the mysteries of anxiety and depression, but the keys are lost. We’ve searched for them in every corner of the paradigm of mental illness, the paradigm that taught us about depression and anxiety in the first place, but the keys just aren’t to be found there.

Once upon a time, there was no depression and no anxiety. People still found life as a human to be challenging, and they no doubt endured every variety of human misery. Suffer as they might, no one used the terms ‘anxiety’ or ‘depression’ to make sense of their suffering. ‘Depression’ and ‘anxiety’ simply had not been invented yet. The terms we are so intimately familiar with have only been around for a century or so. ‘Depression’, as a concept, evolved from the now-outdated notions of ‘melancholia’ and ‘sloth’. ‘Anxiety’ is meant to be an improvement over ‘hysteria’, ‘angst’, and other earlier formulations. Historically, we have just begun to make sense of our experiences by labeling them as ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’.

Only in recent decades have countless millions begun to identify with the terms ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’. We use them not merely as labels, but as explanations for why we suffer. The two concepts are in such wide circulation because they speak to something fundamental about the human experience. Unfortunately, the language they speak in doesn’t communicate much about how to improve our experience. ‘Depression’ and ‘anxiety’ may ultimately prove no more useful than ‘melancholia’ or ‘hysteria’ were. The concepts don’t tell us enough about how to suffer less.

Depression and anxiety are so pervasive that it’s a mistake to think of them as pathologies. If you are alive, you are vulnerable to depression and anxiety. Something about the nature of aliveness itself exposes us to these conditions. Aliveness is the link between anxiety and depression. Aliveness is the cause. Aliveness is the cure.

The Problem Of Aliveness

Imagine depression and anxiety as opposite poles on a spectrum. Depression is characterized by a lack: low energy, low motivation, less meaning, less pleasure. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a kind of overabundance: too much energy, restlessness, hypervigilance, overactive thoughts. Could the thing that depression is not enough of, and the thing that anxiety is too much of, be the same thing?

Life is a challenging place to be. If you are able to meet and overcome life’s challenges, you will be suffused with a feeling of aliveness. If you fail to meet life’s challenges, this quality of aliveness, the sense of being fully alive, will be out of balance. You will be faced with one of the two fundamental dilemmas of aliveness.

When you are overwhelmed with more aliveness than you know how to handle, we call that anxiety. The relentless intensity of aliveness can be preoccupying, destabilizing, overpowering. Anxiety is a label for the experience of aliveness being too much.

When aliveness has been shut down, we call that depression. Aliveness can be suppressed early in life, never getting a chance to grow, or it may be shut down in response to anxiety and overwhelm. Depression is a description of what it’s like when aliveness has been suppressed.

If you hang out on the extremes of the spectrum of aliveness, you experience depression and anxiety. If you manage to remain in the middle, aliveness permeates you without overpowering you. Aliveness is in balance.

Aliveness is composed of one part energy, one part emotion, one part meaning, one part engagement, and one part relatedness. For aliveness to be in balance, each of these five components of aliveness must be in balance as well. As a sort of a working definition of aliveness, here’s what that might look like.

  • Energy :: You have available energy you can draw on at will. You can direct it where you want it to go, and it propels you into action when you so choose. The rest of the time, energy resides in you as a kind of calm awakeness, easeful and effortless. You maintain a balance between animated excitement and quiet stillness.
  • Emotion :: You have access to the entire complement of human emotions, in their full range of intensity. No one emotional state dominates you for very long at once. Your feelings shift and change easily. Challenging emotions do not plague you. You maintain a balance between responsiveness and equanimity.
  • Meaning :: Your beliefs and interpretations provide you a rich sense of meaning and purpose. They make everything interesting, while also pointing you toward what’s most important. You can derive reassurance, hope, and perspective from your own thought processes. You don’t get stuck in rigid interpretations for very long, so the meanings you make don’t take over your mind or cause your thoughts to chase each other in circles. You maintain a balance between purposeful ideals and flexible curiosity.
  • Engagement :: You are an active participant in your life. You shape the world to make it your own, improving it through your efforts. You don’t just wait around hoping interesting things will happen to you; you pursue objects of desire. Being guided by goals doesn’t stop you, however, from noticing when something becomes more important, or more interesting, than the goal you started with. Because you can let go of expectations, stress never makes you its employee. You maintain a balance between leadership and spontaneity.
  • Relatedness :: You are deeply connected to other people, to a community, and to humanity. Through your network of close allies and intimates, you have people to play with, support and receive support from, collaborate with, and sit quietly side-by-side with. Even when enjoying time alone, you can sense your connection to others and trust that it’s not going anywhere. You can also sense your separate self, even while in deep communion, and so when you lose yourself in others, or in others’ judgments of you, it’s only temporary. You maintain a balance between intimacy and autonomy.

Being cut off from energy, emotion, meaning, engagement, and relatedness can leave you depleted, numb, apathetic, alienated, and isolated – in a word, depressed.

Being overwhelmed by more energy, emotion, meaning, engagement, and relatedness than you know how to handle can make you restless, unstable, obsessed, stressed out, and self-conscious – in a word, anxious.

The mysteries of anxiety and depression are the mysteries of aliveness. To bring aliveness back into balance, we have to answer a few questions. How can there be too much aliveness? Why would we ever shut aliveness down? If depression and anxiety are such opposites, why do they so often hang out together? How do we come back to life when aliveness is shut down? How can we increase our capacity for aliveness so coming back to life doesn’t just overwhelm us? Let’s start at the beginning.

More Aliveness Than You Know How To Handle

If aliveness is such a good thing, how could a person have too much of it? While it may not be possible to be too alive, the aliveness of any moment can be more than you know how to handle. Let’s come back to something babies know that adults forget: any given moment of life can be totally overwhelming.

You really have no idea how many ways it’s possible to be disoriented all at once until you’ve done some time as a human infant. It’s how we all begin: thrust into circumstances beyond our control, having absolutely no idea what’s going on, totally dependent on other people for our survival, and ruled by our biology. We go from calm contentment one moment, to complete calamity in the next. None of it makes any sense, because we haven’t yet developed the cognitive infrastructure for making sense of things. Just figuring out how to be alive occupies every moment of every day.

Thus began the incredible adventure of your life as a human being. You started off clueless, but somehow managed to build an entire self from scratch. You developed an identity, acquired a large number of strategies for navigating life on earth, and have had a few years in which to practice using them.

And now here you are, still trying to figure out how to be alive. The project doesn’t end with infancy. It just grows in complexity.

Consider something as simple as hunger. It may begin as a subtle, niggling sensation, but before long, a jittery sense of insufficiency starts pulling on your awareness. It doesn’t matter what else you’re doing. Suddenly, one of your basic biological drives starts commandeering as much of your attention as possible. Same if you’re tired, thirsty, horny, antsy, angry, eager, or over it. Our bodies and brains are wired to amplify all these basic states. The steady stream of felt sense experience, often ignorable, can quickly become irresistible, requiring us to attend to any of the dozens of needs we human animals have to balance all day, every day.

But biology is just the beginning. At the same time as all your physiological subsystems are competing for priority, all of your senses are always on, slurping information from the external world and incessantly feeding it all into your brain. When your mind can get some space from the interminable processing of physiological and sensory data, it’s still got a hundred other jobs to do: constantly comparing and evaluating, planning and retrospecting, reporting on moment-to-moment experience and just plain trying to figure shit out.

All this is happening even when you’re by yourself. Add other people into the mix and now you have to manage these senses you can’t turn off, mental chatter that won’t quit, and an anatomy constantly trying to achieve homeostasis, while also responding to social expectations, attempting to conform and compete and collaborate and communicate.

It’s no wonder babies scream when they’re tired and bliss out when they’re fed, that toddlers wail over broken cookies and bubble over with delight when they can have three instead of just two. It is a wonder that we adults don’t explode much more often, either in agony or ecstasy. How do we manage all of this all the time? How do we handle the endless everything of existence?

One of our best tricks is selective suppression of awareness, and, for that matter, selective repression of impulses. We filter through the onslaught of our senses, deciding (mostly unconsciously) what requires our attention and what to tune out. We hold back the vast majority of what we wish we could do, prioritizing (mostly unconsciously) amongst desires and preferences and motivations, inhibiting most of them.

Said in much simpler terms, there’s a lot happening all at once, pretty much all the time, and we ignore most of it.

But what if you can’t ignore stuff? What if your filters aren’t working? What if you don’t have the strength or the will to direct your attention elsewhere? Welcome to the wonderful world of anxiety: more aliveness than you know what to do with.

It truly is amazing we’re not all anxious all the time. The sheer intensity of aliveness is a lot to manage, even when we don’t have much to worry about. But, of course, there is much to worry about.

To function, we need order, a sense of stability, consistency, security. Yet life is unpredictable, uncontrollable, and impermanent. Some of us compensate by living inside the illusion of stability. For others of us, unexpected events have dispelled the illusion, and we can no longer believe in it. Instead, we stand watch, trying to predict what unpredictable thing might happen next.

Think about it. You might get hurt, hurt someone else, be rejected or excluded or humiliated or abandoned or yelled at, get sick or injured or killed, or someone you love might. You might fail, make the wrong decision, make a fool of yourself, miss an opportunity. You could get lost, or fall off something, or get trapped in a tight space, or be attacked by a snake, or a clown, or your plane could go down. You might be found out, or lose it in public, or have another panic attack, or a heart attack. It’s enough to keep a person awake at night, paralyzed with fear, or driven by worry to maintain some semblance of control.

There’s a lot happening all at once, pretty much all the time. Feelings can come too fast, or be too strong, for us to organize them all into manageable experiences. Add to this onslaught of feelings an acute awareness of the many very real hazards of life on earth, and aliveness is much too much to manage.

And yet, somehow, we’re not all anxious all the time.

Some of us are able to handle more aliveness than others. Perhaps we managed to build robust selves, structures that can endure storms and earthquakes without toppling. Perhaps we learned to work with strong emotions, releasing or diffusing or containing them as the situation calls for. Some of us even have both: a robust self-structure combined with a facility for metabolizing strong emotions. We’re not anxious because we have high aliveness-capacity.

Some of us, however, did not build robust selves or learn to work with strong emotions. As a result, we are in anxiety’s grip, tormented by an overabundance of aliveness. Unable to manage all this aliveness, we instead mismanage it. We figure out how to shut it down.

The Shutting Down Of Aliveness

I have never heard anyone say, “I think an excellent solution to the dilemmas I face as a person is to become depressed. Yet depression may be just such a solution for countless individuals. When life gets to be too much, shutting aliveness down may provide just the retreat you need.

Let’s consider some excellent reasons to become depressed, to stifle the flame of aliveness:

  • Imagine, say, that some of the events in your life have left you with feelings too painful to face. What if you could somehow just shut down the whole feeling mechanism? You wouldn’t be able to feel much enjoyment either, but the trade-off might just be worth it.
  • Suppose something changes, and whatever has made your life most meaningful is now gone. The work of finding new sources of meaning, purpose, or inspiration might prove too arduous. Better, perhaps, to retreat into a way of being where you don’t have to try anymore. Even if the cost is that nothing motivates you or feels right.
  • Though people around you seem to be in touch with their desires, perhaps there has never been room in your life for you to discover what you want, or what you like, or what’s worth pursuing. Or perhaps you know what you wish you could have, but you can’t seem to get it, or you think wanting it is unacceptable. If what you want is unknowable, or unattainable, you can always settle for a comfortable, if empty, place to wait out your days.
  • Consider just how much is wrong in the world, in your world specifically, and consider the significant obstacles to changing any of it. It can seem quite hopeless. Rather than banging your head against the wall of futility, it might be easier to give up.

Despite its downsides, the shutting down of aliveness also has compelling benefits. Some who grapple with anxiety and overwhelm wish they could turn down the volume on life. But it’s a trick not everyone can pull off. For those who can manage it, depression is a natural anxiety reduction strategy.

There are two kinds of depression.

The first kind of depression is a response. It’s a dimming of aliveness when the light is too painful to look at. It’s the strategy for escaping anxiety and anguish we’ve been discussing.

The second kind of depression is a habit. If the shuttering of aliveness started early in your life, aliveness will always seem just out of reach. You started off, as all people do, drawing lifeforce from the well of aliveness. But then you were forced to build fences around the well, and now all you know are the fences.

If you can answer yes to any of the following questions, you were subject to some of the many and varied influences that suppress aliveness from an early age.

  • Did you have anxious parents who prohibited you from following your impulses out of fear?
  • Were you indoctrinated into constrained social roles, perhaps roles that required self-sacrifice, politeness, or pretense?
  • Was there pressure for you to conform to social norms, to hide your light under a bushel, to give up on your dreams?
  • Were you trained to repress your emotions?
  • Did you do time in institutions, such as school, that encouraged you to be disembodied?
  • Did cultural values of self-sufficiency, competition, or individualism socially isolate you, leaving you on your own?
  • Were you forced by people who hurt you to act powerlessly to keep from getting hurt worse?

Everyone answers yes to some of these questions. No one escapes the social forces that compel us to shut down our aliveness, and so everyone knows something about depression. If we grew up more free, depression wouldn’t be such an equal opportunity employer.

Some people answer yes to all the questions, an unqualified yes. Yes isn’t even a strong enough word. If you’re one of them, it’s likely you have yet to discover what it means to be fully alive. This is, when you think about it, good news. Depression is a habit, but it’s not the only possible habit. Pick up some new ones, and you can become more alive than you’ve ever been before.

Coming back to life (or coming to life for the first time) is the only hope of relief. But, as you may have guessed, coming back to life has one serious drawback. It can make you anxious.

The Cycle Of Depression And Anxiety:
Management By Extremes

Aliveness doesn’t just happen once. It’s not a goal to be achieved. It’s an ongoing practice, a set of practices. You need good balance to properly manage aliveness. You want access to available energy, without being kept up all night by it. You want to be able to fully feel, without being dominated by feelings. You want a rich sense of meaning, without getting stuck in rigid interpretations. You want to be engaged in purposeful activity, without goal-orientation blinding you to everything else. You want to be deeply connected to other people, but without losing yourself.

The practices of aliveness demand a dynamic balance, shifting a little this way, a little that. If you don’t maintain balance, you may tip over onto the too-much side (anxiety) or the not-enough side (depression). You also may wind up tilting wildly from one extreme to the other in a kind of dynamic imbalance.

Anxiety is one side of the imbalance: too much energy, emotion, meaning, engagement, or relatedness. If your capacity for aliveness maxes out, trips a circuit breaker, blows a fuse, then aliveness shuts down. Depression results.

Depression is the other side of the imbalance: a blockage of energy, emotion, meaning, engagement, or relatedness. If such a suppression of aliveness becomes unbearable, the dam can crack, releasing more aliveness than you can manage. Anxiety results.

Anxiety can lead to depression, which in turn can lead to anxiety: a cycle of extremes.

Of course, it might not all happen in an such orderly sequence. You might be holding back one aspect of aliveness, while another aspect of aliveness is simultaneously kicking your ass. In such an ongoing battle, depression and anxiety are happy teammates. Extreme-mates, you might call them. Too much aliveness and nowhere near enough of it, all in one confusing tangle of limbs.

To stop swinging between extremes, you need to do two things at once. You need to come back to life, and you need to increase your capacity for aliveness. You won’t be able to do either by yourself.
Bringing Aliveness Back Into Balance

Aliveness is the key to the entire system of depression and anxiety. Instead of asking what to do about depression, find out how to come more fully to life, how to liberate aliveness when it gets trapped. Instead of asking what to do about anxiety, learn how to withstand the relentless intensity of being alive.

The project of mastering aliveness is as big as life itself. There are no simple tricks, no three easy steps to follow. The process takes time and tenacity. In some ways it’s never-ending. But what else are you going to do with your time?

Below is a list of suggestions in two parts: ways to come more fully to life (a response to depression), and ways to increase your capacity for aliveness (a response to anxiety). Some of these suggestions will fit your particular needs. Some will not. Each one is a serious undertaking. None are easy.

The project of mastering aliveness cannot be accomplished alone. You will need help, from a friend acting as a counselor, or perhaps a counselor acting as friend. You don’t need to craft a grand strategy all at once. Just come up with a single step you can take toward of any of these goals, then the next step, and then the next one. Get some love when you’re frustrated, or confounded, then get back on the path. Practice together. Celebrate successes along the way. That’s what friends acting as counselors and counselors acting as friends are for!

Responding To Depression:
Coming (Back) To Life

Because many aspects of aliveness can be blocked, or hindered, or reduced to glowing cinders, there are many aspects of aliveness to consider releasing and rekindling. Here are a few.

  • Tell the Truth :: We’ve all learned to present well-managed, heavily sanitized versions of ourselves to the world. Many of us are trapped in these false selves, pretending, or posing, or being polite, but the truth can set us free. Getting real, learning to say the many things you didn’t even realize you were holding back, intensifies your engagement with the world and makes a much deeper level of intimacy possible. Brad Blanton, author of Radical Honesty, says “Lying is the source of all stress.” Convincing yourself (and others) that you’re something you’re not, ties up far more energy than most of us realize.

  • Shed Shoulds :: Besides faking it, another way we suppress our authentic natures is by forcing ourselves into boxes much too small for us. The walls of these boxes are formed by shoulds and supposed-to’s, by all the “acceptable” behaviors we’ve learned to limit ourselves to, all the ways we’ve learned to conform. Slowly, without realizing it, we become the boxes, and lose out on much of our aliveness as a result. To break the box, you need to break some rules. You need to be bad. After all, as Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Non-Violent Communication says, “Depression is the reward we get for being good.”
  • Take Risks :: Beyond the borders of what you already know, a vast world awaits. So much of life happens out in the great unknown, but getting there requires risk. Risks are, by definition, risky. You might fail, make a mess, get rejected, or have to face painful emotions. Playing it safe, however, can keep you small, stuck, stagnant, stale. Safety carries its own risks. As Hellen Keller said it, “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” You might as well risk it.
  • Want Stuff :: What do you want? What do you like? What brings you pleasure? Until you know the answers to these questions, you’re just going through the motions, conforming to other people’s preferences. If you don’t know what you want, you can learn to identify the subtle impulses always in the background of your experience. Impulses guide you through your day, turn you toward objects of desire, make some possibilities more compelling than others. Even before your mind knows what it wants, your body gets curious. Follow that curiosity to discover what feels good and what doesn’t, what feels right. Desire is born in the body.
  • Make Meaning :: Some things you want are easy to get. Others require persistent effort, sacrifice, the surmounting of obstacles. Some goals require you to reach beyond yourself: contributing to others, improving your community, mending the world, creating something new, becoming something greater than you’ve been. These goals involve you in something larger than yourself, something worth working for. When you have to work for it, it becomes meaningful. If you pursue simple desires, your body tells you when it is satisfied. If you pursue meaning, your soul tells you. You can be guided by the subtle stirrings of your soul to create, by your own sweat, a fulfilling life. Meaning is not out there in the world waiting for you. Meaning has to be made.
  • Unleash Emotions :: The repression of emotion is not selective. If you want to keep hard feelings under wraps, you end up holding your positive emotions hostage too. To free the good stuff, you also need to free the hard stuff, to fully feel and express both joy and pain. Painful emotions are necessary. You can’t heal old hurts without feeling and expressing fear and anger and sadness and shame. With a little encouragement, you can become brave enough to allow the full force of feelings to move through you, to pass over you like waves rather than stay caught in you like whirlpools. Releasing emotions clears you out, makes you fresh. Set your feelings free!
  • Occupy Your Body :: Most of us are trained to be disembodied, which is like being trained not to use your vision, or your hearing. When you occupy your body, you get back in touch, literally, with yourself. Which physical capacities are underdeveloped in you? Strength? Endurance? Coordination? Felt sense awareness? The ability to move subtle energies? Enjoyment of physical intimacy? Developing any of these resources brings you more fully to life. What you do with your body makes you more or less fully alive. What you feed it does as well! The more embodied you become, the more you perceive the influences of diet and drugs (including psycho-pharmaceuticals) on your aliveness, positive or otherwise. You can make more embodied decisions about which kinds of influences you most want. Bring your body with you everywhere you go!
  • Find Your People :: People are everywhere. Like you, they all want meaningful connections. They all wish for real intimacy. Also like you, they may be waiting for someone else to come along and make it happen. It turns out that you’re the person they’ve been waiting for! You can proactively create the sense of belonging you’ve been hoping for by claiming other people as your own. Who, amongst the myriad, should you claim? Because you’re on a quest for aliveness, look for others who are doing the same. You may need to let go of existing social ties: people who are committed to safety, or small talk, or negativity, or to numbing themselves with addiction. Maximize your chance of encountering your people by going where the people are. If you want real intimacy, start new relationships by being real yourself. Community is created by people like you.
Responding To Anxiety:
Increasing Your Capacity For Aliveness

So here you are brimming over with newfound aliveness. If you want to enjoy it, and not drown in it, you need to increase your aliveness capacity.

Because different aspects of aliveness overpower us at different moments, there are a range of capacity-building skills to consider developing. Here are some essentials.

  • Strengthen Self :: What makes you you? Do you have a sense of self that remains stable even as your experiences come and go? Is there something in you that you can rely on, and return to, when bad things happen, or when someone doesn’t like you, or when you fail? If you’re like most people, your core is surrounded by a shell of strategies and defenses you’ve developed to protect yourself. These temporary protections are helpful, but they will always collapse when enough pressure is applied. It is possible to dismantle the shell, piece by piece, instead strengthening your relationship with your center: your essential, inviolable nature. As your connection to that indestructible center grows, you will be less at the effect of circumstances, less thrown by the unexpected, less rocked by your own emotions.
  • Internalize Intimacy :: If, early in life, people were attuned to you, responsive to your needs, and consistently available, you probably internalized a sense of intimacy. How do you know if you have? You easily bond with people of your choosing. You sense your connection to other people, even when they’re not around. You sense yourself, and your boundaries, even when you’re connected to others. You feel held in a matrix of community and support. If any specific person leaves, dies, or is simply busy, you are confident there will always be other people available. If you weren’t so fortunate as to pick up these qualities early on, it’s not too late. Start by building a relationship with someone who has already internalized intimacy. Slowly develop a sense of security in your connection to them. Eventually, you can learn to reproduce this security across many relationships. Combine this stable sense of other with a stable sense of self, and you become relatively unshakable.
  • Contain Emotions :: For people who are out of touch with their feelings, learning to unleash and express them is the key to healing. For people who are overwhelmed by emotions all the time already, a complementary set of skills is needed. Containing and diffusing emotions begins by learning to slow them down, bringing awareness to the body sensations that accompany the feelings. Once you make a little room, you can respond to those body sensations with self-soothing, conscious breathing, grounding, and a range of other practices to calm your agitated system. Healing still requires the release of emotions, but containing them first makes it possible release them a little bit at a time.
  • Approach Fear :: The process of overcoming fears can be fun. The active ingredient in overcoming fear is expression: screaming, shaking, laughing, crying, and otherwise freaking out. If you are just close enough to something you’re afraid of, you can, with help, freak out about it. If you’re too close, you’ll probably get flooded and shut down. Back off a bit, and find the sweet spot where you feel some fear, but it doesn’t yet take over your entire inner world. Then freak out until you can take a step closer, and another step closer. Remember, courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to act while scared.
  • Befriend Shame :: You’ve got a secret you don’t want anyone to find out about, but it’s too late. They already know. How did they find out? As it turns out, they’ve got the exact same secret, and they’re trying to keep you from finding out about it. We all have the same secret: we are ashamed of our humanity, ashamed of our basic human flaws and limitations, failures and imperfections. Rather than face the shame of our imperfections, we try to contort ourselves into inhuman, impossible shapes. What do you to do to cover up your humanness? Wouldn’t it be better to just be as vulnerable and needy and confused and conflicted as you really are? Sure, other people might judge or reject you for being your authentic self. But at least you wouldn’t be judging or rejecting you. It’s too late anyway. They already know. They’ve got the same secret. Help them to tell theirs by telling yours first.
  • Meet the Present :: Life happens now and only now. If you habitually future-trip, or speculate about how things might have gone differently “if only”, you can train your awareness to remain in the present. In the present moment, there is no worry. In the present moment, there is no remorse. Psychological time pauses. Meditative and body practices from countless traditions are designed to keep awareness rooted in the present, some as simple as conscious breathing, or following the stream of inner felt sense experience. The most wonderful thing about the present moment is that it’s always here waiting for you. If you could use a moment of freedom from stress and suffering and yearning, meet me here in the present. The present is where it’s at!
  • Practice Surrender :: There’s an art to letting go: of control, of attachment to outcomes, of failed goals, of unfulfilled desires. We wish things were different than they are. Nonetheless, things continue to be as they are. Letting go means surrendering, giving up, losing the battle against reality. You can resist the nature of reality with all your might, compressing your creative energy into a tight ball of stress and anger. But reality always wins. So give it a rest. You can always fight again another day. Today, learn to accept things as they are. It’s the only way to enjoy the terrifically flawed and imperfect present moment.
Shifting The Paradigm

Depression and anxiety are fundamental human experiences, because being alive is something we all need to learn how to do. The old paradigm, by framing depression and anxiety as illnesses, has freed us from self-blame. An illness is no one’s fault. For this advantage, we thank the mental illness paradigm, even as we leave it behind. It was not the solution we were hoping it could be.

It is no one’s fault if they don’t yet have access to all the aliveness they need. It is no one’s fault if they are overwhelmed by the aliveness they experience. These are challenges everyone eventually faces. We all need help to master aliveness. We can all help one another.

About the Author

Steve Bearman, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He founded Interchange Counseling Institute in 2002 and is the lead teacher of Interchange's San Francisco-based year-long counseling and coaching training. When he's not counseling people, leading workshops, and advocating for social justice, Steve climbs mountains, adventures in the urban wilderness, explores the edges and limits of what's possible, deconstructs everything, and finds new ways to put it all back together.