Depression is different for everyone. Here’s what it’s like for me.
Depression is quicksand, says comedian Pete Holmes. Try this method to help you cope and live with depression.
Pete Holmes is a comedian, writer, cartoonist, "Christ-leaning spiritual seeker", and podcast host. His wildly popular podcast, You Made It Weird, is a comedic exploration of the meaning of life with guests ranging from Deepak Chopra and Elizabeth Gilbert to Seth Rogen and Garry Shandling.
PETE HOLMES: You woke up in a conundrum. You were born into a conundrum. And I don't care how we label it or lower our anxiety by going, well, it's this and it's not this, and it's that -- let's just talk about this shared mystery that we're soaking in. I want to be careful here, talking about depression, because I had a friend who was very depressed, and I remember talking to him, out of love, trying to explain some of these ideas, some of these ways that we can think and interpret our suffering. And sometimes when someone is suffering, the last thing they want is for you to go, 'Hey, there's another way to look at this.' That's later. None of this is to be imposed on anybody, and I don't want to belittle or just say, 'You know your brain is -- it's your attachment to your desire to not be depressed that's causing you--' no, none of that. That is not what I'm saying at all. We can give space to someone's depression. We can love them, we can honor -- we can just eat some noodles, we can watch some movies, whatever it is. We can just sit and not talk. That's real stuff. It's a real -- I don't know if you call it a disorder, a disease, but it's happening, and we don't need to coach people through with ideologies.
That being said, if you're in a place to talk about this, usually when you're not depressed, I found it helpful to step inside what I call the witness. And other traditions call that your soul. I believe science might just call it the phenomenon of your base consciousness. If you think about when you were born -- I have a baby girl now; she's not thinking in ideas yet. She doesn't know she's American. She doesn't know she lives in California. Just like a ladybug doesn't know it's Italian. You know what I mean? It's just awareness. So she's just there. But slowly over time, we build up what Jung and others called the false self. So we have the story of who we are. I'm a man and I'm a comedian and I'm a tall man, I have big teeth, and all these things, and I like the first two Batman movies, and I don't drink coffee, or whatever it is. So you build up this identity. And oftentimes, in that identity is where things like suffering are occurring, sometimes. I can't speak for everybody. But I will say that for me, when I've been depressed -- and I get depressed. I have irrational bouts of anxiety. I have random FedEx deliveries of despondency. Just like, "I didn't order this. Oh, well, keep the PJs on, cancel everything you're doing today. It's time to take a sad shower." That happens to me. So I'm speaking for me with full respect to other people's processes and their experience.
When I'm depressed, if I can get into that quiet space, it's the space that's noticing the thoughts. So if you think, 'I'm hungry' -- we always just think that 'I'm hungry' is the thought in the animal, and then we eat, and then it goes, 'Thank you.' Who's talking to who, really? I would say that the thought is talking to your awareness, your base awareness, your witness. So that's what's watching your thoughts. And if you can get into that, you see how impartial and unswayed by your life circumstance this witness really is. It's just there. It's neutral. It's just is-ness. It's just this. And it's just watching. It's compassionate, it's involved, it's invested. But it's not really as connected and tied to the events of your life story as you are, as your false self is. So when those depressions happen, I found it helpful -- and this is something Ram Dass taught me -- is instead of identifying with the depression and saying, "I am depressed" -- although, that is how I might say it to somebody -- what I'm thinking is, "There is depression. I am noticing" -- it's going to make me cry -- "I'm seeing depression." And you can almost -- it's not denial. It's real and it's valid. But you're a little bit less in the quicksand and you go, "Wow," -- This is Ram Dass, he's like, "I don't know if people get out of depressions like this one. Look at this one. This is too much." But who is noticing it? And Ram Dass asks, is the part of you that's noticing the depression depressed? Now, I asked my friend that who was depressed, and he said yes. So not everybody is there, not everybody can get there. Later he did, by the way. We talked about it later.
In my experience, I've had success in getting into the place that goes, there is an impartial part of me that's witnessing whatever the feeling is, and I can rest in that. Ram Dass talks about it being like a candle that's inside that isn't swayed or flickered by the wind. It's in a quiet place. And when you go in there, you don't resist the depression, you give it space. You observe it, you don't identify with it. You honor it, sometimes you medicate it, sometimes you go to therapy. I'm not saying we need to sit in a cave and heal ourselves. But I am saying that there is some relief to be had in not identifying as, "I'm this, I'm sad." I do it all the time. "There is sadness." I'm anxious. "There is anxiety. Look at Pete, he's anxious." And this is every great spiritual mystic through all time, they've all been doing this. Saint Francis called his body his corpse. He was like, 'I drag my corpse around, my corpse wants to eat.' You know what I mean? I don't like it because it puts it down. But I just go like -- I say to Valerie all the time, I go, "Pete's frustrated." You know what I mean? Not, "I'm frustrated, this is real. My parents should -- they should listen more, or, my dad still wants me to be a baseball player." Oh, look at Pete go. And then you're there and you're just like, you're not being flickered by the wind. Because that's always going to be there. And with practice, with meditation, with mindfulness, and with contemplation and study, literally reading about it, talking about it like this, when we're in it in real time, not necessarily later -- at the beginning, it goes like this. You're depressed and then later, you look back and go, oh, I think I was still this watching me. And then with practice, when it's happening, you can go, I can witness this in real time. I can go, that's happening. It's a phenomenon. It's real. It's to be honored, I understand. But it's not who I really am.
- Everyone's experience with depression is different, but for comedian Pete Holmes the key to living with depression has been to observe his own thoughts in an impartial way.
- Holmes' method, taught to him by psychologist and spiritual leader Ram Dass, is to connect to his base consciousness and think about himself and his emotions in the third person.
- You can't push depression away, but you can shift your mindset to help better cope with depression, anxiety, and negative emotions. If you feel depressed, you can connect with a crisis counselor anytime in the US.
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