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Book Reviews

Depression Is A Choice: Winning the Battle Without Drugs,
A.B. Curtiss, 2001, Hyperion Publishers

This is my favorite book so far (May) in 2002. Even though it is not Christian, it has many parallels to what the Bible teaches on the soul, happiness, responsibility, morality, volition, controlled and uncontrolled emotions, etc. She is particularly good at quips (sort of like proverbs) that help the struggling person take control of their life without drugs. Christians should replace Curtiss' concepts of "principle, doing something, and higher-mind thinking" with "Bible doctrine, practical application of the Truth, and putting on the mind of Christ." Here goes:

"Happiness is our natural state. It is always available to us, in spite of what we feel at the time.

We get depressed not because we are doing something wrong, but because there are a few essential things we have never been taught how to do at all. Depression is essentially a trick of the mind. We can learn how this trick works so that we won't be fooled by it so easily.

One day, when depression began its periodic and pitiless attack on me, I decided to fight back, mentally, and found that I had the power all along to escape from depression. We simply have to learn how to use our mind. The self is supposed to direct the mind to manage our health, thinking, feelings, and behavior. It is simply a matter of educating and training our minds so that anger and depression are no longer in charge of us. I have domesticated the Beast which I had once thought must forever feed upon me at will - by calling upon the higher brain functions of reasoning, intelligence, and creativity. Although I still experience the same mood swings that used to devastate me, I now remain a calm, stable, sober, and cheerful person.

It requires dropping a belief that tells us we are the helpless victim of our moods and our feelings. It is simply not true that we have to think any thought that happens to bubble up in our mind. It is simply not true that some of our feelings may be so strong that we are compelled to act them out just because a chemical up in our brain says so. We don't have to collapse into anxiety and let it take us.

We can, as an act of will, choose particular and specific thoughts to switch the focus of our attention away from our depression. This "directed thinking" depends upon chosen principles, rather than feelings, to fund behavior.

Psychoanalysis, Prozac, lithium, Ritalin, Paxil, and everything else the psychological community has to offer are a complete waste of time.

I was the perpetrator of my life, not the victim of it. Depression served as a very convenient catchall for the whole mess of whatever confusion and terribleness was going on in my life. I didn't seem to mind dumping it all over my family, but I hid it from everybody else so that it wouldn't hurt my image.

If you are one of those depressed people who will not question yourself or your thinking, nothing can be done. You have already been recruited into mental illness by a depression conspiracy faster than the speed of light. Psychiatry has sold you both a disease and a cure, but drugs will not take you from scared to sacred.

Exercise is more effective than anything else for depressed patients. Studies at Duke University have shown that three 30-minute workouts each week brought relief equal to drug treatment. Even hard work makes a person more cheerful. Psychology has been too interested in the study of weakness and damage and not enough interested in the study of strength and virtue - primarily due to the undue influence of the pharmaceutical industry. The two work hand-in-hand to sell us our own insanity, making us emotional weaklings who need medication.

What psychology should have been doing is the discipline of depression rather than the illness of depression.

One of the underpinnings of depression is arrogance. Once deep into depression, we can't imagine that we were ever the slightest bit arrogant. But we mistake feelings of helplessness for humility. There is nothing more stubborn and imperious than abject helplessness. We need to be rescued from the cult of depression, and the first step is to reject psychiatry's model of the mind. Psychiatrists are famous for dwelling on the "why" of life, which requires no action; as opposed to the "how" of life, which does require action.

When thoughts and feelings work in concert to pitch us into depression, we can interject new thoughts and change the unwanted feelings as an act of will. We think our way into depression, and we can think our way out of it. We can choose which thoughts we wish to think. We can simply choose to be okay. We can accomplish a physical brainshift without introducing any outside chemicals.

Emotional self-responsibility requires courage.

Mood disorders are simply a needless way to go around in narcissistic circles. We enjoy an exaggerated feeling of self-importance in the cosmos.

Depression has no power if we ignore it and insist upon thinking about something else. It is our quick-fix society, with its hopeless hang-up on cheap happiness and our dependence on drugs and the psychologists and psychiatrists who purvey them that is the aberration, not depression. Believing we must remain depressed or take medication is a type of self-hypnosis.

Depression is more of a routine than a disease.

We always have the option to choose between the reasoning and creativity of our higher mind and the emotional compulsions of the primal mind. Choice is the most priceless gift we own. We modern-day Americans usually choose to function from feelings, the totally open-drawer policy. But we need to get our brains off blame and use our higher minds properly.

As long as we are complaining or succumbing to depression we are safe from doing anything that might change the status quo. I didn't know what complaining really was until I caught myself doing it all the time. I didn't know that I was secretly counting on having a perfect life and was therefore impatient with a normal, ordinary, mixed-bag life. I am sure that I was influenced in this by a psychologized modern-day tendency to look upon our success as more important than our character, the circumstances that befall us as more significant than how we respond to them.

When we alternate blame, complaint, and depression like I used to do, all the bases are covered. We are not connected to our own present reality, and thus are not only lost to ourselves, but there is no way for anyone else to connect with us either.

Feelings are neither smart nor moral, and they do not have the least modicum of social responsibility. Feelings are like electricity, powerful but dumb. And unless we learn how to handle them both properly, either one of them can kill us.

I spent 30-years as a manic-depressive wandering around my life, until I decided I would refuse all thoughts of despair because they were a waste of time and ultimately came to nothing. Thinking negative or painful thoughts is a human being's most unnecessary, unintelligent and pointless activity.

Depression is extremely powerful, powerful enough to kill us. But it is not at all intelligent and we can outsmart it seven days a week. And this eternal striving helps us grow stronger and more confident.

A person can say, "I don't believe you can change your mood by altering your thinking or behavior." And because of this belief, that person won't make any attempt to direct their thinking or alter their behavior, which non-attempt then completely reinforces their belief that it can't be done. He will be right. Thinking, exercise and work will have no effect on his depression.

It's Prozac that feels good, not us. Prozac doesn't make us feel good any more than a cherry pie makes us taste good. We feel bad, we take Prozac. Prozac feels good and when it's gone, we still feel bad.

Refuse to act upon your feelings, knowing that they are not necessarily objective reality. Depression is not regular life. It is our own private hell of self-absorption. We can't sit around and wait for our life to get fixed up. Our only hope is to decide, as an act of will, to get up anyway, even if we don't feel like it, and take some small positive action. Run, or take a walk, take out the garbage, make the bed, volunteer to clean up the highway.

Depression goes away by itself when you withdraw your attention from it and pretend it isn't there. Unless we attend to our thinking process, our mind will keep on hurting, even in the absence of any real problem. If we are thinking something rational in place of the irrational, then the irrational will have to wait in the wings.

If the world were run like summer camp (and maybe it should be), we could each have a bunk buddy assigned to us. Then when we needed to complain, blame, and moan about our lot, our buddy could listen, reassure us that we are really okay by him, and remind us that we seem to be overidentifying with our unhappiness instead of swimming, boating, crafting, hiking, or doing something interesting so that we could be having more fun at summer camp.

By placing undue importance upon our feelings as the legitimate arbiter of our behavior, our society has become fearful and aggressive, and therefore, selfish, shallow, dependent, and depressed. Negative feelings and behavior are not beyond our management if we assert conscious authority over our thinking. But, unfortunately, we will have little help from the psychological community as long as it continues to insist that addiction is a disease, and an excuse is as good as virtue. Excuses have taken on an importance not commensurate with any true value. We use good excuses to counteract the guilt we feel when we don't do what we are supposed to do. But an excuse is not a ticket to anything. Its almost as if we wish to be deceived.

Some people use the excuse that they aren't disciplined or organized, that we are deficient in these things like some people. This is a self-defeating as well as self-deluding remark. They are saying that if we possess discipline, we can be organized and motivated to plan our lives accordingly. This is totally backward. This is like saying that if we have good muscles, we can exercise well. It isn't our great strength that enables us to exercise, it is our exercise that makes us strong. And it isn't discipline that makes us organized. It is the humble stumble and bumble of working on getting organized that makes us disciplined. We say, "I'm not very disciplined," and plunk ourselves down comfortably by the side of what we believe is some natural, God-given road of weakness upon which it is our fate to be sidetracked. But we aren't being sidetracked by God or fate. We are being sidetracked by our own language. What we are really saying when we say we arent disciplined is, "I don't have a high regard for duty."

There is no cure for drug addiction or alcoholism. Not because they are such insidious diseases, but because they are not diseases in the first place. They are behavior choices. Depression and mania cannot be cured either by psychotherapy or drugs because they are also behavior choices. Both depression and mania begin with chemical impulses in which one does not have to wallow helplessly for very long.

The whole psychological community is wrong. It is due to their influence that we expect our mind to take care of us, instead of understanding that we are supposed to take care of our minds. It is due to their influence that psychology seeks for ways to excuse and understand deviant behavior rather than to bring about compliance with common-ground established norms.

Drugs can't heal the mind. If we are being treated for depression, drugs can so wig us out with a watered-down mania that, in effect, we ingest our personality instead of creating it because we don't have to depend on the consequences of our actions to fund our feelings of well-being. With drugs, we just get a temporary feeling adjustment, we don't increase in self-knowledge or become sure of our moral strength by testing our mettle against the dark night of our soul. The belief that we can't control ourselves when these mood swings occur may be the only reason we don't do it, not because we can't do it. It is a matter of practice. We just need to practice controlling ourselves instead of practicing not controlling ourselves. The self can decide if it wishes to be the passenger or the driver.

What if the mind gave a depression and we didn't go.

Depression is not a disease to be cured by drugs. It is a situation to be transcended by a process change in the way we direct our thinking.

The instinctual mind is never brave. The instinctual mind is a wimp because it opts for status quo, for safety, rather than for principle.

Depression junkies don't want to know the simple problem (voluntary ignorance) because their primal mind doesn't want them to solve the problem and change the status quo. They prefer to complicate problems by thinking in circles. Complication is a great excuse to delay action and wait around for something else to happen or someone else to change.

The primal mind loves it when we hang back, do nothing, lead chaotic lives, and complain a lot, because the original primal mind is by nature paranoid and cannot trust our johnny-come-lately upper-brain improvements to save us. We have to see clearly what are the trick strategies of the primal mind that gets us into the pickle in the first place. Then we can choose higher-mind tricks to manage the thought traffic jam that has gridlocked into depression.

Depression is like a hole suddenly opening up in the side yard, dropping us straight into hell. We feel lifeless, empty of all vigor. Isn't it strange though, being so weak and helpless, how strongly we insist we can't do anything, and how painful it is that nothing matters? When we become our own depression by identifying with it, by merging with it, and then trying to escape from it, we end up fighting ourselves. When people tell us to pull ourselves "up" by our own bootstraps, it is really no more of an order of difficulty than what we are already doing to ourselves in reverse - pulling ourselves "down" by our own bootstraps.

Depression is totally dependent upon our rapt attention to it. Depression is successful negative affirmation. We actually practice and exercise our depression for years and then wonder why it is such a powerful, strong, habitual force inside our minds.

We have to start questioning our thinking as well as our feelings. Why should we question our thoughts? Certainly other people will question our thinking. Doesn't it put us at a terrible disadvantage if we are the only ones in the world who do not question our thinking? Wouldn't this be a good example of being unconscious?

I did not choose depression. Depression occurred because of my lack of choosing to go the way of being cheerful. Now I do cheerfulness. I don't know the secret of life but, to me, doing cheerfulness beats the heck out of doing depression.

We should never just wait around until something happens to get us out of our depression. We should just choose something to do, interesting or not, whether we feel like it or not, and invest some time and effort in it, and our interest in it will automatically accumulate on its own as the neural activity in our upper brain starts to light up. We must not take the line of least resistance and adapt ourselves to our own depression.

Our descent from happiness to depression is arrogance, no matter that we are crawling on our knees in anguish, begging for help. The arrogance is that we got into this condition because we put ourselves above the mundane, petty little everyday duties that we would impose, for instance, upon our child or a lazy neighbor. We would tell them: "Just get going. Snap out of it!" But don't we hate it when someone says this to us when we are in our death throes?

When were depressed, we can't see any moral purpose in life more important than our own selves and our own misery. Thinking about ourselves makes us lose our grip on reality. Manic depression, rather than being a disease, is caused by a series of poor behavior decisions based on feel-good, short-term gains rather than harder-done, long-term gains. Manic depressives are notoriously egocentric. All we want to talk about is our suffering, our needs, our work, our ideas, our writing, our childhood, our future success, because it gives an immediate sense of satisfaction and emotional release. But unfortunately it bores people to death and they want to run in the other direction as soon as they see us. Then we complain about feeling alienated.

The psychologists are wrong and Shakespeare is right. "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars [or our genes, or our chemistry] but in ourselves" that we are so damn depressed.

We are not talking about denying feelings. We are talking about choosing one thought over another, and therefore causing different feelings to arise in response to the different thoughts.

Everybody has a similar impulse to depression. Some people just do a better job of directing their thinking past it. It isn't that their depression isn't as painful. They simply make better use of other options in order to bypass their depression, which, if they didn't bypass it, would pitch them into the same interminable agony.

Our great-grandparents used willpower instead of Prozac and Zoloft. They valued conscience, responsibility, honesty, commitment, dedication, sacrifice, hard work, and courage. And they practiced to bear suffering. These concepts were universally taught to children, who naturally employed them as adults. These concepts had been tested and revered for thousands of years. People trusted their lives to them. In the 1960s we threw them all out.

Some people think that taking intentional control of our thoughts would take all our energy and turn us into a robot of some kind. Nothing could be further from the truth. What turns us into robots is letting our mind spiral us down into depression.

The depression that most people claim to suffer from is simply a bad habit. Major depression is a very bad habit. We need to understand that feeling is something we are doing, not something that we are, something that is being done to us. Lacking adequate coping mechanisms and moral intentions, we remain more interested in our feelings than our decisions to have those feelings, more interested in our thoughts than our decisions to have those thoughts.

When we are so relentlessly centered on self, all other structures of meaning and authority evaporate.

Unfortunately, it is hard for this culture to teach us how to be the captain of our depression because the theory and treatment of depression is now the legal, court-protected, private property of psychiatrists and psychologists, who have divorced themselves from the other disciplines and are having affairs with the pharmaceutical companies.

Psychology succeeded in making itself the new moral authority by abandoning principles in favor of feelings as the legitimate moral compass. Living by our feelings has effectively trashed what we have come to expect of a safe, sane, civil society. Psychology now extolls the virtue of emotional responses over analytical reasoning - the sleeveless triumph of image over education.

The answer to depression is to access the higher mind at will so that we can stir ourselves to action and detour quickly around this painful stagnation when it occurs, instead of getting sucked into it. Problems call for self-responsibility and self-reliance, not Prozac or Zoloft.

I do not yield to depression. I do not take any drugs for depression. My wide mood swings have not altered, nor has anything else around me changed in any significant way. My brain is the same; it is I who have changed. I live now by principle rather than by feeling."