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Lesson 5.1: I Have Major Depression- The DON’TS

The first thing that people usually say to us after mustering up the courage to speak about their depression is at one of our events is, “Thank you for hosting this event. I have never told anyone, but I think I have depression and I don’t know what to do. Can you give me some advice?”

In response, we are writing this article. Initially, we were going to write an article based on scientific findings, which is consistent with the style of our “Classroom” column. However, we think you know the answers: exercise, eat well, sleep well, talk to your friends, journal, etc

After months of debate, we decided to change the approach for this one. We don’t want to give you a to-do list, like most depression self-help online resources have already done. We want to simply bring some light into the dark area of coping, and then you can create your own list. Different levels of depression exist. Here we are going to focus on major depression disorder (MDD). It takes more mental energy and a more drastic change of attitude and knowledge than moderate to mild depression to overcome, but it is still absolutely possible. Rather than lecturing, we invited our Founder Xiaojie into the classroom to talk about her own story in dealing with depression. Sometimes it’s not about the knowing, it’s about the feeling. We hope her stories can be a reference for you when dealing with depression. We are going to structure this chapter with the DOS and DON’TS

  • In lesson 5.1, we talk about the DON'TS

  • In lesson 5.2 we talk about the DOS, with 2 pointers.

  • In lesson 5.3, we continue with the DOS, and give you 2 more pointers.

Let's welcome Xiaojie.

As someone who has had multiple episodes of depression over the past 9 years, I’m kind of a “know-it-all” in dealing with it. You might already know that multiple episodes of depression are very damaging to the brain, and may only get worse as time goes by. But you can still rehabilitate your brain. It takes time, patience, effort, faith, and persistence. It does get a bit less confusing and scary, and slowly you will recover. I will tell you this: I hate self-help guidance! It may be well-intentioned guidance, but it makes me feel worse knowing that I am not able to do any of these activities.

Lists like this are well intended, but when I was depressed, reading these kinds of lists resulted in the following reactions:


When I am at my major depression period, I can’t even walk without taking a break every 5 minutes. That was 2012, when my mom came to Beijing to take care of me. If I could get myself out of bed, I would take a short walk around block. I remember that whenever I saw a bench on the side of the road, I had to sit down. Not only that, I would lean on my mom because I was too weak to hold my head up. During another episode in 2014, I remember going to work on my bike, I felt like my tires were flat and I found it hard to breath and ride at the same time. I was on a marathon, involuntarily.

Do Something that you Enjoy

Interesting, if I am well, I would of course do something I enjoy. Why wouldn’t I? During each major depressive episode, even the simplistic of life’s joys, I simply can’t follow. I love jazz music, but I can’t listen to it when I am depressed, my heart doesn’t respond to the music like it usually does. There’s no joy coming out of it, just my numbness telling me that I am so depressed that nothing can bring me joy. Even going for a massage becomes very difficult. Normally I’d go once every week for relaxation, but guess what: I have to get myself out of bed first for that to happen. So you’ve guessed it, that didn’t happen as much.


Humor takes a functional brain to listen, process and understand the words. No, it doesn’t happen in major depression. I remember occasionally being at regular a gathering of friends at dinner or over a drink, everyone’s talking and laughing. I couldn’t even process the information. What comes then is this despair trying to hide it that I am dysfunctional by faking a smile. Social anxiety comes in immediately. Then you no longer want to get together with your friends because it’s super painful and exhausting to put on an “I am okay” face.

To quote Tommy, who’s in our documentary on depression “The Tiny Little Box” “My brain is like a box of ice. It’s slow to process and slow to react.”

Think like an optimistic

Least helpful advice ever! The symptom of depression is negativity. (If you are interested in what that means from the perspective of neurology, go to lesson 3.2, causes of depression, genes and biology.) Once you have MDD (major depressive disorder), you lose the ability to “think positively”. You wouldn’t tell someone who has lost their legs to try walking, so you shouldn’t tell a MDD patient to “think positively”. Don’t be that voice abusing yourself. Allow yourself to be permissive sometimes, and remember you are not your thoughts or feelings.

Please don’t fall into the trap of appearing to be optimistic. You are sick and it’s totally normal to say that you don’t feel well. Tell your friends to be sensitive about your situation, and those that are close to you will understand. They will help you cope.

It’s very dangerous to fake optimism. If heart attack victims don’t fake not having a heart attack, you shouldn’t fake that you are still optimistic. It’s okay to be broken.

There are many other pieces of advice that are just simply not helpful…

In our next class, we are going to look at the DOS.

  • In lesson 5.1, we talk about the DONTS

  • In lesson 5.2 we talk about the DOS, with 2 pointers.

  • In lesson 5.3, we continue with the DOS, and give you 2 more pointers.

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