Don McCauley interviewed me for a 15 minute podcast, which was only available for 24 hours, on 23rd July, 2019. So, I have reproduced the questions, and my script for the answers, here.
You start your book by saying, “Diagnosed depression is a galloping epidemic.” Why?
There are four reasons:
1. Unnatural lifestyles: ongoing stress
For a great majority of people, everyday life is stressful. I write early in the book:
“One reason for the high incidence of suffering in technological society is that so many people stop doing creative things for months, even years at a time. They go on day after day, week after week, year after year, round and round the same treadmill of routine and boredom. Get up in the morning, commute to work, go through the motions, come home, veg out in front of the idiot box, go to bed… who wouldn’t be depressed? And these are the lucky ones who have a job.
“For many people, life is drab. Housework is a chore. Kids are an unending stream of problems. Work is a chunk out of your life. And when you go on holidays, you come back so exhausted you need to recover from them.”
2. Consumer society
At my blog Bobbing Around, I have an essay, How to change the world. There, I demonstrate that in order to keep the economy going, people MUST be dissatisfied with what they have, so they’ll keep buying. If I am SATISFIED with everything, I won’t be a good little consumer. And if I don’t need to buy things, I won’t be a conscientious little wage slave — so the unpopular jobs won’t get done.
This is why, since 1978, my wife and I have deliberately lived below the poverty level. This allowed us to contribute less to the destruction of the environment — and led to lives of contentment and healthy challenge.
3. The work of John B. Calhoun
He studied population pressure on rodents. My book summarizes his work in a chapter, which I have reproduced at Bobbing Around. In summary, at very high population densities, many rats just gave up, and showed extreme depression. In humans, depression, and escapism such as gambling, addictions, retail therapy and compulsive holidayitis are also relevant reactions.
4. Poisonous environment
For the past two generations, we’ve flooded earth with toxins. The general effect is nonspecific allergies, food intolerances, malaise of many kinds. These have an effect on mood as well.
You claim that depression is not a matter of chemical imbalance; that it is something you do rather than what you have, or what you are. Can you expand?
There are two sources of evidence. First, it is a rapidly growing problem, particularly for young people. It is set to overtake heart disease as the main source of disability. So, it must be a response to the world we live in. If it is a chemical imbalance, why does it keep growing?
Second, MRI studies have shown that antidepressants lead to certain brain changes. When you stop taking the drug, the brain returns to the depressed pattern. However, talk therapies lead to EXACTLY THE SAME brain changes. Only, these last when the therapy stops.
If depression is not chemical, what is its cause?
There is compelling evidence that all adult mental disorders are affected by documented childhood trauma. That’s hard evidence. But there is more: if you look at trauma not from the point of view of what happened, but how the child saw it, then, according to my reading of the evidence, all adult mental suffering is due to childhood trauma. For example, a beloved person died when I was very young. My mother’s euphemism was that this person had left us, and went to be with God. So, I decided that if even she left me, I was unlovable, and no one could love me, ever. It took me many years to work through this.
Can one really cure depression, as in having it go away forever?
It’s not a disease, but a set of habits, and habits can be changed. But one of the cures is living in the moment. There is only NOW. The past is history, the future is a mystery. I give you a PRESENT. I start the chapter on relapse prevention with “There is only this instant. Right now, you may have permanently and irreversibly freed yourself from depression. Five minutes from now, you might be in the pits again.” But then, it’s much easier to fix it. For example, in 2011, I had a relapse into full-blown depression after 25 years of freedom. I climbed out of it in 3 weeks.
It’s not much fun reading about depression, but you make your readers laugh, time and again. For example, the notes at the very beginning include: “Links to web pages are scattered throughout. Since clicking them in some versions (e.g., paperback) is not particularly effective, I’ve listed them all, as well as all the homework tasks, at http://bobswriting.com/dlinks.html.” Is this deliberate?
Yes, it’s part of the treatment: life is too short for the seriousness it deserves. I didn’t make that up, but learned it from a 19 year old warrior who is a character in one of my novels.
But also, it’s just my style. I have no sense of humor, but people keep laughing at me. That shows THEY have a sense of humor, right?
At your blog, Bobbing Around, you say you’ve retired so far, from 5 different occupations. Are you still engaged in any professional activity?
I earn some money with editing. My clients include several small, independent publishers, a steady stream of writers prepublication, and academics wanting to polish their papers, particularly scholars from a non-English background.
Second, the joy of my life is writing. It’s a poor day when I don’t do some. I have 18 published books, 5 of them award-winners, and almost everyone who reads them expresses strong approval.
But most important is, I am a Professional Grandfather. in. Any person under 25 anywhere qualifies as my grandchild — they only need to apply.
Since 1999, I have been answering cries for help on forums like Queendom, and there are thousands of my answers in the public domain. So, in addition to those questions and answers, I also get emails from complete strangers, and I’d say two-thirds are young.
I have the gift of healing with words, and usually make a difference. Many of them keep in touch for years. They are my honorary grandchildren.
I’m an old fellow. If I die, OK, I’ve lived a good life. But I want all these lovely youngsters to have a good life, too. I came to the realisation in 1972, when I was the father of two toddlers, that they are not going to. So, since then I’ve been a humanitarian and environmental activist. Everything I do, including my 18 books, is intended to work for a good world.
What is the aim of life? Why are we on this planet?
Thank you. This is the central issue. If you find the right answer to this, you can put up with anything.
We are not here for wealth, fame, power, even happiness, absence of pain and suffering, but to grow spiritually. There is sound scientific evidence for reincarnation, which I summarize in my book. We are required to go round and round, caterpillars feeding on the green leaves of experience, until we can graduate as butterflies, and no longer need to be reborn. The criterion is to become like the Buddha; like Jesus. When you automatically, without needing to try, give unconditional love to all living beings, then you’ve made it. This doesn’t mean excusing bad behavior, but leading the perpetrator to grow into a better way of acting and thinking. This is the theme of my two most recent novels.
All of us are apprentice Buddhas. The way to contentment is to act as if we were already enlightened, even if it is still an effort. That’s how habits are learned. And you don’t need to have lived perfect to graduate; only to die perfect.
You say you’ve permanently cured yourself of depression. Does that mean that you just don’t become sad? Nothing gets you down?
No, I haven’t become an unfeeling monster. 🙂 When I suffer a loss of some kind, I grieve. This may be for a minute for, say, losing a chess game because I blundered, to a year or more if I lost a beloved person. When I see suffering, I react with compassion and empathy. When I see the state of the world, I react with perfectly rational advance grief for the suffering to come for the billions on this planet.
But then, I use my tools, described in the book, for gaining contentment anyway.
Where can people inspect your book?
Enter “Bobbing Around” in any search engine, and my blog should appear on the first page. I have a book list there, with links to a page for each book with relevant details including buying links. Or of course you can go to a selling platform, and enter “From Depression to Contentment Bob Rich” and see what you can see. I’d also like to mention that anyone who sends me proof of purchase of any of my books qualifies for an electronic copy of a second title, free. A review qualifies as proof of purchase.
If I gave you a magic wand loaded with one wish, what would you ask for?
Our current global culture encourages and rewards the worst in human nature, particularly greed, aggression, and hate of those different from us in some way. I’d change the global culture into one that encourages and rewards the best in human nature: compassion, cooperation, empathy, generosity, taking the long term view on anything.
If we could do this, we may be able to slow, and perhaps even reverse, the disintegration of the life support system that keeps us all alive. Because when we have unraveled the web of life, we too fall through the hole.
What are your current writing projects?
I wrote a self-help book on anger and anxiety in the last century. I intend to revise it and have it published with new content.
A reader has suggested a sequel to From Depression to Contentment, aimed at guiding “normal” people to growth toward maximal functioning. I am thinking about it.
But nonfiction is bread and butter. Fiction is more fun. I have 4 volumes finished of a 5-volume science fiction series, and have submitted the first volume to a publisher. Can you hear me holding my breath?
This started as an illustration of characterization for a book on writing I occasionally add to. Only, the sample characters came to life, and are yelling at me to keep writing. The main person is the Doom Healer, whose task is to save our Universe from destruction. That’s done in the final duel between him and an invader who has been corrupting humanity for 10,000 years.