Thirteen-year-old Katy was diagnosed with depression yesterday. The main culprit—big surprise—is the pandemic. Katy is like many U.S. teens right now, she is stuck inside doing online school, getting little socialization, rarely leaving her bedroom.
Katy’s email to me reads:
“I’m tired of feeling this sad… My mom told me to message you to see if you had any suggestions for cheering up depressed people my age.”
Well, Katy, I’m glad you contacted me because it sounds to me like you need some major fun right now. And you’re in luck because in many circles I am known as Mister Fun. How fun am I? As I write this, I am drinking something called “panda dung” tea.
I am serious. This looseleaf tea was sent to me by a reader named Sara, from Little Rock. Along with this tea came a magazine clipping explaining that this tea is imported from Asia where it is wildly expensive, usually selling for $3,500 per 50 grams. Which means I am drinking a $75 cup of tea right now.
I called a local tea shop to ask about this tea since, call me paranoid, I was concerned about drinking anything that had been passed through the gastrointestinal system of an exotic mammal.
The tea-shop lady was nice. She said, “Oh, don’t worry, the tea has no actual dung in it, it’s only called that because the tea plants are grown in big piles of panda excrement.”
Yum! Pass the sugar!
So I’m trying to drink this tea with an open mind. And after finishing one mug I can honestly say that, even though I was skeptical at first, panda dung tea tastes exactly like the name sounds.
But getting back to dealing with depression. Something I’ve found that helps is going for walks. I realize this sounds painfully simple and a little idealistic, and maybe it is. But it actually does help.
When I was a kid, I had a bad homelife. I too had depression when I was your age. One night, on a whim, I went for a walk. Little did I know that this fateful evening would change the rest of my life.
That night I walked in darkness until a side ache threatened to kill me. And it was enough to get me addicted. I don’t mean to reach for melodrama, but walking altered my brain. It made me feel free. It made me feel a little more alive. It made my heart pound and my lungs felt great.
So the next day I walked again. And again. After a year of constant walking I had built up my stamina so that I was walking for hours sometimes.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, improved my mental outlook like the simple act of moving my legs and sweating. I still walk all the time because of something else I’ve learned over the years:
Even with meds you don’t get rid of depression. Not wholly. No more than you can snap your fingers and cure bad eyesight. Depression sticks around, and it travels well. But the good news is you CAN manage this problem, just like you can deal with nearsightedness. All it takes is the right pair of proverbial eyeglasses.
Which leads me to my second suggestion. Hug as many people as you can. If you do nothing else, do this.
Physical touch was the first thing to disappear when the pandemic hit the scene. Amazingly, a lot of people have since forgotten about handshakes, hugs, back pats, kisses, noogies, dancing the Electric Slide at wedding receptions, etc. But this stuff turns out to be important to our health.
Right now, many people report that they haven’t been physically touched in over a year. And the scary thing is, a life without physical touch can harm your body.
I’ve written about this before, but consider the newborns in the hospital neonatal ICU. Doctors know these newborns need to be touched and cuddled regularly or they will die.
We are no different.
So I understand you’re stuck at home a lot, which limits your hugging options, but it really doesn’t matter who you embrace. It could even be your stinky little brother Danny. Certainly, I understand that as a too-cool-for-hugging teenager this will be difficult force yourself to do. Especially since you don’t have a little brother named Danny. But you desperately need hugs.
So make an agreement with the sibling or family member of your choice. Assure this person that your hug in no way means you are relinquishing your teenage coolness, but this gesture is merely biological, ultimately intended for the psychological enhancement of both aforementioned parties.
Then embrace and hold each other for a minimum of three minutes.
Your neurological pathways will thank you. The first thing that will happen is your brain will be flooded with neurotransmitters that act as natural antidepressants and painkillers. Once your brain is sufficiently bathed in these love drugs, you will actually feel a tiny bit better.
We’re dealing with real depression here, Katy. Not the figurative kind. And you’re not alone. Many of us are depressed right now. About one third of the U.S., in fact. I get messages about this topic every day. I’ve written too many columns about it.
But I will keep writing about this subject. Namely, because I’m going through the same thing you are, and believe me, I am just as clueless as anyone else. This has been a godawful year.
So I’m sending you this column as my virtual hug. Along with my heartfelt prayers.
Also, if you send me your address, I’ll ship you some very expensive tea.