In my third year of university, I tried to forget a specific thing, and succeeded.

I had depression (and had had it for years), and was experimenting with potential cures. I didn’t want to go to a professional for either drugs or therapy, because that would feel too much like accepting I had a problem I couldn’t solve, which would feel too much like failure. I tried a lot of stuff in the end: dietary changes, chocolate, more or less exercise, particular hobbies, taking more breaks, pressing through. I cultivated a sense of optimism because I read that optimistic people had better outcomes; this has served me well throughout life so I feel it was definitely worth it.

I used to be what I would call ‘realistic’: I instinctively thought about what could go wrong. I trained myself instead to think about what could go right, how things could go well, how things would go well. After a few months of correcting my thoughts, they settled into their new grooves, and I could do it naturally. I felt better about things, but I was still depressed.

My first breakthrough came when I found a reliable way to tell whether I was depressed or not. Before this, I could threaten myself: “You’re not depressed, you’re just lazy! Get back to work!”. After this, I knew when I was depressed and needed to try one of my possible cures.

The check was easy: I would smile, and if I felt a burst of happiness in my chest I wasn’t depressed, and if I felt nothing I was. There were deeper checks I could do: how easy was the smile to hold? How long did the burst of happiness last? I called the absence of joy “grey”, as when I wasn’t depressed the colours seemed more vibrant, and how long the burst lasted “sustain”. When I was happy, the smile was easy to hold, the joy self-sustaining; when depressed it was a real effort to smile at all.

I got the idea from a study I heard of at the time which investigated whether smiling made people happy or not. The general conclusion was not: for me, it definitely can.

One of the other mental tricks I tried was again related to induction of happiness. It went something like this: visualise yourself standing on a white circle. There is a path of white circles, glowing steadily brighter each time. Visualise yourself walking along the path. When you walk on a circle, it glows, and you feel happier. There were probably tips on how to do this, but I don’t remember them.

I got this working at least once, and in my curiousity I tried to change it a bit. Immediately afterwards, I felt awful and thought “Oh no! I shouldn’t have done that! Oh, how I wish I hadn’t done that!”. Then I went to bed.

After I woke up, I could no longer recall what I’d done. I remembered clearly the regret, and while I was curious, I was incentivized to not try too hard to find out what I’d done lest I do it again and regret it (as I’d already done it once, and so couldn’t be trusted not to do daft, harmful things).

Given the context, I think it’s pretty likely I induced despair. I don’t know how I did it, and I don’t really want to feel bad, so I’m not inclined to search. Still, I keep thinking of the incident over the years, and I am slightly curious.