Book Review: The Furious Method

The Furious Method: Transform your Mind, Body and Goals by Tyson Fury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Hands down, the best depression book I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of depression books. Especially for being such a happy-go-lucky fella.

I picked this up expecting it to be a diet book. Tyson Fury lost 10 stone, which means 140 lbs in units used by real people. He mentioned in interviews he did so via “Dirty Keto” which meant a bunch of eggs, sausage, and Diet Coke, for some reason. Health and wellness book, written by a pro athlete who had just lost a manlet worth of weight in preparation for a championship match, it’s reasonable to assume the book would be about nutrition and exercise.

And in a way, it was, but only as a vehicle to battle depression. The Furious Method is the best compendium of practical coping skills I’ve found. It’s part self-help instruction manual, part mental health confessional, part autobiography, but the whole thing is done with a directness, an honesty, and a compassion I found totally disarming.

I didn’t know a lot about Tyson Fury before picking up this book. I knew he was a 270 lb British heavyweight champion who looked like an ogre but didn’t fight like one. I knew he stressed fundamentals and finesse. And I know he goes by “Gypsy King”, which I don’t think I’m even allowed to say, but I also know it’s a title earned by beating up all challengers within the traveller community. Yeah, you go ahead and tell him he’s cancelled.

So I naturally assumed this lumpy monolith was going to be a braying oaf. I was mistaken. He’s down-to-earth, eloquent, and a hell of a writer. The book is a forthright account of his struggle with bipolar depression and addiction, and exactly what was going through his mind at his highest highs and lowest lows. It’s a book that needed to be written, and a powerful blow against the stigma surrounding mental illness. There’s this lingering Puritanical boomer belief that if you got the depresso you suck it up and tough it out and you don’t talk about it. Don’t be a pussy. Well, Tyson Fury is the heavyweight champion of the world, and he’s a real piss-and-vinegar fighter, none of that slick cherrypicked Mayweather trash. If he struggles with mental illness, then it’s not strictly the purview of pussies, huh?

The advice is salt-of-the-earth, direct, and clinically accurate. Exercise. Eat well. Sleep enough. Get outside. Push yourself to do it. Reach out and get help. It’s the stuff we all know, but nobody really takes seriously, like mom telling you to make sure you wear a coat. Yeah, yeah.

Well, it’s fuckin cold out. Wear the coat.

If you’ve ever dealt with depression, I urge you to read this book, and do what it says. You can probably skip the My First Warmup sections of every chapter, but replace them with some other kind of functional cardiovascular exercise, because that is deadass THE way to beat depression. The studies have demonstrated, conclusively, that it works as well as or better than all those magic pills they keep heaving into our collective mouths like the Big Bertha arcade game.

Great book. Great fighter. Great dude. Yeah, okay, so he’s British. We all have our shortcomings.




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Book Review: The Zen Path Through Depression

The Zen Path Through DepressionThe Zen Path Through Depression by Philip Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Since zen is basically stoicism but further East, and CBT is essentially a cut-and-paste job of stoicism, it tracks that you can use zen to get through depression, too. Less journaling and self-critique, more listening to birds, roughly the same amount of meditation, but all roads lead to Rome. Or to China, in this case.

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Book Review: The Depths

The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression EpidemicThe Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic by Jonathan Rottenberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hands down the best book I’ve ever read about depression.

Rottenberg introduces the concept of depression as an evolutionary valuable response by distilling it down to low mood and lack of responsivity, then examining where it would be adaptive. Depression can spontaneously occur in an otherwise psychologically healthy individual in response to grief, and that makes adaptive sense.

In the Paleolithic, if someone you knew died, there was a reason, and that reason endangered you too. The most likely culprits were poison or predation; this was before metabolic syndrome and car crashes slaughtered us by the million. Your odds of getting got by predators massively decreased if you never left the cave. There’s the depressive malaise, the inability to even get out of bed. It’s safe in bed. Why risk it?

As for poison, we weren’t big on cause-and-effect back then, so instinct had to phone it in. Something we ate, something accessible, killed one of our own. The most adaptive move is waiting for this particular storm to pass; the grieving individual is already less likely to be moving around, so their metabolic requirements have dropped to just above basal, and the loss of appetite both corresponds to the reduced energetic expenditure and the increased danger potential of available food.

Fast forward a couple million years, and we are now sophisticated thinking machines running on antiquated unga-bunga hardware. When we lose someone close to us, we still get acute depression. It would be unnatural not to undergo a loss pf appetite and joie de vivre following the death of a loved one.

The implication in The Depths is different people have grief thresholds, calibrated neuroanatomically over our lifespans, nature and nurture both playing their role. Hereditarily, this is in keeping with the research on the hedonic treadmill that keeps us screeching back to our happiness (or misery) baseline.

The nurture aspect complicates things. While a high happiness baseline can improve an individual’s natural resilience, a traumatic childhood can mess with that resilience manifesting in the first place. Extending our reductionist beep-boop analogy from earlier, it can lead to the grief switch getting stuck in the “On” position, because the brain never got the opportunity to learn how to turn it off.

I like this perspective on depression more than the disease model for the empowerment and autonomy it provides those afflicted.

Depression not as a spiritual cancer, a personal failing, or a lack of grit or whatever, but as a naturally occuring evolutionary response that once saved our ancestor’s lives. It isn’t a signal of weakness, it’s a signal that something is wrong. That the individual is mourning some sort of loss.

At this point, we get into the weeds, and it’s better handed off to an individual psychotherapist on an individual basis. You can grieve anything, from a loved one to getting fired to an abstract “loss of innocence” that was never addressed at the appropriate time. You’d be amazed at the wackadoo physical symptomology the body will manufacture in response to these psychologically seismic experiences you didn’t realize (or didn’t let yourself realize) were significant at the time.

It makes more sense to view depression as a signal, the same way we view pain. Something is wrong. From there, it’s just a matter of finding out what.

And considering inert placebos are 82% as effective as antidepressants (as per Irving Kirsch’s 2010 research), it’s probably not “a lack of medication” that’s wrong.

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Berlin: The Designpanoptikum

December 5, 2017. Berlin, Germany.

In the heart of Berlin, there’s a dungeon scrapyard exhibition overseen by a delightful and charismatic Russian who’s definitely a serial killer. Google assured me that it would be a “surreal museum”, but neglected to mention how similar it would be to that awful J.Lo movie The Cell. The similarities were only emphasized by the fact that I, too, am a thicc bilingual headshrinker, though she is admittedly a better dancer.

Panoptikum is a German word, meaning Panopticon. Helpful, right? Well, the Panopticon was a decidedly Lawful Evil brainchild of social theorist, philosopher, and institutional bastard Jeremy Bentham. Boiled down to its essence, it’s a big round building made of glass, with a spot for a guard in the middle, enclosed by one-way mirrors. The inhabitants of the glass cells have no privacy. They can see each other, but they can’t see the guard, who obviously can’t be watching all of them at once… but you never know where he is looking, behind that smoked glass.

Bentham, sweetheart that he is, suggested the Panopticon could work equally well for a prison or a school. He described it as “a mill for grinding rogues honest”. As reasonable as it might be to want to flying dropkick the dude off a rope bridge, his figuring isn’t wrong. It’s been common knowledge that social expectation and the old “what will people think” instinct is a deep-rooted and effective behavioral modulator, but it’s on such a hair trigger that even the suggestion of being watched can promote a sort of bastardized honesty. A Newcastle study put coffee and tea out for their department with an honesty box next to it with a little note, “Please pay for what you take!”. On the rear wall behind the box was a poster, rotated weekly; either a bunch of flowers, or a pair of eyes. On the eye weeks, the researchers found a lot more honor-system money than on the flower weeks.

Of course, that might not generalize to all people, it might just be that college students are more inclined to feel anxious about being stared at, or eye contact in general. You ever met college students? They love to feel anxious.

When Bentham named the Panopticon, he was making an allusion to Argus Panoptes, a giant from Greek mythology with a hundred eyes. Panoptes translates to “all-seeing”, and that he did, right up until Hera assigned him to guard Io to make sure Zeus didn’t knock her up while she was a cow. Long story. Ultimately ending with Hermes getting recruited by Zeus to sneak up on Panoptes (how that happened is unclear), cast a god-tier Sleep spell, then brain the poor doofus with a rock.

None of those things gave me any inkling of what Berlin’s Panoptikum was gonna be about, but I’m a sucker for anything surreal, probably as compensation for all the ADHD and disdain for sleep.

All alone, with nobody holding my hand through it, I figured out how buses worked. Turns out, they’ll take you in different directions depending on what side of the street you board. The bus numbers will be the same regardless! You just need to know the incredibly German name of an area near wherever you’re going.

Well, I didn’t, so I took the first bus a half mile in the wrong direction, then leaped off and grumbled my way back to the bus stop. It started to rain, because of course it did.

The correct bus eventually dropped me off in central Berlin, a little more than a block from the Panoptikum. I was greeted by an enthusiastic Russian in flawless, German-accented English, who then explained to me that a heavy Russian accent was part of his shtick until 6 pm. He lapsed into it and started giving an overview on the Panoptikum as I marveled at his terrifying sculptures.

25371171_1149915838478054_937305132_o “Form and function,” he said. “Once, they are the same thing. Once, form was secondary consideration. The product of the function. Now everything is so artistically designed and… and… ergonomic, so all of these things must be beautiful as well as functional, but they don’t look like anything. Certainly they don’t look like what they are for. But we have come so far from that, that we no longer recognize things by their functional form. Take this, for example.”

He held up an odd looking metal clamp, sort of like two L-shaped pieces of steel with a long bolt running between them. The steel slid freely, if noisily, along the threads.

“Do you know what this is?”

I shrugged. “Metal?”

“A good guess,” he said, “And technically correct. But this is something specific. This has a function. I ask everyone this question, no one has ever gotten it right. Take time, look around, think about it. I will ask again before you leave, after you see museum.”

I looked at it again. It wasn’t a clamp. There was no way to tighten it. Still looked like giant metal pincers, about a foot and a half long.

“You use it every day,” he assured me. “You have to. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.”

Then he set me loose in the grown up version of Sid’s room from Toy Story.

The basement had that cloying, stale grease smell of a disused garage.

“Do not go to the museums,” he warned me. “Not if you want to see art. You want art, go to the junkyard. Art everywhere. Costs much less.”

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“Form and function. Do you know what this is?”

I looked it over as he crouched down and slapped the thing. A low-pitched BONG sound echoed through the eerie silence of his subterranean trophy case.

“Well, I was gonna say a land mine, but I guess not.”

“Close!” he said, opening the hatch. “Washing machine. Back when they were first invented, only rich people had them. You put the clothes in, the motor shakes them up, cleans them. No motor now, of course, so now it’s just… this thing.”

He was insistent I take selfies with his zany assortment of hats from the dump. I didn’t want to wear the deflated punching bag on my head, although he was really pulling for it. 25383075_1149915881811383_2081062368_o

We compromised on the World War I helmet. I’ve since learned it’s called a Stahlhelm.

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“Do you know why the helmets had those little horns?”

I did not.

“It is not like a viking thing, and it is not like they came to terms with being the bad guys, dressing up like devils. It is an example of… German overengineering. Germans are a very efficient people, and sometimes they get too focused on it, and they lose sight of what’s practical.”

“I know,” I said. “I used to have a Jetta.”

“See, the steel helmets were good for protecting against shrapnel, but back in the trenches, you would just poke your head up and shoot. The metal was not thick enough to stop a direct hit from a bullet. But the scientists at the time, they thought, what if we installed a plate that was thick enough to stop a bullet? Their trench fighters would be almost impervious to gunfire, then! So they manufactured these heavy steel plates that click into the little buttons on the side of the helmet, protecting the head. This did not work for three reasons.

One, it was very, very expensive. That’s a lot of steel, and you need to give one to everyone in the army. Germany ran out of steel.

Two, it was too heavy. People running around with 2 kilos (4.4 lbs) of steel on their head, it interfered with their balance. The helmets would also slip down over their eyes because it’s so much heavier in the front.

Three, in the instances when the plate did actually stop a direct hit of a bullet? The force of the impact would break the soldier’s neck in 80% of cases anyway. So for all that money, and all that effort, and all that steel, they’re only saving one out of five direct hits, which are rare enough to begin with.”

It hearkened back to something he’d said earlier when we were looking at an old iron lung.

“See, in America, life is precious. In Russia, Asia, the Middle East, life is cheap. I get Chinese tourists in here, I tell them this woman lived sixty years in this iron lung, and they are incredulous, they ask me ‘why not just die’? Well, because she was an American. They had the resources, so she lived in that iron lung, she did university from her hospital room, and she eventually became a depression counselor. Helped a lot of people. But not everyone could have done that, I don’t think. Most people would rather just die.”

I was reflecting on all this when I turned the corner, caught sight of this little number.

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“Don’t worry, it’s not a sex doll,” he assured me.

“That’s not what worried me.”

“That is part of typewriter,” he said. “Sort of a duality thing, you know? Because of the mouth, and the typewriter, and both of them use words, both of them are for words.”

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“That’s Yuri Gagarin,” he said. “You know who that is?”

I laughed. What a Russian thing! “Yeah,” I said.

“First man in space,” he told me, even though I just said yeah.

“So is that how they did it? Dr. Strangelove style?”

He grinned. “More or less.”

We made our way back to the front door and he picked up the weird metal clamp thing again.

“So! Any guesses?”

I squinted at it, then nodded.

“Is it a doorknob?”

“It is!” he said. “It is a doorknob! And hopefully, your time here at the Panoptikum opened some doors to some new ways of looking at things for you. Thank you much for coming.”

“Thank you,” I said. “This was incredible.”

“You got it right, here,” he said, “Take one of postcards, for free. Whichever one you want. Go ahead.”

I decided on the one that he had explained in the gallery as representing the German spirit.

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Refreshed and disturbed, I walked back out into Berlin’s perpetual rain to find the lauded East Side Gallery.

Next time.

(If you liked the crazy bullshit you saw here, there’s plenty more where that came from. If that site is too hard to navigate [and it fuckin’ is], there’s also a Facebook page. It’s in German, so if you like it, everyone will think you’re cultured.)

Above board, the guy who owns it and gave me the tour is an artist and photographer named Vladimir Korneev. I’d love to link to his gallery or something, but he shares a name with a Russian songwriter so there’s way too much foreign-language smokescreen for me to find anything.

I strongly encourage you to hit up this headtrip if you’re ever in Berlin. He’s probably not a serial killer. He didn’t serial kill me! But they never really seem to.

Love,

The Bastard