It seems the most insidious symptoms of depression and anxiety all lead back to negative thoughts stuck on repeat, or creating pathways to new negative thoughts. The smarter or more creative you are, the more varied and complicated your negative thoughts can be, and that leads people to think, erroneously, that most smart people are depressed because they are logical, because they see and understand more about the real “truth of the world” than other people. I’ve heard this many times from friends and acquaintances, and I bought into to the romance of it. It strokes the ego. “Ohhhhhh, I’m so depressed and can’t get out of bed because I’m a genius who can see every nuanced way life sucks.” But that’s bullshit.

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” – Ernest Hemingway

I think that more intelligent people may sometimes be more prone to depression and anxiety because it’s easier for them to get stuck in these negative feedback loops, and I think that it’s true that the world is a terrible, horrifying place. In fact numerous studies (read here and here) have linked intelligence to depression and anxiety. But there’s a difference between intelligence and wisdom. Enjoying your life, what little seconds you have on this earth is more important than being the smartest person in the room, than discovering something, or creating something great. Sometimes the most beautiful art can be born during times of intense misery, but even is misery is the inspiration for something, it’s often hard to actually create something until you have enough energy, or a clear enough head to do it. When you are the in throes of despair, truly at your lowest, very little can be done.

And just because beautiful things can be born of despair, it’s never the best option, the desirable option, to live your life through a dark veil. It’s easy to romanticize depression, even if you’re going through it yourself. But eventually you realize that darkness and negativity is not your friend. It’s not something to aspire to, and the myth of it’s ability to inspire is a dangerous deception.

But once you realize you truly don’t want to live in a dark place, ruminative thoughts are not something you can just turn off like a faucet or a switch. It sounds so simple to just think positive thoughts, but it isn’t. You can know something intellectually, but that doesn’t mean shit if you don’t know it emotionally.

When i AM stuck in rumination sometimes I literally can’t think outside of the circulating bad thoughts, and sometimes I can’t even think at all. I drown out the voices in my head by just zoning out completely and my mind literally feels white. This also results in primordial terror in my chest that feels almost like drowning. I’m not having literal trouble breathing (although that sometimes DOES happen,) but it’s like the metaphorical “breathing” of my mind has been shut off. It feels like being crushed by a lead blanket. It’s the opposite of being brilliant and creative. It makes you scared and dumb.

Other times, I can THINK of a perfectly logical solution to these seemingly all-important problems coursing through my brainwaves, or at least acknowledge the brilliance of someone else’s solution or logical thinking, but I don’t feel it. It’s like I understand logic, but my body simply isn’t responding to it.

Eventually it does respond, my body, my self, but it’s a process. The best anecdotes for rumination are distraction, and once properly distracted, easing into positive self-reflection.

  • Laura


  • Sophie

    Very interesting. I stumbled upon this article through a google search and was pleasantly surprised. It was well written and struck a cord with me. I too have have had periods where, “I literally can’t think outside of the circulating bad thoughts, and sometimes I can’t even think at all” It’s one of the scariest things to be a prisoner of your own intellect. Everything comes with a price.

    Thank you for letting me know I am not alone.
    Be well,

  • makeupjess

    This was kind of fantastic. I really enjoyed your take on this subject. At least you were thoughtful enough to offer a bit of advice to those afflicted; all other authors that I have encountered on this subject merely list symptoms, correlations, the reasons WHY this happens, and then cheerfully sign off without so much as a “good luck”! I am always in my mind, always 20 steps ahead of every situation and every person. I don’t have the luxury of living a spontaneous life, on a whim… my mind is far too practical and will not allow it. I envy those who can…”stupid” or not. (Ill take your stupid, just give me a life!) I don’t quite fully understand the idea that you are trying to convey in your last two paragraphs, but I DO understand distraction. For me, it is being outdoors, alone, somewhere beautiful. This is the only time my mind is blank and I am able to actually experience and enjoy the “here and now”. This is the only time that I feel truly alive. 80% of my day is spent in an existential crisis of sorts… the rare times that I can quiet my mind are so precious and wonderful. Ive finally come to realize that I live in a mental state that is higher (or deeper, if you’d rather) than most people (98% of the population) will ever be able to experience. I have no one to even converse with this about. I hold most things inside so as not to seem pretentious or strange. It is miserable, though. I tentatively liken this to someone who is homosexual living their entire life in the closet. All of this is quite difficult to explain in one short comment, but this is a truly sad, depressing phenomenon among the highly intelligent, and as anyone who is of that higher intelligence already knows, there is no ideal, feasible solution to existential crises. The only way to alleviate the stress and depression is to find faIth and ask your higher power to help you through the rough patches. Or just kill yourself.

  • guest-reader

    Thank you. I experience the same thing. A therapist told me ruminating thoughts is OCD. Realizing and knowing this helps me control my thoughts when I feel depression coming on; it helps keep the depression at bay