The current environment around us has put a spotlight on the topic of mental health. I believe that mental health is not just situational but needs to be spoken about more broadly as we face challenges through all walks of our life.
We often ask, what is mind? Is our brain and mind one and the same? Colloquially, we refer to our brain as our mind, but scientific evidence shows that the mind goes far beyond the physical working of the brain. Our brain is the part of the visible, tangible world while our mind is the part of the invisible, transcendent world of thought, feeling, attitude, belief and imagination. More often than not, we realise that though our brain is suggesting us practical solutions while our mind wanders into an irrational flight of fantasy.
In the late 1990’s, a person very close to me suffered a bout of mental ill-health. A headache felt like a malignant brain tumour, a little shiver felt like a heart disease. The person kept feeling that he would be inflicted with every possible disease in the world and his days are numbered. My initial reaction was of exasperation. A healthy person, in his early 30’s, believing that he was fated to die was beyond my understanding. On the face of it, there appeared to be no marital problems, monetary troubles or anything of the sort to trigger such feelings. However it became apparent to me that this person was in serious trouble and needed help. Despite such negative thoughts, there was an intense resolve to climb out of the mental pit and rise up. The doctor suggested the family to consult a counsellor. Their initial reaction was, what is the need? Unfortunately, we live in a society that tends to look down upon such interventions and labels the person “senile” or “mad”. As the days progressed, it became clear that it was the faith which helped that person to come out of this crisis, not counselling. However this process took almost 18 months. I was witness to all that transpired but even then, I felt that such issues were a by-product of a weak and uncertain mind. I vowed to myself I would never succumb to such pressures.
I moved out of our family business in 2007 when I was only 47. I tried my hands at Consulting for about 2-3 years, but it was not exciting enough. Finally, I decided to retire from commercial life at the stroke of 50 and began doing some social work to try and give back to the society. In 2010, I set up an NGO by the name, “Neeraja” for community level rainwater harvesting in tribal areas of Palghar district. Naturally, there is an air of excitement in the initial stages of any new activity. Though the pace at which things were moving were not what I had expected, I was satisfied that I am doing my bit for the society.
However this was not a 24×7 stimulating job and there was a mental vacuum being built up that I failed to notice it. About five years ago, I was standing in my office balcony smoking a cigarette. I happened to be looking down at the hustle and bustle of the city as I smoked, when out of blue, I began to ponder the idea of jumping off. I was taken aback as to where this thought came from? It happened a few more times again but I ignored them as irrational negative thoughts. In June 2016, while I was driving back from Panchgani with my friend, I thought to myself, “should I just drive off the edge and into the valley”? I was afraid of my own thoughts and needed to re-focus to reach back safely. You may find it amusing but from that day onwards, my interest in driving diminished drastically. I was unable to fathom what was happening to me. I felt restless. There was nothing to really look forward to. I started thinking that my life has become worthless and nobody, including my family, really needs me. This thought just came out of blue and it totally unnerved me. I didn’t know how to face it.
Then came the final flash point in January 2018 while travelling by train to Surat. I was standing in the door of a running train and I felt a strong urge to just jump off. I was really frightened and I backed away the train door trembling. I realised how the Devil or Satan is a figment of our own imagination. We create our own monsters. I was reminded as to how I had brushed off that person’s mental neurosis as a by-product of a weak mind. I prided myself to be mentally very strong but now something was happening to me and I had no control over it. I thought to myself that if that person came out unscathed, so will I. I consulted my doctor and told him everything. His response was that this is a typical case of male andropause. My mind is not getting enough stimulus which is creating this vacuum.
What I realised was acceptance is the first step on the road to recovery. I was privileged to have few close friends as well as my brother whom I could confide in. I was suggested to take up writing as they felt I had a certain flair for it. I wasn’t sure in the beginning whether it really was my calling, but decided to give it a try. I started my blog in March 2018 and aimed to post at least one article per week. Since there was a target, I had to read copious books and do extensive research to come up with a new article every week. It was quite challenging but I was relentless. It took me about 4-5 months before I started to look forward to each new day with excitement. In hindsight, I must admit that the timing for such transformation couldn’t have been better. This is because exactly 4 months after overcoming this mental trauma, I was diagnosed with Prostate Malignancy in November 2018. Normally the word “Cancer” is dreaded enough to drown you in pain, despair, frustration and fear. Firstly, I ensured that I stayed away from “Dr. Google” as it only gives information about the illness and not a diagnosis. This generates more panic than relief in some individuals. I spoke to a number of doctors to exactly understand where I stood and the knowledge dispelled all dark clouds. To reiterate, acceptance is the key. Accepting my situation helped me to take it in my stride as just another event of my life. Around that time, I had already booked myself for a US trip with my brother. Despite the odds, I decided to go ahead with the trip. We spent some quality time with my elder son in California. Not once did I think about the “C” word. I got operated for Radical Prostatectomy after returning from my trip in December 2018. I would have been a miserable wreck had I not sorted out my mental upheaval. I kept thinking, “what had really changed in one year that I was still so normal & upbeat”?
I felt that many of us must be going through such a phase in their life. But the question is why does it happen?
From our childhood, we strive to achieve the expectations of our parents. All parents want / wish the best for the children. However if we try to analyse their expectations, they are mainly in terms of material aspects such as good job, good social standing and finally financial success. We keep on living our lives as per the expectations of others. After we achieve a name for ourselves, fame, money, status etc, for ourselves, we start living life as if this will remain forever and be content in our comfort zone. However we tend to overlook the fact that “Change” is the only constant entity. When things start to change, even little ups & downs makes us feel insecure. We don’t want to change routine because it gives us a sense of happiness & fulfilment and we keep on holding onto that feeling. Subconsciously we record that “change is bad“. We are not ready to embrace anything different or new “change is bad” is the underlying current. Also there is a tremendous amount of pressure, due to which we tend to neglect ourselves and our mental health. Sometimes, some individuals achieve everything that they aspired for. Despite their accomplishments, their happiness is fleeting. Is it only temporary? Why? Is there an emotional blackhole in the depths of our mind that sucks everything in?
Further the basic assumption that “I” am important to the world, is completely misplaced. In the corporate world, we wield power because of our designation. In business we are important for our employees as their future and livelihood depends on the choices we make and what we think of them and therefore they give us importance. Once we are not on the “Chair“, no one really cares for us. Once we vacate the chair, it is our ego and greed that makes us feel unwanted or worthless. The reality is that we were never important to anybody. They gave importance because of their own self-serving reasons. We were and will be the same. Similarly, we always prided ourselves on our feeling that we are valuable and important for our “Family“. Our importance and value was largely because we were “xyz” (spouse, parent, sibling, primary caregiver etc). Once we are no more “xyz”, we tend to feel even our family will start looking at us through a different lens. Both these feelings vis-a-vis other people are all because we attach too much importance to ourselves for which a common word is EGO. Hence our happiness should not be dependent on other people’s perception about us. It should be dependent on what we feel about ourselves.
Take the case of the current COVID pandemic. There are so many people who never looked beyond their job or career and were suddenly confined in their house or wherever they were. They were just not mentally prepared to accept such a situation and have had to face anxiety attacks, amongst other things. It is well known that the anxiety mutates into fear & then into phobia and finally into panic and hysteria. Unfortunately, the TRP hungry media adds more fuel to this fire of fear. I have heard of people who have pressed panic buttons and are thinking of leaving the city where they live and, in some cases, want to leave the country itself. I realised that this is because it has become increasingly difficult to come out of our comfort zones. The fear of pandemic coupled with uncertainties about the future seem to have completely changed people’s notion of safety. It is a proven fact that once a man is full of fear, he is ready to submit. Once a man is trembling inside, he loses trust in himself. Then he is ready to believe in any ideology put forth. When fear knocks on the door who bothers about logic, reason or argument? Here we must acknowledge one fact that absence of fear from our lives is impossible, but we should strive to have the courage to face our fears.
This is proof that our mind has a mind of its own and it plays different games with us at its leisure. The problem is that we don’t realise it’s happening to us and such unconscious thoughts create anxiety and frustration that forces us into mental isolation. We stop talking or sharing with anyone as we are uncomfortable discussing our problems and keep on brooding leading finally to depression or some sort of mental illness. Funnily enough, the thought we want to avoid always keeps growing in the mind. To quote Leonardo DiCaprio from the movie, Inception, “An idea is like a virus. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain, it is impossible to eradicate it“. This is like our mind being the playground for the devil.
I remember a Hindi Film song which describes this phenomenon.
तोरा मन दर्पण कहलाए, भले बुरे सारे कर्मों को
देखे और दिखाए, तोरा मन दर्पण कहलाए |
सुख की कलियाँ, दुख के काँटे, मन सबका आधार
मन से कोई बात छुपे ना, मन के नैन हज़ार
जग से चाहे भाग ले कोई, मन से भाग ना पाए
तोरा मन दर्पण कहलाए |
In the initial stages, we are generally in denial. It is very difficult to accept that we have a problem. There will be many people who are in constant fear of something. This may or may not necessarily lead to suicidal thoughts but will create tremendous mental stress. However acceptance is an extremely important aspect here and there has to be a willingness to share with someone. And there has to be resolve that, “Come what may, I will overcome this“.
The question is, “what should we do to avoid or overcome this”?
At the outset, we must acknowledge that simply popping pills is not a viable solution to mental ailments. We are so used to taking some medicines for physical ailments that we tend to feel that even for mental illness popping pills will help, but it does not. Generally, the pills prescribed by psychiatrists are to suppress anxiety or to help an insomniac sleep or some other medically diagnosed condition. The thought which has engulfed you cannot be deleted from our mind like words on a page. There is no mechanism to stop the thoughts creeping up in the mind. We feel as if we are stuck. A logical way out is if we are able to replace the negative thought with something positive. But is that possible? When we are going through such a phase, we feel that this is a never-ending tunnel and there is no light at the end. One of the hardest lessons in life is letting go. Whether it is guilt, anger, love, loss, betrayal or fear. Change is never easy. We fight to hold on & we fight to let go.
The starting point here is to understand and accept that “I have a problem”. Secondly, try to get to the roots of the problem. In the process of getting clarity, try to be objective. Imagine you grasp a rope in the dark. You might perceive it as a snake but the light is shone upon the rope, it acts like knowledge which dispels the darkness and we realise that it’s only a rope. Thirdly, we all are blessed with the power of intelligent thinking and that the positive thoughts act as some sort of positive energy. Whenever the thoughts get bottled-up in the mind, positive thinking will help you channel the emotions like happiness, anger, sorrow, neurosis, depression etc. Some people have some inherent talent and they are capable of expressing their energy through some art like painting, sculpting, film, drama, poetry, writing etc. We should strive to identify something which we always wanted to do but has been forgotten over time as priorities in life change constantly. This could be anything such as some art or hobby which may or may not give you money but gives immense satisfaction leading to fulfilment. Once that happens, there is a buzz of excitement and you tend to look forward to each day with new enthusiasm. Always remember that this expression is for your own satisfaction & mental stimulation. Fourthly, find an emotional anchor. It could be a counselor, your partner, family, friend or anyone else. It goes without saying that we must bestow complete trust for that person.
Lastly the most critical aspect is to learn to watch our thoughts every time. This minimises the recurrence of the experience. This is where spirituality helped me. It is not necessary that one must be a believer in God to tread on this path. There are so many aspects in spirituality such as meditation, that can help us tremendously in our low phase of life. I am of the firm opinion that there has to be a faith to actually cross the final step. The same is true when we go to a doctor or get admitted in hospital. If we keep complete faith in the doctor and the hospital staff, it will help us to get better faster. My experience was that it was far easier for me to surrender totally to “Him” (call it energy, nature, universe, God or anything else) which helped me to watch my thoughts. Slowly the change started happening and the path started becoming clearer and clearer. As Aristotle says – “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom“.
The people suffering from any mental illness or depression must remember that it is just their mind playing tricks with them. This causes discomfort and uncertainty. One must also remember that not succumbing to such thoughts will provide greater satisfaction in the days to come. By not falling prey to these negative thoughts, we give our mind a reason to live and enjoy life. God has given us this one chance so if we throw it away, that’s the end of the line; the finality. If you give yourself a chance, things may improve for the better.
Our mind acts like a mirror and reflects everything back to us. It shows us who we are and how much emotional baggage we are carrying. The key is to be able to drop the excess or undesirable baggage. However that’s easier said than done. Unfortunately, we tend to assume that happiness is temporary and the only thing which is truly certain in life is death. However there are moments of happiness all around us but most of the time we tend to look at happiness as an eventuality of a task. “I will be happy if I achieve X”. This kind of happiness is fleeting and doesn’t last forever. Though one might say that we should try to find true happiness within ourselves, for who we are and not what we do. However I feel that we should learn to enjoy the process itself and find happiness in that. Yes, death is certain but making the most of the time that is given to us is only in our hands.
This is what Osho said somewhere:
“To be here and now is to be authentic. No past, no future, this moment, all…. We have to live this moment as totally as possible because the next moment may not come ever. Hence live every moment to such totality that if the next moment never comes, there is no complaint.”
Finally as a parting shot I would quote what Dr. Robert Lustig said about pleasure and happiness.
“A lot of people equate the two. However pleasure is short lived; happiness is long lived. Pleasure is taking; happiness is giving. Pleasure can be achieved by substances and behaviour; happiness is experienced through inter personal connections, through your own individual contribution, through the ability to cope with the world around us. Pleasure is experienced alone; happiness is experienced in social groups around us. The extremes of pleasure all lead to addiction; there is no such thing as addicted to too much happiness. The more pleasure you seek, the more unhappy you get.”
#Neurosis #Mental_Illness #Depression #Spirituality #Meditation #Suicide