EMPTINESS: ‘Melancolie’ was created by Albert György after the death of his wife and can be found in Geneva, Switzerland. It seems to embody the feeling of loss and thousands identify with it…
BY TARA NARAYAN
If you are, it’s okay, nothing to be ashamed about!
TARA NARAYAN looks at aspects of anxiety, sadness and depression which so many of us suffer from today and which are largely neglected, ignored — despite the cry for help from young and seniors alike who live increasingly in a grey world of aloneness, loneliness, physical degeneration, malnutrition and very often cruelty.
LIFE is crazy. One day you think somebody loves you, a year or 20 years down the line you think they don’t and why not? It can drive you crazy thinking about all those who have shunted you aside and got on with their life as if they never trampled all over your heart in the process! It happens you know. The heart is a lonely hunter constantly in search of love and affection and not the rubbish which passes for love and affection increasingly in our times (okay, any other times past, present or future).
Human beings are used to being exploited. It’s the oldest experience in the world. We are constantly using and discarding people up the ladder of touching the skies on cloud number one or two or four or six or nine from where they can’t see those lower down as human too anymore. We put a price on exploitation to justify it. It can be as simple as I gave birth to you, I can exploit you! Some do it nicely, others do as a matter of social slavery. Naturally, sooner or later most of us arrive at a place called sadness, depression, mental illness.
Sometimes I wonder if this is because we keep compromising with our conscience all the time in our own self-interest, first, second and last? Of course. Most people love themselves the most, just as many love others whom they consider their mentors, benefactors, guardian angels, godparents, anchors – consider yourself lucky if you have some of them in your life. Most of us don’t. We only have exploiters in our life or so we like to think!
So we constantly experience anxiety, sadness, depression, mental illness, especially the first two as the experiences come and go over the years of getting on with life’s business, but sometimes these feelings of not being well hang around and don’t go away, leading us to the precarious edges of mental illness — in India we don’t take either the preliminary stages, the ongoing stages, or terminal stages of mental illness as seriously as they deserves to be taken.
Sadness and depression are the hardest state of mind to pin down because most will live in denial. Most of us are not conscious of how we can live day in and day out in a cloud of sadness turning into a tunnel of night time depression, and finally we have what may be best described as a “chemical locha” or mental illness of varying degrees. Remember “chemical locha”, the lovely phrase used in the Hindi film ‘Munnabhai MBBS.’
Where does it all start? Given my own experience of depression I’d say the seeds of sadness are sown in the mind, but manifest a thorny harvest in the heart. One way or another we’re either victims or “beneficiaries” of somebody’s meanness, selfishness, self-centeredness, a pathetic vanity, insecurity, bitterness…everything comes full circle the older we get and hopefully wiser, then we may or may not be able to put back the clock to erase either errors of judgment or injustice to which we have been a party. That is if we have not allowed our heart to turn into a piece of stone over the years of whatever good, bad or ugly happened to us. The day of reckoning may come or may never come.
BUT I do believe we gift one another with sadness first in relationships. This leads to entrenched depression and perhaps mental illness later as we see in Todd Phillips complex English film `Joker’ (where comedian Arthur Fleck seeks to belong to an ugly, frightening, mindless world). Are we all becoming jokers in a world taken over by those who thrive on cruel or criminal acts? In a larger sense we are responsible for one another’s wellbeing in mind and body, heart and soul, but when we fail each other we end up unhappy, discontented, or disenchanted as the years go by and head into mental illness, maybe Alzheimer’s disease, for the mental impacts the physical like very little else does.
A question I’d like to ask here is why do we constantly seek to sanitize life by so easily and simply dismissing people we know well (and some of them are parents, husbands, sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews, etc) as “mad” or mentally sick? A reader on Facebook once got tired of my less than comfortable observations and grouses about life and times and advised me to see a psychiatrist to sort myself out if I wanted to be happy! I felt like asking her if Facebook was only for happy and mentally healthy people? In which case perhaps Facebook bosses should have separate communication set-ups for the two groups of people — those deliriously happy and healthy and those deliriously unhappy and unhealthy!
That said I would like to point that anybody can go through a life time of mundane misery, sadness, especially if life has been dishing out too much castor oil or sour lemons to them. And no, thank you, they are sick and tired of suffering from cleansing the stomach syndrome or making lemonade. In my experience life takes a turn for the worse vis-à-vis lies, injustice, stressed-out careers to earn a living to make ends meet, and somewhere along the way depression sets in with more betrayals, more excuses, more justifications of I-deserve-more or I-deserve-better and not just crumbs. I don’t deserve this! Who decides who deserves what by way of the material and immaterial goodies of life? Life’s relationships go for a toss.
Only the human of the species is reduced to stress, depression and mental sickness in the world…it’s anybody’s guess how many of us react to life’s grim situations which remind of the lower denomination of critters which reside in our homes. Think spiders, rats, cockroaches, lizards! You may of course not like them and do constant pest controlling to get rid of them. But perhaps it would be educative to observe these domestic creatures which lurk around and haunt every family sooner or later in their own comfort zones which are constantly being sanitized…we behave exactly like spiders, rats, cockroaches, lizards. Scheming on how to get something by hook or by crook, waiting for a moment after dark to go get it, whatever, rejoicing in whatever has fallen into our laps too easily.
HEY, it’s natural to feel down sometimes but you should do something if your bad feelings linger day after day and you’re confused and unable to cope with what you want to do and can’t do because you don’t have the skills or are not appreciated. I have moments when I remember with humour how even my nephew and niece once in my presence called each other, “you psycho” and “you psyche”! Just a fleeting quarrel or difference of opinion, nothing more. In adulthood two adults, namely husband and wife, can as they get on in years, come to a crisis point disagreeing about most everything and the constant being at odds and ends sooner or later leads to incompatibility which needs addressing. Or else.
Young folk so compatible with one another once upon a time wake up one day when the children have arrived and when the chips are down they see how little in common they have. One loves indoors and television, the other loves outdoors, viewing films in proper cinema halls. One may love soups and salads while the other craves for fried puri, thepla with shrikhand… and so on and so forth. Umpteen differences which make life a stressful drag. Make the difference between unrelieved stress and unredeemed depression… real depression is when an episode of rejection continues week after week. Mind you, it is not a sign of weakness or negativity.
Depression is a major public health problem but neither the medical profession nor the government or we, the people, take cognizance of it. Preferring to just dismiss it and we keep calling each other “mad” and leave the person alone for extraordinary periods of time. Primary symptoms of depression are sad moods and loss of interest in life. Activities once pleasurable lose their appeal. You may be haunted with guilt or a sense of worthlessness, hopelessness, ineffectiveness, and yes, recurring thoughts of death and committing suicide come and go. Nobody and nothing is worth living for.
Depression can make other health problems worse. Fatigue, decreased energy, insomnia sets in and you may find yourself getting up post-midnight instead of dawn. There is something called key brain chemicals which do influence mood and aggravate pain. Medically treating depression does improve co-existing illnesses.
Some patients acquire garguantan appetites for sugary things (fueling cancer actually!) while others nitpick and lose weight. Emotional turmoil may get sedated as hobbies, relationships, fall by the wayside…and an inability to concentrate or make decisions sets in. There is a marked disinterest in sex. Oh yes, depression can be life-threatening so take it seriously and seek help before you start thinking suicide as a way out of facing life’s injustices/karma/kismet… remember that anyone can become depressed. Experts believe genetics have a role to play. Depressive parents and siblings can rub off their depression on you. It is a fact. Women are twice as likely as men to become depressed.
From the medical point of view doctors aren’t sure what exactly causes repeated bouts of debilitating depression but a prominent theory points at altering infrastructure of the brain and chemical functioning — right again, “chemical locha” (of Hindi film ‘Munnabhai MBBS’ fame). Brain circuits that regulate mood may work less efficiently during depression. One may be biologically prone to develop depressive tendencies and these may be triggered by medications, alcohol or substance abuse, hormonal changes or even a change in season. There is something called seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder — SAD — and it affects many people living in cold, dreary, perennially artificially lit countries, where they spend more time indoors to stay warm than outdoors where the weather chills and freezes most of the year around.
THERE’S no lab test to pin down depression. Doctors just rely on a patient’s description of symptoms and prescribe a medication. But then be aware that medications too can contribute towards depression. There are several therapies ranging from cognitive behavioural therapy which aims to change thoughts and behaviour patterns contributing to depression to interpersonal therapy (identifying how your relationships impact you), and psychodynamic psychotherapy which helps people understand how their behaviour and depressions are affected by unresolved issues and unconscious feelings.
Some patients need a few months of therapy. Some patients may benefit from a few months of therapy while others may continue long term. Needless to say any type of moderate activity helps resolve “chemical locha” in some measure, be it swimming or doing housework! Choose something you enjoy and engage in it for 30 minutes or so four or five times a week if not daily. Also, you may join a book club, learn something, get a pet for yourself to shower love on and if worst comes to worst there is something called vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) for patients with treatment-resistant depression.
VNS is like a pacemaker for the brain. The surgically implanted device sends electrical pulses to the brain through the vagus nerve in the neck. The pulses are said to ease depression without side effects. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is also there whereby electric charges create a controlled. ECT helps 80% to 90% of patients who receive it, giving new hope to those who suffer depression and don’t improve with medication.
There is also repetitive trans-cranial magnetic stimulation for stubborn depression. This treatment aims electromagnetic pulses at the skull, and stimulate tiny electrical currents in a part of the brain linked to depression. This treatment is still being fine-tuned.
But this is to say despite the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness you may feel, more than 80% patients get better with medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. So don’t despair. Seek help if you think you are out of sorts day after day after day…unfortunately, in India our tendency is to ignore one another and the effect we have on one another vis-à-vis our actions and behaviour.
In the end we abandon the folk in the family we have made sad, depressed, mentally sick courtesy each other’s sins of omission and commission and without feeling remorse, accountable or responsible. On good days I remember a Kishore Kumar song from yesteryear Hindi films which lulls me into a fleeting feeling of wellbeing, remember it? `Aa chal ke tujhe, mein lekin ke chalun, ek aise gagan ke talen, jahan gaam bhi na ho, ansoon bhi na ho…bas pyar hi pyar falem…ek aise gagan ke talen…’ Ah, now that would be an ideal world to aspire towards!
Unfortunately, too many of us prefer to live in denial of a spirit of give and take, consideration, respect, love and affection for the other who comes before us or after us…whoever we may be. Think about all this and don’t just think. How much do we contribute individually or collectively towards a world tilting rapidly towards a pathetic, insecure, lonely, sick world? We are individually and collectively responsible.
NARCISSISTIC PEOPLE LESS LIKELY TO BE DEPRESSED!
Researchers from the Queen’s University Belfast have found that people who have grandiose narcissistic traits were more likely to be “mentally tough”, feel less stressed and also less vulnerable to depression.
While narcissism may be viewed by many in society as a negative personality trait, the researchers have revealed that it could also have benefits, according to the study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
“Narcissism is part of the ‘Dark Tetrad’ of personality that also includes Machiavellianism, Psychopathy and Sadism. There are two main dimensions to narcissism – grandiose and vulnerable,” said study researcher Kostas Papageorgiou.
“Vulnerable narcissists are likely to be more defensive and view the behaviour of others as hostile whereas grandiose narcissists usually have an over inflated sense of importance and a preoccupation with status and power.”
According to the researchers, individuals high on the spectrum of dark traits, such as narcissism, engage in risky behavior, hold an unrealistic superior view of themselves, are overconfident, show little empathy for others, and have little shame or guilt.
The papers include three independent studies each involving more than 700 adults in total and highlights some positive sides of narcissism, such as resilience against symptoms of psychopathology.
A key finding of the research was that grandiose narcissism can increase mental toughness and this can help to offset symptoms of depression.
It also found that people who score high on grandiose narcissism have lower levels of perceived stress and are therefore less likely to view their life as stressful.
“The results from all the studies that we conducted show that grandiose narcissism correlates with very positive components of mental toughness, such as confidence and goal orientation, protecting against symptoms of depression and perceived stress,” Papageorgiou said.