“You are only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” – Robin Williams.
I heard a joke about depression, once. It’s a dialogue between two friends who were suffering from it.
“You know, they say that depression is the absence of hope.”
“Ha! No way. I hope to die every day. So you are wrong.”
But what is depression anyway? Is it just the absence of hope or is it more than that?
The American Psychiatric Organization defines it as – “Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel; the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”
Well, that is a dispiriting definition at the very least. What disturbs me most is the usage of the words “common and serious medical illness”. Why does it disturb me? First, it gives me the impression that we know that there is a problem and many are affected by it, but nothing can be done about it. That always makes me feel despair. Second, the phrase raises two important questions and the answers are anything but pleasant.
- Just how common is depression? According to the World Health Organization (W.H.O), there are more than 300 million people from different age groups who suffer from it.
- Just how serious is depression? It is a leading cause of disability worldwide. In worst cases, it leads to suicide. And close to 800000 people commit suicide every year (according to W.H.O).
Experts opine that depression can happen to anyone, even to people living in the most ideal circumstances. Feelings of existential dread and despair are inherent traits in many human beings. It can affect people who have suffered extreme losses (for example loss of a loved one), or those who are struggling with poverty, or even those who are immensely successful in every way. While we may find it logical to understand why people may feel depressed in the first two cases, it is baffling to understand the last one.
I did some research and found out that there are six different categories into which depression can be classified:
- Situational – caused by tragic events such as loss of jobs, death of a loved one, divorce etc.
- Hormonal – caused by hormonal imbalance.
- Biological – this is genetic in nature.
- Seasonal – even seasons can make you feel depressed (It applies to me, I feel depressed during the monsoon season).
- Intra-personal –low self-esteem, feelings of lack of self-worth.
- Existential – lack of meaning and soul connection.
Existential depression is the most difficult form of the disease. In a nutshell, it is a profound spiritual crisis that one goes through. It is the hardest to detect and therefore the hardest to cure as well. Do you want to learn more about its symptoms and cures? Click Here
Here are few basic tips on how to deal with bouts of depression:
- Smile and make others smile– Need I say more? It is easy to be swept away by the sorrows that life throws at us. Cry. By all means. Everyone does, when it hurts. But don’t forget to see the little things that can make you smile. If you cannot smile, remember that there are others whose pain is greater than yours. You have no right to make their lives any more miserable than it already is. Try to make them laugh and may be in that attempt you will laugh a little as well. The world does not want to see a sulky face. Smile and shine.
- Seek professional advice – Do not misinterpret this state of your mind to be harmless. It can cause more damage than you can imagine. Medical intervention can make the difference between living and dying.
- Change your physical state radically – When you catch yourself feeling depressed, do something drastic. For example, just run, or walk fast, or jump around for a while, or pump iron, or jump into a pool and swim. Or play any sport that demands a lot of physical activity. Do anything. When you do any physical exercise, your body releases more endorphins (that’s a feel good hormone) and often it helps in combating feelings of despair.
- Involve yourself in something you feel attracted to – Music can be one of the best soul searching tools, so can be painting, teaching, reading, writing, travelling, acting or martial arts. You may find the answer to your spiritual crisis in any of those endeavors or perhaps in something else. Who knows?
- Try something crazy – How about bungee jumping? How about skydiving, river rafting or paragliding? Anything wild and crazy will do. But be smart and be safe. Take professional help where necessary. The idea is to change your state of being. Challenge yourself with something and follow through.
- Talk to a friend or a loved one – Talk about how you feel. Everyone needs someone they can talk to. Bare yourself emotionally in front of that person. Tell your story. Sharing your feelings with a person close to your heart is one of the most beautiful things in life. It is an invaluable gift. Nothing makes the bond stronger than a soulful dialogue. These are moments that both of you will cherish later.
- Help others – Seek an opportunity to help someone every day. Anyone. If you can help more than one person, that’s great. Congratulations! You have done well. But help at least one person every day. Do not expect anything in return. Just do it, anyways. Remember, you are doing it for yourself and not for anyone else.
Sister Nivedita came to India from England being inspired by her guru, the dynamic Swami Vivekananda and after putting in conscientious efforts, she found it difficult to adjust to the new life of sacrifice and service. She felt despair and approached Vivekananda and told him that she felt discouraged. Vivekananda’s advice to his disciple was simple. “Encourage others”. And she did. By doing that, she found the strength to continue on her journey towards relentless and unparalleled service for the people of this country.
If you forget everything else, and just remember the first and the last tip to fight depression, you will do just fine.
The interesting thing is that some of the people we turn to when we are sad, to make us laugh, were also deeply melancholic in their real lives. Charlie Chaplin and Robin Williams are great examples of this fact. They didn’t allow the world to see their pain. Instead, they made the world laugh. They inspired generations. No matter what trepidation they felt inside, no matter what pain they endured, no matter how wistful they felt, they also found the strength to go out and not only see life in a new light but also made a difference to the world.
Here are some inspiring quotes from the legend himself, Charlie Chaplin.
“A day without laughter is a day wasted.”
“To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it.”
“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.”
“I have many problems in life, but my lips don’t know about those problems. They always smile.”
“My pain may be the reason for somebody’s laugh. But my laugh must never be the reason for somebody’s pain.”
“You need power only when you want to do something harmful, otherwise love is enough to get everything done.”
“Life is a tragedy when seen in close up, but a comedy in long shot.”
This is a great lesson from the legend. At times we all need to see the world as it truly is – a big charade! Nothing that causes you to despair will last forever. So why worry about it? Accept the fact that your life is messed up in certain areas, so is everyone else’s. Humor is not just an escape from depression. It is perhaps the best therapy.
If this article helps even one person, I will feel that it was worth writing. Share it. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.