STATE OF MIND: THE NEED TO UNDERSTAND YOURSELF

There has come a time in most of our lives when we have looked back and wondered “Did I really say those words?” or “Did I really behave in that manner?” Filled with remorse and regret of our actions, we vow never to repeat it again.

We follow this consciously for a few days but end up inadvertently reverting back to the usual by doing the said unusual things again. This results in a rinse-repeat cycle that has only become all too familiar to me.

            Over the years, as I began to search for an end to this, it has become obvious to me that this is a rather widely suffered problem. People who you seem to ‘know’ are not really who you thought they were as they were probably in a phase where they acted and behaved different from their normal selves. And so, it leads to the question, how can this rather vague thing be defined first and then how can this be overcome? I was fortunate enough to stumble across the following sloka in Bhagavad Gita, which went “Chanchalam hi manah krishna pramathi balavad dradham I Tasyaham nigraham manye vayor iva suduskaram II . This may be translated as “The restless nature of the mind means that it being collected in equanimity is not possible. The wavy ocean of the mind cannot be made free of waves”. In this sloka, Arjun concisely defines the problem that we have all faced – the restless, wavy and fickle nature of the human mind which refuses to stop alternating all the time between the good, the bad and the ugly.

            So now that we have defined the problem itself – the unpredictability of our actions and reactions to events, if we could exhibit some sort of control over this state of mind, we could truly better our lives. The world’s second best tennis player Andy Murray is often considered slightly more naturally talented than the world’s best – Novak Djokovic. It is however, the mental strength of the Serb to execute his plans and react well when his mood sours, that sets him apart. Murray often goes into fits of rage where he ‘loses it’ and does basic things, like missing an open court winner, wrong. Remember that this is one of the greatest champions of our times and it takes immense talent and dedication to get to where he is in life. Even he is not immune to his mind wavering around. The problem may seem simple initially but even the world’s top sports psychologists offer contrasting views with respect to the solution. One school of thought is that Murray should freeze the big moments. Play with precision and calmness and take a deep breath and give it 110% in those moments. The other school of thought varies highly and state that he should treat the big moments just like any other moment. Trying to freeze it will only increase anxiety and his immensely well-tuned muscle memory of hitting the tennis ball would be disrupted. Thus, there is no one fixed way to control the wavering mind. It is a highly personal choice. It happens to every one of us be it Andy Murray or the addict down the street trying not to kill himself from regret.

            From a personal stand point, while I have figured out no fixed method to end the madness, I have figured out one thing – identifying when I’m not ‘normal’. Just how does one do this? For starters, think of some of the things that you love doing most of the time – playing your guitar, talking to a particular person, watching your favourite TV series – could be anything really. If, even that thing, feels rather tedious to think about, there is one of your indicators that you aren’t in a right state of mind. Another indicator is, as cited in the Murray example, when your body can’t do things which have been trained by years and years of muscle memory, properly. That is, when your fingers don’t flow particularly well on the fret board, when you are awkwardly silent when talking o that person or when the series feels a bit too long. The first step in settling an unrest is, as obvious as it may seem, identifying that the unrest exists.

The biggest action you need to take, is ironically, inaction.

            One of the most important things to do when you are not in a good state of mind is to never take definitive and drastic actions. Don’t break up a relationship, don’t sell your guitar, don’t delete the TV Series. To quote the popular band The Fray –

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Having a good support system may help as well. Don’t be too bothered about letting all the steam out. If you don’t feel like talking about it to anyone, just drift away, ‘zone out’ and wait for it to pass. This not about optimism or pessimism. This is almost a fight for (mental) survival of your persona. So, naturally just endure it and wait for it to pass.

Unrest can be settled in two ways – the easy way is to lash out .but the tougher and in my opinion, the correct way, is to not react and accept whatever comes and endure it.

Normal order of things is never too far no matter how bleak things may seem.

Clique management for Dummies

Remember that scene from Kung Fu Panda where Po struggles to make friends with the Furious Five and receive reactions ranging from awkwardness to hostility? Like:

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Does this seem to be relatable to you? Seem to strike a chord somewhere? Remember when you are about to express yourself on some topic amongst your friends only to receive dismissive comments, change of topic or weird silence ( especially in whatsapp groups) almost every time?(Disclaimer: I mean the seemingly mundane topics). Or you feel emotionally drained out when hanging out with them, conforming to some unspoken rules which you secretly hate but don’t disclose for fear of being judged? Or find yourself pandering to the wishes of the queen bee(in simple words, the most dominating person in the group)?  Welcome to the clique phenomenon.

Due to the need to be approved, liked or to avoid being lonely, people unwittingly join such groups.

While this word seems to be lifted off from an American high school sitcom, the phenomenon exists everywhere, across all age groups. People in the age group of 12-20( in some cases, younger) are adversely affected by this, which saps their confidence and self-esteem resulting in anxiety. Due to the need to be approved, liked or to avoid being lonely, people unwittingly join such groups. Though it may be fun at first, if the person happens to have any of the qualities that intimidate the queen bee’s position, then that person becomes the target. While guy’s cliques aren’t that overt with targets, girls or mixed cliques overtly ignore them during planning, subtly criticize whatever the target does and ensure that the target isn’t really  the person they once were. And unlike Po’s case where he eventually becomes a part of the Furious Five( hey, they weren’t bad people..) you can’t expect wonders to happen.

Read a brutally honest post here on how it feels to be excluded and treated like a third wheel:   Story of my Life

Cliques, are especially detrimental during school and college life. When you need to be enjoying and building your career , you seem to be perennially stuck in abyss instead, not able to do the things you love. Isn’t that terrible? With increasing peer pressure, it isn’t really surprising that many adolescents and college goers suffer from crippling anxiety which can spiral into something worse, like losing your individuality.

Though it isn’t easy (or desirable) to leave a clique abruptly, especially if you have some good friends who are stuck like you, here are some steps to help you deal with cliques:

  • Engage yourself in some activity that you love. Join clubs and get yourself engrossed in the activities. Joining multiple clubs does involve a lot of time management. If you’re not that okay with balancing a lot of activities, especially when you have a lot of academic workload, it’s absolutely okay to restrict yourself to a couple of clubs. When you get to do something that you love, you’ll be so engrossed in it that you wouldn’t be bothered about the outing that the clique has specifically excluded you from. Also, chances are high that you’d find your best buddies in the club. When you do an activity you love with other people who also love it, isn’t that the best thing you can afford to have?
  • Also, if you find yourself being mocked by the members for some specific characteristic of yours, muster all the will-power you have, give them a grin and shrug your shoulders. Don’t ever change yourself. For example, when the queen bee taunts you for submitting your assignment early, chances are high that the person would’ve submitted the assignment much before you would’ve (no jokes). Repeat the grin and shrug every time, the clique will get tired of you( Disclaimer: This point is not applicable to well-meaning advice)
  • Learn to say ‘NO’. That’s the toughest thing to do but you should learn to refuse and disagree on some issues assertively(aggression never works). You’ll receive a lot of emotional blackmail into doing something you’ve never liked but listen to your conscience and trust you gut. They’ll never fail you.
  • If you’re still feeling the brunt , talk it out with a person you trust. It could be a parent or an older sibling or an older cousin. Only when you open up, will you realize that there are people who actually care for you.

Friendships enable you to grow, not cliques.

While these steps cannot show results in a short period of time ,with patience and persistence, you’ll surely grow out of it. So, instead of focusing on what the clique was thinking/will think of you, remember Master Ogway’s words:

 

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-Pooja C

Image credits: Google

How do I know if it’s just a phase or if it’s something serious?

Psychiatric diagnosis are not made on the basis of checklists  – even though the checklists are very helpful

Depression and related mental health problems are complex and have multiple “causes”. This is important to understand before anyone is to answer the question of whether some is simply dejected due to the life events or is depressed as in ill. The current understand of depression and related mental health condition is that they are Bio-Psycho and Social in nature. This means that they have causes and effects in each of these three realms namely biological, psychological and social.

Let me explain this further with a few examples with depression as the core illness category. There are individuals who experience symptoms of depression such as continuous low mood that does not improve in any situation, crying spells, lack of interest in all activities, changes in sleep and appetite, energy levels and so on and so forth in the absence of any clear environmental precipitating event. Here we would consider a diagnosis of Depression (i.e. biological cause) if the symptoms cause sufficient dysfunction. Now on the flip side, persons with depression (whether life situation related/ biological) have a tendency to be more sedentary (or be less active overall compared to previously). This leads them to have a higher risk of developing certain lifestyle related disorders including elevated blood pressures, risk of cardiac disease and so on. Here the diagnosis has changed certain aspects of biology. There are similar effects and causes in the psychological and social realms.

A diagnosis of depression is made after understanding the context of the emergence of symptoms, the symptoms themselves and the degree of impairment in functioning afforded by the symptoms.

Now, how do we integrate this knowledge with what we already know. The first thing is that psychiatric diagnosis are not made on the basis of checklists (even though the checklists are very helpful). A diagnosis of depression is made after understanding the context of the emergence of symptoms, the symptoms themselves and the degree of impairment in functioning afforded by the symptoms.

Impairment is the core of what psychiatry would aim to reduce.

What is this impairment? Of the many definitions available, the easiest to use is that impairment is the difficulty that mediates the long term outcome related to the illness. Basically what does this illness do that prevents the person fulfill his/ her role. In order to reduce the impairment (again which is Bio-Psycho-Social in nature), treating the underlying symptoms will be essential in a biological, psychological and social fashion.

So, the long and short of it would be that the degree of dysfunction/ impairment, in the context of the presence/ absence of sufficient number of symptoms while keeping in mind the context in which the symptoms emerge determine whether a label of depression is applied to a person or not.

Finally the person who is suffering does not care about whether they have a label or not, all that they care about is not suffering as much – whatever the person who is willing to help can do.

-Dr. Shiva Prakash

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Story of my Life

I’m tired of standing on the outside
Watching everyone smile around me
Their casual conversations and laughter
Draw me in as I stare longingly
Leaning on that impenetrable transparent barrier
Wishing I could fall in place too.

I’m sick of being a fucking third wheel
Unnecessary, uncalled for, useless
I know I shouldn’t impose but
Sometimes I can’t help myself for
Even the most solitary of us need some human interaction
And so I try to be a part of it
But I always end awkward in a corner
Listening but unheard; present but unnoticed.

I hate it when I’m pushed away
Especially by the ones I consider my friends;
I’ve been betrayed and frozen out in the past as well
And each time I overcome and trust again
I am set aside once more
Leaving me harder and wound up tighter than before.

I promise myself that I will not bow or bend
That I will be as strong as stone
But that which does not bend
Will be brittle, and who knows
Whether the next hammer blow
Will break me, leaving me in shards.

I am only human after all
But maybe I act too well.
When I say I’m fine despite being a mess
No one understands; or simply, no one cares.

I should learn how to cauterize these open slashes.
I need to know how to be satisfied alone
I have to prevent trust or love from growing in me
Because all that gives me is a vulnerability
One which I cannot afford
For more of this will leave me a shattered wreck.

I close my eyes, shut my ears.
Curled up under a blanket in the dark
My trembling unknown, my tears unseen
As I put myself together as best as I can.

Then I pick up my carefully taped together heart
And hand it to you so you can destroy me again
Because I’m just a lonely idiot who keeps hoping
That one day you won’t.

-Kaavya Karthikeyan

Photo Credits: Quotesgram

Age Groups Vulnerable to Depression?

Depression is a common problem throughout an individual’s lifespan. Statistics suggest that about one in 20 individuals would have suffered depression at some point of time in their life. But this data is not representative of all individuals. There are some common risk factors that increase the risk of having depression. One of the most common risk factors is experiencing interpersonal violence in any form. This may be

  • physical and emotional abuse and neglect in childhood,
  • bullying during school ,
  • social ostracism in teenage and college,
  • domestic and workplace related violence of any sort in middle and older adulthood.

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Other common risk factors include academic difficulties, physical illnesses, loss of significant relationships, financial difficulties, family history of depression and social isolation.

Typically, people in the age group of 40-60 years have the highest rates of depression possibly due to accumulation of stress over their lifespan. The risk of attempting suicide is higher in teenagers and young adults especially in situations of acute crisis while the risk of committing suicide is much higher in the elderly.

Over 60% of the calls to suicide help hotlines are made by people in the age group of 35-54

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Therefore, rather than asking if certain age groups are predisposed to depression, it would be more helpful to think in terms of “Are certain groups of individuals facing various life events more likely to develop depression?”  An important thing to keep in mind is that all these are risk factors and not causative for depression. Ideally this information should be used in the context of helping individuals in various life situations that may predispose them to depression.

Once again, it is important to realize that not all those who face the situations mentioned above suffer depression. Also not all those who suffer depression face these issues.

The most important thing to remember is to try and have a non-judgmental outlook and to offer our support to those going through a tough time.

-Dr.Shiva Prakash

Image Credits: Google

Fighting Dementors: Producing your own Patronus

“The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the dementors feed upon – hope, happiness, the desire to survive – but it cannot feel despair as real humans can, so the dementors can’t hurt it. ”

Many a time in my life, I had wished I could conjure a patronus to help me drive away the despair and the dejection I have felt. As I begin to write this article, I was asking myself how I would define depression. Where does it start? How does it even begin?  I wrack my brains to come up with something that is accurate and exact. But, I guess there isn’t any. How do you define depression? Is it that feeling of emptiness where you think you stand for nothing, you would amount to nothing and will never get what you want? Is it that despair you feel when you’ve just had your dreams crushed, when you have lost hope and your life becomes meaningless? Is it that guilt you feel when you try to analyze what you’ve done wrong over and over, and try to assign what you feel as just punishment to your crimes?

Depression is like an all-pervading layer of grime that you have got on your body after you’ve just walked past that dusty lane. You don’t know how, when and where it began. You crave for acceptance, you look to the universe for answers, almost always drawing a blank.

Depression is like an all-pervading layer of grime that you have got on your body after you’ve just walked past that dusty lane. You don’t know how, when and where it began. All you notice is, in a matter of time, you feel dejected, lonely, enervated and start thinking that your dreams will be crushed and that carrying on with life serves no purpose. You never know how your day turned from being a normal, casual walk on the lane to an endless pit of horror and torture. You wind back up wherever you are – doing nothing, tears almost on the edge of eyes, loneliness killing you. You crave for acceptance, you look to the universe for answers, almost always drawing a blank.

So, how did I fight/ how am I fighting/ how will I fight the dementors, our own mind monsters? What is my secret to producing my patronus? How do you feel all-right when you’re feeling exactly the opposite? I have heard a lot of people say, “Happiness is a choice. Choose to be happy”. I don’t agree. Choosing happiness honestly does not make any kind of sense to me. How can you choose to be happy when every inch of your cerebral power is telling you you’ll never be okay again? How do you lie to yourselves saying “Things are going to be okay” when you’ve just had a catastrophe?

A lot of people recommend doing what you like very much. Yes, watching your favorite TV series, eating chocolate, listening to your favorite music (I have seen a lot of people suggest “Fix you”), all these help, but I consider them postponements, not solutions. They help you merely move your state – a state that you have no words to describe – not solve it. Yes, I’ve indulged in the aforementioned things, they just helped me get away momentarily, never completely solving the problem.

Ignore your dejection which is staring at you like a big, black monster and carry on with your tasks. It is going to be arduous, but don’t give up hope.

I don’t claim to have solved my problems yet, but my method to conjure up my patronus is holding productivity to be my goal. Productivity helps in getting things done. I get it when you say, “What are you talking about? All I want to do is curl up like a ball and sleep or just stare blankly at nothing”. I’ve had the same feelings. I evolved through a heartbreak and am currently in the pursuit of happiness, so I know what’s going on in your head. Yes, it’s going to be excruciatingly painful to even try and do something that is seemingly mundane, but try by all means. Try to talk to people. Sometimes, loneliness just increases hopelessness and talking to the right person might help. But, I can understand if you don’t want to do that. That works only when the philosophy of the person whom you’re talking to is aligned with yours.

Select a goal. Go for small wins. Try to take simple steps. In my case, something as simple as getting out to buy groceries and making myself a simple lunch, gave me a huge morale boost. Break down your next simple task into a number of its constituents. If you want to get out, break it down as getting up from your chair, checking to see if your house is okay to be locked up, opening and locking the door, climbing down the stairs and reaching your destination. Concentrate on the most immediate task. I know, ignoring your dejection which is staring at you like a big, black monster and carrying on with your tasks is going to be arduous, but don’t give up hope and concentrate.

This is the one way I know to conjure up a patronus to beat dementors. It generally works and in due course, you’ll have a discovered a lot more about yourselves. If you feel it’s chronic, or ever feel suicidal, do not hesitate to take professional help. The light at the end of the tunnel is not too far away, all it takes is some more effort to reach. It’s again going to be hard when it feels you’ve given everything you can and every task will seem Himalayan, but don’t stop.

I dream of a day when mental illness will be treated as common as a flu or a headache. As Elizabeth Wurtzel says in Prozac Nation, “That is all I ever want, all this pain to seem purposeful.

The dementors can be fought, so despair not. Gather all your hope together, wave your wands and say with me, “Expecto Patronum.”

-Nandha Kishore

In what ways can Depression manifest?

Continuing from the previous discussion, we have noted that depression as an entity is different from sadness or grief. It has some clear biological underpinnings that differentiate it from the others. But, what is evident is the symptoms. Major depression/ clinical depression typically presents with a characteristic cluster of symptoms:

  • Persistent and all-encompassing low mood
  • Fatigue and decreased energy or increased restlessness
  • Loss of interest in all pleasurable activities of the past
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details,
  • Associated anxious/ empty feelings or irritability
  • Pessimistic thoughts of helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness
  • Thoughts related to death, suicide and suicide attempts
  • Changes in sleep patterns, appetite (usually reduced) and increased physical complaints

While these are the common symptoms, over the lifespan, depression may present itself in many ways. This may accidentally lead to people stating that they don’t have clinical depression even though they are suffering and at times finding it difficult to function. Symptoms of depression in childhood may differ from the above mentioned symptoms in that there may be features of aggression, anger, excessive crying. Children may also manifest a more reactive mood as compared to the persistent and all-encompassing low mood seen in older individuals.

As children age into preadolescence and adolescence, there may be an increase in irritability associated with reduced social interactions and isolation, reduced or increased sleep, sometimes associated with increased appetite and craving for high carbohydrate diet. Typically, this is more than “adolescent problems” and is associated with dysfunction typically in the form of academic decline, conflict with authority, use of drugs or alcohol. Typically college going people manifest symptoms that include characteristics of symptoms found in both adolescents and adults with a general increase in exposure to drugs and alcohol use, and an increase in self injurious behaviors. As people age, there is a greater likelihood of emergence of physical symptoms of depression.

Keep in mind, that while knowing the symptoms of depression is important for you to seek help, self -diagnosis of mental health issues may do more harm than good. A detailed clinical evaluation by a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist is essential to make a diagnosis and start treatment.

-Dr. Shiva Prakash

Image credits: Anna Borges / BuzzFeed

What is the difference between Sadness and Depression?

Human beings experience emotions. The most common emotions that we experience are happiness, sadness, fear and anger. Of this sadness is a normal human emotion that we all experience in life when we experience something unpleasant – this could be related to a loss, or a disappointment or the like. It is important to recognize that sadness happens to all people but, it does resolve itself over a period of time.

On the other hand, depression is a complex neurobehavioural disorder characterized by a cluster of symptoms. Persons suffering with depression usually have problems that affect their feelings, behaviors, physical health and overall functioning. Typically persons with depression do not spontaneously feel better as in the case with sadness.

The symptoms of depression are varied – the most characteristic being persistent low mood that would appear to pervade all activities of the individual, a lack of interest in all pleasurable activities and a general sense of tiredness. Physically persons suffering with depression may experience problems with sleep, reduced appetite, increased fatigue, increased physical aches and pains. This may be accompanied by varied thoughts of a negative nature in the form of low self-esteem, not having a hope for the future, a sense of helplessness and so on.

Sadness is natural and fleeting. Depression is a medical disorder that will respond to treatment of a psychological and medical nature. Depression is one of the leading cause of disability as per the WHO. It is associated with significant problems with functioning in the form of not being able to do their work, chores or even studies. It can however be treated with proper help allowing people to lead a normal life once again.

                                  – Dr. Shiva Prakash

Image credits:White Swan Foundation for Mental health