Depression: Mental Strength or Mental Health?
We live in times when people are beginning to pay more and more attention to their physical bodies – we exercise more, we watch what we eat and drink, we are beginning to recognise and appreciate the direct connection between the state of the physical body, exercise, food, and health, both physical and emotional.
That in itself is a great achievement.
We are yet to discover, though, that even more important than taking care of our body is taking care of … our mind. Why is that so? It is the mind that governs the body. Yet the mind needs to be given a direction, it needs to be trained and shaped very much the same way our bodies do. Our mind is the greatest tool we have at our disposal – that is a fact no one can deny. What many do not realise, though, is that it is also the greatest of servants and the poorest of masters. It thrives when trained to focus; it goes into a state of disarray when left to itself.
Training the mind is by no means a new phenomenon. There had been many periods during human (especially ancient) history when developing mental strength (which is quite different from what we today understand as ‘mental health’) was at the core of our focus. Many schools, groups, and organisations emerged, as a result, all of which practiced developing mental strength on regular basis for a variety of reasons – some wanted to achieve purity of mind, others were in pursuit of personal mastery, others still were interested in accessing the source of universal wisdom, altering their perception of reality in the process. Their approach often varied – take certain groups of monks, for example, who would practice in complete solitude, silence and meditation (Buddhist monks) while other groups had a more ‘hands-on’ approach to mind training, which often involved facing their deepest fears face to face on daily basis, often in the most extreme, ‘life or death’ type of circumstances (cf. the Right and Left Eye of Horus). What all the schools, groups, and individuals had in common was that they all devoted time on daily basis to training their mind the same way we nowadays go to the gym to train our bodies; regardless of the path taken the end result was a pure ‘mind-muscle’, taught to serve as the most obedient servant, never again trying to assume the role of a master.
The human mind was never meant to be roaming free like a dog, while the owner is busy making a living. (No dog likes to roam free, by the way. The same goes for our mind). The human mind is the bridge, the connection between what makes the physical aspect of us (the body and brain – less than 1% of all that we are) and the non-physical (over 99%) rest of us. When used to our advantage, the mind becomes the very tool we use to create the lives we want, allowing us to feel that we are in the driver’s seat of our reality. When mis-used (= not used or trained the correct way), the mind still creates our reality, this time, based on the fears we project out from it.
Nowadays we talk a lot about ‘mental health’. It most definitely is the step in the right direction, as we have just ended a long period of pretending that mental issues did not exist. There is, however, a step higher from achieving mental health, and that is actively working on creating mental strength so that once again in the history of humankind we can feel like the active participants in creating the lives we desire to live.
The distinction between the two lies in the level of responsibility assumed for our mind and its creations in our lives as well as the degree to which we feel we are in charge (of our own destiny, life, our mind, etc.). For as long we allow ourselves to believe that it is circumstances, present or past, or other people who give our life direction, that they are more powerful than us, for as long as long as there is some ‘it’ that causes us to feel or act in a certain way, we are sending a signal to our subconscious mind that there is a division between the Me that is on the receiving end of reality and the Me that is at the creative end of it. (Example – ‘It is just too hard for me to do it”, “It would not work even if I tried”).
Developing mental strength is such a vital aspect of our lives, that hopefully, in some generations to come, we will realise that being able to remain in charge of our emotions and thoughts, creating our present moment with full consciousness as opposed to projecting out deeply buried fears of inadequacy is far more important that being able to solve complex mathematical problems, and is, therefore, the point from which all education should begin. Adversity and challenge are an integral part of life. Whether we like it or not, they are here to stay. Developing mental strength allows us to deal with them without feeling pinned down to the ground by emotions of fear that suddenly resurface out of nowhere; it allows us to find solutions, to become resourceful to emerge from the challenge as a better, wiser and more empowered individual.
Let us take a closer look at depression now.
Depression is a state where a person has moved so far away from remembering who they are that they have lost the ability to connect with their essence.
There are two main sources of it:
(1) An event or a series of traumatic events which have never been dealt with and resolved completely and which prove overwhelming to the person as a result. The person might be consciously aware of those events or the trauma might be buried deep in the subconscious mind. Either way, the effects of it will be felt the same way. The depression in such case will be the side effect of a deeper issue, a daily reminder that something major and profound needs to be healed within them. Such a person will often try relentlessly to remedy the situation; they will be looking for solutions even though they might not yet know what they might be. They will try to actively assume responsibility for how they feel, yet the feeling down (often accompanied by other symptoms) will seem stronger and deeper than the person’s ability to overcome it. Such depression could be triggered by a death of a loved one, sexual abuse, physical illness – the list of triggers is long. It is often accompanied by other self-destructive symptoms such as excessive drinking, smoking, being promiscuous, phobias, panic attacks, and many other, depending on what triggered the depression in the first place.
People belonging to this category do not usually like to discuss with others (friends and family) the fact that they might be feeling down; they certainly do not use it an excuse for anything.
This type of depression is the easiest to deal with in terms of results, as finding the source of the depression and dealing with it removes the depression instantaneously.
(2) This type of depression is a lot more tricky to deal with than the previous one, as the depression, in this case, is not a result of a traumatic event but rather of the person’s internal makeup where at some stage of their lives they have decided (subconsciously) that it is easier to take a passive approach to life as taking full responsibility for it might be just too much for them.
People falling into this category might also seek help with their depression, but deep inside if they do so in order to reaffirm, not remedy their state. Most of the time it is their loved ones who try to get them help. Helping them becomes virtually impossible if they begin to use depression as an excuse for not living a full life. Naturally, this is not a conscious process or decision that they take one Friday evening while eating an ice-cream; it takes place on the unconscious levels and shows the amount of fear a person has in relation to living a life. Depression becomes a place within where they can hide and even though it is not comfortable, it is strangely familiar. That uncomfortable familiarity feels safer than the uncertainty of the outer world. The other important characteristic of a person falling into this category is that they have issues with taking responsibility for themselves and their lives and have expectancy for others to solve their issues. They also like to discuss their state of mind with others.
This is the hardest type of depression to treat, as in order for a person to move forward in life they must embrace taking full responsibility for it. Without doing so, they remain in the same state of feeling helpless and powerless.
Interestingly, no depression can be present when a person learns how to take charge of their mind and emotions, having hence developed a deeper connection with their ‘self’. Depression can only be experienced when a person feels no longer in charge of where their mind takes them, what emotional states they tap into. There is also a feeling of helplessness that accompanies the above, which stems from a belief that it is the state of depression that is now in charge of the person, not the person herself/himself.
Let me give you an example to illustrate the above. (The below story represents a pattern shared by some clients with the second type of depression described above, rather than a story of any particular client).
It was John’s brother who booked the appointment. John himself was quite reluctant to come; he told his brother numerous times that there was no point in seeing anyone, as there was nothing that could help him. In the end, he gave in to his brother’s pleas and showed up for the appointment.
We started with just a general chat. John saw my horses in the field and started telling me how much he loved horses. I watched and listened to how this man, described by his brother as depressed for the past fifteen years, became alive and animated while he talked about something he loved. There suddenly was a spark in his eyes, a spark that instantly disappeared the minute we started talking about what brought him to see me. His head dropped down, his tone of voice changed completely. It was almost as if I have spoken to two completely different men within the space of few minutes.
Having understood his mental patterns, I have explained to him the way the mind works; I have given him a tailored mental programme to implement on a daily basis, saying that if he was to implement it, there was no option but for him to get better. The trick was finding the desire to actually doing the work; the results were guaranteed. Throughout the entire three-hour session, everything I have said was met by the same reaction: ‘It is all great, but I have tried everything and it just does not work. There is no point. It will never work. Depression is an illness for life and you can’t just get better.” John was fighting an internal battle, there was a part of him that wanted to believe that change is possible, there was an even bigger and louder part of him that shouted within the depths of his mind that no such thing is possible.
When leaving John had a very detailed plan of what, how and when to do and what to never do handed over to him. From this moment forward John’s destiny was in his hands. There was nothing more I could for him other than swapping bodies with him and actually starting doing the mental work he was meant to be doing.
Two months have passed and I got a call from John’s brother saying that for the first time in fifteen years John is living his life. He no longer feels sorry for himself, he no longer uses depression as an excuse for anything. The brother was delighted. As I hung up the phone I said to myself, ‘Good for you John! You have decided to do the work after all!”
Four months later came another call from John’s brother. John was still doing great. The whole family could not believe the transformation.
Eight months from the date we met I received a call from John himself. He told me that the mental exercises I gave him do not work and that he had told me that they would not back when he met me. I asked him how did the past eight months go to which he answered: ‘Fine!’. I have asked him to tell me what has changed recently. He could not think of anything. Finally, as a result of deeper probing, he told me that a month ago he stopped doing the exercises, as he was feeling ‘fine’. A month later, the same old thinking patterns started to creep in; by the time he realised, his depression was back.
John stopped working on developing his mental strength. He got the results he wanted and he no longer followed his daily routine. However fifteen years of living, thinking and believing in a certain way become deeply embedded in the mind and body. It takes time to instil a new pattern before it too becomes automatic. Seven months of mind training produced instant results in that John’s life has changed; it was not long enough to override the past fifteen years to the point where he would no longer have to do anything. In fact, not doing anything, taking the back seat as opposed to the driver’s seat was at the core of his problem with depression. Once he took responsibility for him mind, everything changed. When he stopped, old patterns came knocking on the door.
A deep analysis of the above example goes beyond the scope of this article. If you read it again carefully, the deeply embedded destructive beliefs that were the very cause of John’s state of mind will become quite clear. What will also become clear is that the state of depression can be altered, provided the person is willing to do the mental exercises, which allow him or her to access better, more resourceful states. Is this something they should be doing for life? Let me answer that by also asking a question – how many times a year does one need to go to the gym to be fit? The key here is doing it on a regular basis. It becomes a way of living and thinking.
An example of a person struggling with the first type of depression is dealt with in the Sexual Abuse article.
If we look at depression as a state of mind rather than an illness, we free ourselves from the cocoon of self-damaging believes it surrounds us. How we describe it to ourselves is how we are going to feel about it. To our mind, the representation of an ‘illness’ is much harder to deal with, heal and overcome than a ‘state of mind’.
There are of course some people who insist on calling it an ‘illness’. I respect that. There are some people who believe that medication is the only way forward with depression. I have a real problem with that. If there is one person who managed to overcome depression and became more whole, more complete and more empowered as a result of it, doing nothing else but harnessing the power of their mind, for me that is enough evidence that it is possible. If there are two, three, ten, one hundred, five hundred people like that – to me that is a proof.