Most people can relate to an analogy about cars, so here’s one relating to mental health that I thought would be able to demonstrate my point about the main stream approach to dealing with depression and other so-called mental illnesses (hopefully you have the patience to read it to the end).
Imagine that the accelerator pedal of the car is your ability to express positive emotions, and the brake pedal was negative emotions, and you are the driver. One day, while driving along minding your own business you get hit by another driver that wasn’t paying attention. The crash isn’t serious enough to write off your car, but it did cause problems with your accelerator and your brake system. More than this, there was some damage done to your car’s appearance.
So off you went and replaced some of the damaged parts, did some repairs on those parts that couldn’t be replaced, and gave it a coat of spray that made it look just like new again. Only, it wasn’t new, because you knew how much went into getting the outside to look perfect again, while under the paint work, you knew how many wrinkles and scratches were covered up. But everyone told you how great the car looked again, so you ignored the defects and made a point of getting back into your car to get to all the places you wanted to go.
However, you didn’t do such a good job of the accelerator and the brake pedal. At times, the brakes would feel spongy and unreliable, so whenever you needed to use it, you doubted, until eventually the doubt grew so strong that you started driving slower than ever to avoid using it at all. Then you realises that the accelerator doesn’t feel the way it used to either. It used to feel firm and responsive, almost as decisive as you were, and it used to cause the car to lunge forward when you needed to, and to just cruise when it felt good to do so as well. But now, the accelerator was also unpredictable. At times it would accelerate beautifully, but without warning, the car would slow down almost to a halt for no reason. No matter how much you wanted it to move, pressing your foot on that pedal just wouldn’t get it to go.
So you eventually decided that maybe the damage was more than you were capable of fixing, so you decided to go out looking for a mechanic, especially since all your friends and family kept telling you how great they are. The mechanic looks at the symptoms and quite quickly lets you know that with some work, it can be back to what it was, and with your consent, he set about fixing and upgrading the brakes to perform even better than before. Then he looked at the accelerator and found the cable to be loose. So he tightened the nut, and adjusted the cable and once again, the car was able to accelerate without any problems. He also tuned the car with some new equipment that wasn’t previously available, which made the car lighter on fuel, and faster than before.
However, having had too many close shaves with the brakes and accelerator being faulty, and still remembering the impact of the accident, you keep holding back, wanting to reduce the risk of getting into another accident. The memory of the dents and scratches hidden by the new coat of paint still fresh in your mind, you start driving more cautiously than you ever did before. You slow down for no reason other than just in case, and you don’t even drive at the speed limit any longer, even though the car is perfectly capable of handling it. In fact, the car is now capable of performing better than it did when it was brand new because of the new technology they put in, yet you still drive it slower than ever.
The crash caused by the other driver is what happens in life. They’re the people around us that we trust, but they end up being mindless in their actions that results in damage in our lives that they’re most often oblivious to. They move on and focus on their own lives, while we wait for someone to come along an fix us. The mechanic is modern medicine. A necessary intervention strategy, but nothing more. Able to recover most physical aspects of our health, but failing to remedy the emotional ravages of what took place.
The wrinkles and scratches beneath the bright shiny paint work is the memories that haunt us, while the paint work is the face we show to the world when we pretend that everything is perfect. The new technologies are the life lessons learnt, that allows us to deal with future encounters more effectively and maturely, but we refuse to use it because of the fear of getting hit by another reckless driver. So instead, we plod along at a fraction of our capability from before the traumatic incident so that we can reduce as much as possible any potential for another impact that could send us spiralling out of control.
The psychiatrist that so many believe in blindly have tools to re-establish mental pathways, but they don’t have the tools to make you use it. Again, at times, a necessary intervention strategy, but not a long term solution.
Then there is you, the driver. Focused on the impact that hit you from nowhere, and too afraid to even consider having to deal with such an impact again. All the while, the distraction of that memory causes you not to notice that with the lessons learnt, your ability to avoid such impacts in future was significantly improved (upgrade of brakes and accelerator, knowledge of how situations like that occur, and what choices could have been taken differently, or could have been more informed), but instead of leveraging that knowledge that you have acquired through the experience for improving the way you navigate your way through life in future, you choose to avoid it instead. Your avoidance of those life experiences, of people, of interactions, is what causes you to slip into a depression where you refuse to acknowledge the tools and abilities you have at your disposal because you suddenly don’t trust yourself due to you blaming yourself for the reckless behaviour of that others.
The thought almost always comes before the chemical reaction. And in cases where the chemical reaction may have been preventing the thought patterns to occur, the intervention strategies that are available provides us with the ability to kick start that process. Once that process is kick started, we have to apply our minds actively rather than rely on the intervention strategy to sustain us. The problem that many face these days is that they’re being told that the intervention strategy is in fact a long term dependency that they have no choice in. When we give up the choice to take control, only then does the intervention become the mechanism for survival, or even just to cope.
Our inability to believe in ourselves is the most profitable outcome for the pharmaceutical companies quite possibly in the history of modern medicine. But we have drugs to distract us from that sad reality, that’s why we don’t even have the presence of mind to realise what it is that we’re capable of.
I once heard someone say that the only way to cheat old age is to continue learning. The more we learn, the greater our ability to acquire new knowledge. Therefore, it is easier for someone with more knowledge to appreciate and intelligently apply new concepts, than it is for someone that hasn’t applied their minds much towards the acquisition of knowledge. When we discard our life experiences as bad memories that we’d rather forget, we effectively throw away priceless knowledge that could never be acquired through any other means. Books and doctors can only give you facts and assumptions, but only you will ever know the truth about you. Don’t suppress that truth, embrace it, and use it to build yourself up from strength to strength, realising that you decide what your limits are, not society.