From Disappointment, to Despondence, to Depression

I saw a meme this week that suggested that the reason a baby cries at the time of birth is because that experience is the worst experience of its life. It seemed like just an interesting observation at first, but later I realised that it spoke volumes about perception and reality. Several incidents since then, including the passing of Robin Williams prompted me to revisit many aspects of how poorly we define our own realities.

At times in my life when I was riding the crest of the wave, I found myself mildly annoyed by the actions of others that did not meet my expectations. It was easy enough to shrug off because I had enough else happening in my life that made me feel accomplished and relevant. So I would ignore it and instead polarise towards those groups or activities that bred positivity in my life. After some time, the trend of being disappointed by the actions of significant others seemed to grow, and given a few stumblings of my own, I found those disappointments weighing down on me much heavier than before. Suddenly I didn’t have the abundance of good vibes from the crest of the wave to keep me grounded in positivity, and so I slipped from being easy going, to being disappointed.

That disappointment grew as my reality continued to throw curve balls at me. I started wondering where did I make a wrong turn. When did the wave throw me over so that I would find myself crashing into its trough? Blaming myself for my slide didn’t help much, and soon enough I found that the disappointment started turning into despondency and a deeply ingrained sense of sadness. That sadness lingered longer than the brief smiles I would muster. But I still found myself questioning myself. I questioned my worth to those around me who kept disappointing me, and I questioned my competence to make the right decisions to break this cycle that I found myself in, but all I ended up with were questions and no answers.

I kept doing what I thought was the right thing, but I found myself challenged to uphold the principles that I subscribed to. The more I tried to live a principled life, the more I found people in my life demanding a response from me that would force me to choose. Be true to my principles and values, or succumb to their pressure so that I would feel included? Inclusion was another evasive aspect of my life. Perhaps that is why I find it so easy to dismiss the negativity associated with being the odd one out. So I chose to be principled, and despite being true to myself, the disappointing reaction I got from those that were encouraging me to throw caution to the wind and live a little weighed down on me even more. And so I continued to question myself, even though I couldn’t find enough reason to abandon my principles.

So the slide into despondency continued. I looked at the pitfalls of the lives of those around me, the emptiness, the trinkets, the lies, and most of all the insincerity. All it did was make me more adamant to hold on to what I chose for myself even though holding on grew more difficult by the day. There were endless cycles of insincere ones coming into my life, celebrating my resolve, embracing my principles and me along with it, and then drifting away when the burden of commitment to our shared ideals became too burdensome for them. The moment it meant reducing their popularity with the social circles that they aspired to be a part of, they abandoned those principles because affirmation was more important. Being insincere didn’t bother them, because the people they aspired to be like were equally insincere, which made it acceptable.

I didn’t want that for myself, and so I continued to search each time for someone that appeared sincere in their conviction to subscribe to that which I subscribed to. But the cycle ended in disappointment each time, and each time I found myself contemplating the hopelessness of it all more seriously than the last. The hopelessness quickly grew into depression until I was diagnosed as being depressed and placed on medication to help me out of what was assumed to be a clinical condition that I had acquired.

The medication didn’t help. If anything, it made me feel numb. I didn’t want to feel numb. At least in the disappointment and the depression there was still a sense of purpose and passion. Even though that purpose and passion didn’t always bring me joy, it still gave me a reason to want to prevail. But now all I felt was numbness. My jaw tightened, but my senses dulled. I was easier for people to tolerate, but my contempt for what I saw outside of me started being redirected internally. I didn’t like the state I found myself in. I didn’t like the lack of passion or purpose that I felt, and the entire situation was unnatural. I was not me anymore, and I hated it. So I stopped. I weaned myself off my medication, visited my psychiatrist once again, and he confirmed that it was the quickest recovery he had ever seen. His praise fell on deaf ears.

I soon realised that the medication didn’t alter what I despised in those around me. Nor did it give me reason to change my conviction about right and wrong. With or without the medication, my reality remained my reality. The only difference was, with the medication I was numb and unable to respond to it effectively, while without it I was forced to deal with the full impact of it. I chose the latter because I knew that inaction and passivity, as was my perpetual state with the medication, was not a life to be lived. It was merely an existence that made me more tolerable for others, and made others less annoying for me. At best, it was a distraction, but at worst, it was a nightmare, with me standing on the outside looking in. Those moments when I tried to scream and no sound came out. It reminded me of those dreams when I saw myself trying to drive a car that I had no control over. The lights would go out, the brakes would fail, the steering would be unresponsive, and I would end up lying upside down with the car on its roof, entirely unable to influence the outcome, and my scream remained a silent scream. That was what the medication did to me. At least without it, I could scream. I could beat my chest and curse the world. I was not powerless. And that’s when it hit me.

My diagnosis of depression had nothing to do with a clinical state that I had acquired. Instead, my clinical state was in fact a result of my reality. My depression was my way of expressing my dissatisfaction with the world, and those that I held to be significant in my life. The more they didn’t react, the more I expressed, until eventually I forgot why I chose to express myself that way.  They stopped caring enough to even attempt to understand, and all I was left with was the reality that I was alone, with little to no joy in my life, and still surrounded by the same people that either didn’t care, or were too distracted to notice. I was not a victim of depression. Depression was my chosen form of expression. But when it didn’t yield the response I was looking for, I once again found myself asking questions for which I had no answers.

I think that’s part of the problem in that state. The less answers I had, or more importantly, in the absence of answers that appeased my needs, I slipped further into the belief that I probably just wasn’t significant enough for anyone to want to do what was important for me. And they must know what is important for me because I had been expressing my dissatisfaction for so long that surely they could have figured it out by now if only they cared enough, right? So it stood to reason that they probably just didn’t care enough. I needed to make a choice. Continue to abandon myself in the hope that they will notice and respect me, or abandon my expectations of them and give up my principles in order to feel included.

I chose me. I chose my principles. And most importantly, I chose to stand unapologetically for what I believe to be right, in spite of what is socially acceptable. This increased the accusations against me of having unrealistic expectations. It increased the isolation when I challenged people’s insincerity or hypocrisy, but none of it deterred me. I saw my weaknesses in those around me. Some of them put in a sincere effort to overcome it, like me. But most choose to live in denial because of the fear of losing those that they still wish would recognise their significance.

Depression set in when I looked for people to respect those things that I felt most passionate about and instead only found ridicule and rejection instead. It set in when I abandoned myself in favour of others, only to find that they had abandoned me as well. Depression became my voice when I gave up my right to be me. But depression never defined me. It never will. It will always only ever be the most passive form of resistance I would be able to muster up against a cruel world that celebrates conformity while crying out for individuality. It will only be my chosen form of expression as long as I fear rejection from those that I despise at worst, or disagree with at best.

I now realise that I didn’t abandon myself in favour of others. Instead, I sacrificed what I wanted in the hope that that sacrifice would bring solace and a smile to those that I thought needed it. Unfortunately, I realised too late that no amount of self-sacrifice can fill the void of an ungrateful soul. So now I give without the expectation of receiving. I live with the hope that they will realise what is important rather than being distracted by what is popular. Unfulfilled expectations of significant others can never be remedied by a pill, nor by self-harm regardless of what form it may take. Seeing people for the flawed human beings that they are is the only way to maintain your sanity in an insane society. It’s when you expect perfection from yourself, or others, or both, that you solicit for yourself the most painful reality that need not be experienced.

The Need to Fear

We know our fears too well, and our needs to little. We’re so focused on protecting ourselves from our fears that we’ve convinced ourselves that this need for protection is in fact our needs. It’s not. We’re out of touch with ourselves and what we need, and this is why it is so hard to connect with anyone these days. Everyone is too busy protecting themselves, and too few realise that making a genuine human to human connection is what removes most of those fears. That isolation and loneliness that you fear immediately subsides the moment you feel that connection. But that connection is not through a text message, or a selfie. It can only be felt when you engage face to face while your body language is congruent with your emotions. But again, we have so many social filters established that we force our body language to match our statements, while our hearts are screaming to be let out of the choke hold that we have it in. But we won’t let it go. Letting it go means allowing others to see the real you, and because you don’t love who you’ve become, you have yet another reason to hide your true self from the world, while your heart screams on for release. If I asked you to drop your social filters and to be absolutely truthful with yourself, would you even know which social filters you have up? Would you even know what truth feels like?

Reverse Engineering Life (Take II)

The previous post feels like I over complicated a really simple concept, so here’s my second attempt at clarifying it.

It’s really as simple as this. If you wish to understand someone, look behind their eyes, or their actions, and embrace the vulnerability that is required to see in them what you know to be true of yourself. If you see them angry, remember when you were angry in a similar context in your own life. Then seek to understand yourself in that moment, so that you can establish a basis on which to understand them, or at the least, attempt to.

When we take this approach we benefit in two ways. Firstly, we stand a better chance of understanding them and therefore being able to meaningfully engage with them. Secondly, it allows you to benefit others from the struggles of your life, instead of just feeling as if it was a personal growth cycle and nothing more.

If life is really too short to make all your own mistakes, and I believe this to be true, then the only way to live more than you otherwise would have would be to avoid pitfalls by learning from others. But that has to be reciprocal in a healthy society. So the more you hold on to the insecurity of others seeing your flaws and using it as a basis to judge you poorly, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to either learn from them, or allow them to grow from your experiences. Why would it prevent you from learning from them? Simple, the more you protect yourself from being discovered as a whole person with warts and all, the more you’re inclined to believe that your personal struggles are so unique that no one could possibly understand them.

So the more you allow yourself to open up, the more you’ll realise that in opening up, you actually solicit sources of wisdom that benefit you, rather than weaken you. You’ll also reveal a side of your humanness that will attract the compassionate and tender-hearted ones that you most likely wish to embrace in your personal space. But none of it is possible if you keep everyone at arm’s length because of the mistaken belief that your weaknesses are not shared by others.

We’re all so great at putting up facades that we’ve even convinced ourselves that no one else has them. Like I’ve always said, your assumptions about others are a true reflection of yourself, rather than them. However, such a reflection is inversely proportional to the reality of your self-image. So chances are that those that judge themselves to be weak assume that others are stronger, while those that embrace their weakness, see others as equally flawed, but not necessarily weak. I guess this is one time when the mirror cannot be trusted, because the eyes always filter what the heart needs to feel. Unless we stop to test the assumptions that the eyes make, our hearts will always be nourished by a tainted diet of reality.

Reverse Engineering Life

It seems that I’ve wasted most of my life experiences during the years when I quietly contended with the upheavals in my life and moved silently forward without making a fuss of what I wanted, nor questioning why it always seemed to happen to me. Through no deliberate effort on my part it strengthened me, even though I, and many around me, often perceived that strength as numbness. There were times when I chastised myself for not having a more emotionally grounded response to the suffering or trials of those around me, but I was also often reminded that it was that very same numbness that allowed others to draw strength from my apparent composure at times when they felt overwhelmed.

I think there’s a value in having such an emotionally disconnected person around at times. It’s a reminder that not all is lost when all seems lost. But that’s not how most people viewed me, and fortunately my default demeanour of being oblivious to the perceptions that others held of me meant that it didn’t affect me much either. Despite this awkward sense of comfort I had about being able to deal with my reality in ways that caused many to question my sanity (quite literally at times) I felt a growing dis-ease regarding the fact that my experiences were being wasted because it only seemed to benefit me, and no one else. In doing so, it further distanced me from those around me because not many could relate to me just being me.

I slowly experimented with using my experiences as a point of reference to try to relate to the emotional burden that so many people seem to drag around with them, and each time I tested my observations for accuracy and relevance, I found that it was quite effective in providing others with an alternate perspective as to why their situation was not as grave as it seemed. All this clutter continued to swim around in the back of my mind for many years until I considered it slightly differently recently when someone once again asked me why it is that I am so calm and composed during moments when others are literally overwhelmed or panicked.

My usual response was to dismiss it and smile while telling myself that I’m incapable of feeling such emotion, but that uncomfortable feeling in my gut kept nagging at me because I knew it wasn’t true. I am probably more emotionally sensitised than most people I’ll ever meet. (Note I said sensitised, not sensitive!). However, my innate focus on wanting to emerge from trials rather than how to cope causes me to look behind the emotion and focus on the steps needed to overcome it instead. In doing so, it’s inevitable that I got accused of being insensitive because most people look for sympathy rather than guidance when they’re down and out. I think it validates our weakness when we receive sympathy, while tough love reminds us that we’re being pitiful instead of bold. Victims versus masters. Scarcity mentality versus abundance mentality. They all talk about the same thing. You either want to prevail, or you want to be admired for having persevered when others would understand if you failed.

It’s that unhealthy need to be recognised for our strength in our struggles that often leaves us rooted in our struggles rather than motivating us to overcome it. We find comfort in knowing that others know how much we’re hurting because there’s a natural embrace of compassion or sympathy that often accompanies such visibility. That embrace is often from those that are equally or more weak than we are because they draw comfort from being able to comfort others that are similarly afflicted. This must all sound so cold and dismissive, but it’s not intended that way. I’ll say it again. Sympathy has only ever made someone feel better about being in the state they’re in, while tough love is what pushes them to move forward. Soliciting sympathy in times of weakness is the poison we don’t need.

That’s when I realised the value of being sensitised rather than sensitive. The value of reflection rather than expression. Reflection allowed me to observe what lessons I had learned from past experiences, and what markers were associated with them, while my outbursts, my anger, and my need to make others understand how bad my state was so that they could empathise with me only ever served as a distraction from moving forward and letting go of the past. That’s when I started looking for the tell-tale signs in others relative to what I witnessed in myself when I went through similar experiences, and the more I identified it, the more I was able to accurately interpret what they were experiencing, why they were experiencing it, and what they were contemplating in dealing with it. Not because I knew them well, but because I knew myself well. And that’s how I started consciously reverse engineering my own life experiences with the aim of understanding the trials and struggles of the people around me.

So when we’re told we see our faults in others, we need to go beyond just understanding that it implies that every finger pointed at someone else means there are several more fingers pointing at ourselves. This is more valuable and important than that. If we go beyond the rhetoric and the vilification, we’ll see that every struggle of ours is in fact a resource to alleviate the struggles of others. It’s not the sympathy that matters most, but the compassion coupled with the resolve to raise them out of the depths of despair that we once experienced that will add more value than any amount of sympathy ever could.

However, the irony of helping others out of the dark spaces in their lives is that when they emerge, they’re often inclined to avoid you because you remind them of a time when they were weak. Most people think such weakness is deplorable, they are the ones that remain weak. It is only the grateful that see their moments of weakness as being the source of their strength. They are the ones you should surround yourself with because they will offer the hand of compassion concealed in a glove of tough love when the ingrates will revel in your weakness because it makes them feel better about their own pathetic selves. On that note, don’t expect to be surrounded by too many people at all, because a cursory look around you will reveal that this world is overcome with ingrates who are obsessed with what is in it for them, rather than considering what they need to contribute instead. Incidentally this brings to mind another thought that occurred to me this week. That is, sincerity is rarely reflected at the moment of giving, but most often reflected in the behaviour that follows. And so we should be careful of seeing those that sympathise with us as being sincere, because very often they are the ones that accuse us of thinking that we’re better than them when we let go of what held us back, just because they’re still holding on to it in their own lives.

(This was a particularly challenging post to write, for reasons that I have yet to figure out!)