Surviving or Thriving? Mental Health
Looking at some of the mechanisms of depression and anxiety and how therapy can help.
Are you surviving or thriving?
On a physical level, poverty and survival are intertwined, with survival as a looming uncertainty when the situation is dire. For those who are struggling to have a roof over their head including food, clothing and warmth, survival amongst this vulnerable group is not a guarantee. And the awfulness of this type of suffering is, for the most part in the western world, inconceivable; but becoming more prevalent as seen in the increasing numbers of people visiting food banks. In contrast, when we feel a sense of security, emotional nourishment and loving care for self and others, we psychologically embody a grounding place through which to thrive.
Just as the increase of poverty is occurring, depression and anxiety are gradually coming out of their hiding places as more and more people speak out about their personal mental health difficulties in the past or present. With depression, one’s inner climate is clothed in a dense and numbed out state or with anxiety, evoking an overwhelming sense of fear, limitation, and powerlessness. Of course, there are degrees of depressive states but I am magnifying this scenario in my attempt to touch upon the seriousness of mental illness and the malady that sets in for someone who is suffering in this way. And with so many untreated cases, it has become a sort of epidemic, and still stigmatised for the most part. Imagine being in this psychological imprisonment, hearing the words, “What is wrong with you? Snap out of it!” Lack of empathic responses towards a person who is suffering with a mental illness is often a dangerous tipping off point for someone who is trapped inside a depressive state, and we need to tread carefully and think carefully if we wish to become more conscious and compassionate beings.
Aside from empathy towards others, inspiration is needed to thrive and to mobilise when a prolonged regressive and depressive stagnation occurs. Psychotherapeutic counselling or psychotherapy is like entering an unknowable journey into the Self. Without some level of self-awareness, the perpetuation of gloom and despondency reinforces a dense, shadowy mantel over the sunlight of a person’s true nature. Seeking professional help is a step forward, though also requires some measure of courage. Such action speaks to the universe in a gesture of hope, yet unlike misconceptions about what therapy is and isn’t, the client is not passive, but central to the work. The work is necessary for seeking liberation from despair toward self-discovery, creative expression, and experiencing initial glimpses of joy. The enormous range of feelings, evoking a sense of being truly alive after the melting of a frozen demeanour creates the desire for taking on life’s challenges, and moving with the tides rather than against them.
A meaningful therapeutic journey also involves soul searching questions such as, “Can I take responsibility in my reactions and attitudes to any given situation?” “Can I let go of blame?” “Can I let go of negative patterns, such as a victim belief system?” “An impoverished mind-set?” And, “Am I willing to do whatever it takes to truly thrive, to feel alive – moving away from self-obsession and self-absorption?” And feeling a connection is vital. When we use the word Love in a visceral way, we are somehow required to dive beneath and beyond it, to find the pearl that exists metaphorically within the folds of Love’s multi-faceted remnants. What does it mean to give and receive love, to feel and be loveable, to love who you are and what you do?
I like these words spoken by Sufi Teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan:
‘our self is made to love and when we love, the first condition of love is that we forget our self. We cannot love another person by loving our self at the same time. The condition of love is to forget oneself; then one knows how to love (p.2).’
After all, love is rich, whereas impoverishment lives in a dusty basement of the self. It doesn’t find its way into the light without the help of a guiding hand and a gentle heart. But the paradox is that no matter how many caring people surrounds a person who is depressed, the imprisonment of internal isolation and deadness of this malady we call mental illness, exists in a no-man’s land where nothing can grow and cannot be reached until… something else happens. From a Jungian, Archetypal and mythical perspective, the hero’s journey entering the underworld requires dropping lower into a psycho-spiritual dimension, a shamanic dream, a creative, imaginative and non-linear internal process. The fluid language of the creative arts awakens consciousness linked with thriving. Signposts are everywhere, and somewhere within the organism of the self, resides an intrinsic wisdom, which, when discovered, brings about a turning point away from the clinging, infantile thinking, moving into a more mature frame of mind and heart and intuitive knowing. Then thriving happens organically.
Damasio, A. (1999), The Feeling of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness, London: Vintage Books.
Inayat Khan, H. (2013), (revised ed.) Creating the Person: A Practical Guide to the Development of Self, New York: Suluk Press.