Exercise your freedom to exorcise your demons

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For every smile that we display to the world, there is an inequity in our psyche that is being camouflaged and swept under the carpet. And the only way we can remove the lump in our throats is by looking into our minds, and sharing what's hurting them.

Our minds can be a chaotic mesh from the pressures and stresses of our daily unexamined lives. Nothing like taking control of our minds by understanding ourselves in our own words. | Imaging, Pixabay

I often think our collective immunity against mental illness is at an all-time low. Expectations are high, pressure is high, our need to assert our own freewill without regard for how it may affect another person’s life is high, the frequency of being at the receiving end of that disregard is high. And the general presence of clean energy is low. Conversation around the topic of mental health has picked up at an amazing pace over the last few years. I wonder if it’s just because people have easy access to public platforms these days, or if it’s because their chaos has amplified to such an extent that they cannot keep it in anymore. It’s almost as if depression and anxiety are an epidemic. While they do stem from a chemical/hormonal imbalance, they tend to get nurtured by our daily experiences. The imbalance manages to exaggerate every little negative emotion we let ourselves feel, and there’s really no dearth of negativity today. Our mind spirals into a whirlpool of disorder and anyone who knows what I'm talking about knows that as much you try you can’t control it.

The obvious route to take is seeking professional help but since it is primarily a biological issue, there is a high risk of being put on medication, something I've seen very dear ones struggle with. Now this may be absolutely necessary in some cases, but if the depression hasn't usurped your physical functions, simple and objective talk therapy could flush out unacknowledged trouble and clear your path towards balance. There is no quick fix. Recovery is a painfully gradual process. I say painfully because while you may be doing everything you're advised to do to get yourself out of the pit, your demons are unlikely to respond too well to resistance. They are going to surface and they are going to take over your basic abilities. Clear cognition becomes a challenge and comes in the way of a human being’s basic need for productivity. This is why I feel very strongly about devising personal coping mechanisms; little tricks to fool your demons out of their enthusiasm.

 

This is my story of coping. I’m not a celebrity, so you may feel less motivated to read about my struggle. I get it. But I’m putting this out to allow clarity to make it better and on the off chance that it could help someone in some little way, like others’ stories did for me. I think you’ll relate, my list of external triggers looks a lot like yours. I have lost loved ones, I have been fat-shamed, slut-shamed, cyber bullied, physically abused, sexually harassed, and abandoned. I brushed past each incident thinking “it happens, people are going through worse”. A lot of the items on my list are so common these days, they've almost been normalised. We don’t give them their due in reaction. We don’t allow ourselves to gain complete closure. I never did. I never thought it was fair for me to feel anything less than happy, considering the privileged lifestyle I enjoyed while growing up (heck, I still do).

It took four years of oscillating between balance and rock-bottom-sorrow, and several incoherent phone calls to my parents waking them up in different time zones to help me stop my wailing, for me to realise this wasn't as simple as I told myself it was. For years my mind has been so off its game, I lost my ability to retain information. It’s as if there’s a cloud or some sort of toxic layer, disallowing the entry of knowledge, and now I’m very half-baked in my profession and in pursuing my passions. The feeling of inadequacy is heavy, but the feeling of being unable to correct it is even worse. I’m ready to get rid of both these feelings.

I felt my first aggravated low while I was studying abroad. I made up excuses for it. Oh, it’s the stress of writing my thesis. I miss home, maybe I rushed into independence. And these were the mildest of justifications I cooked up. Over the years I have also accused my irrational sadness of being a manifestation of PMS and I've written off my inability to concentrate as sheer complacence or laziness. I punished myself for turning into this moody, inept burden. Today I think that if I had acknowledged this as a form of mental illness, I would have dealt with it better and not left myself exposed to more triggers.

 

It was difficult to take it too seriously though. It came and went as it pleased, and I was surrounded by people who enjoyed joking about PMS being the sole reason for a woman’s lows. I went along with it. A couple of years ago, it hit me really hard. I lost every semblance of optimism, and I am by nature unfortunately optimistic. It scared me to no end, but it also subsided on its own after wreaking some havoc. And then it came back. And again it went away. I thought I would experiment with some self-diagnosis. For a while I wondered if I was bipolar. I was… bi-curious, if you will (I may have wondered just so I could make this pun some day, I wouldn't put it past myself). I did my research though, and my Google-obtained psychology degree told me my symptoms weren't pointing in that direction. But it was time to do something about these episodes. I couldn't keep running to the washroom at work or hide behind my phone in crowded trains to disguise the tears that flowed without warning.

I decided to take an introspective course (it was important to identify and rationally understand my triggers — coping mechanism #1). The universe must really want to help because the day I decided to do this, a very important someone from my past coincidentally made contact with me after almost eight years. He reminded me of what my world looked like before I began to slip into what I fondly call “my dark place”. The insights were overwhelming! I had only read about repression in books and articles, but only now I realise how real it is. I had forgotten things from my past that I had, at the time, decided were better left untouched. He admitted to being troubled by the wall I had built in fear of opening up to someone, feeling emotionally dependent on them, and thus running the risk of them leaving me. I never did talk to anyone about the dark place till very recently. He gave me more credit than I deserved, but at the core of it, he was spot on. The very same day, someone created a WhatsApp group with all my batch mates from school. In the heat of close to hundred people catching up with each other, I felt like I was back in 2007. And it really helped to get back in touch with that uncomplicated girl. I mean 2007 me. That week I cried relentlessly as though I was being exorcised of my demons. It was easier now to break it down and deal with it one trigger at a time.

First, I wanted to start dealing with my debilitating sense of inadequacy. It had been a while since I read a book or managed to focus on anything for longer than a minute. The only way to stop feeling mediocre/below par was to regain the power of concentration to actually absorb things. How could I possibly do that when my mind was in the habit of shrieking about five different things at one go, every hour of the day? I looked to the people who, by example, had set my benchmarks for happiness and success. My parents. Ours is a spiritual household, so their constant advice has been to seek peace within. Theoretically, it has made sense when they've elaborated on this concept, but I have never had the will to execute.

 

This time I was desperate, though, so I figured I would give meditation an honest-to-goodness chance in an attempt to silence my mind — coping mechanism #2. All I had to do was focus all my thoughts on breathing. I had to think only about the air going in and coming out; its temperature, frequency, thickness, whatever. Sounded simple enough, but I failed miserably at first. My mind assumed that since there was silence outside, it could be heard a lot more clearly now. I couldn't concentrate but I couldn't give up. Something told me if I managed to see this through, there would be very little keeping me from zen. It was ironic how hard I was trying to relax. I had to keep bringing my mind back to the breathing, and I did it as many times as I needed to. Now I can focus on my breathing for a grand total of five minutes, and that for me is a huge win! I do this first thing in the morning, after the 6:30 a.m. wake-up call from my mother. Waking up to a familiar voice and ensuring the first thing I feel in the day is peace makes a massive difference to my qi. And now I know exactly how to breathe to calm myself down when I need to during the day.

Coping mechanism #3 is something I like to call 'Ctrl B'. It’s a series of strange poems I force out of myself each time I feel triggered. Actually, just coming up with the title made me feel super validated. Ctrl B is an attempt to put my darkest thoughts out and dramatise them, to make my demons feel exposed. It’s an attempt to step up and be “bold” and vocal while bringing B, i.e. me, back in my “ctrl”. Now that I've dissected the layers and giggled to myself about how you must have reacted to that, let me tell you how it helps. Poetry is complete freedom. You aren't bound by any rules. There’s a reason people try to get away with flimsy communication citing “poetic license”. In fact, poetry is so liberating, you don’t even feel bound by the pressure of making it palatable to a reader. It’s the most subjective form of literature, in my opinion. You only enjoy poetry that truly resonates with you because it is more an exchange of emotion than of information.

 

A three-fold way to regain control of your mental health is: introspect, meditate, create. The first step involves you understanding yourself rationally. The second is the act of consolidating your knowledge of yourself by quietening the chaos in your mind. Third is the exercise of your inherent freedom, and healing yourself through catharsis and creativity.

I’m on Day 10 of coping and it’s helped just to be able to do this for myself. I’m not a professional and maybe my solutions aren't sustainable, but there is no one who can ever know you better than you know yourself no matter how much you reveal to them. You know what works for you. Even if you can’t think clearly now, you’re the one who is actually going to be actually administering the treatment to yourself no matter how many counselling sessions you attend. I am in no way belittling or denying the actual need for professional help. I can’t stress enough on how crucial it is. But at the end of the day, unless you’re in it a 100% as yourself and for yourself, nobody can help you. Help yourself, help me. Tell me how you cope. There are things we never think about for ourselves until they appear to us through someone else. I bet there’s a repository of coping mechanisms somewhere in the bold corners of the internet. Help is never too far. If there’s one thing I've learnt from speaking about my dark place, it’s that everyone is now empathetic. Write to me or write anywhere. Let’s talk about the little things that work. #HowDoYouCope

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