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Coping with Life (Overcoming Depression)

I woke up this morning to a tweet from Kay, which sent me to this link. A link about how depression may be an evolutionary trait. It’s quite fascinating, and in case you don’t have the time to read the actual link now, it essentially says that the genes that are involved in depression are also involved in infection fighting. Therefore the symptoms exhibited in depression such as low interest in activity, social avoidance, laying low, doing nothing, reduced motor and cognitive speeds actually divert the bulk of your available energy to strengthening your immune system. Fascinating read…thanks Kay.

While I kept scrolling down past the article, a thought occurred to me, “wait, I am more happier now than I’ve ever been, and I’ve been consistently happy over the past year. So why am I happier now, and how does that connect with this new theory of depression/infection warfare?”

Then I saw a it. A link to an article with the title Eat, Smoke, Meditate: Why your Brain Cares how You Cope. I read it, and while I read it, my mind spiraled into all sorts of ideas and thoughts, and I felt like sharing them would be helpful to someone out there.

From 2007 up until 2009, I frequently battled depression.  And I can confidently attribute that to my experience at varsity during that period. I was engaged in study and doing as I was expected by society at large and all. But I was also beginning to ask myself a lot of questions about life and myself and what I really wanted to do with my life. It’s quite a long story and I have a post for that coming up some time. Long story condensed to one line. I was studying, it wasn’t making sense, not because it was hard per se (even though admittedly my mindset and thinking skills were not suitable for the kind of work at hand), but because it made no long term sense to my life and there were a host of underlying unconscious thought and emotional patterns within me that were self-sabotaging in nature.

The second half of 2009 saw me in some of my worst bouts of depression, which had me in bed often and not able to do any work (an extreme case of deep procrastination). At the end of 2009, things broke apart for me, and I began what some people call the Fool’s Journey. I spent about a month mostly by myself in SA, not going home for Christmas and took that time to think about life. It was during this time I bumped into one of the fundamental and useful techniques for dealing with life. Meditation.

It happened by accident. I was feeling particularly distraught and agitated, which is a state that is reinforced and exacerbated by the mind running amok from one problem to another. On impulse, I switched off the light and sat down on the floor in the dark, and began to observe my thoughts, sift through them and sort them out. I experienced and immersed myself among all the thoughts that worried me, and I resolved almost all of them. I gained insight; I knew what options to take and how to handle things. And when I was done, I felt calm, quiet at peace. A state that had eluded me no matter who I talked to or how much I prayed or went to church. And I know that last sentence would be controversial to some, but that’s how it was for me.

And I realized the answers I seek are within me. There is a part of me, that has a direct link to all that is, and the cosmos beyond, there is a part of me with a direct link to God, and if I go there, I’ll find what I seek.

And since then, as I’ve lived, made choices, made decisions, worked and played. It has been in the context and against a backdrop of meditation in various forms. The kind I mentioned above is something I felt instinctively to do. The main point here is not the ‘meditation’ per se, but the state it fosters or supposed to foster if you do it right, a focus on the present and an increased awareness, of self and of the environment. The more you are focused on the now and being in the now, the more energy you have to create your experience in the now. The more aware of yourself and the many emotional and thought patterns that run below the surface, the better you can deal with, resolve and choose more empowering thoughts and emotions. The more in tune with your self you are, the easier it is make inspired life choices, do what you really want and in the process be happier and at peace.

And at the end this is what we seek, a sense of being able to cope and handle whatever life throws at us.

I learnt about this time last year that I choose depression a lot. Sometimes I truly get depressed for no reason (I had my last episode last week for 2 days) but then it had become really engrained in my psyche and sense of identity. I made it a part of me; I loved the idea of the angst-ridden artist. I thought it was cool (such adolescent tendencies shakes head). But once I realized it, I started consciously choosing happiness. I would not have come to this realization if I didn’t have a certain level of self-awareness. Now, when I have a negative emotion or a strong disturbing emotion, I allow it to be, I experience it, I resolve it, I move on. I am able to experience the nowness of the feeling and then move on from it, I don’t keep rehearsing or playing it over and over again in my mind. If I can’t control the outcome of a thing, I put it away from my mind; all I focus on is what can I do. If I make a mistake, I let it go quickly, I focus on what I can learn and what I can do right now. If someone is mad at me, I feel the twinge of guilt, or sadness, or pain for a little while, then I let it go. I understand now that what determines my inner state is what I focus on.

I’m not perfect at this, but I’ve learnt a lot.

Jesus said things like, “Don’t worry about tomorrow and it’s troubles because today has enough of its own”. That’s a call to the now.

What I’ve just described may seem strange to some people, but it comes much easier to understand and practice once you realize that the tangible world we are immersed in, does not really exist (quantum physics and all that) and all the emotional reaction we have to things comes from what we overlay the blank canvas of life with. We interpret events, we give meaning to things and happenings, we are wrapped up in our egos and selves and see things as perpetual threats to us. This experience of being trapped n immersed in this unreal reality sends our minds into all kinds of spirals and loops causing stress, agitation and depression. By waking up to it and being aware of it, you can rise to a level above it, a place of constant peace, unconditional love and creative power.

Afros & Suicides

Between July 2009 and December 2010, I thought about dying a lot. At least twice a day, every day the thought would cross my mind that I should die. I wanted to die. Dealing with life was difficult at the time. Life was kinda fucked up…in good ways, and bad ways. I hated school and wasn’t trying to go back to finish, I decided to focus on being a designer and just figure things out as they came along. My girlfriend and I were breaking up and making up every few days. I wasn’t feeling God either, I was a mess, I was breaking down. I had such intense emotional reactions to everything. No one could really help, I mean no one was in my specific shoes. All anyone I managed to speak to could do was give cliché advice or stare at me blankly, or tell me to push through the pain. Whatever.

I wondered about escaping it all, embracing the still nothingness that is death, or at least moving on to whatever comes next after this life. I didn’t just want to die though. I wanted to die violently. I would be walking along the road on a busy day, and I would have the sudden urge to throw myself in front of a speeding car, or bus. In fact, the bigger the vehicle, the better. One night, I slept with a huge kitchen knife beside me on the bed. It was raining hard outside, my roommate was out of town. I felt extremely terrible, such a darkness, such sadness, almost physical agony. I just kept breathing, observing my mind race from thought to thought, clenching and unclenching the handle of the knife. I eventually slept.

I was growing an afro then…

For me, there is a correlation between growing one’s hair as a guy and one’s general emotional state. Obviously it doesn’t work like that for everyone, but for me, it fit. I cut my hair in April, and then I just decided there was no point cutting it again, I just let it grow…until my mum emotionally blackmailed me into getting rid of it in December.

I was watching Lupe Fiasco’s interview with Tavis Smiley about a month ago. I’m a big fan of Lupe as a person (as far as I know him) and of his music. He’s been sporting an afro recently, and on this interview he’s talking about his battle with depression and contemplating suicide during the production of the LASERS album. There is something about going through the darkness. I don’t know if it ever completely leaves though. Sure, you get happy, you laugh and smile…somehow it always lingers though. Looking at Lupe during the interview, he was smiling and everything, but I could see weariness in his eyes so to speak. Maybe it’s just me projecting or whatever. I feel like that a lot. I feel tired.

Something about the fro

But we get through it, things get better. We just need to remember to leave the baggage behind and not carry it along. Every time I thought about dying, I always thought to myself, ‘Oto, you could jump off the 7th floor of this building, but what if you would be missing out on some awesome shit that’s going happen months from now. Don’t you want at least see how it plays out?” And that would always hold me back. I’ve never had the balls the kill myself or maybe I had enough balls not to. Like no matter how crappy things may seem, it’s just life, shit happens, whatever, get over it.

I once read something in the comments section of a blog post by James Altucher. If you ever at the point of suicide, if you are at the brink and you want to end it all, realize that the old you/life you trying to escape from was that crappy, and that needs to die. You can arise from it like a phoenix and reinvent yourself.

Don’t kill yourself, reinvent yourself.

Dark Nights of the Soul

Dark Nights of the Soul

My friends and I refer to it as a weakening of the Force. There comes periods of times where you slip into the dark shadows of discouragement, depression, apathy and fear. Nothing seems worth it, life is dull, creativity is dried up and you feel paralysed. I know how it feels, I have been under that dark cloud for like 7 days now. Call it my dark week..I guess. I couldn’t design anything worthwhile, felt like I was just being a technician and not an artist, no inspiration, just rote design.

Anyway, the clouds are breaking up and I see shafts of light piercing through, as the issues that were stressing resolve themselves. One great help has been a book I picked up recently ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’  by David J Shwartz. I heard of this book before from other books I read, and I only found it a few days ago. It has been a quite perfect antidote to my situation. What you think about becomes your reality. It takes as much energy to think small as it does to think Big, you might as well THINK BIG. Infact, it is easier to think and act big than it is to go small, because most people settle for small anyway, they settle for small in their lives, their work, their projects. Not a lot go for big, a lot less competition on First Avenue.

So Think BIG! Especially if you are going against the grain, risking it all for an idea, for an ideal, for your vision with burnt bridges behind you. Don’t stand at the shore bemoaning the past, look firmly to the future, think Big, take massive action and fly. If you going to fail, at least fail spectacularly…let the world see you burn, make a mark anyway…lol. Cheer up, stretch, think Big and push hard. You got this!

On Days Like This…

On Days Like This…

On days like this…

Depression is my constant companion

Wrapping its arms around my heart

Sinking its teeth into my soul

Because walking down the highway

I was tripped by an Aedi*

Broken by Efil*

Possessed by a Maerd*

Led through a bush

Still falling down the rabbit hole

It’s bottom is never known

This is what it feels like to be alone

(*read backwards)