Your body is shivering and you’re gasping for air. You take in heavy breaths and exhale fully, simply because you read somewhere that focusing on your breathing will take your mind off of the worries and bring you back to the much acclaimed present moment. Your mind won’t listen to you and it keeps going back to something someone said last night at the party, or the test that you’ve constantly been bickering about, or the moment you ate one whole sandwich in a single bite and your crush was looking right at you, or the fact that your partner hasn’t been calling you for a month, or about a close family member who has been undergoing treatment since a year, or the fact that there’s too much month at the end of the money, or an uncomfortable conversation that has to occur but you wouldn’t want to be a part of or the agony of losing something or someone that you hold dear. Water. Where’s the god damned water? Chug, chug, chug.
I think, therefore, I am
The human brain is considered as the epitome of evolution since it has the ability to rationalize, to invent, to implement and to come up with questions that no other species can. Our ability to think has put us in the forefront of evolution or in some cases, dragged us down to darkness. Some say, overthinking is bad and some say, not thinking at all is bad. Good and bad are in fact, subjective. If overthinking was bad, would there be an Einstein?
Have you ever seen those cigarette packets which comes with a complimentary statutory warning that has pictures of ugliest diseases that can possibly ruin your meals for life? Now here’s a picture of a smoking ad back in the 50s.
What’s my point?
Today we get to hear about Social Media Movement, Ads, Banners, Talks about the de-stigmatization of mental illness. We often get to see people posting statuses on their Facebook that anyone who is going through a massive bout of depression can reach out to them and they will somehow soothe them with their warm words. There’s nothing against raising awareness on the importance of mental health and it has surely been effective. More and more victims and mental health professionals are now speaking up. We’re living in the best times ever.
However, on the other hand, Social media and pop culture have redefined mental illness into a glamorous attraction. Nowadays, anorexia nervosa, self-harm, depression, anxiety disorders, and many other mental health disorders are being glamorized, romanticized, and consequently promoted through many social media platforms, especially websites and blogs. (Rola Jadayel et al., 2017)
Musicians like Lana Del Ray and TV series such as 13 Reasons Why have been reported to have increased the romanticism for suicide and self-harm (Rola Jayadel et. al.)
Case Study (Rola Jayadel et al)
A nineteen-year-old coming from a socially and economically stable family was clinically diagnosed with depression at the age of fifteen. He describes his experience as follows:
“I was scared to talk about it, since talking about one’s feelings was seen as a taboo. It was socially unacceptable. I resorted to the internet in order to try and find something I could relate to. At the time, I was in a state of profound emotional vulnerability. I was very prone to get dragged by an extreme form of mental or physical abuse, which is exactly what happened. I found lots of pictures, specifically drawings which depicted mainly depression and self-harm. And that’s how I was driven to suicidal thoughts. The pictures were all driving me to believe that I was alone and that I didn’t belong socially. The seemingly deep and poetic imagery on social media definitely contributed to aggravating my mental health problem. I don’t remember being aware of how much I was affected by social media or that it actually was a direct factor to my problem. But, I’m lucky to have had the courage to speak up and seek help. My message to those who are affected and to those who are at risk of being affected is to seek help, talk to a professional, and never leave toxic thoughts to yourself.”
The concept of de-stigmatization has somewhat backfired in the sense, that people have started believing that mental illness is an illness and is beyond everybody’s control. The first help they ever seek is through Google or other forms of social media and its seldom very helpful.
Here’s a little myth-buster. You don’t ALWAYS need help because some form of anxiety can be self treated.
Anxiety is specifically of two types, i.e. Uncaused and Situational Anxiety. Uncaused Anxiety relates to your brain chemistry, which develops as a result of some chemical imbalance and has to be treated with medication or with a combination of medication and therapy. On the other hand, situational anxiety is caused by your personality and life events and it does not necessarily need to be treated with medication or therapy.
In the case of situational anxiety, you can train yourself on how you can react to certain situations with the aid of your own mental faculty. This comes from the theory of Neuroplasticity, which, in simpler words mean cells that fire together, wire together. You can train your brain to react to certain life situations and rewire your own brain. Now it is easier said than done, as it requires a lot of hard work and resilience.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
(Victor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning)
- Stimulus – In certain situations, one is aware of the processes of thinking and perceiving . It involves an awareness of sensation and usually the effects.
- Effect – is the reflection of a mental state. It involves the feeling itself.
- Response- There is a force which directs us and involves the urge to take action.
Let us suppose, I hear a noise, which I recognise as that of an exploding bomb.
1. The noise is the stimulus
2. I feel frightened, which is the effect.
3. I take a shelter, which is a reponse.
You do not have a control over the stimulus but you do have control over the effect of the stimulus, which is how you perceive of any given situation, and which, in turn, decides your response
HOW CAN YOU REWIRE YOUR OWN BRAIN?
Anxiety has an evolutionary significance.
“ Perpetual Hesitation of the neurotic to launch out into life is readily explained by his desire to stand aside so as not to get involved in the dangerous struggle for existence. But anyone who refuses to experience life must stifle his desire to live – in other words, he must commit partial suicide”
(Carl Jung, Symbols of Transformation)
Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and he believed that anxiety or other forms of neurotic suffering can teach us about ourselves and the path of life that we are treading on. He believed that anxiety signals to us about the need for a change in the way we are leading our lives. The cause of the neurosis, according to him, can be found, in the present moment, and how our response to life is affecting our well-being. He regarded that the outbreak of neurosis is very much critical as it is a moment when a new psychological adaptation is demanded by consciousness.
As discussed in my previous article titled, “A Comedic Approach To Life”. We talked about the greatest philosophical question, that is, “does one need to suicide in the face of the absurdity of life?”
Albert Camus, a 20th-century French philosopher replied to this with, “No, one needs to revolt against the absurdity of life.”
In his book, titled “The Myth of Sisyphus,” the final chapter compares the absurdity of man’s life with the situation of Sisyphus, a figure of Greek mythology who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. The essay concludes, “The struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy”.
Road to Recovery
The road to recovery does not lie in finding faults in the situation, or the person who caused you the neurosis, or in blaming your childhood. Recovery begins when you start to realize that it is not about who hurt you, who pointed at you, and who abandoned you. It lies in the realization that it does not matter whose fault it is, what matters is how you rebuild yourself in the face of suffering and chaos.
A neurosis is not a disgrace. Everybody faces chaotic times and the suffering is inevitable. It is not a fatal disease, but it does grow worse to the degree that one is determined to ignore it. Accept your negative emotions for they are part of a whole and fulfilling existence but do not romanticize it.
3. Self-Critical Judgment
Our constant demand to please others and to be good all the time make us more evil and spiteful. One must recognize that a human being has the potential of evil as well as good. As Jordan Peterson puts it in 12 Rules for Life, a harmless person is not virtuous, he’s just harmless. A person who has the potential to inflict harm and do evil but chooses not to do so is virtuous.
4. Objective Judgment
One must be more accepting of the objective judgment of others. We live in a day and age where narcissism is applauded and encouraged, all thanks to social media and self-branding. We have such a high opinion of ourselves that the moment somebody says something offensive to us, we start screaming for our rights. We can only recognize the path we are treading from the objective judgment of others, in order to stop making stupid mistakes. Therefore, it is crucial to subject oneself to the objective judgment of others.
I have personally been a subject to anxiety and depression and I have to agree that there have times when I didn’t want to get out of the house or to avoid the problem altogether. For days and sometimes even weeks, I would curl up in blankets hoping that I would suddenly feel better and happier about myself. However, what I have realized is that inactivity is suffering. One must set back to fulfilling life’s tasks if they want to become well again.
Do not manage the system. During the earlier phases of anxiety, we tend to avoid everything that triggers anxiety. However, it’s often in the acceptance of responsibilities and duties and moving forward in fulfilling those duties, that one realizes the meaning in life.
“What stands in the way, becomes the way”.
A neurosis is only a curse if we remain forever caught up in it. One must rather do their duties no matter what. Recovery is only achieved if we are able to move forward in the presence of our fear and anxiety.
“Duty is heavier than a mountain. Death, is lighter than a feather”
(1882 Japanese Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors)
What will you choose?
- Jadayel, Rola; Medlej, Karim; & Jadayel, Jinan. (2017). MENTAL DISORDERS: A GLAMOROUS ATTRACTION ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
- Alfsvoid. “Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety”. Youtube Video. 18:34. October 8, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NuDSbqMLgQ
- Academy of Ideas. “Carl Jung on Overcoming Anxiety Disorders”. February 25, 2019. Accessed on March 14, 2019.
- Special Thanks to Anshu Jenith for all the help in finding proper materials to complete this article. Her brilliance and support means a lot.
- I would like to thank all the people who I have reached out to, in moments of doubt, fear and vulnerability. Many have taught me how in to thrive in the face of adversity and some have given me hacks in case of uncontrollable anxiety symptoms some of which are, drinking lots of water, smelling a perfume, taking a cold shower, smelling black pepper, doing math problems and changing the physiology of your body. These hacks have worked for me in moments of anxious episodes.
- Please talk to someone and seek out help, if you need.