(Painting: Irises by Van Gogh. It was painted before his first attack at the asylum. He called the painting “the lightning conductor for my illness”, because he felt that he could keep himself from going insane by continuing to paint.
Read more about the painting here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irises_%28painting%29 )
“Those entering psychotherapy, as a rule, are consistently the Healthiest individuals in our society.” (in terms of the fears involved in learning, growing and CHANGING… the challenges of truly being dedicated to examining and re-examining your inner self…)
A common characteristic, a clue that we’re giving up something in order to grow, a part of ourselves … is Depression… which means that Depression is actually a feature of mental health… The unconscious is (as usual) one step ahead of the conscious. – M Scott Peck (22 May 1936 – 25 September 2005) American psychiatrist and best-selling author, in the book The Road Less Travelled.
Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear,
And Grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed!
I have always wondered if life was meant to be a total surrender, of going with the tide, taking things as they come, lying down in bed in melancholy when you feel so blue that there is nothing you want to do, perhaps just reacting when things get too much : angry and violent when I feel threatened, irritated when disturbed, letting my feelings decide what course of direction my life will take.
Or alternatively, rebelling against my own feelings of melancholy, taking control against my feelings of despair, trudging on a path of active action, getting out of bed when I am melancholy and feeling down, getting a job when my body shrieks a No, meeting people when all I want to do is shut myself alone in a room.
And experimenting, perhaps that is one of the tools to learn the truth, I think I know that both the options above don’t serve well for a person suffering from depression.
I know a few people who refuse to go into therapy, hoping to find a way by themselves, oscillating between the two options available to a depressed person, as mentioned above.
Personally, in my therapy I was able to discover that there was a third option available to me.
Going for therapy is equivalent to accepting that one does not necessarily have answers to all the questions, and being humble enough to ask and accept help.
Even while in therapy, I have been ridiculed, ostracized, and looked down upon by well-meaning but ignorant friends who judged me as either too lazy, incompetent, extravagant or just plain stupid. In all their earnest desire to help me, they tried to talk me into believing that therapy is a waste of time and money, and all I needed to do was to follow their quick-fix remedies and my life would be picture-perfect. They even got angry and fed up of me when I, realizing that their quick-fix remedies were not helping me, went into therapy again.
In therapy, over the years, I learnt that I was a bunch of mixed feelings and emotions that most of the time had nothing to do with my workplace.
I discovered that even when I went about life as usual, I was carrying a baggage of mixed feelings that I was too afraid to look into, but which survived in my subconscious. In my honest effort to bounce back to a normal life, these unfelt feelings would drag me down, consume much of my energy in my effort to suppress them, and erupt in spurts of anger or drag me into a state of ‘no-energy’ – depression.
While in therapy I learnt a couple of vital and valuable truths about Depression.
1. Depression came when we had reached a point where the old pattern of living just did not serve us well anymore, and it was time to make some changes in life.
2. Depression is not, as commonly misunderstood, sadness. Depression is a state of no-energy to do the normal things of life. It is a state when we refuse to acknowledge, or are too scared to look at, the feelings which are suppressed in our mind over the years.
For if I were sad, I would have cried and cried, like other people who face tragedies, and moved on, instead of getting stuck in life.
In my case, my inability to go back to a normal routine like others was a result of a fear that I carried from my early childhood years, a fear that did not allow me to look at and acknowledge my true feelings.
As a child of three or four years of age who was surrounded by domestic violence at home, I grew up carrying within me a feeling of fear, insecurity and anger in my subconscious which I was too scared to acknowledge in my conscious state.
So even though I grew up in years, my heart was still a lonely abandoned and scared child, though as an adult I was unaware about my fear, which in my childhood I had learned to suppress or not to look at. In the outer world, unknowingly I lived and acted in fear, looking for a grown up to support and protect this child within.
This became clear to me in therapy, as I learnt the art of becoming Still, not panicking when the first signs of fear arose within me, holding on and trying to look closely at the fear.
In this process of going deep into our feelings of pain, anger and sadness, the therapist plays a vital role by establishing a relationship of mutual trust with the client, and creating an environment in the therapy which is congenial enough for the client to feel comfortable. It’s the duty of the therapist to make the client realize that the feelings he was afraid to look at as a helpless child wholly dependant on his parents for survival, could be looked into now as a grown-up. Once I had achieved that level of comfort with my therapist, I was able to understand that the ‘years of helplessness of a child’ was now a thing of the past, and now as a responsible adult I could open the baggage that I had carried with me through all these years of growing up, the long-suppressed feelings of fear, insecurity and anger which naturally arose within me when I allowed myself to be Still in therapy, the very feelings which stopped me from leading a healthy and fulfilling life.
Though the role of a therapist in building a space congenial to the client’s exploration of himself, is vital; it is an undeniable fact that the client shares an equal responsibility as it is entirely upon him to accept this space and exercise his ‘free will’, i.e. his ‘choice’ to explore what comes up in therapy or choose to linger in the pit of self-pity and lament endlessly choosing not to stand up and face the truth.
Here is where the willingness of the client to leave behind the habitual patterns of a lifetime in the light of the findings in therapy, cannot be undermined.
Many people who have had dysfunctional families in childhood, grow up to be paranoid or even psychopaths, times when the demons ( suppressed feelings, the baggage from childhood) within could no longer be kept in control. Or they continue to live a life where demons from their childhood haunt them forever, living in true hell, suffering every moment. This, when much suffering and harm can be avoided by going into therapy and exploring more about oneself, to take a positive action to address their problems.
When in therapy, every client takes his own time to respond to therapy: (I have been in therapy for almost three years now). Over the years, with the help of my therapist, I have learnt that it is up to the client to tell himself – “The days of helplessness are gone. Now I want to grow up, be a responsible (response-able) adult and look at the feelings that stop me from taking up a normal routine (leading a normal life). I choose to look at what I truly feel, under the supervision of my therapist, no matter how ridiculous, violent, unconventional, childish, vulgar or inappropriate these feelings might seem to me. I know that my therapist is mature enough not to judge me, that he/she will not hate or disown me for how I feel.”
Once a client and his/her therapist reaches this point of understanding and mutual trust, they can go ahead on their mission to face and deal with any feelings and demons that lurk in the client’s subconscious. This is the point in therapy that can be called ‘breaking ice’.
For me, reaching this point was a long and rigorous journey. I kept oscillating between severe doubt i.e. distrust of this whole self-exploration called therapy and my willingness to know what was going on inside me that had so far held me back from leading a peaceful life. In therapy, along the way, I also encountered previously unknown phenomena like ‘projections’, wherein the client feels that the therapist feels exactly what he is actually feeling towards himself. For example, there was a time when I went into a mode of immense anger and hate against my therapist. I felt angry at her, felt she was insensitive and did not understand me, that she was too narrow minded and preoccupied in her own sweet little Utopia.
This point in therapy, as Uma my therapist says, is quite crucial, for it decides whether the client would be patient enough to continue in therapy to ‘stick it out’ and find more about himself, or withdraw totally from therapy and discontinue therapy.
This intense negative response to therapy by the client could happen at the time when the client’s own demons within are raising their heads before coming into light, which may frighten the client terribly. This is the time when the mind’s defense system, which was developed in childhood when one was helpless, tries its best to prevent the client from looking at the baggage of feelings he has been carrying within him since childhood. The mind tries to give all the logical reasons and arguments to oneself to discontinue from the discomfort and feelings of threat which one feels at this juncture in therapy, in order to choose the ‘comfort zone’ of suffering over facing uncomfortable feelings.
This is the turning point in therapy, when the client has to re-confirm his choice and free-will to face his subconscious, decide that he will face whatever comes. What frightens most of us at this point is the prospect of uncomfortable change that one would need to face after this first encounter with the suppressed feelings (demons) that lurked in the darkness of our minds. Choosing to feel our real feelings, we may realize that we actually are terrorized by the mom we think we adore (as in my case), or realize that we are actually fed up with our job for which we burned much midnight oil and spent so much in fees. The prospect of building a home away from a doting mom or changing a job at 45, can be quite scary.
Initially in therapy, we may not really know what demons are lurking within us, but we would feel the feelings of uneasiness, anger, resentment; this much before we discover what our suppressed feelings have to say.
In my case, I withdrew for a while, at this point in therapy, much angry at my therapist, however I chose to come back into therapy after a gap of almost a year; this after my friends realized that their quick-fix solutions didn’t work for me and gave up on me totally.
Coming back into therapy I have discovered new things about myself. I have discovered that the child, who went into the pre-natal position in fear when his parents fought at home, still lingered within me in adulthood. My vivid dreams conveyed to me the fact that even though the house I grew up in, was sold years ago, my soul continued to live in that same scary house till-date, experiencing the same old feelings of dread, helplessness and abandonment which I felt as a child then.
So as an adult now, even though I had taken up the responsibilities of my family, carrying out my duties of a good son, an anchor and saviour; I was myself besieged with feelings of fear, dread and helplessness in my subconscious which in real life translated into bouts of bad temper (anger) and resentment at the life that I was leading. That is one of the reasons why I always relapsed into depression so often. Because in my habit of suppressing how I felt, I had grown accustomed to living a life of self-denial, living in a mask, living a life that was not really mine i.e. not chosen by me. I was living an empty life, and was an easy victim for depression to take over.
Every demon (self-defeating feeling or attitude, behaviour pattern) within us which we allow to come to fore (surface), and every feeling that we garner the courage to acknowledge, reveals to us valuable Truths, in the light of which we can ‘choose’ to make changes in our life.
In my case, I finally choose to purchase a house for myself, to build a home that I never had in life, a home which I searched for in vain – in gay-partners, friends, room-mates, my dysfunctional family, colleagues at work etc.This decision came after I had stretched to the extremes to support my family in the face of depression, and finally saw the raw fear within me which told me that I was “responsible for everything that could go bad, and I had to sacrifice myself at the altar of keeping everything peaceful at home, even when it meant supporting a much elder violent brother and a mom who did her best to keep me in leash in the name of love and care.
Finally, I have come to the conclusion that I need to find my own home in my own self. It is not my mom or brother who needs to be rescued, but my own self finally.
For home is a place where there is no fear, where you feel at peace, and energized. So no matter, however grand and beautiful a house I find, how can I ever build my own home when feelings of fear, anger and insecurity haunt my heart.
I know I have much a way farther to go in therapy, to be able to ‘finally reach my own home’, i.e. find my peace. But for now, I know that buying a house for myself would mean saving my precious energy for myself. I know that my mom and my brother have their own demons too to fight and deal with, and that I cannot be allow myself to be their resource for energy, in their unwillingness to accept responsibility for their own selves. I can no longer afford to let their demons affect me. Having acknowledged that, I move away to a separate house to protect myself.
Having said that, I also realize that no matter how badly they affected my life so far, they always intended the best. And even though I would stay in a separate house, I would continue to support them as best as I can.
Having my own place would mean reclaiming precious energy which I can use to lead a better life, which would mean I would be able to support them better, than continuing in the same old self-defeating game of a united family. I don’t want to be stuck with three bags for the rest of my life, living in rental flats, having only one refuge which I call my mom’s place – where I am only a caretaker and a guest, nothing more.
This then is the truth of my Therapy so far.
And someday, lets hope sooner, I hope to be able to carry this home wherever I go. So as to ‘be home’ amongst the most irritated of people, be at ease amongst the most restless. So that someday, somebody would find me and say, “I am home”. J
The Idea of a True Homeland as envisaged by Rabindranath Tagore, which could be our own home and the world as well…
My Country Awake
Where the mind is without fear and the head held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
by Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali (Song Offerings)