I'd like to dedicate this article to the short life of Kelty Patrick Dennehy.
The impulse to write about my own past experience of depression and suicidal tendencies has been percolating to the surface of my mind for while now. It's a subject matter that goes largely unnoticed and unspoken for most, until someone is directly or indirectly affected by it. I use depression and suicide in the same context because more often or not they tragically go hand in hand, more than we will ever understand or know, from a statistical sense, and in my own experience there was a seamless parallel between the two very distinct elements.
When I think of Kelty's story, or read or hear of a story related to depression or suicide, there is an instant rapport that identifies me with my own past suffering and the suffering of the individual I am reading or hearing about.
For the first few decades of my life I was haunted by depression and a desire to die. Whenever things got tough for me emotionally or mentally especially in early adulthood, I would always be internally dead ended with an overwhelming feeling of depression and suicidal thoughts. My first cognition around the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness were recognized early on in my life as early as 9 or 10 years old. The feelings of the desire to die, progressively developed too surface around the age of 19 years.
While my early childhood would seem by most to be absent of any direct trauma or abuse, I now know the power the mind has to internalize un-integrated emotions and thought forms back onto itself in unhealthy ways. The absence of any resilience enhancing skill in my life for the first few decades, simply allowed the energy of "e"motion to be redirected into a feeling and belief that one of the easiest ways for me to "fix things" was to simply check out.
While I was never clinically assessed as depressed, the memory and details of my own particular narrative combined with my later exploration into the foray of personal growth and Spirituality now provides me with enough reference material and insight, to lead me to have a certain level of understanding around my own personal process and story around depression and suicidal thoughts. As early as 6 years old I developed an awareness and confusion around my sexuality even though I did not begin my own exploration for another 16 years, when I began to express myself sexually as gay man. Also, as a child, I was bullied intensely between the ages of 7 to 14...
In the context of my own experience of depression and what I have learned to date, I would say these two contributing and interdependent factors became the foundation from which the symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts were kindled. In spite of a tangible decrease in the bullying factor at around grade 9, or 15years old, the "damage" had already been done. I no longer needed the outer bully, because I had internalized the "language" of the bully within and back onto myself and the person I imagined myself to be. Even now while subtle, the confusion, judgment and lack of acceptance around my sexual identity and childhood experience of bullying continues to be expressed and experienced as a ripple affect, taking the form of self depreciating, thoughts, feelings, emotions, perceptions, associations and memories that have a life of their own.
I provide some detail colour to this picture only as a way to frame this narrative. In my heart and my present day process, I have realized many of these details as now obsolete; they have become redundant as I have learned skills of emotional resolution, Self love and have learned to redirect my attention not into the pain and suffering of my past but more importantly the rediscovery of Who I AM. That being said and gratefully received, I also clearly recognize the ongoing suffering that continues to express itself in the lives of others who have or are dealing with the stigma and disease of this silent life killer.
The worst chapter of my story peaked around between 23 and 27 years, where I would go to bed at night and wake up in the morning with the same negative thoughts, feelings, emotions, perceptions, associations and memories that only enhanced and perpetuated my experience of helplessness and hopelessness. At this time, an ongoing episode of unrequited love and a mother who was dying of cancer pushed me deeply into a quagmire of irreconcilable emotions preventing me from experiencing any real joy and beauty that life could provide.
There was only ever one, very lame and "failed" attempt in my history to take action on my desire to check out; where a casual cocktail mix of alcohol and sleep aids was used too prematurely influence the finger of Gods timetable on my life. The absence of "real courage" prevented me from further attempts at exploring more successful methods of escaping the melodrama that my story had become. Instead, I masked those thoughts and feelings; I pursued life relentlessly in an attempt to use an internal zest to combat the dragon's fire within me. On the outside I appeared to live a normal life, while on the inside I wallowed in the endless suffering and apathy of my shadow side.
I am not a qualified expert in the area of depression or suicide; I am a self proclaimed graduate of "e"motion high. I earned my Masters and P.H.D., in the field of depression in the school of my life. In spite of the fact I spent the first 28 years of my life infecting myself with high dosages of self engendered curriculum that enhanced and elevated my experience of depression, I was fortunate enough too actually "make it through", largely in part too an inner motivation and hunger that eventually spring boarded me not into a premature departure, but instead, the world of personal growth and Spirituality at the age of 27.
My heart is both easy and grievous in the light of knowing the subjective freedom I have now gained from my own story and the experience of ongoing depression that robed me of a simple, idealistic childhood and youth. The equanimity and understanding I have found within the dearth of my own emotional spectrum while now providing comfort and solace, is often gently disturbed, when I bump into the suffering that continues to ripple through the pages of others, whose stories of depression and its tyranny unfold with similarity and different outcomes to my own...
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens in Canada and third leading cause of death in the US.
Suicide and attempted suicide has increased 300% in the last thirty years.
An estimated 80% of all those who commit suicide give some warning of their intentions or mention their feelings to a friend or family member.
In 1996, more teenagers and young adults died of suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.
Having a firearm in the home greatly increases the risk of youth suicide. Sixty-four percent of suicide victims 10-24 years old use a firearm to complete the act.
Looking down the list of the following symptoms you might be surprised by the "commonality" of some of these in every day life experience. It is the occurrence of these symptoms that may differentiate someone who is depressed versus someone who is simply having an experience of one of these symptoms. It is rare that someone with depression will have all the symptoms, but common to see several of them develop in consistent, regular ways with someone who does have depression.
The recurrence of a number of these symptoms will sometimes indicate the level of severity of the depression. Symptoms may appear to be more dominant in the morning. There are no hard and fast rules. This article is not a diagnosis or clinical resource; it's an attempt to share my story while also inspiring you to pursue your own journey into healing. If you think you may be experiencing depression; please, seek the guidance and support of qualified professionals including your own family doctor...
In a "funk" or low mood most of the time. Occurring on a regular basis.
Lack of interest in life, including activities that once brought joy and happiness.
Lack of motivation in every day life and activities, simple task seem impossible to "do'.
Ability to concentrate on daily activities such as work, exercise or hobbies.
Interruption of regular sleep rhythms/patterns: difficulty falling asleep, inability to get back to sleep once awakened. Excessive sleep sessions. Constant feeling of being tired, lack of "energy" in spite of sleeping.
Difficulty in the experience and expression of affection or sexual intimacy, lack of sexual motivation.
Loss of appetite and weight loss, or a gain of weight as a result of eating for comfort.
Difficulty in emotion resolution; feelings of worthlessness, guilt and uselessness, excessive feelings of sadness and grief. Irritability, agitation and restlessness. Preoccupation with thoughts of death and dying, unnatural fixation on seeing death as a solution, overwhelming feelings that "life is not worth living".
Physiological symptoms may vary from mild to severe and include: headaches, heart palpitations, chest and body aches.
THE YOGA/SCIENCE STORY
The path to subjective freedom lies in our ability to know, understand and Self navigate all levels of our existence. When we fixate on one dimension of our existence only, using force or coercion we can only expect more sever ramifications to result from this indiscretion.
We were born to discover Who We Are! Life is the playground from which we can gain the necessary skills, talents and powers to leverage and engage the field of infinite possibilities with awareness, skillful ease and finesse. These abilities are for the most part, learned skills. Ones proclivity to depression whether that be genetic or environmental in circumstance, requires successful intervention on all levels of our existence for integration (healing) to occur. The mind must be attended to. The emotions must be embraced and the body must be cared for.
I am grateful for the fact that I was able to continue to elevate the journey of my own life to greater levels of fulfillment and meaning. I have known more than one who has not. When life has no meaning and we have lost touch with the momentum of inspiration that fulfillment in life offers, we are individually challenged to pick up the invitation to reignite its verve. This entry could not possibly articulate the many thousands of influences, models, theories or perspectives that provide understanding and depth to the story of depression, so I shall focus only on one; stress.
According to yoga, the body/mind is not just a field of substance or matter. At its subtlest level it is a coherent field of energy and information that is connected effortlessly to a Universe of energy and information. From a field of undifferentiated consciousness, life manifests itself as the world of form and phenomena, nurtured by this field of energy and information.
Our body/mind is the instrument from which we can navigate, explore and connect to this vast Universe; the known and unknown, while cultivating and elevating the gift of our awareness. When we experience health, the energy and information flows seamlessly through this infinite web of creation allowing us to navigate life with finesse and ease.
Unfortunately, the kind of lives we now live do not support us on the thinking, emotional and biological levels. The absence of life enhancing, skills based, resilience techniques allow the build up of stress and toxins in our nervous system that eventually interrupt the free flow of energy and information. Toxic upbringing or a lack of necessary skill sets to cultivate wellness within the body/mind, leads to toxic lifestyle choices and the gradual breakdown of the vital connection we have to the core of our existence.
Eating good food, exercise and sleep no longer provides the prevention, protection or elevation of homeostasis within our physiology or psychology. Some of the most exciting mainstream work on depression is occurring in the area of research on the impact stress hormones play in depression. In sever depression adrenalin and cortisol levels are abnormally high. When a nervous system becomes overly stressed, we lose our ability to access and metabolize the energy and information that is normally, readily available to us.
Anxiety and depression cripples our innate intelligence. When prolonged the body/mind system looses its ability to strategize, we lose our ability to navigate and thrive within the thinking, emotional and biological dimensions of our existence. The flight, fright and freeze function of our old brain, while valuable when we are faced with life threatening situations, has become a rambunctious and out-of-control, organ.
In our lives we are faced with daily occurrences that trigger the stress response within our physiology:
We missed a connecting flight... and we become stressed.
The cashier at our favorite coffee shop is on their first shift, not been trained properly and we're already late for work... and we become stressed.
It's a Sunday afternoon; the one gas station town is piled up bumper to bumper with weekend warriors and someone just jumped the queue... and we become stressed.
There is no real danger here, no actual threat to our existence. It's our agenda that has been challenged. It's our psychological idea of how things "should" be that has provoked a premature, biological reaction as masses of stress hormones are dumped into our blood stream.
In our daily lives we all experience various degree's of difficulty in the manifestation of our wants, needs and desires. We all experience a spectrum of reaction to the perceived threats to our safety, happiness and self-esteem. Our body/mind dutifully responds with reaction, to these very diverse kinds of stress. At some point the body/mind begins to break down, our nervous system can no longer tolerate the excessive levels of stress occurring in our lives.
We intuitively know that we have lost touch with the core of Who We Are, if only on a biological, emotional and thinking level. Depression is a natural response to the unnatural circumstance of 21st century living. The increasing levels of depression and suicide especially among our youth, is a wake up call that requires our attention. The details are vast and the options diverse, but there is hope. It lies within the wisdom of the body/mind that appears to be the source of our predilection.
As we begin to understand the body/mind, as we courageously explore all levels of our existence: the biological, the emotional, and even beyond the thinking dimensions, we will find new ways intuitively and functionally respond to the circumstantial evidence and challenges of our day to day living. We will engage life not from a place of survival only, but instead, tap into and thrive on the inspiration that comes from living integrated lives, lives where we have learned to connect, cultivate, harness and trust the wisdom within us.
In 1989 I learned how to meditate. It was my first conscious choice to move beyond the theories and learning's of an ever growing wellness philosophy in my life. I was now exploring first hand those ideas experientially. For the first time in life I was excited not by what was going on outside me, but what was occurring inside: I could touch, taste and smell an ever swelling movement of inner inspiration. Within about a year of daily practice, I began to experience an inner transformation, emotions and suicidal thoughts had evaporated; the desire to die was gone...
I could come up with and explore volumes of speculation on "the how" and "the why" of my experience, but that's not really what's important to someone who spent almost 30 years of life treading the symptoms of depression. What's important is that my life took on dramatic new directions that I could never possibly have imagined or anticipated. What's important is that even the experience of depression is subjected to the same tangible, laws of the world of form and phenomena, the physics of all life experience:
there is a beginning,
there is a middle
there can be a successful end to the tyranny of depression!
Be in your body, learn to love your body:
Create and engage your own exercise routine.
Get out of your head:
Spend time in nature where there is an ever-present harmony that your own nervous system can calibrate itself to.
Be gentle, Be easy, Be effortless:
Learning to navigate the experience of life requires skills. Many of those skills need to be learned and then practiced with vigilance in order for success to be realized.
Learn to meditate:
There are many approaches to explore, check out a few and choose one you feel drawn and most connected to, it will open doorways and re- establish the bliss of being within your experience and awareness.
Rediscover new ways of being:
There are many ways to take care of the Self. The person you were exists in the past. Who you become unfolds in the present moment now. Practicing a regular routine of "self care" will combat the conditioning you may have experienced creating the space for a new you to be experienced and expressed ~ and a new day and "you" will dawn...
Recognize Who You Are:
You have thoughts, but you are not your thoughts. You have emotions but you are not your emotions. You have a body, but you are not your body. Your thoughts, your emotions and your body happen to you. They are symptoms of Who You Are.
Find out Who You Are:
The easiest way to discover Who You Are is to find out what you aren't. Be vigilant. Discriminate between the thoughts and emotions that are happening to you and the awareness that is you.
Cultivate the value of acceptance:
It's ok to be sad. It's ok to be depressed. It's ok to feel like you are not in control. It's ok to feel needy, unloved, and alone. Learn to witness those thoughts arise and subside, with judgment, evaluation, or assessment. Notice the thoughts, all thoughts, come and go.
Embrace your sensitive side:
Being sensitive is a gift and talent, it is not a burden. There will come a time when your sensitivity will access not the pain and suffering of your past but the bliss of the moment as it is, this is the legacy of your past.
Seek out your own support team:
Surround yourself with people that support and nurture you, people who understand and know what it is like to suffer and people who are successfully navigating their own suffering.
Find inspiration in life:
Music? Art? Dance? Creativity? Learn to cultivate and express the creativity that exists within you.
Ask yourself some important questions:
Q. What are some of the tangible sources of your unhappiness in your life?
Q. What areas of your life need to be experienced and expressed more fully?
Q. Are you ignoring an inner message that needs to be responded to?
Q. Are there toxic relationships that need to be avoided or terminated within your experience?
Q. Do you listen to and cultivate the wisdom of your own Soul?