Saturday, 27 September 2014

Thought 37: Depression as the AIDS of Mental Health

What is depression? How does it feel like?

I have successfully vanquished depressive illness (acute or clinical depression) - although depressed states do recur now and again (chronic depression) - and have some thoughts to share on the topic.

Depression, rather like the AIDS syndrome for physical health, occurs and takes hold when the mental immune system has been disturbed, perhaps because of some particularly stressful episode or event (bereavement, humiliation, social isolation, romantic break up or some other trauma), unhelpful habits of thought (perfectionism and elitism being two of them), and often comes with other states such as anxiety, low self-esteem...

An average day has its share of social interaction, things to do, commitments... When one is depressed, that is, when one's mental immune system is low, little hiccups (a bad interaction with a bus driver, a car honking) tend to knock one out and set off a train of negative thinking which in turn causes stress and a depressed state through the agency of the so-called cortisol hormone.

As many philosophers have pointed out, reality is linked to perception. Or, in the words of Qui-Gon Jinn to Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode One,

"Your focus determines your reality."
When one is depressed, that is, vulnerable, the darker and more melancholy aspects of existence come to the fore, the body is flooded with stress chemicals which prevent enjoyment and activity and makes all of life much harder and interaction more threatening because of the greater possibility of being hurt and wounded.

And one need not look hard for them, even in one's own home: the News, the Rat Race, idiotic internet posturing and social media, mediocrity, stupidity, Politics, the Economy, difficult and unpleasant people, the pressure to succeed and be happy, Governments, Celebrity rubbish and so one and so forth...

Depression lowers one's mental immune system so that the negative and sad takes precedence, the more questionable aspects of existence come to the fore, what causes pain and hurt is more present in one's mind, to the point often that committing suicide can seem preferable to living and even desirable.

Once the depression lifts and one's mental and emotional immune system is up and running, then it is possible to partake in one's usual activities and occupations and not be overwhelmed by reality, mediated or not, and the triggers which can lead to a depressed state or, as in a Hinduism, a wounded chakra such as the heart and head areas. 

The best recipe I can suggest for a depressed state or a wounded chakra is to first realise that all is not well in one's body and psychology, to then deliberately summon - as hard as it may be - happy, comforting and soothing memories, thoughts and images - the so-called Patronus charm in Harry Potter, to at the same time banish all stressors including stressful thoughts and rumination and activities (including internet-ing) and to sit the depressed state out with a minimum disruption to one's ordinary functioning, in the certainty that the depression and vulnerable state will lift in time following these steps. Sleep also helps in my experience.

Addendum - A recipe I use with some success for chronic depression is what I call positive-bingeing. Positive-bingeing is literally sustaining happy thoughts, memories, angles in one's mind during one's waking life, so that, for example, even the most painful or unpleasant memories are reinterpreted in a happy light, repeating mantras in one's head such as "everything is beautiful", "I love life", summoning the most confidence, security securing, resilient images, words, memories regardless of external context - in a word, mindfulness. It can really make the difference between a mediocre day and a bad day and can even make a mediocre day a good one when genuine causes for joy do eventually and necessarily occur. 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Thought 36: Thinking of Death

Walter White

Watching the fourth episode of season one of Breaking Bad called Cancer Man and pondering my own ferocious addiction to tobacco smoking which is known to trigger lung cancer, among other diseases, in the long term - the main character Walter White's condition at the start of the series - the thought of death crept up on my mind.

Granted, the above is not how I envisaged death. Coughing up blood like Walter White and the prospect of hair loss as one side-effect of chemotherapy, not to mention breaking the news to my loved ones - provided I have loved ones when some terminal disease makes its presence felt - was closer to what went through my mind as I, for the fifth thousand time, contemplated confronting my smoking addiction once again.

After rolling a cigarette

and smoking it,

the following thought came to mind: the moment of death, of passing away, takes but a moment although many years, months, days, hours, minutes of pain, agony and reduced ability and increased closure from the world of human beings may precede that moment when the body gives up the ghost.

In a sense one could say that one is alive for most, indeed, all of one's life. The moment of passing away is but a moment, whether it be recorded electronically or not (the long electronic beep noise comes to mind courtesy of film and television). Death is momentary although not necessarily instantaneous. One's whole life ends at the moment of death, the whole long or, as the case may be, short haul of ageing (or dying which is in effect the same thing) ending in that still mysterious moment when... the animating principle returns to nothingness and consciousness becomes oblivion.

Thus life is the rule in so far as passing away takes but a moment and people who have indeed passed on - whose bodies (remains) become inanimate, i.e. deprived of the animating principle which the Romans called anima - are preserved in the memory of other human beings who knew them (often not personally as in the case, say, of American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman)

 or who will come to know of them because of their place in history.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Thought 35: Truth and The Truth

What is truth?

A matter of small importance to most human beings, most Daseins. And perhaps it's just as well.

Nonetheless, 'what is truth?' is a philosophical question the answer to which necessitates a statement as to the essence of truth, its what-ness (in Latin: its quidditas) - such as my very own

"Truth is that which makes meaning possible and is suggested by the possible meaning of a word."
(see very first post on this web log Lathoron, a philosophical dialogue.)

The above definition of truth is a philosophical definition of truth.

What is the truth? is a political-religious-dogmatic question since it points to an exclusive and excluding answer whether belonging to political rhetoric, mainstream or dissident, cloaked in scientific nomenclature or made plainly transparent, or belonging to theologically revealed dogma such as the statement

"I am the way and the truth and the life."
Some thinking should be brought to bear on the phenomenological difference between these two questions and the different worlds they open up.

In tentative conclusion, let us write:

  • truth: a philosophical concept for the few who, most of all, like to question and think.
  • the truth: a factual, religious and in any case politically sensitive concept which aims at exclusive and excluding answers pertaining to this or that matter at hand or this or that dogmatic assertion (such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion). 
Note 1 - On the question of truth in a political, factual sense see my post Factual Truth and the intentions behind expressions such as the truth about 9/11 or titles of politically minded books such as Philip Legrain's book Open World: The Truth About Globalisation.

Note 2 - Regarding Jesus' statement this extract from Thus Spoke Zarathustra is pertinent:

"This immodest person has for a long time now caused small people to get big heads - he who taught no small error when he said 'I - am the truth.'" (my italics)