Mental health and Eudaimonia

Updated: Oct 12, 2018

Mental health is a topic I have been meaning to write upon for quite some time now, but shelved it for reasons ranging from embarrassment to writer's block.

World Mental Health Day, 10th October is a fitting date to begin drafting this post.

Ancient Greeks coined the term Eudaimonia (literally in good spirit) to describe a state of happiness, fulfilment and general psychological well-being. This antiquated term is more pertinent than ever for today's whirlwind lifestyle.

Let me start by stating two facts - mental illness and psychological malaise is a big deal and it is ubiquitous.

Just because the wound is invisible, does not mean it is trivial. It is common to hear someone insensitively say to the victim that 'it's all in the head' or 'just chill'. As if a snap of the finger can cure all discomforts of the mind, and the sufferer is unnecessarily fretting!

No issue is too small. Like gas in a chamber, any predicament has the ability to occupy the entirety of our mind's expanse. Be it something 'slight' like low scores in an examination or 'severe' like the loss of a loved one, both setbacks have the capacity to debilitate you for hours or days at end, even though they seem to be of opposing magnitudes.

Mental anguish should be treated at par with physical pain. Someone in office who is undergoing divorce, needs (at the bare minimum) the same amount of sympathy that is extended out to a colleague with a fractured limb.

Thankfully, more and more people today understand that issues like sexual harassment or PTSD have the ability to scar the victim psychologically for a really long time. Unfortunately, the death of your pet or a breakup is still considered a petty inconvenience, and you are expected to be back on your feet in no time.

Everybody has their own rate of recovery. Just as we won't rebuke our friend suffering from jaundice for not getting cured fast enough, the same way, it's unfair to lose patience with someone battling depression or anxiety.

No one wants to address the elephant in the room. WHO states that 1 in 4 is afflicted mentally at some point in their lives. It is a myth that mental handicaps plague only a select few - those who are weak or misfortunate.

I have a confession to make. I have literally had people come up to me and say that they feel I'm living the 'perfect life' or (quite embarrassingly for me) 'I'm perfect'. Blessed with good grades and a hefty pay check. Lucky to be born with certain features and complexion. Supportive family. Sorted life. Yada, yada, yada....

I'm grateful for a lot of things going right in my life, but the hyperbole is ludicrous.

Let me tell you a secret. Every single person, boy or girl, who has been kind enough to let me peek intimately into their lives, tells me they face mental traumas occasionally.

That hot girl you see pouting and partying on Instagram, does not have it all sorted. She cries to sleep from time to time. The stud from your school, showing off his perfectly chiseled body on Facebook, is in all likelihood as clueless about life, as you and me. There is absolutely no point comparing your life to anyone else's, especially lives that you see through the rose tinted glass of social media.

For almost two decades of my existence, I have been guilty of inconsiderate behaviour towards folks enduring mental hardships. I failed to understand why it was so difficult for them to implement the panacea-like advice I so very conveniently served them from my moral high ground. With my stoic demeanour, I considered myself bulletproof.

Then in 2015, I got my first brush with anxiety. I initially thought the last-minute-exam-prep jitters were to blame. But it continued well beyond that. Maybe it was because I was getting too uptight or worrying about things too far ahead. It was sporadic, short lived and (at that time) silly to me, so I never felt the need to confide in my close friends and family.

But, then things only spiralled downwards. I was paranoid about things I never worried about before. Preoccupied with what-ifs. What if 'this' happens to my loved ones or 'that' happened to my health. Existential crisis - What is the meaning to life and what is the point of anything? Suddenly, the middle berth of a train would feel claustrophobic. Some nights would be difficult to sleep. Worst of all, I would get anxious about my anxiety itself. When will it strike again? Can I ever come out of this? Is this an indication of a more severe mental illness?

And then, all this culminated in a full blown panic attack, lasting almost 24 hours.

It is difficult to express in words, what that feels like. It is a total meltdown. The sense of reasoning is all clouded. The edginess is physically palpable. A racing heart and a restless mind. The silver lining was that I was at home for vacation then. Finally, only a visit to the doctor and popping some pills managed to allay my panic.

It was at this time in my life, when I was introduced to meditation. Contrary to belief, it is not a religious mumbo-jumbo. In its simplest form, meditation is being mindful and observing the present without judging. Just 5 minutes of it a day can work wonders!

Thankfully, that was the first and only full blown scare I had to experience. The journey of overcoming it was not a linear progression. Some days were a step backwards. Very rarely, I still panic. But it is no longer crippling. It is annoying at best. I have learnt to take the wind out of the sails of anxiety.

The second instance of my tryst with psychological agony happened recently after an episode with someone who was close to me. It left me dazed and pained. Anger, sorrow, guilt, betrayal, confusion - I experienced the entire gamut of emotions at one go. And then, my old friend - anxiety decided to pay me a visit again. For the first time I experienced first-hand, that mental sufferings can cause actual, physical pain.

To my rescue, this time, came Stoicism, something I deeply connect with. Stoicism is not about being emotionless or harsh endurance. It is about finding joy and virtue amidst the chaos of this world.

I reconnected with several long lost friends and met a lot of new like-minded people who filled the void in my personal life. They have been my strength and support system. My hardships dwarf in comparison to what some of my friends are enduring.

Another thing which greatly helped is physical activity. Hit the gym, cycle, hike, play, swim, travel. Do anything but just get off the couch. Reward your body with endorphins.

I sincerely wish no adversity befalls you, but if it already has, I pray you swiftly get out of the mental rut troubling you. Life is beautiful, precious and wondrous out on the other side. I know it is very easy for me to say this now, but hang in there. Things will slowly but surely improve.

We may or may not know each other. But if you need someone to egg you on, or more importantly, need someone to just patiently hear you out without judgement, I would be more than happy to be there for you.

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