PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

 

How do I deal with depression and loneliness?

That's a question G. asked me over online chat the other day. Surprisingly, I found it quite easy to answer now. I hope I have answered him satifactorily, but if given another chance, I would answer this way:

First, be sure that the loneliness or depression is 'real,' that is, really emotional in nature. Certain foods and drugs can bring it about. Do you have food sensitivities? Avoid those food items. Have you been on medication lately? If you can't get rid of it, you probably have no choice but ignore it or at least avoid focusing on the feeling, although I know it's hard. You may need to surround yourself with positive people in a stress-free environment. Depression may also be caused by withdrawal from addictions, such as caffeine, nicotine, or legal and illegal drugs.

Second, if it is real depression (whether it be nonclinical or clinical), self-awareness is important. What made you feel lonely or depressed? You will want to know. This is the paradox of self-awareness: What you don't know controls you; the moment you know what's there, it is no longer there; you are instantly liberated. This takes time, though. Be patient with yourself, for in time, it will reveal itself through your subconscious/unconscious at the oddest hour, as when you are brushing your teeth or doing the laundry, i.e., moments when you are least guarded or least in the defensive mode.

The third point is even more crucial: We really can't control our feelings and emotions, and I am talking only of reflex reactions. It's only human to feel the four basic feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and happiness, and any of their combinations. What we have power over is our own reaction to the feeling: We can choose to

- endure it heroically, or
- wallow in it self-destructively, or
- find a healthy distraction (such as reverting to an old hobby), or
- find an unhealthy one, i.e., medicating the pain via an assortment of painkillers and analgesics and anesthesizers/anesthetics (sex, drugs, food, shopping, other addictions), or most preferably,
- act according to a decision (a positive, opposite one) despite the feeling.

As for "healthy distractions," what I do is to generally be kind to myself by treating me to something new, exciting, adventurous, or thrilling without being self-destructive. Of course, I mean new or old movies, plays, novels, museums, malls, food, travels, sounds, and so on.

If I find myself penniless, however, I listen to what a friend used to say: "Learn to sublimate the pain." After looking up the multisyllabic word in the dictionary, I got the idea in the form of another multisyllabic word: it means transcending the pain by perhaps not just looking at what is causing it on the surface but more deeply: Do I have certain needs that are unmet? What are these, and how can I address the problem concretely? In case I have no choice, how else would I react to the lack of it? What should my attitude be if I am to survive, to live with the constant presence of my major stressor?

At this point, it's good to take stock of one's life and reassess whether we are exaggerating or misinterpreting some things. For me, I always revert to the power of the archives or scrapbooks. I review my past writing entries or look over my old scrapbooks again to remind myself how I have been blessed. In this seemingly trivial exercise of self-therapy, I am always humbled to the point of embarassment whenever I see proof upon proof of how I was taken care of, how I was lavished by God with wonderful suprises beyond my imagination.

I was not exactly blessed by God in the usual way that most people are blessed with supermodel looks, fantastic family life, house and lot and a new car, terribly romantic dates, wads of cash, and so on, but I've realized I had een so much blessed in my chosen lifestyle as a writer. I realize I was gifted with the ability to enjoy a lot of things most people don't get excited about. I've realized I'm quite adventurous in so many little ways, that I am able to appreciate certain nuances about art and literature, writing, theater, film, food, travel, music, or even fields I thought I had zero interest in: birdwatching, anthropology, economics, sociology, psychology, language/rhetoric, medicine/alternative medicine/health, politics, law, criminology, history, and the junctions or lines transecting them.

I am also blessed with a lot of friends -- in various communities and support groups, in the schools and workplaces of my past, not to mention my big family and cabal of relatives.

I also revel at the spiritual blessings I've been bestowed with: the many, many sins uncovered that I would never have otherwise known; the many mind-expanding insights from retreats, masses, recollections, and spiritual books; and the little and big acts of charity and kindness I was privileged to do. I would like to believe that these spiritual investments, whose dividends are invisible to the naked eye, are forever, have eternal consequences, no matter how trivial and passing they may look at first glance.

Last but not least, I hold on to God as my ultimate joy and treasure, that with Him, I may have nothing but I have everything.

Whenever I remind myself of these gifts, I am reminded that I have lost the right to mope and wallow in the mire of self-pity. When I consider all that I have that money can't buy, I give the lie to my own claim that I am poor, lonely, and miserable. I've, in fact, gotten and been given so much in life! I have had a full plate despite my material poverty, so why am I sobbing again and being an altogether helpless crybaby?

Then again, it's also okay to cry whenever I feel like it -- after all, I'm no stoical robot, either; after all, tears also heal (at least the tears that make us feel good after). What matters in the end is what I do after all that shedding of tears is done. Would I sing about, paint, or write the greatest masterpiece about despair, like Kafka, or would I pick up the pieces, rise up from the ashes? The latter is a tired cliche, I know, but better a tired but truthful cliche than a treacherous and deadly copout or capitulation to satanic temptations.

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