Yesterday while I was cycling for food delivery I had a worrying thought pop up. I began to feel depressed, which is a word that describes that complex feelings that arise that makes me feel like I am drowning in life and any remaining desire to live starts to ebb away. I went from a somewhat neutral state to this state in like mere seconds.
In recent years, I am not sure if it is a result of the buddhist/zen books or the psychotherapy ones, I have begun to observe the process of my states a lot more. Previously if there was a similar episode, it would probably spiral into something that would last for days, if not months. Now these states still unfold, but while they unfold I become curious. Yesterday I started to notice how just one worrying thought – which isn’t even that worrying to begin – could trigger so much: it dragged up a whole ton of emotional baggage I’ve been carrying for my entire life, I wasn’t initially aware of this but later I came to realise it provoked unpleasant memories and sensations during my childhood, and it drove me into a frightened, powerless state.
They say the primal part of the brain is timeless and lacks context. It doesn’t know it is now thirty years later and we can be safe and an agent of our own lives now. It is also good at detecting threats. It doesn’t care if we are beaten up into a pulp or if we are left to cry for hours with no comfort. A threat is a threat.
I had to remind myself again and again that the conditions of the present is no longer like the past, I don’t have to be so scared anymore. That original worrying thought I had is indeed concerning, but there were still things I could do about it, it is not a dead end yet, and on a practical level it is just one hiccup in the grand scheme of things, on a psychological level I need to remember that the future is neither static or linear.
But to be honest, I still feel knots in my stomach sitting here typing this. It can be so difficult to uncondition fear. I can only hope that I can become comfortable with one part of my mind thinking one way while the rest of my body is doing its own thing, and that if I can keep reminding myself that I am safe now, one day my body will believe it.
Sometimes I feel self-conscious writing about my experiences. That I sound like I’m whining and making a molehill about nothing. That people will think that there are people dying of elsewhere because of inequality and I am here sitting in my comfortable chair writing about my pain.
But I am beginning to think differently. I have derived so much comfort and strength reading the accounts of other chronic illness sufferers. That made me realise why I am writing and who I am writing for. There will always be people who won’t understand and will judge, including myself. Being raised in an Asian society I have deeply internalised views about how people should just be stoic, pull up their socks and suffer silently. If you could be in my head for a moment you would experience how much verbal abuse I hurl at myself.
We often prioritise physical suffering and neglect psychological suffering. I think that is because psychological suffering is invisible so we think it doesn’t exist – decades of evidence-based medical science has taught us that. No visible evidence, doesn’t exist! Thankfully the latest science has proven otherwise, though the mainstream has yet to catch up with it.
But why, why do we have to wait for the evidence to show up, why do we not believe people when they say they are suffering? Why do I not even believe myself? Why do we do this invisible ranking on whose pain is more valid, why do we not get to cry and get help because our ancestors survived famine and wars?
Medical conditions are not classist. We don’t get to skip depression or high blood pressure because we are sitting in comfortable chairs. I think that is the inherent problem – that as a society we stigmatise psychological suffering, we often mistake economic privilege for psychological privilege, we are so used to measuring everything that even who should have a valid pain has a measure.
I don’t have the capacity to try to change society, but in writing my experiences as precisely as I can, I hope to demonstrate that I, with everything I can possibly have economically, is endlessly tormented by my own brain, my body, and myself. This torment goes on from the moment I wake up to the moment I sleep (if I can sleep), whether I am surrounded with beauty or with love, even if the universe had given me her most generous luck. It is like everyday I have a million paper cuts internally, and the perpetuator is supposedly my self. People who think it is possible to think your way out in the throes of depression have obviously never experienced depression before. Every single cell of my body feels overwhelmed, exhausted and lifeless.
And you know, the depression is actually the easy part for me. The migraines however, a blunt knife repeatedly carving in the insides of my head is the best way I can describe it for now. Perhaps one can understand why there are days I simply lose the will to live.
Other times, I feel like I’m writing the same thing over and over again. Today, I realised that is the whole point. That is basically my life. Every week it feels like it is playing the same script over and over again while I’m desperately trying to write a new one, yet it feels like my document keeps losing its saves.
And somehow I have to find the will and courage to start all over again.