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Depression, loneliness and suicide

On 14th June, it felt like someone close to us had suddenly ended his life. Celebrities and public figures have the ability to make us feel this way. The most common causes of suicides or attempted suicides are deemed to be depression and loneliness that leads to depression.

I searched for the exact meaning of the word depression and here is what I found

Depression is classified as a mood disorder. It may be described as feelings of sadness, loss, or anger that interfere with a person’s everyday activities.

Based on where I looked, the qualification of its intensity described a timeframe of between 2 weeks and 2 years.

The most common line of treatment is a combination of medicines and talk-therapy.

I am not a qualified doctor who can give you an authoritative definition, diagnosis or cure. I view life in simple layman terms. I try to understand life’s mysteries by looking at what nature has to offer, or perhaps what is written in our mythology, folktales, grandma’s tales etc. I also don’t distinguish these tales by geographical regions; if they exist in any part of the world then they belong to humanity.

Some time ago I was in a discussion with a friend on the subject of ‘being happy’, ‘being positive’ and ‘being lonely’. The friend wanted to impress upon me that I was an exception because I wanted to constantly remain in a state of bliss. I was told that depression is a serious mental issue for many; an autobiography was even quoted. I deduced that this friend wanted me to accept that being depressed was an acceptable state of mind.

I accepted that everyone is entitled to their views.

I respected that my friend has a contrary point of view.

But I am struggling to accept that depression is a state of mind that one should ‘merely’ accept and move on.

We are social animals and perhaps more than just animals. So how can we simply sit back and accept that someone took their life, ‘because they were depressed’. I have never been able to accept that people with pieces of paper hanging on their wall (read degrees) are the only ones who can help. Look around you and think about all the little things in life you learnt. Were they all taught to you by professionals alone?

I want to add a cautionary note before I am trolled or otherwise chastised. Professionals are qualified individuals who are authorized to charge money for the services they provide. Healthcare professionals, like doctors, nurses et al are charged with taking care of health issues of all types. It’s what they are trained to be. But that doesn’t mean every other human being has abdicated common sense. And that is all I am highlighting in this article.

There is a clinical definition of Depression. This most important part of every clinical definition is the state of mind. The state of mind is a combination and result of just one critical entity – THOUGHTS!

Thoughts can be broken down into the following:

1. To exist, thoughts need a brain and the entire nervous system. If you don’t have a functioning brain or parts are damaged, the body will either die or reach a state where thoughts don’t flow; we don’t know if thoughts exist if they cannot be articulated or acted upon by the rest of the body. I call this the Biology of Thoughts

2. Thoughts are a result of multiple chemical reactions too. Alter the chemical composition of the body and one can alter the thoughts flowing through the brain. Clinical depression relies heavily on treating thoughts with medical (read chemical) intervention. I call this the Chemistry of Thoughts.

3. Thoughts in themselves cannot be seen, touched, felt and it is safe to assume they have no physical form. They can be witnessed as electrical currents emanating from a brain and changes in the current coincide with changing thoughts. It is thus safe to assume that thoughts are a form of energy. I call this the Physics of Thoughts.

If you objectively look at the history of mankind, ancient civilizations acknowledged the role of Biology and Chemistry on thoughts, but their greatest focus was on the energy that generated thoughts (the Physics of thoughts). We don’t have to look far, our own civilization has sufficient material that focuses on this aspect of how thoughts are formed, retained and acted upon. In modern times, we have placed this research on the back burner and our attention is on the Biology and Chemistry (of thoughts). The only way we acknowledge the role of Physics is by using a tool widely known as ‘talk therapy’ to affect the way a mind thinks.

I am leaving the Biology and Chemistry out of this article because there are specialists (doctors, psychologists etc) who are better qualified to shed light on this. My focus is on the energy that generates thoughts.

Medical and clinical science acknowledges the role of ‘talk-therapy’ in treating depression and hence I would like to analyze this.

What is ‘talk’?

Talking is the process of one human being converting his thought energy into sound energy. This sound energy is conveyed through a series of manipulations of the vocal cords (we know this to be language). The sound energy travels from the person generating it to the ear of the person receiving this energy. The ear drum vibrates and converts the sound energy back into electrical impulses to be interpreted by the brain. Talk therapy thus can be interpreted to be a particular type of sound energy generated by a trained brain, to travel to a different brain and thus affect the energy that generates thought (in the recipient’s brain)[1].

In talk therapy there are clear assumptions that need to be made transparent. These are:

1. There are a minimum of two brains – one generating new sound energy and the other receiving this sound energy. In group sessions it could be more brains involved.

2. The transmitting brain and the recipient brain are in a state of readiness both to transmit and receive.

3. The recipient brain is willing to act on the input it receives.

But for a moment let’s suppose that these assumptions are temporarily incorrect.

For example: what if the person whose thoughts are disturbed is alone? The person may not be able to communicate, either face-to-face (as in our current lockdown situation) or via a communicating device such as a phone or a computer. What happens then? Is despair the only answer? Will suicide solve the problem?

The answer has been provided but our ancients. It’s important to revisit this ancient knowledge.

The power of sound has been known in every civilization and every culture since time immemorial. In our own subcontinent across every language, every dialect and every type of spoken word, there exist patterns known as mantras, chants, songs, shlokas etc.

If you choose to read from this point on, please understand my intent for writing down my thoughts. I don’t know if I am qualified to speak on depression. I am guessing the order of qualification is somewhat like this – a certified medical profession, followed by someone who has been diagnosed (clinically) and then the rest of the world who has an opinion or thought about it. I fall in the last category, I guess. I have never had a clinical diagnosis so I don’t know if I was in a phase qualified as ‘depression’. But I struggled to make sense of my life for about 13 years. In these years, I found solutions to keep my sanity. These solutions helped me grow as an individual and respected as a leader. I share my learnings to help if I can. I am not here to further any cause, belittle anyone, or dismiss any medical or mental health condition.

My learnings

Since I am most conversant with Hindi and Sanskrit I will use some examples from here.

I need to add another word of caution here. It is not my intent to proclaim any sort of superiority of any language or inferiority of another. Neither is my analysis based on religious teachings of any sort. I am single mindedly focused on the effect of sound in affecting the thought patterns of any human being.

I have understood that the mantras are a pattern of sounds that affect parts of the brain and bring about changes in the person listening to them. There are 2 examples I will use to explain the changes these mantras bring about.

Hanuman Chalisa (written in Awadhi, a dialect of Hindi) – the 40 couplets that infuse courage. For a moment forget the meaning of the couplets and if you can, merely focus on the sound and rhythm of these couplets. An anxious mind, especially one that is fearful of some sort of immediate danger, will begin to feel differently. There was a phase in my life where money was scarce, there was a family to feed, a mortgage to pay for and a car that desperately needed repairs. Every day was a challenge to face. Every minute was a difficult one to focus on. I was an isolated individual who worked alone. I wasn’t in an office setup where tens or hundreds of people were around me. It was sometimes a week or more before I got to speak to someone in my organization (over the telephone). Hanuman Chalisa was my constant companion. I would play this on my computer in an endless loop. It helped me get through the day. Then the days turned to weeks, and the weeks into months.

Maha Mrutunjaya – this set of sounds helps calm a mind whose biggest fear is that of death. It could be the death of a loved one, the death of a pet or one’s own death. Listening to this chant helps the mind overcome the fear of death. It is my constant companion even today.

If it is difficult to relate to these because of religious connotations, I am happy to share some learnings from other religions.

1. A place I found solace quite a few times was the Haji Ali Dargah in Worli Mumbai. The one thing that struck me when I happened to be there in the evening was the Azaan or the call to prayer. Just listening to the voice calling out to the faithful is enough to calm you down.

2. In my travels across the world I have visited many churches. The sound of church bells has had a calming effect on me. On more than on occasion I was lucky to hear someone play a church organ. I don’t recall what was played but I have distinct memories of leaving the church calmer then when I entered it.

3. I have lost count of how many gurudwaras I have been to. But every time I sat and listened to the shabad path (recitation of the holy scriptures) or kirtan (spiritual songs sung in a group) being recited, the problems of the world simply faded away.

4. When in college I had met with a group of Buddhists and joined their chanting sessions. Nam-myoho renge kyo still mesmerizes me.

I have been to a synagogue in Kochi, but I don’t have any recollection of music or chanting there. A Parsi fire temple doesn’t allow me in. I have been to many village temples especially in Northern Karnataka and Central Maharashtra. These have their own unique musical and chanting experiences as have other temples across India.

The point is that in every place of worship and across religions there is a set of sounds that have the ability to bring peace to a troubled believer. The key is to reach out and believe.

Sound isn’t restricted to religious spaces or spiritual experiences. There is music especially classical music that is equally therapeutic. I am a great fan of Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Ustad Zakir Hussain. If there is an album that you must listen to then that has to be Call of The Valley. I heard it in 1978 and even today it is part of the music I listen to very often. There are Ragas (musical compositions) that are guaranteed to soothe a troubled mind. Raag Malhar is my favorite because it reflects the arrival of the rains falling on a scorched and parched earth; much like balm applied to a troubled mind.

I am not a connoisseur of Western Classical music, but The Fifth of Beethoven does it for me.

Using Sound

If you have read thus far, I am confident you have now established a connection between the different types of energy that can influence thoughts. I have focused on sound because to me it is energy readily available no matter where you are or what spiritual/religious beliefs work for you.

Vibrations that exist in energy grow unless a force counters their effect. There is sound all around us. But put on a pair of noise cancelling headphones and 90% of the sound dies out. The principle is simple. Sound waves fall on a microphone that carries the waves to a microchip. The chip in turn produces waves that are exactly opposite to the ones that are generated by sound. The result is noise cancellation. If you view thoughts as the waves a mind is generating, then external sound, whether chants or music, are the waves cancelling this noise.

While we believe the brain is capable of multi-tasking, scientific research has proven that actually it isn’t. We may be good at doing multiple tasks seemingly together. But in fact we are doing each task faster than the average human would and hence to the untrained eye, it appears that the mind is multitasking. It is this weakness of the mind that we need to exploit. Chants, music, and all type of sounds generate energy that interferes with the brains ability to generate thoughts (a task of the brain). Where these sounds collectively generate a feeling of calm and positivity, they leave no room for any sort of negativity. Negative tasks replaced with calming ones.

Sounds like science fiction? It is actually pure science.

So, when the first set of negative thoughts emerge, switch them off. The moment you have any sort of negative thought be it anger, anxiety, sadness, fear, or any that causes you pain, switch on any sound that I have described here, and allow the sound to engulf you. I promise you, the negativity will pass. The thoughts will become positive and the mind moves further away from despair.

The problem isn’t that we don’t know this works. The problem is that we have so trained ourselves to live with negativity that we have suppressed our ability to see a solution lying before our eyes. It is time to retrain the mind. It is time to let the mind know that your consciousness is in charge; that you are in charge. If you become aware of yourself, you will want to find a solution for the negativity that engulfs you.

I may have overstepped my boundaries in being explicit and definitive. But I believe I am qualified to do so. I have seen failure up close. I have experienced mental torture and badgering because of my failures. I have been discriminated against because of my age. I have been driven to such despair that I have not once but twice been made to stand on death’s door. I have been anxious, been panic stricken and lost in negative thoughts at different points in time. And yet I don’t carry a medical certificate that I have had a mental condition at some point in time.

This note is not about me. It is about believing that there is a solution to the problem. Simple solutions work quietly and efficiently. And that is what I have learnt in dealing with my despair, hopelessness, loneliness and anger.

I mean no disrespect to people dealing with mental illness, whether their own or that of their loved ones. Nor is my experience a prescription that supersedes medical intervention. I am sharing my experiences that work for me. If they work for you, I will consider this article worthy of being written.

Depression is a serious health issue. Happiness is a choice.

[1] If there is a different interpretation of talk therapy, I am happy to be corrected.

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