Life today is fraught with pressures and challenges, it feels like we must work harder, be smarter, always be ahead or we will be left behind. We were not designed to live like this, technology, the pace of modern life and the choices we are saturated with daily have advanced at a pace which is faster than our capacity to adapt psychologically. If we have any hope of surviving and thriving psychologically into the 22nd century then something must change.
Psychological wellness is never black and white, we are all somewhere on the spectrum and even if we feel that we are by and large ‘well’ there are times that we don’t feel on top of things, or we’re aware that beneath the strong shell we’ve developed to ‘cope’ with life, there is a small voice trying to speak to us, we might hear it in quiet moments or perhaps at times when we least expect it.
Needs and Stress
It can be easy to overlook our psychological needs, not least because it is often difficult to know what they are. We know we have them, because we feel the neglect of them every time someone else says or does something that irritates us, frustrates us, infuriates us or causes us to feel belittled, not heard, not valued or not respected. These needs derive from our personality, which has been shaped by the many experiences of our lives, the ones in our early lives being some of the most potent.
Relationships and Our Inner Landscape
Relationship is perhaps the core aspect of our lives as social beings. Like all other social beings, relationship is a powerful shaper of our inner landscape. It was thought that our personality was largely formed by the age of 4, that up to that time the brain is ‘plastic’ and open to being moulded by the experiences of our early lives. It has been shown now that the brain remains in this state throughout life, that our experiences with others and the world around us is directly influencing the nature of the connections and pathways in our brains.
Personality is not a fixed state, even down to the core beliefs that we have unconsciously acquired, we are able to intentionally rewrite the story that drives our lives. We don’t have to accept that this is simply who we are, constantly buffeted by the circumstances around us or that we are limited by convention or the way things are meant to be. We understand the concept of physical wellness and good health and that this requires conscious effort to maintain. The same applies to our mental wellness, but how do we do this? It’s assumed that it will simply take care of itself.
In simpler times or more natural and wild societies, this would be the case. But not so for us of these times. Our mental health is in rapid decline across the world, we know it, we feel it and we live it daily. We need to work urgently to stem the tide and we can do this, each one of us for ourselves. Thriving and wellness is our inherent state, it’s how we are meant to live, we have wellness built into our very nature. The fact that we recognise low mood or a gap between how we feel and how we would like to feel is the clue…we know and are constantly unconsciously orientating towards feeling good.
Not Coping with Life is Miserable
When our inner fitness isn’t great, we feel that we are being constantly buffeted by life, daily challenges feel like they are constantly pushing us up and down, we see-saw between feeling okay and feeling off kilter. We put a lot of energy into trying to stay in balance, afraid of what might happen if the scale tips so far that we won’t be able to get back up from it. We are exerting a great deal of energy on the other side of the scale to keep it steady. We don’t like how it feels, we want to feel more in control, less vulnerable and free of the fear of the weight of life anchoring us in misery. And modern life seems to be turning this into more and more of a churn, feeling more like a terrifying helter skelter. And our mechanistic health systems and their approach to mental health are failing to keep up with and to help with the way so many of us are feeling.
My Experience of Severe Depression
I have been at the mercy of depression, full on suicidal depression, but however desperate I felt somewhere deep within I was determined to feel whole, to live, as I knew was possible.
Let me share with you my experience of realising that any hope of recovery was in my hands. I was at the bottom of a really deep black dark well, alone…. looking up to the surface where I knew other people were, I could see a glimmer of light…but why was no one dropping me a rope? I called and called, I felt totally abandoned, I felt rage that no one even seemed to care. It was here that I had a choice…to stay forever in this dark well or to climb out, as this was the only way. But how? ....by finding a small crag somewhere in the brick walls of the well, finding something to hold onto and hauling myself up this wall. This was the stark choice that confronted me. I knew that I would have to find something else within me, some other resource within me, other than this broken soul on the floor of the well if I had any hope of living.
It is through this journey that I discovered all the things outside of medicine that have helped me to now live from a ‘still point’. Life has its inevitable challenges, ups and downs and as a sensitive person, much of what is happening in the world today deeply affects me. But where in the past I might have collapsed into a dark despair that couldn’t be lifted, today I might have a wobble, but within not too long, I return to my still point. I’m much less affected by other people and their dramas, I have vastly different types of conversations with people, I am experiencing life in a way that I had always hoped was possible. I’m confident in how I manage the scales, and no longer have any anxiety or fear of life tipping me over.
In my quest to survive and thrive I ended up completely re-framing the problem from one of mental illness, to one of psychological imbalance and not being whole and that I could rebuild wholeness and restore balance from within. It’s eminently possible to build capacity and inner fitness to deal with the stress and challenges of modern life and we can heal hurts and traumas and change the story of our life that is so often the underlying cause of depression, anxiety and all the other ways the imbalance manifests.