Hello darkness, my old friend

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Yesterday brought the very sad and shocking news that Sushant Singh Rajput, so young and full of promise, had ended his life. In the hours since then the media and social media have been awash with the story. In the social media comments, while deep sorrow is the most common emotion expressed, I have also come across some judgement and criticism. But overwhelmingly, I hear the question, “Why did he do it?” It is a question that can have no comprehensive and meaningful answer and yet we feel compelled to keep asking.

Having lived with depression and oftentimes struggled with it for 35 years, I know only too well that abject despair and hopelessness are very real. And these feelings can happen in the very midst of what everyone else sees as a perfect life. And so often, behind the despair is another “why” question – “Why can’t I seem to find meaning?”

Although in recent years there is more and more conversation and writing about depression and mental health, society as a whole grapples to come to a real understanding about it. Its symptoms are so imperceptible from the outside that it is extremely difficult to tell who is suffering and who is not. And yet what goes on inside is acute and unmistakable. William Styron in his 1990 memoir ‘Darkness Visible’ captures it with penetrating precision:

The gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain. But it is not an immediately identifiable pain, like that of a broken limb. It may be more accurate to say that despair, owing to some evil trick played upon the sick brain by the inhabiting psyche, comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room. And because no breeze stirs this caldron, because there is no escape from this smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion.

We look for meaning outside ourselves only to realise that everything is transitory and impermanent. And that realisation brings with it fear and shakiness. I am beginning to see that I have to stay with that fear without disowning it. Clarity can only come from becoming intimate with fear rather than treating it as a problem to be solved. The American Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chodron teaches us that in befriending our fears, we befriend life. She simply and eloquently says:

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

When darkness visits me these days, I try to just sit with it, neither judging myself nor resisting my feelings. And in staying with it rather than seeking relief from it, I open myself to the possibilities of remaining in the here and now. Allowing myself to relax with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment is the only way to see that light is contained in darkness.

14 thoughts on “Hello darkness, my old friend

  1. A very positive thought, Live the Moment, be in the Now..no analysing and intellectualising or resisting.. be with the flow..use the past not as regret or failure but as learning and experience, the future not with anxiety or apprehension but with aspirations and hope, enjoy the moment and live the Now..Thank you Jayshree

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I am beginning to see that even wisdom and insights come not so much with relentless seeking, but in sitting with stillness.

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      1. Jayshree, you are so right..the power of Stillness and Silence is immense..just let the thoughts flow in and out without any effort to control or question them..this was more effective during my conduct of self experiential learning programs for 10 years..the internalisation and reflection was amazing..while loneliness is inner emptiness, solitude is inner fulfillment..it works wonders..Thank you again for initiating this conversation..the solution lies within..I am the Master of my Fate, I am the Captain of my Soul

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  2. Thanks for writing this piece Jayasree. I remember my first real job was as a product manager for antidepressants at Boots and I struggled to understand the condition of the patient. After so many years I have caught a small glimpse into that World thru your writing. I wish every Physician who treats and every family member who cares for patients with depression could read this.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment Alok. It is impossible to know the thoughts and feelings of another unless they share them with you. Unfortunately, a depressed person finds it extremely difficult to share these. I want to try to keep having these conversations.

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  3. Very well written Jayashri. Each one of us go through ups and downs in life. Degree depends on how individual treats them. One realises after years of experience that nothing is permanent and this down also would pass and cycle starts yet again, though it’s easier said than done. Your thought of living with current difficulties by accepting it definitely gives fresh lease of life. Thanks Guru. M N Ravi

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  4. A lovely piece? Jay. Few understand depression and most think it is the patient’s fault. The worse when the patient also starts thinking the same thing, and avoids consulting a therapist. But while advice and medications do help, finally the patient has to come to terms with it and relate to the world in one’s own terms, I think.

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  5. Wonderfully expressed Jay. Your post is an important contribution to an open conversation that we all need to have on mental health

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  6. So great that you shared your world and opened a window for us. It’s so hard. I really do hope you that you can find a way to keep this conversation going. We all need to be a part of it. Take care my friend.

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    1. Thank you Michelle. You are right, it’s not always easy sharing. Not so much because it’s personal but more in finding the right words which illuminate without being simplistic. But yes, I do want to keep the conversation going.

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  7. Thank you, Jayasree. As one who occasionally suffers from depression and seeks relief in prescription drugs, I am happy to see another perspective.

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  8. Stillness & Silence – I can be still. I can be silent. I can be doing this. Or I am being this. I have to go past the physical. … to still my mind…. to silence my thoughts… I struggle. struggle hard…

    Meditative thoughts and inspiring words – they have the power to ignite a fire in my life …in your life… they can alter the way I see me … alter the way I see you … the world… the tapestry of thought and language casts a spell that opens our windows and our doors … and makes us dream …

    when you give something away you make a connection with the universe…… that makes you realize how beautiful life is … no matter how small no matter how immaterial to you what you give away… you don’t realize that the greatest gift you can give is your presence.

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