When I was in my second year at university, I went into a “depressed state” that lasted for most of the year. The symptoms that occurred for me were sleeping 12–14 hours a day, having strong feelings of hopelessness, sadness and loneliness and having low energy and drive. I was struggling to find purpose, thinking I was lost with my life and its direction. I was not the typical kid in college. In the previous 3 years I had witnessed a car accident that took the life of my friend and my high school girlfriend who I loved, had committed suicide. My processing of these events was dictated by what was expected of me by the world around me. This was a short grieving period followed by medication and seeing a therapist. When these methods failed to resolve the painful feelings buried deep within me, I began to medicate myself. Having access to large quantities of alcohol at this age made the choice easy, I began to binge drink heavily several days a week. This would be one of the few things I would look forward to even though the costs were high. This led to fights, arrests, damaged relationships and a low self esteem.
For anyone dealing with trauma and tragedy, the themes of my story may sound familiar. What is lesser known, is that there is a way to view these as related to one important element that we don’t talk about. Our needs and wants. Feelings are the compass that tells us how we are doing in meeting our needs and wants. If we are having them met, we feel things like love, joy, peace, pride and hope. If we are not having our needs and wants met, we feel things like boredom, anger, sadness, guilt, loneliness, inadequacy, stress and fear. These 8 are referred to as the primary feelings in the book, The Secret Language of Feelings by Calvin D. Banyan.
When I look back now through this lens, I can see that I was experiencing feelings of guilt following the suicide of my girlfriend. Instead of feelings these feelings and working through the beliefs and wants/needs connected to them, I was repressing them and they would sit deep down inside my subconscious, manifesting into self hatred and self destructive behavior. When I would be extremely drunk and let my walls down, I would confess about my guilt — but it wouldn’t resolve in that state and I wouldn’t remember it. So my cycle continued.
I remember I had other feelings going on at that time — anger and fear. Anger is a feeling that occurs when we experience unfairness for ourself or others. My need for fairness wasn’t being met. Anger for me stemmed from my belief that the universe hated me. That I was being punished by the tragic events that happened in my life. That I was somehow the center of this bigger plan and was meant to suffer and be destroyed. Somehow, even with this toxic belief, I kept going. Part of me thinks I had decided I would not commit suicide because I saw the pain it caused for loved ones. I couldn’t bring myself to do it even though I had such a deep sense of self hatred, which I believe was manifesting from not being able to feel, process and work through my feelings.
Anxiety is another common ill we know and talk about, but I want to challenge us. Anxiety is not a feeling. Anxiety is fear which comes from feeling unsafe. Why don’t we feel safe? This is a good question that can act as a starting point for our inner work. For me, I didn’t feel safe to be angry. This resulted from getting disciplined as a child when my anger was expressed. This happened at home and in school. There was no place for anger, though it was common for me to witness adults with explosive anger that was frightening. Feeling safe is a core human need and for many, many years this need wasn’t being met for me due to my own perceptions, the environments I spent time in and even in how I related to those closest to me. Imagine that — in my loving relationships I didn’t feel safe to be myself.
During a hypnotherapy session, it came to me from my subconscious that “it wasn’t safe to be me.” Which meant that I’ve always had a fear about being my authentic, weird and true self. This was indoctrinated from years of public school in a very monoculture white community that made fun of and pushed back against anything different than the status quo. Memories from how I played on the playground to even the girls I decided to date were shaped by this fear. I also discovered in this fear, a direct connection to my core human need of belonging. I believed that by being my true self, I would be rejected by the group, the community and I would be alone. From a human survival perspective, we have this need for belonging encoded into us by the sheer fact that we need each other. Not just for the emotional aspects, but early humans lived in groups for the shared resources.
By using the tools from the book, The Secret Language of Feelings, the process is self led and can be better communicated to and supported by others. We can leverage each other through a common language that gets to the root of the challenges we experience, doesn’t drive us into stigma or pity and creates a practice of vulnerability which is powerful, healing and nurturing for ourselves and our relationships.
When we look at the current thinking within our health system, we see a different story.
According to the American Psychiatric Association …
“Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.”
It’s estimated that 16.2 million adults in the United States, or 6.7 percent of American adults, have had at least one major depressive episode in a given year. Depression as I see it is defined much differently, which I believe is an empowering lens to show us we are not sick or ill with something outside of our control to understand and resolve. Depression is when we feel ineffective and hopeless to have our needs, wants and desires met. Depression is a tertiary feeling, which means it comes after a specific want or need is not being met over a prolonged period. During this time, any number of things may happen. We may attempt to meet this want/need ourselves and fail. We may ask others to meet this want/need and fail. We may not know what our want/need is and then, of course, fail to meet it. We may distract ourselves from this unpleasant feeling by using one or many of the modes to ignore our feeling like overworking, substance abuse, overeating and even over-exercising. Frustration is a secondary feeling on the road to depression. This typically occurs after our initial feeling occurs, we try and meet it or use a distraction and then it comes back up to, of course, be felt again because the want or need has not been met. If we are depressed, it is not a negative thing, it only shows our body’s response to this prolonged period of not having our wants and needs met. This can still be resolved, it doesn’t make it too late, so there’s no need to worry. To relieve feelings of depression, in my opinion, does not require drugs or necessarily therapy to work towards. For many, drugs and therapy aren’t an option, anyways, due to financial constraints or social stigmas. What we do require is to feel safe, safe enough to let our guard down, even first to ourselves to begin to explore and cultivate our awareness around our wants and needs and how they are connected to the feelings we are having.
I hear so many people talking about depression that it is associated with suicide and can lead to it. And while these two may both be present in certain circumstances, the ideation of suicide I believe is best explained by Jack Kornfield on the Tim Ferriss podcast. He explains that the urge of suicide is trying to tell us something. Unfortunately, many people that are victim to suicide mistake the urge, which he believes is an urge for the death of an identity, as needing to be done through death of the body. Those of us well versed in our own personal transformations have experienced our own identities and ways we label and see ourselves in the world as a constantly changing process in life. We are always changing. Everything is constantly changing.
I feel compelled to write this because it is time. It is time for us to evolve in the way we approach our mental health, individually and collectively. As a recovering finance guy, I was curious one day and started running the numbers of therapists available in each country, number of hours in a day and number of people suffering from mental health challenges. If we put costs aside to demonstrate my point, if we had every therapist work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week they would not be able to reach everyone in need. So what do we do? What I came to me during this exercise was that we must find methods of self actualized healing and methods of supporting others in the groups that make up our friends, family and communities. And if you are wondering about self actualized healing, it is simply the self led practices that heal the physical body, emotional body and the spirit.
There are two important elements of my mission here, 1) creating and helping people access the tools that support self actualized healing and 2) educating people on how we can better support each other without causing harm or creating dependencies when dealing with mental health.
Depression, addiction and mood disorders are common and distinct experiences we know and refer to regarding our own mental health. Many of us have likely experienced one or more of these. This is the first part of a 3-part series on my unconventional beliefs and sharing my own personal experiences.
Thank you for reading. More soon.