We tend to confuse so many things… I have been noticing a few typically confused pairs – for example, introversion and shyness, or leadership and authority. Recently, one more pair was added to this list: depression and unhappiness.
And this pair came from my visit to TEDxJacobsUniversity. The theme of the event was “Science: the tree of life”, and many talks tended towards being scientific more than inspirational, but one of them was different: Tilak KC, the President of the Graduate Student Association at Jacobs University Bremen, shared his personal story of living through and overcoming depression. From his talk, and post-event discussions was born my biggest takeaway from the event: awareness that I might be a bipolar (aka have a manic-depressive disorder).
I don’t feel comfortable of identifying myself with a disorder, because that could fix my mind on it and turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy even if I don’t actually have it… But at the same time, this new awareness brings me some relief and guidance. I realize that my energy level, physical and emotional states may have direct correspondence with neither my current nor my previous thoughts or actions. They may jump up or down just because of changes in the hormonal levels (which reach and pass certain thresholds). And I don’t have that much conscious control over those.
What it means that I might as well stop blaming myself and fighting myself. I can accept what is there, what is real and present. And I can learn to orient myself within this limits… And at certain periods I can decide to rise above them.
Tilak told that many of great authors and composers found their escape from depression in the art. It aligns very well with the idea that I found in “Mindfire”, Scott Berkun‘s book of essays, that many of the great artists might have been less talented than their peers and competitors but they simply put in more hours, they overworked more talented others. Combined with the idea expressed by Tilak, it created a new perspective on the matter in my mind: these artists not necessarily wanted to work so much… It might as well be that they were not able do anything else, working on their art was the only thing that was giving them relief and freedom from the heavy chains of their depression.
And the latter is absolutely true for me. Creating art is not easy. Never has been, never will be. It takes huge amounts of time and effort. But when I am creating, I feel alive, I feel free. And I don’t want to exchange it for anything else. I want to go full-in into making art.
Also, what my art actually is… It is an expression of my state. I am not driven by any ideas or visuals. My music, especially improvisations, expresses my energy level, my physical and emotional state. If I wake up energized, the music that I play will be faster and powerful, if I wake up sad or weak, the music will be slower, more melodic and melancholic… In composing I also notice that the sadder the melody I write down, the lighter and easier I feel myself after finishing it.
My own story of depression began in 2007. I was deeply hurt in May, and then, not fully recovered yet, was hurt even deeper in December of the same year. Which broke me. It sent me down to the very bottom, starting a long row of days and weeks and months of questioning the existence of any meaning or worthiness (especially worthiness) of my life.
In the end of that December, we went with my mom to shop for holiday presents, and I have found the book “7 habits of highly effective teens” which attracted my attention so much that I asked my mom to buy it for me. The book explained me that the immediate emotional troubles came as the consequence of centering my life around relationships, around those girlfriends… who had left me. That was my first “a-ha” in the self-development field (and I count my interest to the field from that moment – 6 years so far!). It gave me an explanation and showed a direction to grow – shift the center of my life to principles… But the heart was broken anyway, and I was still trapped in the dark.
Things seemed to become brighter in Summer 2009 when I started dating a wonderful girl… but they were not bright for too long. In September, they dimmed significantly, and next Summer they fell apart again – while I was still in a relationship. So, when neither dating nor being in a relationship proved not to be an ultimate answer… I turned to work.
It seemed to me that the reason for my despair was that my work at the time was not contributing to anyone’s life, was not making anyone happier. Neither it was making me happy. Nor it was meaningful to me. And the upcoming PhD project was definitely not an answer for this.
Then I came to Germany, and existential loneliness was added on top of the pile. I was working in a room with other PhD students, and spending time on a campus with loads of other people, but I could not relate to any of them. I had no one to share the important deep thoughts, desires, successes or challenges with.
For more than a year, all my attempts to change the situation led to nothing. During that time, my friend and mentor opened my eyes to the possibility of internally fused well-being (“there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way”). He turned me first to the materials of Steve Pavlina about conscious personal growth, and some time later – to the teachings of Abraham (one of the most fundamental sources of information related to the popularized “Law of Attraction”).
It was helpful as it assisted me to get out of the box of the “programming” and conditioning of my childhood and teenagehood, make an audit and a review of my thoughts and beliefs and get rid of many limiting ones. I learned a lot about how our mind and life work. However, it still was not a full answer. I still felt bad quite often.
Over the year 2013, I found online friends in the (How to) Connect With Anyone community, the launch of LikzLife became a first answer to the work part, and stepping up to be a host for Live Your Legend LOCAL became a first answer to the contribution part. That put me to the top of my game for a month or two, as the most screaming internal and external reasons for my malady were covered. But then it came back.
And the TEDx event helped me to finally get a glimpse on the over-arching reason for those “bad times”. It is simply who I am. It is simply how my physical body functions. There are some periods when I am very receptive to well-being, and some periods when the all-time good advice “follow your heart and do something you feel like doing” simply does not work at all. Because at those periods I don’t feel like doing anything. Everything becomes grey. The body hurts. The mind gets foggy. The heart freezes. The spirit gets silent.
I think, so far the best answer (or advice) was given to me by the book “Inside Out Revolution” by Michael Neill. (And it is funny that I would call it an advice even though the book does not have any advices or exercises. It simply presents a three-principles-based perspective on the nature of life and reality in a conversational tone. But it is an amazing read and can be transformational in appropriate contexts.)
One of the ideas relayed in the book is that every human being has innate mental health. That we actually don’t have to do anything to return to that health. That with our thoughts and actions we only distance ourselves from the well-being. We are the ones who bring the clouds to the sunny sky of our own happiness.
And, by the way, this advice translated by Michael Neill is exactly what the newly acquired awareness tells me to do: do less, stop fighting, stop creating problems of something that simply is.
Going spiritual, I would dare to say that this is how Life steers us into fulfilling our Destiny. It uses whatever means it has available and appropriate for the Purpose. I would say that for me, for now, the Purpose shines through the sad music. And it might as well be that as soon as I write what is mine to write, the Life might steer me into a different direction. Maybe it will bring me peace, bring me even more joy and happiness that I have been experiencing. Maybe not. Maybe it will never change.
In any case, I feel the best I can do is to follow the Guidance and not try to force any terms by the conscious mind.
Please share your feelings, thoughts, advices, and own stories in the comments.