To fully understand the origins of my depression, I’d like to travel back to my childhood and how I was raised. It’s a time when so much of the programming behind our beliefs takes place. We form the frameworks for how we judge what’s good and bad, what makes us seemingly worthy or unworthy. I was brought up in a family that adhered to traditional conventions, with Western paradigms and perspectives. I was rewarded when I did well in school, punished when I didn’t. Like many around me, I was brought up to always work towards certain achievements and aim for the best that the ‘consumer’ world had to offer. I was taught to look a certain way, appear perfect, and look up to people who were successful by way of these conventional milestones. I evaluated myself based on what I have and how this is compared to others. I was programmed to succeed in a world based on these desires, but as we all know, life has its own plans.
It was when I finished my second Masters degree in Edinburgh that I starting having crying episodes. I’d break into tears for no apparent reason. I recognized that I’d achieved so much intellectually, was physically healthy, and had all my basic needs met. Yet there remained a conflict of my desires and expectations of reality. I turned into a hateful judge of myself. Despite conventional success, I felt I’d gone wrong. Why I don’t have all these things that I have promised to myself? A break up with a woman I loved was the last drop in a glass already filled with unhappiness, and it sent me into a spiral of complete misery. I felt so unworthy, so small. I hated myself and couldn’t stand waking up everyday to pain, only to face my own self punishment.
I entered a dark period. In order to cope with my responsibilities I had to put in a lot of effort and to shield myself from what was really going on inside. When I finally reached rock bottom, I realized I had to take a different approach. I never consulted a psychologist, because I felt it was my own grave to dig myself out of. At the time, I felt as though taking medication or reaching out for help would make me a coward. While this wasn’t the wisest approach, i retrospect, I did find a path of healing.
I started reading self help books. They were based heavily on success and achievement and reinforced the same societally measured ways of attaining material success. Yet again, I felt confused by the ideas of success mirrored around me. It was another attempt to understand and yet feel trapped by depression. However, the search for a way to understand and escape my chronic unhappiness was finally under way.
Life continued to provide lessons that brought me to my knees. Eventually, I found the knowledge of enlightened people through books that eventually did lift me up. I found ideas of mindfulness such as ‘I am not my mind’, ‘acceptance of what is’, ‘surrender to the moment.’ It was the fresh point of view I’d been searching for. I was able to reexamine the relationship I have with myself and how I viewed the world. Life started to open up again.
Through the practice of meditation I was able to ease into healthy self-examination. All the pain that I felt, all the ideas and thoughts that I believed and brought to me suffering, I was now able to look at healthily. Rather than looking at these from a place of avoidance, I found softness and acceptance. I found forgiveness for myself. Bit by bit, I was able to truly love myself - and not just because of my achievements. It’s now been ten years since I started this journey within, including meditation. All the suffering now feels distant, like a story from another era. Sure, I had to go through a type of hell in order to find heaven. But this doesn’t have to be the story of each person.
We all suffer, one way or another. But we don’t have to, at least quite as much as I did. All we really need is to look inside ourselves to better understand how we stall our own happiness. By working to reframe our negative thoughts as positive ones, happiness flowers by itself with no need of anything external. We can be sincere and kind with ourselves. We’re better able to be fully present in the perfect moment, without judgment or expectation of what it should look like. We can then access the peace, love and wisdom that already exists inside of us.