Archive for September 2008

psychology of blogging

September 28, 2008

*** this was written in 2008, posting again with cyber-accusations and criminal actions becoming more frequent.***

 

Whether Kancha Ilaiah is a fraud or whether saibaba is a god, whether there is brahmanical fanaticism or fanatic anti-brahmanism, there are enough blogs to argue both sides. All these bloggers can argue rather forcefully even if not sensibly. Why is blogging picking up?

Basically the operative element is an anonymous proximity. Even if my photo is seen you  cannot claim to become my friend and try to spend time with me. This safe “use and throw” relationship-of-convenience is the primary attraction of blogs. I can say what I want, and if you decide to register your protest I still have the right and the choice to allow the protest on my page. Those who see my page will be seeing my views and my counters (whenever, and if ever I can logically produce one) and no one will know where and when I am at a loss to explain.

I can still feel I am in a crowd that is talking about things which matter to me. I can protest with dignity or cheapness, be an angel or a devil, talk when I want to and be silent if that is fine for me. I cannot be forced into discussions; ofcourse, I cannot force you into a discussion, except when I dare to spit valueless venom through a personal pathology. These are the conveniences I have noticed and even used in blogs.

The second operative element in blogging is its pseudo-personal space wherein one can become disinhibited. Though your true skin will be seen by others when your blog is posted, you need not hesitate to say whatever you feel like unlike in the real world where you have to observe elementary decency to those who deserve it. Yet, it is only a disinhibited and not an uninhibited behaviour, because deep down you are conscious that your words are going to be seen by someone somewhere.

Masked identity is another courage-boosting element of blogging. You need not talk in your real name.  I know of some people who chose to mask their identity for real and valid reasons, but most of the persons who write in pseudonyms ( and sometimes in anonymity) do so out of fear. Though their words may appear courageous they still have not mustered enough conviction and courage to come out in the open and stand by what they have said.

Why mask identity? Some are like a compassionate medusa, for if their face is seen their critics would turn into stone, stupefied with fear. Some are like clowns who need to have a different identity to make an apparent fool of themselves so that others can have a good laugh. Some are like a silly child hiding behind a table thinking no one can see who and where they are. Whether one decides to disclose her/his identity or not is certainly a private decision that has to be respected and even if not accepted, not discussed.

The problem of wearing a mask is different in a socio-psychological perspective. There are intellectuals who use their intelligence to call themselves idiots, and so too are there idiots who stupidly call themselves intellectuals. Depending on why the mask is worn, and depending on the insightful intellect of the individual, a mask becomes a potent weapon or a poor joke.

It is understandable if masks are worn and identities deliberately disguised in the mushrooming social networking sites. Though these sites can be a forum for healthy and honourable matters, mostly they are used to find a `friend` to flirt. An elderly uncle who tries to wear shorts and T-shirts, ugly dyeing of hair and a false accent in which lies are expressed as values, will never be able to date a young girl with average intelligence. But in the virtual world, the same uncle just has to assume a name, age, occupation and marital status that would bring scraps to his page! But, blogs are not meant for picking up a date. Whether your profile declares you as young or old, spiritual or religious, left or right, no one `falls` for you. Only your views matter. And therefore your identity is never masked or invisible. However sublime your language, however innocent your discussion, your colours will show through the veil.

Blogging has its psychological benefits. Just as how your mind operates in a dramatic performance there are certain mechanisms operating here too. Initially there is identification, then there is the possibility of learning a conflict resolution and finally there is a catharsis. You identify with the character or the cause or the chronicle, you feel you have experienced a similar situation. Then you see the situational conflict resolved in the performance and if you choose to, you may try to use it to answer your personal question. Even if you cannot find a solution to your problem in the performance-narrative it would still be a cathartic relief. You can download feelings from your emotive memory and get the same relief of being happy, sad, angry or disgusted. But are blogs used for this?

Though blogs can be of immense personal psychological comfort, I see some bloggers using it to throw mud (if not spit venom) on ideas that are not consistent with their own values. Blogs are becoming pamphlets thrown on the disinterested by stander. If perchance someone reads and accepts their ideas it is fine, otherwise just some space on space is wasted! However impassionate and objective you may describe yourself, you will tend to lean towards one ideology versus another. If you have not formed your own opinions on matters, these moments would tilt you towards a particular idea if not ideology. The intelligent wearing the mask of an idiot would appeal to your conscience by their pseudo-innocence. You will fall for the game plan. Some vague emotional itch that you have been bearing all along would be scratched and you will not only become comfortable with that anonymous hand, you would start yearning for it.

If we can just be  a little more aware when we imagine that we are awake, we can escape from the dragnet. We would be able to retain our power to choose. We can choose only when we think. And, when we start thinking we cannot be silent. We would start protesting.

This is what had happened to me, and I consequently started  commenting on issues that I felt were concerning me, and the response I got from one blogger was that I have “become jobless”!! Blogging is not a jobless individual’s way of spending time, it is a social obligation to respond to the milieu.

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Theatrics of Life

September 27, 2008

-curtain raiser.

In the beginning there is always a word, and the word multiplies and becomes a book.

To begin a book is needed. Later the book is shelved. It has to be. But, if the book is always around, opened every moment, referred and re-read instead of being remembered then either the book or the user is inadequate. The remembering has to happen with spontaneity; labour is most often love lost! Any reading should be a beginning to end reading. This series of articles is an introspective interaction at the end of which our roles as the writer and reader may change too.

As succinctly said by Shakespeare, “ all the world’s a stage, and all men and women merely players; they have their exits and entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…”. Life indeed is drama. The scenes happen according to the script (not in the fatalistic escapist sense), but in the script of life, the artiste can improvise his role and thereby even change the course of the script. The performer can make the scene belong to himself just by focusing and relaxing. It is towards this enhancement of performance in life that we all strive till we exit.

Any performance needs light. As in any theatrical production, in life too there are spot lights and flood lights. The spot light is what Alan Watts called focused consciousness.

It is like this- there are times when your actions are deliberate and purposeful and this is in the spotlight of intense awareness. Many times we act in reflex, and this is in the floodlight of intuitive consciousness. In a spotlight the artiste needs to perform with precision, while in a floodlight he can move along with others and perform with ease and the comfort of company. Life is performing mundane, profane and even puritan acts on a daily basis.

Drama is ever present. In this wonderful theatre there is an ever-going interactive drama in which we assume, shed, resume, redefine, refuse, grudgingly comply and perform various roles at various moments in various places with carious persons.

We act, constantly. Acting is not mimicking or miming, not imitating, but responding and provoking, invoking, inviting, inciting, initiating and interacting – even through inaction. Onstage is the performance of daily living and off-stage is the performance in dream arena. In the theatre of life, to live well is to perform well. To perform well is to know the role, learn the role and be the role.

Though roles can shift in a miniscule of a second, they have to be performed to perfection to ensure smooth and successful progress in the drama of life. To know the role one has to feel the role. Stanislavsky, the theatre genius said, “when you encounter with a role, the first meeting like on that happens to lovers; the second meeting is like pregnancy and the third onwards, it is birth and rearing.” Though his description was to help artistes to conceive and develop their acting abilities, this can be relevantly construed to constructively create and enrich our repertoire of roles in life.

To learn a role one has to be aware of the encounter with the role. First impressions are the deciding factors in a role’s effective action and success, or defective display and failure. They are seeds with virginal freshness- unexpected, direct, unpremeditated, unprejudiced and unfiltered by criticism. A receptive frame of mind is essential to approach these roles. This receptive state of mind is an inner state of readiness and need, clarity and desire, composure and focusing.

The emotional encounter with a role that we watch or perform is the basic and most important aspect of creativity. When creativity is lost, charm vanishes; the performance is painful to the audience and the artiste. For, just as how a seasoned actor can take his role in a scene for granted, and because of repeated successful performances , we too presume about our roles in life, and often perform out of a rusted library that has outdated references. When such lackadaisical performances happen the results may not cause alarm or lead to failure, but the fire of life will be smothered, and performance in life become painstakingly boring. To be effective in a role is to remain sensitive and alert. It is about love.

Work is love, labour is pain. Life is loving- loving the self and the other. To love is the basic function of human machine, and the tools of emotion are intended for this functioning to be smooth. Love has to be experienced. It is an inner energy that needs the milieu to surface. Life is all about loving, yet, it is philosophised with so much pretentiousness that the simple and spontaneous act of breathing becomes a panting.

“ Thou to me the harp of gold,

I to thee the fingers bold “ –( Bharathi)

Was one of the greatest expressions of unison, greatest definition of creativity. The golden harp contains music yet needs the finger to emanate the notes. The finger knows the music yet needs the harp to produce the notes. Here production is not procreation but creation; it is not about productivity, but about creativity. It is not about interdependence but about inner interaction unaware of the action. This is the golden rule in performing the lover’s role. A lover in her/his role becomes the role and cannot be outside and objective. It has to be inside pouring out of every pore. It is an action, it is a performance, but it cannot be taught or premeditated. It has to happen. Top make this happening happen, one has to learn about other roles and others’ roles in life.

Learning and loving happen spontaneously in infancy, and then the teachers squash the musical babble and cook the human cookie. It tastes good to itself the first time. Confidence becomes a trifle overconfidence, and soon noise replaces notes and pretends to be music. Pretensions are ofcourse a natural process of learning. But with the passing of each test, poor imitations delude themselves as original naturalness.

The first lesson is always imitation. Unknowingly a model is selected to mould one’s role. The safest model is the least risky. It is one that is comforting and rewarding. To please to be pleased is the first concept understood at this point. As in any development, this has to be experienced and outgrown. To grow out of a developmental stage and to move onto the next phase, one has to identify, understand and resolve conflicts.

Any conflict is a difficulty of expression – to take in or give out the right response, meaningfully and in time. To express is to understand and make the other understand. It is the effort of the animal to become human, and the human to become the universe.

To express is to emote- appropriately and adequately.

The primal list of emotions, as defined in ancient Tamil and Sanskrit texts of India, are-

Love, Humour, Empathic sympathy of pathos, Anger to the explosive ultimate, Heroism of truth and valour, Fear, Disgust and the Wonder at the magic of mystery.

Love, joy, sorrow, fury, enthusiasm, terror, disgust and astonishment….these are the primary emotions. Life is painted from the palette of these emotions. These eight emotions interact with each other to present as drama in life. The beauty of classification of these emotions in Indian Texts (Natya Sastra in Sanskrit and Tholkappiam in Tamil), is intensely wonderful by the fact that after enlisting the eight primary emotions comes the description about the ninth state of mind, santhi – blissful peace and peaceful bliss. The idea is that all these emotions have to be understood and brought under one’s will in order to enable the mind to experience blissful peace and to continue life in peaceful peace.

All the plots of life’s theatre are scripted with and around these emotions neutral in gender, common to all, emotions are controlled by socio-economic and health factors. Controlled and even concealed they may be, but never prevented from appearing on the mindscape. This is the reason why an Indian uneducated villager can understand the smile, tear, frown or fear on the face of a Harvard topper. Emotions are instinctively acknowledged in the mind; but when expressions of emotions are to be adequately tuned to the frequency of social comfort, they have to be understood. Life’s drama always starts with a shriek and a cry from the mother and the baby; the smile and joy follow later. Perhaps the initial encounter with emotional roles may cause a painful moment of truth, but they would make life easier, to be continued!

india loves bush

September 27, 2008

india loves bush! it is official. the prime minister says so!!

i was one of those who believed that our MMS was a very clever man. perhaps he is. but the very intelligent do not look at the wider perspective. they are experts in their own little corner. they know almost everything about a certain something but almost nothing about the other things around.  economics, globalisation, re-colonisation…these are certainly high on MMS’ agenda. people? who cares? after all these silly masses that never even voted for him are not worht wasting time. so when MMS talks of india, he talks of the india that he discovered.

MMS too like his very early predecessor, discovered india. he has learnt that he need not answer the people. he has found out that there are lots of guys and lots of money  to get things done, and therefore the common man’s opinion can be junked. he knows his new indian maths- 123. he has discovered that india needs more nuke than food. he has discovered that india is actually the elite. he has discovered that india is  made up of the rich and those who just want to become rich. he has discovered that india wants to be america! with so many discoveries to his credit, should not the scientist (albeit economic)  be pardoned for the one mistaken discovery? after all when he said india loves Bush, perhaps he meant he loves Bush, and the corollary is he is india!

i know many indians who ape americana. they eat pizza and drink coke, with enormous discomfort stuff burgers, support pseudo causes…. all because americans are supposed to be doing these things. they constitute MMS’ india. they are his concern. his kinship and identification with them is blatant. his policies and programs are for their upliftment. but now alas, the mighty MMS is going to be criticised by these fellows, `his’ indians, for making a simple statement.

if america aping indians are `the’ indians that MMS thinks about, well things are going to be tricky. aping america cannot mean loving Bush. B is not a lovable thing in the `great’ USA. it is very un-american to love B. so what happens? are the `neo’ indians going to feel uncomfortbale if not angry that MMS is alienating them from americans? no way! they will not talk about it. they know what they want. they will go about getting what they want.  they care not about modi and nanavati, they have not even bothered to glance at tehelka. they have their own agenda, just as how their `beloved’ MMS has his own! each one to his own in this dog-eating-dog days of modernisation.

whether india loves B is not a matter fo concern to these `indians’. they love themselves. they are the indians of this prime minister. perhaps they love B! after all they have no concern and therefore little knowledge about political,social and national problems that plague this country. this is just their address- temporarily till they start fingering the papers that say ‘in god we trust’, even if they dont love that god.may be they love B. it is possible, for they would know very little about the american mind except their silly concept that americans live well.

so… india loves what MMS loves. all silly, shameless souls like me can take recourse to impotently whine on blogs, while the game continues.

jealousy

September 25, 2008

“I wish I were jealous- of myself,” remarked a poet, apparently aghast at his felt incompetence. He may have been depressed at the time, feeling that his vocabulary bank was drying up or he may have been simply suffering from an inferiority complex comparing and thereafter feeling incompetent to rub shoulders with Homer or Goethe. He could just have begun his trip on jealousy.

Jealousy is not the exclusive domain of poets and artists. All of us have experienced jealousy. Though it is not principally categorized as an emotion, jealousy is a feeling that evokes strong emotions. Every human being has been jealous. Winged birds and their flights beyond visual boundaries evoked jealousy, and the zealous human invented the air-plane. The jealous do sometimes channelize their energy into creativity; but, more often than not, the jealous get crushed under the weight of their own desires.

Jealousy snarls at the mind only when there is a comparison; a comparison that is clouded by a wish; a wish that reminds one of one’s own inadequacy or another’s supremacy. There have been innumerable words written on the difference between jealousy and envy. Though being envious is considered a destructive mind set, jealousy has its word origin in a positive feeling – zeal and the desire to emulate. In the Shakespearean tragedy was Othello jealous and was Iago envious? Who was destructive? Is destruction only external? If envy is the fire that is lit to burn down another’s palace, jealousy is a flame that can gut down one’s own hut.

Though, from time immemorial, moralistic ethical teachings have advised humans to avoid jealousy, it has survived and even thrived. In modern times, jealousy is actually promoted. Every advertisement sells an idea that makes you zealous to ‘earn’ that commodity. Earnings- whether economical, social or emotional, always stir feelings of jealousy. You generally want something because you `know’ that someone else can afford that. The zealous are just the masked jealous. To emulate is a yearning, not for self-fulfillment, but for a social sanction. Jealousy is usually not about having, but about not having. To have or not to have is, not a need based decision. It is the product of desire. To kill desires and live in peace is the simplistic teaching of every messiah known and unknown  in this world. If happiness is the basic pursuit of humanity, then the peaceful smile and the graceful simplicity of the portrayed Buddha and Jesus should have evoked tremendous jealousy. Jealousy always spurs one to imitate the object of jealousy and achieve whatever is considered as the other’s achievement. Yet no one has jealously or zealously tried to emulate  Buddha or Jesus, except perhaps for some self-proclaimed God-men or Godly-men who of course have a different agenda to follow.

It is obvious that we all are jealous only of those whom we can easily emulate. A CEO of a MNC can only become jealous of the CEO of another MNC. He normally would not be jealous of the President of India or the USA. Jealousy is therefore based on assessment of opportunities. A columnist would become jealous of a Nobel laureate in literature only if he believes that he has the same potential to create similar works. An author generally is never jealous about an artist. A dancer does not feel jealous about a musician.  There are however, some people who just cannot take it when others win – deservingly or otherwise. These people cannot bear when some one else is in the centre of the spotlight. This is a different game altogether. This is envy- most frequently misused as a synonym for jealousy. Envy is actually an irrelevant, inappropriate and non-productive feeling. In envy I would even hate the plume of a peacock.

Just as how envy is about hatred, jealousy is actually about love! It is love of and for oneself. In a psychosocial perspective, our self is a broad enough term to include our primary family. It is in this societal context that this form of jealousy makes a loving parent become jealous of another’s child and other parents who have won more. When the coveted object is not a social applause but a personal psychosexual gratification, one feels jealousy when the object of love is actually in love with someone else. The primary concept of the mind in these cases is that one deserves much more than one gets, and one deserves so much because of the intense and immaculate self-love. This self-love is not narcissism which by its self consummated nature creates a monument of pride in one’s own mindscape. Narcissism and pride are inseparable while jealousy is essentially about one’s inability to achieve. Narcissism is about having in abundance while jealousy is always about insufficiency. Narcissistic self-love would look down on others while the jealous self-love would keep looking up at others.

Yearning and itching to reach the pedestal that another has reached creates various forms of unrest in the mind. There is sadness that one has not reached the line, and then comes a paranoia that there is a cosmic conspiracy preventing one’s deserved success. The blame game begins. Gods and stars are blamed for not formulating the right design called luck, society and family are blamed for not giving the right breaks. The whole world is blamed for not being capable of understanding and accepting true greatness. The mind sulks. The sulking mind falters. Everything is perceived with disbelief. There is lack of faith in others leading to doubts about self-worth. There is anger. There is bitterness. Simpler things become harder to do. Failures begin. Infinite circles of pain, paranoia, anger and sadness begin. Then and thus, jealousy becomes envy.

Emotions are the mind’s reactions to external events. Emotions though intense are not permanent. We all become angry or sad at times, but the same intensity of the feeling does not last for days and months. In the case of envy and jealousy it is different. Though envy and jealousy are also emotive responses to external events, they cast a deeper impression in the mind. They cloud the mind and colour the perspectives. Everything is viewed through the green-eyed glass of jealousy. Nothing is the same anymore. The affectionate competitor becomes the nasty winner and relationships become superficial societal obligatory chores. Once jealousy sets in, the mind begins to doubt. Even the sneer hides a fear. Contempt becomes a camouflage for failure’s self-inflicted wound. This state of mind can alter the route of life and lead to a downhill blind alley. It is in the best interest of oneself that one needs to encounter and handle feelings of jealousy and envy.

A  psycho-philosophical understanding of emotions declares that there are just three types of feelings – the pleasant, the unpleasant and the neutral ones. Jealousy of course is unpleasant- not only during its acute experience but also in its tragic aftermath. There is only one way to deal with these unpleasant emotions. One has to identify, understand and accept the pangs, causes and confusions of jealousy. The technique is simple. Just start watching the advertisements on the media. It is actually the moral right of every advertiser to entice more than educate, therefore just watch non-judgementally. Products are offered. Advantages are described. Even social reputations are challenged. But just watch. A product is offered for sale. To buy or not should be based on whether one needs it or not. Now examine the need to buy or have. Is it to enhance one’s own pleasurable moments of life or just to display in a corner without even noticing the dust gathered on it? But there are times when we can fall in love with an artifact and empty our purse to possess it. Even this will not create future unpleasantness, except perhaps when the credit card statement does not tally with your bank balance. Uneasiness and unpleasantness begin only when you want to buy or have something simply (and only) because someone else has it. It becomes more unpleasant when you realize that you cannot afford it. So the best way to overcome jealousy would be to become capable enough to afford whatever you want. Capability enhancement is the key. When you are immersed in a full-time activity like enhancing your skills, economy or relationships, there will be not be any time to be jealous.

Just learn to begin to be jealous of yourself.

written 2006

guru series, pogontrophy apart

September 24, 2008

there are just too many of them, and they keep coming. they are no more in remote corners of tricky jungles or dingy caves in steep mountains. they are all over the media. they come to you, even if you don’t want to go to them. the spiritual market was never better.

in the new globalized commercial illusion of India, these savvy ‘gurus’, have a niche market. they create the demand and supply you with ready stock. marketing costs and manufacturing costs of a ‘guru’ are ofcourse naturally added on to the buyer’s bill. yet there they are, flourishing in a business that has no internal or external audit. their customer/client base keeps increasing.

as a once-upon-a-time consumer of the spiritual salad, and as an envious-but-shy entrepreneur who contemplated the spiritual market, i had studied the game rather keenly, and i presume thoroughly. it was just my nature that did not allow me to take the risk and enter this spiritual business. the nature that is clear about self-respect and the risk of looking at my mirror and feeling ashamed, just did not make this venture begin. maybe i am writing this out of jealousy.

i have as much hair on my face as all the best in the business to pass off as a guru. but then, becoming and continuing to be a guru is not just a matter of pogontrophy!  (this is one of the tricks i had learnt in those early days- use a term preferably in an obscure language, when you are talking of mundane every day things. that is why i call it pogontrophy when i should simply say it is a matter of hair!)

since i had seriously contemplated on this business, i had even classified the types of gurus who sell.  they can be  primarily divided into talkers and non-talkers. hair is incidental. if it grows fine, if not you can always go totally clean shaven, head included. after all you are voluntarily shaving your own head., unlike the tamil phrase which implies you shave others’ heads.

the talkers are more difficult to copy. though they have a sufficient supply of material from Rajneesh, they still have to keep studying atleast the names of some religious not-so-well-known texts, in order to keep giving their words of wisdom. this is a tricky game, and to excel in this, one needs language and oratory skills apart from hair!

the non-talkers too need some special skills. though materialization is not that difficult a task to master, it does become difficult when one has to source gold ornaments from somewhere. keeping this a confidential deal is a long term business arrangement which needs  lots of organizational and bargaining skills. after all, when VIP customers come, simple ash will not suffice.sometimes, as it happened in the house of a rationalist-allegedly-self-proclaimed-atheist-VIP, you may run out of supply and after giving three rings you may suddenly encounter another VIP asking for the fourth ring!

if you happen to be a non-talker type of guru, and have not mastered the art of producing gifts,you can hug,kiss,spit,kick and roll over with the awe struck disciples. anything goes in this game.

all gurus are spiritual conduits! so there should be a promise! even if you talk about Zen, you may have to essentially hint at the previous and future births. all gurus have a pseudo-god halo. so until the time comes when you can anoint yourself as the God hitherto-sublime-but-hereafter-manifest, you have to be content with just being a guru. but the wait is never futile. depending on your marketing and networking skills it should happen in a couple of years.

though this is a business that sells to idiots, one just cannot be an idle by-stander. after all, it is not just a matter of hair.

there is so much more to be written. i shall try to devote a daily quota of time for this divine contemplation, and in the meanwhile i need your feedback to continue.

depression , some more

September 22, 2008

There are some who say that Buddha, and for that matter Jesus too was depressed. Perhaps they did display sadness in words and deeds, but that sadness was an emanation of empathy, which made posterity confer them with divinity, and not the yearning for sympathy that is characteristic of a depressive disorder.

Melancholia, one of the early descriptive terms for depression, dates to ancient Greece. All cultures, all over the world have recorded from early times, in epics and poetry, descriptions that would, in modern scientific and medical thinking, be called clinical depression. For centuries many have postulated on the cause of depressive illness, and based on their background and the scientific data available in that period, attributed it to body humors, bile, and in some cultural contexts a curse.

Symptoms are the manifestations of a dysfunction in any mechanism, and when the mind becomes dysfunctional with a depressive disorder the following symptoms are commonly seen- low mood or sadness nearly every day almost the whole day, loss of energy, lack of faith in one’s self- worth, sleep and appetite disturbances, neglect of self- care, inability to enjoy or indulge in previously pleasurable activities. If these symptoms persist and cause deterioration in social / occupational functioning, then the illness requires immediate intervention. In severe depression, suicidal ruminations are common and critical.

Depression, though often considered a reaction to unpleasant events, as an illness is quite common, and rather complex. Various factors contribute to a depressive illness. Genetic, neurobiological and environmental factors are the ones most commonly considered as causes of depressive illness. If you are depressed it does not mean your child is going to get depressed, similarly the chromosomes of your parents are not making you depressed. Genetic possibilities have been debated in psychiatric research but not conclusively proven. However if depression runs in the family, then one can be expected to breakdown more quickly and easily than other people in the face of stress. Unpleasant environment or events can trigger a sad mood which may be a forerunner of the illness spectrum.

Diabetes, hypothyroidism and many endocrine disorders can instigate depression in people. HIV, tuberculosis and some more systemic infections can cause depression. Some drugs used to treat other illnesses can cause depression.

Women in particular have a tendency to get major depressive disorders. Hormonal imbalance and endocrine dysregulation can cause depression.  Preceding or following menstruation some women experience and exhibit mood changes. This is not to be confused with major depressive disorder, in which the mood worsens as days pass. Immediately after child-birth, some women experience a depressive-psychotic breakdown, and this is called post-partum disorder.

When we talk of a major depressive disorder, we should keep in mind that this is an illness, caused not by anyone or anything outside. Neurotransmitters, chemical substances necessary to process functioning in the nervous system are considered as the most important cause of this illness. Therefore medical management is essential.

Medical management of depression involves prescribed medication, and in some rare cases even electric shock therapy is considered appropriate. When the thought process is numbed by the depressive illness, the affected individual cannot be counseled. The neurochemical balance must be restored. This is where the popular `Prozac’ comes into play. There have been anti-depressant drugs much before fluoxetine (the real name for prozac) came into vogue. There are many more newer antidepressants that have been discovered and available in the market.

Antidepressant medicine is intended to regulate neuro-chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine and the actions of dopamine. There are many types of antidepressants and the choice of the drug for the individual is always based on the clinical assessment of the consulting psychiatrist.

Of course, as with all medicines (including the commonly consumed paracetomol) there are side- effects for each of these anti-depressants. The most common side-effects of antidepressants are constipation, blurring of vision, dryness of mouth, nausea, and in a few cases drowsiness. Depending on the severity of the illness and the side- effect the drug needs to be continued or changed.

It is a myth that medications used in psychiatry are for sleep, and they will be addictive. Many are also under the wrong notion that an individual has to take medicines life-long. These false ideas propel people to take recourse to alternative therapies. Reiki, Pranic healing, Aroma therapy and the whole range of non-pharmacological treatments are widely advertised and therefore acclaimed. They may to a small extent contribute to recovery in secondary depression (which would have subsided anyway over a period of time). In the case of major depressive disorder, only medication will help. Maybe after the initial phase, when the symptoms are controllable and tolerable, these techniques will help the individual to believe in recovery. It needs to be emphasized again and again that major depression being a medical illness needs medical treatment.

Besides the commonly encountered frustrated sadness after a failure, depression comes in many forms. Major depressive disorder is the severe form that needs immediate treatment as it contains a volatile suicidal risk. Sometimes mood swings from the sad end to the excited, both extremes stretching all norms of behavioral expectations. This condition is called manic depressive psychosis. In some cases there is a condition called atypical depression, where the individual would be more agitated and touchy, trying to do things he actually cannot, becoming irritable and losing concentration easily. This condition requires a correct clinical diagnosis for proper treatment.

There are people who always look low, down, unable to laugh and enjoy life, but who are capable of functioning in their occupational role well. They are called depressive personalities, and no treatment is going to bring a ready smile on their face. This is something the individual has learnt from early days. His motto and theory of life would be “I can only lose, so why should I smile, after all being happy does not last long”.counseling does not help these people since their ideas and notions are deep rooted in their psyche.

When someone is down with depression in your intimate circle, keep a watch without making it appear intrusive. Depression invites suicidal thoughts. Give them company, but do not patronize. You cannot make them see sense till the acute phase is over, so do not try to talk them out of it. All you can do in the beginning is to wait for the medication to start working and in a couple of weeks the individual will be ready to listen and understand reality and logic.and then, talk, talk more and talk sincerely.

Some other conditions mimic depression. There are many who apparently seek philosophical and mystic meanings in life, not doing anything constructive or productive. For some this is a mask for their laziness or incompetence. Some like to play the sick role as it generates sympathy and accrues attention. A close and careful observation of the life-style, work pattern and past record will help in distinguishing these pseudo-depressives.

Depression, gloom, fatalistic thinking, pessimism, disregard for personal grooming or comfort, and long periods of inaction are all seen in some artists. Depression does not create an artist. Only the artist, like any other individual can get depressed. It is also a myth that depression spurs creativity since many poets write wonderfully about the state of sadness. Creativity can always find an apt expression whether the mood is sad, happy or angry. It just so happens that happiness is a song while sadness is a poem. Literature abounds with descriptions of depression. William Styrron’s ‘Darkness Visible’ is a beautifully written account of a major depressive disorder. Any artist can create a wonderful work on depression, but not in depression. One has to be out of depression to become functional and creative. The good news is that though depression is debilitating, it is definitely treatable quickly and effectively with the newer drug formulations.

written 2005, part two of the previous post

depression, some thoughts

September 18, 2008

The smile is the only affirmation of one’s comfortable co-existence in this world, and when that twists, and the eyes glisten to see the world dull and gloomy, when the vision of the mind too turns out of focus, and when time seems to extend itself, the description, the definition and the diagnosis is depression.

In everyone’s life there will be many moments that may be described as blue. This is not the radiant vibrant happily freckled bright sky blue, but a murky dull and suffocating gloom. This is commonly and in psychiatric parlance known as depression.

If one were to consider sadness as an emotion and a reaction to external stimuli, depression can be construed as a state of mind, but in actuality it is an illness. It can affect anyone, anytime. It not only hurts and numbs, it makes perspectives bitter too.

It strikes silently and silences. Depressive illness manifests in two ways, a major depressive illness or a minor depressive episode.

In the minor variant, Bitterness is an acquired distaste, something we have learnt to dislike, but sadness is an engulfing disability over which we do not have control. Over the years one may learn to identify troublesome situations and prevent getting hurt, but this is possible only with external situations involving conscious likes and dislikes. In the major form of the illness, depression strikes from inside. There are no obvious contributing causes outside. The neurochemistry of the individual gets disturbed and the illness manifests with signs and symptoms, needing therapeutic intervention.
Whether a person is suffering from major or minor depression the main presentation appears similar. There is a sad mood inside and a forlorn look outside. In minor depression a concerned, rational and objective friend would suffice to tide over the mood, but in major depression medication and therefore professional help is absolutely essential.

Minor depression is also known as reactive or secondary. It is a reaction to (or secondary to) an event that disrupts the emotional equilibrium of the individual. This generally follows sequentially an expectation, a disappointment, a shocked disbelief, shame of failure, fear of incompetence, uncertainty of future and inability to function in order to cope with the distress.

Expectations are imposed and inculcated as an everyday routine right from childhood. You have to be good to get a chocolate, and if you are wrong you miss something. Deep inside is ingrained a notion that if you are good you win and lose only if you are bad. Therefore when we have done everything well, behaved well, and done what is generally known as right and been good by our own definitions, we have to win. If circumstances decide that we have lost, we are shocked, hurt and bewildered. A cheating husband does not get that disturbed when his wife has an extramarital relationship, though he may show his resentment. A student who has not studied never gets depressed when he fails in an examination. It is only when we feel that we have been right and the world is being `unfair’ that depression sets in. Of course, there are many times when we feel we have put in our best, while in actuality it is inadequate to accomplish. Only in those situations when we feel we should have passed and when we have failed, we get depressed. Minor or secondary depression is always our reaction to our perceived failure or betrayal. In inexplicable situations, the betrayer becomes GOD, since there are no other humans to blame. If we cannot blame God and attribute the misery to the mysterious hand of fate, but have to only blame ourselves, we sulk more and sadness is more profound. It does not mean that an atheist would get more depressed in a tight situation; in fact, a rational mind recovers faster as it sees reality more quickly.

The main problem that one encounters when one gets depressed is that one’s ability is reduced and therefore coping and recovering take a longer time. Depression is sadness. Sadness is an emotional reaction to a situation. When the situation and the reaction are disproportionate, it becomes a disorder. Maria Sharapova may miss a simple volley and this situation can irritate, frustrate, sadden or shock her. But she would recover in the next game. We too have met many losses and many failures which we could have prevented had we been at our best performing level. If we shrug or even bang our fist and move on it will not end up as depression. if losing one volley is going to incapacitate talent in such magnitude as to lose a match, it is depression. If it is for a few hours or even a couple of days, sadness need not be called depression. The problem should persist and make present moments painful and future expectancies bleak for it to be termed as a depressive disorder.

Grief following bereavement is not depression since it is an emotionally appropriate and proportional reaction to the permanent loss of a person in one’s life. Prolonged grief however is pathological. Loss of loved one, not necessarily owing to death, is as severe as bereavement, if the love was intense, passionate and honest. Even is such instances, one is expected to be sad, dull, dejected and even angry for some time, not for long. How long one feels low after the loss of a significant individual in one’s life depends not only on the significance of the relationship but also on one’s dependence on the relationship. Dependence is the ultimate expectation and every expectation is pregnant with a disappointment.

It is not often easy for everyone to identify someone who is depressed. Though it may start following a traumatizing event suddenly, the incapacity of melancholy sets in gradually. Though the intensity of depression can be assessed only by a trained professional, it has to be identified by close family members or friends in order to provide timely help for quicker recovery. Time, as the old adage truly remarks, does heal but we do not have to let time ‘take its own time’ to heal with the advent of modern mental health science. Early identification of the disorder is therefore essential for prompt and proper help.

Depressed persons generally exhibit the following symptoms and signs. Sleep is affected. Some may have difficulty in falling asleep while some may awake earlier or intermittently, in rare cases there may even be excessive sleep. Sleep is significant since it shows what the mind wants to do- be alert for further dangers or shut down to escape from reality. Appetite may be altered; some do not want to eat while a few may eat more. Concentration falters, and as a consequence performance levels drop. There may be disregard for personal grooming, loss of interest in previously interested activities. Amotivation to do anything purposeful and fight the mood will be also present. The mood will be described as sad, gloomy, and dull and the emotional responses become lackadaisical. The smile becomes a rarity and the eyes reflect the inner quake. Tears may not be public but they will be ready to flow at the slightest opportunity. Ruminations about suicide too occur in some individuals. Though most of the persons who get depressed may become dull and withdrawn a few may show agitation and restlessness too. In all cases, the content of speech rather than the form of behavior will indicate the depressive disorder.

The mind however is well equipped to handle any trauma. It has its own defense mechanisms. It is for the professional to suggest which areas need to be strengthened in order to overcome the difficulty faster. In this matter however many people come forth with impractical suggestions. If an athlete fails in a meet, you cannot ask him to learn music to overcome the sadness, instead a new workout in a new gym might help. Suggestions to overcome depression are often the result of media hype on meditaion and alternate methods of `treatment’. Yoga will help as much as aerobics. Meditation will help and so will listening to good music. If you care to help an individual who is depressed, be supportive, don’t argue even if he talks nonsense, but never allow him to talk out of tune with reality. If you cannot make him stop talking irrationally, change the topic or silence him by your silence.

Initially medication may be required even in minor depression to help to sleep. But this again has to be under professional guidance and supervision.

Depression can be endured effectively with the right support. Not all can turn their sadness into a Tajmahal; making the rest of life comfortable and successful is by itself a monument to the wound that has caused the depression.
********this is just the first part and we will continue in the next on other forms of depression, defense mechanisms and treatment options*********

written in 2005