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Why Courage Matters

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“Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant never taste of death but once.”

What the Bard said is painfully true.

I am ashamed to admit that a part of me dies every day, at times every minute of every hour of each day.

I live in perpetual fear. Fear of ill health, fear of loneliness, fear of losing the ones I love, fear of never being successful, fear of what people may think. Fear of getting on a plane. Fear of change. There is a bubbling uncertainty within me of what the future holds. Or is it just simply a fear of life itself?

At times I can’t even pinpoint what I’m afraid of. As a rule, apart from those minute inherent imperfections of a mundane daily existence, I know that ‘all is well’. But the wild perception of every breath I take and the rattling thumping of my heart against my rib cage on those sleepless nights when fear engulfs my very soul painfully begs to disagree with this assumption.

I call it fear, psychologists all over the globe label it ‘Anxiety’.

One can learn to live with fear, and in many ways it becomes a part of you. As the days progress, you unknowingly adapt. You bury yourself in work, because there’s no time to be afraid if you’re constantly occupied. You learn to casually abuse the anxiolytics when it’s particularly bad. Sometimes you unknowingly release your negative energy on the people around you. Your relationships suffer and ultimately wither away- because no one understands the tormented state of your restless, fearful mind. Half the time you can’t even explain why you missed your best friend’s wedding or your nephew’s birthday. Soon they stop expecting you to make it. They stop expecting replies to their texts. They label you as unsocial; you become the social pariah. You don’t mind though, it’s so much easier being alone, no one asks for explanations.

You read all the books, go through articles, you try the recommended meditation and deep breathing- only to find that it just makes things worse. Because God forbid you be left alone with your thoughts. When left to its own the mind, uninhibited and unchained simply won’t stop thinking. It’ll take you down that never ending spiral- the ‘what-ifs’ and the ‘would-haves’. It’ll make you think of the endless possible outcomes to your current existence, and ultimately settle on the worst. Because when was the last time anything good happened anyway?

And then comes grief, unwanted and unknown, a thief slinking silently into the house that is your soul. Grief is that horrible sinking feeling that comes when you fail an exam. That pain of losing a loved one which makes you feel like every nerve in your body is on fire. The breakup after which you don’t feel like leaving your bed for days at end. That overwhelming sadness of rejection. That endless self-questioning of why you weren’t good enough. The days where you use sleep as an escape mechanism- because when you’re asleep everything is good, it’s the awakened state where reality strikes and the irreplaceable loss hits you. The nights you toss and turn in your bed for hours at end, because you can’t sleep at all. Days you feel like eating everything in sight, days you don’t feel like eating at all. All is a process of grief.

You tell yourself it will pass, it is just a bad phase, not a bad life. You read Freudian theories and tell yourself you will make it. You find temporary solace in altruism- focus your energy on doing good for the world. You distract yourself with intoxicants. You ‘cry for madder music and for stronger wine’, but when the ‘feast is over and lamps expire,’ then fall the shadows, the shadows of despair. But days become weeks, weeks become months. You’ve forgotten what it was like to be happy. Life becomes baseline miserable, interspersed with a few transient sparks of joy. Happiness in fact, now scares you, because by now you have become superstitious, the last time you genuinely felt happy something bad happened.

I call it grief, psychologists of course would call it ‘Depression’.

The generation today is bowed down by a mental ill health pandemic. Statistics say more than 25% people in this world suffer depression or anxiety, and of these, more than 70% go undetected and untreated.

What causes it? No one knows. Some say it is childhood trauma, some call it a neurotransmitter imbalance. Some blame it on your high IQ, for it would take a reasonable amount of intellect to make your mind wander to the unfathomable depths of cause, effect and reason. Some curse the warped anatomy of the amygdala and limbic system. Some judgmental souls attribute it to the epigenetic evolution of our generation’s ‘weak’ minds. Our ancestors- they didn’t have anxiety, they didn’t have depression. They weren’t even aware such terms existed. Like Chuck Palahniuk said ‘They had great wars and the great depression’. The only war the youth of today fights is a spiritual war, and the great depression? The great depression has become part of our lives.

A lot of people get so addicted to sadness that they forget what living without it was like. Sorrow is a convenient camouflage.But you don’t become real by burying yourself, you only die under it.

Ironically in this day and age of cult fitness and fad diets, in a generation so obsessed with keeping themselves healthy, mental health is often disregarded. Denial has officially become the new opium of the masses. It’s much easier to be alone and not have anyone question the so called oddities of your existence and idiosyncrasies of your persona. It soon becomes a pattern- of pushing your loved ones away and denying the existence of the Big A or the Big D, for it takes an immense amount of courage to accept that you have a problem, and an even greater amount to find the energy and drive to actually do something about it. And courage, as we already established, isn’t a strong forte here.

Modern medicine gives a variety of options to seek treatment and make ourselves feel better. They all however come with their associated problems. Some say medication is bad because of the side effects. Some say cognitive behavioral therapy is bad — for it messes with your ability to think for yourself. My question however is this- however bad these options may seem, can anything be worse than how you feel right now? Can anything be more unnerving than living in constant fear?

Letting your brain be in a chronic state of mental ill health and be chronically deprived of those happy neurotransmitters is akin to the frog sitting in a bowl of boiling water. Any moment now it will reach a point of no recovery. And then it will be far too late. Depression will become into a self-perpetuating spiral that could even engulf and threaten ones existence.

So what do we do? Do we continue to live in this self-created, co-adapted world in which fear and grief control our existence, or should we fight the waging war in our mind?

The world is struggling against mental illnesses. We must agree to take steps. More importantly, we must be vigilant, and if we observe signs of irrational fear, withdrawal, unreasonable anger, panic or suicidal tendencies, we must take immediate action. Lend a listening ear, take your loved one to a qualified therapist for help, give unconditional love and support. Do not judge. Do not dismiss their symptoms as irrational or irrelevant.

If you yourself are suffering, but were putting off and procrastinating making that appointment take this as a sign. Make that call. Make it to your appointment. Talk. Heal. Breathe.

And before you know it the clouds will part, the rain will stop, the skies will clear, and the sun will shine again.

You will be happy again.