A life well spent is a life well lived. If so, what are the measures of a life well lived? Would the moments that we are awake matter or would it be the moments when we are asleep?
Should wellness be measured by our laughter or do our tears count as well? Is it the number of friends we have or the number of people that envy us? For that matter, can we separate life into moments of wellness?
There is a complexity in what makes us human: a weave of intricate physiological functioning, mental processes, and emotions. To wake up every day and just be an ordinary human, our entire being has to be able to coordinate in the most precise and detailed wonder. The right balance of cellular, genetic, organic and sensory processes gives us the normalcy of life.
To maintain this balance we need constant care, something we forget and take for granted. If we listen to our body, it always gives us warning signals. Some warning bells are loud, like the pain of kidney stones. Some warning bells are soft at first but slowly become very precise and clear, like depression and suicide. Although all human illness and diseases are directly related to the body, anything that is not expressed as physiological symptoms and comes across as psychological, we dread, to an extent that we stigmatise it.
Why do we neglect our psychological health? We don’t feel the shame of a viral fever but hide behind a burnout. We feel very upset when we are not prescribed antibiotics for a viral cold but are afraid to visit a psychiatrist for a depression consultation. What is so humiliating about mental health that we allow it to become one of the sole reasons why tens of thousands of people suffer from inaccessibility to its treatment and medication?
Mental disorders afflict five per cent of the Indian population. What is even more alarming is the rise in the incidence of depression and suicide. Though effective treatments are available, depression continues to be an under-recognised and undertreated disorder.
Depression is the third leading cause for the inability to lead a normal life. A person suffering from depression will show symptoms that are misunderstood because of our hectic and stressful lifestyle. Studies reveal that amongst Indians, depression is initially often masked with physical symptoms of headaches, backaches, migraines, and panic attacks. If such symptoms are ignored then the overwhelming feeling of sadness sets in. At this point, a change in normalcy is noticed. Either the person will put on weight or lose weight, sleep less or sleep for longer periods and their speech will be dominated with feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness that preoccupy their thoughts. The person will have trouble keeping a job, maintaining relationships, feel less motivated to do anything and even contemplate suicide.
Mental health is as much about diseases as it about prevention of disease. We would rather suffer terrible physical anguish of psychological break down than seek methods of recuperation.
A conscious decision to be able to increase our quality of well being is all it takes to make this paradigm shift. Like an archer that pulls his bow backwards before it allows the arrow to shoot forward we need to retract, retreat, and recoup.
Like a vehicle or machine that needs regular maintenance and fuel to operate, our body requires to fill up on the energy that drives us – an occasional service like a visit to your counsellor or therapist.
It’s interesting how this very simple yet utmost important top-up seems to elude us. We rush into every project head-on without the least concern about the toll it will take on our being.
All it takes is twenty minutes a day of total selfish dedication to recoup, retract, and retreat – to be in the moment of life. There are many techniques but the easiest way is sitting in a quiet place, becoming aware of your breath, taking long breaths and letting your body connect and be one in the moment.
Hobbies, exercises, friends, playing with children and or pets could be equally effective as long you are able to connect in the moment. Don’t let relaxing exercises become competitive. You should feel relaxed, rejuvenated and energised after it.
Also when need demands, you need to seek professional help like a psychiatrist, therapist, or counsellor to help bring your life back on track. The earlier you seek such assistance the better the chance of recovery. And sometimes a mentor might be of timely assistance to help you through a difficult developmental phase. All this for a life well lived.
(Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, and officiating
principal and associate professor of psychology at Carmel College for Women)