FREEDOM WITH MEDITATION
PUBLISHED: SUNDAY PLUS, THE NATION - Jan 04, 2009
S Roman Ahsan discusses a meditation technique to help minimize depression
This life treats all of us differently. Here’s a story which tells of a struggle which is not common to most of us.
Different fates await different people in this world. Obaid was 17 years old when he had a nervous breakdown after a depressive phase. At that time he had just joined college after completing his high school education. Though he was not exactly a bright student yet he used to achieve top grades in school and was a hard worker. He was an extremely shy and a sensitive person, still well-liked by everyone at school and family. The breakdown episode brought a storm in the lives of his family. Since he was the youngest of all siblings, the whole family was shaken. The manic episode lasted 2-3 weeks and accompanied such symptoms as rapid speech, racing thoughts and hyperactivity like going out in the streets though without any violent behavior. With the help from psychiatrists the mania subsided, but he was relapsed in the following two months, with one episode per month. Hence, Obaid had a total of three manic episodes successively in a single year.
While under the influence of mania, he was taken to different psychiatrists and kept on a variety of drugs. Some psychiatrists considered him a Schizophrenic while others differed, which meant a lot of experimentation. The recuperation period for each episode was slow during which Obaid experienced restlessness and depression. As a result of all this, the doctors advised him a complete rest of one year, and he had to discontinue college. Due to little awareness, the family took him completely off medication. Obaid continued a normal life, and rejoined another college a year later.
After studying in the college for one year, Obaid started getting depressive thoughts again. He became more sensitive to college fellows mocking him, and the world appeared to him as a dangerous place where there were aliens all around him in his daily commuting to college. Another symptom, which was dominant in his behavior, was becoming too quiet. What he and his family did not know was that the disease had returned again, like a volcano erupting after some silence. He was close to twenty years then. The mania struck again and this time it was more painful for him since he was overcome with a marked amount of fear and confusion. In the nights, he felt as if he was surrounded by demons yet he was unable to express himself due to the severity of overlapping thoughts.
Eventually he was administered drugs, which slowed him down. His nervous state prolonged till 20 days, and then the recovery stage followed like the earlier episodes. The overdose of anti-depressants and sleep-inducing agents caused physical and mental sluggishness as usual, and it took some weeks before he was back to normal. He rejoined college but it seemed his trial was not over yet. He had a relapse after a few weeks of rest, and this time he was totally bed-ridden. That was the fifth episode, and in the years to come he was to face 6 more episodes making the total number of episodes equal to 11.
What we have narrated above is a case of Bipolar Disorder previously also known as Manic-Depressive Disorder (MDD). In this mental disorder, the patient goes through phases of depression followed by mania or vice-versa though there is always an emotional factor which triggers any episode. However, the good news is that, Obaid’s story gives hope to those suffering from any form of Depression. When Obaid had the first nervous breakdown, he was a college freshman. In spite of his setbacks, he went on to attain his Bachelor’s degree followed by a Master’s degree. Not only that, but he got a job on merit, though due to the pressures of the job, he succumbed to a nervous breakdown, it being his last one. He rejoined the same firm because in his words “he wanted to get back his lost ground”, and his employers also consented to take him back. The disorder was diagnosed much later, and the combination of Haloperidol (Serenace) and Procyclidine (Kemadrin) always helped greatly in subsiding his nervous state. The episodes mostly happened in early spring though the symptoms would appear before the advent of winter in a few cases.
Something worth noting is that from mental or psychological illness, we usually think of only 'bad news'. The positive thing is that though this ailment is not to be wished for but many famous people in history in the category of creative arts have suffered from Bipolar Disorder. It has been revealed that some famous musicians, painters, writers, poets, philosophers and actors have had this disease. Cycles of depression and mania cause abnormal level of feelings and thinking in the patients. However, such individuals can be productive only in their normal phases. Some famous people with Bipolar Disorder are Earnest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Abraham Lincoln, Lord Byron, Jean Claude Van Damme, Beethoven, Edgar Allan Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson etc. However, not everybody with Bipolar Disorder can achieve greatness and for many sufferers this could be a life-long disaster unless monitored well. With proper care and attention, such people can manage to contribute even more than the other normal people in the society. Ah, but at the cost of so much pain!!
MEDITATION – JUST WHAT HE NEEDED!
Obaid was lucky since his friends were there for him, even though they had progressed in life. His family also played a very supporting role in putting him back on the life-track. He continued his education, while fortifying himself with regular walk and activities with friends. As he grew older, the manic episodes subsided completely. However the depressive phases were recurring and unavoidable. During his course in life, Obaid was advised by some to start ‘Salah’ (Namaaz - obligatory prayers) as a form of meditation. Though he had been saying his night prayers, but Obaid was not in the habit of saying prayers five times a day. Gradually, he took up saying prayers five times a day, and at present he likes to offer some of his prayers in mosque as well. Obaid discovered that praying at different times a day infused in him serene thoughts while fortifying him against depression. The strong belief that ‘Someone’ listens to you while you are offering prayers, and helps you out of your troubles also acts as an effective anti-depressant.
It is now well known that physical exercise can alter hormone levels within the body and have a positive effect on our moods; however new research has demonstrated that meditation offers similar benefits. The difference between choosing other forms of meditation, and ‘Salah’ (Namaaz) is that, with ‘Namaaz’ you have a religious obligation to offer it five times a day, thus making this practice more regular and frequent. Secondly, performing ablution (wuddoo) before every prayer refreshes a person while activating him/her as well.
Obaid is not the only one who resorted to ‘Namaaz’ with gainful results. ‘Namaaz’ as a form of meditation has changed the lives of many a depressive people. During ‘Namaaz’, the element of deep concentration plays a vital role in soothing your nerves. When you practice to put everything out of your mind at regular intervals in the day, this helps in reducing depressive thoughts. Prayers instill positive thinking in a depressive person due to the continuing practice of reliance on God only. The thing to remember is that no remedy promises quick results, and though prayers can minimize a person’s tendency towards depression but they cannot completely cure him/her. When taken up as a regular practice, ‘Namaaz’ strengthens one’s mind against tough times over the years, and makes a depressive person more productive. Furthermore, as an activity that involves much more than just standing, bending and kneeling, it acts like an energizer. This also stands true for individuals who have not had any serious bouts of depression, yet feel low occasionally.
However, it is essential that along with prayers, exercise and medication should also be continued. If this combination is put in a consistent routine, depression will only be a distant enemy. Another significant element, which we should add to this combination, is occupation. A person who is prone to depression should never sit idle, but rather keep himself/herself engaged in a constructive activity like studying in an institute or adopting a profession. An occupation can provide a continuous activity thus leaving little time for worries. Participating in social activities like meeting with friends should also not be undermined, rather indispensable. The more he/she connects with others, the more their mind opens up to new avenues thus wiping negative thoughts away.
Depending on one’s resources, a depressive person should engage in whatever he or she feels like, as long as it is not detrimental to others. If you like to chat, then go ahead – grab that receiver and make a phone call to your buddy, or chat on MSN. If you like to make new friends then join a Sports club, or make Pen Pals on web. Indulging oneself in a hobby is also worthwhile. Moreover, engaging in household chores like even dishwashing or gardening can take your mind away from the lows for a while. What is definitely not recommended is getting tied up in depressive thoughts all day. We all deserve a better life. So never let go of your efforts to beat the blues. Eventually, you will succeed one day!