Your Mind: Best Friend, Worst Enemy!
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a patient in possession of a moderate or severe depressive disorder, must be a doomsday forecaster—with due apologies to Jane Austen for stealing from her memorable opening lines.
Perhaps regular people also spin stories in their mind of the ‘what-if’ kind but us depressives, we kill it with the worst-case scenarios!
And we take it to lengths that even Arjuna would find hard to compete with when he answered Lord Krishna’s simple question—why are you not picking up your bow to fight?
His answer is epic and note-worthy (and of course led to an 18-chapter discourse called the Gita)—because if I do, I will end up killing all the Kauravas and then when I myself die, there will be no one to light my funeral pyre and my soul will not attain moksha.
I have always been impressed by the lengths to which Arjuna carried forth his worst-case scenario when asked why he hadn’t begun the fight he had signed on for at the Kurukshetra battlefield.
In my case it was a stomach-ache that did it.
The mind is a truly wondrous thing, it can be your closest friend or your worst enemy, creating images and situations at a rapid-fire pace, paralyzing your responses both physical and mental.
Till awareness kicks in and you come back to earth realizing none of what your mind projected has actually happened.
Of course no one can predict when this mindfulness—which you’ve practiced and learnt about in therapy and self-help encyclopedias galore--will actually come to your rescue and help check the floodgates of fright.
I’m still waiting for it!
A persistent pain in the abdomen (not neck!) for over four months on an off-on basis suddenly went into overdrive about two weeks ago, causing immense agony and daily discomfort.
There’s nothing like acute pain to start the cycle of self-recrimination and regret, first with the ‘I should have’s—should have got it checked out over the last four months, should have eaten lighter food, should have exercised more--a veritable litany of self-blame.
When that is exhausted (along with the consumption of OTC probiotics, home remedies and gallons of Gelusil) the chattering mind takes over, occupying all the rational space that has been vacated by the physical pain.
And thus the what-if bandwagon of worst-case scenarios starts on its own journey of doom and gloom.
What if this is not a simple stomach ailment, surely that would have settled with all the stuff I have poured in that organ?
What if this is stomach cancer? The kind that Steve Jobs had. Of course he lived for seven years post his cancer diagnosis but I wouldn’t have access to all the things a billionaire does, besides I don’t want to live with constant cancer pain, not even for a year.
And those dreaded chemotherapy cycles and radiation, not in a million years, not if I can help it.
I will register for euthanasia at Dignitas in Switzerland where it is legal, that way nobody in my family or circle of friends will suffer the cancer along with me, nobody will need to help me through chemo reactions or radiation burns.
I will simply take a flight to Geneva and an anesthetic injection will end all the misery.
Wait, I have taken Covaxin not Covishield so how will I travel to Europe?
I should arrange for a place to stay during the quarantine period.
All this without even a simple medical check-up.
In my case cancer is the default setting for the minutest of health complaints--a past experience with a loved one which then led to life-long PTSD.
One option of tackling the what-if syndrome is to go and meet multiple cancer specialists each time I have a real or imagined niggle, from throat to kidney to bone to breast to stomach. This would quite literally be acting out one’s innermost fears and traumas but apart from acquiring an extensive data bank of oncologists it is doubtful that the fears would be overcome, though it remains a viable option for those who wish to exercise it.
The other is to retrieve the lost balance in your rationale and focus on what is known—the realm of the unknown is overwhelming, vast and intractable. This applies to people dealing with Covid anxiety as well, ‘What if I get Covid’ can be replaced by the known facts of vaccination and added knowledge about treatment. And the no-show as yet of the dreaded Third Wave.
For depressives like me who walk the razor’s edge on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, being vigilant about worst-case projections is an exhausting task but it cannot be shirked.
Catch the whirlpool of thoughts before you’re pulled too far down, take SOS medication, self-soothe (the methods will differ for varying situations, forbidden comfort foods will help if you’ve fought with your partner but it’ll add to your woes in a health scare!)
Identify the real source of your anxiety.
My default cancer setting isn’t only about the fear of getting cancer but of being sick, helpless and dependent, of losing control of my own life. Hence an imagined resolution of euthanasia in Switzerland provides some measure of control and therefore calm.
These deeper unarticulated fears of a terrifying future have the power to ruin your perfectly normal (if slightly painful) present. Creeping into every action and reaction, till your entire life is reduced to a very tiny square of pain where nothing else exists-- no family, no friends, no doctors, no help.
Once you come out on the other side--and you will sooner or later with or without external intervention—the world’s axis will right itself, the anxiety attacks will lessen, the stomach will stop its churning.
As for my stomach woes? The diagnosis was IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
And the treatment--reduce stress!
(Minnie Vaid wears many hats—a journalist, documentary film maker, television professional and author. She is passionate about fighting against injustice via her films and books, is happiest while shooting with villagers in rural India and loves Shahrukh Khan–perhaps in precisely that order!)
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