Mental Health, Misdiagnosing Depression and Feeling Alive Again

PAC Ambassador Idahosa Ness shares his thoughts on transforming thinking and behavior in order to fully engage with life and reignite a sense of feeling alive.

Been low in spirits for the past week and half.

Whenever I feel low in spirit, I never use the words “depression” or “depressed.” Depression is a term of pathology, which means we will subconsciously connect “depression” with “illness.” This is a dangerous connection, because we usually link “the presence of illness” with “the need for medication.” In other words, the same way the presence of a bacterial Infection implies the need for “anti-bacterial” medication, the presence of a “depression” somewhat implies the need for anti-depressant medication.

To be clear, I’m not saying there is NEVER a need for anti-depressants. From what I understand, anti-depressants can do miracles for a lot of people. What I’m saying is there ought to be a semantic distinction between conditions that are ONLY improved through medication, and conditions that can be improved with changes in thinking and behavior.

Instead of thinking “I’m depressed,” I like to think that “I’m switched off”.

Soon as I conceptualize it this way, two questions arise in my mind:

  1. How exactly did I end up switched off?
  2. What can I do to switch back on?

I’ve come to identify “4 senses of spirit” to check on when I’m feeling switched off.

  • Vitality
  • Integrity
  • Purpose
  • Engagement

With pen and paper, I’ll sit down and ask myself a series of questions for each sense:

VITALITY

If I neglect the needs of my body, I’ll seep energy and feel languid. So first questions I ask are:

  1. What have I been eating?
  2. How have I been sleeping?
  3. How much have I been moving?
  4. How much have I been indulging in vice?

To switch back on, I need to eat, sleep and move properly.

INTEGRITY

If I neglect to do what I know is the right thing to do, my Conscience will contaminate my mind with shame, and my ego will generate resentments and rationalizations to conceal that shame.

To check my sense of integrity, I ask these questions:

  1. What actions am I avoiding?
  2. What conversations am I avoiding?
  3. Which of my recent actions/words am I ashamed of?

To switch back on, I need to consult my resentment, confront my ego, get back on top of my commitments, speak the truth, and take responsibility for my wrongdoings. (easy right? *smile*)

PURPOSE

For me, it’s not enough to just live healthy and honestly, I need to have a meaningful goal to move towards, otherwise I become disillusioned or disoriented, and this causes anxiety.

So to check my sense of purpose, I ask these questions:

  1. Do I have clear goals for the long-term, mid-term and short-term?
  2. How confident am I that I’ll be able to achieve these goals?
  3. When was the last time I saw myself making meaningful progress towards these goals?

To switch back on, I need to make peace with my setbacks, chart out an updated path forward, and start going after small wins to slowly build momentum.

ENGAGEMENT

Ultimately, all of this boils down to moment-to-moment existence. If I spend all day distracting myself with mindless Youtube videos and web surfing, I’ll feel terrible for wasting my life.

So to check my sense of engagement, I ask these questions:

  1. What have I been doing to distract and disengage myself?
  2. When was the last time I entered my “Flow” state? (where I’m feeling fully immersed)?
  3. When was the last time I had a deeply meaningful conversation with someone?

To switch back on, I actually need to “hit the switch” and do the things that most immerse me in the moment – this is what it means to enter “Flow” state. What puts you into Flow is largely determined by your personality. Personally, my easiest entry point into Flow is creativity.

That’s why I wrote this essay.

I asked myself the questions above and realized it’s been a long time since I engrossed myself in a creative activity. Writing this essay felt like the most accessible thing to do, so here I am. And now that I’m done, I think I feel a few sparks flying on the ol’ switchboard. Hope you feel something too!