The human mind is a powerful and potent force – no, let me correct this and rephrase it. I think the human mind is full of potential and ability to become a powerful force but is actually a sensitive and vulnerable force. At times it is too fragile for its own good. The mind is the ultimate in complexity; it is a phenomenon and a phenomenal complexity. And it is usually the phenomenal things that we struggle to comprehend.
Depression no doubt is one such anomaly that exposes the fragility of the mind. I say anomaly because in my view depression is abnormal, this state of the mind is inconsistent with what we call a “normal” state of the mind. Those who have experienced depression tell of their devastating consequences this illness has on their lives. The mind and body feel lethargic at all times, and those affected lose interest in daily activities; probably because their ability to carry out daily activities is severely diminished as a result of this dysfunction of the brain.
It surely affects the individual’s self-perception, as well as their feelings and behaviour. It alters the state of the mind and consequently disrupts the sufferers’ whole life. Depression can be described as part of the brain’s defence mechanism. The brain responds to the harsh realities by “shutting off”, in order to protect itself. The mind basically retreats, and the sufferers of depression seek a safe haven, a sanctuary, a world of their own – a world where they do not have to face the cruelties of life. Using Darwinian terminology, we would say this is a survival tactic.
The effects of depression are at times far-reaching and they go far beyond the mental spheres and the psychosomatic symptoms become more apparent. And depression in the most severe cases causes a “reproductive shutdown”, in the biological terms. Depression decreases interest in life, sexuality, and the continuity of life. Under the circumstances, the brain or the mind in time of depression makes a life-changing decision. It subconsciously builds a protective shield around itself.
Dorothy Rowe has described this shield as a prison. She suggests that we build prisons around ourselves. Dorothy Rowe is the author of Depression: The Way Out of Your Prison (Routledge, London). In this book, Rowe has illustrated how we build the prisons and how we can come out of these prisons. “Depression is a prison where you are both the suffering prisoner and cruel jailer,” she says and I agree.
We build the prison to protect ourselves from the outside world, and soon we begin to feel comfortable inside the prison. But, before we know it, we lose our ability to break free from the comfort zone that we had build around ourselves. We begin to feel trapped in the prison – yet safe. We feel isolated – yet somewhat secure. All the insecurity is outside the prison. Depression becomes our nemesis.
This picture illustrates how in depression we may feel safe inside the prison and yet incapable of coming out of the prison.