Did I have reasons to fear this world and doubt myself?
As a five year old watching a bomb collide and explode the middle of a three story building only 50 metres away from me at an intersection while I was on my balcony was traumatic enough. Seeing a young dead girl carried out of the building stunned and horrified me. I was too young, but too aware for my own good. I learned too early in life that there are evil people who kill innocent ones.
To also have a neighbour be executed, who I used to spend time with watching shows like Pink Panther with his kids in their home was also deeply disturbing. I recall the blood stained pavement and bullet shells laying in the common courtyard where I often played with friends. I still have that image burned into my memory because it confused and hurt me that evil people would just want to kill people who did them no harm. I wondered where he went and why God let these things happen. None of it made any sense.
I lost my trust in the world and I withdraw and became deeply introspective. People thought I was just a thoughtful kid, a deep thinker. The truth was, I had lost my confidence and feared being targeted by those faceless evil people.
Two of my uncles would later be abducted and tortured, one of them having the shrapnel of a bomb tear into his leg. I learned people were willing to kill you because of what you believed.
My grandfather and my father were targeted. My grandmother literally hid my grandfather in a female public toilet as they came with guns to execute him – all because of his religion. One man was executed as he stood in front of my grandmother and he fell dead into her lap.
We escaped to this beautiful and precious country where freedom and peace was normal. I could not speak the language and felt dumb and anxious because I could not understand anyone. At school, I would watch the teacher talk and have no idea what she was saying. My confidence had taken another dive.
I recall during that time seeing a 10 year old family friend get urinated on in the street by a boy who took objection to their ethnic background and their existence in this country. I was so deeply shocked and scared at how extreme the judgments were, I concluded that being a ‘wog’ in any way was not an option if I was to have any chance of escaping persecution.
When I was bullied and racially taunted, this further cemented the mission within me to disown my heritage and assimilate at all costs. I had to be an Australian and deny all Lebanese ties if I was to survive. Remember, people killed you because of what you believed – and I had to not believe anything that was different to the Australian culture.
So what do you do when your hazel eyed and blonde first best Aussie friend takes objection to your younger brother tagging along because he is a couple of years too young? I was so invested in being accepted by every Australian, that any threat to that goal, even from my precious family, became intolerable to me. I would get angry at my brother when he wouldn’t leave my friend and I alone. I have a teary rejected brother’s face in my memory. I traumatised and betrayed him. If he did anything wrong in public, I would judge him harshly because he was jeopardising our assimilation strategy.
As much as we love and would do anything for each other today, the close connection was damaged by those early years of yelling at him to leave me alone. He just hasn’t known how to move beyond the resistance and let me back into his intimate life despite our hearts’ yearning for it. In fact, I see his struggle with letting anyone close into this life, especially those closest to him. I can’t blame him when his only brother abandoned him.
Even in my early teens, when I cried, I found it hard to breathe. I would literally hyperventilate. It was uncontrollable and embarrassing. I needed to be a strong man. When I was distressed, I would stutter to the point of not being able to express what I needed to say. Another reason for losing my confidence.
You don’t know the impact of trauma because it hides within you. It distorts your perception and can make you see the world very differently than what it is and what it can be for you.
No matter how hard you work to be better and successful, the journey remains heavy. You fear big goals because you know the journey is going to overwhelm you with hardship. I tried to avoid music even though it was in my soul to compose. I avoided going to Uni and copied a friend’s preference at the last minute with no consideration of what I really wanted to do with my career beyond being a sound engineer. Tertiary study felt beyond me and the fear of missing out motivated a last ditch effort to apply. By fluke I ended up there and in constant fear of failing.
It’s not about logic or truth because you can write an essay for your final assignment to graduate with a Uni degree and receive a high distinction while totally being open to receiving a FAIL and totally prepared to accept it – imagine that – you earn your degree without confidence in yourself even in the 11th hour.
Sounds like a depressing story right? But you see, I had no other story to compare it to. My story was the only reality. The lens or the mask I saw the world through and the real and only world to me.
I was not good enough, smart enough and just had to work harder to avoid shaming my family by ensuring I did not fail anything. They invested everything into my brother and I – the pressure was to be a good, nice and clever.
So what do you do when you are pressured into being something you deeply fear you are not? Life gets heavy, hard and intimidating. Criticism cuts deep and you feel exposed while praise means they didn’t really know me, it was a fluke or they are just trying to butter me up to manipulate me.
When did I learn I was depressed?
In a way I only found out I had countless depressed phases in my life after the fact.
My brother and his new wife came back from their honeymoon and he had bought me a wood carving of a man with this head tilted on his hand. He said to me it reminded him of me because many times he would come home and see me on the couch in that identical pose.
I distinctly remember those moments but I had never identified with myself as being depressed. To me, I was just feeling unmotivated, down and sometimes I was aware of the reasons and other times not so aware. It felt like too many little things had just taken their toll on me.
I eventually began taking stock of those things and getting to 7, 8 9 and 10 circumstances or more and thinking. ‘no wonder I feel so flat!’ Life can sure feel like it is ganging up on you sometimes.
It got me thinking about the process that leads to depression and back out of it again. I became so obsessed with wanting to understand it because I was a big believer that things happen for a reason and that there must be a way to be empowered to get out of the rut even though it can be so hard. I needed to believe that I deserved a better life.
Eventually over two decades, I saw many pieces to the puzzle and I began collating them into a bigger picture. This was supported by neuroscience and even the laws of nature.
I was able to correlate depression with the power of neuroplasticity, the eastern philosophy of meditation and nature’s metamorphosis. I learned through my personal development that even the word de-press can be understood to happen after we have been emotionally pressed into a way of being that hurts and has become unsustainable. And that situation would ultimately need to be de-pressed from, with a view to transform how we think, feel and act so we no longer have to suffer.
It’s like not being able to say no and spreading yourself too thin, breaking promises and having people hate on you. This hurts because your intentions were good and you only wanted to make everyone happy and accept you. Instead, almost everyone now is rejecting and abandoning you. Been there done that and deteriorated precious relationships and finances for the sake of needing to please people at all cost, including my own.
I have since learned and helped countless others with the fact that the real you can change any part of your way of being. The real you can actually see how the role of both no and yes is the way of being balanced and responsible. The real you can also know you are worthy enough to not have to please everyone only to let most of them down and hurt yourself.
To me, depression is the slamming of our energy brakes. It’s like we reach a point where we need to stop using our mental, emotional and physical energy to drive us into impossible situations that do much more harm than good.
But with no other way being clear to us, we are forced back into the same way of being and the same hurtful experiences. We had no idea how to change, what to change into. It’s like being in a vast dark room and having no bearings, no ideas or orientation around what can be a better way without getting bruised and being knocked over. So a better way does not exist, so you are forced back into the same life – pressed into the same version that continues to weigh down and break your heart.
Some people can only imagine suicide as the only way out of the hell and end up pressing into a view with a strategy that motivates them to end their life.
I believe that we also get deeply stuck in depression because of the stigma – we are told that the cause and effect stops at our genes and our chemical imbalance.
Our traumas became reality so easily and they habitually perpetuate the only reality there is to see. It breaks my heart to think how many of us are missing the opportunity and guidance to piece back together our shattered lens.
If subjective experiences shape the mask in which we perceive life, who informs you that you have moved to a peaceful country and you are in need of updating your mask? Or you have moved out of an abusive environment and no longer need to wear the ‘fear for your life’ mask? You don’t even know you are wearing the mask! You become adamant that you are in fact the mask!
Throughout my infant years and teens there was no one to inform me of any of this. No one seemed to understand we all wear masks and we de-press from them because it is so painful to see and emotionally engage the world through them.
So eventually we learn to cope by depressing as much of us as possible and only wear just enough of the mask to function. To breathe, eat and work and constantly crave to be left alone. It’s like hanging on by a thread. You become good at it because you think you have no choice.
And where is the heart in all this? It’s ignored. No time for love and trust in a world of evil people waiting to kill you because of the colour of your skin, your religion or your shoes.
How many of us are now habitually and perpetually 80% depressed? No one ever knew what we could achieve so our 20% is our agreed normal and our limit. Anyone achieving anything great is seen as lucky or gifted. So being diagnosed to me is simply when someone has been hanging by a thread too long and it’s becoming too hard to maintain. Having to fake caring because your body refuses to let you feel connected is indeed soul destroying. Threads tend to eventually break.
I now believe we are all like V12 engines, sputtering along at 2 – 3 cylinders with many reaching V6 and some reaching V8 levels in some areas of life. That’s how highly I view all of us and thankfully that includes me.
I don’t fear depression anymore. It’s our tool for change. It’s my sanctuary as an observer so I am no longer emotionally glued into a compromised mask. This allows me to reflect on the mask and what new and improved mask can help me see more opportunities to connect differently, love more and relate to more of my worthy true identity that exists outside of anyone’s judgment. A mask that helps me see how much more I belong everywhere, regardless of national borders, other people’s opinions and no matter how evil they’ve been tricked into being, by their horrendous masks.
For those of you who are silently struggling, you have never been alone. The silent stealth suffering surrounds you and it’s called humanity. I have seen all types of people from young to old, rich to poor who struggle with their masks. We have our up cycles and our depressing down cycles. Some down cycles are too deep and last way too long.
Nature has a lot to teach us about the art of adapting and thriving. Like how a humble little caterpillar can withdraw into its cocoon that allow for its’ transformation. You too can move out of the bitter and mundane every day life of munching on green leaves and let your new attitude take you amongst the sweet nectar of loving, trusting and enjoying respectful relationships. We are of nature and nature tells us to keep a check on our mask in case it is compromising our perception and imagination, which are key elements to adapting to a better way of being. Once we engage a mask that is compatible to our goal, the achieving of that goal becomes inevitable.
Surely we are here to feel the depth of life and not be caught up in the one worldview that quashes our worth, capability and confidence, thereby forcing us to be numbed from that painful worldview for the rest of our lives. This is why it is our depression.
by George Helou
George discusses with his co-host Rachel Donovan on the EP7 Podcast Channel; Why Depression is Natural.
You can book George for Motivational talks on 08 9380 8350.
Symbol of Depression; the wood carving gifted to me by my brother and his new wife.