“Depression Is Not A Personal Failure.” A Social Worker Reflects On Managing Depression
TLDR: It is okay not to be okay. Being on the constant drive to be perfect can wear you down. Ching Wi recommends taking an incremental approach to generating kind thoughts to yourself and to see the little sparks in the darkest of caves.
Foggy spectacles from wearing masks. Forest fires. Social strife. Long socially-distanced queues for bubble tea. How can we keep calm & happy in a distressed world? A smiley social worker might have an answer.
Ching Wi has been a social worker for years. She helps elderlies people in her day-to-day job. With her joyful ‘hello’ given when we met, it is hard to grasp that she has suffered from depression. For six years.
Her journey into the darkest cave
Perfection. Competition. Ching Wi’s life was previously characterised by these two things. This led to a life of anxiety and self-doubt. She found herself responding to everything with anger.
Everything that she and others did previously needed to be up to her standard. She mentioned, her characteristic is like the boss that you don’t want to work with. It is fierce and scary.
These loads of negative emotions eventually piled up inside her heart. The three factors of depression: biological, physical and social aspects are mixed up. Anxiety and depression hit hard.
In a blink of an eye, she realised that everything becomes heavier, the negative thoughts towards herself and the world trapped her inside a dark cave.
In such darkness, it felt impossible to see any light.
Seeing the flicker of light
Upon seeing the sparks, Ching Wi placed great effort in developing mindfulness, taking refuge in the Triple Gem, trying to change for the better from her old version. Buddha’s teaching mentioned that hatred can’t be overcome by anger. Hatred can only be overcome by love. This is an eternal rule.
She recalled, ‘It is a very difficult process of healing. Changing from the 1.0 version to 2.0 is not easy. There are processes of 1.1, 1.2, 1.3,… etc. It is and will be a roller coaster ride of ups and downs.’ However, having trusted friends, families and the courage to believe in the power of truth in the triple gem is really helpful for the recovery process.
It can be very scary to experience depression and she found courage from “hiding” in the power Triple Gem’s truth. When she could not trust herself, she knew she could trust the Triple Gem, especially in stopping her suicidal thoughts. At moments when the suffering got really unbearable, she would imagine taking out all the negative emotions and believe in the Triple Gem, the teaching about the truth of life.
In times where she lacked confidence, she sought comfort in the Buddha’s compassion and practiced the Buddha’s teaching of loving-kindness. Even if she could not generate loving-kindness for herself yet, she kept trying. She found it easier to wish others well and at peace so she kept doing it. Slowly, the spark of positivity helps to calm her mind and she begins to feel kindness for herself too.
‘Take time to slow down every process. Be mindful of everything and start wishing others and yourself to have a blissful mind.‘ The advice she has taken to heart whenever she senses the darkness creeping in. Seeing how Ching Wi struggled and going through the hardest moment, was there any advice she had for others facing dark times?
She smiled, ‘learn to be kind to yourself, you too can see light’.
Helping others see light
“Learning to be kind and accept yourself, and being honest with yourself is very important to get out of suffering. Remind yourself that you too deserve a happier mental state, and depression is not a personal failure.” She advised.
Also, it is always better than letting the negative thoughts repeat over and over again. As it could be destructive to your mind.” She continued.
“But….what if you can’t do that?” I asked.
“Keep trying different ways to solve problems’. Ching Wi reckoned that it is very hard to move through hard times if our mind is not open, stuck in cycles of suffering.
Ask yourself: ‘Why am I so resistant to making myself peaceful and free from destructive thoughts?”
She suggested being open with your trusted people around you. It can be friends or family, or someone that you are comfortable to talk with. ‘Sometimes, they see our blind spot and help us to find confidence in ourselves. And could also bring up a new perspective that offers courage too.’
Even though it is not an easy journey to embark on with, it will be rewarding in the end.’ She grinned.
Lighting a candle in the darkest cave
“Lighting a candle in the darkest cave is not an easy task to do. However, it offers warmth to the cave. You may not still see the whole cave, but as the flame lights up, you will feel comforted and help to jumpstart your process of recovering.” She explained.
“As the candle continues to glow, the surroundings (mind space) will affect how bright will the candle be. If we could slow down and calm our thoughts, the warmth will brighten up the cave. A cave with even walls will enhance and reflect more light. Conversely, if the surroundings are jagged and wavey (full of worries), the glow will be shaky and unfocused. So pay attention too to the environment for the flame to continue shining.’ She cautioned.
Ching Wi calmly mentioned that even if you can’t see the full cave with your candle. Generate gratitude for that little flame, as it has at least helped you kickstart your process of recovery. To gain strength to face the world. To offer an opportunity to be happy again.
May you be inspired by this writing to light your own candle in tough times and offer strength to others.
- Gratitude goes a long way. To both ourselves and others, it is a great daily practice!
- Seeking help never hurts! From professionals to friends to family, finding that support helps guides you through the storms of life.
Need help? It is one call away
SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1800-221-4444
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Tinkle Friend:1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children)
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800
Resources for applying Buddhism to depressive mental states
How does a meditator deal with episodes of major depression?
The Dalai Lama’s Advice on Depression
Popping Pills for Depression: A Buddhist View – Inquiring Mind