An Inside Job

Uncertainty is my new best friend and ‘I don’t know’ my answer to just about every question right now. For someone who thrives on routine, the lockdown has been a rude wakeup call, one I was not prepared for.

I’m hardly the only one facing such issues. A national mental health helpline has been set up for the increasing number of people experiencing anxiety – which doesn’t surprise me considering our current state of affairs, but it does make me wonder how our parents and grandparents dealt with so much more so graciously. Wars, famines, financial disasters, you name it – it seems as though nothing was big enough to shake them.

Why then are we having such a hard time?

Over the last few decades, rapid economic development has made it possible for us to have access to a lifestyle our parents could only dream of with every possible comfort and convenience known to man available. In addition, the fact that no wars, invasions or pandemics have disrupted our peace during this time, it’s safe to say that today’s middle class lives at a much higher standard in life than ever before.

As incredible as it may be, this has come with its own share of problems. It has turned us into a species of impatience, instant gratification and quick fixes. We are so used to having everything easily that when things don’t go our way, we find it difficult to remain sane.

Ironically, even when they do go our way, we find it difficult to remain sane. We have also become somewhat delicate and fragile with zero tolerance for things we don’t like.

Also read: Your Mental Health Matters, but Which One?

If we only realised that what we’re after is attained not by manically altering things on the outside but by taking control on the inside. Our parents and grandparents understood this very well and were able to weather the mightiest of storms. It’s about time we took a cue from them and start doing the same instead of being dragged around by our whims and fancies.

This, is not an impossible task. Contrary to popular belief, gaining control of your mental faculties isn’t a skill reserved for monks. It can very easily be attained provided we are willing and committed. I’m not just preaching here, but speaking from experience. Having successfully recovered from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) myself I know that these conditions can be alleviated.

For those of you who don’t know and contrary to the jokes you might have heard, OCD is a deeply traumatising and debilitating mental disorder that paralyses you with feelings of anxiety and fear and holds you captive with horrifying thoughts and images. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there were days when I thought I wouldn’t make it, when I just wanted to curl up and die. The anxiety and panic would be so severe that I could barely get through the simplest of tasks. I quit work, stopped meeting people, stopped smiling, stopped living. Everything seemed pointless and so I just gave up. The disorder almost ruined my life.


So how did I recover?

Initially, it was with the help of my psychiatrist, my therapist and antidepressants. In fact, during the early years, it is safe to say that my doctors were my heroes and I couldn’t have done it without them. They were able to control the disorder to a large extent, especially at the symptomatic level. As a result, I was able to manage quite well, provided I continued with my counselling sessions and medication. But god forbid if I stopped even for a week, I would completely unravel.

Real recovery (drug free and self reliant) came when I switched my focus from external interventions to internal resources. My life began to change once I realised that we all have the (will) power to transform our minds. We are not stuck with anything we don’t like or that which does not serve us, be it a behavioural trait like laziness, an anxiety disorder like OCD or an addiction like alcoholism.

We can replace non serving behaviours like anger and fear with traits like strength, resilience and courage. You probably think I’m exaggerating but I have firsthand experience with this. A worrying thought about my health that would earlier trigger fear in me and send me running to the hospital has absolutely no effect on me now. My ‘new mind’ has learned to respond to the same stimulus in a completely different yet much more effective manner.

Latest scientific evidence also seems to be in agreement with these views. Our brain, as recently discovered, is malleable, meaning we can reset old neural pathways and resistant grooves that determine how we act and feel. This natural ability that we all possess is called neuroplasticity whereby if we learn new knowledge and have new experiences we can develop new networks or circuits of neurons and literally change our minds. You don’t have to believe me. You can do your own research.

All I can say is that I went from being a sad and petrified shell of a human being to a confident, self-assured, happy and whole person that I didn’t even know was me, but am glad it is.

Priyanka Jamwal is a human resources professional with over 15 years of experience in the corporate field and a certified counselor with a degree in Psychology. She also owns a hospitality services company which she started in 2015 providing hospitality services to corporates in Kolkata. She loves to cook, read and write and is hoping to share her experiences of real life with people through her writing.

Featured image credit: Elios Santos/Unsplash