People ask me why I became a Buddhist monk. I’d like to tell them the truth, but it gets me into trouble.

I was depressed. I had no ambition except to propel myself out of this world as soon as I could find the space to do so. This had gone on for 5 years, and now Buddhism was my last chance.

Not the story people expect to hear! Do they want me to tell about the night angels came to visit and I gave my life to God? Or how a life long calling had been evident from the time I was a kid? It didn’t happen that way. I was suffering and I wanted it to stop. As the fault was the ‘world’, it was that world that had to stop. Simple logic which, as a teenager without an adult to turn to, made perfect sense. ¬†Gladly that was a long time ago.

Depression is a ruinous habit. And it is a killer. It is the cause of more suicide than any other illness. Think about that – even folk with terrible illnesses rarely suffer so much they want out of life. Recently I met a couple who had a daughter who had suddenly started talking and acting rather oddly. She was suddenly talking about dying, and asking about karma and such things. Her family tried to laugh it off but within 3 months she had died. And for every story like this, there are many more with less tragic conclusions, but still stories of deep suffering. The families and friends – the ones who matter in this circumstance – simply have no understanding of the problem, or how to react.

Depression is a Black Hole and it is affecting you or someone close to you right now. Once the victim is over the Event Horizon there often is no coming back. It has nothing to do with feeling a bit down. Or feeling a bit destitute when things are not going well. Or having a bad year.

There rarely is any identifiable ’cause’ – it’s not poverty, not sickness, death or loss. We don’t know what the cause is, just as we don’t know what the ‘cure’ is. It is difficult to imagine, even for one who has found their way back to the safe side of the event horizon.

But knowing some of the signs, and some of the dos and don’ts, might just enable you to spot the signs of genuine depression. It might enable you to actually help, or at least not to do the wrong thing. Such as telling someone to ‘cheer up’ or that there is always someone worse off than you are. You don’t tell people not to be happy because there is someone else happier somewhere do you!

Different schools of research have treatments, but these too, seem to have little effect. Research that monitors the progress of depression patients show that there is little difference in the effectiveness of the treatments. It does seem to help to have some kind of treatment – but that is probably due to just having someone to talk with. Sending a patient home to stay with mum in fact boasts slightly better statistics of recovery than seeing a psychologist. Extreme therapy such as electric shocks, have been tried, including one curious treatment using botox. It is well known that a change of body language will affect your mood – so one doctor is botoxing smiles into depressed patients, to give bio-fedback that they are actually happy. The treatment has actually shown some promising results too.

One part of depression is negative thought patterns. These are one part of the problem that we can do something about. Using mindfulness, and a few simple teachings applied with wisdom and determination, we can retrain our minds out of negative habits. Depressed, or just having a bad day, this is a training we should all be familiar with.

My depression ceased on 29th May 1994, at about 8am, in a special ceremony. I’d had enough of it. I will tell you about it, but the core feature was simply that I was ready, and desperate, to change. Until you are really ready, then there is no silver bullet.

Like anyone, I have had bad days, and bad months since then, but I’ll not go over that event horizon again. Once you have been there, that black hole lurks around your system like a herpes virus, monitoring you and waiting for a weak day. It never really leaves, but like a sober alcoholic, you can be aware of it, and on guard, watching the thought patterns, and applying mindfulness.


 

This week I will talk on how to recognise real depression, how to give real help, and how to control your own ruinous thought patterns.