Go to Gokarna
Going to Gokarna was a very last minute decision. I met up with my ex-coworker who was in town for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit when I was in Hyderabad. He has lived and traveled quite a bit across India. As we were talking about my travel plans, he took it upon himself to vet my itinerary and make sure I’m visiting the places where he thinks I’ll have a great time in.
That’s when I learned about Gokarna.
Gokarna is one of the 7 important pilgrimage centers. It’s on the western coast of Karnataka with a population of around 26,000 people. The small town is dedicated to Lord Shiva (also known as Mahabaleshwara) and is surrounded by (or is very close to) beaches – that’s what attracts the tourists – with names like Om beach, Nirvana beach, Heaven beach. Gokarna means “cow’s ear” due to the legend that Shiva emerged from the ear of a cow here.
A fleeting connection
I went to Gokarna with a friend I met in Goa. It’s one of those times where you meet someone and instantly decide that there’s a connection – that there’s going to be a mutual exchange where you’ll each teach something old and learn something new. At that point, my itinerary was completely blank. I wanted to avoid a cyclone but also wanted to leave Goa ASAP (it’s too touristy for me), so when my new friend, X, mentioned that he was interested in Gokarna, I saw it as a sign to lock that destination in.
We left the next day. During our 2-3 hour drive, we breached a lot of topics like family, relationships, love. It was easy sharing with a something I met a day ago – there was no history, no baggage, no judgments. Just moments of chatter we eagerly exploited, moments of silence we quietly indulged. I sought help and unconditional support was given, I fell quiet and succumbed to the master of my thoughts. It’s ironic that this man has answered questions I’ve been struggling with – ones that I don’t feel comfortable sharing with my friends, or, ones that I know my friends simply would not understand.
Oh, the irony of friendship.
As the hours crawled on, our topics got deeper. My friend revealed that he had been battling depression for a few years and he just got over it.
Then a diagnosis
Clinical depression is “a mental health disorder characterised by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life”. The WHO has labelled depression as the most common illness worldwide and the leading cause of disability. It’s estimated that 350 million people globally are affected by depression. In India, it’s estimated that there’s more than 10 million cases per year.
The thing with depression is that you can’t share it. When you’re depressed, quite often it’s less about what’s happening, but more to do with how you are internalizing facts. You feel like there’s no escape, there’s no hope and that anything anyone says is wrong – you somehow always find a way in your mind to convince yourself otherwise.
I admit that I only know a handful of people who have suffered from depression. In Hong Kong, mental health issues is a hush hush subject. You cannot be psychologically ill – that’s not allowed. Mental illness belongs to an asylum.
“As someone on the sidelines, what can I do to help loved ones who are depressed?” I wondered aloud, “when someone reaches out and asks me for help, I want to be supporting without being overbearing. At the same time, I feel like the person reaching out isn’t listening to me”
“Depression is often illogical” X said, “You cannot approach it with what you’d call a ‘sound solution’ – you cannot approach it with solution that makes sense to you“.
X continues, “solutions are paths forward and usually, those who are depressed cannot see that path. And if they do see a path, it’s often made of molten lava with white-hot spikes. Would you go ahead?”
I reflected on this quietly.
Someone close to me is suffering form depression.
For the past few years, I’ve been trying to get this person help. I tried giving them suggestions when they asked for advice, I tried telling them what to do when they needed more direction, I tried signing them up with therapists when they said they don’t know what to do anymore.
Though my best intentions and my hardest efforts, none of this seem to work. The person comes to me every time they have an episode, but time and time again they’re repeating the same problems as last time.
It frustrated me. Why isn’t this person listening? Why aren’t they doing something to change the situation around? The road to happiness is so obvious, so simple!
But after talking to X, it became clear to me that I’ve been dealing with this incorrectly the entire time –
Step 1: Remove the “I”. No one cares if you understand or not. The person seeking help is usually just looking for a listening ear, not someone to say “I don’t get why this is a problem”
Step 2: Remove the ego and desire to save the day. If this person is not ready to follow your “logical” and “obvious” suggestions/instructions, then let it be. They know the situation better than you, and, they know what they’re capable of better than you.
Step 3: Remove time. It does not matter how many times you’ve talked to this person about the same facts and scenario. If they person is not “fixed” or well, they are not. As a confidant, you either get them professional help, or you continue playing your role as the unwavering listener.
There are two commons themes in the three steps above: forgetting that this is about you, and embracing more empathy / acceptance. Rushing people and inundating them with facts / advice / words isn’t going to help. You have to accept your loved ones for who they are, what problems they have, and that they’re going to heal at a pace that works for them.
They come to you for you. Be the listening ear that breaks the barrier. Be the comfort your loved ones can embrace.
(Sent from Gokarna, India)