Here is the full transcript of Living with Depression and Suicidal Feelings by Sami Moukaddem at TEDxLAU
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: On living with depression and suicidal feelings by Sami Moukaddem at TEDxLAU
So I am five years old. I am standing on the balcony, 7th floor, and I am calculating. When I went to my grandmother and asked her, “What happens when people die?”
She says, “Nothing; everything goes black”.
So being practical, I went to my bedroom, lied on my bed, closed my eyes. And 10 minutes later, I started to cry, because I felt myself in darkness. I cried because I lost the option of not existing because that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to not exist anymore.
Now things got better, much better. And by the age of 13, I was praying and I had an amazing experience where my chest just opened, and I felt this love for the whole world. It’s like a state of bliss, and it lasted for about two months. Literally, I felt love for everything around me, rocks, whatever. I had been reading about a serial killer. There is love coming. It’s strange.
But then something weird happened. It’s like a light bulb that just got an extra bit of light and it popped. And I fell in a hole inside myself and that’s the beginning of depression.
By the time I was 18, I had just moved to Ireland, and just like the practical 5 years old, I felt OK. I don’t want to exist anymore. So here is the plan. I’m going to try to not commit suicide because friends and family would hurt. So I’m going to try to work on myself as much as I can. And if I can’t, then I’ll leave this place.
So, I went into psychology. As a DIY job, I wanted to work on myself. 9 years later, I came out with 3 Masters. And I ended up working in the field of trauma — somehow, extreme trauma, like sexual abuse and victims of torture. It took me 30 years, from my first fall, for the suicidal feelings to stop. And I would consider myself no longer depressed, although I do get depressed, but it’s due to life circumstances.
In my case, I don’t see it in terms of a mental illness. I see it as more of a physical illness, and an ailment of the soul and the psyche. In my situation, I was clear that there was trauma in my childhood. So I decided I was going to approach it through psychology work and not take drugs.
Now, I’m saying this because not all depression is the same. And some of the approaches that I applied on myself are actually not appropriate and even dangerous in other situations. I am not against medication. By the end of this talk, in about 12 minutes, 24 people throughout the world will have committed suicide. That’s just the statistics. That’s one in every 30 seconds.
Now there’s a lot of misconceptions about suicide and depression. And they make things much worse. For example, one of the things that I had to deal with is this attitude of why don’t you snap out of it? That’s like looking at a homeless person and saying: Why don’t you get rich?
My brother admitted to me just recently. He said, “You know, I know it sounds stupid now but when we were kids, I used to think that you chose depression because you used to listen to sad music”. Now, had he said it to me at the time, I wouldn’t have had the language to say to him, “You know, AC/DC and Van Halen, they do work but not all the time. And when they don’t work, I’m lonelier”. What I need is something that reflects my state in the outside world. So there is two of us — two miseries.
Some of the suggestions, while they could come from a good place, bring an extra pressure. For example, a friend would walk in and say: “Check this out. There’s proof that if you do sports, chemicals will be released in the body, happy chemicals, and you should just check it out, you should do it, you really should do it”.
Well, when you’re depressed, the weight of your body feels much heavier than its actual weight. So I could go for a jog for 5 minutes and then I stop. And the last thing I need is another sense of defeat.
OK, fine. Why don’t you go for a walk? Clear your head. Here is my head on a walk. In those moments, it took me a while to realize, what I need most is actually to be in bed, curtains closed, and with the least amount of stimulation. Just like a migraine person needs. Except with my brain it’s more acceptable.
But with depression, it’s that attitude is umm, umm, umm, you’re not making the best out of life. The amount of times that I wished I’d developed cancer or was hit by a bus, so I could be in a wheelchair and say: I’m in a wheelchair, man, it’s going to take a while. The worst thing about those misconceptions out there is that with time I began to internalize them.
And I would develop impatience with myself. And impatience is a fight between you and yourself, a rejection of parts of yourself. And with time you stop wanting to be vulnerable because it hurts. You lose parts of yourself and you forget that they were there in the first place and you stop looking for them.
Like I said, I was studying and applying. Here is a list of all the psychology approaches, a summary that I’ve applied on myself. You can Google, there’s a lot of stuff out there. But here’s one point: not one single one of them works all the time. I did this gentle yoga workshop one day and I’m talking about super gentle. All I had to do was feel the contact between my feet and the floor. That’s all — and feel my breath. Within an hour and a half, I had a whole lot of suicidal feelings coming up and I was stuck with that for the rest of the day. Would you like some?
So, overall it was not a bad thing. Overall it was an indication of what I need to work on. But the point is, I wasn’t ready for it that day and that was not the intention of the workshop. I’m getting more powerful — when I’m coming out of depression, I’m feeling — Can you feel the inner Godzilla?
To summarize all these attitudes, it boils down to one thing. This natural voice that says “Sami, fight! Those emotions you feel, push them down. You ought to develop the kind of character that pushes them down and you are master of yourself. Fight!” The best analogy I can come up for depression is that you are in the sea and the current pulls you. When the current pulls you, the common wisdom is that you don’t fight it, because if you fight it you get exhausted and you drown. The wisdom is to surrender to it. Wait for the current to spit you out and then you find your way back to the shore. And that is what 30 years of depression means to me. 30 years of finding my way back to the shore.
Now some of you don’t deal well with analogies, so I’m going to show you physically what that looks like. Just one second. It’s a yoga technique. Here goes the socks, very nice socks and what is it? When I say that the current pulls you down, it actually pulls you down to the bottom of the sea. This process can last from 2 days up to a week. Walking — everything is OK or if I’m not walking, I’m standing and suddenly there’s no energy. The body goes like this. You don’t have much control of yourself anymore.
And then you find yourself on your knees. At the bottom of the sea is where I meet my monsters. And I would fight my monsters and the more I fought the bigger they got. Until with time, a lot of time, I learned to listen. And when I listened, they became beautiful creatures. And they would hand me secrets and they would point me towards the vulnerable bits in myself that I had long forgotten. And they would help me integrate.
And to translate that, it’s something like this. I’m in a therapy session. I’m feeling pain, this depressing pain and my therapist says, “Sami, stop fighting it. Try to go with it”. So I allow myself to cry. And after 20 minutes, I stop because all sorts of weird stuff is happening.
Trauma is a negative, overwhelming experience that got frozen in your body. The tears are just the ice melting. What I’m saying is there’s been a lot of crying. And a lot of surrendering to the notion that I’m bigger than this because this isn’t. Everything that is inside of me that I am fighting with, whether it is somebody has said something horrible or a negative judgment of myself, that’s a monster. A dream that has its own language where I wake up feeling horrified, that’s another language that I need to decode.
Now the stuff that happens to us before the age of five, it’s harder to access because of the formation of memory in the brain. You may get a trigger or you feel miserable. You feel you want to die but you don’t have the accompanying image to process it. It’s years of translating the lessons of the sea and then bringing them back to the land.
We need more work. Hey, thank you. I’ve grown to see my inner world as both land and sea. What I need to do is keep translating the lessons of the sea to the land. That means learning more or continuing to do some of the approaches that have worked at certain times and have patience that the seeds that I’m planting, have patience that winter will come and it will rain. Have patience that if I’ve planted beautiful seeds that with time they will bear fruit and flower.
One day I came up with the idea that I should sit on the side of my bed, get in touch with that experience of 5 year old that wanted to jump and for 2 months I would imagine I’m hugging myself as the older son while still being here. And the voice that has developed over the years, I call it, the assassin voice which says, “Come on, let’s get out of this place. You don’t really want to continue to live for others.”
With time, within those 2 months, I realized that voice wasn’t a negative voice. It wasn’t trying to kill me. It was trying to show me that I should start focusing on living for me. I rang my aunt a couple of weeks ago, and I said, “I heard you want to come to the talk. You know I’m going to be talking from my personal space?”
She says, “Yeah, I know. Why don’t you just try talking as if you are telling the experience of one of your clients-patients that you used to work with?”
I said, “There is nothing more powerful than talking from your authentic experience. People would appreciate that.”
“I know, but there would be people in the crowd who might want to put you down.” And she’s naming the negative voices in society which I think actually are not the majority. The majority are compassionate. And even a negative voice is sometimes a compassionate voice that has lost its way.
And I said, I wanted to speak, not just for myself but for other people who have been silenced by that pressure of when you ask them, how are you? And it seems to be an international phenomena especially in capitalist societies that you say, “I’m good”. There is a kind of pressure to be cool, if you don’t have issues. I mean, long time, I kind of realize that the more I share about myself, the more people tell me their stuff. And I learned to deal with that false coolness. You don’t have problems? You’re cool? I’ve got lots of problems. That’s how cool I am.
I don’t want to fall into this idea that my life is totally belonging to me. That I am the sole author of my life, because I’m not. Because I’ve had a lot of help. And when I open up I get a lot of flow. And I want it to keep flowing. This is the first time in the history of humanity as we know it that we can make so much influence on each other’s lives throughout the whole world.
By now, 24 people have committed suicide. The question is: How are you going to deal with it? Two weeks ago, Robin Williams died. I looked at the internet and what was being said and I realized that his daughter can read these comments. And that’s what we say can make a difference. And most of the comments were positive, but some would say, I’ve been there. He shouldn’t have done that.
Next time. This is my suggestion. Next time you meet somebody who says, who appoints themselves in this position of authority, of I’ve been there. Just very calmly say, since you haven’t committed suicide, you haven’t really been there. And since you are here in the same here that I am, I’m going to tell you every single thing you say can be either positive or negative. Both will have an impact on me. And the tone by which you say it will make sure it will live in me long after it has been said.
With that, I am going to leave you with two examples of two extreme choices and show you what they do to me.
The first one, I’d like you to get in touch with your most judgmental, harsh side and just point your finger at me and go like this zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Come on, come on, everybody. Get nasty, get nasty on me. It’s been done to you. You know it. RRRRRRR. OK, and it stays long after it’s been said.
The next one, I’m going to leave you not only to think — I need to say anything after that. Can I take this off? I can. I want you to sit with both feet on the floor please and with your spine right up. I want you to give me your most compassionate sense of being and it doesn’t matter if you like me or not. Actually, if you don’t like me it’s even better because this is not about me, it’s about you. So just a gentle hum. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Come on. This is what happens.