Clinical depression can affect people of any age and symptoms are usually severe enough to cause noticeable problems in relationships with others or in day-to-day activities such as work or social activities. I’ve been knee deep in it and I’ve got the better if it. Here’s how. What made me a little different from a lot of other folks I know is that I could identify something had changed in my mental state and recognized I needed professional help. I felt no shame in accepting it. In this video I share what I learned about clinical depression by fighting it.
Hi. Welcome again to Stronger with Rakesh Shukla. Today, surprisingly, we are going to speak again about loneliness. And there’s a reason for it. I’ve made two videos now so far and the response has been overwhelming. Well, overwhelming isn’t the right word. It is worrying in a way because there are so many of you writing from so many parts of the world. And I’m so surprised that so many people feel so lonely. You read about it in books, you watch movies about people being lonely… but I never really thought it was so pervasive.
here was some feedback that I got when I spoke about how to address loneliness and I spoke about solitude and finding purpose in life. These are really actually end stages. You cannot just find solitude in one day, or meditate and find the “purpose” in life and it all becomes hunky dory. It’s not like that.
So, I wanted to share with you my own life story. That’s because everything that I say is built around that, and so I have to share with you my own journey. But before I go there, allow me to tell you two things.
The first is that you need to remember that loneliness is temporary. It is not something which is permanent. It is not like now you are in a corner and you are by yourself and that’s how it’s going to be for the rest of your life. It is not a permanent thing.
The second thing you must remember is that loneliness is a feeling and not a fact. We start thinking things like, “I am cut off”, “nobody really cares for me” or “nobody understands me” or whatever is the mindset that you develop. And you start thinking that that’s a fact. Actually, nobody really cares either which way. Their lives, everybody’s lives are going on as it was before that happened to you, and it will continue. Nothing is going to change in their lives. So, it’s just a feeling. You started feeling cut off and lonely and alone. They don’t feel like that. Nobody gives a damn.
And a favourite has become this thing that people have started talking about… this thing called the Universe. Some people wrote to me a couple of years back saying, “The universe loves you, the universe does this, the universe does that”, and the first time I couldn’t even understand what it was because in physics, the Universe is a thing that I’m a part of, but now the Universe loves me? The Universe thinks that I should smile? What the fuck is that? My point is that we have a pattern of thinking, we think that there is a pattern, that there is a higher purpose and there is some reason why we are going through the trials of life that we are. So being alone or being cut off or being lonely is some part of some great scheme of things perhaps. The fact is that there is no pattern in life. Things just happen randomly, okay? There is no reason why I should become a successful entrepreneur and then I should become broke. It’s not like I made a bad business decision. I don’t overanalyze it anymore, it just happened. I am not moved by how hard I fell, I’m moved by how quickly I came out of it.
So, it’s not permanent, and it’s something that happens and life goes on.
I was telling you about my own journey. I look at my journey in three parts and the third part is where the steps and things that you can do for yourself are. The first part was the freefall. In 2014, and till the beginning of 2014 like I said I was a successful entrepreneur. A Btech MBA guy who runs a big company and all the big tech companies are my customers and you know, life’s good. And then suddenly I get into this place where people want to shut down what I do which is my passion for dogs and they want to really kill me off to kill the dogs. And there are police cases, and I’m in the newspaper for all the wrong reasons and essentially, my life just fell apart, and my company fell apart. The first thing that I feel is that I remember a very strong sense of isolation. I just felt totally alone and totally by myself. That’s what I felt at that time. The amount of disappointment that I had with people around me and the people who had worked with me is not even funny. The people who were professional managers who had worked with me for many years. That disappointment was absolutely great.
But at the same time, I had one person- it’s not like there was nobody. There was at least one person who got through to me and told me to get up and fight. And that made all the difference. And I was still grappling with that very uncertain place to cope with that freefall so I became kind of disconnected from everybody. I kind of walked away from a lot of people and a lot of people walked away from me as well.
[Aside] Gudda’s back. You’ve seen her in my earlier videos, my paralyzed baby… She just wants to kiss my face all the time.
So that disconnect was very real, and interestingly there was also a pattern to it, which was that when I went into freefall, the people who were with me all went away, but I attracted a new kind of people. I don’t want to use the word, but I was in a very disturbed place at that time, and interestingly, so were they. These were the people who came into my life and they started coaching me and telling me that their presence will heal me and their presence makes a big difference in my life. Actually, they did nothing to my life. But my point is that you start giving out a certain energy and a certain vibe, and you start attracting people like that. So, you need to be mindful of that.
Coupled with that was a great sense of disappointment and actually not being able to go anywhere, and I started drinking. I keep mentioning this repeatedly. You have many methods to cope, but substance abuse is not one of them. And it was just a difficult time and the truth is that that’s what I did. I would just try to cope through the whole day and in the evening I would drink.
In the second phase, I started becoming a little more aware of the fact that I could not go through the rest of my life either feeling sorry for myself or being in this corner where I think that I am totally alone. And I needed to pull back and I did a few things. Again, these are not things that I can tell you to repeat because they are not necessarily repeatable, but that is the experience that I went through.
The first of them was that I started exercising. I figured that if I exercised, I felt better, and the fitter I became the more I could exercise. It’s like a cycle by itself. And it took me away from that other cycle of only being alone only with that voice in my head.
The second thing that happened to me, and you will see if you have followed anything that I’ve written before is that I created this persona for myself. This thing called “Baba”. Because I was hurting so much and I felt so alone and unable to be able to talk to anybody really, that I started talking of myself in the third person. I started calling that person “baba”. I started talking about baba like “baba cannot get hurt” – if somebody asked me how I was feeling I would say Baba is okay, for actually a period of two to three years, I never referred to myself as me or used the word Rakesh Shukla. I only spoke exclusively about myself in third person as baba. It used to be annoying for some people, but that was my way of coping.
And the third thing I did is that I realized that this attention that I was getting, this wrong kind, this negative vibe I carried or this isolationist feel I carried just brought in people who were not interested in my wellbeing in the long run. They were just interested in satisfying something in their lives by being in mine. And knowing different parts of my life kind of allowed them to make that association and that personal connect and be in my sphere so to say. I disliked it a lot, because I wanted people to be away from me. So, to actually drive that wedge and isolate myself even more from any personal associations, I dumped my whole life online. I started writing, I made my Facebook timeline public. I started writing my deepest thoughts that I hadn’t been able to share for years with anyone. I started writing them publicly and I created a website and I started externalizing that pain and that isolation. So, these are some of the things that I did. I’m not saying you need to do that or you should do that. I’m just telling you how I went through it.
The third after when I started getting the hang of it and coping with it adequately well, and started feeling a little better- that’s the time I would call the recovery. That’s the point at which – I remember that day when I thought of that whole thing called purpose. I realized that if it is not money and if it is not myself, then what am I here for I realized that my life has a purpose, and I have a purpose, and I need to be able to endure this pain to deliver on that purpose. I remember this day as clearly as yesterday and it was a life-changing experience.
So, if you can get to that, great, this is something you should do as part of that recovery. One of the things I still do as part of that purpose, is when I feel that when I’m getting kind of low and lonely, I think of something big. In the last few weeks, I’ve had some health problems. It started with a back issue and then I stopped exercising. My blood pressure went up tremendously. It’s been almost a month and a half and I have not been able to exercise really well. And now that I’m recovering and getting back to normal, that sense of being normal is again worrying me. But when I get to that point, I start to think of something big. Because if I lose myself trying to do something big, it takes away all this other part which is who’s talking to you who’s not talking to you- all these things become irrelevant because you’re driven by something really big. And my next big thing is another hospital for the dogs. Those are my thoughts.
As a rule, you will feel much better if you give back. If you love something back and you give back in the larger scheme of things to others, you will surely feel like you’ve made better connects with others and you will be in a more peaceful place. That helped me. I spoke about cutting out a lot of different kinds of conversations because there are people talking to me about all kinds of shit over the last five years, and really very little of that made a difference to me. But there were some conversations I actively enjoyed. Only very few but there are. I realize that the thing that motivates me most, and I want to talk about it, this is something that excites me – is when I talk about work. It could be something else for you – it could be art, or music, or whatever. But for me it’s work.
My partner in crime is a lady called Beena who manages a lot of the business side of a lot of what I do. Even when I’m feeling really low and alone, if I talk to her – sometimes I just call her just to talk about work. Because I know that we have already discussed this thing but if I just talk, I will feel better, I will feel more in control, I will feel more a part of the system.
So, you need to pick and choose the conversations you want to have. Like I said, all the conversations aren’t a value-add to you, but you need to figure out which are the ones that make a difference to you. There is another gentleman called Vikram – he used to study with me and is a wildlife photographer. He would call me once in a while and I laughed so loud it’s not even funny – you could hear me a block away. I love talking to him.
There is another lady called Reeni, she’s a brand consultant of her own company, called Reeni Dutta. Sometimes I just talk to her for the heck of it. This is a business association but I would just talk to her because I know that she would end up making me laugh.
And I mentioned about exercise – and there are a lot of people writing in saying that I talk from a man’s perspective when I talk about anything. I cannot get away from that, I cannot become a girl overnight. I don’t think I use any sexist language which is that you know, men should do that and women should do that, or men or women can’t do that or talk like that. But one of the things that was said was that you always talk about doing weights and boxing and whatever. Exercise doesn’t mean that you have to lift weights. You don’t have to go to a gym or lift heavy weights. Do something. If you love to dance, just move your body and start dancing! If you love to sing – do something with yourself.
That’s the other part of what I wanted to say that you should do. You should start doing some physical activity that you enjoy. If you enjoy walking, start walking. If you enjoy dancing, start dancing. There are a whole lot of activities that you don’t need people for. Go into a museum or watch art or watch a movie. There are so many things that you can do that don’t necessarily mean that you have to be in a social setting. What I am saying is that there are all these things that you can do to take care of yourself till the point that you are ready to re-engage.
And I will close it by saying the same thing that I opened with. Which is – just remember that loneliness is temporary and it is not permanent. And remember that loneliness is only a feeling. You are actually not alone. You think that youv’e become alone because of whatever is going on in your head. The world doesn’t care. They are still where they were. Your family is still where it was. You have started seeing things differently. So it’s a feeling. And there are all these different things that you can do other than substance abuse to lose that feeling. And after a while it will become okay.
A lot of you are writing about how lonely you are from all across the world and it is heartbreaking. I wish you could do some things. Start moving in that direction. Just put it behind you. It’s not worth it.
I don’t have regrets of the last few years of my life, about whether I could have done this or done that. I couldn’t have done anything different actually. But I shouldn’t have lost that much time. And that’s why I’m here talking to you. Because what took me five years to figure out, maybe you can do in three years. That’s two years plus on your side. Life’s a long slog. You need all the time though. You need everything that you can show to make something of it. Life is beautiful. Remember that.
So take care. We will talk again. Like I said before, if you have something that you can’t talk about, send me a message, fill up a form, or send me an email.
Otherwise I have a whole list of things lined up for you. As always, I speak from my personal experiences. Not something that comes from a book or some divine intervention. I was not born happy, but I made myself. I was not born strong, but I made myself. I was scared, but I’m not now. All these things can be learned. And I hope this is an interesting journey for you.
Take care, have a good one. Goodbye.
The drive to power through loss comes from mindfulness of grief and acceptance
Grief is an overwhelming emotion. At some point, we all will lose a loved one, lose a job, see the end of a relationship, or some other change that alters the very fabric of our lives. With grief, you feel a mix of emotions, numbness and confusion.
It feels it is impossible to get on with life — you break down repeatedly, become angry, withdrawn, and feel empty. It feels it is pointless to go on. We also feel our grief is very personal, our experience very unique and nobody else understands it. It is strictly not true.
I have dealt with overwhelming grief. The first time was when as a successful entrepreneur, I was framed and dragged like a common criminal through the police and judicial system for years. My personal and professional life was left in tatters. Messy and long drawn as it was when I started healing it happened again — this time at a deeply personal level.
But as the second wave of grief hit, I started seeing the pattern — I had recently felt the same things! I read about what grief is. I found grief has a simple structure. More importantly, since I knew what it was I could be mindful of grief and where I was in it and accelerate the process so that it lasted for weeks instead of years.
The Anatomy of Grief
In 1969, Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross published a book that mapped her observations from years of working with terminally ill individuals. This book called On Death and Dying put grief into five stages. Other researchers have since described it in seven stages, some in two. But no matter which you choose, it is a process and if you understand it you can power your way through it.
The five-stage theory became known as the Kübler-Ross model. While it was originally devised for people who were ill, other research shows — and indeed my personal experience is — that all grief falls into the same patterns, though not everyone will experience each in full. They are:
Stage 1: Denial
Denial is our defense mechanism. It numbs you to the intensity of the severity of the situation so that you have time to gradually absorb and process it. Chances are when you first learnt of a loved one’s death or lost your job or a relationship you went numb.
At the beginning of 2014 when the first set of police cases were registered against me, till December 2014 when eventually I had to close the company I built from scratch — I was just numb. I remember telling myself that I must take each day as it comes. I would sit for hours looking at a wall and try to make sense but my thoughts were very few, my emotions even fewer. I was hurt badly but I was not grieving yet.
At this stage most of my conversation with myself focused on:
- “This is just a dream, I will get up and it will be over”
- “The police have made a mistake — they’ll find out the truth and it will go away”
- “My employees have made a mistake, they will stick with me”
- “My customers have made a mistake, they will stick with me”
Other examples could be:
- Loss of love: “They’re just upset, it will be OK tomorrow” or “(S)he’s not gone and will be at home/ work/ a cafe when I reach there”
- Loss of employment: “They’re mistaken. HR will call tomorrow to say I should be back.”
Unfortunately for me, that feeling was so strong that I refused to see reality when it was stark and naked. By the beginning of 2014, my customers had started leaving. But I chose to think that it was all just a mistake and started funding TWB for the first time with debt instead of internal accruals! We had been cashflow positive from the first month and for 10 years, we grew with our own money. But the worst was yet to come.
By October 2014 I was the only person left in the building (and two other offices) where 300 people had worked. But my denial of the situation caused me to think that it will turn back to normal soon. I kept the building leases and everything in the building — more debt to fund it!
If I knew where I was, I would do it differently and let go of the situation at the beginning itself (this is a much later stage in this model called acceptance). When grief came again — personal and equally devastating — I knew I would be in denial. So instead of staying there, I gathered all the information I could to make a realistic assessment and once I had it, I decided to push through denial to the next stage. What had taken me more than a year the first time took me a few weeks the next time around.
I did not realise it then but the denial was my mind’s way of letting in only as much as I could handle. As I started to accept the reality of the loss all the feelings that were buried started surfacing.
Stage 2: Anger
Anger is a masking emotion because it hides many other feelings and pain that you carry, including bitterness and resentment. It’s an outward expression of your pain. For everyone, it may not be clear-cut fury or rage but for me it was and I was in that state of rage for years. My anger was directed at the people who had precipitated this situation:
- At the dog NGOs and animal welfare activists in Bangalore; the coterie of people who had a public stance that my trust VOSD must close and the company that funded it — TWB — must also close
- At my employees, many of whom had been with me from the start of TWB, many of whom I thought as personal friends and many who could do without a couple of months of salary and help me
- At my ‘friends’ who I had grown up with, most of whom were conspicuous by their absence in case I asked for a favour
- At God — how could he do this to me? I turned to Shiva who I have spoken to in first person for decades and said I will never again look at you with love (and for two years I didn’t)
You might have expressed this anger in many ways including:
- “I hate him/her! They will never get anything better than me!”
- “(S)he’s a stupid boss, what a loser. (S)he will fail too!”
By being angry I found two important differences from the mainstream narrative of anger:
- Grief is like swimming in a bottomless, shoreless sea. Anger gave me a structure to the nothingness of my loss. The anger became the connection from me to the people, the world, the reality that I was earlier too numb to feel. It may not be the best connect but I began reconnecting with the world around me after a few months through my anger.
- All popular literature tells you anger is a negative emotion and you should not feel it. Religious sermons are given on avoiding it. But I found that by truly feeling angry eventually it dissipated and I healed.
When grief came again I knew I would feel anger, resentment, betrayal and all the emotions that anger masks. But I consciously decided it is not worth it though it was the single most important situation in my life at the time. With awareness, I had become ‘mindful’ of grief and that helped — I was focusing on reaching the exit of the grief cycle as quickly as I could.
Stage 3: Bargaining
Once the anger subsides you are consumed by some way to salvage the situation — and how you can salvage is to bargain with those who can influence it. You will find a lot of use of bargain statements such as:
- “Please God, if you let my child live I will visit you at this temple/church/mosque…”
- “If you let this illness go I will devote the rest of my life to helping others.”
In my case, there were few people to bargain with. So instead of bargaining, I was consumed by, “If only…” or “What if…” statements:
- “If only I had met that customer earlier I could have had the cashflow”
- “If only I had been smart enough to see the trap I could have avoided it”
- “If only I had built a cash balance instead of spending on the dogs I could have avoided this.”
But I found all that the bargaining was doing was making me clutch at straws. It gave me hope where none existed. Grief had made me helpless and I was looking for ways to regain control. I also found that the more “what ifs” and “if onlys” I asked the more guilty I felt. While I wanted to influence the situation all I was doing was piling the guilt on myself — that the outcome could have been different and I was responsible for it not being different.
The second time I had to confront grief I did try to bargain initially — to find out what I could different, to make it better, the same as it was before. But once I caught myself asking the same question in four different ways and getting the same non-committal responses, I knew I had to stop bargaining and move on.
Stage 4: Depression
When bargaining fails, you are confronted with reality which is stark and empty. Grief becomes deeper than you ever imagined. You withdraw from life and wonder if there is any point in going on alone. You feel overwhelmed, foggy, heavy, confused and alone. Unfortunately, the few people around you — friends, family and well-wishers at this stage tell you that depression after a loss is something to snap out of. It is almost as if they wish you to not be there — because they think it is an illness.
It is not. It is important to understand that depression is an appropriate response to a great loss. To not experience depression after a loved one dies, the love of your life leaves you, or your professional life has ended, would be unusual — experiencing it is not.
By mid-2016 and more than two years into a never-ending fight, I was in a full-blown depression. In my earlier writing of fighting depression, I have shared that the breakthrough moments were (1) When I wanted to end my life and decided against it (2) When I realised after many months with a counsellor that I was not guilty. On the contrary, I was a fighter and someone to be proud of. It set me free.
Depression may feel like the inevitable landing point of any loss. But it is only a stage and it must be crossed. If you feel stuck at this stage talk with a mental health expert as I did. You must understand that grief is a process of healing, and depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way.
During the second wave of grief, I was better prepared. I tried to look for the reasons that I could address, but not finding any I forced myself to accept that reality had changed.
Stage 5: Acceptance
Accepting a situation is not the same as agreeing with it. The difference is stark and one that keeps most of us from accepting. You feel your acceptance will mean giving up when the opposite is true! If grief is the cycle, acceptance is the exit on the road — the one you need to take to move on and do something with the rest of your life.
I had to recognize that this new reality of not having the company, the offices, the employee, the prestige, of taking public transport, wearing mended shoes and eating one poor meal a day was a new reality. It did not mean I was OK with it. It meant that I accepted it and could find the time and the energy that I had earlier spent grieving to change this reality.
Acceptance means not wanting to maintain the past. It means to reorganize roles, re-assign them and take on new ones. I had made the mistake of denying the new reality and had paid a heavy price — running into $4-5 million in debt.
Now I embraced it. I started living in a world where I had very limited means but I had the smartness, drive and the belief that I would forge a new world around it. I stopped trying to replace what had been lost but started making a new future. A new future comes with new connections, relationships, and inter-dependencies (you can read more about what I learnt from my cataclysmic failure here).
The second time grief came I was ready to accept it. It did not make the loss any less painful or the grieving any more severe but I was driven by the thought that reality has changed and I must accept it.
Exiting the Grief Cycle
Instead of being resentful about the people and situations, I became involved in my life. Strangely I did the one thing I could never imagine myself doing — forgiving of people who hurt me. I discovered that their lives don’t matter to me either way — my life and the lives of those who depend on me does. I have to be busy in moving forward than looking back.
This drive to power through stages of loss came from mindfulness of grief. While I was grieving again I was watching myself do it and forcing myself to get to the exit. That exit has a big bright sign called ‘acceptance.’ If you take it you can get over grief in a few months instead of the years it took me to. I know the second time around I did.
Stronger with RAKESH SHUKLA™ is a framework for developing unparalleled mental and physical toughness. It is based on Rakesh’s life, and has helped drive two ‘comebacks’.
Rakesh Shukla slept on railway platforms on his way to creating a world-leading technology company — TWB_, which is the choice of over 40 Fortune 500 tech customers worldwide including Microsoft, Boeing, Airbus, Intel, and others. However, at 43, he lost everything within a year. Alone and friendless, he spent the next five years repaying over INR 20 crore of debt and taxes, while building back his company and reputation, and creating and funding VOSD — world’s largest dog sanctuary and rescue.
Rakesh Shukla has suffered heart disease since he was seven years old, had had two heart attacks by the time he was 30, suffers from brain diseases, has broken his back and his kidneys are failing. Towards the end of this five-year period, Rakesh weighed 88 kg and very unfit. Today, at 48 years, he can lift well over 100 kg above his head, run a 10-minute mile, do 2,000 push-ups, and 250 pull-ups. He has never been to a gym, been on a diet, had a trainer, or taken any supplements.
- Business & Strategy
- Communication is the key
- Dealing with depression & mental illness
- Dealing with stress
- Developing a growth mindset
- Developing mental strength
- Developing physical strength
- Finding meaning in life & work
- Lessons from catastrophic failure
- Success & Happiness