Toska is a word I picked up once upon a time on the internet. As far as I am aware, it defies definition. It is a concept of suffering, a kind of pervading despair of the soul. Whether or not that’s true, I have no idea, but it sure does sound like a fitting name for depression.
Toska can either be the mild form of depression you get after your expectations are not met. Like when your car dies, your best friend flakes out on you, or your waiter messed up your order.
Toska can also be as severe as a heart attack. It can sap away all your energy and strength. It can cut your legs from under you and make it impossible to breathe. It can reach so deep that you feel there is no escape. It is the feeling you get when you’ve hit rock bottom right before you realize that it can only get better from there. It is the feeling that comes when your favorite pet dies. It is the feeling you get while sitting at a funeral or memorial service trying to hold yourself together but knowing that at any minute the tears will start and you can’t shut them off.
Whatever form it comes in, Toska is entirely unavoidable. You can’t turn it off. You can’t get away from it, or pretend it’s not there. You can’t just suck it up and knock it off. That’s like telling an addict to just stop. Flick that light switch and just stop being an addict. People don’t work that way. We aren’t wired that way. We can’t just stop feeling sad. Especially where Toska is involved.
So, what is it really?
According to my experience, it is an unfulfilled need pushing at you so hard it forces you into despair. Think of it as an emotional 2X4 to your heart.
You plod along in life ignoring a problem you may not even know you have. It builds and builds until you start to feel like something isn’t right. You can’t put your finger on it, but something just feels off. So you shake it off and keep on going with your life.
At this point you still have the option to ignore it, but this usually makes you start to take a look around. Hmm... What is actually wrong here? What isn’t making sense? What isn’t making me happy? But you can still tell yourself that you are just overreacting to stress. Maybe you’re planning something big. Maybe something catastrophic happened recently and you’re still recovering from it. Maybe you take a look around and everything looks absolutely perfect. So you ignore that feeling.
Perfection is an illusion. Let’s get comfortable with that concept for a second. There is nothing in this universe that is entirely perfect. Because perfection, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder. It depends on the preconceived notions of what perfection should be. A set of standards that must be met. And, those standards can change at a moment’s notice.
Bearing that in mind, let’s follow the example that is most likely to spur Toska. Imagine for a moment you are standing in a living room. It is spacious, bright, decorated exactly how you would want it to be. You have your perfect career, your perfect family, your perfect pets, your perfect friends. You are the epitome of your idea of perfection.
Now imagine that you start to feel dissatisfied with that life. There is a nagging feeling that something just isn’t right. You look around and only see your perfect life. How could anything be wrong in such a situation? It must be your imagination. So you shake it off and attend that PTA meeting.
Life continues on. Your kids go to school and you go to work and everything stays stagnantly picturesque. But that feeling comes back and brings its friends. Soon you feel mildly depressed. Guilt creeps in. Why do I feel this way? Look at what I have. People would, and have, killed for this life. Why aren’t I happy?
This is a crucial point for people. If they have no clue what is going on, if they don’t understand what their body is trying to tell them, if they have never meditated or practiced introspection, they will likely look to medication. Which means they will go to the doctor and pick up a prescription for happy pills. Or, they will try to self-medicate with drugs, shopping, video games, any of the numerous distractions our media driven society gives us open access to.
But no matter what our form of medication is, it will always do two things. First, it will cause an addiction. Without the distraction of choice, we feel that pressing despair. So, we stay numb to it. Second, it fails to make that feeling go away. It doesn’t fix the underlying problem. Which means that the more we run from it, the more it pushes back, and the more we need to numb it, which leads to a tighter grip from our addictions.
And, this is all because we cannot, or will not, recognize that we have a substantial need that is not being filled. There is some facet of our character that is not being given the freedom to express itself. Some hunger that is not being fed. A parched throat that cannot gain relief.
We continue on this way until finally, we need a 2X4 to smack us upside the head. The universe has to go, “Hey! Dummy! Look over here! You’re missing the point!”
Next week I'll continue with the next section. In this series I ask that you follow along and comment. This is an extremely personal and sensitive process. I do NOT want anyone to share personal details on this blog! I am sharing mine to help you understand, to let you know that you are not alone. If you would like to comment, please feel free but be patient while I review the comment before it is published. Thank you for reading!