It was unusually hot for a December afternoon in Pune and my friend Tanveer and I found an isolated table in the famous 11 East Street Cafe to sit and talk about, well, my childhood. The agenda was clear – my therapist, back in Delhi, had asked me to sit down with a person I was not vulnerable in front of and someone I completely trusted with the most sensitive side of me, and discuss the most vivid memories of my childhood. I basically had to list down every incident I remember and figure out what my reaction to that should have ideally been and instead what it had been, and figure out its consequences that have now become my ingrained personality issues. Tanveer is someone I had earlier trusted my most personal secrets and problems with and we have been friends for about half a decade now. But I was at loss of words when I sat there in front of him to talk about the most crucial things. It took a couple of drinks, a pizza and long, meaningful silences for me to start talking. When I finished saying whatever I had to, Tanveer was surprised that I had been through whatever I had been through and wondered why we never discussed this before. He finally ended it by saying “I don’t know what to say man, you just need some love, pure love.”
Now, as desperate as that sounds, I have to admit that he was right. But I’m not here to tell you the stories of my childhood. I am here to talk about my fight with depression and anxiety. I can point out when exactly the physical symptoms had started to show. It was the beginning of November and I have to admit, I was knowingly bringing an emotional disaster upon myself just because of the way my brain has always functioned – choosing pain over peace of mind. But not until the beginning of November had any physical symptoms started to show. I remember the trigger was really just a small little tiff with the person I felt the closest to in Delhi. And that’s it, that was followed by me not going to work for a couple of days, and locking myself inside my room for hours together, crying incessantly and uncontrollably at the drop of a hat several times during the day, not being able to sleep, staying up all night and crying, not being able to eat anything, contemplating committing suicide several times over (and thankfully never going ahead and implementing my plans) and when I went to work two days later, I couldn’t put my mind to a thing. My mind was blank, really – it couldn’t recollect and remember a single problem or difficult situation in my real life, all it was doing was suffering to no end; and for the first time ever, I could tell that my mind was ill. Simple.
I used to be hit by constant anxiety attacks when at work. I used to put my head down when I felt the sense of falling, and shivering and panting and losing breath; I used to tap my feet till that feeling went away and obviously I couldn’t tell anyone about it because I can’t cite reasons and who is going to understand, anyway, right? This continued on for a week. Luckily, Priyam, a dear friend and colleague, realised that I needed professional help. She sat me down and told me that I needed to go through therapy but I told her that maybe it’s just a phase (I am not exaggerating anything here but I have NEVER had a smooth, simple life, even for a brief period of time. When I was younger, terrible situations were thrown at me for no fault of mine and dealing with them by hiding them all within me resulted in them affecting me in a psychosomatic way and then I had a series of physical problems to deal with as I grew up but in the process, the mental problems never left my side – they were inside, waiting to eat me up at the right time). I thought I was strong enough to get past this and I had a family wedding to attend that month so I was hoping that it would lift my spirits. But once I was back from the wedding, my depression started working the other way. I over ate and over slept. The rest of the symptoms remained the same. So I picked up the phone and booked an appointment with my therapist. After I told my therapist about whatever had been bothering me, she looked at me and said, “your body language shows clear signs of anxiety and you need medical assistance.” She basically meant go visit the psychiatrist so that it is easier for the therapy to work. Now going to the psychiatrist means having to take pills that he will prescribe and I was apprehensive because I had seen a few of my acquaintances use the pills for all wrong reasons and some who completely depend on them and live in the victim zone and refuse to deal with their root problems. But my therapist convinced me and I went to the psychiatrist who diagnosed me with moderate depression and anxiety and put me on anti-depression and anti-anxiety medication. I made sure I took it on time and never abused them. I started to feel better very soon and to be honest, I didn’t feel like myself during the initial few days. The medication made me concentrate too much on the here and now and I was always the person that stressed about the tomorrow. And yes, there are times when you are suddenly hyper or when you feel nauseated. You just need to make sure you continue going for your therapy sessions and dig deep to figure out what the root cause of all this is. It is essential to remember that the problem at hand is not the real problem in most cases; the problem at hand is just the trigger. And you should not give up and slide back into the slump mode until you figure your real problem. My conversation with Tanveer helped me a great deal in figuring out the root cause of all the emotional issues that have been bothering me all my life – while he gave me a vague idea, I had to think, analyse, construct and arrive at a conjecture.
Once you identify, you need to go face each of your problems, or if need be, completely get rid of the memories associated to them from your life, one after the other. But at this stage, you need to decide what works best for you. In my case, I decided to face and come out clean with the problem at my hand and deal with it, and on the other hand completely disassociate myself with elements that have triggered my core problems since childhood. This is one of the most difficult yet necessary steps that you need to muster the courage to take, if you ever wish to recover. This is probably also the right time for me to point out that I have met several people who go ahead and make up problems, consciously, to seek attention and visit doctors to legitimise their ‘problems’. The lack of proper awareness and the stigma associated with mental issues such as depression can have two negative outcomes to it – you either never recognise your problems and acknowledge them the way you’re supposed to and seek help at the right time or you’ll see that people will use the lack of awareness as a tool to their advantage when they decide to stay lazy and not fight the world with the bare minimum strength that you’re required to exhibit in everyday problems. Mental illnesses is one sort of taboo in our society, it won’t take even two minutes for someone to point fingers at you and say ‘pagal hai saali/ she is too needy and moody all the time/ it’s so annoying, she is crying and sulking all the time’.
Support and Recovery
It can get extremely difficult to be around or deal with someone who is going through depression and anxiety. All I would like to say is, if you truly care about them just be patient and wait for them to get over their problems even if they give you a hard time. I agree it is not fair for you to stay and take someone else’s emotional fluctuations when they’re subjected on to you. But they only do it because somewhere, they have the confidence that you’d understand and stay. So don’t play any blame games, never forget that they’re going through depression and anxiety, and support them; and think about their mental state of mind before you react extremely to their behaviour. More importantly, don’t break their trust in times like that. I am sure they have nothing in their control (including their own words and actions) and regret putting you through hell way more than you’d ever find out.
I for one got insanely moody, needy and clingy towards the one person who I thought would understand my state of mind. And when there wasn’t enough understanding and instead I got complaints about how the relationship was getting difficult, and on how any relationship is meant to be easy and not this difficult, I broke down further and saw myself at my nastiest ever. Maybe I wasn’t right at that point, but I had no objectivity left in me.
Discussing depression and any similar mental illness is like talking about one of those sensitive topics in this society – HIV/ AIDS or the rights of LGBT community, for example (It took me about 3 months to go up to my mom and tell her what I was going through, luckily for me, she was very supportive). A lot of people out there claim to be liberals who do not have an issue with HIV/ AIDS patients or the LGBT community. But in a situation where they have to come face to face with it, with someone from their close friends or family, they simply cannot accept it. Depression is almost the same, it needs as much acceptance as it needs awareness. And if someone close to you is going through it, just remember what they are going through before you give more importance to your own frustrations with them. Relationships get difficult sometimes and that’s when their real mettle is tested; so if you truly care about your depressed friend or family member, just stay and provide support unconditionally.
That brings me to recovery. From the above paragraph, you must know that recovering from depression after identifying it, is not a bull run at the stock market. There can be several times you fall down and feel low even after your initial identification and even after you’re taking medication. In my case, I specifically lost my control during my PMS phases (the psychiatrist said it can further adversely affect your mood swings while the medication is on) and undid all the months of good I did for myself in the span of those 2-3 days. After doing that for a couple of times, I realised that it was time for me to act upon my problems and I mustered all the courage in the world, to do so. I must admit, they didn’t quite go the way I expected them to. Situations once again slipped out of my hands and I was on a downward spiral again. But you know what, I picked myself up, and jumped out of a plane. Literally. I went skydiving. Something so extreme was required for me to realise that I needed to do things for myself. It helped me feel invincible – if I could jump to my death and come back alive, things like people abandoning me or drifting away, shouldn’t be so big a problem. I went ahead and did all the things I had to do, for myself. From making new friends to taking exercise more seriously to applying to higher education and finally, finding pure love, like Tanveer mentioned.
I rescued a 5-month old wounded, abandoned puppy off the streets about a month ago and she is sitting here, right next to me as I type this out. And when I cry, she licks my tears away, when I come home, she jumps with joy, and when I’m falling a sleep she comes to cuddle with me; and whenever I feel low these days, I go give her a tight hug. I really did find pure love. So this Friday morning when I walked into my psychiatrist Mr. Avdesh Sharma’s office, he assessed my state of mind and took me off my pills. He also asked me if I could write a story and share it with him and everyone around since May is Mental Health Awareness month, and I readily said yes because I’ve never been one to shy away from talking about anything that needs a voice. So here I am, telling you my story, hoping that it will help you and several others to fight your battles and WIN 🙂