I have read numerous write-ups on the internet with the same title – “My battle with depression”. I have read numerous write-ups on how to deal with depression too. Honestly, more than half of these is nothing but utter crap. Not because of the reasons they narrate behind depression, but the golden words of wisdom on how to beat depression with nothing but sheer will power and the ability to meditate.
Now you might feel that I’m degrading the strength of will power, meditation and anything related to it. I’m not. I truly believe that these are things which can help immensely – when you have the ability to control your mind – no, no, not completely, but maybe a tiny bit. To someone who does not have that, whether it is a short term condition or a chronic one, you go and give such advice, you are only pushing them off the edge to total misery.
Trust me on this. Because I am that “someone”.
I am not using the word “depression” loosely like a lot of people do. When I say I am that “someone”, I do mean that I am someone who suffers from Clinical Depression.
It wasn’t something that conquered me one morning. It built up inside me gradually at first, the episodes not really making sense to me in any way, coming in bouts once in a while and then more frequently, until suddenly that was becoming my life.
Hari, who knew me as a happy soul, who could be calmed down during my emotional outbursts once in a while with just a hug from him, was baffled by the kind of change that was coming over me. Unlike before, he had no idea why I was sad when I kept crying for hours together, wailing loudly like a baby. He had no idea why I kept getting furious every now and then in a way he had never seen before. Rage would be a more apt word for what I used to go through.
I kept trying to attribute the crying and rage to one reason or the other. But in my mind, I knew I was lying. I knew I was trying to console myself by saying there was a reason for everything I did, when in reality, I had none. I was wailing and screaming only because I wanted to do that, and that alone. I lay sleepless on my bed night after night, wishing for at least 10 minutes of sleep. When the entire building and the entire locality was bathed in darkness, echoing an eerie silence, when my husband and baby were sleeping peacefully, I was lying awake thinking of how I just wanted to run away from the millions of negative thoughts and dark memories that gnawed away at my mind.
I wasn’t suicidal thankfully. But that was only because the fear of mental pain had not taken over the fear of physical pain… yet. Instead, I thought of running away from everyone, even Hari and my little girl and never letting anyone find me. I didn’t have any idea why I wanted to do that or why I even needed an escape route. I had nothing to escape from. 5 years of being married to my best friend had given me a lifetime of happiness. I was finally happy. And that thought made me feel guiltier of how I was putting Hari through a life of misery with me. That guilt turned into rage and unimaginable pain and it just went on in a vicious loop.
I wasn’t eating well. Coupled with night after night of sleeplessness, that brought my weight down terribly. To add to all this, I started being physically unwell too in an unexplained way. I was feeling terribly sick due to unbearable stomach cramps and a nauseated feeling almost all the time. It became worse and worse with every passing day. I took medicine after medicine, meeting multiple doctors, rushing to the ER when the pain was intolerable, getting blood tests and scans done to figure out what was wrong with me. When the last set of medicines was over and my pain and suffering remained the same, I knew within me that it was not my body, but my mind that needed help. I had heard of and seen mental health issues manifesting themselves as physical ailments.
I looked tired, not because of my work, but because I was struggling under the chains of negativity my mind was winding around me. There was so much I wanted to write about, but I just couldn’t bring a single word out. I was scared of losing my mind completely. Every now and then, I would tell Hari how I wanted him to take care of Vedu alone if I wasn’t around. I kept asking him to make sure that she would grow up loving me, even if she didn’t see me. I didn’t want to be around as a mad monster who she would hate and maybe he would hate too at some point. I would spend my nights crying into my pillow thinking of how much I would miss them.
It was on 28th October last year that we finally decided that it was time to get help. We had gone to a nearby resort to celebrate our anniversary and get a break. But all I could do was cry and get angry for absolutely nothing. That evening, sitting by the side of the swimming pool, I realized that all I had to do was stop crying, go inside to Hari and Vedu and have a good time. But even the thought of being happy filled me with rage. And that night I told myself, “You are not a monster. You are sick. You are going to get help.”
Hari was all for it too because he was starting to get worried that he would lose the old me forever. He kept telling me that it was all just a phase and we would get past it. Finding comfort in his reassurance, I went to meet a psychiatrist, suggested by my OB. He talked to both of us to get a clear picture of what was going on and came out with the verdict – Clinical Depression and Anxiety Disorder.
To be honest, a tiny part of me was relieved to hear that. Because if he also told me that I was perfectly fine just like the other doctors I met, I would have been lost completely with no explanation for everything I was going through.
But I was inconsolably sad too at the same time. Not that my life has been completely unfortunate like many others’. But I had gone through my share of misery right in my childhood and was still trying to get over the consequences it brought into my family. Even with all that, I was finally ‘home’ with Hari and was living a life any girl would die for. I just couldn’t understand why I was suffering from depression at a time when there really wasn’t anything depressing about my life anymore, despite occasional issues with my family.
That is when I learned one of the most important things about Clinical Depression. It doesn’t always need a reason. People often think of those suffering from depression as ‘unhappy people’ leading ‘unhappy lives’. That is so not true. I was a happy person living a happy life. But I became sick from a condition that took away my ability to stay happy. There are some who go into depression because of major life events. And then there are people like me who go into depression due to purely biological factors, kind of like a short circuit in a part of the brain that needs to be fixed.
Quite a lot of women undergo ‘Postpartum Blues’, which is an emotional roller-coaster that comes in due to the changes that the body goes through in such a short time, the hormones settling back and the general overwhelming feeling and exhaustion that kick in once the baby comes along. Some of these women move on to Postpartum Depression, which is a much heightened state of this and needs to be treated. But in my case, the doctor figured out that I was prone to depression much earlier. It was more like I was at the edge mostly due to biological factors, aggravated by a lifetime of unresolved issues and constant reminders of those and subsequent outbursts. The slightest nudge was all that was needed to push me off the edge. It seems getting pregnant did the job for me.
Once he explained all these to me, my first reaction was to give up. I branded myself as a loser who would never get over the pathetic state I was in. I was hopeless of ever having a chance to be happy. I kept saying that it would never really go away completely and even if I got better, I would sink back again. The only reason I even wanted to try was the confidence that was in Hari’s eyes. Out of the doctor’s room, he hugged me tight as I kept crying without bothering about all the people who were watching me. He kept echoing the doctor’s words that my condition was completely curable with medication, proper care and if needed, other interventions like therapy.
It has been 6 months since I started with my medication. They have helped me a lot, in a way I didn’t think they would. But medicines were not enough to cure me. There were so many open wounds in my mind that needed healing. Some of it required forgiving; some of it required me to change my outlook and perspective. And I achieved that by undergoing intensive therapy for almost two months. It did change me for the better, and it did help me to move on, from places I’ve been stuck in for a very, very long time.
I haven’t had a major anxiety attack or depressive episode since February although there are minor setbacks once in a while. The doctor says that we can try tapering down the dose of medication and stop them in a few months. And my therapist meets me for review sessions now, just to see how I am doing. Overall, I am doing much better now.
Yes, there is an underlying fear of “What if it comes back when I stop taking the medicines?” There is also a fear of “What if I can never have another baby, and even if I do, what if I turn into a monster again then; how will Vedu cope with that?” But somehow I am able to distract myself when these thoughts creep in and not get bogged down too much by them anymore.
So yeah, as a person who has firsthand experience of this medical condition, I will share some words of wisdom – not for those suffering from this condition, but for the others who can play a major role in making or breaking a depressed soul.
- DO NOT use the term “depression” loosely and try to sound empathetic by going “Oh I know! Remember the time I had a huge fight with my husband for two whole days? I was also so depressed. So I know exactly what you are talking about.” No! You don’t know exactly what we are talking about unless you really underwent Clinical Depression. Feeling really low is not the same as having a medical condition that can ruin your life. And DO NOT ever try to cover up your mistakes by using depression as a reason. That is unfair to us who fight it every day.
- You don’t really have to believe it when someone tells you about their depression. But please do maintain a deadpan expression if your first urge is to convince them that they are imagining it. In case they are speaking the truth and you keep trying to prove them wrong, you are pushing them further down. In a society where any talk related to mental health is a taboo, it takes guts to open up. Don’t make them regret that decision.
- DO NOT try to find a reason for everything. As I have said before, there are many people who undergo depression due to purely biological factors. Being a stay-at-home mom or taking care of a baby and my home without a maid’s help are NOT why I am under treatment for depression. If you must know, they are things that help me.
- When someone who goes through depression wishes to talk to you about it, that must be because they think you would understand or care. Try to help by listening and being compassionate, not by assuming the role of a counselor and giving advice on things you have no clue about. There are professionals who are qualified to handle these. Unnecessary advice from your side, even with the best intentions, can only make things worse. You tell a person who has zero ability to even get out of bed or talk to someone, to go out and mingle – you are only making them feel worse.
- DO NOT think “tough love” will work. We all have the tendency to cut short regular whiners and ask them to get a life. But with someone who is under severe depression, you are only pushing him more towards taking extreme steps. You don’t understand the kind of guilt that comes with depression. So you go all “Why the hell can’t you quit whining and do something about it? You just lack the will to do it”, all we feel is “I am such a loser. I am supposed to do it and I can’t.” Remember, we are people who can’t even make simple everyday decisions like “Should I have a cup of coffee now or not?” You won’t believe the kind of questions I would call up Hari at work and ask. To you they might be silly. But to us, they are grave.
- Help them with their treatment. Please don’t go by all the stupid and dangerous forward messages you find online and advice against treatment. We all have our beliefs, yes. But there are some things that need proper medication and professional help. Just like those “magical herbs” don’t help with cancer and can kill a person, not getting proper medical care can kill a person undergoing depression. The only difference is that beyond a level of tolerance, the person kills himself or lives a life that is equivalent to death. Don’t push them to that by scaring them with stuff like “Antidepressants are addictive. Don’t take them.” Any medicine, if taken beyond the prescribed dosage is dangerous. That doesn’t mean you never take medicines. Taking medicines to treat your condition is as important as being careful about how you take them.
- Be extremely patient. And when I say extremely, you need to understand that it is very, very important. In my doctor’s words, “People look at you. They see a normal person. So it’s very difficult for them to understand that you are sick and there’s every chance that they wouldn’t want to stand your emotions. If you had a broken leg, no one will ask you to just think positively and move on. They will get you treated. But they might not even understand that depression requires treatment.”
I could easily have gone down a lot faster and reached rock bottom and maybe even have started thinking of ending my life, if it wasn’t for one person – Hari. I know how very difficult it must have been for him, handling his job, taking care of Vedu, helping around the house and then take all the tantrums I threw round the clock. I was a terrible person for no fault of mine. But never once did he lose his patience with me, never once did he let his frustration come out. There were times that I was scared that bottling up all his emotions and frustration would lead to him going into depression too, and then I would yell at him more out of guilt. But all I can say is that even at my worst, it was his positive vibes and love that gave me hope that it would all work out. When people who were connected by blood told me I was a tiresome person to deal with and broke me, Hari made sure I came back up to fight.
We all know how fatal and how absolutely grievous cancer is. We take it seriously; we make sure that proper treatment is given to the patient; we stand by, come what may. Just think of Clinical Depression as cancer of the mind. Based on the extremity, it can be equally fatal and requires all the treatment that is available, along with support and compassion. If at least one of you stops calling it an imaginary illness, or an excuse to get out of an unpleasant situation; if at least one of you stops calling psychiatry a useless profession to manipulate people and make money; if at least one of you stops calling us losers and starts taking this medical condition seriously – then my purpose behind writing this is served.
Also published on Medium.