The stigma around psychological disorders is so strong that the moment you mention ‘mental illness‘ or ‘antidepressants‘ to someone, they become uncomfortable, imagining crazy, shouting people in straitjackets and “nice men in white coats”.
That, according to the psychiatrist I see, is less than 10% of the cases of the hundreds he sees on a regular basis. The other 90% are normal people with very normal and very common problems.
(I normally don’t add trigger warnings, but in this case it might be warranted. TW: self-harm, graphic)
Hello. This is part three of a three part series about my experience with clinical depression. I hope that topic doesn’t turn you off. I’ll do my best to keep it light – with the hope that this helps someone else through a difficult period through their life.
Let’s rewind a bit. In early 2016, right in the middle of my burnout, my friend Jester from school contacted me saying he might move to Bangalore. At the time, I was too down to think anything of it. In June however, he confirmed it, and we decided to go house-hunting.
By then, I was in therapy and had started to make progress – the Facebook purge and the paternal breakthrough mentioned in part two. My friend told me about a house that a contact of his had put on rent. That house just happened to be a freaking villa, in Whitefield i.e. the “not-Bangalore” Bangalore, but it was great. The owner was offering us a hefty discount on the rent, since they knew Jester personally (and approved of him).
We went to check it out, and we fell in love with it. It was the most rent I was ever going to pay, but at this point I was financially capable of it. We confirmed it, and by the first week of July, I had left the matchbox behind.
Everything seemed to be improving – out of the hotbox tiny apartment, in therapy, work going smoothly, and stress under control. Old mental knots were coming untangled. However, it was not to be. At the time, I had begun using the gym at office after work to try and lose the weight that I’d gained in the past few months. On one such occasion, while in the plank position, I glanced at myself in the mirror. I don’t know what happened, but I felt the most despair I had ever felt in my life. I was scared that I would never lose the weight. Why I was affected so strongly, I don’t know, but I shut down.
I felt the most despair I had ever felt in my life. I shut down at the thought of not losing a few kilograms.
Leaving the gym, I sat on a bench outside, not able to think. I think I sat motionless and thoughtless for half an hour, before I called my mother. I didn’t say much to her, and it worried her. When I started crying, I didn’t stop. To avoid people looking, I locked myself in one of the shower cubicles, while she tried to console me over the phone.
Crying tends to relieve grief. After a few minutes, I could heed my mother’s advice and proceed to go home.
I remember only one thing from the journey home – an asshole bus conductor who refused to let me on his bus – amused rather than concerned by my obvious despondence. What I remember more vividly are the very tangible thoughts of suicide afterwards.
I’ve thought about suicide for many years now – about nine years. It has always been an objective look at it – what the gravity of it is, what impact the act leaves. When I’ve felt really beaten, I’ve always gone by the logic –
“I’m not without choice. I can end it. But that is an overreaction. So if I don’t want to commit suicide, what else can I do to correct the situation?”
It has always been a way for me to mentally regain control of myself in difficult situations. The narrative was always ‘Since I don’t want to commit suicide, what else can I do?”
However, this time was different. Before entering my house, I looked at the roof and thought of jumping off it. When I walked in, I thought about using my chef’s knife to sever an artery. I thought about gassing myself like Sylvia Plath.
I chose to go lie down and fall asleep. Somehow, I had managed to not harm myself.
I woke up when Jester came home from office, and I told him what happened. He didn’t chastise me, didn’t shove well-meant advice in my face; he was just there for me. Jester didn’t say anything and that is what I needed at that moment.
For nine years, I’ve used thoughts of suicide as a point of regaining control. ‘If not suicide, what else can I do?’
Following that episode, I scheduled a meeting with the therapist for as soon as possible. On her advice, I scheduled a meeting with a psychiatrist*. When I eventually met him, he got me started on mild antidepressants.
(*Note: A therapist counsels and employs mental exercises to heal. A psychiatrist prescribes medicine. Medicine is often used as a means to mitigate the crippling effects of mental illness so the patient is able to do the mental exercises in therapy and get long-term healing.)
According to him, the antidepressants normally take two weeks to fully kick in. But I felt relief a day after. It may have been a placebo, or it may have been the medicine, but I started feeling clearheaded very quickly. I think it was the fact that I didn’t feel personally responsible anymore.
As with many other people, the negative narrative around mental illness in general society made me doubt myself. I was constantly trying to validate my own depression, and that worsened it. When I was given medicine, I thought, “This proves it, right? It’s not that I’m weak or a wimp. I’m legitimately sick, right?” Not having those doubts was a big load off my mind.
The need to validate my depression only exacerbated it. I was affected by the toxic commentary on mental illness.
One thing that hits you when you’re depressed is that the world doesn’t revolve around you. It is not like its popular portrayal in media. It doesn’t rain all the time. There’s no sad music playing in the background. Everything doesn’t have a blue tinge on it. It just so happened that the Saturday after I started on medicine, we had a house party that Jester had been planning for a long time.
He had invited his friends from college, and I met and interacted with all of them. We had a great time at that event. I cooked food for twenty people, and everything tasted good. They were all happy about it. 🙂
I continued medication through the next couple of months and it was emancipating. I felt free-er, felt okay. In September, I met with my ex-girlfriend, the first time since we separated nine months ago. While I don’t want to discuss specifics, we conversed for two hours. At the end of it, I physically felt lighter and less knotted. I felt resolved, absolved of my own guilt, bargains, and mental machinations. It was the closure that I needed. A few weeks later, I took myself off medication.
I found closure in a conversation with my ex. I felt immediately lighter and more at-peace.
Ultimately, the breakup and the following depression were good for me, in a fucked-up way. Breaking the status quo opened a can of worms which ultimately forced me to deal with old issues. Following October, I have felt better than I have in years. Slowly, the remains of these old issues are dying out. I am a better person than I was before the experience – more together, less angry, less confrontational.
My communication with friends and acquaintances has improved – I say lesser and lesser idiotic and rude things on a regular basis. 🙂
Obviously, full healing takes much longer, but for the first time in three years, I look forward to life like I did in college. These three articles that have been in my drafts for four months are the bookend to this episode. They feel like finality. Even if I have some way to go, they make me feel like I finally accept and forgive – I accept what happened, I forgive the people around me, and I forgive myself.
Thank you for reading.