Editor’s Note: This month, that is October 2019, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Mental Health And Well-Being, where we invite various articles narrating people’s experiences of living or living with someone with mental health issues (depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD). If you’d like to share your story, email us at email@example.com.
Trigger Warning: Depression, Anxiety
I remember my depression only foggily. Of course, right? I remember lying unmoving on my mattress on the floor for hours, knocked out by a fatigue that seemed to have punched me in the face. I was at zero, spent completely. My mother would hover about me, walking around nervously trying to figure out my ailment. I recall telling her that my head felt heavy. It was at least 100 kilos. I couldn’t lift it any more. I couldn’t get my eyes to look up. On the days that I did look up straight, I felt like I was trapped in a cave. I couldn’t see anything. Is it possible to ‘see’ darkness? Because if you ask, that’s what I would say. I saw darkness.
The timeline of this period of depression is watery in my head. Was it days, weeks, months? I don’t know. I couldn’t feel anything. I felt like the muscles in my arms and feet had loosened their grip and resigned from their duties. My hair stuck to my scalp. I was oblivious to the sweat building up in my armpits, my inner thighs, the soles of my feet, on my forehead. Where else? I didn’t care. I sat and I slept. In the midst somewhere, I guess I ate. In some of my waking moments, I asked my mother again and again, what did I do before this? How did I make money? Do I have any talents?
I would hear the doorbell ring like it was ringing in a dream. I knew a few people came in and went out. I don’t remember faces, I don’t remember the answers I gave them when they asked me mundane questions.
My periods got heavier and heavier. All the vitality and aggression that had drained from all other parts of my body seemed to have congregated in my uterus – the blood kept coming, like an errant tap, for 20 days, 23 days sometimes. I would just clean up, wear a new pad, go back to lying down. Some days, I would dream while half-awake. Flashbacks from a recent break-up, a recent fight, an old embarrassment would rush in and make me so distressed that I would moan loudly. These memories were like open sores on my skin. I had to toss and turn to make them go away. But then too, they would just hang back in the corners of the room. They would come back.
Flashbacks from a recent break-up, a recent fight, an old embarrassment would rush in and make me so distressed that I would moan loudly. These memories were like open sores on my skin. I had to toss and turn to make them go away.
Mornings turned into evenings and then evenings turned into nights. I dreaded the nights. It became way too silent and the ghosts borne by my paranoia would descend on me. It wasn’t hallucination and neither was it delusion – it was like experiencing something in between. All the screaming, beating, crying, begging for help – all that had gone on in my house for years – would seem to ring out again in a muffled repeat broadcast. I would cry to make it stop, I would bury my head into the pillow. There was no shield strong enough.
For an indeterminate period in my head, I remained so. Truly miserable and truly helpless, stuck in a looping cycle of mental torture. I felt deeply alone and I couldn’t comprehend any words of help. How was it going to end? It is difficult to quantify the tyranny of depression. It is, for some of us, like being abruptly dunked into a silo full of ice water. Everything freezes, everything darkens, everything seems to exist in a vacuum with no past and no future.
Which is why even today, after 5 odd years, I still marvel at the fact that I could climb out of that silo. I am still gobsmacked by the intensity of that period. I still feel relieved that my mother at least had the language to understand what possibly was going on with me, and of thinking that I needed help. I am still grateful for that one friend who, at the request of my mother, climbed two flights of steps with her fractured foot just to come talk to me and cajole me to meet a doctor she knew.
Oh yes, the doctor. At that first-ever meeting with him, I was made to sit on a chair across his table. He asked me a few initial questions about my depression and seemed to take notes. He annoyingly declared to me that he would take me – points at a window – from there (fragile glass) to – points at a wall – there (strong and sturdy). I nodded. Interspersed in his questionnaire for me were queries about my age, if I had married, why I hadn’t married, and if I had ever bothered to think that my all-round despicable and abusive father would also have had a mental illness. I gave my answers. And I nodded some more. He asked me about suicide. I said, that yes, I had considered it to be a good option a few times. He jeered when I mentioned that I had felt so helpless and alone that I had read hundreds of self-care articles online. “They don’t help!”
But I had only one thing on my mind – give me a f**king prescription! I was done, I wanted this to end. I wanted to work again. I wanted to be able to focus on a conversation again. I wanted to go one day without losing my temper and breaking down crying pathetically. I wanted my mother to feel fine again.
At the end of the session, he gave me a prognosis – I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and major depression. He said that I possibly had had both for a long time, and he wasn’t sure how I had gone on without help. He then wrote down a list of pills I had to take, including one for high-anxiety situations. He then asked me to come to him again to start counselling sessions. I nodded some more. I never went back. Even in my depression-addled mind I knew that my marital status was insignificant when it came to treating my mental illness. I knew that ‘curing’ my father was not my prerogative. And I knew for sure that other person’s mental illness isn’t a pass that can be used to excuse any form of abuse.
HE JEERED WHEN I MENTIONED THAT I HAD FELT SO HELPLESS AND ALONE THAT I HAD READ HUNDREDS OF SELF-CARE ARTICLES ONLINE. “THEY DON’T HELP!”
I took my pills and slowly but surely, I started to claw back into the world. I got out of bed more, I washed myself more, I picked my kajal (kohl) stick back up and applied thin dark lines on the lower ends of my eyes. They blended well with the dark circles. I slowly became aware of my surroundings again. Like a curtain parting slowly to reveal familiar details, I noticed the wall, that junk piece of a TV, that sofa-set that I hated, that large study table that I loved. I tasted food and I ‘felt’ the flavours like I hadn’t for a long time. I saw on my mother’s face a mix of hope, relief, and sadness that only a mental health caregiver can understand. I relocated my laptop, I rediscovered what work I had done. I was reminded that I write, that I speak, that I have held jobs and met many people.
When the dark clouds receded, I found myself again. Sounds like a cliché? You know, I never have been happier to have been stuck in a cliché! It took me a few years after the diagnosis to seek counselling. By then I had shifted to a big city and felt a little more confident about not being subjected to patriarchal nonsense. Of course, it could have all gone horribly wrong. Thankfully, it didn’t. I found a great counsellor at the very first go. Do I consider myself unlucky? In many senses, yes. Do I consider myself lucky? In many senses, again, yes.
My mental health struggles have lasted a lifetime, and they have largely been a reaction to my circumstances. To this day, I struggle. To this day, I feel some stray remnant of all that stress and depression befalling me and taking me by surprise again.
But I am happy, because it has been a hard-won victory. I am happy that I can write. I am happy in the knowledge that some things in life are within my control, and some aren’t, and that I get to decide what I respond to. I take care of myself, but I cannot forget that mental health is a factor of your environment. You can’t get well or cope in a healthy way if there are oppressive forces around you keeping you down.
Featured Image Source: Psych Central