Depression is the Voldemort of all diseases. It must not be named! I have been dealing with depression and anxiety for more than three years now. And yes, it has not been easy. The stigma and taboo that I found attached to it has been extremely difficult to get rid of.
People assume that depression is something that incompetent people just invented to excuse their incapacity. This could not be farther from truth. Most of the people, not just in this country, but around the world too, do not understand how depression and anxiety even work. This delusion needs to be broken quickly because it affects people’s lives in real time. People’s “opinions” about depression tend to push those suffering into a vortex of guilt and doubt. I myself have had to deal with such issues. The societal norms and thoughts do guide our actions in some way or the other. And in the case of depression and largely mental illnesses, whose knowledge is simply not provided to us in any way through our basic school curriculum or even discussions amongst family or through popular
media, I myself lived in a denial of the condition for quite long. I used to think that maybe this is all just a phase and that I am perhaps just over-thinking, only to realise that it is not so. Depression is real and has physical and psychological reasons for it.
People have often come and told me “You are not depressed.” They have said things like “You just went out on a date yesterday,” or “You were dancing with us only today morning.” But not having a depressive episode for an entire day doesn’t mean a person does not live with depression and anxiety. One may not necessarily cry all the time if they are depressed. There are days when I have coiled up in my bed for what seemed like eternity and there have also been days when I had a depressive episode that lasted for even less than an hour. Sometimes, it has taken shape in not bathing regularly, not moving out of bed, loss of appetite, and being irritated generally. But I know friends who have been battling depression for years now and they do not show the same signs. This is precisely because there is no singular, homogenous experience of depression and anxiety. Thus, people often have a set definition of depression which is just being sad. They confuse it with a common human emotion of not feeling happy due to xyz reasons, making them say, “Sab ko hota hai”, it happens with everyone. Well, actually no. I have numerous friends who do feel sad at some point or the other in their lives but they are not depressed! It is an actual medical condition for which medicines and therapy treatments exist. Being sad is a phase, you can try and eventually get over it.
With depression, I do not remember a single instance where I have been able to “snap out of it”. What I do remember is not being able to move my limbs, not wanting to take a bath, not being able to talk over phone and feeling absolutely bereft of motivation. The whole idea of snapping out of it is so annoying! Don’t you think we would have done it if we could?! I do not recollect any incident of a person who was able to stop thinking about their cancer that led to their getting completely fine. So, why is depression treated differently?
A person suffering from depression and anxiety needs a support system to keep up with their life, which should not be conflated with an idea that they are just attention-seeking babies. If you want to help a loved one who is caught in this wreck, just try and lend an ear sometime or maybe provide a shoulder or, rather, just be there. It is not necessary that you have to constantly say something or the other to them to make them feel better. There are going to be days where you wouldn’t know what to say and that is completely fine. Just being there emotionally can work wonders for your loved one.
While I was dealing with depression, I found out that I had an added monster to deal with as well, anxiety. Depression and anxiety are those two relatives at an Indian wedding who would leave no stone unturned to ruin the whole wedding. And in this case, I was/am the wedding. Anxiety is different from being fidgety or worrying too much plainly. It can give rise to palpitations, panic attacks, profuse sweating, fear, chaos, screams, uncontrollable surge of thoughts, all at once in one’s mind and body. It can be triggered by some incidents, actions, situations, words, pictures, gestures and much more. It has no fixed pattern. It can come knock your door any time it wants. I have had extreme anxiety attacks in all sorts of places and situations. Classroom, home, weddings, social gatherings, personal space. You name it and it was there. It never came with a warning sign and still doesn’t. However, what I have learnt to do is simply breathe through it, which is again easier said than done.
It takes a lot of practice to be able to come up with a coping mechanism that works for you. Some people immerse themselves in work, some might keep away from work. Some might reach out to the loved ones and some might spend time in their own personal space. Some take medicines and some go for therapy. (Which are really expensive!) Some people gain control through meditation as well.
But all of it comes with a bag full of stigma and “haaye tauba” attached to it as well. When I first decided that I would want to seek help of a psychiatrist alongside my therapist, so many people around me raised their eyebrows. They found this concept completely bizarre. Coming to a decision like this is already an emotionally exhausting task and then when everybody around you becomes a professional themselves and has an expert opinion about it, it can go horribly wrong. There are anyway only 5.6 psychiatrists for every 1,00000 Indians! The ratio is so pathetic. Attaching stigma to it worsens the situation even further.
It is through my own struggle with depression and anxiety that I have realised many things. I have lost a lot of friends because they did not want to deal with such a person. There have been friends who left me when I was suicidal. There have been extremely intellectual persons around me graduated from top-notch universities across the world who can explain all of Foucault in a minute but can’t understand the basics of how mental illnesses work.
“Oh, we don’t know how to deal with this.” “We didn’t know how to react.” “It’s not really our fault. Nobody taught us about this and anyway, so less is known about it.” I have one response to all this. I too did not know how depression and anxiety work because of the way our society has created a taboo around it and a complete erasure of knowledge around mental health from school textbooks. But, I got into this situation and I read about it. I did my own research. So can you. You just need to care enough.
There is a need to educate yourself about it so that, at the very minimum, you do not become a walking hazard for someone else. It should be your responsibility to work on your knowledge about mental health and not of those who are grappling with it. Do not bombard us with your questions. We do not want to be your teachers as we have more than enough on our plate. Having said all that, I know that there would be people who would have had completely different experiences. But it does not mean that my depression or theirs is invalid. It is important to understand and educate oneself about depression and anxiety. It is an actual epidemic. WHO ran a campaign called “Depression: Let’s Talk”, this World Health Day on April 7, with Bollywood actors like Deepika Padukone initiating a conversation around depression and mental health at large. A dialogue is needed in our society about mental health and the correct time to initiate that dialogue is now.