The Perils of Living with Depression (#1 of what might develop into more parts)


This story has been living in my gut for the past two weeks. I was living in fear of saying the word out loud on my blog, although I know that those who follow my blog religiously can probably see its strands weaving their way through the fabric of my life. Today- I gather my courage, with the knowledge that some people will judge as they always do, but others perhaps may find some solace, hope or just a little connection with my story.

 

One fine Saturday morning in 2008, I woke up early with a heaviness in my heart, wondering why it mattered that I get out of bed at all? Those were the days of the intense pressures of preparing for engineering entrance exams, which, for those who might not know, are a brutal time in any Indian student’s life and required at least two years of intense coaching classes, in addition to regular school. A few hours later, I was crying as I dressed to go give one of the ‘mock’ entrances that I came to hate so much- as I hated everything about preparing to be an engineer- and that’s when the thought circled in my head, ‘was I depressed?’

 

I had a normal childhood with loving parents and I was mostly happy. And yet I find specks of inexplicable unhappiness darkening my memories of my preteen and teenage years. It wasn’t until I was sixteen in 2008 though, that that first cloud broke strongly upon my head.

I wondered what it meant, and I had no way of comprehending it and no one to really turn to help me either. So I decided to visit the school counsellor. She was a psychiatrist but I suspect the school had mostly hired her to provide career counselling, and not to talk to depressed students in a very 13-reasons-why-esque fashion (fortunately I wasn’t suicidal, it saddens me to think of where suicidal children are led in such circumstances). Somehow, I knew I needed to see her. And it might have taken some guts (I don’t recall). What I do recall is feeling a sense of relief when, after hearing what I had to say, she used that word to describe what was going on: depression.

I believed her. But nobody else I talked to about this back then believed me. And so, a part of me stopped believing in what she had said too. I thought, perhaps, I was being paranoid, and have thought that many times since. Miraculously, this incident itself was enough to snap me out of what I was going through. To this day, I have no answer for how I did what I did as a 16-year old when I can no longer do it as an adult, except perhaps to say that whatever innocence remained inside me then shielded me from what was to come.

Today, there are often times when I can no longer tell you where the depression ends and I begin. Was it I who spent multiple nights of 2011-2012 crying all by herself on the dusty and unused rooftop of a hostel chock full of girls, and multiple days not crawling out of bed unless someone forced me to go eat, or was it my depression? Was it I who spent hours doing the same on bathroom floors, or was it my depression? Was it I who was unable, unwilling and unmotivated to leave her house, move a single muscle or do any chores, or was it my depression? Was it I who made excuses to get out of accepting invitations to social gatherings, or was it my depression? Was it I who demeaned herself in front of multiple people and allowed herself to be taken advantage of, or was it my depression? Is it I who spend countless days still thinking she is worthless, talentless, unworthy and undeserving of anything good in life, or is it my depression? Is it I who lost multiple friends because I was busy doing all of the above, or was it my depression?

These are difficult truths to type on a public website that everyone is going to be able to see. I am typing them because I once believed there was something almost-romantic about being depressed. Perhaps popular culture led me to believe so. In books and in movies, suffering in different forms is a central element of a character’s development. In real life, perhaps it doesn’t always contribute towards what one might call one’s development.

Development would have been if I had built a strong and healthy self-image, learned the skills I needed, discovered my passions and allowed my soul to lead the way. Development would have been if I had allowed my intellectual capacities to strengthen, planned the trajectory of my future, fed whatever pre-existing talents I might have possessed, sought directed guidance from people who were in positions to guide me.

Instead, depression led me to believe that it was not my empathy and sense of compassion, my beliefs about how the world should function, my still-forming opinions, and my life experiences that contributed to who I was as a writer (which is one of the primary roles in which I have often taken to justify my worth to myself) and later as a researcher, but that it was just the depression that did it. That it was the only reason I was creating, the only reason I was experiencing anything worth talking about, the only reason I was, and the only reason I may choose to not be. And yet, I could not talk about it without disguising it in metaphors, and dressing it up in poetry.

Well, today I am tearing all those walls down. I am stepping out into the open. I am choosing to be stripped of all excuses, of all the times I have blamed my depression for things that have happened to me in my life.

Because, yes, I do not always know where the depression ends and I begin. But I have embraced it as a part of me. I have gotten good at living with its shadow over my head. At accepting that I can still be a ‘me’ who is worthwhile and efficient and contributing to society, despite my depression.

And I didn’t do this alone.

For any friends or acquaintances in the US who might be reading this, it might be helpful for you to know that the American healthcare system has, strangely enough, played a huge role in teaching me how to learn about and manage my depression. For others, back in India (and even in the US and elsewhere), this might be a reason to think about breaking down the walls that we hide behind when it comes to talking about depression.

But more than anyone else, there have been some people who shone like beacons of light and have helped me on this journey. Perhaps one day, I will talk about them here or elsewhere, in more detail.

I was reluctant to write and share this story (for fear of being vulnerable in public), and even more nervous about not being able to do it justice on paper. Perhaps because I live with depression, and the fight is never over. Perhaps because is such a delicate part of my life, and so influential that I wanted to put all my writing skills into talking about it. Perhaps because I thought it was an important story of my existence, and needed to be told beautifully. But I realized I didn’t have to give depression that power over me either. And so in the end, I just wrote.

And thank you, most of all, to the person who told me, ‘…writers have never feared how <other> people will take their work.’

Your words gave me courage.

Until we speak again.

PS: If this was of any use to anyone at all, I might choose to go into more details in future parts. I haven’t yet formed an idea of how to do this. There are countless stories that I can share, but most of them are intimately painful, and I may not be ready to tell them, at least not yet. However, as a reader, I know that it is often helpful to feel a connection over paper with someone you may not know (or may know very little or very well but not well enough perhaps) who expresses a relatable struggle.

About Love.


She drew him on the kitchen floor
With ink of tears, her heart of gold
Wept upon that masterpiece
As it was swept away by a winter breeze

She knew he would forget the song
Or pretend he knew it all along
But never let her know she stirred
Its meaning in his stone-cold heart

She signed her name everywhere she went
So he would trace its pattern and
Meet her when it was safe to be
The person she thought she could see

She jumped the fence and stole him flowers
But found them strewn and torn and thrown
She buried them in her backyard
And prayed to her imperfect god

She watched them bloom little buds
That reminded her of what she’d lost
And in her heart, the memories
Play hopscotch on those cobbled streets

I found a simple poem about love curled deep within my heart, and it came pouring out like molten gold. It didn’t take long to write, it isn’t exceptionally polished, but its echoes are in my heart tonight 🙂

The Researcher (that I want to be…)


Why am I here? I have asked myself this question a few times and the answer is that there is no where else I would rather be. I’ve chosen the roads that appear the hardest  to me and have the least number of signposts along the way, the roads that offer few answers and throw up many, many questions. I cannot say that I have been happy- not in the prolonged mental state that most of us wish to be- but I have learned so much about how to become fulfilled, to control my impulses, to be patient and forgiving in the face of hardships and judgements, and to know what I want for myself.

And yes, I pick the hard roads but only because they have the most scenic views.

And this week I saw another one of those scenic views. It hasn’t let go of my mind since.

And it was motivational and surprising, scary because I wonder, ‘what kind of researcher am I capable of being?’ but wonderful because the possibilities to answer that question with are endless.

I’ve been drawn to qualitative research for a very long time now, and in getting a master’s degree, have had some preliminary experience under my belt of what it means to do qualitative research. But I’m still learning of course. Yes, that learning will be a lifelong journey.

I was recently told that qualitative research is a way of life. The instructor of one of the most spellbinding classes I have ever sat through, rattled off minute details etched in her memory from an ethnographic study she had done years and years ago. She could re-live that scene piece-by-piece, reconstruct every moment of it because she had recorded it so deeply as part of her research. Qualitative research improves your memory, she insisted, and then you have to learn to draw boundaries between your research and your real life just to stop it all from becoming too much for your head to handle.

I found myself agreeing completely with that point, because I already experience some of it. Even ordinary moments have never been ordinary for me because I am caught up in the details of my mind, and of the conversations, sights and sounds that surround me. I believe that is one of the reasons why social interactions are so taxing for me, why I am so overwhelmed by people and places, and why I need so long to recover from my own experiences. But I have always been that way. In a way perhaps, I have always had that latent potential inside me to be a qualitative researcher. Now I only have to unlock it, systematize it, let go of my fears that surround it.

The most important thing, my instructor reminded me of was something I think I already knew- perhaps somebody had already told me about it, or perhaps it had come to me in one of those subconscious moments of realization that you can no longer remember. She said that unlike in other forms of scientific query, in qualitative methodology you -the human being, are the research instrument. As such, it is not just your intellectual capacity, but your emotional, psychological and physical states that will also impact your work and the research you do.

Unlike other kinds of researchers, a qualitative researcher can never disengage from her own body, experiences and life. That makes the task as exciting as it makes it dangerous.

Exciting because she must engage every atom of her being into the research that she wishes to do, in order to be true to the research and her cause. And dangerous because at every point, she must confront her full being and be aware of who she is and why she is doing what she is doing, and that just might be enough to drive her out of her self.

In a conversation with a friend recently, I asked him why he did not record (what might have been) some great observations during his recent travels.

What’s the point, he said, of recording anything?

Well, one clear answer that I always have to that question is that writing allows you to understand and reflect upon yourself. But what if someone does not want to do that? Why is it important then?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. I write, and I believe I will write until my very last breath. This doesn’t mean there haven’t been periods in my life when I barely wrote, but that was a mistake. Writing is still my best tool for processing the world around me. Beyond that, I do not really know why I write. Why do I want to record the world? Why do I want to understand and interpret it, when I believe that there is no one correct interpretation, only different angles?

I can’t answer these questions except to say that I would be miserable if I did not do so anymore. It isn’t about a noble cause or conviction. At the end of the day, it is about me.

And that is what I think Dr. Sarah Amira de la Garza meant about qualitative research being a way of life. It requires cognitive consciousness, but also emotional and physical reflexivity and mindfulness, and care for your own self- the instrument of understanding this world.

Raw.


Oh but you have lit a fire underneath me.

You turn away and merged yourself with all those who may call themselves my shapeless nemeses. I am not one to be ignited by bitterness but I acknowledge the free-floating aura that is you. You,  who flit in and out of my imagination now. You pick careful spots; mushy and matted with fatigue. You squiggle your way in, broadening that space with your lips and your gums, making it home.

And you may find me prone to the moistness that diffuses the vapid city air on the choicest day of summer. You may find me sticky with the blood oozing out of gaping holes that you created, and that I refuse to bandage up. You may look inwards and watch the drip-drip-dripping of these feelings with a fascinated smile curling across your lip. Is there something inherently beautiful in a rumpled soul? Are its creases and folds so exquisite that you cannot turn away?

Is that why you stay?

For I would think you were rumpled too. Smiling though you are, as you look upon me from this hidey-hole inside me, and I look in upon you perched in there, I have a revelation that means something to these toothless mouths that you have created on me.

 I have left holes on you too.

Did I assume that the atoms that make up your skin are any different from the ones that once made up mine? Perhaps I did, but that illusion is definitely broken now. I can see my holes mirrored in yours. In fact, your skin is creeping and crawling with them. Are they almost mobile? For it doesn’t matter where I look, all I see is liquid- rushing and gushing out of us. Spilling over these strange lips until we’re both drenched.

But then I travel outwards and the holes disappear. You disappear. You are nameless once again, and faceless like all my dreams. All I see in this dusty city then is my own reflection, staring back at me from the tops of the heads of countless strangers.  Your aura no longer haunts. No longer does it linger with me on the edge of the abyss from which I dangle. No longer is it there when I am pulled out and upwards towards the starless night sky which is still gorgeous in its emptiness, by helpful strangers and sweet loved-ones . No longer am I swimming dizzingly inside its curved countenance. It’s…gone. You’re gone.

But yes, you did leave behind a little heat.

And it is in my spine, running from my neck down to my tailbone. The heat tingles and tickles and radiates, little by little every day. Sometimes, it hums almost-songs late into the stillness of the night. I wait for the heat to subside, and then I am almost me again.

But me with a little bit of you.

 

I