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.