The signs were all too familiar. I could not sleep all night and would be tired and groggy all day. I felt angry, sad, distressed and dejected for no apparent reason. I either screamed or sobbed; either ate too much or not at all. I did not want to talk to anyone about anything. But then there were days when everything was normal. I slept well, I felt healthy and happy; I finished the chores and even called up a friend or two. I knew what was happening to me, but somehow was not able to accept it.
I did not have the courage to tell anyone what I was going through because I thought no one would understand.
I got to learn about depression much before it became acceptable to talk about it.
My father was diagnosed with clinical depression when I was just six. He was posted out of town at the time and would return only on the weekends. Even though I looked forward to seeing him all week, I could not get myself to be around him for long. He would often send me away rudely, sleep all day and stay up all night. There were also times when he got angry for no reason; when he was not angry he would be sad and dull. Then there were times he was just fine. He was talkative and cheerful, indulgent and loving. There was no gloom or discomfort at home but only joy and laughter like nothing had happened.
As I grew up I realized it was a pattern: his lows were followed by normalcy and sometimes unusual highs too. In another few years I learnt that he was experiencing something called depression. Slowly and steadily we got used to it. My father, with consistent medical and emotional support, carried on with life normally, which he does to this day.
Having seen him struggle with depression for over 30 years, I was well aware of what it entailed—for the person undergoing it and the people around him. I clearly remembered the gloom and despair it brought along, the anxiety it induced in us.
I knew there was a pattern to my own anxieties and insecurities, a rhythm to my highs and lows. When I wanted to stay away from people, I knew I would want to go back to them in a few weeks. When I shouted at my children for no apparent reason, I knew how they felt. When I wept all night I knew what my husband went through. When I felt worthless, angry, sad and dejected I realized what my father must have gone through in all these years. And yet I did not have the courage to tell anyone what I was going through because I thought no one would understand. All I wanted to do was to run away. I would have done it if it was not for a friend who insisted I spoke with her.
This friend, who has known me for years, could make out that something was amiss, and insisted I speak to her. I refused: accepting that you may be suffering from a "mental illness" is not easy, not even if you have grown up around it. I told her to leave me alone. I told her I could manage my life. I was rude and insensitive with her. But she did not give in.
Depression can come back to me at any time, but I no longer shudder at the thought—because I am prepared to ask for help.
As I began to accept I was in trouble and needed help, I started to open up to her. I started to feel better.
Slowly and steadily as I took charge of myself, I started to regain my confidence and felt better. I felt "normal" again, my loneliness reduced.
In short, life started limping back to normal.
Depression can come back to me at any time, but I no longer shudder at the thought—because I am prepared to ask for help. But if that friend would not have insisted that I talk to her, I may still be in the same condition.
As a person who is prone to stress, anxiety and depression (SAD), it is really encouraging to see the #DobaraPoocho campaign. It brings hope that the world will begin to accept that up to one-third of us may need help and support. Let us all look out for people around us and be there for them.
If you spot someone around you being unnaturally quiet or withdrawn, do check if he/she needs support.
A few things you can keep in mind while doing so:
* Give the person time to open up.
* Give them space (physical as well as emotional).
* Be available at all times (even it means getting calls at 3am).
* Spend time with them even if they do not talk (they need your presence, more than your words).
* Assure them that the matter will stay with you and be confidential.
* Tell them you trust them and their feelings.
* Make them feel important and valued.
* Tell them they matter to you and the world.
* Offer—but do not force—to get them professional help.
* Most importantly, do not label or judge the person, he or she is as normal as you are.
A version of this post first appeared in The Hindu.