A good friend recently shared a personal story about mental health, and spoke about how important it is to have conversations on it. I have been meaning to write this, but to articulate something this personal, and be brutally honest about it, is not something I have done before. So, be kind.
I have been seeing a therapist since last August because of my anxiety. Things would build up in my head to the extent that I would be throwing up out of apprehension before doing simple things like going to office, or even meeting close friends. And then, I lost one of my best friends, Bruno. He had been with us for thirteen and a half years, more than half my life. I have written about his health issues earlier, and even though we knew he was getting worse, the decision to put him down was sudden. It doesn’t really matter how much your rational mind tells you you did the right thing, all that plays in my mind is watching him go from alive to dead, knowing I was part of the reason that happened. I don’t think I can shake that guilt off, and I don’t feel particularly kind enough towards myself to allow it to happen.
It did get a little better, though. I moved to Bangalore, started a new job, and was doing alright on most days. Until a straw broke the camel’s back. On 26th February, my family crumbled. My Chacha, essentially a third parent, collapsed in the early morning and passed away from a cardiac arrest. I can’t really explain how much my relationship with him means, because the English language is more limited than my heart.
While everyone tried to deal with the shock and grief of losing him, my focus shifted to those left behind. I built walls around my heart, unknowingly, and tried, with futility, to do everything I could to ease the pain of my family. As the weeks went by, the empathy I felt towards those around me disappeared. I felt abandoned, and I was pissed as hell! It began slowly, with the buzz in my head getting louder and turning into noise. My anger towards him (completely irrational, I know), towards what happened, towards myself, built over these 2 months that the only places left for me to escape to were the dark corners of my mind. And when you have no outlet for that much rage, you turn it towards yourself.
I struggled with insomnia, withdrew from close friends, and the few instances of joy that arose meant nothing. In fact, work was going well. I was part of an international panel to talk about the project I head, my article about it got published, and we were covered by YourStory. But to me, they were just ticks on a list.
Exactly 8 weeks after he passed away, my walls came crashing down (* insert Trump border wall joke *). I was in the hospital for three days, because once the dam burst, I began to drown in it. Here’s what happens: It starts with a sinking feeling, a paralysing fear in my heart: that the truth is real. It catches my breath and captures my body. And then it takes control, bursting out like a beast unknown to the me that sat there a minute ago. I can’t breathe, my heart races, my whole body begins to tingle, and I get stuck somewhere between feeling like I am going to die and wanting for it to end. Most times, it sneaks up on me and I become conscious of it only when it takes over. And, so, I wait for it to run its course, while I watch, terrified in the corner.
I have now been put on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, and I vacillate between numbness and overwhelming emotion; so, you’ll either find me bawling when I see egg curry (Chacha loved the egg curry I make, and it was his last meal) or not react at all to someone talking about how much he meant to them.
This has also made me realise, truly, how much we trivialise mental health, even in our attempt to make it accessible. This had always in the back of my mind, especially when I saw ridiculous listicles. But the brevity of it hits me now. Sure, we’re using the words DEPRESSION and ANXIETY more and that’s great. But I also see these terms being used flippantly, especially with everything being made into a meme. Others in my position might find humour in them. I usually do not. We also really don’t know what is the right thing to say at such moments. When I was admitted, I was told not to cry, that I must be strong, and multiple people asked why I had done this. Guess I just thought having a mental breakdown on Sunday would be logistically convenient for everyone.
If there is one thing you take away from my rambling, let it be this: Therapy helps. One of the things they tell you when you start is that it might get worse before it gets better. And, boy, is that true! It is hard work and it is a dance. One step forward, two steps back. But you start to work on yourself, you see things a little differently, and you learn to acknowledge the flaws. Acceptance is the point we want to get to, and living in a world that forces you to fake perfection does not make this an easy feat.
I apologise if I don’t end on a happy note. It is because I am not in a happy place, and I no longer have the energy to feign it. I wrote this because it is cathartic. If it helps someone else talk about their mental health issues, or just go visit a therapist, then that would be my good deed for the day.
But I must say that I have been lucky in that I managed to act on it before it got worse. I also have a generally supportive family, colleagues whose kindness has made me cry, friends who have respected my silence, people who have shared their own experiences when they have stared into the abyss, and a confidante who came into the dark places of my mind just to show me the way to the light.
A close family friend who has been struggling with schizophrenia wrote a collection of poems about his experience. I want to leave you with one verse from a poem, that might serve as a call of action for anyone who is struggling.
“…we do not fear being lost to darkness
Because of what we’ve left behind;
But rather when you lie in darkness,
You might just like the things you find.”
Links about grief and loss worth checking out:
Article by Roshini Suparna Diwakar