This is a piece about depression. But I promise it is more positive than the ones that usually go around. I choose to be anonymous on this post only for one reason – I’ll soon be hunting for jobs and not all of them, even those working for ‘causes’, are too charitable when it comes to this. Many of you will figure out who I am and I am absolutely fine with that, I’m generally quite open about my condition – so don’t hesitate in approaching me for this if you wish. I won’t use big adjectives to describe anything partly because I’m not much of a writer but more importantly because I think the use of simple language without hyperbole is of immense value when talking about an issue like this.
My first encounter with the clinical language of these things was while helping a friend here some years ago. I didn’t know much about it at the time and I certainly never thought it would or had ever affected me. Looking back I think I should have received treatment/taken steps to nip this in the bud many many years ago. But I shouldn’t complain about that because the help and support I received and continue to receive after coming here is an extremely rare privilege in this country of billions of people who will never in their lifetimes come close to begin receiving the treatment and care that they deserve.
2013-2014 were important years in my life. I was starting to work mad hours for a research I got involved in, I felt comfortable with where things seemed to be going professionally. I was being bombarded with opportunities and responsibilities and I seemed to be managing them quite well. I knew my life was changing, in more ways than I understood at the time. I was travelling throughout the country, getting to peek into the lives of the most marginalized and vulnerable sections of our nation. My passion for human rights far pre-dated my law school years but it was only in 2013-14 that I was made to realize that it is possible to do this and only this, that it needn’t just be an ‘interest’ anymore. My work fascinated me, it gave me purpose and meaning, it stimulated my mind and heart like nothing else. But slowly by the end of 2014 I began feeling ‘lazy’. I had no clue what to make of the simultaneous disinterest and guilt that I felt in relation to my work – disinterest in doing the work and guilt for not having done it. By the time December came I had hit the bottom – I used to sleep for around 20 hours a day. I didn’t show up for work, I didn’t go home, I didn’t eat, I did absolutely nothing. My professor suggested that I see a counsellor. I had earlier dismissed his concern about my mental health as just ‘one of those things that he keeps saying’. I bullshitted myself for a few more months; the depressive phase lifted but I knew that things weren’t quite right. By then I knew better than to dismiss this off as ‘just a phase’. I knew what I’d gone through couldn’t possibly be normal. In March 2015 I finally reached Dr B’s office – again with the help of another professor. He told me that the ‘biologically’ ‘clinically’ depressive phase (for which he’d have prescribed medicines had I seen him at that time) had lifted, I was functional again, but if I felt there were psychological issues that needed to be sorted out, I must take time out to commit to therapy. He gave me an extremely important piece of advice – commit to therapy when you know you have the time to stick to it for some months/years to come, because if you do it irregularly, you will not benefit from it and you will lose faith in the process (emphasis mine). At the time he only prescribed me a therapy book, gave me the name of a counsellor for the future and I went back. Few months and some more grim details later, I decided I would start therapy with Dr B’s team. I had just finished my third year, I had two relatively free years ahead of me, and I was convinced that I needed it.
Therapy started changing my life in a way that I had never imagined. As I moved deeper into my treatment, I realized how much it is teaching me – about myself. It is not ‘curing’ me, it is empowering me. I know now that it is always better to address than suppress. It is equipping me with skills of the most important kind – skills for handling my day to day thoughts, feelings, reactions and responses; skills for understanding the past, putting it into perspective and moving on from it; skills for healthily dealing with the numerous difficult situations that will arise in the future.
Therapy has reminded me of how I used to be before so many negative experiences became a part of my reality. I now long to be that little girl again who had so much hope, conviction and belief that she regarded herself with utmost seriousness while writing letters to big corporations and consumer fora about how shitty their product was in the big jumbo handwriting of an 8 year old. It has convinced me that there have been and will be again different sides of me, sides of me that I had forgotten about – sides that are not angry, sides that are not sad, sides that are hopeful, sides that are happy and content.
There were people who told me all kinds of things – therapy doesn’t work, medicine doesn’t work, nothing works. They were well intentioned of course, but it’s important to think twice before you advise somebody in a situation as sensitive as this. It’s important to remember that your words have consequences once they are outside of your head. And for those on the receiving end of such advice – it’s important to put into perspective what other people, even if they are fellow sufferers, are saying about this. There could be multiple reasons for why it hasn’t worked for them or why they think it is not working for them – many times you’ll find the ones dismissing therapy or medicines as bogus are the ones who unfortunately never really committed to it, for whatever reason. In a cesspool of depressive conditions like the one we live in, it’s important to know who and what to take seriously, and who and what to ignore. It’s important to remember that therapy is a proven scientific treatment. Our problems are not unique no matter how deeply each one of us may hold that belief — the beauty of human experience is that it is connected and treatment is a science that is meant to work for all. We need to remind ourselves that sitting in New Delhi in a campus like this we have the privilege to access resources that for most people in the world are unimaginably out of reach, if nothing then for the humility of that sentiment, we owe it to ourselves to try treatment.
I know I have many many more miles to go with my treatment but I also know that I’ve already come a long way in just a matter of one year. I believe that therapy is a one way road. You will dwindle, you will fall, yes it will be painful to unwrap layers of pain and grief that have thickened your skin over years and decades and several times your depressed mind will genuinely believe that you’re going nowhere, but the only place that this one way road goes is forward. And no I am not saying this because I’m having one of those “good days”, I’ve actually been having quite a few “bad days” recently, but this is the only opinion I hold on this, even when every bone in my body is forcing me to think otherwise.
In terms of my own politics, I view this as a huge step towards self-empowerment, one of the most feminist things I ever did and certainly the most Gandhian thing I ever did. I find it hard to even begin expressing how much of this deeply political ‘achievement’ I owe to some friends so I’ll leave that there. As an end note I would just like to say what a dear friend of mine who has now graduated from here often used to throw at us — “Invest in yourself!”