The first signs
Let me start with how it all began. I was living alone in Delhi, settling down into a new life, I had decided to pick up where I had left off – I joined a coaching for the civil services exam and started off on a good note.
But that was not supposed to be, because very soon – within months – there was a sudden dip in my moods and my outlook towards life in general. I gradually started developing sleeping and eating disorders. I tried everything within my power to change the situation but failed. At that point, I did not have the faintest idea of what I was facing. But whatever it was, I kept it to myself and kept going.
I decided to be “brave” about it and “keep quiet” about whatever was going on inside me. I did not talk about it to anyone, not even family or friends. Fact is that I was going through a steady descent in my general well-being; and several aspects of my life were falling apart. I was not capable of holding it all together, anymore. But “Hey, march on!” – isn’t that a thing we are all taught growing up?
Becoming an internet doctor
So, I began living with this elephant in the room (or in my mind space), but I hoped to find a “new normal”. And yet there was so much going on in my mind and body that I needed answers and a place to confide in (eg, we have The Health Collective now). I needed a safe space. And I sought comfort in the interwebs!
Googling about my discomforts became my new obsession. All those sleepless night were spent reading up on my symptoms and trying to find answers. What had initially started as a method of self-consolation soon became chronic. I was utterly confused and lost.
As time lapsed, a sort of syndrome developed. I often found it difficult to breathe. I would have chest pains, nausea, numbness in limbs accompanied by giddiness, accompanied by unexplained fear and paranoia. Initially it would happen once in a few days then, once every day. And a time came when it would grip me anytime and any number of times in a day.
It took me a lot of courage to not make any noise about it. But was that courage or fear of shame, I don’t know. But what I now know is that choosing to silently suffer is definitely not courage. I’d like to implore anybody reading this and facing similar issues to not silently suffer but instead seek a safe space, understanding and a support system. The Health Collective is one such support system and we are here for you. Also know that the human spirit is indomitable.
Back to my story: at one point I gave up everything – socialising, going out, etc – for the fear of having blackouts or another one of those crippling panic attacks. Misery and pain have a way of reinforcing and perpetuating themselves if left unchecked. The feeling of loneliness was at its strongest, I felt like an isolated island that no one knew about, lost and forgotten. Self-pity, self-loathing exacerbated by the darkness in my mind would compel me into thinking about the purposelessness of my life.
In so many cases these thoughts lead one to the point of no return. And at this point, the only way of saving lives is by being perceptive and pre-emptive. An open discourse, awareness, knowledge and sensitivity all work towards that end.
Meanwhile, I had figured (by cross-checking my symptoms on various websites) that I had anxiety. Bam! “Panic attacks” sounded exactly like what I was going through from time to time. And then came the next roadblock – denial! After all, I had never heard or met anyone who had anxiety or symptoms like mine. “It couldn’t happen to me”, “Is this thing even real?” – I’d think out loud.
But lying in bed incapacitated, I badly craved being able to do productive things again. Also, researching about my symptoms and reading stories of people somehow steered me towards the realisation that I needed help and possibly medical intervention too. What genuinely helped me then, were the first-hand accounts of people who had fought these symptoms and taken charge of their mental health and well-being. They became my motivating factors.
Anxiety/depression was by then like writing on the wall that I had initially tried hard to ignore.
Caution: Research online can be a black hole. Most first-hand accounts are thoroughly demotivating and may lead one to spiral further. Exercise caution and use your judgement. Because only you know what might or might not work for you.
I struggled in finding the right doctor for myself. Initially, I went after every physical symptom. Once they were all ruled out I began the quest to find the right mental health practitioner (not without reluctance, but I knew I had to because my survival instincts had kicked in). I went from one doctor to another; from one prescription to another. From one course of medicine that made me see floating clouds to another that made me feel like a part of a Salvador Dali painting.
My first-hand experience with psychiatrists, I am afraid to say, wasn’t very positive. As a patient, I felt dehumanised and unheard. And I knew that this wasn’t going to work. I needed a practitioner who not only understood the issues at hand but displayed sensitivity and patience, someone who listened to me and whom I could trust with my well-being, in return. (I am a tough customer, by all means.)
Reading and reflecting a bit more, I looked inwards. In my heart I knew the fear psychosis that was at work as an umbrella for all other insecurities stemmed from my fear of “mortality”. My subconscious, like any human being, had stacked everything under
“ego”/”I” and “existence”. I needed to get to my fears, to understand and rationalise them.
I read self-help books and one, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, was of great help. It counselled me like any real life counsellor would, or perhaps even better. It made me realise how much my fear and darkness was rooted in the fear of my own mortality due to disease or accidents. Thinking about everything that could go wrong and cost me my life became an obsessive thinking pattern.
I think it is one of the extreme manifestations of depression. The Power of Now, as simple as it is, is also deeply philosophical. It helped me reconnect with my training in philosophy and re-work my cognitive patterns. The process had immediate effects.
Excerpted with permission from “How I Fought My Way Out Of Depression and Anxiety”, Deepa Singh, from Real Stories Of Dealing With Depression, Amrita Tripathi and Arpita Anand, Simon and Schuster India.