This article has been long due for various reasons – procrastination, a sense of lack of urgency and utility. As I saw the news of the untimely death of designer Kate Spade to suicide this morning, I knew that it was time to finally write this piece.
A lot has been said and discussed about the dreaded D word – Depression. Some talk of their own battles, some wonder how an illness of this kind is even possible and some others opine that depressed people simply don’t try enough etc.
While this relentless exchange of thoughts continues (which it shall for decades at least), let me share with you my own experience with the illness.
I was a new mother, just having delivered my baby boy two weeks ago. Euphoria was what I felt each time I saw the tiny face, hands and legs and heard him cry for my attention. It was as if my longing for attention had just been fulfilled by no one else but my own flesh and blood, by someone who depended on me not only for his physical hygiene but emotional well-being too.
The late-riser that I had always been, I now began to wake up early, as if by a natural reflex to make sure that everything for OK for my baby, or if he needed anything.
It was just another early morning as my motherly instinct woke me up. I checked for signs of hunger or discomfort on my baby’s face and to find everything OK, heaved a sigh of relief. I tried to go back to sleep till my baby woke up, but something felt different this time.
Not realising when I had fallen asleep, I was startled by a faint sound of the baby turning in sleep. To my surprise, my heart skipped a beat. Somewhere I felt scared of him waking up and me, incapable of tending to him. At any cost, I did not want him to wake up at that moment.
“What kind of a mother are you Akanksha?” I said to myself. “You don’t want your baby to wake up?”
“No, it’s not that” came another voice, a guilty, submissive one.
“But that’s what you just thought!” came the angry, roaring voice again.
All I remember about this torturous mental conversation is that it continued in my head for days after that morning. A conversation between a rational and perfect woman with her own ideas of parenting and motherhood, and a guilty, subdued voice of a helpless woman who did not know what was suddenly happening to her. Which of these I was, I still do not know.
I cried and cried, till the point I wanted to pluck my hair. Anxiety only increased as each day passed and nights were no better. There was no sleep – how could there be in the presence of that ongoing conversation that only increased my hatred for myself.
Bad dreams made me jump in panic and usual things that we so often take for granted seemed to make no sense. Everything seemed so disconnected as if with each day, life was throwing me harder in whichever direction it liked.
A faint muffle from my child made me jump – what if I must feed him again? What if he is hungry or his diaper needs changing? These simple chores which sound like no-brainers when we think of them suddenly felt so herculean, as if I needed to be a rocket-scientist to be able to even give the child a shower.
I refused to eat or drink and drew myself in my own shell, still trying to manage or at least figure out the battle in my head. I was surely a fool, I told myself, for only fools were capable of such carelessness to their own children. How hopelessness could I be to ignore my new-born, my husband and my house? There really had to be a problem with my mental abilities. It must have been pure luck that I could have a career path of the kind I had – after all, I was good-for-nothing.
Eventually, someone pointed out to my family that I could be suffering from post-partum depression or the baby-blues. Reluctantly, I sought medical help and honestly, it had more to do for the baby’s welfare than mine own, for I was beyond doubt convinced that I really had a defect that no one could do anything about. No treatment or medication or therapy could help – the only cure was to wipe oneself off from the face of the earth and this, not only to ease the suffering, but also because I had managed to convince myself that this world, including my family and new-born would be so better off without me.
Luckily, with the help of family support and medication, the clouds finally lifted and once again, life seemed full of colours. The enthusiasm to perform daily tasks and preferred activities was back. As I share my experience with you, I would like to point out some things that I learnt about this illness during this very difficult phase of my life:
- Please do not consider mental illness as a sign of personal weakness or shortcoming. It can happen to anyone at any point of time, except that few people may be more pre-disposed to it. It is believed that 1 out of 10 people globally suffer from mental illness of some kind, at some point in their lives.
- Mental illnesses are as real as physical ones. The only difference is that the victim suffers both physically and mentally. During a depressed phase, getting out of bed itself may seem like climbing a mountain.
- Please seek help if you think you are feeling blue or sad without a reason. It’s not your fault.
- Please do not believe the things you tell yourself when depressed. This most lethal aspect of this illness is the ability of the victim to convince himself and others around him of defects he does not have. Wait for the sun to shine again – it surely will.
- Have a close circle of friends or family members who you can reach out to, without shame, when depressed. Talking to someone is always a good thing at such times.
And for all the others who have been blessed enough to never have experienced the misery of this illness, please stand up for friends and family members who may be battling such excruciating guilt and worthlessness.
Given the tendency of depressed individuals to think in terms of ending their lives, all of us can, in our own little way, keep in touch with people battling depression. Even if we have saved one life, our bit is done!
Image taken from Google images