One of the clearest indicators of the lack of awareness and stigma surrounding mental illness is the fact that a lot of people do not even know that they’ re not okay.
I was no different.
“Life doesn’t stop for mental illnesses” Illustration by @AnikaGhei
I had been gradually falling into depression, but I did not even know it, simply because I barely knew anything about it. So how did I eventually get to know? I started realizing that I was doing things that were completely opposite to the person that I thought I was.
I was someone who never slept during the day. But I started craving sleep all the time. And it always left me more tired than before. I used to always be motivated about learning new things and was highly productive. But I saw insurmountable mountains developing before me, to even do the things I loved. I was always a huge optimist.Always hopeful. But I started becoming completely negative. Borderline nihilistic.But amidst all this, I started crying. One of the things depression does to you, right from its early stages till its most severe is that it cripples you from making sense of how and what you feel and further, to express what you are feeling. And when you are constantly sad but simply don’t know why or how the only way to let that emotion out is crying.
I cried a lot. I cannot emphasize enough on the “lot” part. Sometimes, I cried so hard
that I got scared of my own crying. I did not know what I was crying for, what was
behind all that pent-up frustration, but I knew something was wrong. Seriously wrong. About 2 months into seeing my productivity dip to almost zero and experiencing crying bouts and heart-wrenching emotions, I decided to read up on depression. One of my friends suggested a book “Feeling Good” by Dr David D Burns which was a self-help which book but for depression. At that point, I was desperately looking for solutions and hence decided to hence decided to give it a try.
At this juncture, it’s important to note that life does not stop when you are going
through a mental illness. Although ideally, life should stop and it should be as normal as taking bed rest for a physical injury, but sadly it isn’t. Maybe, we wouldn’t have so many people struggling and/or having suicidal thoughts if they could just pause their lives for a while and heal, without capitalism standing over their neck. I had my CA Final exams approaching and I was plunging into depression, with every day getting worse. I could see all my dreams and hopes fading away, and I felt helpless. I could do nothing but curl up in my bed and watch while crying to myself.
Going back, I was more desperate about the book than optimistic. I just wanted
something to get me out of the dark hole that I found myself in. The above-mentioned the book uses a well-known technique called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which involves monitoring your thought processes, recording them, finding patterns and distortions and correcting them. It is by no means an easy task, especially when you have almost no control over your mind while you’re depressed.
But nonetheless, the book was a saviour in one way. It helped me understand my
problem better. I was able to relate to the symptoms and patterns of behaviour
prescribed in the book. I then realized something very important — that for someone
who had always been positive and helped other people deal with life problems better, it was the hardest for me to accept that I couldn’t help my own self out of a situation like that. But I found the answer through the book. The answer was that it wasn’t me. It was the illness.
Depression can occur to the most positive people in your lives and it has nothing to do with them. It’s an illness. It cripples one in ways that they may not understand or have encountered before. It does not spare anybody. Without going too much into what was a blurry 2 months, I couldn’t use the book to help myself. With every passing day, I simply wasn’t able to get myself to do the exercises. I was barely able to get myself to do simple tasks like folding my bedsheet, take bath, go buy a pen, send a mail, buy a new soap, etc. I still remember how it took me weeks to get me out of the house to go buy a new pen. As gross as it sounds, I have had unwashed cups and plates lying around for weeks before I finally found the energy to do them. The whole job took barely 2 mins when I eventually did it, but that’s what the illness does to you. Only when people become aware of depression affecting someone’s ability to do simple tasks, they start sensing that it’s a lot bigger than they assumed. The book had an evaluation matrix to find out how bad your depression was, which turned out to be accurate in my case (although it is always advisable to check with a therapist/psychiatrist). From mild depression when I started the book, I had plunged to severe depression with the last stage of extreme depression looming. That was the signal. I decided I needed external help. I searched for therapists near my place on Practo and found someone who practices CBT.
Why was it important though? The reason was that like most people who are unaware, I had apprehension about medication. I did not want to take in anything that would reach my brain. The stigma was real. But somewhere during the darkest days of my life, something good happened out of sheer luck — I found the best therapist, on my first try (I guess the Universe really wanted me to get better). It’s hard to find a therapist with whom you are compatible, but I was lucky. Dr Deepa Gopinath was my saviour and I owe my recovery to her. She was the most understanding person, respected my apprehension over medication and agreed to help me through CBT. Unfortunately, CBT did not work, and I had agreed with her at the beginning that I would agree to medication if I failed to work through CBT within a month. And to date, one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life was to go ahead and take medication.
“Healing doesn’t happen overnight. There are small and big battles to be fought every day, with my own mind” Picture Credits: Madhavan Krishnamachari
Slowly through medication combined with CBT, I was able to heal. But healing doesn’t happen overnight. And healing isn’t linear. You try, you have good days, you again fall down, but then you learn to pick yourself up to better every time. A year later, life seems so much brighter and I look forward to every day. However, there are small and big battles to be fought every day, with my own mind. From imagining that life would never be alright again and drowning in that feeling day in and day out to once again being hopeful about life, I couldn’t have done it without my therapist. I also had the support of a few of my friends to whom I am eternally grateful as well. When I was depressed, I wanted to go back to my old self, desperately. A year later, I am anything but my old self. I’m a better version of myself than I have
ever been. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To conclude, I wish to say this. To anyone who is going through a mental illness, there will be people to help, but the power to come out of that dark place is always in your hands, even when you’re so sure that it isn’t.
Nobody can save you but yourself.
– Madhavan Krishnamachari
I’m currently a Young India Fellow at Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana. I love slow and solo travel and am always planning the next possible trip. I’ve been creating images for the past few years and immerse myself in doing the same. I can spend hours staring into the mountains, skies and waves. Mental health is extremely important for me and I constantly work to create awareness among people. For me, life is all about the little things and the little things are all about the little moments.
MADHAVAN’S TAKE ON DRZYASHAKTI
I stumbled upon the work of Drzyashakti recently and it’s heartwarming to see the work that they do with the differently-abled. Differently-abled people often are in search of a platform to showcase their abilities and Drzyashakti has been giving them exactly what they need. In addition, Drzya’s and Drzyashakti’s efforts in creating awareness and working towards destigmatizing mental illnesses are crucial and it’s the need of the hour.
Follow Madhavan's fascinating photography here!