When I tell people for the first time that I’m depressed, people ask me the one question that, to this day, stumps me, makes me feel like I just pulled my tongue out of the freezer: ‘why’.
Now, this question is not entirely strange; depression is a product of many things-from death of a family member, to divorce, to a messy breakup in romantic relationships, perpetual negative reinforcement from parents and society to a bajillion other things- can cause it. But there’s often an expectation that you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move the fuck on.
The real horror starts when, you don’t.
So I’m currently awaiting to determine how severe it is by a professional psychiatrist but I’ve come to understand that I’ve had depression for about eight months now. I can still function fairly normally and do most things expected of me. I can go to college and hold conversations, engage in a classroom and ask the teacher doubts, hold a decent CGPA and, if asked, have a ready answer about what I really want to do with my life.
Under most circumstances, there is no problem but, if you’d indulge me in a little bit of a cheesy sales pitch,
‘Would you want to wake up every day to want nothing more than to just go back to sleep for good? Would you like to feel tired for doing nothing and want nothing more to just have a sharp object so you can kill yourself?’
‘Then, boy oh boy I have the product for you its: depression!’
Depression is not just sadness. It is waking up every day with a heart full of pain for no discernible reason. It’s in the way happiness dies on our face because we are smiling to hide it from those who probably wouldn’t help anyway. It’s constantly, despite your best efforts, feeling completely and utterly useless and that, if you could die tomorrow, no one will give a shit. It’s being unable to feel anything if you can’t feel pain. No joy, no anger, no sadness just, the numb, emotional equivalent of TV static.
Touching back on the pain, it’s the kind that feels like you are being eaten from the inside. That makes you a husk that simply cannot be filled. If it goes on long enough, it feels like you could go mad from it. Yet, all of this is discredited when unable to answer the simple question ‘why?’
When I quip and say I didn’t do it, throwing out how it’s possible that the death of three of my grandparents when I was in 12th affected me deeper than I ever let it, most retorts I get include ‘But they were old no?’ or ‘But that was years ago right? Why are you letting that affect you now?’ To this day, I have no idea why I have depression. It’s not something one chooses to have. As I said before, several things could trigger depression and it could manifest itself in many different ways.
To this day, I thought about killing myself several times. I looked at methods from hanging myself, to running a razor across my wrists, to starving myself; the only reason I didn’t was because I didn’t want to make my family unhappy I never attempted suicide yet. But I know I could if things go on like this.
To say that depression isn’t real is like saying one’s emotions aren’t real. Sure, many can’t see them or feel them but they are there. I’m sorry if this post makes you uncomfortable. Or reminds you of feelings that you’d rather forget about but I am telling you how I feel because I think no one deserves to suffer in silence.
With 2017 coming to an end, this year saw a lot of debates and discussions about Mental Health issues than ever before. The Mental Health Act was passed this year on April 7th, which decriminalized suicide attempts. However, the world endured a lot of negativity as well. On the other end of the spectrum, this year also saw the rise of the Blue Whale challenge that shook the children of the world and we had to join hands to fight against it. The newspapers also carried headlines of an unprecedentedly large number of suicides, with most of the victims being teenagers and college-goers. And a mammoth of a question remains unanswered – What really pushed them to do this?
You see, the students that made it to the headlines this year all seemed to fit a certain profile. All of them were academically well off and had a normal relationship with their friends and family. No visible symptoms of depression or anxiety could be found out, they weren’t looking any different, their daily activities weren’t affected in any way, and all of them seemed normal and as they would every other day. Their suicides came as a big, unpredictable blow to their friends and family since literally nothing pointed to them suffering from any kind of mental health issues or, so they thought.
This observation or the lack of it reveals a darker truth. Most of us aren’t aware of a class of disorders that has now become to be known as “high-functioning” disorders. It is a recent development in the field of psychology and one that has come in a much-needed time.
For those who don’t know what they are, High-functioning disorders are the same as any other mental health disorder that one may suffer from but possess a darker trait, they do not affect your daily life. Psychologists are more worried of the people who suffer from these class of disorders since they are extremely difficult to diagnose. People with high-functioning versions of disorders such as anxiety and depression will not seem any different from a person without the disorders, superficially. They will continue with their normal lives as if nothing affects them at all, their body and brain cope very well with their conditions and as a result, their work and academic lives remain undisturbed. They’re social and active, all smiles and whatnot but on the inside, they’re still suffering and unable reach out to anyone.
For someone who is suffering and looks to the internet first to arrive at some kind of a self-diagnosis, it really doesn’t help when none of the mental health disorders’ so called “symptoms” fit them. Not many articles relating to these high functioning forms of disorders are present even on the internet, which is one of, if not the largest communicative space globally. And hence understandably, not much awareness is present with regard to these issues.
If you are suffering from not being the best version of yourself and doubt that it could be anxiety or depression or any other issues but experience none of the visible giveaways, do consult a psychologist.
It is never easy to battle these on your own and you shouldn’t either. The world is here to listen and to help. And if you doubt that one of your loved ones is suffering but do not know what to do since they do seem normal to everyone else, sit them down and talk to them. Ask them if they’re doing okay and if not, tell them that you’re there to help them get through this.
Everyone needs a hand sometimes. You could end up saving a life from further suffering because of the lack of awareness. Do your bit and spread the word.
Cigarette buds. Substance abuse. Sleeved shirts to shut out speculations about the cause of the scars on your wrists.
Some posts have to be written from the heart. Some posts need not be perfect in terms of grammar or structure. Some posts need not suffuse the eerie charm that it ought to have held. Some posts are essential nevertheless.
I spoke to a friend yesterday. Given the peculiar drop in the level of my conversations over the past six months, I must say that we had a fairly long conversation. We spoke about the bad cripples caused by depression and about the worse cripples caused by a lack of understanding about mental health.
For those who lack awareness, depression is a feigned escape from personal responsibilities. It is a self induced state of mind where a creature is seen to be desperately craving for attention and support for problems that are apparently illusory.
Those who are sensible enough to understand that depression, like asthma or cancer is yet another disease plaguing human survival again seem to place themselves at the ends of multiples bifurcations within the common head titled ‘The aware lot’.Majority of the people fall under the sub-head where they visualize depression to be a mental state of mind which holds an ambience equivalent to hell. The insides are layered lavishly in a combination of darkness, sadness, helplessness, tiredness, substance abuse and suicide attempts.
The sufferer has been portrayed in a constant state of abuse and is seen to be self harming himself or herself endlessly. There is an abject lack of interest in waking up, doing your daily chores and survival in general.
This notion about depression reminds me of a post I read yesterday. The post spoke about feminism and equality. It said that most men when asked to imagine female liberation often visualized a reversal of roles where the woman holds the baton of a chauvinist in place of the male. The post went on to make an interesting observation that a man seems to have either a constraint in terms of imagination or he must be too apprehensive about the repercussions that he would be facing upon the reversal of roles.
An ample majority of people have the same limitation when it comes to understanding depression.Unlike the above example where it is completely erroneous to imagine equality along the lines of an inverted power structure, it isn’t completely preposterous to imagine depression as an equivalent to what we could call as the pinnacle of agony. Neither is it completely logical to compare the illness to such an extremity always. To put it simply, like fever, depression too can be measured in degrees. A severed wrist isn’t a mandate when it comes to diagnosing depression. There are less life-threatening yet painful symptoms that could be possible signs of depression.
The friend seated next to you with bleary eyes which you assume to be a result of a late night football match. Did you stop for a moment to ask him if he actually enjoys watching soccer? What if he went to bed at 9 pm in the night and fell asleep only at 4? What if it is a routine in his survival?
The colleague seated opposite your cubicle is unable to control his urge to masturbate. While your gang teases him for being a lecherous asshole, did any of you pause for a moment to contemplate the possibility of it being a serotonin imbalance?
Your girlfriend wakes up at 12 am in the night to binge on a packet of chips. She goes on to visit the restroom with two bottles full of water. A few moments later she falls back on bed content that the taste of the chips would linger just in her mouth and not as an additional layer of fat between her thighs. Master plan ain’t it? Or is it one? Have you ever read up on Bulimia ? Have you let those consequences scare you?
Your next door neighbor sleeps ten hours a day. Yet at the mid-morning get together on a warm Sunday, you see him tired. This week. The week before. Two weeks back. Endless loop. Is he just a sleepy head?A manifestation of Kumbhakarna as his father casually jokes around? Have you ever lost sleep about him? At least towards the fag end of the night when the burden of your suffering has exhausted its share of rants completely? What if maybe, it is hypersomnia? What if he actually wants to be active but isn’t able to?
Your own sister sleeping over your shoulder. Perfect job. Dream car. Childhood sweetheart. About to be married. You glance at her every night. A long jealous glance at her thick stock of hair. Her back facing you as she has curled up to sleep on the other side. What if despite this all, there is still a void. A void wrenching the depths of her existence. Dysthymia in medical terms. High functioning depression in layman terms. Wait. You are shocked ain’t you. You can’t believe that depression and high-functioning can be used together except with a punctuation mark separating them.
Have you ever tried to roll her over to your side? Maybe the tears are flowing down her eyes. Have you even contemplated giving it a single try?
I am not trying to say that every person we see might be suffering from mental illnesses irrespective of the magnitude. I am only trying to open your eyes to the possibility that there is more to a mental illness than the portrait of a bearded man scoring weed endlessly with several deep cuts across his wrists. In terms of awareness, you are far ahead in the ladder when compared to truckloads of your counterparts who don’t even possess an iota of awareness about the distress. Yet, I believe that it isn’t enough and there is still a long way to go in order to shatter the stigma effectively.
“As I sit in my room on a particularly dark afternoon, life seems all but a melancholic drone of has been’s and would be’s, mechanically wheezing into a nightmarish scenario where shadows are friends and humans seem unfriendly. The clock ticks like it is the harbinger of my doomsday, my mind screams, wanting everything to stop! Gears slip into motion, my monsters crawl out of my own mind and sing me the most painful soliloquy. My life squishes like a squandered set of useless paraphernalia while my mind keeps telling me to just not do it anymore.”
This is not an excerpt from a Stephen King novel, albeit it may be very scary. It is the rant of a mind suffering from anxiety, one of the many mental health illnesses plaguing the human population. Sadly, most people do not care.
A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
Yet, major sovereign states have failed to provide justifiable legislation for the same, or have refused to put enough stress on it. To provide a particular example, let’s take India, the country of my birth and the subject of my patriotism. India is a nation of 1.34 billion people, constituting the world’s largest youth population and second largest population overall.
Statistical reports from the WHO show us that almost 7.5% of the population of India suffers from mental health disorders, with the number growing by the passing day.
These disorders constitute depression, anxiety, hypertension, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to name a few.
People suffering from such disorders require expert intervention and regular treatment for improvement, so as to ensure that a large part of the global population is not only physically fit, but mentally as well. However, a particular case study will show that might not be the case.
Mental health treatment institutions in India are mostly three-fold: private high-end facilities, government facilities and religious facilities. While the first case scenario is only for an elite segment of the population, it is mostly the other two which most people can avail.
However, India is facing a mental health crisis. With only 43 government-run mental hospitals serving a population of 1.3 billion, resources are spread thin. Moreover, mental illness is highly stigmatised in India, especially among women, who are typically committed to mental health facilities with no legal rights, and receive involuntary treatment sometimes without a proper diagnosis.
The worst-case scenario are religious institutions and independent cult leaders who proceed to treat mental health illness on their own with confounding, unscientific practices including the likes of black magic and sacrificial rituals.
Yet, however unsatisfactory the medical practices surrounding mental health or the interest shown in it from a professional aid perspective may be, the worst problem for mental health illness is social stigma.
Stigma is officially defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Mental health issues have often been deemed weak and disgraceful, a mark of wasteful elitism and a rotten excuse by people in human civilisation since time immemorial.
Because of this, a huge number of people still go on to ask a depressed person to just “forget it and move on”, call someone with ADHD or similar issues to be making excuses or being ‘elitist’ and ‘wasteful’, and not to forget, pin any behaviour deviating from the norm upon one strategic word, ‘madness’. Like a disease, not one which needs to be treated, but one which is disgraceful and needs to be exterminated.
When such levels of stigma exist as norms in the human society for centuries, people suffering from mental health illnesses hesitate to acknowledge their issues and seek public help for fear of having no personal comfort, and for being ostracised with mean, dispirited comments, along the lines of ‘weak’, ‘disgraceful’ and ‘loser’, to name just a few.
Corporate policies surrounding mental health illnesses are far too few, recognition of the same as a legitimate health concern is astoundingly low, even for educated individuals, and social acceptance for mental health illnesses are catastrophic. All of this does not cut a pretty picture for something we should definitely not be ignoring or castigating.
Of course, not everything is bleak. Many developed nations have constitutional laws and legislative precedence for acceptance of mental health issues and protection of those suffering from related causes. Developing countries are following suit, with India having recently passed a law to decriminalize suicide attempts and provide better healthcare for patients of mental health disorders.
Yet, until a higher number of facilities are provided at a sovereign level, and the social stigma surrounding the same is not shattered, progress, however promising, will seem unconvincing.
Sovereign improvements require better political philosophy, a discussion beyond the mandate of this article. However, no amount of legal or political support will matter till social acceptance for these issues do not improve, a conundrum which requires more education about the same, grassroots movements and an altogether improved level of awareness, thus leading to amicable acceptances.
Although this does seem a long way off, many local non-profits and popular public personalities have taken up this cause and have launched a crusade to improve circumstances surrounding it.
One particular initiative I absolutely love and am involved with is ‘Lonepack’. As a small, up and coming non-profit organisation based in India, we have been fighting the stigma surrounding mental health for over a year now through multiple campaigns.
Our latest campaign, ‘Save The Whale‘ challenge, is an attempt to increase positivity over the internet and provide a challenge to the despicable ‘Blue Whale‘ game. Many other organisations exist who engage in similar work.
However, it cannot just be institutions fighting the good fight, it has to be everyone. Only then will this crusade actually mean something and be successful in making a difference.
Maybe there is a future better than the situation we are in today, but that will never be possible without enough awareness. Next time you meet someone suffering from a mental health disorder, do not attempt to jeer or advice. Reach out a hand and be there for them with nothing but silent support.
Let us make this world a better and more acceptable place, one person at a time. Till then, all we have is hope. Surely, we can do better than that?
I wake up on a cold rainy morning. The remains of the rain drops are still kissing the frosty windows. They dance together. His fingers slowly move down to fill the gap between her thighs. I turn around to find myself in the company of my pillow. Apart from the companionship of the early morning darkness and my depressing solitude of course. I have grown to a point where I have begun to take both of them for granted. As the tips of my fingers touch the icy floor gently, the questions of existence swarm back to haunt me like the pack of obstreperous fireflies that pounce at the first hint of light. I swim through the questions in silence. A silence that is probably owing to acclimatization to the frequency of being bludgeoned by the questions forever. Like the woman who is a regular feature on a crowded bus. Numb to the ogles and the touches. A few accidental. A lot, lecherous and intentional. Sigh. My lips quiver under the warmth of the morning shower in my bathroom. My blood vessels rejoice the temporary retreat from the handcuffs of the cold. Five minutes later though, they seem to feel heavier. Maybe the idea of having to go back to the cold has hit them hard. Just like the way anxiety hit me midway through my yearly vacation last month. A psychotic state of wanting to make the day count and yet deciding to while away the moments one at a time. A common fear that the day would end soon if I made it count and would leave me at the mouth of the den of another Monday that I cannot run away from. The weight of my breath is evident from every heave of my chest. No, it is not physical exertion that is causing my loss of breath. It is far from it. My body works rarely. My job doesn’t demand it. After a point, it hasn’t even demanded an exertion from my mind. Masturbation doesn’t count of course. I get into my clothes pretty quick. Trousers first. Ironed shirts follow. Shoes that are bound to dampen during the commute. A bag that protects my laptop from the rains. Finally, a brain left behind safely in the bosom of my bedroom. The blows the questions deliver are currently intolerable. The strikes are made from fists of iron. Heavy. Hard hitting. The cab driver pulls over in front of my door. 8 25 a.m. Sharp. I move into the front seat. From the corner of my eye, I glance at Maya seated behind. For the past six months, we have only shared a weak smile. The crevices of my throat create hollow noises like an ill-kept vacuum cleaner every time I clear it to talk to her. I text her. Sometimes. It needs no eye contact. Thank God. Thank Satan. Thank no one. They don’t exist.
The texts end with an abrupt goodbye. I can’t keep it going. I don’t know to. I wonder how people find love on parks, beaches, cafeterias, social media and even in public restrooms. I rarely go beyond the timid hello. Let alone love. I smile at the cab driver. He has been with our office for 4 years now. We both share a connect. Not mentally. No, not physically. We both have similar job nature. The descriptions and the pay differ. Start. First gear on. Accelerate. Break when needed. Rev up the gears and throttle faster when needed. Stop. Same here. Not a car though. Microsoft excel. The questions are now choking me. Sniggering at me. Taunting me to give up. I walk into my office. Six minutes late. Smile at the receptionist. Take the elevator. Press second floor. Get out of the elevator. 10 steps forward. 3 steps to the right. Red seat. 4 feet by 3 cubicle. Lay laptop on the desk. Turn right. Stare at Maya. She turns your side. Look away. Avoid eye contact. Sit. The clock strikes 5 pm. Half an hour to go. 7 and half hours done on the immobile seat. Two deviations. One for coffee -11 15 am. The time of the day Maya has her coffee. Repeat procedure as above. Stare at her. If she turns your side, look away. Another again for coffee- 3 30 pm. Procedure. Repeat. Lunch demands no movement from my seat. Same rice cooked with dal everyday. Pop two lithium pills post food. Occasional lunch treats lead to deviation number three. Half an hour. Cafeteria or the restaurant opposite my office. Not exactly opposite. Clock strikes 5 30 pm. Stand up. Regulation goodbye. Look at Maya. Muster up courage to bid goodbye. Decide against it. Walk away. Down the elevator. Into the cab. Go home. Change clothing. Coffee. Hot. Three spoons of sugar. Too much. It doesn’t matter. Nothing does. TV. Two hours. Twitter. Facebook. Stalk Maya. Dinner. Roti. Today. Everyday. Two more pills.
The questions have now battered my bones. They have marinated me in my own blood. So, what are these questions that have been haunting me? Did I tell you? Did you ask? The blows. Left hand hook unto my jawbone. Who are you? A human. An organism. A face in the crowd. A whole world to my dog. A nobody to Maya. Maybe somebody? Maybe not? Not until I decipher what her smile three days ago meant. A face lost in a crowd of a billion organisms that are evolving everyday to different versions as an effect to the changes in the survival needs around. An unknown in a planet that is one among 8 ( or 9 ) others in a solar system which is within a galaxy housing million other solar systems which in turn is imprisoned within a universe which is constantly expanding. Wait. Who decided the boundaries of the solar systems though? Who said a galaxy ends here? They said Pluto revolves around our sun. Now they say it doesn’t. Will earth meet with the same fate? Will it be disowned by our solar system? Wait again. Who decides that our solar system owns our earth? Who called it earth? Our earth? Seriously? Right legged side kick to my thighs. What is your identity? Should there be one? Why is everyone miffed with having one? Some call it a passion. Some call it a purpose. Some find it in wives. Some find it in peace. Some in children. Some in work. Are identities subjective? Is it mandatory to have one? What else would push you forward? Why should I be pushed forward? Can’t I stagnate? Or does it exist? Maybe I am lazy to look for it? Maybe I am wise enough to know it doesn’t exist? But wait. Does wisdom exist? If yes how to categorically group things into wise and unwise. Right hand uppercut to my chin. Why should you live? Good question. I don’t have an answer. Not for this one. Nor for any other question? Why shouldn’t I live? What is the point when everyday is the same routine? Should I succumb to the warmth of hope that it would change one day? Does hope exist? Does future exist? Why not die? Suicide? Is it cowardice? Hell No! Why not then? Should suicide have a reason too? Again, why is the world bent to find a reason for everything? But what if things change? Become better? What if they don’t? What it it becomes miserable? What is better? What is miserable? Are they subjective as well? Right hand jab. Knock out. What is the right decision now? Knocked out. Too tired to answer. To confused to answer even if I was doing good. Let me try. Is there a right decision? What is right? Don’t say what isn’t wrong? Then, what is wrong? Is this a vicious cycle? What is right for me isn’t right for you? Maybe even wrong? Who said our morals should coincide? Should we have morals? Who gave the court the power to call something wrong? Is it wrong? Is wrong objective? Isn’t murder a murder always? If yes, why is a soldier glorified and a rapist condemned? Again, not justifying rape. Not speaking against as well. Is something objective? Something with an independent existence? Should something be objective? Three messages to Maya as against two so far in six months. Good signs. Maybe not. Final question. What next? Time is 12 midnight. Office tomorrow. Good night. Bye. Wake up. Repeat.
One of the most talked about topics that is being discussed everywhere right now is the Blue Whale Challenge. As many of you may have come to known, this supposed “challenge” of sorts is one of the most manipulating and dangerous things that this world governed by social media has discovered. But the problem lies in the fact that many people do not understand the seriousness of this repulsive game and take it upon themselves to voluntarily sign up for it out of mere curiosity. The whole “Nothing will happen to me, I just want to know what it is about” mentality of people today is something that has to change immediately.
“I felt my mind floating after the 15th step. I was obeying the commands of the game master voluntarily. It was a kind of hypnotism. My mind was being overpowered. I was scared of quitting since the game master collected all sorts of information about me and my family. But I took a chance. Fortunately, nothing has happened to me,” said Nithin Jose (name changed on request), a third semester degree student at a prominent college in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala who took up the challenge out of curiosity, reports Firstpost.
This challenge is structured to mentally manipulate you, even the supposedly strongest of us are at a risk of succumbing to the game. DO NOT take this lightly. Do caution everyone you know about the game and monitor the activities of your friends and family. The main targets of the game are the children, even ones that are as young as four are somehow gaining access to the game and it is about time we take action. Many schools have issued warnings to parents to keep a check on the activity of their children’s social media activities and to sit them down and talk to them.
Many young teenagers have lost their lives to this sickening, psychological menace and so many more are at a high risk of caving in to the same fate. It is your utmost duty to spread awareness about this and caution your friends and family members not to indulge in the challenge, even if it tempts them to. Do know that the game is also being spread through other names such as A Silent House, A Sea Of Whales and Wake Me Up.
Please be on alert for any odd behaviour of anyone you know and if they do show signs of being manipulated by this game, sit them down and talk to them. We are stronger than some moronic game and more importantly, we are stronger Together. No one is alone in the world, we are all here for everyone. Talk to people if you are feeling down and express your feelings, do not bottle them up. We all have to fight against this challenge and spread nothing but positivity and happiness. That is the ultimate goal.
I have seen multiple allegories being used to describe what it is like to be depressed. “An endless, dark pit of horrors, a ceaseless tunnel, and a mysterious hell where time freezes over” are some of them that have personally resonated with me in the past. Yes, depression could be a Lernean Hydra at times. One that has particularly stood out for me is a clichéd example which still holds true. An image of a deer caught in headlights could be a good description of my mental state. Just like the antlered stag in the midst of a highway, I was frightened and scared. More than that, I was confused. You weren’t sure which side to move towards. You have questions and you search for answers. “Why me? Is this the new normal? Are there others like me? Will this end at all? Does this have a purpose?”, I sought to know. I didn’t know where to go to, so I went to the place I usually go to – books. The written word holds a specific charm. It lets you not only form your philosophies, but also test them out as you move along with your depression, hoping to survive. In a rather telling fashion, I started finding everything from quick hacks and fixes to worldview changing philosophies in there. I wish to talk about five books in specific that had a remarkable impact upon me ever since I started looking out for answers.
1. Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
It was rather a strange coincidence as to how I met this book. My former company’s CEO had suggested it multiple times. I picked this book up assuming it was a business strategy book or at the best an inspirational book. I had no clue back then on what it had to offer I terms of worldviews.
The book is a travelogue that traces the journey of a father and a son as they go on a motorcycle trip, hike through the Appalachians and cross country ride through various states. Pirsig contrasts the journey with the journey that the narrator has with his conscience/ personal self/ daemon. Phaedrus, as he called him, was quite probing. It was kind of strange to notice certain worldviews like “Objective reality is just unanimous subjective reality, therefore reasoning has a church”. This book kind of helped me confront my Phaedrus and answer him as I moved through time.
2. Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor E Frankl
Perhaps the most poignant of the books described here, the entire book can be summed up to this Nietzsche quote that it kind of uses as a leitmotif – He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. The author, a Holocaust survivor, talks about life at Auschwitz. Finding purpose amidst these circumstances can be cruel. To some, it could be family, to some others, it could be a better life and opportunities. But what do you do when every purpose that you have defined for yourself is brutally taken away from you despite no fault of your own? Dr. Frankl describes how to arrive at the why of your life even when you think it has just been destroyed. I loved this book for its emphasis on the quest for meaning and portraying how meaning could change from individual to individual spatially and temporally.
Prozac Nation – Elizabeth Wurtzel
This book was a suggestion from a good friend (the person who asked me to write this article). Wurtzel deals with depression in a very pragmatic manner. She seeks answers, writhes in pain and finally concludes that pain is inevitable and learns to work with it in an efficient manner. This book to me stood out because of one thing. It was a reminder that I was not the only person in the world who was in this state. And the world will reach out to you and try to help you out if you will let it to.
The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch
The other books might seem gloomy, but if you’re looking for something light to begin with initially, this is a great place to start. Funny, concise and witty, Dr. Raundy Pausch writes about achieving his childhood dreams. From playing in the NFL to floating in space, Dr. Pausch takes you through his childhood dreams in a jovial manner. His enthusiasm about life is infectious. What’s the catch, you ask? He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he had one last lecture to deliver to his students. This book was written based on that lecture. Your spirit, Dr. Pausch, that poise with which you say, “Make me earn it” when you enter the room, makes me immensely jealous of the students who learnt from you.5.When Breath Becomes Air – Dr. Paul Kalanithi I saved the best, my holy grail, for the last. Maybe you’ve heard about this book before. This is a book that I’ve gushed about to every friend of mine who was patient enough to listen to me. A memoir of a neurosurgeon who was affected by cancer, I won’t call this book gloomy or indolent. It is a celebration of Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s life, his resilience, his philosophies, his striving – oh, I could go on and on. In life, rarely, do you meet people you could relate with. This book worked for me because I could see myself in Paul Kalanithi’s shoes. No, I was Paul throughout the time I read it. This book might or might not work for you like it did for me, but by all means, go for it. You would be basking in the presence of perhaps this decade’s finest writer.
The books that chronicle the experiences of depression could be moody, gloomy or even arcane. Yet, they’re worth the trouble you put yourself through for every word. Because, words help you heal. Words help you survive. Words help you resist. And most importantly, words help you answer your questions.
” Poo pookum osai, adhu kekathaan aasai”. I wake up to a sweet voice resonating across the hall. When I proceed to identify the source, I was shocked to see a girl, maybe 4-5, singing in front of a huge audience! This was part of a Tamil reality show, one of the many that have cropped up in recent times.
Childhood, for many of us is associated with happiness and excitement. We were allowed to explore new places, meet new people, invent new games, and most importantly, we were carefree. The key element in a child is their innocence. This is why interacting with a kid brings me immense joy. They look at the world with a totally transparent lens , free from “grownup bias and emotions” like jealousy, hatred or deceit. As a kid, happiness usually meant those football matches during recess, or family visits to the beach for some “panju mittai”. Sadly, times have changed. There has been a surge of reality television shows where kids from the tender age of 3 are being made to showcase talents such as dancing, singing or theatre. In my opinion, these competitions are acceptable if they allow the kid to perform completely on his/her own will, without coercing them onto the stage. The judges should encourage them to perform for the joy of participating, and not winning. These shows claim to be a platform for new talent to be discovered, but are often questioned over the age-appropriateness of the content.
“The children talk too much and broach subjects that are not age-appropriate. At every age, there is a certain level of physical, emotional and social growth expected from a child. This cannot be violated constantly.”- Dr Jayanthini, Psychiatrist
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has put forth guidelines for such reality shows involving minors, and lays emphasis on age appropriate content. It clearly states that ‘No child should be made to perform or enact scenes or mouth dialogues that are inappropriate for his/her age, or those that may cause him/her distress.’
Often, many producers get away with this easily. These children are made to say things that they don’t really understand. They are exposed to a lot of negativity that will definitely have a huge emotional impact on them. How do adults have the right to alter the natural emotional growth of a child, merely for greed and entertainment? Another aspect to be considered is the early onset of a highly competitive spirit. Children are judged brutally and in many cases put down with a lot of negative comments. This can be a blow on their self-confidence, making them feel worthless and insecure. These reality shows require hours of rigorous practice, which can be mentally and physically exhausting. How will they feel, if all they get in return is a slew of negative feedbacks and rejection? School education and a happy fun filled childhood ultimately take a back seat.
Some shows are known for its tearjerker moments. Be it an ill mother brought to stage, a family reunion under flashing lights, or even discussions on personal problems the contestants face, it has it all.
“Why should personal matters be discussed for the world to see? Children may not understand the consequences immediately and it is not right to put them through that distress on stage,” says Dr Jayanthini. “This is an invasion of their privacy and I would say it amounts to abuse,” asserts the psychiatrist.
Some states have identified the ill effects of reality shows and have taken action. The most recent example is the ban of popular television programme “Kuttipattalam” aired by Surya TV. According to the Kerala State Commission for Child Rights, the show was manipulating children to say age-inappropriate.
This topic has been highly debated across many public forums. Some of the supporting arguments include helping kids cope with fear and depression at a young age, and preparing them for the future. Some argue that it builds their social and communication skills. Personally although I am not a supporter, I feel that there should be a fine line between entertainment and emotional exploitation. All these shows should take care that they understand the emotional and physical limits of the children, and take care not to affect their self-worth in any way. These shows should also have a counselor who helps the children cope with rejection and failure. Parents should also be ready to take their children out of the show at any point they feel depressed or uncomfortable.
After all, childhood is the most beautiful of all life’s seasons.
When your mental illness is so bad, you can’t get out of bed, when even the idea of facing the world is terrifying, I want you to remember that you are allowed to practice self care. You are allowed to stay home from school or work (you will not be able to work during a personal emergency, it’ll just make everything you are already dealing with feel worse.) and look after yourself. Here are a few suggestions on how to do so:
If the day is so heavy that even showering and brushing your teeth feels pointless, baby wipes and mouthwash are good options. Just rub baby wipes over your skin to feel at least a little bit fresher, and at least give you a little less anxiety about not showering. Mouthwash will help make you feel fresher for a few minutes.
If you find your hair too greasy, dry shampoo it and pull it back and away from your face. At least it won’t be in your way constantly, upsetting you further about your condition.
If you cannot make plans with anyone, or even go to work or school, tell someone you trust what is going on. Saying you are struggling with your mental health is not something to be ashamed of. Letting people know what is happening in your life will bring them to empathize more with your condition.
If you find yourself so low that the idea of eating makes you feel ill, drink water and keep hydrated. And when your body forces you to recognize it’s hungry, and you can’t even make yourself a sandwich, there is no harm in keeping protein bars, fruit or easy to eat food around the house or your room. Anything is better not eating at all, as not eating at all will contribute to your mental illness.
Collect a tool box of sorts for days like this: A playlist that is full of your favorite songs that can lift your spirits even slightly. A TV show/movie that has got you through a bad day before simply by distracting you. A book that is so imaginative that you get lost in it, even for a few minutes. Anything that can distract your mind or help, even if it is for a few minutes during a day like this should be part of this toolbox.
If you find yourself unable to sleep because your heart is thumping, your brain won’t shut off, all you can think of is the negative, your whole body feels like it’s one giant ball of unhappiness, find an audio book or instrumental music to listen to.
Keep a set of quotes that have personally affected you positively, just for days like this. Refer to them and remember how you have persisted over all your bad days so far. Remember that your mental illness does not control you and this is you at war. A war you will always manage to win, no matter how much it convinces you that you will not. It is your battles, your body against your mind, break those chains free.
If I had to choose two words that best defined happiness for me, I would say kids and animals. I interact with school children once a week, where I teach them English and math, and that by far has been the most valuable experience I have had in my college life.
What are the benefits of volunteering? The most common ones are usually “you make a difference in a person’s life”, or “it will look good on your resume”. However, studies have brought to light another advantage, and perhaps the most important one. Volunteering is a proven mental health booster. According to “Doing Good is Good for You, 2013 Health and Volunteering Study”, volunteering helps people manage and lower their stress levels. 94 per cent of those surveyed reported that volunteering also improves their mood. Volunteers also scored higher than non-volunteers on emotional well-being measures including overall satisfaction with life.
I recently happened to watch the critically acclaimed Malayalam movie “Ustaad Hotel”. It follows the story of the protagonist who loves cooking, and aims to work as an executive Chef in a top restaurant abroad. Owing to disapproval from his father, he is forced to spend some time with his grandfather, working at his small yet popular hotel. What follows is a beautiful journey of self growth, where he comes to realize that serving the needy and the socially ostracized segment such as the mentally challenged, gave him much more satisfaction and joy than he would have ever received at any commercial, high end establishment.
Volunteering is also an excellent antidepressant. Social isolation is a risk factor for depression. Volunteering helps you develop relationships and support systems, both of which can help you overcome obstacles and fight depression. Scientifically such interactions release a hormone called oxytocin, which helps us to bond and care for others and also helps us to handle stress better. Interacting with others and listening to their stories will not only take your mind off your troubles but also leave you feeling good about yourself.
On a personal note, interacting with kids, and volunteering at animal shelters has increased my self-confidence, and most importantly gives me immense satisfaction, joy and a sense of purpose.
So if you also wish you had fewer days where you just felt like curling up in a corner and feeling bad for yourself, put on those Good Samaritan shoes and volunteer for a cause that’s close to your heart!