Friday, August 4, 2017

It’s time to talk about the darkness

By Radhika Maira Tabrez

Last year in August, one of my long cherished dreams came true. My debut novel was  
released. And it came with a lot more blessings than I could have asked for. Dream launch events attended by celebrities, promising reviews that a debut author would sell her soul for, invites to various literary and book club events. As can be imagined, I was on cloud nine.

And then, barely two months after that beautiful journey started, without any apparent trigger or at least not a big enough one, I found myself back there again. In the same dark abyss, I have come to know only too well.

The next few months after that were like being on a roller coaster ride. I had already signed up for events, talks, guest lectures. Flights had been booked. Commitments had been made. I had no time to power down and restore my sense of balance. Fortunately, my husband was aware of my condition. He did his best to be the scaffolding I very much needed. But on days, still, my foundations would be too weak to keep standing even with all the support. Sleeping for twenty hours straight, eating disorders, hysteria and catatonia once again became the things that defined my days. Thankfully none of that showed up on the perfectly-timed and well-shot event pictures and media coverage. But no matter where I traveled for my book launches, no matter how many fabulous people I met, no matter how many wonderful messages I received from readers who loved the book, and even an award of a lifetime couldn’t keep that darkness at bay for long. It kept resurfacing, like on a schedule of its own.

A few months later I had a miscarriage, and that’s when all hell broke loose. I hurtled down the abyss, way further down that I had been in the recent past. Perhaps my depression could have been the reason for the miscarriage. I would never know. All I know is climbing out of it over the last few months is one of the hardest things I have done in a while.

This anguish isn’t new though. It has been the pattern of my life for over twenty years now. When I felt the first stings of this affliction, depression wasn’t a word one could use in reference to a teenager and going to a psychiatrist was a taboo for a middle-class family like mine. Even for my rather liberal father, it was a bitter pill to swallow, I can imagine. But when his daughter decided to slice her wrists one fine day, I guess I didn’t leave him much choice. A very rushed and almost cursory meeting with a psychiatrist in a government hospital followed, which, as I can surmise in retrospect, did more damage than good. He was condescending and dismissive. The only good that came out of that experience was my firm understanding that if I were to win over this darkness, I would have to do it on my own. So I steeled up. Became even more reserved than I already was or rather stuck to only the friends who I was sure would be able to understand. Read up, extensively. Which, as you can imagine, wasn’t easy in a pre-Google world. School libraries (the only ones I had access to) back then didn’t quite bother to stock up on this subject because like I said earlier, teenagers weren’t supposed to get depressed. Any such children were just attention-seeking trouble makers, was the common consensus.
Anyway, with reading and researching came the first whiff of relief. That it is not something I do, as I had always been told. It is something that happens to me. And I cannot control getting afflicted with it any more than I can control getting bit by a mosquito in the malaria season. Even with the best of the precautions, it would happen. And I would have to deal with it, in my own ways which I would constantly keep experimenting with and improvising on.

That has been the last twenty years of my life.

Why am I talking about it now? Because this is a new step I am trying as a part of my constantly evolving strategy of dealing with my depression. Accepting it. Owning it up publicly. Not that I have ever been ashamed of doing that before. But I never did speak about it so openly. Because in my experience, it is rare to come across people who really cares about your condition or even make an effort to understand it. And I don’t blame them.

This particular darkness is a shade of black which one can comprehend only if they have felt it inside. If they haven’t, it is like explaining the colors of the rainbow to a dog. Even with the best of the compassion on their part, their spectrum of understanding just doesn’t cover it.

I am talking about it now because another woman, an actress apparently at the peak of her career committed suicide a few days ago. And as always, the same hackneyed, ill-informed and insensitive chatter has started on social media. According to some people she had so much going for her, a cheating husband notwithstanding. She was beautiful and successful. A small little domestic issue making her take her own life means that she was ‘weak’. She should have tried to be stronger. Was she depressed? Then she should have tried to just snap out of it. So many people are dealing with so much more than that. Why couldn’t she?

What as always these people fail to understand is – it’s not that simple. No one ‘wants’ to die. Suicide is not a sport one enjoys engaging in, the way some people make it sound like in reference to Bidisha Bezbaruah and many victims before her. It takes far more courage than anything one has ever done in their life; and so calling them weak is as disconnected as one can be from reality. And depression isn’t something one can just snap out of at will. More often than not, it’s like the quicksand that pulls you in even faster if you try to wriggle your way out of it.

People who seem like they ‘have it all together’ but who suddenly collapse one day, on seemingly the smallest of triggers are suffering with what has now come to be called as ‘High-functioning depression’. It goes by many names – Dysthymia, Persistent Depressive Disorder or maybe some other terms too. The terminology isn’t what I am focusing on here. The more important thing is that its victims are far more difficult to spot, because of what seems to be a rather unruffled facade of its victims.

I’ve decided to talk about it now because I have to. Because I need other people like me to know that they aren’t alone. And if they want someone to talk to, someone who may not be able to help them much because she herself is struggling to find the answers, she will at least lend a compassionate patient ear.
And sometimes that is all one needs.
PS – In order to create some awareness and maybe also as an act of closure for me, I would be writing in detail about this particular kind of depression in my next post.