Friday, August 11, 2017

The First Step Is The Hardest

In the few hours since I posted on my blog yesterday, about my decades’ long fight with depression, I
scrubbed my kitchen counter till my fingers were sore… then cleaned the window panes for all the spots which I am now sure I was purely imagining… soaked in a long hot bath… folded the laundry, and then for reasons which are beyond me messed it all up and folded it all again, this time slower. Then I made a cup of tea, but instead of drinking, stared at it till it went cold.

I knew I was doing all that I could to stay away from my computer. Because if I touched it, I will be tempted to delete the post.

That is what happens when you keep a secret hidden for long. That secret becomes one with your skin. You feel naked without it. Just like I did.

But then, when I finally did get back to my laptop, I was overwhelmed with the responses waiting on it. Comments and messages from people who have been through or are going through the same agony; congratulating me for taking the hardest step in this journey. For the first time since the morning, I could breathe normally again.

I wrote a short story a while ago wherein the main character suffers from depression. At one point the character actually thinks this to herself…

“I remember lying there, wondering if it would have been better if I were afflicted with something more tangible. Something people could see and hence believe me and help me. One of my aunts had cancer and the whole world rallied to support her. A friend from school had an accident and was bedridden for months. Her husband was by her side the entire time. I wish I had something like that. Poisonous cells. Broken limbs. Something that people can see and sympathize with. Because they surely don’t understand or have any sympathy for a heart slowly getting engulfed in a darkness it can’t seem to escape or explain to others.”

It was only after I finished writing those words and they stared back at me from the white screen of my laptop, did I realize it how monstrously huge they were.

It wasn’t my character who was saying this. It was me. Not as the author. But as a victim. I was disgusted beyond words. Of the many things we humans aren’t capacitated to handle well, helplessness is definitely somewhere on the top of the list. Our entire life, the very existence of our species is predicated on the idea of survival of the fittest. We crave power. We live our life pursuing it, in the form of money, fame, success etc. And then to suddenly realize how powerless we truly are, in the face of a certain darkness that emerges from nowhere else but within us? And that there is very little we can do about it. The realization is enough to break the strongest of the spirits.

Another spirit broke yesterday. Another celebrated artist, Chester Bennington, lost his fight with depression. And while that news was breaking on the television, I was going through the barrage of messages and confessions from the people reading my post. For a moment I was saddened, reading about so much pain, everywhere. About the sheer number of my friends and acquaintances, battling the same monster which I was, under the calm facades of their daily lives. How did we all not know this about each other? Why didn’t we talk to each other sooner? But then I remembered how long it has taken me to talk. And I reminded myself that they will too, when they are ready.

I hope they are ready, sooner than later, though. Depression is sadly far graver an epidemic than any of us would care to admit. And regrettable as that fact is, there is an odd comfort in that too. In knowing that we’re not alone. Let’s use this strength in numbers to our advantage. Talk. Without shame. Without fear.

Shame and Fear. Two deterrents that do not let us speak up. Shame about owning up our vulnerabilities. Fear about how this confession would impact our lives and how the world would react to it. 

Let me just say this, from my personal experience. Owning up that you are suffering from depression is, or at least should be, as clinical and as normal as owning up that one has diabetes. Would a diabetic person feel shame in talking about her condition? It is merely a function of the fact that their pancreas isn’t working as well as it should. Similarly, depression is a sign that one’s mind, one’s spirit needs some help and healing to function better. It is as simple as that. And we should always remember that. 

Fear of how this confession would impact us is a bigger issue, I agree. We have our jobs, our families to think about. But let me ask you this – are we really able to do our jobs well by not talking about our problems; by not allowing ourselves the time and the space to heal? No. And if someone cannot handle us being honest about a medical condition we are suffering with, then it is more of their problem than ours. Also, if you’re worried about how the ones close to you would react to it, let me tell you this – If you have been suffering from depression for a while and the ones around you have no clue, then they are probably not as close to you as you think. In which case, do really matter? 

But let me share another important thing here, something I can vouch for from my personal experience. Sometimes the people around us aren’t intervening only because they aren’t sure whether we are ready for it, or of how they should go about it. Remember, a dog cannot see a rainbow. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it would refuse to believe that it exists when you show it to the dog.
Try talking to the ones that matter to you. More often than not, if you truly matter to them too, they would see your pain. And try to help in whatever way they can.

So let them in. The first step would have to come from you. I agree it is unbearably hard. But is the suffocation you feel inside any less hard to bear? 

PS – I know I said that the post today was going to be about High-Functioning depression. But looking at the sheer volume of confessions that I have received from people since this post went live, I had to make a plea to them first, to reach out, to speak up. 
More posts about symptoms, about healing strategies and coping mechanisms which friends and fellow-sufferers have been kind enough to share, will follow soon.