This is because of a young friend.
She made a post on her blog recently, talking about her experience with depression. Reading her post reminded me of something I had written quite a while back – August 15, 2017, to be exact. My write-up was a translation of a raw account written in Bangla by a man who had battled depression for many, many days. I had translated it in the hopes of having his story reach a wider audience. I reproduce that translation here below. Anyone who is interested in the Bangla original can find it here.
Depression and I
So, after running check-ups on sugar, pressure, cholesterol, mutation, radioactivity, whether I am turning BJP, and every other thing under the sun, I found that everything was normal. No problem at all. Low pressure, as ever. Sugar, likably sweet – just like Parvathy Menon. All the other factors – conspicuous by their absence. Neither webbing nor claws shooting out of my hands. Then, what’s wrong? Why do I suddenly start feeling I’m going to pass out but I’m not? Why do I start feeling like I am sitting inside a glass case and cannot connect to any of those things that’re happening outside? Why am I finding it impossible to participate in any discussion? Why are all that I am doing and all that I am seeing getting mixed up and making no sense? Why do I feel so horribly tired even after arising from a long night’s sleep? It feels like I am drugged all the time. It feels like if I try to walk, I’ll fall down.
It was the year 2015. The year when Priyanka Chopra and Anoushka Sharma went away together on that cruise, Umar Khalid had to say that he was just a student and not a terrorist, and I talked to an older brother (read ‘teacher’) about what I was going through and he said it was depression.
Now, this is me. That is, a very close approximation of Tony Stark. So hearing that I had depression was vastly exhilarating! It was like I was Kafka, see? I forgave the Nobel Committee in the sheer generosity of my newfound joy. And – as if on cue – Deepika Padukone announced right then that she was also a depression-survivor. Bazinga! I was on the top of the world! – All this I had never shared with anyone till today, except that aforementioned brother. I began to plan how to break to people that I was actually born to become an artist. Why else would I get depression at this tender age? Deepika was saying that she could not understand why she felt like crying all the time, why she felt numb. And about me – what used to happen to me?
It had started right at the beginning of the year, in blessed January. I had gone to the airport with a friend, to see off another friend. All of sudden I felt kind of woozy. Felt like I’d fall down right on my legs. I told my friend I was not feeling well. But like any other Bengali, I blamed the chicken roll. Thought it was just a gassy belly. But it never went away, it kept coming back – every week, every day. And I got all those tests done. One of the biggest causes why I did so was I had almost stopped going out alone. What if I fall sick? What if something happens? Every time I saw the metro – what if I fall sick on it? Then I talked to that brother and things became clearer.
But as it got clearer, it also got murkier. Depression was supposed to be something mental, right? So what was the deal with my body? I mean, I am game for some purely ‘mental’ depression instead of this, you know, – at least that can be recycled into poems or something. And then I understood why they say ‘Be careful what you wish for’. It spread – shifted to my mind. And by shifted I mean it really took a liking to its new quarters – comes and pays a visit at times even now. It started with zoning out. I used to suddenly realize things – like okay so I am on the street now. Okay so I am working now; okay. Somewhat like being deep in drunkenness, like remembering out of the blue – ‘So therefore here I am…’ – that’s what used to happen with me. Without a single drop of alchohol or a single drop of weed. I could not listen to songs on headphones anymore. Felt like too much noise, too loud noise. Same thing on the road. Too much loudness, too much noise.
Now the hardest stage. Accepting oneself. The only way this can be described is saying that it bust my ass. I mean, I get scared going out on the streets alone, I get scared in the dark, I who wanted to be rich since forever only because I wanted to go to far-off places – that same person gets panicky on hearing Dumdum Station – ‘How will I go that far?’ Therefore I made the biggest mistake of my life – went into full denial mode. Nah I have nothing, nothing’s wrong, no depression, fuckit. Which leads to What If Syndrome. Now that I have had depression, what if I happen to go mad? What if I lose control upon myself? What if this really happens? How would I fight it? How, then? I used to go to sleep with the fan at full speed, even in winter. Because the sight of a stationary ceiling fan would fill me with the dread of going suicidal. What if? What would happen if I became that way? Newer fears, darkness, ghosts, paranormal stuff, then one day I wondered – what if I suddenly feel like slashing my wrists? What would I do?
In the middle of all this, I went on a trip to Darjeeling with some friends. After returning, they used to ask me – Soumit, you on or off? Because that was the first time that after boarding the train I felt – what’s the use of going. What’s the use of trips. It is far better to lie on my bed at home and rest. What happened after we got there is beyond my powers of explaining. It is then when I began to understand that depression is not ‘feeling sad’. It is purely a Dementor case. All positivity was wrung and drained from the inside. During that time, I felt normal when I got angry or irritated. Because those were the feelings that were familiar. So I went about fighting with people. Stirred up trouble. But beneath all that I was very much aware that all that tough-guy-act was utterly superficial. It did not help, not at all. The cloying numbness persisted. The senseless thoughts and musings kept coming, like bad water.
And along with that, OCD. Won’t wear this shirt, won’t take that way, this light’s to be turned off exactly like this, this bucket won’t do, that book must always be open, won’t listen to that song. I remember many nights when I spent hours struggling to turn off a switch. Because it ‘wasn’t happening properly’. Once, I remember, we had plans to stay at a friend’s for the night. I went, stayed for half an hour, came back. Could not do it. Crisis crisis crisis. Existential, cognitive. The feeling that I had limbs used to come to me disjointedly, – one limb at a time. I learned later that it’s called Restless Leg Syndrome. I used to be jealous of everyone in the world, I used to see someone and think – he’s healthy, sane; he gets sad, he gets angry, pained, hurt. I don’t, not anymore. I’m a vegetable now. I don’t have anything anymore, nothing. Lost, gone. Streets that I walked since I was a baby appeared strange and unknown. Can you imagine? Wherever I went, I kept checking the watch and kept thinking – Just a few hours more, let there be no mood-switches in the middle of this. And this battle went on non-stop, 24*7, every moment, me against myself. Relentless battle.
If I had seen a post like “Depression Turns a Person into a Living Dead” or some crap like that, I would have lost it. I couldn’t have mustered the strength for any kind of rebuttal at all. Because back then it wasn’t about logic, it wasn’t about anything rational or particularly sensible, it was just a crying need to be able to feel that I am alive – Teja main hoon, crisis idhar hai. And what had kept me alive was the hope that I would write this narrative one day, and a handful of people. These people – knowingly or unknowingly – have dragged me up to here from that 2015. They’re tagged in the first comment. I owe my life to these guys.
It had taken a lot of courage for me to go and meet the therapist. Sritama di, towards whom I’m grateful for life. I came to know that my Depression was mild, the main problem was Anxiety Disorder. There were a few more glitches. I received a number of tasks. Started to do them. As I kept attending the sessions, I began to realize that I was getting back on track, I was reviving, going back to myself again. The day I found myself taking the metro from Garia to Dumdum, headphone plugged in my ears, all alone and by myself – I felt like I’d conquered the world! By God, it felt like the greatest achievement. And another achievement after that, and after that yet another.
I am still fighting my battle with myself. I still find it difficult at times to lie alone or stay alone in the dark. The difference is, now I accept it. Because I know that I’m on my way, and there’s a lot more to achieve, and all of this will pass. It has to.
And that’s why, let’s close it with a few tips:
1. Don’t show phoney, condescending sympathy to a person going through depression.
2. Saying things like “Kids are starving in Somalia and he says he has depression” is grossly idiotic.
3. Talk to him in his way. He won’t want to. But still, try.
4. Depression is a problem. It’s not cool. Quipping lines like “What’s this depression nonsense?” shows nothing but your ignorance.
5. Try to understand him. There’ll be plenty of time to joke around.
6. And if you think you can’t do any of these, stop belittling him or calling him a dud.
And those of you who are standing where I stand, or somewhere way worse than where I’m at, carrying on this battle with yourselves every single day, – just know that you are not alone. We will beat it, together. Cheers.