(Five out of ten leading causes of disability around the world are mental health issues. As part of a series of articles leading up to World Health Day on 7 April, The Quint is focusing on raising awareness and mobilising support.)
Cross the road. Get to the other side. Catch your breath. Wipe the sweat. Rub your eyes. Finish the bottle. Don't tell them you can't finish the story.
I was on my first month of medication. Periwinkle-tinted mood stabilisers and a crusty white anti-depressant stared back at me every morning. After food, follow with a gulp of water. Don't forget.
I wanted to forget sometimes. The first month is the hardest. Dilated pupils, double vision, memory loss, moodiness. And with it, if you're a perfectionist, a constant need to prove that you're okay and can do as well, if not better, as a person without depression and without having to remember to take their pills.
Can I stop? Can I just do my therapy every week and have a little funeral for the corrugated silver strips, tear them up and scatter them in the overflowing dustbin on the kitchen counter?
Insecurity reeked and hung over me. I woke up late and wore an apology like a brooch. Scrambled for my glasses and gave up bathing, eating and smiling. Stopped keeping in touch. I lived and loved badly.
Cognition, surety, calm, detachment. A higher dose means a painful goodbye to all these, a sliver of which had uncomfortably settled itself, waiting for judgement. I had very little of them anyway.
Dealing With My Illness As an Adult
Third month in, self doubt danced and jived. Life was all about finding sanity in the quiet of a day well-managed. Getting out of my crumpled sheets and dragging myself out to smell the coffee was my idea of success.
My support stood the test of moods and whims. Family, friends and work, rocks as always.
Also Read: How to Love Someone With Depression
I thought of the destitutes, blinded by delusion and lost of all ties. Of the women who fight over their spot in the sea of sweaty sarees and dhotis, only to find the pharmacist running out of their prescription. By the third month, the pills had set in and I was back to a manageable level.
Suffering is subjective, but perspective is not.
I switched therapists, medications and a sense of self. Hope seemed scant. I coalesced with my illness and sprinkled a little existentialism. “Who am I? Is this my illness talking? Where does my illness end and where do I begin?”
My psychiatrist has an unwavering love for cricket analogies. "My friend once asked Sachin what his secret for success was? He said relax." This was the only one that didn't sound like broken Italian to me.
But one piece of advice clicked. "Just because Sachin scored less than a century or squandered away a big match, doesn't make him a bad person."
For those with mental illnesses, getting a psychiatrist and pills might sound easy. But for some, figuring out the right therapist and the right combination of pills may take 5, even 10 years.
Medication and Therapy Works Differently for All
Work doesn't come easy for those with mental health issues. Hectic routines cause breakdowns. We need off days for our relapses and moods. High stress situations can throw us into a shell.
A difficulty to adapt makes us – according to the 9 to 5, or 9 to 10 clusters – incapable, lazy, rotten attitude, unproductive and unemployable members of a potential superpower that has to keep up with China, mental health be damned. More than sensitisation, we need a shift from our definitions of productivity.
If we were factory made, we wouldn't choose mental illness. I am extremely privileged to work independently in a field I love and have a family with strong intuition of when my next episode or relapse might happen.
Medication helped me. Medication didn’t help some. Therapy is rocky. Therapy helped some. But every neural pathway is different. But nothing will help your illness like exercise, a good routine, a relentless faith in professionals and an openness to accept love.
You’ll Have to Work on Yourself
Here are few pieces of unsolicited advice from a person who's not an expert.
For those with mental illnesses, an important takeaway is: Do not use your illness as an excuse.
If you did something stupid, yes maybe your mania or depression or rapid cycling has something to do with it. But taking responsibility without beating yourself up is important. Everyone errs.
Here’s another warning: Do not romanticise.
There are going to be a lot of faceless eggs, quirky usernames and head spinning message boards telling me my creativity is going to hell, I will never be the same again and I'm the next Van Gogh, the next Leornado da Vinci because they had depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Good and bad news, no.
Depression can be managed. I fight suicidal urges, anxiety and depression with a simple exercise: a mental health hour or a mental health half hour everyday.
Set some time aside to check in and ask yourself if you're okay. There is a saviour of a tool called cognitive behavioural therapy. Ask your therapist or psychiatrist about it.
Keep a thought record everyday and a cognitive distortion checklist with you. Put your inner dialogue on paper. Medication and therapy can only do so much, and you’ll have to do a lot of work on yourself.
We are highly sensitive individuals who read catastrophes in the mundane, purse our lips through social situations that others waltz through, and sip chemical cocktails along with fortune cookies.
We choose the worst possible stories, live between black and white checkered chessboards, and surround ourselves in barbwires of shoulda, woulda, coulda. Our pupils are fitted with magnifying glasses, we bask in the rays of the powerful persecution complex.
But, don't we all dance in the dark?
(Divya Karthikeyan is a Chennai-based independent journalist and reports on politics, human rights, environment, gender and health.)
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