Relapse

The times were just becoming better, my depression (I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends) was finally becoming easier to handle. I seemed to have accepted its presence in my life, done what I had to get over the worst times, and the results were showing. Although I was still on medication, it became a part of my routine life rather than a need to keep the ghosts away. I was taking good care of myself. Moreover, I was met with some success in the professional front as well as peace in the personal front. Life seemed to be sorting itself out.

At the end of a very successful professional two weeks in Bēŋgāḷurū, including a quick weekend getaway to Mẏsurū in between, I was off to a planned getaway for another weekend, to Kōḻikōḍ — with people I consider family and very close friends. And then, I was back to the city of my work. I was really looking forward to returning given that I had a lot of pending work back here.

That’s when it hit me.

Suddenly away from the people who love me, and having no real friends in my place of work, I started feeling lonely. And then — bam!

Before I got enough time to understand what was happening, I had followed a downward spiral into another phase of depression — it’s called a relapse.

This resulted in me having to postpone a departmental seminar by a week, but I found great support from my peer to whom I had to elaborate the reason. That helped a crazy lot. So here’s a shout-out to you!

After a very bad two/three days of trying to make myself get up, have food, go to work and do one thing at a time from the pending list, I was finally creeping back to normalcy. And this time, it took me a lot more work than before. Questions like — Why do I have to go through this again? What have I done to deserve this? Haven’t I been able to accept my loneliness? — began to go around in my mind. I did not have answers right away. But eventually, slowly, the reason seeped through. And it taught me more truth about myself.

The primary reason was of being suddenly away from people who truly love me, to a place of work where I have no real friends. This led to a pang of loneliness that I am used to in the long run, that I have internalised and cope with every day like nothing has happened, but which came to bite me because of the simple fact that it was sudden after a span of two weeks. Turns out, two weeks is a good time to get used to feeling loved.

I had not expected this. I was not prepared for it. That’s why, it came to bite me. But you know what? The relapse did not have the last word on who I am, I did. When your back is pinned to the walls, you have no option but to hit back at whatever is gnawing at you. And I did that. Within a period of three days, I was back to almost complete normalcy.

“The most difficult thing about awareness is that it can catch you unawares about itself,” my psychotherapist had told me (not exact quote, but something along these lines). Today, I have come to appreciate the full meaning of the statement.

The most difficult part of tackling depression is this: Treating the depressed self as a different human being. As someone who needs care. But the cared and the carer are really the same person! The brain that is depressed is the same that is fighting it. The brain that does not want to wake up from sleep is the same that is forcing itself to take control, of itself. The brain that is not willing to do anything is the same brain that is doing something about the depression — first, by acknowledging that something is wrong. And that is a very difficult step, especially when it has been telling itself that it is healing.

I can tell you: it’s hard. Without getting into the details, let me tell you that one sheds a lot of tears while facing the truth. In curbing the instinct that says, “Everything is fine.” In telling oneself, “No, you need a SOS medicine, and that doesn’t make you weak.”

It takes strength to get over the physical and mental weakness. It takes strength to tell yourself, “It’s okay, you are going to be fine.” It takes strength to empathise with yourself.

We are all flawed. We are all vulnerable, to different degrees. If you are facing depression, be a bit empathetic to yourself. Tell yourself that the world is not crashing down if you don’t get up today, but there is so much that you can do if you do get up. Tell yourself that your best friend is right here with you. That they will ensure that you are good. That they will take care of you. Your best friend is you.

No friend of mine has been able to tell me that something is wrong, in the present tense. No one knows me better than myself. And this is not a statement about anyone else, it is a statement about how things work.

I am still learning. I am still growing. There is no end to the process.

I am winning over depression almost every single day — but not every day. And I am telling myself that it is okay to lose once in a while! No one is perfect, definitely not me.

So here I am: a high-functioning depression patient. 🙂

Just like my successes, I have chosen to wear my depression on my sleeve. And I will do it without an inch of shame — there is no shame in being ill.

And here are the things that I am doing about mental health awareness and about mental health related problems:

  • Firstly, I am equipping myself with more tools to handle myself better in case of such future relapses. I will be more prepared, hoping to not let a sudden relapse take control of me, even for a few days.
  • By talking about it more openly with my peers, colleagues, and friends, I am trying to ensure that depression and its various facets are accepted as normal, and just like my advisor who has helped me a lot in this phase by just acknowledging the problem, and the peer who supported me whole-heartedly during the tough relapse phase, more people continue to support people who are fighting depression.
  • After filing a RTI (right-to-information) with the Indian Government about mental health -related help available in TIFR, I have been informed that counselling is available, and a public notice has been issued regarding this (here in TIFR).counselor
  • I have raised the issue with people in TIFR who can make a change to the systems and policies regarding mental health that are currently not in place in TIFR. I am doing my bit in trying to change the system that is ill-equipped in dealing with depression of its members, especially the more vulnerable young MSc students, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows. I am looking forward to bring you more news about systematic changes that go a long way in preventing the problems and not just curing them.

Here’s hoping for a more inclusive world where people help themselves and each other!

3 thoughts on “Relapse

  1. Depression is a far more serious issue than we think it is. Overcoming it, living with it, accepting it is far from easy. And nobody can ever understand what it is like unless they have actually faced it. I am glad institutes and workplace have started taking mental health seriously. I have seen a lot of focus and support on mental well being in my office too, a lot of things have been happening on this front, including people coming out with their real stories.

    See, something good came out of your relapse, you initiated the awareness at TIFR, and the availability of support is now displayed so that people know. How great is that! This reminds me of an incident that had happened to a research student when I was in university. At that time nobody even understood what was going on. At least, we have come a long way since then.

    The point you mention about the same brain having to look at opposite ends of things is something I never thought of, and it happens to people without depression. It takes effort to think that way, it’s way easier to wallow in self pity.

    And congratulations for being bold, it will probably give courage to others to tell their own stories and also know that there are so many others going through the same things.

    Lastly, I am happy to find myself in the “very close friends” group. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are not “very close friends,” you are family! You are my elder sister from another mother, don’t you know that by now?

      Although there is some positive effect, I do not think it is enough, we need to be doing much more. I am trying to do my bit in that. May be we have come some way, but we have a long way to go! The corporate world is much better regarding this than academia. I want to make a change to that.

      Liked by 1 person

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