Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fighting Depression

The recent news of the demise of Robin Williams left a void in me that I do not think will be filled up soon. An actor whose work taught us as much about life as it rendered entertainment, and that too from a rare genius, is hard to replace. The world will surely miss him, but yes, there is an important thing to realize, one that we often overlook due to our own personal discomfort, little knowledge about issues of mental health and general disapproval of such people and ideas that leaves much to be discussed.

Depression is a deeply personal fight for me. People who may know me are aware of my fight with depression on more than one plane. My mother has been fighting this problem for over a decade now, and though it started off due to hormonal imbalances, the clinical depression has set into an ever-constant fear, that she shall be left behind all alone in this world. That triggered off a host of other health issues, including bacterial antral gastritis. Fighting this disease for so long has its moments of agony, of utter melancholy, of loneliness that cannot be filled. The fight has been getting personal with each passing day for me, as my own fears seem to be coming true. But with time, I learnt a few valuable lessons about life from my mother, as she has been on this emotional seesaw for ages.

You cannot just ask people to snap out of it. Depression is not a potato wafer that can break when you chew on it. It is like chewing gum - the longer you chew, the more unpleasant it becomes; however, it cannot be spit out under any circumstances. I detest people who make light of mental illnesses of others, of those who belittle depression, but then realize that it has a lot to do with their lack of knowledge about it.


The idea of death looms very large in the minds of depressed people. There is no reprieve for them from this idea. The inability to let go of their own 'sins' of their past continually haunts them. Their inability to 'move on' is not their fault. The brain functions in such a strange manner that there is no room or allowance to move ahead. Depression is certainly a killer, and as I said earlier prompts many people into hurting themselves to the extreme. However, what is little understood is that it also causes several diseases that are in the long run life threatening. Antral gastritis poses the threat of becoming stomach cancer; cardiovascular diseases stem from among other things eating disorders and lack of physical activity that accompany depression in people. Since people stop feeling good about themselves, they take no efforts to do anything that makes them feel good, that makes them want to be themselves, express their ideas, thoughts and emotions.


People can try treatment via various therapies for it, but it still remains there, like a dybbuk, waiting to take hold of your mind just when you are at your most vulnerable. Once the depression sets in, it possesses you. Medication is often bad - it turns people into nothing better than a vegetable, and withdrawal from the medicine often makes the condition worse. As a patient undergoing counselling, much like any other day in the story of life, you do not feel like getting out of bed on many days, as you have no courage to face the world. Whenever you are in public, you always feel that you are under observation, under scrutiny. It is like being a teenager all over again, except the level of presumtive attitudes and judgmental nature in your own worldview tends to be much much worse, pushing many people to the extent of rejecting themselves utterly, to the point of attempting suicide in extreme cases. However, what is known to certainly help many people fight this monster on a daily basis is just hearing them out. But getting a patient of depression to talk is nearly impossible, for the fear of judgment and ridicule looms large over the mind. As a listener, you have to coax, plead, fight, find some way or the other to get the patient to share the state of their mind, their fears, their apprehensions, their hopes for the future with you. Often it can be seen that a person is aided by such sessions, even if done by an ordinary non-judgmental person. Other things that help patients include exercise, painting, music, dancing, but these are often akin to taking anti-depressants. They are helpful but only in a symptomatic manner. The elephant in the room never really leaves without talking.


Friends and family can truly never understand what is going on in the mind of the depressed person, as the experience is always unique to each person. And yet, often people think that being sympathetic is all that is needed. That is like putting band-aid on a cancer tumour. What is really needed  is empathy. A patient ear, an understanding mind, acceptability is what a patient gropes for in that emotional maelstrom that (s)he is falling in. These are often no more than straws, but the patient is more than grateful for even these straws. So always try to reach out to people who say they have been fighting depression. Believe me, when a person says that (s)he is depressed, it is not a lie. It is just that they are brave enough to admit it, and do not believe in the falsehood of 'sucking it up' and 'being a sissy' or 'being a wimp' or 'it is all a farce, a drama'. What they need is someone to reach out for them. You don't have to paint a rosy picture or show the rainbow after the rain. All you need to do is to assure the person that you are an ear that is willing to hear them out, a person who they can entrust their 'secret' with. You can encourage them to visit counsellors, but it is social acceptability that they seek, not acceptability of a counsellor or a psychiatrist. Let us all try and be more acceptable of people fighting depression in our lives instead of accommodating chain smokers and binge drinkers. It is not a communicable disease, trust me.

A WHO Clip About Depression is what I would request all of you to share. It is a good primer. Another movie that people should watch is The Truth About Depression, a documentary made by BBC Ireland, that sums up quite well the challenges faced by people who have been fighting this disease.

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