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Overcoming Depression - In Conversation

Fortunately, the conversation around mental health has finally begun to happen in India. Yet, a lot of people remain unaware of what exactly now-commonly heard words such as Depression entail. Our editor Anjika Singh sits down with 20-year-old Kritika Srivastava, who has shared with us her experience of suffering from Depression to help educate, and give hope to those who are in the same place as she once was.

(A) Hi Kritika. Can you tell us about when and how did your depression first start? Did you notice any signs, and if yes, what were they?

(K) Initially, I thought it was because I moved to college, in a different city. There were way too many changes to catch up with and everything was so overwhelming. Even my own beliefs about myself were shaken up. Nothing seemed good. But as I went to therapy and begun sorting things, I understand now that honestly, it’s difficult to point out a certain time frame or a certain experience and hold it responsible. This disorder was just the end result of so many negative manifestations in me since I was a child. Simply put, I just broke when I had to start my life in a different city, away from home, all alone. The first few signs were that I would feel completely shut down, with zero energy and at the same time, wouldn’t even feel like sleeping. I also lost my appetite completely. I lived in a hostel so it was difficult to skip meals owing to the questions I would be asked by my roommates and friends and if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t even have eaten. I still would skip many meals and things became tougher and tougher each day. Brushing my teeth or taking a bath were also tough. I only ever did those activities because of the pressure that my friends would think I am unhygienic. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t do them. They were just too difficult. I had also lost interest in them. Not just them, but everything else too. Even things that I used to love seemed empty. I would just feel completely numb.

(A) We hear and see the symptoms of depression often pointed out online. What has been your experience living with depression?

(K) Its experience varies from person to person, and I can only speak for myself. It’s overwhelming but at the same time numbing. It’s like feeling too much and then feeling nothing at the same time. There is just zero energy in your body and every activity you do, even if it’s just waking up is as if you are dragging yourself. You find yourself questioning and wondering if anything even has a point. You feel consumed by your thoughts and you don’t have any energy to fight them either. Slowly and slowly you start feeling trapped, with the recurrent thought “I want to go away”. It also feels extremely lonely, like you have no support and nobody would care even if you were to stop existing right now. You feel misunderstood, and feel like even a blade to your skin wouldn’t hurt as much as the pain of simply existing.

(A) When and how did you realize that it was perhaps time to seek professional help?

(K) I used to get frequent panic attacks and crying spells. They were really scary and I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me. I hated feeling so on the edge. I used to hurt myself and seemed completely fine with it too. One day I just realized how, well, normal everyone else in college was, even though they had gone through the same thing as me. So, I decided to call my mom and tell her how I felt. I was terrified, and I couldn’t talk about everything but at least I was able to ask her to get me professional help.

(A) How did you initially feel about therapy?

(K) Skeptical. I thought it wouldn’t actually be of any use and I thought it just wasn’t for me. I had a very strong (and wrong) misconception that only weak people needed such help.

(A) Was your family supportive of you seeking therapy?

(K) It was 50-50. Mostly they were supportive but when the results weren’t quick like they are when you pop a painkiller, they had their doubts. But gladly my therapist and I spoke about this and with her help, I held my ground. I am thankful I did.

(A) How did depression affect your relationships with your friends, family, or anyone else?

(K) With my closest friends, there was no change. They didn’t treat me any different and were extremely supportive of me and my decisions. My family on the other hand would change their mind about this illness quite frequently. At times they seemed totally understanding but at other times, I was subjected to a lot of stigma. “It isn’t real”, “You’re faking it” and “It’s all in your head” were just a few of the statements they made. They used to think that mental illnesses were somehow related to the victim’s willpower. I am glad with family therapy sessions and research, they have grown out of these beliefs. It’s interesting to see how my family also changed with the course of depression. It honestly made me feel really loved because they were ready to change even some of their core beliefs for my care and betterment. As for my other friends, especially in college, a lot of them started treating me different after finding out I was under psychiatric care for depression. They started avoiding me and treated me like some outcast. The ones who did stick around though, also said things like it wasn’t real but still tried their best to support me and I am extremely grateful for that.

(A) How does depression impact yourself or any other aspects of your life?

(K) Things are difficult now too, although I am recovering. Earlier when it was full-fledged, it was super difficult as I stated above. So much so that I had to take a drop year from college. I’d like to think I have grown a lot since the first year of college and things (I hope) look up for me in the future.

(A) What do you think others can do to support those around who may be going through a difficult time in terms of mental health?

(K)The first thing would definitely be to educate yourself and research as much as possible. Since it is a very sensitive patch in someone’s life, knowing before speaking can do wonders. Not just that, but you can know which symptoms someone is showing and how to take care of them better. Secondly, talk. Talk as much as you can about mental health. Be as vocal as you can because a lot of the times people find it difficult to approach even their closest friends about their mental health with the fear of being judged. The more conversation there will be, the less and less stigmatized it will be. Thirdly, please be there for people going through tough times. Try and listen. Even saying things like “I’m here for you” or “It’s gonna be okay” helps. Although this might be difficult right now, but try and just be physically present for them. Another thing is, just straight up ask them. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to say. So just ask them what they’d like to do or what you can do to help. Lastly, please don’t forget to take care of yourself while you are taking care of someone else too. It’s so important because it’s just awfully destructive when you try to be there for someone with your own worries. It can be really burdening for you and your mental health too.

(A) Any message or tips to someone who is going through a rough time right now, to be able to deal with it better?

(K) There are loads of tips I could give, but they never worked for me. So, I am giving you the only tip that worked for me. Please reach out. To anyone. It’s so important to talk about your emotions because (a) It makes them more tangible and (b) They don’t seem as overwhelming as before. There are tons of resources available if you feel like you don’t have anyone to talk to. Please NEVER isolate yourself. Isolation is the breeding ground for negativity. Another thing you could do, is to try and put all the nervous and pent up energy into creativity. Anything you’d like, arts and crafts or writing or anything. It helps calm your mind down. Also, if you can, maintain a journal. It has many, many benefits. You can identify triggers, establish patterns and also prevent yourself from falling into similar problems again. Not just that, it’s just good to get your emotions out anyway.

(A) Anything that you’d like to tell us about depression that you feel needs to be addressed and people need to know about?

(K) I think the most important thing about depression which needs to be addressed is that depression is not the victim’s fault. It is simply a chemical imbalance in the brain. More and more light needs to be shed on the neurological aspect of it, rather than just its behavioral aspect, to not only help people become aware, but also so we can create a safer and kinder world for its victims to live, recover and grow in.

(A) Recently mental health awareness has taken all over social media, with every second person urging people to reach out to them for help, what is your opinion on this?

(K) It’s good that people are becoming increasingly aware of mental health. I hope it’s not a façade though, because mental health is an important and quite serious issue. It’s not something which should be treated like a trend or treated like something for more views and likes. It is a serious thing and the people who unfortunately suffer due to mental illnesses have it really difficult and yes, spreading awareness is the need of the hour, but I can only hope people’s intentions are good and towards the betterment of those around them. Mental health on social media is a very tough topic to address. It’s difficult to truly put what I think but if we look at it in terms of a bigger picture, it is good and necessary. We express our deepest thanks to Kritika for sharing her story with us. If you or a loved ones are struggling with emotional issues, please reach out to us at 770707002 or at covid19helplineindia@gmail.com - it is completely free of cost and confidential. Grapic by - Nuti Yadav #mentalhealth

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