Talking about one’s mental health is so incredibly important. Not only does it help the victim, it also reaches out to someone else who may be lost and alone. I can’t believe how much those words feel so loaded right now. It’s been one hell of a ride getting to where I am right now; in terms of physical and mental health. It has taken more than my own strength and effort. So this is a short version of my mental health story.
Looking back I wonder how I’m still here. My childhood left me littered with memories that I’m yet to digest. Things that to date, are still way above me and the only redemption that I’ve seen for them is through writing. Words are so colourful; and they create a safe haven in this very harsh world. I was first diagnosed with depression when I was fourteen. I was in a school that was pretty high achieving, so I was inevitably surrounded by people who were really ‘on track’. I was there by merit but everyone else seemed to know what they were doing, while I was just staggering around helplessly. Eventually I got overwhelmed by the pressures of dealing with expectations and trying to catch up. Going through the motions of an entire day was just too much to handle. I resorted to self-harm as a way of trying to deal with what life had served me. The blade became my secret friend and it kept me ‘alive’. The feel of it grazing my skin served to assure me that I was ‘still here’.
My brain constantly felt like it was buzzing; almost as if the skull was a hive and my thoughts a swarm of bees. I was hyper and happy one minute then half an hour later I was sobbing my eyes out. Who wants to be friends with someone so unpredictable, right? So I became a loner. And I don’t know what’s worse; not being able to stop crying or feeling completely numb and emotionless. Because at some point the tears dried up and I just didn’t care anymore.
Long story short, I have been on treatment since. I’ve had the privilege of having the most supportive network of family, friends and doctors. Moving from one therapist to another, medication to medication over the years. Many a times getting so worn out and begging God to stop pouring His anger on me. I have rummaged through dirt bins looking for the stained, broken pieces of my life which I never got to find. I seemed to be stuck. Days were so slow. Very slow. Slower than a spelling bee full of stammerers. The sky was always more grey than it was blue. So I attempted suicide for the first time. I overdosed on prescription meds and ended up unconscious for a couple of days. I was tired. Nothing seemed right in my head and I didn’t know how to deal with what I was feeling. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to die or if I didn’t want to live like that anymore. All I knew was that I wanted out.
I swallowed the (MANY) pills and settled myself in bed waiting to be transported. I remember wondering, “ Am I going to be happy now?” then took what I thought was my last breath and closed my eyes. It was over. I was finally free. Surely my family and friends would also be free. They would never have to deal with my sorry self anymore.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) I did wake up! The water in my eyes broke and flowed freely down my tightened, glowing cheeks. I was still here. The hospital room I was in was silent. Except for my weak sobs and a slurred beep from some machine. The kind of silence that has a strange, spongy hum that can break your eardrums. I didn’t have any clothes on. I had been running a fever or something so they had been taken off. I liked the feel of nudity. It was a smooth, oiled feeling on the white sheets; a set-free feeling.
I have since gone into remission and relapses. The last relapse was in the year 2014. It has been one of the longest and I’m still picking myself up from it. It was caused by a fallout with a dear friend. The kind of people you eventually learn to not think or talk about because even breathing their names makes one’s soul tremble with memories and pain. Which begs the question, when a heart breaks, what sound does it make? None. Absolutely no sound. There is complete silence. Perfect definition of emptiness. Even as the world crumbles and falls apart right in front of your eyes, it is all quiet. The realization that I was still living, in a world that the sun no longer shown, sent me spiralling into the dark that was major depression.
12 ECT sessions later, a number of suicide attempts later, oxygen is yet to leave my lungs. Blood is still pumping through my veins, my heart is yet to stop beating and my brain is working just fine. For those who may not know, ECT stands for Electroconvulsive Therapy. It is a form of last resort treatment for severe depression where they pass electric current through the brain while you’re under general anesthesia. After ECT I have managed to go back to work, keep a genuine smile on my face and basically just live a relatively normal life. I can’t lie that everything is perfect now but I am able to cope. I still find myself envying tortoises for their shells and their ability to disappear any time they want. I still have those moments but I also have a story of redemption that promises to fill some of the holes that life has gouged out on me.
Depression is the loneliest, soul-shattering illness to battle, but in the end it does make you a stronger, more compassionate person when you come through the other side. I have a huge desire to help others now, and although I can barely speak to crowds of people, I have found that I can write. The illness is a huge part of me, but it does not define me as a person.
A person suffering from depression and anxiety needs a support system to keep up with their life, which should not be conflated with an idea that they are just attention-seeking babies. If you want to help a loved one who is caught in this wreck, just try and lend an ear sometime or maybe provide a shoulder or, rather, just be there. It is not necessary that you have to constantly say something or the other to them to make them feel better. There are going to be days where you wouldn’t know what to say and that is completely fine. Just being there emotionally can work wonders for your loved one.
My plea to you is to reach out to someone today. Someone who you feel has gone quiet and is no longer in the active scene. Find out what’s going on. Visit them. Do something. They could be going through a rough patch. And don’t tell them to snap out of it. Don’t you think we would have done it if we could? I do not recollect any incident of a person who was able to stop thinking about their cancer and that led to their getting completely fine. So, why is depression treated differently? With depression, I do not remember a single instance where I have been able to “snap out of it”. What I do remember is not being able to move my limbs, not wanting to take a bath, not being able to talk over phone and feeling absolutely bereft of motivation.
If you’re suffering silently, seek help. There’s treatment for depression and it works. The longer you stay without treatment, the more the damage. Picture going to the doctor’s after 5 years of trying to walk around with a broken leg.
We need to keep as many people as possible here with us. A dialogue is needed in our society about mental health and the correct time to initiate that dialogue is now. I thank God for all those who never gave up on me after not picking calls, cancelling dates last minute, breaking promises. It is because of you that I am breathing right this minute.
My name is Flora. And I suffer from mental depression and schizoaffective disorder.
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