Extrovert, bubbly, happy-go-lucky, talkative. Those are the adjectives that best describe my personality. Family and friends would agree to that no questions asked. What went wrong? In my eyes, everything.
It started off as what I thought was just me being upset about the end of a very close relationship. After having a companion to everything I did, I was suddenly alone. I had moved back home to be with my family. We were a family of 5. There was always someone at home. But even in a room full of people I still felt alone. Nothing could cheer me up. I felt like anything I touched turned to dust. I would fall asleep at night wishing to never wake up. I used to hold my breath hoping that my heart would stop, but it didn’t. Then started the general irritability. I would get angry with people close to me for the silliest of things. I didn’t want to be around people, I didn’t want to communicate with anyone. I just wanted to sit in a dark room all day and do nothing. I would stare blankly at walls. My life had no purpose. What’s the use? I never seem to get what I want. Nothing turns out the way I want it too. I couldn’t remember the last time I was happy. There was just no point at all. Why couldn’t life just stop? Had I somehow reached a place in life where there was no way forward? Because I definitely couldn’t see it.
Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. I just wanted to sleep all the time, I loved the feeling of being numb. I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and start crying. Bawling. What had I done to deserve this? Why did I get abused as a child and teenager? Why didn’t I still believe it? Why did people come into my life just to leave? Was I not loved? What was I doing wrong? Maybe this was all my karma from a previous life. But I was done. Just done. I was done talking about it with my therapist, I was done trying to talk to my sister, my friends. Then my mother suggested I talk to a psychiatrist. Hell why not? I’m going crazy anyway.
“How are you feeling right now?” Really? I was in the psychiatrist’s office. “Great!” He looked at me like he had heard that one a million times. “How are you really feeling?” Like an epiphany, the answer came to me. My brain had no sunshine. There was no light. I had died inside. He then explained to me what the problem was. Anxiety and depression. My heart raced. I was depressed? How? When? What? Why?
Slowly it started sinking in. Slowly it made sense to me. The doctor explained to me that it wasn’t uncommon in today’s day and age. It was more common than people liked to believe. The treatment was simple. He would give me some pills that I had to take in the morning and in the night. It would take a few weeks to kick in, but after that along with therapy once a week, I would feel a difference he assured me. I had never wanted to take pills. I didn’t want to have an illness that required medication, but here I was staring into a dark future. I agreed. Between him and my therapist I was comfortable enough to take this step.
The medication started. It made me sleepy. I would dream of green pastures filled with daises. I would see myself running towards the flowers. I would wake up and could almost smell the flowers. Was the light creeping back in?
It was. Slowly, through the cracks I could feel it seeping back in. I stopped feeling dead. I started caring. My life maybe had a purpose. I have always been a fighter. Was I going to let this take over my entire life? No. Every night before I fell asleep I would find a moment from my day where I felt calm and at ease. I would find that moment and keep it close to my heart. When I felt myself about to be sad again I would think of that moment. Slowly the darkness was defeated. I felt I had a purpose again.
It was hard work. There were days where I felt like there was no difference. There were days where I felt sorry for myself. There were days where I just yelled at myself for getting into this hell hole. There were days where I would watch a happy movie and make fun of people who like it, because in my world happiness did not exist and you were a fool if you believed it did. My therapist suggested I exercise. I hate exercise, but at this point I was desperate to try anything that would get me out of this so I exercised. It was exhausting. Even more exhausting than having to put up a happy front when I really wasn’t.
It made me tired, but it was helping. My heart felt lighter. The tears were gradually reducing. I was no longer waking up in the night to cry. I was no longer quick to snap back. I talked. I listened. I argued. But most importantly I accepted.
In the late 90s, I was possibly one of the most high-profile PR persons in the country. My job as head of PR for an extremely notorious energy company meant that I was constantly sought out by the media. Several times a year I was getting job offers that tried to top each other in the pay packets they offered. I was travelling internationally at the drop of a hat. Professionally, I was on a dream run.
My personal life meanwhile was crumbling. I had fallen deeply in love with a man, who one of my good friends had introduced me to. Just like that. Three, or maybe four meetings, some intense conversations and overnight, I was consumed with him. His friends had become mine, we seemed to constantly meet and I felt I had finally found the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. It was a rude shock to find out that he did not feel the same way at all and in fact was deeply attracted to someone else. Nothing out of the ordinary you might say. Rejection in love is standard. All of us go through a couple of those. You are simply supposed to put it down to a rite of passage or experience and move on. But I couldn’t. I fell to pieces and the sorrow so deeply that I was unable to cope. Perhaps it was the fact that I was already in my 30s, perhaps it was that I felt it was my last chance at love. Whatever the case, the tears wouldn’t stop and I would lose control midway into a conversation, even at work. As I write this, I think back to my behavior then. I understand it, but it still makes me cringe. I tried endlessly to call the man, I put myself out in ways that are embarrassing even today. I had lots of good friends and they all tried to help but somehow ended up making it worse. From analyzing every nuance of the relationship to trying to figure out where things had gone wrong and who had misunderstood whom; it was a process that was even more painful and was leading to all of us judging each other. Every one of those conversations would leave me feeling diminished. I felt unattractive and deeply flawed. I started seeing my self-confidence as unfeminine.
Unlike many others in my situation, I was aware that I was losing it and slipping into depression. My older sister had a masters in psychology and I had been exposed to aspects of mental health. One day at work, I found myself breaking down in a meeting with my boss. I knew then that I needed to seek professional help. I remembered that a colleague of my sister was a practicing psychologist and quickly found out his clinic and made an appointment. I did not discuss this with anyone in my family. I felt if I told my parents it would worry them and they would not be able to handle it. I could not get myself to confide in my brother and sister, both of who were in the US then. Seeking counselling would certainly not have been taboo with them but a personal sense of failure is what prevented me.
The ride from Nariman Point in south Mumbai to the Cooperage where the therapist’s clinic was is barely 15 mins by car. It was the loneliest and most frightening ride of my life. If you ask me what we talked about in the first few sessions I cannot say. I don’t remember. But what I do remember is feeling a bit stronger about each one of them. Slowly I realized we were not examining the current relationship as much as we were looking at my worldview, my definition of romantic love, my expectations of it and the pre-eminence I had always accorded it in my life. The most important thing was that the topics we explored in those sessions kept me thinking and my focus changed from the failed relationship to understanding myself. I was no longer burdening my friends and I could see the obvious relief on their faces. It made me more aware than ever as to what I had put them through. About 4 months of therapy, initially twice a week sessions, helped me slowly get back on track. I feel I know myself much better today. Most of all I am thankful I had the strength to seek help.
I am a 40 year old Indian male born and brought up in an upper middle class family in Delhi. Looking back, I consider myself to have been a happy child. In most childhood photographs I have that smile which is one part happiness and one part shyness. I did well in school, excelled in sports and in general, enjoyed everything that life was throwing at me. It was after I hit puberty around the age of 15-16 that things started unravelling on the home and academic fronts.
On the home front, my hero, my father who had raised himself from the bootstraps through education, intelligence and hard work, was going through his mid-life crisis that affected his mental and physical health. Unfortunately, he was taking his anxieties and frustrations out on his wife and children. My eldest brother had left for college which left just my second brother and me to deal with his constant scolding and criticism. In short, the family became dysfunctional and home life was a mess. I remember my second brother and me constantly talking about the problems in the family and vacillating between blaming our parents and at the same time, feeling a vague sense of guilt and shame about not being “good enough” and not being able to please them.
The criticism and misdirected anger of my father clearly impacted our self-esteem and self-image. I remember feeling and thinking of myself as being worthless and a burden to my family. My father dreamt that as his most academically gifted child, I would fulfil his dream of getting into IIT. I had started working on his dream from class 9 itself by subscribing to an IIT prep course. But, class 11 and 12 were a fog. I was not ready for the potent mix of hormonal changes brought on by puberty, the low self-esteem engendered by the toxic home environment and the incessant refrain of “IIT or bust” emanating from all sides of the society. It was almost as if, not getting into IIT would brand me as a failure for life. The fear of failure and the pressure was too much to deal with in my confused teenage mind and made me want to run away.
Which is what I did – to the US. I put all my energies into applying to colleges parents were blissfully oblivious of my plans and were anyways too busy dealing with their own problems. When the results of the IIT entrance exams came, my father actually looked through the newspaper to see if my name had appeared among those who had passed. The shame and guilt I felt at disappointing him was crushing. On the other hand, I had gotten into a good college in the US with a scholarship and was ready to run away.
The next 10 years went by chasing the Indian dream in the US. I did well in college and got a good job with a top consulting firm. But inspite of all the success, I didn’t get the satisfaction that one would have expected (being among the top students in college in academics, getting a job at a top company, etc.). I felt like a fraud who would get caught soon enough. I felt as though I was “not good enough” and spent hours analyzing and reading self-help books, trying to find the magic formula to be “confident, smart, and relaxed”. I had some good days when I felt relaxed and confident, followed by bad days when I would spend hours analyzing how to get back the good days! Looking back I realize that I was going through low grade anxiety and depression caused by low self-esteem. Working at a top consulting company made things worse as everyone around me was extremely smart, hard-working and competent which just made me feel even more like a fraud.
In 2002, after the messy breakup of a messy relationship, matters came to a standstill. I started having headaches and difficultly concentrating at work. I started being haunted by the fear of “being found out”, getting fired from work and having to return to India in ignominy and as a failure. I wasn’t able to work, I wasn’t able to sleep and I wasn’t able to eat. For the first time in my life, I started thinking about suicide.
Luckily, my employer had just started an employee assistance program and I decided to give it a shot. I got an appointment with a counselor who diagnosed me with anxiety and depression. I started on a course of anti-depressants and cognitive behavior therapy. The anti-depressants worked like “magic”. In just a few days, I went from being a mess incapable of eating, sleeping or thinking straight, to a calmer and relaxed state feeling as though I could deal with the challenges of life. Unfortunately, the cognitive behavior therapy didn’t have any lasting impact. After a year or so, I tried tapering off the medication but the anxiety disorder reappeared. So I got back on medication.
I returned to India a few years after that with my new found confidence wanting to pursue my own dream of working in the development sector. I only saw a local psychiatrist initially to get a prescription. Otherwise, I was happy just being on my medicine and getting on with life. Things went on like this for a few years until I got into an arranged marriage. While I told my fiancée about my diagnosis and about taking medication, I didn’t realize that this would be a problem after marriage. But it was. Soon after getting married, my wife insisted that I start seeing a local psychiatrist. She was insistent that I didn’t need the medicine. My best guess is that she saw the medicine as solely responsible for my low libido. I went along with it and tapered off the medicine with the help of a psychiatrist that she selected. After a few months, the anxiety, mood disorder, lack of appetite and lack of sleep re-appeared. After a few more months of struggling with the same, we went back to the psychiatrist but he didn’t give credence to my symptoms. When my wife lied that she hadn’t noticed any changes in me (I wasn’t the only one with issues) I was shattered beyond repair and struggled on for a few more weeks. Unfortunately, my company shut down operations at that time and my wife developed complications in her pregnancy. My fears and anxieties shot through the roof. It’s hard to describe the emotional pain, confusion and loneliness that I felt at that time. But I seriously started ideating and planning suicide as the only way out of my predicament. I came just a few hours from executing the plan but, miraculously, a friend reached out to me at just the right time and helped give me hope to keep on going.
I decided that I needed to take matters into my own hands rather than passively depending on my wife and needing her approval to do anything. I reached out to Anna Chandy for counseling and, through her, to Dr Shyam Bhat for treatment. This was a turning point in my journey. The counseling and treatment was hard work – it took time and had their own share of ups and downs. I thank my stars that I found a good set of professionals who I could connect with, trust, heal and subsequently grow. At this point in my life, due to the treatment I have received and tools I have learnt, I feel much stronger physically, mentally and emotionally. I feel like I can deal with life’s numerous challenges and have learned to love myself and care for myself without any guilt or shame.
I encourage anyone reading this and looking for help to reach out to a psychologist/psychiatrist. Meet a few practitioners and settle down into a long term partnership with the one you connect with. Because, healing and growth will only come over time in a safe and trust based environment. Peace.
For the longest time I was convinced that my 15 year old was being the typical teenager – uncommunicative, boorish and obsessive about video games and shows. Eventually, I took him to see a psychiatrist, all the time convinced that I will look foolish for being an overly imaginative parent. I was taken aback when the psychiatrist described my child as mildly depressive!
After spending hours on Google, I felt better as I found out that a number of teenagers show similar symptoms without actually being clinically depressed. After a few therapy sessions and scoring well in his exams, I was sure it was just a wrong diagnosis. Eight months later, I remember the day – Jan 16, 2015, I was shaken during a parent teacher meeting. Almost all his teachers described him as ‘having an attitude’ – rude, bunking classes and not submitting assignments. It was time to go back to the psychiatrist again and the news this time was much more serious. I was much more shaken – stories of a couple of my cousins suffering from mental illness and one of them who had given up started haunting me.
I was devastated, I knew this was just like any other chronic disease that would need require him to be under constant care all his life. In the past few months every day has been a new challenge. I have seen days when I felt the lowest in my life and no parent should have to see their child suffer like that. Therapy has brought out incidents that impacted him when he was younger, cases when he was bullied and beaten up in school. At that time we thought we did all we could – sought intervention from school, had him see a psychologist friend, etc. The teachers in school were not trained to handle bullying nor did they have any child psychologist on staff. At some point, the school told us we were aggravating the situation by complaining too much.
Whatever we did, it was not enough, the scars of being bullied years ago are surfacing in his teen years. We felt immensely guilty of not having done enough, not having been around enough to understand his anguish. Even now in his high school, the teachers and school are not equipped sufficiently to handle the emotional needs and growth of teenagers. There isn’t a single trained psychologist on staff at the one of the top international schools in Bangalore. We have withdrawn him from school and it’s hard to see him being cut-off from his social life and unable to relate to his peer group. It is hard to explain to his friends what is happening. He has good days and bad days; we take each day at a time. He has come a long way and we are hopeful that he will recover and will be able to join his friends soon enough in college. He has a lifetime ahead of him.