“What’s the English word for editorial guidelines?” I thought to myself as I fumbled and then eventually froze, quickly hanging up in the middle of a telephonic interview for my dream job.
I realised I was already speaking in English but I couldn’t hear myself over the crippling, terrifying feeling that I was going to mess up the interview.
For the rest of the day, merely talking seemed like the most difficult thing to do. I hadn’t gotten out of bed, except for meals, in days.
Three years to this day, I had chalked it all down to just being lazy; it was always either my love for sleeping or being a hermit. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered being an introvert had nothing to do with my depression, but it did make it more difficult to acknowledge my condition.
I say, my depression, because I feel there is nothing more personal than one’s own state of mind and how that shapes the rest of your body, who you are, and the constant inner dialogue as a result of which, what others know of you.
For the past five years I have struggled with a constant sinking feeling, like I have been walking in a dark alleyway for hundreds and thousands of miles and ever so often stumble down a long winding staircase.
I could be laughing, falling in love, horrified, excited, afraid or ecstatic but all of these states seemed to be temporary, soon to be replaced by the same familiar fall.
“What is depression?” I often wondered. I wasn’t crying every day, in fact, I wasn’t crying at all.
My instinctive reaction to any massive problem would be to jump in and solve it. But then, there was the inability to move; my depression was exhausting me.
I often attributed my back pain to lazy days, the constant throbbing ache at the back of my head often served as a reminder that everything usual was just temporary.
There has never been an escape; I have been in situations where just turning in bed could take up to an hour as I couldn’t get myself to move. Of course, those who have met me do not relate to any of this; over the years I learnt how to blend in and just move along.
But, I kept falling.
I still stumble every day, but it has gotten better. Even though I have always been interested in studying psychiatry, which is eventually what I would like to do in life, I was still doubtful about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy until I tried it out.
I have suffered from crippling depression, the kind that leaves you immobile, with zero motivation to move, to think, to do.
I have battled flashbacks from haunted times that would make me feel vulnerable as I sat in the comfort of my home.
I have woken up in the middle of the night screaming in sheer agony, the debilitating physical pain cutting like a knife, tweaking inside of me, turning every muscle into knots.
I put up with all of this without ever acknowledging that I needed to speak to someone.
I “worked on myself” and tried to have a “normal life”. It was and is a daily battle; and there is absolutely no rhyme or reason.
I couldn’t tell you what is wrong or why I feel low because I don’t know it myself.
What did help me was talking to a therapist.
It’s not your usual, “tell me all your problems” session, it’s actually work like managing a problem. It was no different to a visit to a neurologist who’d ask me “so what do you think triggers your migraines”.
Trigger, is a word I learnt very early on in life, akin to lighting a fuse. There is no light at the end of this tunnel, but it’s okay; I am learning to be familiar with the dark. It is okay to be imperfect, to struggle; it is okay to be a mess.
I can understand why people do not get help. Women in Pakistan are raised to be wary of what society may think of them; the fact that they need to live a flawless life.
If you are a young woman who is feeling low, you are either looking for attention or struggling with insecurities women must face every day.
If you are a young man struggling with depression, you are too much of a ‘girl’, you need to be a man and shake it off. Clinical depression is a state of mind, it is an illness.
Can you shake off a headache? A migraine? Diarrhea? A fracture? Mental health is no different from physical, in fact mental health issues manifest as physical symptoms.
You can’t just cheer up, shake it off or get over it.
I fought it for three years before I finally decided to give Cognitive Behavioural Therapy a try. It worked for me. I can not vouch that it will help others, but I am speaking out publicly now, because I see so many others around me who struggle so much and not just against depression but the tiresome fighting against the stigma of mental health.
Also read: I didn’t want them to think I was crazy…
It’s okay to not be okay. Read about therapy, look for ways you can help yourself but most of all, do not let your relationship with yourself be defined by what others might think.
Mental health illness is a reality and some of us may forever live in the dark, but while we are at it let’s give ourselves the opportunity to get familiar with it.