My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was 2 years old. As a kid, I had to resume the role of a care-giver as soon as I started comprehending what was happening to her. I had gotten used to the rhythm of midnight emergencies, managing the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, and slow organ failure; all this while, graduating through school, college and entering the work force. During this course, I had my bouts of depression and advanced reactions to care-givers stress, but I would just distract myself with studies or hobbies and move on. I didn’t realize I was bottling it all up. I’d tell myself that I am just physically and mentally fatigued and that I am fine, no big deal. Occasionally, there would be outbursts but the weight of the iceberg could not be measured by its tip.
After battling cancer for 21 years, my mother died a slow and painful death. All along, I knew it was going to happen soon. Although I would play her death in my mind numerous times, hoping I would be much stronger when it happens, I realized that nothing, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for when it actually happened. During the course of her treatment, I used to feel guilty for thinking that it would be so much easier if she died, then she wouldn’t have to go through all this pain and I could be the overachiever that I was born to be.
On the contrary, the scene reversed after she died. In a jiffy, I lost all purpose to live. I was sleeping for almost 14-15 hrs. On waking up I would stare at the ceiling wondering why I should get out of bed. I would go to work, but wasn’t really productive and would stare into the computer screen for hours. I would eat anything that came in a takeout box. Sometimes, out of nowhere, it would hit me that I am never going to hear her voice or feel her touch ever again and this would cripple me further. In the midst of this, living alone was the cherry on the ice cream. I was distancing myself from friends and family. I would dismiss anybody who tried to come close. I deluded myself into thinking that I was happy in the oyster shell that I had created.
Living alone was no easy feat then; I used to have audio and visual hallucinations. I was scared of my own shadow and would play loud music to shun the voices. It took me almost 6-8 months to feel safe living alone. Since I had read extensively about psychological reactions and having interacted with counsellors, I didn’t fear what I was experiencing. For almost a year and a half, nothing changed, until a new lightning struck. I had this extreme urge to not feel anything. I wanted to feel void. To begin with, it was mild, but it gained momentum in no time and I realized that I was drawn to physically hurting myself to just stop feeling anything.
One day, at 4AM, when I found myself with a kitchen knife in my hand, I realized that I needed help. Living in a cocoon wasn’t leading me anywhere and I had to get out. I was lost. I didn’t know where to go, whom to talk to. Considering my previous responses, people had stepped back to give me my space, but now I needed to get out of that space. One specific friend, who had been through a similar grill, practically saved me. Talking to her every time I felt like hurting myself was what rescued me. Self-assuring conversations with her began to set me on track. I started opening up and it was like breathing fresh air. For once I began to enjoy meeting new people who didn’t see me through the filters of my past.
Although I get pulled into the wells of depression time and again, after almost a year, I finally found a purpose to get out of bed. There is a permanent vacuum that I carry, but it’s not heavy to pull me down.