By Hansikha Vohra:
I came back from school one day, locked the door and looked around for something sharp. I felt possessed, as if some dark entity had taken over me and was making me move towards a dangerous path. There I was with a compass in my hand, and a wrist ready to be carved on. One scratch I thought, then another, and another till I could see the red of blood. It was purgative, as if I had let all my day’s emotions out. I had, ultimately, become the ‘weak person’, I always feared of becoming. This one moment of weakness chose self-mutilation which became visibly embarrassing. But it was addictive and it soon turned into a daily desideratum. There was the pounding, screaming, jumping and thumping sensations in my brain stretching out to my arms and chest that would want something levied on to them. I craved for a pinch, a numbing needle-like touch that could calm those sensations down, ultimately making me cut and releasing endorphins.
Going through high school like any other teenager wasn’t my forte. I was a well-liked girl till the time, I had the most traumatic experience of my life – my depression which urged me to self harm. It was a whole new beginning in the lives of 4 people consisting of my family and myself.
We had always been a happy-go-lucky household, full of trust. However, it was this pleasurable yet toxic habit that I developed out of deep urges that changed it all. I started cutting my own skin and capillaries, throwing myself to a bearable affliction in order to cease the agony I experienced in my brain.
And I didn’t know why.
Crying, for me, had become a habit like drinking tea in the morning, a caffeine dose without which I couldn’t function or be awake. People started complaining. The school nurse thought that I was faking my anxiety attacks in order to bunk classes and my friends thought that I was too needy and clingy and high schoolers didn’t have time for that kind of ‘shit’ as they termed it.
I had found an alternative for crying, something that no one could hear or witness. Little did I know, it would get so deep that everyone, including my very soul, would feel disgusted by it. My biggest trepidation associated with visible scars was of being judged and sneered at. My mother forced me to wear long sleeves in hot summers and that made me feel like a reason of shame to my family. I felt like I had done wrong to them, more than I had done wrong to myself. What hurt more than those needle-like sensations of the compass on my wrist were the expressions on my parents’ faces when they looked down at my arm.
I knew that I had to stop this, but how?
My parents had been very supportive, however, I could see some hopelessness in their eyes. I could feel the dreams they had for me, vanishing with each attack of mine. For them, I had become a depressive case which no doctor or Prada bag could cure. They took me out for spas, vacations, shopping and expensive dinners but nothing helped. And how could it? My anxiety kept springing out of something much deeper than that. I felt alone for no reason; I felt scared for no reason. That’s what everyone around me said. Crying was for weak people, they said.
But what turned out to be the real problem, changed everyone’s perspective on my depression and self harm.
I was sad for ‘a’ reason; I was scared for ‘a’ reason. And I wasn’t alone. In 2013, about 3.3 million cases of self-harm occurred.
My parents challenged the stereotype of not taking a child to a psychiatrist and made me meet one, forcefully. I was sub-consciously glad that they got me help, otherwise, I would have kept drowning into the deep, unknown sea of misery.
When I got to know that my mom had me booked with a psychiatrist, I got down to introspect, “Am I mad?”
Then as a habit of surfing the internet, I typed in my symptoms and got a myriad of psychological problems as a result – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). All of them turning out to be true, once my shrink confirmed them on his prescription along with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) that he prescribed, a class of drugs that is typically used as anti-depressants in the treatment of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders.
I had a chemical imbalance in my brain, which the doctor said was genetic, as well as triggered by external factors. This meant that I had to be on psychiatric medication for the rest of my teenage life! At least, that’s what I feared.
I became dependent on these life-sucking, emotion-dulling, yellow-white pills which made me ‘still’ like a zombie. I took three a day, two for my serotonin imbalance and one for anxiety.
6 million prescriptions for anti-depressants are written for children each year.
Secretly, I started over-dosing on these prescribed drugs. They made me sleepy, delusional and sometimes, unconscious. It didn’t come into many peoples’ notice until I was unable to wake up in the mornings that required me to dress for school, which made my mother feel that there was something fishy going on and checked my closets only to find extra packs of anti-depressants, half empty. After this, my drug dosage was kept under control by my parents. They fed it to me and I had no way to reach them on my own.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 570,000 people die annually due to drug use. That breaks down to about 440,000 from disease related to tobacco, 85,000 due to alcohol, 20,000 due to illicit (illegal) drugs and 20,000 due to prescription drug abuse.
I felt the need to connect with those who could understand exactly how it felt like to cut and be mocked at. It started out on an online portal, where I talked to people from all over the globe and learned about their miseries and urges. We created a distant family. A family that grew and healed together. This is what was lacking, this is what I ‘needed’ — a family that healed together. We spoke about what was wrong with the psychiatric departments globally and what had to be challenged.
Our main concerns were:
90% of suicides amongst teenagers had a diagnosable mental illness, depression being the most common. However, most of them are not diagnosed/treated due to the reasons stated above. Less than 33% of teens with depression get help yet 80% of teens with depression can be successfully treated.
The doctor told my parents to support me since it had nothing to do with my personality or intentions, rather it was a medical condition over which I had little control. I wasn’t mad, I was sick.
Doctor after doctor, therapy after therapy and I had the answer. It wasn’t me, it was my genes.
A British research team recently isolated a gene that appears to be prevalent in multiple family members with depression. The chromosome 3p25-26 was found in more than 800 families with recurrent depression. Scientists believe as much as 40% of those with depression can trace it to a genetic link. Environmental and other factors make up the other 60%.
Many researchers believe that it is not a singular gene that puts someone at risk for mental illness. It is, more likely, a combination of genes that lead to the disorder. The causes of bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders may also be traced to a combination of genetic factors.
Today, I have healed, overcome my mutilating urges, learnt to love myself and I have adopted yoga and spirituality.
In order to help those in depression, I have started a peer-to-peer helpline, where I support those who want to heal. I continue to write and discourage people from attempting self-mutilating practices. My motive behind sharing my story is to let people know that depression, anxiety and self-harm are real and serious. You can help people if you notice any scars on them or signs of depression. It is treatable, however, we need to challenge the stereotypes and understand this medical situation. 2.8 million youth in the age bracket between 12 and 17 years old, had at least one major depressive episode in 2014. This must mean that something is fundamentally wrong in the society that we live in and it is us, the youth, who must challenge it if we want a happy world, free of scars.