3 things happened in the last few days:
March 31, 2017 – WHO announced that depression is now the world’s most widespread illness, launching a campaign called ‘Depression: Let’s Talk’.
April 3, 2017 – Our beloved superhero Modiji said, “We (in India) are afraid to talk about it (depression) openly” and urged fellow Indians to talk about it.
April 4, 2017 – A 24-year-old B.Com student committed suicide leaving a note saying, “I’m a drug addict…I don’t want to live anymore and hence committing suicide.” (His college is just 2 minutes away from my engineering college in Mumbai.)
About 20 years back, sometime during primary school, for the first time, I had felt suicidal. I honestly don’t remember why. I assume it must have been something that made me very angry or sad. Through the next few years, I felt the same urge multiple times. As a kid, I used to think that this phenomenon is normal, that it happens to every normal person, and as seen in the movies and on TV, one is not ‘supposed’ to commit suicide. Then there were a few good years from the 6th-grade till the 12th-grade during which I didn’t I feel this urge.
A girl, my 4-am-friend and someone I had developed feelings for, suddenly walked up to me one day along with her boyfriend. I had no clue that they were even friends before that day. There. Say hello to my first real heartbreak. Of course, my world was turned upside down, and I almost heard my heart getting crushed. My crushed heart had started to beat abnormally fast. This was an external phenomenon over which I had no control. However, then I started screwing my own self over. Some 3 or 4 months before IIT-JEE, realising that chemistry was my weakness, I started feeling I like I wouldn’t be able to crack it (in case you don’t know, IIT-JEE is the entrance exam for India’s best engineering institutes — the IITs). This was even worse than the heartbreak. I had such big dreams of studying in the IITs and had shared those dreams with my parents and teachers as well, raising their expectations of me. The realisation that I had messed up and let everyone down was soul crushing. You can probably guess what’s coming next.
I started feeling suicidal. This is my first clear memory of feeling the urge. The girl and the JEE constantly occupied my head throughout day and night, over-thinking and over analysing where I had gone wrong and what my mistake was. My head used to keep telling me, “forget the girl, JEE is the one chance to make a great career. Don’t compromise.“
I cried a lot, multiple times. I had told my best friend about the whole thing, so I used to talk to him. I hadn’t told anyone about the suicidal thoughts though, assuming that people would either panic or judge.
I remember one night, vividly. I was standing at the edge of the terrace of my building, staring downwards at the ground and evaluating the pros and cons of jumping. I tried to imagine how much it would hurt, how that pain would be compared to the current pain I was going through, what would I tell my family later if I survived, etc.
I didn’t jump.
This night is very important to me because while evaluating the idea of jumping, I found my reason to live.
There are 3 absolutely most important people in my life — my grandmother, my mother, and my father. The payoff in jumping would be the end of this extreme sadness in one move – and what a relief it would have been. But the downside would be the sadness and the depression it would send these three people into, and for sure the sadness caused to them would be much worse than what I was going through. The choice was simplified – my current sadness versus their future sadness. I love them unconditionally. That means I love them more than I love myself. That means avoiding their sadness is more important to me than avoiding my own.
“Okay. I’d rather live.” I told myself. “At least till they are alive.”
A few days later, on a Sunday, I sat in front of my parents and told them in a choked voice, “I don’t think I will be able to crack IIT-JEE this year. I would like to drop a year and give it a shot next year.” My father, expectedly disappointed, first reminded me of the things he had warned me about which could go against my IIT dream, like hanging out a lot with my friends, deciding to study in Mumbai instead of Kota, etc. Then he said “Anyway, whatever decision you want to take, you take with confidence. You have our support. IIT or not, you will still be the same son to us.” I remember this word-to-word. It was the most relieving moment ever. Feeling accepted and loved, even after being a ‘loser’.
Fast forwarding a bit, I cut off all ties with that girl to get her out of my head. I took all my entrance exams very lightly since I would be attempting them again next year anyway. My parents flipped 180 degrees after the entrances and forced me to join ANY engineering college I could get into that year itself, as their friends had told them that dropping a year might just prove even worse for me. They were adamant and I gave up. My scores in 12th boards and Maharashtra CET were disappointing (much more than my effort deserved, much less than what I really deserved). I got absolutely lucky and secured the last seat in my preferred branch in a good engineering college in Mumbai. The family was content, I was not. I was still feeling like a loser.
Nevertheless, I decided to make the best of my situation and build whatever career I could with the opportunities I had. Over the next 4 years, I had almost 100% attendance with the teachers whose classes I used to like. I worked hard in extracurriculars. I religiously went for my dance classes and to the gym. I fell in love with a very beautiful and sweet girl and experienced my first romantic relationship. I could never top my class but managed to secure the first job on campus – which still didn’t offer a salary even comparable to what an IIT job would entail, thus contributing to my feelings of underachievement. Two years later, I managed to crack the CAT, got into a top-tier B-school, and in June 2015, secured one of the best jobs on campus.
Do I feel successful today? Not even close. Over the last few years, I have realised that having a comfortable salary is not a measure of success; contribution to society is. However, it took seven–and-a-half years since that night to prove to my own self that I’m not a loser.
Not one, but 3 events in a matter of 5 days shook my soul to the core. I cannot share the events publicly because none of them exclusively involve me. The first event was an unexpected shock, the second one was an unprecedented shock, and the third one was slightly anticipated but still the most painful one. There were other small things too that went bad during those days. For me, those days are now the benchmark for ‘bad days’.
The suffering began. The three events occupied my head 24×7. For one part of the day, I was trying to fix things while telling myself ‘don’t give up’, for another part I was trying to pacify myself while saying ‘shit happens’, and for the rest of the day I was just cursing my fate.
I started waiting for my day to get over, hoping that sleep would bring peace, but nights, unexpectedly, were even tougher to handle. I was either not able to sleep or would wake up once or multiple times in the middle of the night. Suicidal thoughts returned, after a long time. Even though I still had the same reasons to live, this time the thoughts seemed out of control. I was feeling weaker.
After four such days – or three such nights – I decided to visit a psychiatrist. I narrated to him the entire story with brutal honesty, hiding nothing. Mid-way through my session, he started writing his prescription.
For the first time, I got diagnosed with depression and went on medication. I remember telling myself, “Shit just got real.” The same day, I called my father and told him the story. He was the first person to know.
Honestly, the medication never worked for me (or maybe I underestimated its effects). My thoughts remained the same, just that the medicines made my brain function a bit slower. I still continued taking the medicines as prescribed. My struggle continued nevertheless. What really really helped were the four or five 30 to 60-minute conversations I had with the doctor – Dr Birman from Dwarka in New Delhi – where he patiently explained what I was dealing with, plausible reasons and what steps I could take to get out of it. In a way, those talks helped me understand my own self and make my own solutions.
As I said, I started devising my own solutions. One solution, for example, was that until this phase was over I would not stay alone in my room, not even for a minute (except for sleeping in the night). It so used to happen that as soon as my roommates used to leave the house for some work, I used to call a few friends and I used to plan something with whoever was available. I designed this for myself, and it seemed to work for me.
I kept adding one such ‘solution’ after another – some worked while others didn’t. After four months, in June 2016, with my own will and confidence, I went off medication. My company posted me in Nagpur city for a month in August 2016. I spent the entire month far from family and friends, including 5 days at a stretch literally alone — comfortably and at peace with myself. This was when I was 100% convinced that I had left my depression behind.
It has been 9 months since then. Life has been more beautiful than ever. I have been more confident than ever, happier than ever.
Please don’t panic, please don’t worry. In case you are tempted to, please don’t think of me as a victim. I’m far from being a victim of anything. Each one of us has a spectrum of happiness and sadness and I assume everyone’s life makes them oscillate between the two extremes periodically. The only difference with me is that my spectrum is a little more stretched. On the sadness side, I am can be stretched to the extent of feeling suicidal, while on the happiness side, I am sometimes stretched to the point of feeling like the happiest person on the planet. And on a positive note, I now have the experience and skill necessary to deal with such extreme crises.
A couple of my friends have expressed their concerns about publishing this online. Valid concerns. Making this public could open the floodgates of panic and judgment, and could even come back to haunt me in the future in multiple possible ways. It is taking a lot of courage for me to publish this and I am doing this only for you.
We may be very different from each other. Your brain may be wired very differently from mine. Your childhood may have been very different compared to mine. Your parents must have been very different compared to mine. Your reason to live may also be very different from that of mine. My only advice to you is – get yourself out of that inertia and start searching for your own reason to live. It could be a person, it could be your pet, it could be your passion or it could be something that I cannot even imagine. It may or may not be very easy to find but it will, for sure, make the next few decades worth living for. Beautiful things can happen when you don’t give up.
Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.
-Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
(inspired from a similar quote by Friedrich Nietzsche)
There is just one person who knows almost this entire story already. He goes by the name Ronak Bapna. He is the best human being I know. Sharing my sadness and vulnerabilities with him has always helped me feel better. He generally doesn’t have solutions to all my problems, but he listens and supports me like a true friend. He has, on many occasions, also helped me realise how trivial some of my problems were. There are a couple more friends with whom I can share my problems – and this is very relieving on bad days.
I hope you have a Ronak to talk to. If not, I promise you, I’ll be there for you.