Living With Depression That Can’t Be Treated With Medication

This story is a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s weekly topic #MentalHealthDay. Share your personal stories of coping with a mental illness, trying to access mental healthcare or any experience with mental health here.

I will discard pleasantries and come straight to the point. I am clinically depressed. My friends and family are of course aware of my illness for years now, but not the others. This was because I was horrified of being judged all these years – of being labelled ‘the crazy one’, or ‘the one that just doesn’t have it all together’, or whatever else there was to be called.

Not anymore though! It’s called growing up. You give less… umm… hoots! And more importantly, you make peace with almost all that is not right with you. You accept reality. Rather, you embrace it.

I was 13 when I slipped into depression.Why? How? It’s a long story – so let’s skip that.

But, even after so many years, in the list of FAQs in my life, ‘how do you live with depression?’ occupies the second position.

It’s a loaded question – and one that perhaps merits an honest answer. I have avoided talking about this for the longest time. But I think I owe it to the ones that care to ask – and not only because they are curious.

A few months ago, the #livingwithdepression hashtag was trending on Twitter, and it obviously got my attention. As I went through each one of those tweets, I cried buckets – no, a river. It was almost like seeing years of your life being played out in 140 characters!

Living with depression is having to wake up every morning and wondering why you must go on. What great feat needs to be achieved today that compels you to get up? Can the world not do without you? It sure as hell can! Who needs a pessimistic, gloomy, exhausted mass of failure like you? No one. So, why must you go on?

Yes, you will try to talk yourself out of this maze of negative thoughts by momentarily trying to think of all the things that still excite you. That great John Green book you are reading, the Friday release you’re eagerly awaiting, that hot dress you bought and haven’t worn yet – and when all else fails, Shah Rukh Khan and his dimples, perhaps.

But this won’t last beyond a few minutes. Soon, the futility of your existence will wipe out the glee those dimples may cause. Soon, the dress won’t be a good-enough reason to make you want to continue leading a colourless, meaningless, mind-numbing life.

You know, I have tried this exercise countless times – the whole ‘look at the positives in your life and draw energy from them’ funda. It doesn’t work! Depression conditions your brain to focus on all that’s falling apart in your life – and never on the few that might be on track. It teaches you to only see the dark clouds, not the sliver of sun behind it.

Psychiatrists and therapists (and they are different), may tell you that your brain lacks the all-important dopamine, and that depression is, to a massive extent, caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain – and hence, it is biological.

You cannot control the proportions of chemicals in your brain, just as you can’t control the climate in your city. And when you can’t, you hope medicines will. So, you max out on anti-depressants – sometimes taking two a day. As a result, you will be groggy and more exhausted than you already are, and will perhaps silently acknowledge the growing fog in your brain.

And after days, weeks and months of being on ‘happy pills’, you will be back on the therapist’s couch – in despair, and having made zilch progress. The K10 Anxiety and Depression Test that they make you answer on every visit will probably still read the same. You will perhaps tick the same boxes, with a recovery graph that’s as stagnant as a wrecked ship.

And then one day, you may be told that you belong to that small percentage of clinically-depressed  patients that don’t respond to medicines. Well, that’s where I am right now.

So, does that mean I stop hoping? Just make peace with this comfortable numbness of my life? Resign to fate and surrender to the fact that happiness will never be mine?

I continue to be that ‘reclusive girl, who sits alone and has very few friends’.

Or ‘the one with the ill temper, always getting into needless arguments with everyone’.

Or ‘the one with zero social skills – the socially-awkward one’.

Or perhaps, I will continue to be all of the above and more. Perhaps, I will have to agree to make depression a part of who I am. Sure, I’d like to think that there’s more to me than someone who’s lived with clinical depression for more than half her life. But it would be foolish to ignore its contribution to what makes me ME.

Depression doesn’t allow you to sustain too many relationships. Of course, the ones who have known you since kindergarten, school, college, university, stand by you, not judging you even once. They get why you have phases lasting weeks when you just don’t talk or respond to calls/WhatsApp messages.

They get why you lack the energy to invest yourself in a new relationship – whether romantic or otherwise.

They get why you are vulnerable and emotionally brittle. They get why the slightest things and even really bad Bollywood movies (what’s that one with Emraan Hashmi and Vidya Balan that got one star?) can make you cry oceans. And they leave you alone when you need a good cry in a dark theatre.

But most people you interact with just don’t get you. To be fair, you can’t expect them to.

Unforunately, the world isn’t as receptive to diversity as we’d like it to be. Plus, there’s abject ignorance about mental illnesses. So, I am often asked questions like, “But why are you depressed?” or “How can you be depressed?”

These sort of questions lead to two things:

1. My blood boiling.

2. My blood boiling some more, and me blocking them on all social platforms.

A super-successful, insanely gorgeous actress went through depression. Her name is Deepika Padukone. She has everything going for her – a great career, loving parents and a face that can launch a thousand ships. And yet, she was depressed. She doesn’t know why.

Padukone is my hero. She made me realise that it’s okay to talk about it. Even after being in the public eye, with so much at stake and an image to protect, if she could appear on national television and talk about battling depression and even have the courage to break down, why can’t a mere mortal like me?

In her own words, Deepika went through ‘hell and back’ – and that pretty much sums up the feeling of living with depression. Except, I am not back from it yet. Maybe some day – just maybe.

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