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Listen, Don’t Solve: What Coping With Depression Twice Taught Me

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By Subhashish Bhadra:

“But Subbu, we can’t be this weak,” my friend said to me, beseeching me to not follow through on my decision to go to a psychologist. “What are you lacking in life? You’ve done so well, you’re in Oxford. Think of all those who don’t have what you have.”

It was the second time that I had gone through a very rough patch. In the second year of St. Stephen’s College, I first encountered depression. My behaviour became increasingly erratic and I was often in a self-destructive mode.

I placed almost all my relationships under tremendous pressure. It was a terribly lonely time. I remember my nineteenth birthday when my friends had decorated a classroom and were celebrating, but I was crying because I couldn’t get myself to feel happy. Soon after, I understood that this wasn’t natural and that I needed to do something about it. With the help of medication and counselling, I pulled myself out of it. I scored a 100 percentile in CAT, stood 1st in St. Stephen’s College, joined McKinsey, became a Rhodes Scholar and went to Oxford.

I was on the top of the world – until I hit a rough patch again.

The second time, in comparison, was a breeze. I was sure of what I needed to do and didn’t spend a lot of time engaging with my friends’ unreasonable concerns. I was at ease telling friends and acquaintances that my transition to Oxford had hit a rough patch and I would be seeking professional help. The reactions surprised me and had it not been for my past experience, I may have struggled in the dark. Many around me, in fact, did.

Just Listen, Don’t Solve

Having been through depression twice, I realised that what I sought was just someone to talk to. My friends in India were always there to help out and solve the problem for me, but sometimes I didn’t need solving, I only needed a patient and non-judgmental ear. Therefore, for the next year-and-a-half at Oxford, I sought out other scholars who weren’t feeling great and spent time with them drinking coffee, eating meals, practising mindfulness and, in general, just listening to them.

There Need Not Be A Reason For Depression

For example, Rhodes scholars are all achievers in their respective communities, but that doesn’t prevent them from feeling depressed once they are in Oxford. There may be very obvious reasons, like the lack of sunshine to being in a strange country. Many break up with their long-time partners during their time at Oxford, which could also be a reason.

There are two reasons why seeking the reason is often a futile exercise. I define depression as the breakage of the link with perfect rationality. In that situation, trying to find a reason can place a tremendous burden on a mind that is already possibly over-thinking. The second is that there is often no reason. While my second episode emanated from a tumultuous relationship in Oxford, I still struggle to articulate why the first one happened.

Seek Professional Help

The first time I sought professional help was almost accidental. I casually remarked to my brother one evening that I may need to see a counsellor. That evening, he took a flight from Mumbai to Delhi and took me to one. What started as a casual remark ended up as a three-month engagement with medication and counselling that, regrettably, I abruptly ended. However, as soon as I sensed in Oxford that I may be in a similar situation again, I alerted a few close friends. An incident of misjudgement convinced me that I should see a counsellor.

The first two sessions were only about hearing. The counsellor only asked me questions and at no point did he interject or advise me. Then, in the third session, he put together what I had said and helped me see the deep-seated issues that had been the cause of my issues. What I had thought were causes were only symptoms of something more fundamental.

I, therefore, recommend professional help, sooner rather than later, for anyone who is facing mental health issues. You can try, and may even succeed, to alleviate the immediate causes. But counselling helps because firstly, you’re talking to someone who has studied this in far more detail than your friends and family and secondly, as unique as you may think your problem is, it may fit a template that the counsellor has seen before.

It Isn’t A Weakness

The question of weak or not is, honestly, besides the point. At some point, I was weak. I exercised and I became stronger. Therefore, even if I say that going to a counsellor was a sign of weakness, I exercised it and now feel that I can breeze through situations that other people may find challenging.

My greatest professional triumphs have come soon after my most difficult moments. Mental health issues are risks and opportunities. If they go unaddressed for too long, they might become festering wounds that interfere with other aspects of your life. But I see them as opportunities to build the foundations for future success. In particular, I have used the second episode as a springboard to let go of a lot of worries and focus on my happiness.

Reach Out

The most important thing to remember when you’re going through depression is that you aren’t alone. I’ve always found tremendous support from family, friends and even acquaintances. Of course, not everyone will know how to help. I found it helpful to tell people what to do, rather than tell them that I have a problem and I need them to solve it for me.

At the end of the day, you are the charioteer of your life. Every decision you make, whether in joy or in depression, is your own. Hence, accept it and own it. But in case you don’t know where to start, do feel free to reach out to me and I’d be happy to talk.

Subhashish is currently an investment associate with the Omidyar Network in Bangalore, where he is responsible for sourcing and evaluating Digital Identity opportunities. He has previously worked with the global management consulting firm McKinsey, in Delhi for two years. A Rhodes Scholar, Subhashish received an M.Phil in economics from Oxford University and a B.A. in economics from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.

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