The day I was diagnosed with depression was scary for me, and the night that followed was equally bleak. While different people might have different responses to being diagnosed with a simple yet taboo disease like depression, my first response was denial. Well, typical of me, I guess.
When my doctor told me that I had depression, my first question was “Do I really need to take antidepressants?“. I know it might seem similar to asking whether breathing is necessary to live. To some of you, it might even sound like a basic and borderline dumb question but cut me some slack. I didn’t know what depression was and I didn’t want to take antidepressants because I thought they might make me slow. “And if they did, how would I ever write?”, I wondered.
Out of all my supposed achievements in life, I have always have considered writing to be my gift. I might not use big words or dazzle people with my use of obscure literary passages, but I believe I can connect with them. I can relate my life experiences to the topic I’m writing on and bring forth a piece that resonates with the reader.
However, as enjoyable as it might be, writing takes a toll on a person. I am continuously thinking about at least five or more stories at a time in order to move them forward or bring forth some improvement in each one. At the back of my mind, there is always a doubt that I won’t make it in the mainstream world, and my pages will remain scattered in a dark alley far away from my readers.
With depression, a new, and a rather big worry entered my life. A fear, that after all those childish jokes about being crazy I might very well be; what’s worse, I might remain so. Most people regard mental illness as a familiar yet distant concept which they believe exists in a faraway world and not in their vicinity.
Like them, I had built up a fictional and incomplete understanding of what it might be like to have depression or rather what it ‘looks like’.I say ‘looks like’ because, in my opinion, no movie in the history of filmmaking has dared to show how a mentally ill person actually feels. Filmmakers often depict their own understanding of mental illness from an external perspective failing to capture how a person suffering from the condition might feel.
Fortunately, my doctor didn’t have any such misconceptions and cleared my doubts about what depression entails. He told me that depression is just like the common cold (well, maybe not as common), and almost every person at some point of his/her life might feel depressed. The only difference is the degree of that depression.
Another doctor explained depression in a unique way. He said that our mental equilibrium is just like a weighing scale, which is balanced via various bodily functions. However, when this delicate balance is hindered and is no longer managed by the body alone, an external nudge is needed to help balance it. That external nudge comes from antidepressants. Similar to taking medicines for fever, antidepressants can be used as a treatment for depression; the only difference being that the body part that has been affected is the brain. And, we all know how much of a taboo, ailments related to the brain are.
Antidepressants, he explained, are a name given to a particular category of medicines under which come many different and vastly diverse subcategories of treatment options. SSRIs or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, that the doctor had prescribed to me, don’t slow down brain activity or result in any such side-effects. Instead, SSRIs quite simply, as their name suggests, hinder the reuptake of serotonin in nerve synapses resulting in a higher amount of serotonin in our body. Since an imbalance or reduction is serotonin levels impacts a person’s mood often leading to depression,
Serotonin is the feel-good hormone of the body whose absence makes us grumpy, lethargic and unwilling to perform any activity. Naturally, an increased amount of it makes our mood generally positive and joyous. SSRIs instead of making us slow, make us happier and ready to take on the world; the extra nudge that I was talking about earlier.
Of course, as any medical professional or logical person will tell you, the medicine alone won’t help. You have to change your lifestyle for the effect of the medication to be long-term. You can’t take antidepressants all your life right? SSRIs give you a temporary nudge to keep the balance in your favour. However, when you stop taking the meds, the balance will tend to shift back to the opposite direction; resulting in withdrawal symptoms.
So, to make sure you stay healthy, happy and healed in the long-term, you need to make sure the medication is slowly replaced by a lifestyle change that results in the same serotonin boost as the meds. This can be anything, depending on who you are or what makes you tick. However, having a healthy hobby like music, yoga, or sports helps.
For me, it was my family’s love and their constant support, Sufi music and of course, writing. Most importantly, you should invest your time in an activity that makes you happy; find something that dulls the pain caused by the mundane tasks of life. I believe, to avoid getting lost in the metallic fog of this overcompetitive world, it is essential to take some time out for yourself and the people you love. Ultimately, this is what keeps us healthy throughout life; physically as well as mentally.
Believing we have a problem is the first step towards being healthy. When I realised I had a problem, and most importantly that the problem had a solution; then only could I take a step forward towards healing myself. If I could do it, so can you.