This is not a story of triumph. Yet, it is a story of learning to live with hope, and by the end of this letter, I hope you find some too.
When I first went into depression in March 2016, I had become a nervous wreck. I could not complete my courses that semester, had panic attacks in the middle of metro stations and shopping centres and tried to break up with my partner every night because I was convinced that I was a terrible person for feeling one thing this moment, and quite another, the next. In short, life as I knew it had come to a standstill. I was unable to see the proverbial light at the end of the dark tunnel. That’s when I told my parents how I was feeling and went to a psychiatrist for the first time.
This particular doctor told me that everyone has difficult times in life and that I must hold my head up high. And then he put me on an anti-depressant. I wanted to believe him. I wanted to hold my head up high but much as I tried, it kept drooping, as did the corners of my mouth. I cried all the time, and if I didn’t cry I was sleeping. I was stuck in an endless loop. This was the beginning of a long clinical journey. Things continued as best as they could, I took on five courses each for the next two semesters and wrote essays like a machine. Except, in the month of October, I told the psychiatrist I was seeing then, that I felt no hope anymore. I felt like I could die and it wouldn’t make the least bit of difference. I told him I wanted to die. The end result was, I was put on mood stabilizers. And here’s where I began to understand, nay, feel the effects of medication.
I would spend nights on my bed, unable to sleep because there was a crawling sensation on my face, legs and feet. I felt my veins had come alive and were creeping around right under my skin. The months after October, all the way to February were spent in a daze. But somewhere around Feb-March, 2017, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I was put on more medication: anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and more mood stabilizers. And sometimes, it feels as though life began at that moment.
I felt special. I felt like I was blessed. And I was proved right. I had always known there was something “wrong” with me; loneliness, anger, ambivalence, issues of dependency, fragile relationships, these were things I had lived with since the time I could remember anything about myself. But I was soon to learn that this would change me forever and I was anything but special. I put on 40 kilos over the course of two years; went in and out of therapy, was told to forget my past by one, and then recollect it by another; I developed self-harming tendencies and attempted suicide once; I cut my hair one evening because there was no other way to destroy myself; I went into blind rages where I ended up physically hurting myself and the ones near me, namely my parents; moved in and out of jobs and absconded from office for days on an end; I broke up with my partner of three years and joined dating sites; I hooked up with strangers and felt so utterly disgusted by my own body that for a while I stopped looking at myself in the mirror. I lost my life and any inkling of feeling any different.
But then I met someone, and no it was not a lover—yet she was nothing less than one. I met my therapist in February 2019, and she has helped me come alive again. More aptly, she has helped me to learn to think, to move beyond just feeling emotions and reach a place where I can process and understand them, know myself a little bit more.
It is here that I wish to tell you how this story changes.
For the longest time, I thought of myself as suffering from an illness that was incurable—one I must live with, my entire life. I began to see myself as a human being, as opposed to an incurable patient. I realized that if I had to live a fulfilling life, I had to move away from this clinical narrative and create not just one story, but multiple stories about myself by understanding who I was. For therapy helped me recognise exactly this: that I didn’t know who I was.
So who am I?
I am a person who has not known her own body. I have no understanding of sexuality and bodily desire. And yet I know what I seek, and what I seek is at odds with what the world has to give to me. I have stopped wanting to have penetrative sex for a long time now. Instead, I look for other ways of giving and receiving affection, exploring intimacy, and developing connections. That being said, this project has been a failure so far. But I have also come to understand that before I involve someone else in this life of mine, I must develop the same intimacy and connection with myself. I must learn to understand my experiences and love myself at the same time.
I carry a lot of emotional baggage. I am a survivor of sexual abuse and, even today, I don’t understand that night wholly, I can only see it in shades of grey. I do not look for punitive action against my perpetrator, perhaps all I seek is acknowledgement. I have come to understand that even calling the person a ‘perpetrator’ makes me uncomfortable because I have taught myself, and society has helped me here, that I was the one at fault. Yet I know that I have to understand this experience, through conversations, art, poetry- however, I must. I have begun to admit that sexuality for me is confusing – but confusion cannot be the only dimension of myself. I will find love and have sexual relations on my own terms, no matter how much time it takes.
Time. Time’s a funny thing. It mingles memory and truth and ‘make-beliefs’. I have memories that invoke nothing but sadness and my diagnosis tells me that I am who I am because I have suffered abuse in the past. But I am determined to discover a new person—someone who believes in living. It’s not easy, especially when every bone in my body tells me that I don’t have a reason to live, but sometimes it is necessary to oppose even what the body tells you and what the mind wants you to believe.
I leave you with a thought: if you suffer from a mental illness, is it possible to see yourself as someone who is capable of living life beyond it? I think it is. And I hope you are able to see that.
*Image is only for representational purposes.