I’ve had a relapse and I didn’t recognise it

Mondays are therapy days for me. I start the week with a wringing, a venting, a draining, a regaining. I start with talking about all the things I need sorted, and after 45 minutes of talking about random things, I get to the thing that’s hurt me the most.

For the last four weeks, every therapy session has ended in my crying, unable to voice anything of what I’d been feeling. I’d finish crying at therapy, go to work, manage to get through the day and drive back to pick up the kids. During this drive, I’d send voice notes to a friend asking me how I was doing. I’d start to a bright note, and by the time I was done, I was choking with tears or outright crying trying to tell her what was going on.

I’d get home and do what was required of me, bare minimum and then lose myself on Twitter or Instagram because nothing numbs you to yourself like the details of other people’s lives. This has been my way of functioning for over three months.

I’d fall asleep — aided by my medication — by 8.30, without putting my things away: books, painting things. I’d tell myself I was just going to rest my head and the next thing I knew I was waking up a little past midnight, groggy af and looking around me to see why I hadn’t finished all that I wanted to. I’d put things away in the kitchen, put my undone art work away, then go back to bed. Only to wake up reluctantly at 5 a.m., manage breakfast, bathe — myself and the kids — get everyone out of the house, do a school drop off and head to work. Rinse, repeat.

Through all this I had been journaling, organising, supposedly listening to my feelings and managing bare minimum exercise. I was supposed to have been in touch with how I am feeling. Everything was written down, include the nights I went to bed hoping I didn’t wake up the next day. I ignored that as the stray suicidal ideation that assails all of us once in a while. My appetite was dropping but because of a recent weightloss, I thought I had been ignoring my eating only because I was afraid to put that weight back on. I was supposed to be on the path to being better.

Yet this Monday, as I sat crying in my therapist’s room filled with books​, I was hearing myself and him telling me that I had a relapse of depression. That for over four months now he had been noticing the change in my mood and was guiding me with exercises and direction so I could overcome it or deal with it. But this Monday, when I broke down, he had to tell me in as many words that I had relapsed.

So why hadn’t I caught it? Why hadn’t all my journaling for mental health, all my organising, all my breathing and meditation helped me in a) keeping this at bay and b) helped me identify that I was going back to those dark, futile spaces I had left some time ago? 

Both the mental illnesses that I have been diagnosed with have depression as a huge component. The last time I was deeply depressed was very different. I was crying all the time, I refused to eat for days, I was afraid to go out, I had attempted suicide and I was incapable of functioning. For me, getting better, then, meant functioning. And here I was, two years after my severe depressive episode, functioning well. Work, kids, and reading all of it was on track. And yet, with each passing day, my ability to go on was diminishing. My ability to do work outside of my workplace was reducing. My temper was shorter than it had ever been. And for five months, I had missed all the signs of being depressed.

I was forced to confront it only when I took a look back at the last two weeks and realised how I had been crying every day. How I had been craving sleep because I didn’t want to be awake and feel these things. How I had been skipping meals and was rarely ever hungry. Add to that not being able to do the things I love, I decided to talk to my therapist about it. And lo, as I was speaking it dawned on me what he had seen for so long. That I had had a relapse.

I started this post to talk about relapses in objective terms but clearly I am feeling too miserable for myself to be of any good to you, dear reader. But I shall still try.

Things I have learnt with this relapse are a few. Let me try and enumerate them.

  1. That it is possible to function and go on with life doing adequately what is required of you through depression. I think this state occurs when you have therapy to buoy you and a regular life and routine to adhere to.
  2. That even though you’ve been in the thick of depression, you are so aggressively focusing on dealing with your disorder, that you can be completely blindsided EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE CONTEMPLATING SUICIDE. 
  3. That your last depression needn’t look anything like your current one. Like I mentioned, the last time I was a creature only existing because I had breath in my body and a beating heart. This depressive episode, I work, eat, sleep (ish), and do what is required of me. My only red flag this time, which I totally overlooked, was that I wasn’t enjoying anything I was doing. That my energy to do anything was progressively decreasing. To a point where if I sat down, I didn’t want to get up, move, breathe, blink. I wanted to become part of wherever I was sitting.
  4. That being ultra-focused on recovery and maintaining status quo means you are missing all the red flags.
  5. That you can do everything right and you can still be depressed.

Now over six years after I was diagnosed, two years of feeling renewed hope and finding new meaning, two years of doing so much, and having made what I think is progress, I am once more defeated. I hate the thought of anti-depressants. But I am back on them. Look at the possible side effects of the SSRI I am taking. Who wants that shit? But here I am because I cannot find the will to wake up in the morning and take on what is coming my way.

At this point, I feel like I am never going to get better and that every few years this is going to be my condition. Just when I think I have my life sorted out, the rug is going to be pulled from beneath me and I am going to fall, fail and never get up again. But who knows, right? If my last romantic relationship taught me anything, it was that words and promises mean precisely zilch. And ‘forever’ particularly means a big, fat load of nothing.

I think what might help is a social media break, a holiday, someone who loves and cares for me unconditionally taking care of me for a few days, and allowing me to be as pathetic as I am now. I think what might help is someone taking on the tasks of parenting two very beautiful, impressionable children for a few weeks. I think what might help is work can be taken off my  hands for a week. But none of this is going to happen. So I will say a prayer and pop a Prodep and remind myself that hope floats.

9 thoughts on “I’ve had a relapse and I didn’t recognise it

  1. A fellow depressive

    Hi Sandhya,

    I follow you on twitter and that’s how I know about this blog of yours. We don’t really know each other, though we’ve exchanged the odd tweet. But here’s something I haven’t told you. The reason I follow you is because I have suffered from depression too. On and off for many years now. The last one was the worst. I came perilously close to ending it all and I know that desperate feeling when all you want to do is to be able to just function. Just be able to go through the motions of a bare minimum semblance of life. The voices in your head that relentlessly criticise you when you can’t.

    I know.

    When I finally went to therapy, I dove into it with my entire heart and soul and brain. I went through therapy like I was doing a PhD in psychology – my own. Apart from dealing with the pain of the depression and the pain of therapy, I read like a maniac. I read everything I could find on my own demons, got frustrated because for some time, nothing made sense, everything felt like a distant preach. But eventually, it started to fall into place. And I learnt a few things that saved my life. It is this stuff that finally helped me emerge from one of my worst depressive phases ever. It’s been over a year now and I think I’m OK. Life is relentlessly hard, but I’m coping. I have my days of paralysing anxiety, sleepless nights, but I remind myself of the stuff I learnt, take it one moment at a time, and soon enough the clouds start to disperse – even if they never go away entirely. I live. I am alive, and not just. I am functioning. Not at my absolute best, but enough to know that I’m nowhere close to the periphery of that big gaping black hole that keeps threatening to suck me in.

    Why am I writing this? Because I want you to know that there IS light. I know you KNOW this – you are but a veteran of this doom, like me! But you need to read this – THERE IS LIGHT. And it’s just round the corner. And even though I know that this will probably annoy you right now, I am going to tell you what worked for me, simply out of the hope that even if one of them resonates with you, you will have one more tool in your arsenal of weapons to fight this bloody menace of a disease. So here goes:

    1. Acceptance: The one thing that makes depression and mental illness a lot worse is fighting it. To feel terrible because you “let yourself get depressed again”. To rail against it, to hate the fact that you’re depressed. Strangely enough, and I know it feels counter-intuitive, acceptance diminishes its power over you. Allow it to happen. Depression is SHIT, but shit happens. Acceptance doesn’t happen overnight. But the day you realise that depression is a sign of your body, your brain saying, “Hey you! Stop. Pay attention to me. I’m not doing so well. Stop ignoring that and pretending it’s ok. I need you to accept this and take a pause”… it suddenly becomes surprisingly easier. The depression may still happen, but it’s far less oppressive. It passes faster. It feels less dark. Because you just took away half its power. Trust me.

    2.. Mindfulness: This shit works. Not overnight. It takes time. It takes practice. And on the first few days it’s hard and it’s bloody annoying. Then it gets a little less annoying. Then it gets easier. And you start to notice a little lightness in your heart, in your brain, every time you practice. Even if for just 3 minutes at a time. But mindfulness is not just about downloading an app on your phone and listening to it twice a day. It’s not only about meditating. It’s about really getting to know yourself in the moment. Over time, this translates into getting to know the tiny signs that you’re sliding back towards that black hole. I know now that when I find myself using too much social media, it’s a slow slide towards the hole. When I find myself shopping online for things I don’t need, I catch myself, because it’s a sign. I pause, I stop myself and I think about what’s bothering me. A lot of the time, there’s no one answer to this question. So that gets me to the next thing:

    3. Exercise. Simple, straightforward physical exercise. It saves the day. I’m not an exerciser. I’m not a gym bunny. So I take myself for a long walk. I get down on the yoga mat and make myself do it for 10 minutes – no more, no less. If I can manage it for 5, I give myself a mental high-five. A simple commitment. I don’t run marathons and don’t sign up for IronMan. That would be stupid. And counterproductive. I simply force myself to get up from the couch and walk. Sometimes, only around the house, because even that feels like a task at the worst of times. But when I can’t, I accept it. I don’t berate myself for it – you probably see where this is going:

    4. Self-Compassion: This one was the hardest for me. I still struggle with it. But I have learnt to be kinder to myself. I know I’m being good to myself when I force myself to close that social media / online shopping window. I know that I’m being good to myself when I force myself to take a ridiculous, pointless walk around the house instead. I know that I’m being good to myself when I get down on the mat. But even more importantly, I know I MUST be good to myself and accept that I can only do so much when I’m depressed. That if that walk is hard today, it’s OK dude – give yourself a break, you’re depressed! That if today, i failed to shut down those windows and get up from the couch, it’s ok, but because I must be kind to myself, I’m going to try again tomorrow. Be the kindest person you can ever be, to yourself. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to your child.

    5. A big virtual hug from a stranger. That’s all. I hope you feel better soon. If you would like to talk, just let me know here and I’ll make myself known 🙂

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  2. sanika24

    Dear Sandhya,

    I understand how debilitating depression can be and what I am suggesting might be something you’ve tried before or be a drop in the ocean for you. I know that you love writing, and using beautiful books. Please try to start a gratitude journal. On the left, write 10 things you’re grateful for today. On the right, write 10 things you will be grateful for in the future, except in present tense.These kind of positive affirmations help sometimes.

    A big hug and wish you a speedy recovery. The road is extremely tough but you are a big inspiration for all those fighting the good fight.

    Love,
    Sanika

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  3. musingswithasmile

    Wishes for your speedy recovery. Sorry you might not know me. And im not a stalker…I came across your blog for the first time, accidentaly. the intended person whom i searched was different. But i loved your thghts. so started following. As you say, there are many people out there unhappy with whatsoever happening in life…i dont know what to call that defeated feeling. But i have experienced the feeling of being lost, multiple times.

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  4. AKM

    Came across your blog by accident. I’m glad I did.

    Everything else I wanted to say I typed and deleted 🙂 Take care.

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  5. Nandhu Sundaram

    Hey Sandhya,
    The way you are saying things out in the open is so bold of u. i can see u have gotten comments that are much better than the one i intended to make. good luck with recovering. i hope that happens soon!

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