Category Archives: Depression

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.

Part ii: How do I know this therapist is right for me?

The first part of this series is “Do I need a therapist?”

Finding the right therapist is of immense importance, if you’ve decided to opt for therapy. You’ll find you don’t know who to go for, in the beginning. Should I see a psychiatrist or a psychologist or just a counsellor? This is an easy one actually. Personally, I prefer going to a psychologist first, mostly because I want to avoid medication as much as I can. Unfortunately, I have seen the difference between a non-medicated me and a medicated me and I have to say, it really helps to have my focus in order and my moods under control. So, while I struggle with medication, I also see why I need it. But I digress.

First to tell the different kind of professionals apart.

  1. A psychiatrist is a person who went to medical school and has a medical degree in psychiatry. This enables him to prevent, diagnose, treat and understand mental illness by prescribing medication and course of treatment or therapy. She will also monitor how you react to medication short term and long term, so expect blood work and the like to be part of your interaction with her.
  2. A psychologist is someone who has an academic or doctoral degree in psychology, not a medical one. This person can is qualified to do counselling and psychotherapy, perform psychological testing, and provide treatment for mental disorders. A psychologist cannot and must not prescribe medication to you, or perform medical procedures.
  3. A counsellor is someone who doesn’t have a PhD but a Masters in psychology. In order to practice, a counsellor must have trained at an organisation for a few years before obtaining a license. Unlike a psychologist, a counsellor may not be authorised to diagnose an illness but is effective in treating one with the aid of therapy.

Now that that’s out of the way, how can you tell if this therapist is working for you? Most people will tell you go with your gut. But I am going to say ignore that advice. Here’s why. Consider that you are at a therapist because you are not feeling your very best. Consider that when you aren’t at your best, it is very likely that your ability to listen to your gut, to distinguish the voice of your gut is highly impaired. What you mistake for gut reaction could be fear of vulnerability or of having revealed so much to a practical stranger. Consider that when you are emotionally or mentally disturbed, your gut might not be your best friend. Therefore, don’t go with your gut right in the beginning. Because if you do, you’re bound to come up short almost always. The first time you go to a therapist and your gut is always going to tell you to run and never come back.

These are the things I have found useful in understanding whether a certain therapist is right for me.

 

  1. Be prepared for never knowing that this is the right person for you in the first session. In my exp, it takes at least 3 visits to figure out if it’s your gut feeling, or if you’re second guessing yourself, or if you are just getting comfortable.
  2. Do they glance at phone/clock/out the window often enough to register on you and distract you?
  3. Do they display any emotion or judgement at anything you’ve said so far? If yes, and it makes you uncomfortable, stop seeing them. You should be seeing someone who makes you feel like you are working together; and not someone who hands you only instructions on what to do. There will be instructions in the course of your treatment but that will be with your willingness.
  4. Do they talk more than you do and make you feel like you  haven’t been heard? If yes, stop seeing them. Your sessions shouldn’t be a fight to be heard.
  5. Write down notes about what you liked and what you didn’t like about the session afterwards. When/if you switch therapists, the notes you take will show you what you need.
  6. If you have a diagnosis, ask clear questions about the treatment plan and what their stand on medication is. A treatment plan should include your consent and your ideas. Don’t go to someone who doesn’t include you.
  7. Understand what your own stand on medication is, should you need it.

In short, I suggest you give it two to four visits before you decide this is the wrong person for you. Of course, there are those who immediately know whether this person is working for them or not but in case you’re wondering how to determine whether a therapist is working, these above tips help.

Good luck!

 

 

Do you know what a person who wants to commit suicide looks like?

Ok, Mrs Hema Malini, first thing: Not everyone exists to be admired by the world. Some of us exist, even live, because we want to do fun things and experience life in the forms that we can. Some of us live because we have reasons to live; they may not be great ones but they give us enough motivation.
In this really dreary business of living our lives and being adult about it, some times we fall ill. Because honestly, no person wants to actively kill themselves unless their life becomes too much to bear. 
What, then, is too much to bear? Who decides what is too much? You survived a broken heart or a bad business decision or a crippling tragedy. But the person next door may not have the same skills as you to cope. How did you survive? So many answers: you are dead inside, you are cold, you were hugged a lot when you were a child, you had help from a professional, you had a family (or friends) to cushion your crash,  you acquired skills, along the way, to become mentally “tough”. So many explanations. Any of this could make you a “winner”.  What doesn’t make you a winner is calling someone else who possibly had different setbacks from yours, and who may not have had the same support system as yours, a loser. You didn’t win on your own, Hemaji. Just like Pratyusha Bannerjee didn’t lose on her own. 
Do you have friends whose parents committed suicide? Lovers? Siblings? I do. The vocabulary of the act of suicide is inherently violent and judgemental. It provides no relief to the ones who were left behind. But worse, it renders the person who died infinitely small, incapable of dignity, and with no compassionate memory of them. That must stop. Every time you use the words “succumbed” and “weak” to describe someone who killed themselves, you’re negating, insulting and condemning every single person who has already made that choice. And that person may have been someone you love. That person might be someone who someone you love loves. 
What does a person who is about to commit suicide look like, Hemaji? Don’t know? Or maybe you do. But let me tell you anyway. I should know, I’ve been that person. More than once. A person who is about to commit suicide is first and foremost deranged. Think about that word. To have moved from a certain place, to have lost balance or a semblance of it. It is a person in the deepest, darkest pit of despair. It is a person who thinks the world will get by without them. That her own parents, children, partner don’t need her and there is nothing to look forward to tomorrow. It is a person so angry with herself at “failing” that tomorrow is a terrifying black thing that pulls, sucks and leeches so all-encompassingly that she doesn’t want to wake up. 
A person about to commit suicide is like a person functioning with a brain that is quickly spinning out of control. A person who commits suicide has a brain that is constantly lying to her. It’s like looking at life upside down for a long time till you start believe that the world is wrong and your point of view is right. A person who commits suicide does not have the ability to distinguish between the truth (whatever that is) and the lies that her brain is telling her. A person who commits suicide is, more or less, ill. Either for a long time or for a while, temporarily. Ill because she believes all the lies her brain tells her. Her challenges seem so big to her that it seems someone is crushing her heart physically. Like she can’t breathe. To her the pain is unbearable. It’s not just a feeling. It is intense, deep, real pain, because her brain has spun out of control so long back that she can’t see that there might be help at hand. That someone just might be able to hold her for a bit till she gains equilibrium. That the truth is, at the end of everything, with love and help, we may not have to kill ourselves.
And this is the difference between a person who wants to commit suicide and a person who thinks it is about… what was it that you said? …  learning “to overcome all odds and emerge successful, not succumb under pressure and give up easily. The world admires a fighter not a loser.” 
What a thing to say about a woman who killed herself not too long ago. What a thing to say about a woman whose family cannot stop grieving. My experience of growing old has been that the more life throws at you, the better equipped you are to see that not everything is clear as day, not everyone has easy lives, and not everyone gives up easily. How dare you insinuate, Mrs Hema Malini, that Pratyusha gave up easily? How much do you know about her life or her struggles?
I know nothing of that girl’s life. I hadn’t heard of her before her death. But I know one thing: for a person who decides to give up their life and dismisses the fact that there might be people who care for them, there is nothing left. Absolutely nothing. And unless she had it in her to trust someone, to turn to someone, she died believing there was nothing left. That she meant nothing to anyone. And that place is an unbearably sad place. An unbearably lonely, sorrowful, depriving space that strips you of any sense of reality, any sense of self, any sense of purpose.
Am I saying suicide is okay? I am conflicted, honestly. If it ends your misery, then it should be your call to make. But there’s the paradox no? When you choose to commit suicide, almost always your mind isn’t well enough to make that decision. Then how is that a rational decision that I can stand by? How can I say that everyone who finds their misery unbearable should have the choice to end their lives?
Finally, suicide takes courage. It takes a person who can find it in themselves to hurt endlessly, permanently, their entire family and everyone who loves them. It takes making that insane, deranged decision to leave people you love fend for themselves emotionally, physically, and sometimes financially. Suicide isn’t for the cowardly, it isn’t for the faint of heart. And it isn’t for the sane. The next time you call someone who killed themselves weak, think about it. And if you still feel like calling them weak, wait till their bodies grow cold.