How depression has affected me
Thoughts of death
I thought of death all the time as something peaceful, the best thing I could do for myself. I had had suicidal impulses the year before the actual onset of depression around a thesis submission and then another spate of the same impulses after the break up of a relationship.
Difficult end to relationship
The latest relationship had been my fourth serious relationship and one that I had been determined that I would take seriously and work on. The hardest thing was to admit that I loved someone who made me very unhappy, specially when there wasn’t anything specific I could say he did that made me feel bad. I ended the relationship in the hope that perhaps things would be better after a time but it really was the end.
Extreme version of earlier feelings
I waited for a couple of months before getting a professional diagnosis. Till that point it felt like an extreme version of what I had often felt before in my teens – a sort of panicked, urgent drive to rationalize the emotion my body seemed to be going through and to do it as soon as possible to I could take care of the feeling.
Keeping very busy
I also thought that perhaps if I threw myself into a rolling schedule of activities the feeling would go away. But I had not counted on being unable to rise from bed in the morning. I had no control whatsoever…
I could not bear company but I could not bear to be alone. I could not concentrate or focus on anything and yet I could not just handle the pain. It was the worst kind of constant state like perpetually being burnt anew.
When I was younger, the times I had feelings closest to what I felt at the time of the depression were disproportionate amounts of sadness and helplessness in reaction to incidents – to certain films, to scenes in books – and I remember feeling restricted and lonely but clear that it should not be apparent…
Traumatic incident in the family
I think that after my uncle was killed when I was in my early teens – his work for the government at the time made him a target for political killings in the city – my family structure and how we responded to each other and saw the world changed completely into something that did not make me happy and I could not identify with…but in that system belonged the people I loved, so I had to figure out a way to work with it…
Entire extended family affected
Since our family lived in a large compound with my uncle’s family and both sets of couples were very close, it affected the entire extended family network. My parents carried around a sadness with them and continue to do so till this day. Our tradition of celebrating birthdays and big events in the family all ended abruptly and although years have gone a celebration of any kind still seems very forced.
Constant scheming to fit in and manage
I remember a general kind of constant scheming a grand narrative to make sense of how I could work within the new scheme of things. I just took for granted that it was normal and if I wasn’t happy, I must be doing something wrong and if I couldn’t figure it out to change it, I could at least keep it to myself and not add to the sadness, worries and paranoia around me.
Trying to make sense of a frightening world
I suppose I just started looking for patterns that would make me make sense of this new world where I had no control over who lived or died and most of my impulses from that point were out of fear and anxiety – ‘If I didn’t do this, I would lose this…’ or ‘If I didn’t do this, I may end up like this…’ – and not out of any positive emotion.
Stressful approach led to breakdown
I think it was applying this outcome-oriented thought process to everything I did, from work to friendships to relationships with loved ones, and using it to keep myself fully in control that finally led to a breakdown.
Distorted thinking patterns
Within this pattern of thinking was the inherent belief that I need to work hard at everything and fight for every inch because there is no other reason to deserve anything that may make me happy – which does not really make sense when you factor other people’s agencies into the equation…
Experiencing events as judgements on myself
Sometimes things don’t work out not because there was anything wrong with what you did or how you were but just because it didn’t. It was being unable to accept the outcome as anything other than a judgement on myself that cracked me.
I started medication, which raised the floor of the abysmal feeling so that I could bear to be with myself – and then I realised that the resultant feeling was not much better than the totality of death, and if I chose to live it mean there was nothing more important than my own wellbeing and happiness, and that is what I had to work towards.
Trying several things
I started working on myself by reading about depression, talking to people who had gone through depression, seeking counselling and writing about it all the time, even now…
Doing a PhD on myself
It feels like doing a PhD on myself, but it gets better. The bad moments are bad, but the good ones are better than I ever was, even before the depression.
Reading about other people’s experiences
I real a lot about other people’s experiences with depression – which really grounded me in realising that it isn’t entirely about a certain life event, but it’s also about cognitive patterns and how you think about those attempts.
Keeping a thought diary
I kept a thought diary for a month just noticing and writing down thoughts that would occur recurrently and those that felt so bad that they were paralysing. Then I would site and break down in pieces my reaction to see what the underlying thought pattern was.
Writing things down
I spent a lot of time writing generally, and said to myself that once I had written something down it meant I did not have to take any immediate action.
I sought help once I was back in the UK and I was very aware of the difference between a good counsellor and a bad one, having had experience with both.
Explaining things to family and friends
I told my family and best friends to the best of my abilities what it meant to be unwell mentally and how physical it was, almost like having a broken leg for a while. I sought material to help them understand with the result that I could be myself around them and felt like I did not have to put on a fake face.
Taking the pressure off
I put no expectations on myself, withdrew from all of them except what was physically good for me – eating, a shower, a 20-minute exercise, contact with people who loved me and made me laugh was all I aimed for for a couple of months.
Building things up slowly
As I got better I started to want to do more things and then spread it out, but it si still a struggle on some days. However, now I think about it differently, rather than thinking of it as something that is objectively incontrovertibly wrong with my life.
Asking friends for help
When I have a moment of ‘fight or flight’, or just being unable to get out of bed, I call a friend who comes over and sits with me and then keeps me company for the day by either making sure we go to the same library to work or walking with me wherever I need to go to work. It really helps me get over the hump and as I got better just the thought that someone would be there and was there was often enough for me to start doing it all on my own.
Focusing on the breath
And if I’m struck by such moments walking around or doing normal things I focus on my breath and the reality of this moment, which contextualizes my thoughts.
Learning to be self-compassionate and accepting
I suppose the hardest thing is to learn what it means to let go, to be non-judgmental about yourself and to realize how innate being special, and a sense of self worth and love is to one. The rest is about cognitive strategies to deal with that.
What I’ve learnt
Depression is about a way of thinking
I’ve learnt that depression is about a certain way of thinking. It comes from a way of relating to yourself, to other people and to events in the world, that is not good for you and is not an accurate reflection of reality.
Pay attention to the present moment
The way out of depression is to stop speculating about the future, spinning grand narratives to make sense of the past and using it to guide your pattern. All that needs to be a guide for your pattern is recognising how you feel now and what you think now.
Give yourself compassion in the present moment
It often does not require any more action than this focus on what you feel and think right now. This is about self-awareness and self-love, I think.
Depression is a sign that things need to change
Depression is a way of being told that the habits you have now of thinking and being are unhealthy and they need to change. It is hard because it takes so long for them to build up, and habits are hard to kick… But this is where awareness kicks in – just being aware that ‘Oh, now I’m thinking this’ without accepting it as truth.
More than anything, trusting yourself in the moment to do the best for yourself – people are so much more capable and competent of getting the best out of a situation than they give themselves credit for!