A Mental Health Specialist Opens Up About Her Struggles With Depression

One way that Depression and all its other tricky friends erode our lives is by making our tribe crumble and collapse. Like dementors, they suck the happiness out of our souls and make us feel locked up in our misery, distant and withdrawn from the rest of the world

Updated: Dec 30, 2019 18:10:41 IST
2019-12-30T18:10:41+05:30
A Mental Health Specialist Opens Up About Her Struggles With Depression Representative image (Wikimedia Commons)

One way that Depression and all its other tricky friends erode our lives is by making our tribe crumble and collapse. Like dementors, they suck the happiness out of our souls and make us feel locked up in our misery, distant and withdrawn from the rest of the world.

I remember the time when Depression had taken over my life. I used to feel like I had lost the power to talk and have regular conversations with people. It was as if I was stuck in this cold, grey fog cut off from people, watching the world go by. During that phase, Amit and I visited India (if you remember, I had mentioned that we were living in the UK then) for my brother’s wedding, my one and only brother’s wedding, whom I love so much.

However, all I could feel was a strong sense of dread and doom. My parents’ home was suffused with joy and festivities but my homecoming was just cold and dark. All that I wanted to do was get into bed, slip under the covers and never ever face another human being. But I pushed myself to smile, laugh, talk and pretend to be somebody I was not. The sense of loneliness and isolation was painful, especially when I was surrounded by people who loved me so much.

After the wedding was over, one day I sat with my mother and tentatively told her, ‘I am going through Depression.’ It was tough saying it, as it was very difficult for me to show my vulnerabilities to others, especially my mother. I remember the perplexed look on her face. She was terribly confused, as if I was speaking to her in another language and she was trying to work it out in her head. She stared at me for a few moments and then looked away. She tried to say something but then stopped, as if she did not have the words to express herself. If I had told her I had cancer, I am sure she might have been able to connect with my anguish and respond. But Depression was not something she could relate to at all. I immediately changed the topic and I could sense her relief, as we started talking about how wonderful the wedding had been.

shelja-sen-2_112218035924.jpgThe author with her family (Image courtesy: Shelja Sen)

Did I feel angry or hurt about it? To be honest, not at all as I knew how much she loved me and where she was coming from. How could her precious daughter, who had always been so happy, so together and ‘so strong’ (how many of us have had to hear those two dreaded words), talk about Depression? Our family did not talk about feelings or express vulnerability. Also, we are talking about twenty years ago, when the D-word was not thrown around so easily, especially in the little mountain town my family lived in.

Not much has changed as far as family conversations are concerned in the past twenty years. There is a higher level of awareness of emotional struggles that we go through, but we are still not sure how to talk to our loved ones about it and, more importantly, how to seek and give help.

I’ve noticed there’s a chasm that exists. On the one side are those people living with depression, who may act in off-putting or confusing ways because they’re fighting

a war in their head that nobody else can see. On the other side is everyone else, and they’re looking across the divide, shaking their heads, and asking, ‘Why you gotta be so depressed?’

—Bill Barnat, TEDx talk—The Moth Radio Hour Storyteller

This ‘chasm’ can become really vicious as we keep closing ourselves up from people and people keep distancing themselves from us. They might try initially, but the effort required to stay connected is too much from both sides. A simple regular conversation seems impossible, as the ‘war’ in the head creates noise that cannot be muted. And even when we try to share, the other person might not really understand the nuances of our pain. A feeling of ‘why bother?’ makes the ‘chasm’ even wider.

The thing is that no healing can happen in isolation. Our hearts become encrusted and minds get caught in the negativity loop. Healing can only happen when we open our hearts and let some warmth come in and when we stop living in our noisy mind and start living in the real world. That is how we human beings are hardwired—to seek connections, to be accepted, to belong. It could be with our family, school, college, workplace, friends, neighbourhood, club, football league, cricket team, church or sangha. We all want to be part of a tribe, kinfolk or community. When we cut ourselves away from our tribe, especially when we are hurting or are in pain, healing can only happen when we reconnect and build bonds.

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Excerpted with permission from Reclaim Your Life: Going Beyond Silence, Shame and Stigma in Mental Health by Shelja Sen, published by Westland, October 2018

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