A firsthand account of why depression is considered a stigma and taboo
It didn’t matter that I had a loving family and friends, a comfortable lifestyle, beautiful memories of the past, happy present and was looking forward to a bright future.
It didn’t matter how cheerful I was and how I never missed a single chance of hanging out with my playfellows. Though sometimes I had mood swings as at one end I was at the height of jubilation and at the other I was falling deep into darkness. These mood swings were occasional. They came and went without affecting me. So, apparently I was having a stress-free life.
And then I was grabbed by depression.
I lost everything -- my motivation, my goals, my interests, my hobbies, my laughters, my comfort, and above all my health. Once I was a voracious reader but now reading a single page of my most favourite books became a Herculean task for me. I was feeling empty, lonely, sad, aggressive -- there were many other feelings I couldn’t name. I hated everything I once loved. Life became purposeless.
I was unable to receive a single phone call and worst of all I couldn’t speak about my feelings. I couldn’t express what I was going through. I would lock myself in the room, cry and sob all day and would burst into tears now and then. Once I used to enjoy playing with my niece and nephew and now their giggles were giving me headaches.
Going through the internet and reading the symptoms, I found that I had fallen prey to the black dog that is depression. My mother had been suffering from schizophrenia for the last twenty years and I was well aware of what this demon could do to a healthy person. I immediately got an appointment from a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. My medication, therapy and continuous sessions with the psychiatrist had started.
My friends got different jobs and some went for further studies while I was battling with depression. Meanwhile, I met one of my teachers who asked what I was doing those days? (Having recently graduated from the university this was the most frequently asked question). I told him why I couldn’t start a job or go for further studies. I was shocked by his response, "Yar yeh depression vepression kuch naheen hota,(There is no such thing as depression) what is wrong with you young people? The main problem is you people are not grateful for the blessings God has bestowed upon you. Look at yourself, you have a perfect lifestyle, you have all what a person can wish for but still you are saying you have depression? Actually you are free and you have nothing to do so you are pretending to be depressed. Look at those people who can’t fulfill their basic needs. you are just blowing on cold milk. Nothing else."
Though, I was shocked I later found that this attitude towards depression is a common trait of our society. They consider depression ungratefulness and not an illness.
Had I been wounded physically I would have shown you. Had I been on crutches you would have seen, had I been on wheel chair it would have been obvious to you that I was suffering. Had I been suffering from cold or flu I would have explained my situation to you but here I was fighting off an unseen demon. I was perfect physically but inside I was torn into pieces. I was getting bitten by this giant black dog each and every moment.
It needs to be understood that a depressed person goes through serious mental illness. He/she can’t get motivated by looking at the less blessed people. Feelings of disappointment may be cured through this but this is by no means a treatment for depression. When you are depressed you don’t care what’s happening around you. There is no feeling of empathy or sympathy. You are thrown in darkness, you are all empty, shattered and broken. There is chaos in your mind, a chemical imbalance for which serious medication is needed.
During my illness a family friend visited us. Upon telling him what I was going through, my aunt took me to the side and badly snubbed me from telling the guest about my situation. She said that I shouldn’t have told anything about my illness as they will call me ‘pagal’ or psycho.
Depression is considered a stigma and taboo in our society. I asked her, "You are a diabetic patient, don’t you tell people about this?" Father has been suffering from DLE (Discoid Lupus Erythematous -- ZAK), has he not told everyone about his disease? Why should I be ashamed of my illness? Just because it is not something physical but mental? I need care and treatment. I didn’t choose it myself, neither does it define me. It should be treated and not hidden.
There comes another segment of the society and that is the most unfortunate. They see the illness and name it "the influence of jinn or magic" and then the patients suffer from the treatment of ‘fake peers’. I have seen women being badly beaten with a rod and it was said the "jinns" are being beaten.
Coming from a family where there was already a schizophrenic patient it was not difficult to get awareness about my depression and getting timely therapy and medication from a psychiatrist. But those who never had witnessed such case before either ignore it, misunderstand or go on the wrong track. Not only the patient but the whole family suffers.
Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Give these patients your support, care and accurate treatment and make them able to rekindle the flames of their life.
Even now the days come when this shadow haunts me and attacks me, barks at me but due to medication, therapy and the support of my friends and family I am able to fight off because I see light at the end of tunnel.
(October 10 is World Mental Health Day)