Depression: The impalpable sickness of the mind
“That’s the thing I want to make clear about depression: It’s got nothing at all to do with life. In the course of life, there is sadness and pain and sorrow, all of which, in their right time and season, are normal – unpleasant, but normal. Depression is an altogether different zone because it involves a complete absence: absence of affect, absence of feeling, absence of response, absence of interest. But for all intents and purposes, the deeply depressed are just the walking, walking dead.” –Elizabeth Wurtzel, author of ‘Prozac Nation’
No one who is, in the truest term, ‘depressed’, can ever pinpoint when they first became that way. Most describe it as something that ‘crept’ up on them. At first, it may have been a general feeling of being ‘blue’ and melancholy, next thing I knew I was crying every day over nothing significant, sleeping a lot (and hoping I would never wake up again) and wishing for death or at least non-existence.
I would say I became properly depressed sometime during my years in college. Whether it was when I was 18, 19 or 20, I could never be sure.
Having said that, when I was around 13 or 14, I remember thinking and sometimes telling my peers “I am depressed” – but what angst-ridden teenager didn’t say that, right?
In those stormy years, I thought that if you weren’t somewhat depressed then you must have an overload of serotonin (happy hormones) production. I remember this conversation with a friend:
“Hey, how are you?”
“I think I’m depressed.”
“You think you’re depressed? You have it easy compared to my life.”
I didn’t express anymore thoughts after being ‘shot down’ that way. I just figured depression was either a term loosely used for being petty and saying that your life sucks or it was a normal state that everybody goes through.
Fighting depression was hell for me. I tried so many ways. I tried praying, talking to friends, blocking out unpleasant emotions, expectations of the world, numbing the pain and replacing bad feelings with new feelings (which in turn became the new bad feeling that needed to be replaced)… eventually I tried seeking medical help.
And no, that wasn’t the answer either.
At about 19 or 20 years old, I walked into a clinic with a list of things I felt – suicidal, disinterested in life in general, hopelessness, crying spells and was prescribed with some anti-anxiety medication for the night and referred to the psychiatric department at the general hospital.
There, in the midst of the real crazies, I was assessed via a formal battery, diagnosed with moderate depression and prescribed Prozac. Still I didn’t think that my depression was situational. I was just feeling down all the time. And the frustrating thing was I didn’t know why.
“Did something happen to you to make you feel down?”
“No, not really. It is just life in general.”
“Is college really hard to cope with? Are things generally stressful for you right now?”
“I don’t think so. I am getting along with life just fine. I just feel sad all the time.”
Prozac didn’t start to ‘work’ until 2 weeks later. I felt ‘better’. While nothing could bring me down, nothing brought me up either. I didn’t get sad, and I didn’t get excited. My life was one big consistent stoic, yellow smiley face. I had no tears and no emotions. I was just ok – going through everyday tasks with a numbing buzz.
One night, after my best friend left me with her depressing thoughts (yes, my best friend at that time was depressed too, and having more episodes than I was; some say misery loves company), I paced around the room and decided that the only way to get better faster was to take all my anti-depressant medications at the same time.
It was a moment of delusion. I went to the fridge, made myself a cold Ribena and started taking all my pills. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. All I knew was that I was alone, and though I didn’t want to die yet, I wanted things to end. What things, though, I didn’t know.
After ingesting the pills, I tried to sleep. After a while lying down, I started to cry and realisation kicked in. I texted my supervisor at work,”I am really sorry I am not at work today. I am not feeling well. I think I took too much medication.”
“What is wrong and what do you mean too much medication? What exactly did you take?”
“I felt unwell. I took 12 Prozacs and 8 Panadols.”
“What?? That is way too much. Can you bring yourself to the hospital?”
“No, I am locked in the house.”
“Hold on, we are coming to get you.”
What happened after that you can imagine –sitting in the emergency department of a hospital, nurses shoving tubes down my nose and in my vein, stomach-pumping, needles – it was a white blur. After all that, I was sent to the ward for rest and supervision. I couldn’t even go to the toilet unassisted, just in case I would try anything again. I instantly felt remorse for my petty action. I felt bad about myself, that I created trouble and hassle for the world.
The doctors were distant and cold. One lectured me on being selfish and stupid. Another treated me like I was having a psychotic breakdown. I didn’t blame him though. He asked me why I took all the pills and I said, “I figured that taking one Prozac a day was taking too long for me to be happy. I figured taking all of them at once would help me be happy faster.”
I know it sounded crazy but I really meant it. Not in a delusional way, but in a desperate way. I couldn’t stand the depression anymore.
In the hospital, all I know is that I felt fine and I wanted to go home and put this drama behind me already. I was a high-risk patient under tight supervision in the hospital for a week.
My parents were informed and they couldn’t understand for the life of them that there was no epic reason for what I did. My dad asked me if I was pregnant. I just told them what I had been telling everyone: I just felt really sad for no reason.
I really thought that was the end of it. About a year later, I felt suicidal again. This time it was not impulsive, it seemed more prepared. I started settling my unfinished work and business, saying my ‘goodbyes’ and went to the beach. I sat there for a really long time, fantasising about walking into the sea and letting its power wash over me and bring me away. I sat there for hours, daring myself to do what seemed to be a way out.
Eventually, I got up and went home.
Figuring It Out
Life was up and down after that. I started to wean myself off the medications and eventually stopped without doctor’s orders. I decided to take control over my own mind. I decided to not feel anything, to be a ‘bulldozer; just go through life not thinking, not caring, sometimes being reckless. I decided to cut myself off from feelings – be stoic. I stopped believing in love. I stopped believing in God. I just existed without caring about myself or others.
Looking back, I now believe that depression was a sickness of my mind. I wasn’t equipped with the mental or emotional capacity to fight the negative emotions that stemmed from unavoidable situations and circumstances, which normally people should be able to handle healthily.
Anxiety and worry, over-thinking, self-consciousness, low self-esteem – these traits are common in people who are easily depressed. Back then, I was cutting myself to cope with the emotional pain – the physical pain felt good and it somehow relieved the depression.
When I found religion again, I started to feel better. I started putting my hopes and beliefs in a higher power. Fighting depression, the sickness of the mind, the way I had it was a constant battle. You have to consciously change your thoughts, manipulate your emotions by psyching yourself. It is not easy to cheat yourself, in that sense. After all, you are fighting with yourself, your worst enemy. As Dorothy Rowe once said, “Depression is a prison where you are both the suffering prisoner and the cruel jailer”.
With practice, I notice that with age, I can cope with my attacks of depression much better. There is a better understanding, and I am not that hard on myself. I kind of shut down and wait for it to be over. Meanwhile, I remedy my mind with positive thoughts, people who inspire me and such.
It never really goes away, the depression. It comes and goes. Sometimes, I cut myself some slack and ride the wave until it passes. What is different now from before is the awareness – I know things aren’t as bad as my mind perceives, I know my thoughts are able to control my emotions so I try to remedy my thoughts from negative to positive, and I know it will pass.
I still haven’t figured myself out. I have jumped professions from one end of the spectrum to the other, changing jobs like undergarments. None of my relationships have ever been stable (the common denominator being me). I haven’t figured myself out, and I have no idea where I am going in life. I run away and hide whenever I feel stress or pressure, or any unpleasantness.
Yet, I haven’t given up on life and happiness. I am consciously trying to learn skills that can heighten my emotional intelligence, and equipping myself with the abilities to manage my thoughts and emotions better.
One thing’s for sure, I will not rest until I find the meaning in my existence even if that very desire may be the cause of my depression. Once you have learnt to conquer yourself, you may have just won the toughest battle you would ever have to fight in a lifetime.