“The signs were all too familiar. I could not sleep at night and would be tired and groggy through the day. I felt angry, sad, distressed, and dejected all the time. I shouted or sobbed; ate too much or nothing at all. I did not want to talk to anyone, or about anything. I severed my connections with friends and family; I hardly spoke to my children, I fought with my husband. I felt anxious all day and wept all night. I felt powerless, insignificant, small, and unwanted. I contemplated leaving home and kids, running away from family and responsibilities.
I knew what the symptoms were pointing at, but did not want to accept it. How could I, a woman who had always been in complete control of her life, lose her mind? And so, even though I continued to suffer, I continued to pretend to be okay. Like, I reckon, a lot of us do.
I am Anubhuti, a consultant, writer, facilitator, and recently a speaker. Today I am here to talk to you about my story — of struggling with mental health issues and coming out of it.
There is a reason I mentioned so many roles and things I do in my introduction. I remember it was june of 2015 when I met a bright young woman at a park. I was there with my children and we got talking. I showed her portraits I had taken of her in my camera and after admiring them she asked me what I did.
“Umm, I do nothing” I said. I was Ashamed of not having a job or an identity and wanted the earth to swallow me at that time. “Oh you are a mother, that is doing a lot,” she said to me . I quietly moved away feeling like the smallest person on earth.
That day has been etched in my memory ever since and this is my journey from feeling absolutely worthless to coming to recognize my self worth.
Mental health is a strange thing, you do not know you are mentally healthy or not, that easily. It is not a fever that can be checked on a thermometer. It is not an infection that can be detected through a blood test. It is a condition that unfurls slowly, steadily, and over long periods of time. It may or may not have symptoms and one may or may not notice them for a long, long time. And then there are stereotypes. You cannot be sad or depressed of you are seemingly happy and rich and successful and have everything the society feels you should.
I grew up a happy and healthy kid in a happy and healthy family. I was showered with love and affection by everyone. I married the person I wanted and when and how I wanted. I worked where I liked and the way I liked. I was always supported by my peers and managers, management and leadership. I won awards and accolades, rewards and recognition, promotions and recommendations, So I was not your typical candidate for mental health issues, but I had them.
Condition and Acceptance:
The signs that told me something was off were very subtle. Some of them seemed like just an off shoot of exhaustion and fatigue. Some seemed like my generic moodiness and short temper. It may be pertinent to add here that at the time I had been off work for about 4 years owing to the break I had taken post my younger daughter’s birth. So, I had no one at home or outside to talk with and understand that I may be in need of help.
Most of my highs were followed by lows. The happier I was, the more forlorn I became. The feeling of being on top of the world, in no time, transformed into a feeling of uselessness and worthlessness. The transformation was so sudden that often I didn’t know what to make of it. It was therefore quite understandable if others around me couldn’t. It is possible that they saw me as someone who was moody and irresponsible, and someone who was erratic and insensitive towards others. I guess I cannot blame them. After all they could only see the manifestation of the anguish, not what goes on within.
The worst thing about anxiety, depression, polarity and chronic stress is that they not only affect you, but also those around you. However hard you might try, keeping your symptoms from your family is impossible. As long as my condition was affecting only me, it was okay to suffer, but when it started affecting my children and family, I knew I had to do something.
I started with a small step. I took a survey on a website that revealed I could indeed be undergoing borderline depression. I was not in a situation to step out alone so anything that could be done at home was easier.
It helped that they were also offering a free trial session — spending money on mental health after all isn’t something we are used to doing. I signed up very tentatively. I was sure I was creating a ruckus out of nothing and the counselor will tell me what many had told me before — “you overthink too much”.
Opening up to the counselor felt silly and embarrassing. Why was I telling her things everyone goes through? I was after all a happily married woman with two healthy kids and a comfortable life. What could be the issue? I kept apologizing to my therapist for wasting her time since there was no problem in my life and I am was still sad and depressed. She kept telling me I wasn’t wasting her time or mine.
I felt better, more accepted.
Working on undoing a decade long damage; coming out of it one day at a time:
Like any journey the beginning of my healing was tentative too. I was not sure why I was doing what I was doing and what good would it achieve. It did not help that seemingly everything was fine and most people around me thought I was just being too demanding or too cynical. But I decided to go on nonetheless. I had nothing to lose.
I spoke with the therapist about the same things week after week, she helped me derive one little thing from it every week.
One week she asked me to list things I was grateful for, the other week she told me to go out with myself, another time she encouraged me to think of myself as a human and not just as a mother and a professional and yet another time she told me to let go.
It wasn’t as easy as it reads tough and took a long time, a lot of fighting with myself, my conditioning and my thoughts.
Alongside therapy I also started journaling. Since I was writing anyway, slowly and very tentatively, I started sharing my experiences with anxiety and depression with my readers. I started yoga too — something I had always wanted to do but had never found time or reason enough for. As I started to share my journey with others — these were people I did not know and who did not know me and hence I had the courage to open up to them — many, many more stories came out. I realized how so many seemingly happy and content people were suffering like me. A lot of strangers came up to me to tell how my story was giving them courage to seek help and open up about their mental and emotional suffering. This in turn motivated me to do better and work on myself. Eventually I opened up to my friends and family about what I was going through.
Slowly and steadily things started getting better.
In the past 3 years, since I started my therapy and ended it, I have been able to do things that I never thought I could. I have changed my line of work and made a mark in the new field. I am back to my 25-year-old self (mostly) and love how despite anxiety and fear I am able to go ahead with things that even three years ago I wouldn’t have tried. Opening up here is one such.
Mental Health overall in the world and where it stands now:
Stress, anxiety and depression are the three demons of modern times, trapping more and more people in their clutch every passing day. National Institute of Mental Health describes depression as “a common but serious mood disorder that causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working”. According to a WHO report, almost 36% of people in India suffer from some form of depression, most of them young and at the peak of their lives.
Living with Mental Health Issues
Battling with anxiety, stress, and depression can be hard, but it is not impossible. With a little care, awareness, and self-love, you can manage, if not overcome, the constant feeling of despair. How do I know? Well, I do it every day.
Acceptance is the beginning of healing. You can, of course, wallow in self-pity, or you can take it in your stride and move ahead. Mental disturbances are quite similar to physical disorders. They are often caused by chemical imbalance in the brain or external triggers just like physical disorders, and just like any physical disorder, they can happen to any of us — some are affected more than the others, and some deal with them better than others. Accepting it makes a whole lot of difference. So breathe deep, smile wide, and embrace yourself wholeheartedly.
2. Identify Trigger
Most episodes of extreme stress, anxiety, and deep depression are set off by a trigger. The trigger could be an intangible feeling or fear, or a more concrete situation. Is it fatigue or feeling out of control that does it for you? Or is it coming face to face with an unpleasant situation or person that sets you off? Recognizing what triggers the discomfort and despair helps not only dealing with them better but also preventing the feeling to a large extent.
Having someone who understands makes a lot of difference. If you are not comfortable sharing your feelings with immediate family, spouse, or even close friends, reach out to a support group. There are numerous mental well-being communities worldwide that extend help and support. Look them up online, connect with them on social media, or be an active physical member, the choice is yours. Knowing you are not alone always makes you feel better and more confident.
4. See a Therapist
There is no shame is seeing a counselor or a therapist. Thankfully there are multiple options now with online therapy and telephone therapy opening up. So, even if you feel you cannot step out (especially a lot of women and elderly feel so), help is just a call away. Spend time in talking to a few before finalizing on one. You can ask about the therapist’s experience with clients having similar concerns, their training and work experience, etc. This will make you feel comfortable about making a choice. You may be unsure, to begin with, and the experts say that this is fine. There are many online forums to help you with the first step and you can take it from there on.
5. Pursue A Hobby
Doing what you love doing is a great and easy way to feel good. Investing time in yourself is proven to make you feel more positive and happier. Recall a long forgotten passion and revive it. Music, arts, dancing, gardening, philately, travel, writing, poetry, pottery — any of these activities will help you heal and feel positive. Join online and offline communities and connect with people who share your love. Creating something new, even as an amateur, gives you a feeling of accomplishment which goes a long way in ensuring metal well being.
6. Walk. Run. Workout.
Picking yourself up and stepping out for a run is the last thing you’d want to do on a bad day, but trust me, once you have overcome that hurdle, rest will be much easier. Studies have shown that physical activity helps the body produce endorphins, hormones that promote the feeling of happiness and euphoria. According to NCBI, “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.” If running or working out seems impossible, just step out for a walk in the park — looking at the green grass and blue sky will do you more good that you can imagine.
7. Love Yourself. Unconditionally.
We live in times where loving ourselves is not the simplest thing to do. The perfection portrayed in the media, films, and social media makes it even more difficult to appreciate our imperfections and flaws. The trick is to understand that what is portrayed is not always complete and that perfection may not always be possible. Knowing our limitations and capabilities helps us appreciate the flaws in others too. Love yourself unconditionally no matter what, and the rest will follow.
Finally, telling someone undergoing Stress Anxiety and Depression to chill and cheer up is not a solution. If at all, it pushes them to withdraw further. If you know someone who is sad or feels lonely and low, do not ask the person to cheer up. Spend time with them, be around them, and give them time to open up. If you see things worsening, gently talk about getting professional help.