This piece has been written by Anonymous.
Trigger warning: Mental illness and depression.
I belong to the – now unacceptable among the liberal circles – group of people that is annoyed by the refuge the urban middle class takes in, illnesses like clinical depression, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, ADD, OCD etc. Mind you, I don’t think they don’t exist. I just think they’re a. over-diagnosed, b. definitely over self-diagnosed, and c. promoted by the oversensitive liberal media as some sort of a common thing from which a very large proportion of the population suffers. In fact, I believe that most people who claim that they suffer from one of the above are actually, mainly, hypochondriac. One can trace a pattern in their medical behaviour without much difficulty. “I’m think I’m running a fever, I’ll get myself checked for flu.” Or “I have a terrible back ache, I think I’ll get checked for arthritis.” Try to sleep the fever off for a day, maybe. Or, exercise?
I sincerely believe people need to toughen up a little. I still remember my 10th standard English teacher making fun of us for wearing sweatshirts to school on days when it wasn’t so cold. “You’re all becoming too…pampered,” she had said. Naturally, I found it amusing that she couldn’t come to terms with the fact that perhaps, not everyone felt equally cold or hot at a given time, or the fact that the choice to wear a sweatshirt when they wanted to was a personal call. But as I got rid of my sweatshirt in that third week of a not-so-cold November, I saw where she was coming from. I realised, for the first time, that my choice was influenced more heavily by whether or not the others donned it to class during a season.
And as I grew up, I began to notice a very similar ‘bandwagon effect’ at play in areas such as mental health. Far too many of my friends started saying they were depressed and proceeded to get their depression certified by qualified doctors. Some others began to defend their lack of interest in academics that they and I shared (because of the great school education system in operation) by hiding behind ADD and ADHD – “I have problems remaining focused for too long.” “I used to be hyperactive as a kid, always jumping, running around.” Okaaay…?
I clearly remember being a hyperactive kid back in my school days. I was the kind of person who played with kids much younger when the kids my age decided to divert their time and attention to their stupid pre-boards. As I mentioned earlier, I really do not dispute the fact that these illnesses exist. I do resent the recourse that a lot of my friends seem to be taking in such conditions, certainly in private, if not openly.
And yet, despite all my convictions on the mental health rhetoric, I cannot deny that there is something wrong with me. Over the past few months, I have become half the person I used to be. I cannot get myself out of my bed unless it’s something absolutely important such as going to class, eating, peeing, meeting my partner, going for a committee meeting, etc. And this inability (read: “choice not”) to engage in any productive work now dictates my lifestyle in many ways.
For instance, I make conscious efforts to do my grocery shopping right after class, on the few days that I can remember, on time, what I have to do (ADD?). Sure, one reason is that the Acad is just closer to the shops in Nags and you may say I’m overanalysing. But I think I know that my choice is more of an acceptance of the fact that once I enter my room, I probably won’t get any work done. Yet, none of these, even taken together, were strong enough to frighten or upset me seriously.
The final straw that broke my back (and caused arthritis haha) was my newfound love for darkness. It was midway through my vacations that I observed that I had stopped switching my lights on. Completely. Thanks to eBooks – and WhatsApp and Facebook that keep me from reading eBooks – I didn’t find it all that hard to manage without light. If I wanted to look for food, flashlight. If I wanted to look for that favourite pair of clothes hiding under the other clothes or the bed somewhere, flashlight. But, most of the times, not even that. I’d just rely on the existing sources of light, such as, say, the lighting on the street seeping through the window, or the CFL in the other room that my housemate almost always kept on.
In this darkness, I would stay in my bed for hours together. On most days, my battery would die, and the charger was too far away. I spent those phoneless hours thinking, unintentionally, about everything that I cared about, which translated to everything that made me sad – from petty things like academic integrity to bigger things like what role I could play in striking hard at oppressive structures. But the thoughts were always, always, quite depressing. They ranged from how people cheated in exams, how it sucked that I had resorted to scamming my projects, to how sad it was that AMSS split into CAM and SAM, how Priya Pillai was ‘offloaded’ from a flight in Delhi. And regardless of whether or not these thoughts shook me up, one thing they did quite effectively was that they kept me hooked to my bed.
Just as I thought I was getting better, 15th November happened and it really set me back by months. I could not help but feel insignificant and trapped in a circle that I felt like I had never intended to get myself into. I thought of all the times I had thought about jumping off my balcony, even momentarily, during my JEE preparation. Of the times when I felt like I’d be much better off smoking at the circle than working on my projects on the last last day. And of all the times that I masturbated not because I was horny but because I did not know what else there was to do.
But the only thing that gives me hope and the energy to work and be happy (which I am on most days, these days) is that these things can be overcome. That even “clinical depression” is different from piles or dengue which, I believe, a person cannot overcome (at least within a desirable time period) without medical help. I could really do without the “have you been to the counselor” because I have and I feel like my bed understands me a lot better. And I also know that you, you, who tells me that I need help, you have been here. And I would just like to tell you that sure, it is a problem, it is very real, but elevating it to the level of other diseases harms us individually by taking away the strength that, I believe, some of us take in knowing that it’s something that can be overcome.