It is one of the most daunting things to happen to anyone – being on medication for depression, anxiety, or any mental health condition. Despite being 'woke' millennials who know everything and try really hard to pretend to understand new things, normalising mental health medication is the toughest thing one can do, especially in India.
People who I have been friends with for the longest time, the ones who travel around the world, have fancy automobiles, fulfilling relationships, and perhaps least hurting childhood, have shamed me for being on medication, and advised I ‘think happy thoughts’ and ‘not be negative’. Only this time I fail to convince them that being in this state of mind was never my choice.
There are several symptoms of anxiety that can be subjective, but most have a lot to do with the conditions one grew up in. My experience was rather terrifying because I did not know what was happening to me for the longest time. I had my first anxiety attack when I was 16 and thought that something was wrong with my stomach. The attacks increased in frequency over a period of time. I would keep throwing up, locking myself in the bathroom, my throat would constrict and my every breath that came feel like a stab in the ribs. Sometimes I would cry for hours at a stretch. It would pass but come back again the next day.
Over the next few years, I learnt to maneuver my way around these anxiety attacks and nervous breakdowns, but never fully succeeded in driving them away. Disturbances at home would act as a trigger, so would confrontations with friends. Gradually, it just became this gnawing pain I lived with. Sometimes, it felt like death would be a welcome change in this.
The only person who managed to keep me sane through this passed away two years ago. And perhaps that was all I needed to go to a therapist. It was when I was inflicting self-harm and planning to end everything when I went and saw a doctor.
I realised I should have done this long ago, had it not been the kind of taboo that I lived with, around people who thought depression was a myth and called me a weirdo for having panic attacks. I do not blame them. Even I believed that at one point.
LITTLE BLUE PILL
Taking medication was a major step. The taboo of tablets was a major hindrance even for me. I was struggling with grief, self-acceptance, and most of all dealing with the fact that I had a mental health condition that should have been acknowledged a long time ago. It was so hard to wrap my mind around this – a pill was going to make me feel okay. I had my doubts – I could get addicted, put on a ton of weight, be drowsy all day, and be called crazy if I ever told my friends. Except for the last part, none of the other things happened. When I told my friends, I was repeatedly told “pagal hai kya?”, “be positive”, “keep smiling”, and perhaps the worst of all to hear was “it is all in your mind” Umm, of course, it is in my mind! It is full chemical locha in my head. If our friends are like this, imagine leading a dual life at home where you are forced to hide things from your family because again, if friends react that way, how would parents?
I held the pill in my hand staring at it like it was some alien object, the first time I had it. Little did I know that the little blue pill was going to change my life. Yes, the first few days I struggled with drowsiness. But after a month, I wanted to go out. I wanted to read books again. I wanted to watch movies again. I WANTED TO EAT AGAIN!
WHEN THE SUN SHINES
After researching about the medication and the dosage I was on (habit of being a journalist, I’m afraid) it became clearer what my doctor was trying to do. Imagine someone stabbing you in your gut every morning. It takes you an hour to convince yourself to get out of the bed and go to work. It takes days of convincing to make one phone call, run simple errands. And one day, it stops. And it was never a miracle. It was a choice. Nobody cares if any one of us is suffering so much, they only judge on the basis of their knowledge and experience.
Today, I share this because I know a lot of are going through what I have. Yes, it is a ginormous step to start antidepressants. But I want to encourage you, ask you to hang in there just for a little longer. Imagine you had an accident, and used crutches for a few months (been there too, btw. That’s a cakewalk compared to anxiety). Nobody is going to come and tell you hey! You are a failure because you use crutches and that your leg hurts because you are a negative person. Everyone needs help, and sometimes that comes in the form of a little blue pill.
According to a report by World Health Organisation, India is the 6th most depressed country in the world as per their study in 2018. So remember that you are not alone. Be kind to yourself, and seek help if you think you need it. There is always someone you can talk to.
When the sun shines, I want to go out and live, unlike a few years ago when I would cry about the fact that I was incapable of enjoying even on a day as beautiful as that one. I do not just get through the day anymore. That’s the thing! I do not have to! I have the choice to keep my mind fully healthy and functional! If having a single small pill every day is what it takes to keep me a healthy, fairly well-adjusted, moderately funny, self-assured and a loving person, I have no shame in admitting that I take medication.