I struggled with anxiety and depression for the most part of my 20s. Without going into too much detail, from being enrolled for doctoral studies at a top uni in my home country at 21 years, to living at home with my parents for nearly 3 years doing practically nothing (I barely even left the house and talked to people, I just could not do it), it took a lot (from within as well as from those around me) to get myself out of my rut and come this far. And I am not even sure if I am entirely out yet. It is something I have to work on continuously. We all have to. It’s what we call self-growth. What triggered it? I don’t know. Maybe it was a bad breakup, maybe it was the loss of my grandmother, or maybe it was some other “silly” reason altogether. At the risk of sounding paranoid, I will admit that I have a history of mental illness in my family. My great grandmother had anxiety and had episodes of mood swings, so people branded her as “mad” and “crazy” and locked her in a room. She tried taking her life once by trying to hang herself from the ceiling using her saree, so they put her in a robe. She had long hair, so they chopped it too, just in case. But one day, somebody left the door open by mistake, and she ran out and jumped into a well. Another distant cousin jumped in front of a moving train. There is a lack of awareness about mental illness in general, and depression in particular. It is still a taboo in some cultures. I wish that if instead of being embarrassed for them, if we had taken some time to talk and figure out what they were going through, they would live. My point is none of these people (including me) had any visible/tangible problem in their lives. People around us assumed it was just laziness or cowardice to face life. Everything was fine and cozy until it was not anymore. Why I am telling all this is because sometimes there does not have to be a problem in your life for depression to hit you. Sometimes it just does. And it is okay. Even animals get depressed. We have seen donkeys and whales commit suicide.
People like me, who have been lucky enough to have a full childhood can never imagine what it must be to grow up without a parent or experience a different kind of trauma. See, that is the problem with our society that we need to work at. We humans are naturally compassionate beings individually, but when we are collective as a society, we push ourselves to a standard and one-size-fits-all narrative. Then there’s also the stereotypes that come with belonging to a gender, age group or profession, and phrases like “be a man”, “grow up and deal with it”, “don’t be a sissy”, and “other people have it worse”. Ironically, the people who say that claim they are trying to be motivating, although in reality, it does more bad than good to the psyche of the person it is aimed at. But I am hopeful that things will improve as more people warm up to mental illness. After all, it took modern civilisation all this time to come to terms with same sex relationships, equal rights irrespective of gender or skin colour, and recognising the needs of physically challenged persons. This will change too.
That brings me to the second point. While I talk about suicide from depression, there exists an altogether different case, which is also equally important. Suicide from visible life problems, like poverty, abuse, or war (each of which could also trigger depression). I read in the papers about farmers in India committing suicide when there is inadequate rain and their crop failed, so they are unable to repay the loan and they lose everything they have. That’s not depression, it is just inability to counter the severe problems of life. I can see how it can come across as being mentally weak (even though it is not). We all can agree that in each of the above cases, suicide is/was not the ideal solution. I believe the society is a reflection of nature, and if Darwin’s theory of evolution is right, the rule is survival of the fittest. And fittest means both physical and psychological. If you are isolated on an island and your leg is broken, you will not give up and die. You will find a way to fix your leg. Yes, will power during adversity can make us do things we never would think we are capable of. The same applies to mental illness. The key is to believe, no matter how lonely and down in the abyss you feel in your head, there is always a way out. Yes, admit that you are depressed. Your mind is ill, just like any other body part, and it is up to you to take care of it until it gets better. If not today, then tomorrow. Get help if you have to. But never lose hope. To rephrase Kelly Clarkson, if you get through this and are alive tomorrow, you will be stronger.