Dr, Vijayshree Patil
My mental health journey : Part 1
A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depressive tendencies - the two often go hand in hand and are the most commonly diagnosed/prevalent mental health conditions in the populace worldwide. This diagnosis came on the heels of some major transitions in my life (turning 30, moving countries, preparing to get married, a career shift from salaried to freelancing). The magnitude of changes was too much to keep up with, and soon small worries and doubts turned into crippling anxiety and an overwhelming sense of helplessness and gloom.
I had my first major depressive episode when I moved abroad for my Master’s degree straight after college. The combination of low sunlight, a confined ground floor studio, increased isolation and adjusting to an alien culture did me in. I spent hours locked up inside, staring at a blank wall and wailing or writing down my persistent dark thoughts in a notebook trying to make them go away. I thought I was going completely “crazy”.
Luckily, I had the self-awareness then, and at numerous other times in my life to seek help, which is something that not many people do due to society’s stigma.
During my first depressive episode, I went to a medical doctor and procured vitamin and mineral supplements to target the symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which causes depressive symptoms due to lack of sunlight. My second and third depressive episodes came after some bad heartbreaks, and I dealt with those by talking about my feelings and trying to understand the situation with friends who were either qualified psychologists or friends who were undergoing therapy themselves. The next episode came following a job loss, which I coped with by turning to creative writing as a form of healing. Finding a community of like-minded, sensitive individuals went a long way in making me feel less alone and giving me the confidence to find a new job. Unfortunately, a few years later I went through a traumatic incident and then had some physical difficulties that compounded my ability to recover. This is when I realized I needed to seek the help of a professional therapist.
Looking back, I often wish I had sought help sooner. Every one of my depression/anxiety episodes had followed a usually negative event, and so I assumed that my reaction had been “normal”. I had stayed “strong” for too long, while all these events had piled one on top of the other in my psyche that had worked overtime to “keep it together”. In the end, like a rubber band stretched too thin, everything snapped and I was left to put together the pieces. Soon, even positive life changes became a trigger to negative states. For instance, I became very anxious at the thought of going to a workplace and being surrounded by new people after the move, even though I was well qualified for the job and I had been offered it instantly after only a single interview.
Due to my mindset at the time, I minimized my positive qualities (my capability to handle the tasks, my years of experience, the number of times I had adjusted to a new situation in the past decade) and amplified all the negative points. I worried what people would think of me, I felt I needed to know everything and was afraid to ask for help, I struggled with the working styles in this new culture and often found myself in tears at the end of each day due to the psychological effort it needed not to let my anxiety show. When the assignment ended, I was more relieved than happy at the experience.
Finding a good psychiatrist and therapist is a challenging, though not impossible task. It is extremely important to see somebody who will not judge or stigmatize you (social stigma is crippling enough as it is), who is qualified, sensitive, and with whom you can build a relationship of trust. Confidentiality is of prime importance-you must be sure this person will not reveal your private details to anyone, including your loved ones, without your prior consent (unless of course, your condition warrants an emergency call).
There are a host of therapeutic techniques out there – CBT, REBT, Behavioural, Psychodynamic, Somatic, Mindfulness, EMDR and more – and so it is important to try out different approaches until you find the practitioner and the method which suits you. The mind is a complex organ, and each person is different in how they respond to various techniques, so persistence is key. I’m glad that I stuck it out and was stubborn and self-aware enough to find the help that I – as an individual – needed.
Medication can help with severe cases, but there are a host of other treatments/behavioural shifts that work wonders. Regulating hormone/vitamin/mineral levels, regular exercise, fresh air, a balanced diet, creative expression, meditation, mindfulness, yoga and breathing exercises go a long way in managing mood disorders. Therapy has armed me with a host of ammunition to weather the storm.
A picture taken by my professional photographer at my wedding ceremony was captioned “the happiest bride ever.” I saw it pop up on social media in the midst of a deep depression post the wedding (and, ironically, almost laughed at the absurdity of it). The fact is, happily ever afters are not easy or straightforward to anyone who struggles with anxiety or depression. For some of us, they are the result of sheer hard work and sticking it out through the dark clouds. The journey is hard, but if you take your mental health into your own hands and seek adequate help as and when needed, it definitely pays off. I dream of a future when seeking mental help is not any different from visiting a doctor for a flu or a stomach illness. That’s how normalized it should be.
Guest Blog Credit : Amruta Prabhu
She is a freelance French-English translator, amateur photographer and film critic.
She shares her travel photos and musings on mental health on her Instagram account @amutedstory and writes about cinema on medium.com/amrutaprabhu