#5: What It Was Like Being Diagnosed with Depression at 17

“What are you feeling, Dhruv?”

As I sat in that room, there were so many things I wished to tell the doctor in front of me. For months now, I had felt drained and despondent. At the tender age of 17, I often questioned what life had to offer. When my pessimistic thought processes were indulged, life had something to offer – pain and sadness. But then again, that was just me being negative. When I was optimistic, life at best had nothing to offer.

In my personal life, things had never been worse. I was frequently in low spirits and mood-swings were the norm. The aspects of my life that usually gave me joy – playing football, interacting with my friends, reading, and public speaking – ceased to supply that enjoyment I used to crave. Most days, I would lay in bed pondering the meaning of my existence, and when I could not do that I would sit at my study table staring blankly at the books that lay in front of me. I seldom spoke to friends other than a few, and I didn’t feel the need to make an effort in any relationships in my life. This was unlike me because the relationships of my life that I treasured slowly lost their significance, and I did nothing to stop it either.

However, the first thing that deprecated was my sleep cycle. All my life, I have been notorious for my undermining of the importance of sleep (though that doesn’t stop me from napping like a sloth most days.) Usually, I get 6 – 6.5 hours of sleep every night, but during this phase, I wouldn’t sleep more than 3-4 hours (and then, I expected myself to excel at classroom and extra-curricular activities.) Yikes. Consequently, I would be groggy most of the time, and I felt as if I didn’t have the physical or mental energy to cope with any of this. Furthermore, I even began eating less, and dining at odd hours which undoubtedly contributed to strained physical health. The dangerous consequence of suffering from mental health is that it invariably leads to your physical detriment as well. Unsurprisingly, I lost a lot of weight, and I was unhappy with my body image too.

(The symptoms shown below are those that are most commonly exhibited by a person suffering from depression. The first three are the ones that are usually looked for, but if a person is displaying any of the mentioned symptoms for prolonged periods of time, it could be an indicator that they are undergoing a depressive episode. If you believe you fulfill the criteria, I urge you to seek professional help.)

If a person is displaying any of the mentioned symptoms for prolonged periods of time, it could be an indicator that they are undergoing a depressive episode.

At school, I had begun to recede into a shell of seclusion that was sparked by the already fragile situation between my friends and I. In the classroom, I rarely paid much attention, preferring to doodle my thoughts in my notebook that were meant to contain lecture material and discussions. Some people could have mistaken that for me engaging with the class, but they’d be quite wrong. If you were to ask people who knew me from school, they’d probably tell you that I was just uptight or an introvert in my last couple of years in high school. But those who know me well are aware of how much I love social interactions and how I draw my energy from people. Alas, I tried to maintain the façade for as long as I could, but it was exhausting. I constantly felt as if my behavior was under a microscope, and I had to be at my best all the time to prevent any slip up.

Not many people knew that I was suffering this way. Quite simply, I was terrified – I did not want anyone knowing about this. I went to great extremes to keep this secret intact. Be it, lying about why I was in such a hurry to leave after school (to go to therapy), why I was sleeping only three to four hours every night, or why I was in such dull spirits throughout the day – no one could know this dangerous detail. To be fair, I was not exuding the most obvious symptoms of someone suffering from depression (at least publicly), but despite their subtleties, they were noticeable. At one point, there were only three people who knew I had been diagnosed with depression outside of my family, and while this isn’t the sort of thing you would go around telling just about anybody, there were still a lot of important and cherished people in my life whom I chose to hide this from.

Nevertheless, that was the decision I made at the time. The world of mental health was still very foreign to me, and I was far from understanding of it. Until then, I never seriously had to consider what complexities constituted my mental well-being. Whenever I was going through a testing period, I was told that it was nothing more than a “bad phase” or a “bad time” – everyone had such phases in their lives apparently. In fact, there have been times where people have even attributed my poor mental well-being to negative vibes (nazar as it’s so popularly known as in the Indian community.) Usually, I am not one to dispute someone’s beliefs, but for my depression to be attributed to someone’s “vibes” towards me is preposterous. Most of all, I was exhausted. This secret I had been working so desperately to hide was a herculean burden on my mental energy.

It was an easy way to make me feel helpless and remove the power from my hands. It was an invitation for me to indulge in self-pity and unhelpful thinking. Unfortunately, the easiest thing to do is not always the healthiest. It is tough work to tell your mind no – preventing yourself from getting lost in the stormy winds of pessimism and melancholy. But that’s crucial to good mental health – recognizing that you can recover no matter how wretched things seem.

Why did I hide it? That’s a reasonable question to ask. Maybe if I had just been more transparent and sought out help from more people, things could have been different. However, the thing that deterred me most from unveiling this condition I was suffering from was the stigma. The general trend in society is to view anything related to mental health as taboo and forbidden. Especially in South Asian communities, mental health is not regarded with even half the significance it’s entitled to. People who suffer from mental illnesses are viewed with very different eyes than someone with a physical illness. But, they’re truly not that different. Imagine asking someone afflicted with cholera to suck it up; “This is just a phase, and everyone goes through this.” That’s not going to stop you from puking your guts out, is it?

The decision to seek professional help was complex. There were so many factors to be considered. I was the first member from my family to suffer from depression, or at least the first one to openly say it, (not exactly something you would boast about at family gatherings, is it?) As I finally got around to it, I feared I would instantly regret my decision. I felt an extreme trepidation and anxiousness seated in the psychologist’s office. But when she asked me what I was feeling, I let it all go. I decided to be transparent, and I told her of everything I had been going through over the last few months and how it was affecting me. My mother was called in separately as well to explain what she had been observing, and shortly after, my mother and I were called together for the results of the diagnosis.

From what I’ve heard from both of you, ma’am, I believe Dhruv is suffering from depression.”

Instantly, I was bombarded with varying emotions. A part of me sunk. I felt deflated because what I had dreaded the most had become a reality. What would I tell my relatives and friends? Would I even tell them? How would this affect my day-to-day life? How would I get out of this? Would I even get out of this? But a part of me felt relieved for the doctor had only solidified what my family and I had suspected. Now that there had been confirmation of my condition, I could finally focus on moving on to recovery. The psychologist reassured me that though the path ahead would not be the easiest to weather, recovery was not impossible. Before leaving, she requested me to get a blood test done as well to analyze whether my depression could be attributed to chemical imbalances in my body. That was something I had never thought of either, and it is something crucial to note while thinking about mental illnesses. They can be caused by a multitude of factors, which makes it more difficult to diagnose, but it is all the more important that one seek professional help when suffering from poor mental health instead of self-diagnosing.

I left the clinic that day with a sense of dejection amalgamated with a dose of optimism. My spirit shivered at the thought of more trying times that lay ahead, and I wished for it all to be over. My mind was also racing over the decision of whether I should even tell those close to me about my diagnosis and how they would react. Would they judge me for going through this? Would they retreat from my life because they didn’t want to deal with my problems? Would I lose all those whom I loved dearly?

Though these thoughts may seem melodramatic, they aren’t. I’ve had people speak to me about their own mental health issues, even when I haven’t known them for too long, because they could not open up to those closest to them out of fear. The same fears I experienced. Fear of the stigma – what people, including their own loved ones, would say about them given the poor light that’s shown on mental health; fear of persecution – being bullied for their poor mental health and being labelled as weak, insecure, and broken; fear of the unknown – how to tackle this issue without adequate resources and support. So much more. In today’s climate, all of these fears are more than justified.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a wonderful support system in my family and friends. Even though my family expressed their skepticism surrounding professional help in the sphere of mental health, I am lucky beyond words that they abandoned their outdated beliefs and reservations about therapy before they abandoned me. But my story is not everyone’s. It pains me to see that even today, there are several adolescents and young adults suffering alone from mental illnesses simply due to the tainted image of mental health. To further my previous analogy (bear with me here), in the same way you’d rush to the hospital for someone who had a physical illness as serious as cholera and pay due diligence to the patient’s recovery, why not exercise the same concern and approach to someone suffering from depression or anxiety?

It is often the first step which is the toughest. Once you start, you will find everything is a lot better in comparison. So, if you’re reading this and are going through a difficult period mentally, I implore you to treat it with the seriousness it deserves. There are several ways to seek help, and being diagnosed with depression or anxiety is not the end of the world. There is a way out, and there always will be. You are not your diagnosis.

It’s strange – sometimes, memories, emotions, and thoughts appear so clearly. But there are moments when it feels as if everything is obscured by the haziness of past time. As I retell these stories from my past, I find myself fluctuating between these two realms. It is quite unique to anything I have ever experienced. It is fascinating to introspect and examine old memories with the knowledge I have now. But during my depressive phase, I did not think there was any hope for my recovery; I did not see that figurative “light at the end of the tunnel.” I was mortified by the prospect of having to feel like this all my life. As I’ve said so many times already, looking back, I could not have been farther from the truth. If you told me a year ago that I would be writing a blog sharing my experiences with depression for the whole world to see, I would have called you delusional. But here we are. To quote one of my personal heroes, Kendrick Lamar, “Life is one funny motherf*cker, a true comedian – you gotta love him, you gotta trust him.”

“Life is one funny motherf*cker, a true comedian – you gotta love him, you gotta trust him.”

Kendrick Lamar, DUCKWORTH.

Realize that the trials and tribulations of today are the lessons of tomorrow. Every day that you wake is a new lesson waiting to be learnt, and every day you are better than you were the day before. The pain you are experiencing now is ephemeral, and it, too, shall pass, giving way to a kinder and brighter tomorrow. There will be times when you want to tear your hair out, and things might get even worse before they get better; but that is never the end of the road. The road to recovery is not a linear one. It is one teeming with bumps and twists of all kinds. But it is a journey diffused with intrigue and wonder, and that is what makes life so beautiful.

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