“There are many who live fragile lives and are at the ‘deep end’ — filled with complete darkness and despair. There are the ‘undetected many’ who float in the middle — often experiencing a steady underlying sense of sadness,” writes psychologist Meera Haran Alva. She, like many others, works to help spread awareness about depression. Even as the discourse surrounding mental health and depression in particular, has certainly improved over the years, there still remains a larger lack of understanding about it, People remain in denial and are oblivious, choosing to ignore symptoms out of the sheer lack of understanding of how such a disorder could be manifesting in their daily lives.
It is here that the book ‘Real Stories of Dealing with Depression’, compiled by Amrita Tripathi and Arpita Anand, comes into the picture to bridge these gaps.
The book is divided into the following four sections: Living with depression, Understanding therapy, Motherhood and depression, and Self-care for the caregivers. Each section showcases stories of people who have confronted depression themselves, those who have been caregivers to a depressed individual, and also medical professionals who work with such patients on a regular basis.
Living with depression: Stories of Unnati, Arya, Deepa, and “Anon”
Four individuals share the experiences of their battles with depression in this first section. Unnati begins by explaining to the reader a little bit about her childhood and how those experiences slowly began to shape the person she became. Her battles with depression began long before she realised that something was wrong and it took several years for her to come to terms with it, before she was finally able to accept the help she needed and committed herself to getting better.
“This heavy stigma around mental health is sad. Being treated for these issues is nothing to be ashamed about, because millions go through it,” writes Arya as she begins talking about how battling depression can be a non-stop fight. Her story also introduces the reader to stigma not only from society, but “self-stigmatisation” when the individual remains in denial out of fear of being ostracised or made fun of. After experiencing her first nervous breakdown as the result of academic pressure, she is told by a psychiatrist that as the result of her diagnosis (depression) she wouldn’t be able to lead a normal life, but she proved him wrong and ended up being able to live life to the fullest with the right combination of support, medication, and lifestyle changes.
Deepa too faced a similar struggle. After living in denial for several years, she finally sought professional help, but it took her time to find the right doctor with whom she felt comfortable. It is here that the reader discovers how depression and anxiety can often manifest together.
A fourth individual chooses to remain unnamed and is referred to as ‘Anon.’ Anon struggles with what she calls “high-functioning depression”, a condition with which she has been living for most of her life. Arpita Anand, a psychologist, describes what it means to live with high functioning depression, calling it a form of the disorder, “where the person is able to continue activities of daily living but there is an underlying sadness that can be triggered by stress.”
Anon talks about losing people close to her to suicide and how that played a large role in her seeking help. “I’m just hoping there is someone who reads this and finds some solace and knows that it is okay to feel what they are feeling and that help is necessary in many situations, and that it can come in various forms for you,” she writes, encouraging the reader to be open to getting help.
Understanding therapy (and what it can do for you)
While coming to terms and accepting the diagnosis of depression is the first step, it’s how an individual approaches therapy and takes the step towards recovery which makes all the difference. The section starts with Cognitive Behavioral Therapist Ratna Golaknath explaining how to approach therapy and what to expect in the initial sessions. She also talks about avoiding utilising Google to self-diagnose a mental health condition.
After Ratna, IRS officer Shubhrata Prakash speaks about how therapy can be useful for helping people cope with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). She notes that therapy can help one recognise their own thought process and cut out the negative thoughts to which they have been conditioned.
A common point in both stories was to understand the importance of finding a therapist with whom you feel comfortable. Arpita Anand has listed a few guidelines in this section to help people choose the right therapist.
“I remember lying on the operating table when my husband brought our bawling new-born close to me to look at, even as doctors carried on behind the screen stitching me back up. I tried to block out the incessant shivering and the extremely odd sensation of my lower body being tugged and pulled at, and willed myself to feel love for my child; I felt nothing, except confusion,” writes Prerna Uppal as she speaks of her long standing battle with postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a mood disorder which can affect women after the birth of a child. In some women this may even manifest as anger or frustration towards the child. Several women feel immense guilt because they are “supposed to feel happy” about the birth of their child.
As Prerna recounts her pregnancy and the shift in her mood following the delivery, she highlights and stresses the importance of seeking help. Her ultimate message is simple, “you are not alone, get help.”
Self-care for the caregivers
The burden faced by a caregiver when taking care of someone who is chronically ill can result in mounting stress levels. This in turn can affect the well-being of the caregiver in a negative manner.
“My mother’s clinical depression of four years was triggered by my father’s brain stroke. My sister’s state of mind was also affected by my mother’s depression ... I didn’t have time to think of my own survival — it was all so dense,” begins Sarover Zaidi. She later explains how she sought out a psychiatrist to ensure that she was doing fine. “I was just in the middle of processing so many other people’s illnesses,” she says as she recounts how this made her lose sight of her own well-being.
Arpita Anand explains that caregivers must find themselves a support system to essentially “normalise” their experiences and for the validation that their frustration and feelings are valid.
Mental health is a crisis that warrants attention, though not many understand the serious nature of mental health disorders. The stories of these people who have struggled to find their way through depression truly make the book a relatable read that provides insight into the lives of those who fight these battles day to day.