Let's cut each other some slack.

How understanding my depression and suicidal tendency helped me gain empathy
Blog Depression Monday, April 04, 2016 - 09:10

I have been dealing with a mild form of depression for about two years now. Called dysthymia, this type of depression is mild, but presents itself over a long period of time, with the usual symptoms. I was diagnosed with it only a few months back, and after prolonged procrastination, I finally decided to try medication. What brought the decision home was the recurring, intense thought of suicide and near-attempts.

One night, I was on my bed trying to sleep and suddenly wondered, how it would be to slit my wrist. And that wasn’t my first round of suicidal thought.

The first round, you would have guessed, was to hang myself. I used to stare at the ceiling fan, for several minutes, imagining how it would be if I just hanged. How would the cloth feel around my neck, how is it to feel life whimpering out? Would I shake violently, or would I just snap to death? Will the fan give up? The second round was gunshot to the head. One pull of the trigger and it’s over, I would think.

Later that night, I found myself rubbing the sharp edge of a knife along my wrist in the kitchen. Before I could cut myself, I threw the knife into the sink and plonked myself on the bed and slept. That night I told myself, I need help, and I need to understand this better to deal with it.

There are five stages to suicide, my doctor told me the next day.

The first stage of suicide is taedium vitae. It’s a state of extreme weariness in life, when you are just tired of it. Nothing means anything anymore, and you are wondering if there is any meaning to existence.

The next stage is having a death wish. You are thinking, ‘if only, if only there was nobody to love me, I can just go away so peacefully.' It’s a state of supreme irony. On the one hand, you are feeling so loveless, empty and frustrated at lack of companionship that you want to kill yourself, but on the other hand, the worry of the impact on your loved ones is stopping you from doing it. This is just one of the many ironies which characterize depression.

The third stage is getting suicidal ideas. This is when you think of ways to kill yourself. At this stage, you are fairly confident that you are not going to kill yourself. But the thought is there, every night before you sleep, and sometimes even when you wake up, on those really bad days. I was at this stage now.

The fourth stage is planning – the logistics, the letter, the text messages and stuff you want to do before you do it. Fifth step is attempt. You do it. You die, or you fail. Neither of them are good results.

While talking about it openly is good, the problem with going all out with it in public is that it becomes a whole thing. It meddles with one'sidentity, and blurs lines between what can be everyday disappointments and genuine mental illness, and how people react to it. And the worst part is not how people see it, but how you see yourself after that. Read Sneha Rajaram’s brilliant post on that.

There are lot of things depression is made of – anxiety, insecurity, sadness, loneliness, fear of failure, bad diet, bad lifestyle, intoxication, self-doubt, shame, lack of companionship… it’s a long list.

But there is a triad which my doctor tells me is a tell-tale sign of depression.

You feel worthless about yourself.

You feel hopeless about your future.

You feel helpless about your surroundings.

And as I understood all of this, I realized I was undergoing a major personality change. I was becoming more sympathetic towards others and their problems. And it took this understanding my own illness to understand human nature. Through every step towards suicide, and with every bit of new insight on my state of mind, I imbibed more empathy.

I became so aware of my own problems, and how little clue others had of it, that I wondered, what are others going through? That colleague in office who is struggling with work might not be talent-less or lazy, the person might need some more help and encouragement. Friends who haven’t spoken to me for weeks are not egoistic or carefree, they could have their own issues. The auto-driver is not rude because he is an arrogant prick, it’s not easy driving through the city’s traffic all day. If I, as a privileged, financially-stable male, can have issues, others most probably will, even if I don’t know that for a fact. When people are feeling worthless, hopeless and helpless – they need help, not our judgment.

Someone once told me, the problem with us is not that we are not sensible enough, but that we are not sensitive enough. My depression has made me more sensitive towards others. Whether it is issues of family, career or society, we are nearly not sensitive enough to other’s problem as we should be. Yes, there are liars and manipulators, but even they have their reasons.

And along the way, I also became more sympathetic towards myself. No one can be perfect. Someone I have recently begun to adore told me that we don’t cut ourselves as much slack as we do to others. We need to tell ourselves more often that we are doing just fine.

And perhaps that’s our way out of our miseries – let’s cut each other some slack.

Identity of the author withheld on request

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