I was a sad child even before I knew what it meant to feel unhappy. My second-grade teacher gave me a ‘could do better’ in the cheerfulness column of the report card. In college, I’d go into hiding for days on end; my friends joked about it a lot. ‘Avantika’s in her cave mode.’ But, depression was different.
To say that it was mind-numbing is a clichéd thing, but it’s a cliché for a good reason. Depression is being unable to get out of your bed long enough to bathe yourself. It is a voice inside your head screaming in pain every minute of every day, while your actual larynx is suddenly unable to produce audible sound. It is a constant state of exhaustion, which stems from an inexorable hatred for yourself, and, everything else and everyone else around you.
A lot of people you know probably suffer from depression, or perhaps you do. You’re not alone — one of every four Indians are depressed. We’re all like:
And we’ve never felt more alone about it. Ironic, don’t you think?
Truth be told, with a 24-7 work culture prevalent in any industry where an employee owns a smartphone — so, all of them — there’s never been less time to dwell on one’s existential crisis.
We just don’t have the time to be sad, which in itself is pretty depressing.
But, losing your job would be worse. Unemployed looks good on no one. I’ve tried it. I didn’t like it. So here are a few ways I forced myself to keep going when I couldn’t keep going.
FIND AN ALLY
I ignored my symptoms for a long time. For six months, I wore in rotation clothes out of a suitcase I had packed for a weekend vacation to Bombay but never had the energy to unpack. More than once, my actual pyjamas were passed off as street style. My unwillingness to dress appropriately was chalked down to tiredness. The fatigue — which started as soon as I woke up — was attributed to overwork. I blamed my lack of focus on late nights talking to my then-boyfriend and then straight up to him when he became my ex-boyfriend. In, short I thought I was all right — just going through everyday lousy sh*t.
Then came my breaking point. I started crying in the middle of a meeting in front of my newspaper’s senior editors and 30 other people. I wish I could say it was out of boredom, but I don’t know what triggered it. Still, like a burp, depression is better out than in.
I knew then I was going through something more than I cared to admit. So, I spoke with another senior editor whom I consider a friend… as much as you can view an editor as a friend. Luckily he had more knowledge about my condition than I did. He understood my struggle. He was kind enough to give me the day off. And, so were my other supervisors whom I told what was happening to me.
If I hadn’t reached out on that particular day, there is no guarantee I wouldn’t have harmed myself eventually. Hindsight being 20-20, that was the path I was going down for reasons I still haven’t discerned. Finding someone who will understand, or even pretend to understand, what’s going on with you is essential for a depressed person. Hearing myself say that I would randomly cry in my car on the way to office made me face how not OK that was in the first place.
It was easy to spiral into a black hole without even noticing it, so — carefully — pick a person who will listen to you and cut you some slack. Also, cut yourself some slack while you’re at it. Depression is a disease, not a life choice that defines you.
Yes, you must get help. Find a psychiatrist, or a psychologist, or both. There are free helplines you can call. I have called a few and seen a few. AASRA panned out nicely for me.
A real ally will also make you get help. The only condition my editor imposed on me in exchange for my day off was that I use it to see a psychologist. I did and took out six months worth of sorrow and anger out at her in thirty minutes. Seeing a psychiatrist also helped because depression is ultimately a serotonin imbalance, and, mostly, medication can treat you.
If you’re like me and hate psychologists because they’re medically certified tarot card readers, think of them as a sounding board for your thoughts. And, hey, if you’re paying her or him, you can be your horrid honest self — which is precisely what the depressed person thinks of himself or herself anyway. To be able to drop that smiling mask you’re probably trying to wear all the time is a necessary relief.
EXPRESS WHAT YOU’RE FEELING USING SOMETHING YOU LOVE TO DO
You’re like, wait a minute, don’t I want to be distracted? Nah, face it. Depression is that cousin that you invited out for one drink, and then you end up spending a weekend at Bernie’s. It’s not going anywhere. It will dissipate and then rear its asshole of a head when you least expect. So, accept it and treat it like a bully who doesn’t yet know what a badass you are.
I know a girl who swears by yoga, another who sews in her worst thoughts on pieces of clothing. I recently saw a project where the person baked break up excuses into sweet goods. That’s a pretty genius and delicious idea to try.
I chose wordplay, because, well, that’s what I love. I tried to be funny because dark satire and observational humorists are my favourite kind of writers. For me, humour comes from honesty, which one can only achieve by accepting all that is happening around you and to you. A depression person needs an outlet. At least, it was what I needed.
These were the memes I made:
They were made secretly so I wouldn’t have to worry about validation.
AVOID SOCIAL MEDIA
The hypocrisy, right? Did you find this post through social media? I posted my memes on Instagram under a (now not a) pseudonym. But, for work, I always had to stay online, break the news, and I single-handedly wrote, edited, managed a website and several social media accounts as freelance gigs (truth be told — and I hope my ex-boss doesn’t read this — I also wrote under several pseudonyms.). But, that is all. It took a while to get used to, but eventually, I posted, or I queued, and I left. Being depressed is enough without dealing with caring about social media interest. I’m speaking from experience, but numerous studies that show the harmful effects of social media on a person’s psyche.
In case you cannot give up the habit, one way to spend comforting time on social media is to look for others who are in the same situation. In doing so, I found tons of hilarious depressed people out there. Sometimes, an ally can be a stranger too. My favourite is @textsfromyourexistentialist on Instagram and @sosadtoday on Twitter, who pretty much just spoke my mind at the time.
USE TECHNOLOGY FOR YOUR BENEFIT
At my absolute low, I worked on this site at night and reported news by day, and managed a small content writing business on the side. Wish I could say that something more than money motivated me, but the fear of being unemployed and broke was what kept me going. I needed the work, as do we all. Reality bites, but at least it makes you jump during moments when you’re overrun by complacency.
For six months, all my meetings, tasks, notes, and calls — anything I did or had to do — was listed on an app called 24me. I use it religiously to this day.
It was not possible for me to remember meetings. I didn’t even want to remember them. I didn’t want to move to go to court to find a story for my paper, the thought of managing my website at the time or keeping up with the other freelance work commitments I’d taken up like content management and marketing campaign writing used to make me cry. Yes, tears streamed down my face while queuing social media and coming up with funny captions or coming up with uplifting ideas that would inspire others.
Sometimes, at work, this was me: (minus the alcohol, unfortunately.)
Not my proudest moments, but honesty = humour = fuck you, depression, you don’t scare me.
Similarly, if you can’t avoid Social Media, use apps like CrowdFire, Plainoly, or Preview to curate your feeds on Twitter and Instagram. You can still put out content without having to undergo (let’s face it) the ultimate-unhappy space that is social media.
There are some things you just have to get done. There are others that you could maybe ignore without beating yourself over it. These are different for everyone. Beauty is not high on my list, so I didn’t wash my hair for more weeks (yea, not even days) than I would care to admit. Journalism and writing are my passions, so I had a system to ensure those projects were completed on time.
Everything I had to submit or post was set up as an alert on my phone. I’ve tried a few apps, but 24me worked for me because it has a procrastination alert. Not gonna lie, I hate the alarm when it beeps ‘hey, look you have an empty slot in your schedule, do you want to finish that work you’ve had lying about for days?’ I am happy it’s there to give me a nudge.
COFFEE, GREEN TEA, ORANGE JUICE, CHOCOLATE, VITAMIN D SHOTS ARE YOUR FRIEND.
Depression affects your diet, and differently for individuals. Some people use food to fill a hole, and others are too full of self-loathing to eat. There were days I didn’t eat a single bite. I’d say, “I forgot.” I went down a few sizes in a couple of weeks. Other people I know eat junk food like it’s not the most readily available thing on the planet. Both reactions are typical for depressed people, and both leave you with little nutrition in your body and tired all the time.
I’m not going to say force yourself to eat or try and eat less. There’s no getting around the symptoms of depression; there is only working with them. Coffee, green tea, chocolate — anything with caffeine will give you energy enough to get through the day. That’s all you need to do: finish the day. Think of your life as climbing one step at a time, one cuppa at a time. It works, trust me.
DON’T HOLD GRUDGES
Here’s the thing about depression: there’s no avoiding the fact that you will become an angry and whiny and a hard-to-be-around person. Do not fault someone if they don’t or cannot take the depressed version of you. Retire that tired Marilyn Monroe quote. It is flat-out conceited to think that a person should love you through your worst to be allowed to be present when you’re at your best.
Even though it does feel like it has, your sadness did not stop the world. Your friends are struggling too. Everyone has shit going on. If a friend or a colleague doesn’t get why you’re suddenly howling like the hound of Baskerville or why you suddenly won’t talk to anyone, don’t write him or her off as ‘unsympathetic’ or ‘selfish.’ They may have a point, and you may very well be insufferable when you’re sad. You aren’t alone; there are funny but no fun depressed people. It’s a disease that makes you selfish, angry, mean, and needy all at once.
But, remember that it is a disease, not your personality. Don’t cut out your friends or colleagues to whom you’ve not disclosed the reasons for your erratic behaviour or even the ones you don’t understand or believe you.
When someone asks me ‘why you’re sad’ when I’m feeling depressed, I usually feel like shouting, FUCK IF I KNOW, BRO. I’D WOULD FIX IT IF I KNEW WHY.
If even you don’t understand your actions, the people around you deserve to be cut some slack. No one is obliged to love or comprehend you at all times. Maybe not immediately, but forgive them when you start feeling better. You’re already going through hell, why burn the bridges that lead back to earth?
I know, this is easier said than done. I’m holding on to 100 grudges while I tell you not to have any. But, I regret every one of them, so learn from my mistakes.
SEE NO HATERS, SPEAK TO NO HATERS, HEAR NO HATERS
It is true: sometimes ignorance is bliss. There will be people out there who don’t believe in the “notion of depression.” There will be individuals who say it’s a rich man’s disease. Only, here I am, depressed as fuck, and I am neither rich nor a man. Ignore these for now. Do not try to engage their ignorance, apathy or ridicule.
If you’re depressed, you will know it as you know about a tooth that’s a year overdue for a root canal. Physical or psychological, pain is pain. If you’re inexplicably sad, don’t let anyone tell you it’s in your imagination, or because you’re privileged or bored.
It is okay to wrap yourself in a protective bubble when the need arises. Don’t be ashamed; depression is a disease, and it doesn’t define you. I know that in the throes of that sadness it’s hard to get even wake up.
But tell yourself this period is just that: a period that will eventually pass. It will not get the best of you.
It took me months to get back to regularly washing my hair, which I did today by the way. Even applied a homemade mask. Boo-yah!
One last depression hack:
CELEBRATE THESE SMALL VICTORIES
Yes, I get excited if I manage to wash my hair every three days for a week even. It isn’t silly. It’s a small victory. It is I mentally and physically beating a disease that also trained doctors can’t figure out yet. Take the wins wherever you get them. Tiny steps will eventually bring you back to health.
This past year has been a roller coaster ride for me. One in which, for a while, there seemed to be no climb, but I finally feel better. These practices helped me a lot. So, I’m coming out of the depression closet and sharing them with you all in the hope that they will help you as well.
And remember to give yourself a pat in the back (or just give us a high-five, TLC is here to celebrate with you.)
If you have more depression hacks, please pay it forward. Write them in the comments section. I could use a tip or two!
Or share your stories with TLC through a DM on Instagram. If you’re shy but have questions about depression and anxiety, email them to us on firstname.lastname@example.org. We will reply, and we will do our best to help you. #SATYAVACHAN!