It seems strange that I should write about this now, 13 years after it happened. I am not even sure where to begin, since the situation presented itself most unexpectedly. So, perhaps the best place to start is right in the middle of it.
An October day in 2001 dawned like any other and my tired eyes opened to switch off the ringing alarm at my bedside table. The bright display blinked the time, 4:30 a.m., in unforgiving neon. Almost mechanically, I went through the motions of getting ready for work, finishing my morning chores and cleaning the house before setting off for work at 5:30 a.m. This was within six months of being married, so I had all the new-found energy of a young bride. Or so I believed.
The rigorous routine was hacking away at my physical stamina, my mental preparedness and my overall peace of mind, but my stubborn brain refused to give in to the needs of the body. I ploughed away at work, did all the housework and started shunning family and friends who called me up to speak to me. That was the beginning of the silent and deadly Depression and Bipolar disorder that would govern my life for the next year.
It was only when my mom visited me that month that she realised that something was wrong. On a trip to the local jewelry store, I started hallucinating about a person following us and whispered to my mom that people were out to harm my family.
Over the next few days, this progressed to manic episodes where I picked up a souvenir and flung it across the room, threw a chair against a wall subsequently breaking it and left the house in the middle of the night, looking for a mythical person whom I held responsible for all my troubles.
Without ado, my husband,parents and in-laws agreed that help was what I needed and I began a round of medication, psychiatric counseling and therapy to bring me back from the abyss of Manic-Depression. As difficult as it was to answer probing questions and veiled queries by strangers and family alike, my parents and husband did not shy away from the truth. All through the nine months that was my pain, I had the best people stand by my side. At the end, it was a rebirth of the most spiritual kind.
See this photo of us? That was taken a couple of months before my ordeal began.
This one was taken last October.
What’s the difference, you ask? I mean, I am smiling in both photos, after all.
The difference is this: I am stronger now. My journey through the fire of Depression has honed my senses, made me more tolerant, taught me to judge less and love more. In effect, both photographs show that I am happy. But the Happiness in the second one comes from the heart of love which surpasses all obstacles.
Would I go back and change that entire period of my Depression? NO! Both the personas are me: The me from 2001 and the me from today. We exist because we enable each other. She AND I are twin faces of the same coin. Without her, I would not exist today.
Life has been a very fascinating journey over the last thirty-odd years and there are some moments that emerge more triumphant than the others. I count my Depressive episode as one of my triumphs, an achievement that I can proudly wear today after having been through the furnace, so to speak.
Why did I choose to share my story today, after so many years of being silent? In my heart, I believe that the time is now right for the world to deal with Depression in a kinder way. I hope that people will be more tolerant of those suffering from mental illness than they were a decade ago. Most of all, though, I pray that should my daughter or any child go through anything similar in the future, she can reach out to me for help without feeling that it is wrong to do so. If this post can encourage more people to share their stories of pain and unhappiness without the fear of being judged, then that is a positive step in the right direction.
Remember, who you are today AND who you were a decade ago may be two different people, but they are both you. Nothing should keep you from celebrating both with equal fervour; not society, not public opinion, not criticism and definitely no guilt.
I leave you with one of my favourite quotes:
(September 2015): Deepa Padmanabhan, freelance journalist, wrote about my struggle with Depression and how writing helped me come to terms with it in this piece in Live Mint.
(November 2015): I was interviewed by the White Swan Foundation for Mental Health who ran this interview with me after this piece was shared multiple times on social media. Read the interview here.