Trigger warning: This article contains material related to suicide and mental illness. Discretion is advised.
I sat in a psychiatrist’s room at one of Delhi’s best known mental health facilities. Surrounded with drawings by children, most happy-looking pictures, I told the doctor my ‘case history’. As a health journalist I had done enough stories over the years to understand the importance of including everything, to maximise my visit and my treatment. I was determined to stay in control.
‘Anorexia’ she jotted down, with a few more symptoms. Even as she wrote it down, I wondered if I should reiterate that I had it in school — at 17, when I believed I was fat. I wasn’t. I want to tell her that while I had always had a bad relationship with food, the anorexia had never recurred. Like most people who don’t speak up because they assume they’ve got it wrong, I let it be.
On every occasion after, when she’d spend about 10 minutes with me, she’d ask how I was doing with my anorexia. Every time I would tell her it wasn’t a concern at the moment. I wanted to say I still felt fat, binge ate, but from someone at their ‘ideal weight’ I felt I was wasting her time. There was always a crowd outside her door with people spilling in, and their concerns seemed more urgent, more serious than mine.
She prescribed me pills — SSRIs — meds that give depressed people a ‘shot’ of serotonin, one of the four happy hormones. I was diagnosed with dysthymia, a chronic, long-term, mild depression. Its equivalent to a physical health problem is this: imagine if you had low grade fever every day for over two years. You learn to live with it, telling yourself you have to dress up, work hard, pack lunch, socialise.
I also had thoughts of suicide, and was told strictly to come in to the hospital if I felt the urge very strongly. I said I didn’t feel the urge strongly. It was just a recurring thought. Nothing more. A sort of mental getaway when life felt overwhelming. It often did, three years ago. Sometimes, it still does.
I was also ‘handled’ by a psychologist. She helped me some. So did the meds. With both, I was able to see in time that sunshine, healthy food, and exercise — and if I could combine them, exercise in the sun — helped me more than anyone talking to me about flawed thinking patterns (though an awareness of this helps).
I now also understand that we all have choices — around the way we react, the memories we hold on to, the grudges we nurse, the friends we keep. The anxiety still rises to my throat — it’s a feeling I realise I have lived with through life. Imagine being in a fight or flight stage for a lot of the day, across years. This pattern is going to take time to get out of; my wounds will take time to heal. But I know I must heal. Life is long, and it’s best lived with a bit of fun.
I do tell a few people that I have experienced dysthymia, but I am careful about who I tell, lest people judge me, as being an unworthy mother, an undependable colleague.
For those I can speak to, I say that there are some days I don’t want to get out of bed, when I don’t want to speak to anyone. On those days, I still put on a dress, some kajal, smile at myself in the mirror and step out. Because there’s always the sun, and it invariably shines through the clouds.
The writer wishes to remain anonymous.
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