My Journey With Major Depressive Disorder; MDD as an Immigrant
I have been staring at a blank sheet for weeks thinking of penning this down and there's just no easy way to. It’s been almost about 2 years and yet, I can't help but tear up as I go back to my experience, as I go back to those days that sometimes felt like incessant never-ending years
This is a personal, heartfelt account of my struggle with anxiety and MDD (Major Depressive Disorder)
To get into the intricacies of how I felt, you should first know a little something about me.
I am trying to simplify the "oh, but why?” “It seems like you have most things "going" for you in life" "then how can you feel this way"
That's the thing about depression - it doesn't discriminate.
You could be tall, rich, skinny, fit, poor, straight, gay, black, white - IT DOESN'T CARE!
I used to be your regular lower middle class, self-made, financially independent, extrovert, social Indian working outside of India, with a largely positive mindset.
My anxiety and depression came to surface when I was going through a major life change which involved me not going to work. This wasn't the first time I was moving/working in a country outside of home. I think I quite like to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself now and then. This time though sucked out all energy I thought I had.
It couldn't have been the "moving" then, could've been me NOT WORKING? I'd worked for 10 years before that and so when I suddenly had a lot of times on my hands, I had no idea of how to use it. Ever heard a 30 something say that before? I SIMPLY had no idea. I felt lost and hopeless, hopeless to the point that I had lost all sense of self. I have always been a strong-headed personality with a distinct sense of individuality, or so I thought until then!
That's where it ALL BEGAN, and fortunately for me (yes, NO NOT a typo, you'll have to stay with me for the sunshine that came later on ☺), it also pushed me to do so much INTROSPECTION. I hated the over-analysis and the obsession about everything, after a point I was obsessing about hating the obsession - yeah you see where I'm going with this?
Nothing made sense. Every decision was questioned including being born - oh YES! That happened too. Before we get into more details, for my Indian audience, sadly the only picture of mental illness are associated with Agra, thanks to the portrayal of asylums being the only possible place for mentally ill people. Thankfully that is changing now with movies like Dear Zindagi, but I'm so appalled that so many educated people out there STILL find it extremely hard to accept mental illnesses because there is little to no awareness of what they are!
To continue my reference to Bollywood movies, it's a MOVIE where you are both the hero and the villain
There are many many variants of mental illnesses impacting everyone to varying degrees, which also makes it so much harder to understand. I just finished reading a book from Mark Manson, where he mentioned finding measures to absolve you from the internal guilt you feel for simply existing. I realised so many other people feel it too and that I wasn't alone or “crazy” to use that term loosely in this context.
It's a constant battle between your thinking brain and your feeling brain. Almost every day, it was a tie, so neither of them were winning and in the process, I lost myself!
Imagine waking up every morning with a knot in your stomach - you know the type you have before an exam, or when you're on a ride in an Adventure Park? Now imagine waking up with a strong sensation of that same feeling - for me, it was maybe 10x more, some people have varying degrees of this as well - so it includes shivers, profuse sweating, like your body is giving you signals - to protect you from something, except YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT SOMETHING IS.
That feeling is anxiety – the fear of the UNKNOWN and while regular anxiety is good and important I feel, this was SOMETHING ELSE, yet I couldn't recognise it. Every day was the same. Wake up, feel like shit, try to eat a little something, feel like shit, try to do something, feel like shit, apply for a job, feel like shit, wait for the husband to get home and BAWL like a newborn baby.
For the next two hours, I'd talk to him, tell him how I felt - basically LIKE SHIT. This cycle continued for more than a month until he, a few friends and my family sensed something was wrong with me.
The fear of the unknown (which on the outset seemed simply job-related) almost crippled me to the point of no return. I could feel it - losing a little bit of me every day and a part of me watching this whole show like an outsider.
The first and most often the HARDEST step is recognising you're going through mental illness and ACCEPTING you need help.
This is where having a STRONG support system is something I'm so eternally grateful for.
My closest childhood friend listened to me whine every hour of the day, she'd hear me cry over the phone almost every day that I'd speak to her. She listened to every irrational thought that came out of my mouth with zero judgements. My HUSBAND (and I love him for this) very quickly recognised what was happening to me. So he'd read up on it, send me articles and links through the day while he was at work, so I could try any damned thing that helped other people. So he could see me smile again. I kept this largely hidden from my sister and my mother until this point, they will perhaps be reading this part of it for the first time here, but I've always been the strong one, and I couldn't afford to let them in for something I had no idea about.
I did, however, accept pretty quickly that I needed to seek professional help, that talking to my support system and though they tried their best, I couldn't get myself to help myself however desperately I wanted to. I accepted that something was wrong and I'm going to do all it takes to get better. I saw a therapist and narrated this whole ordeal while I couldn't stop weeping, just incessant weeping! It took her less than 20 mins to diagnose me with MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). While a therapist recommends a different treatment course for each patient, mine realised I was pretty much at the deep end of things already. She also asked me if I had a family history of depression, turns out that's a YES and I only got to know about it that day!
Her immediate treatment course for me included medication and yeah I was EXTREMELY apprehensive.
I had many questions for her at that point: Why meds, how long, how would I know I'm better, how did you make your judgement call, why don't people talk about this, what do u mean chemical imbalance, how does my genetics make me more susceptible? What else can I do?
She took the time to answer and explain every single one of them in detail as a good therapist should!
At this point, there was a noticeable difference in who I was as a person, so a few friends reached out - some understood, MANY did not understand. Some thought "I must just get over it". Few very close friends extremely disappointed me at simply the level of maturity shown for the subject. I don't think I've ever felt that helpless and I'm an extremely voracious and verbose person otherwise if I want something I explain it clearly and in most cases I get it!
So, I felt like I was already in a black hole and now with an added pile of crap over it. (Yeah, I’m using a FRIENDS reference here!)
And, for the people who know me, know I've had a pretty adventurous life so to say - I've seen really bad times (relative to the lives of the people I know) with the type of childhood I'd had, with the situations I was forced to face very early on in life and so THIS (handling REJECTION from jobs in a new country) just didn't qualify to be the kind of life event that derails someone to this extent. The perfectly logical side of me didn't think so either - this was manageable I'd say and yet it wasn't!
My therapist repeatedly specified that I didn't have to pin the onset of depression to a particular event in my life. That sometimes it just happens and that is essentially a chemical imbalance in your brain. She insisted I analyse my thoughts to find what was causing discomfort. And so it began!
That introspection led me to dig deeper. I had to – remember. Pile of crap and a black hole 50 feet deep. It was easy to maybe blame a place for it? Or a season? It was winter in Hong Kong then and yes seasonal depression is REAL, so while that may have aggravated how I felt, I knew there's more to it!
So I tried slowly navigating through all that fuzziness. I failed every day, yet I woke up and I tried.
I went through a process of PRIORITISING what I wanted from life, started writing down things I thought weren't going as per "my plan" oh and just then I freaked out because guess what "I didn't have a PLAN"
Life was happening to me and I was letting it!
So, I had to start from scratch. It's like a teaching a newborn baby to walk, crawl, eat, potty train and not cry at every little minor inconvenience, except I was a 30 something adult! Everything was under the scanner - decisions, friends, work, hobbies, relationships, family, future, beliefs, values!
I had to declutter and decide what it is I thought happiness meant and what is going to bring me that. It's HARD FRIKKIN WORK and I'm still a work in progress, but I can now safely say I'm a little glad this happened. Oh crap, okay I can feel my anxiety kicking in while I STILL have this part of my life unanswered.
But, but, MANY MANY good things happened to me when I put in all that work into myself. This might sound clichéd but it's 100 per cent true - you can't improve your relationship with anyone else if you're not happy with the one you have with YOURSELF. Again, on the outset I knew this - Jay Shetty amongst a hundred other motivational speakers are telling you this in almost every post/podcast in one way or another.
I had my goals chalked out roughly, so I knew what I needed to work on.
Some of the things I did:
- Focused on building and finding new hobbies
- Became a Zumba instructor, because I said heyy what the hell, let's try it and see where we get!
- Signed up for a certification course on Nutrition! It's something that I'm passionate about and wanted to formalise my knowledge - before starting a fun venture on it. See @mad_diet on Instagram!
- Started READING (anything and everything). I used to be one of those people who couldn't stick beyond 2 pages, I now read 1 book a week. I read EVERY SINGLE DAY. It's given me a sense of accomplishment that almost nothing else has in a long time. Again, that's maybe because I've always admired well-read people, so I said heyyy what the hell, why can't I try and BE one of them
- Learnt how to cook - thanks to the husband. I can now cook to survive, which I've always felt is essential but I knew I was lacking this important life skill
- Learnt to limit my inner circle to a handful of people that actually, truly care about me
- Learnt that PRIORITISING myself and my needs was not a BAD thing
- Realised how much I love my family. I mean I knew I loved them before, I'm just gratefully in love with them now
- Got back to prioritising my physical health which was largely neglected due to this whole ordeal
Depression almost always ends up in you having a complicated relationship with food, as if I wasn't struggling there already and this THING happened! This photo might help explain why it is SO IMPORTANT to me:
Realised how much working out impacts my mental health and how I feel post that endorphin release.
Realised that communication is my strongest suit and so I must forgive those who can't communicate about uncomfortable situations - I couldn't hold onto anymore resentment to progress with my life
Looked outside of my little bubble to help out unfortunate people in the world. Contributing to the larger community because I can help me feel extremely grateful for all that I have
Sharing my mental health journey with people, because I feel raw and exposed, but also unabashedly free and not ashamed
FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), Anxiety and Depression together are like those triplets. Mid-life crisis for me came in to add more fuel to that FIRE. I don't know about you but I never really liked surprise tests, I'd like to be prepared for an exam. So imagine avoiding all or any issues you're having without getting to the bottom of it and then bam - they'll surprise you!!
This is where identifying my trigger points was extremely important and the most tedious. Some of them were:
- Children (family planning) – want yes, no, how?
- Settling down – what does that mean!
- Friends avoiding uncomfortable conversations – Just an INSTANT TRIGGER
- Disrespectful behaviour – Anyone disrespecting me or my time
- Negative self-talk – Less self-love, more criticism
- Non-compassionate people – My standard of expected compassion in people has increased
- Negative body image – Not meeting fitness goals
- Displeasure when someone doesn't like me – Must people please!
- Misunderstandings - I'll explain and over-explain my point of view to you, to the point that if you've died and you're in your grave, I'll get you out and STILL EXPLAIN! Yeah me!
I have carefully worked on these trigger points to help me in these situations.
I have a long list of what went well in 2018 and a tiny list of what was meh and I intend to do the same this year because journaling has helped with the healing process as well.
Oh there are things I tried, that didn't work - I tried to focus on my breathing and meditate, I haven't been successful at it, but I know I'm going to try again - when the time is right I'll get it! The important thing is to ACCEPT, ACKNOWLEDGE, EDUCATE YOURSELF, GET UP and TAKE ACTION
I'm still a work in progress, I think I will be for a long time from now, but I sleep each day knowing I'm going to be excited about everything I have lined up for the next day. (Oh, I do also have a regular job that takes up most of my time and I am very passionate about it). I'm still in touch with my therapist and we've been able to slowly reduce my medication dosage - I should be off the meds SOON!
I'm not the same person I used to be before this lightning struck me, but I'd like to believe I'm a FAR BETTER, grateful empathetic and SORTED person now, so I think I've successfully managed to kick depression's arse.
Dimple - 1, Depression - 0
I still latch on to my support system when something happens, but I've found my individuality back - HURRAY to that! I put in the work every day to heal and be a better person - physically, mentally and spiritually.
I have lost a few friends along the way and loss of any kind SUCKS, but I had to choose my mental health over anything else right now and it's one of the toughest choices I had to make. My thinking and feeling brain is still a constant tug of war, but at most times my thinking brain WINS! I'm a little afraid of how my feeling brain feels about that, but I'm not going to overwhelm myself and you with that right now ☺
I have, as I'm writing this, almost considered doing a course in psychology because it has had such a HUGE IMPACT on my life. It's such a complicated and interesting subject! And it's still aligned to my idea of improving my relationship with myself - that's what gets me peaceful sleep at night.
Whichever phase of depression or a mental illness you are in right now:
Know that you're not ALONE
There is HELP available
You don't have to take MEDICATION
You do have to ACCEPT what you're going through is REAL
You're probably some form of crazy, but that's not a BAD thing
It's OKAY to NOT have all the answers
You will have to START somewhere
Self-talk is EXTREMELY important
If you or anyone you know is going through something, please take the time to educate yourself and be there for them. Most days that's ALL they'll ask for.
Leaving with you my version of “Because you MUST fall before your RISE”
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