Depression: Lessons from Harry Potter

IMG_20170628_010656Here’s to 20 years of Harry Potter! How I love those books! I was in high school when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone first came out but it was only many years later that I actually read the books. I used to make my brother buy me one on my birthday, and that’s how I got my first Harry Potter book. For the first three books I actually waited the whole year to read the next one, but as you can imagine, I couldn’t really stop myself from getting my hands on the rest of them as soon as possible. In the lonely life that is mine, Harry, Ron and Hermione became my friends and I forgot my worries living in the their world, lost in the pages of these magical books.

But how is any of this relevant to depression? I know you’re thinking what could possibly bring these two terms together? Aside from the fact that author J.K. Rowling suffered from depression herself? There is something else. It’s a depressing thought, I know, children’s literature and depression, but I think some of the things from the books can actually help demonstrate what’s depression like.

If anything can explain what it feels like to live with depression, I think it’s the dementors of Azkaban. Yes, the soul sucking foul creatures imagined by Rowling that roam around destroying men by sucking them sad, literally. (I wonder if her own experiences with depression inspired her to come up with them). Living with depression is like having twenty dementors around your head always, sucking the happy thoughts out of your mind and making you live your worst memories and mistakes over and over again. Just like them, depression makes you feel like you’ll never be happy again. And the worst part is eating chocolate doesn’t help.

“Harry didn’t understand. He felt weak and shivery, as though he was recovering from a bad bout of flu; he also felt the beginnings of shame. Why had he gone to pieces like that when no one else had?” This description of how Harry feels after his first encounter with the dementor, when only he seemed to have been affected more intensely than others around him isn’t far from how a depressed individual questions himself.

Another imaginary creature that is very much like the faulty thought processes occurring in depression is the Boggart. That thing Professor Lupin introduces in his defense against the dark arts class, the one that turns itself into whatever the person looking at it fears the most. It wouldn’t be surprising if some of us, like Harry, fear the depression itself more than anything else. I’ve experienced first hand that when I am depressed my thoughts jump to the worst case scenarios that could happen in my life and to everything that can go wrong. At that time, it seems so real that you are convinced your worst fears will be realized. It’s hard to challenge that they are just situations your mind is creating and not reality. And it isn’t Riddikulus at all.

In the book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it’s laughter that dispels the Boggart. In life however, it’s not that simple. When even a smile is difficult to come by laughter seems like an impossibility. But what does help is the knowledge that these negative thought patterns are part of the pathology and only then can one start working towards dispelling them. Just like the charms, it takes practice.

Speaking of charms…how I wish there was an “Expecto Patronum” to banish depression! Unfortunately, the Patronus charm only works on the dementors of Harry Potter. It requires happy memories to conjure a Patronus, which again is unimaginable when all depression is telling you is you’ll never come out of this miserable prison. However, to fight off depression, the equivalent of this charm is seeking help, understanding the nature of depression, what triggers it, what to expect and how to handle it, taking medication, talking to a professional. Whatever it takes to fight off the demon. Even the little things help, like taking a shower, reading, writing, anything that you like because I know how hard even brushing your teeth can get. (I know I sound all didactic here, which is funny because if you had told me all this three days ago, I wouldn’t have believed you, I was in such a crappy state of mind. But I’ve been on my medication for five days now and thankfully I am feeling better and hence able to think of hope and help.)

What I’ve learnt from my recent relapse is that just like with any other chronic illness, I must prepare myself for the long haul. I need to build my arsenal to be able to produce a patronus whenever the dementor comes looking for me and be ready to defend myself against its efforts of ruining my life. I therefore go back to therapy next week as I realize I still have to master the incantations and spells to demolish depression. Until then, I distract myself by getting lost in the magic of Harry Potter.

 

 

 

 

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Depression is not just in my head, it’s in my body too

This is for all those who so easily wave their hand and say ” Oh! It’s all in your head!”. Turns out, it’s not just in the head, depression gets out of your head and into your body.

Although when in the depths of the malady, it’s hard to pay attention to anything going around you or inside of you, yesterday, as I was climbing the usual staircase, I noticed how slowly I was doing it. My body felt heavy and I was taking each step as if it was a huge hurdle to surmount. Now the reason I noticed this was that on any other day, I always climb up and down the stairs rapidly, with my slippers flapping as I spring down. That’s when I also realized I hardly had any movement in my face, just the same sad expression, no reactions, nothing. I haven’t smiled since an entire week.

This got me thinking about the physical effects depression has on you. The lethargy is the more obvious one but there are other more subtle signs. I wanted to read more about the physical symptoms of depression and I found this slideshow  listing some of them. Of all the symptoms mentioned, I have experienced the oversleeping, lack of energy, slowing down of my body in general, change in appetite (this time I am just eating for the heck of it, I have no desire to eat. I am also drinking much less water now that I come to think of it. I’ve had my fair share of binge eating in the past though) and backache.

Reading backache on that list reminded me of how I spent the years 2012 -14 with a stiff back. This was the time when my depression was at its worst and I always had back troubles. At the time I never could have guessed that something so physical could be linked to depression.

Of course, one can always argue that all these are psychosomatic manifestations, however they don’t make depression any less physical, because the body does ultimately get affected. We often tend to think of our minds and our bodies separately, and I think that’s one of  the reasons people disregard mental illness as something purely psychological. They need physical proof that something is wrong. But we tend to believe the opposite with relative ease. It’s often the case that severe physical illness or injury can lead to depression. In this case, because we see a physical cause, it’s not that hard to accept.

As I wait for the medication to start working and the spring in my step to return, I hope people recognize depression for what it is and what it can do to not only the mind but to the body too.

P.S. The symptoms in the head are a whole other story. I’ll write about them when I can think and focus a little better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two faces of communication

“In spite of language, in spite of intelligence and intuition and sympathy, one can never really communicate anything to anybody. The essential substance of every thought and feeling remains incommunicable, locked up in the impenetrable strong-room of the individual soul and body. Our life is a sentence of perpetual solitary confinement.”

I can’t help but agree with this quote by Aldous Huxley, which is ironic as I commit the act of writing a blog, which is essentially a form of communication and an attempt at being understood by strangers. But I must continue.

Anyway, why I chose to write about this tonight is because since a few days I’ve been quiet, not saying much to anyone (except writing blog posts…). Wrapped in the dark clouds of depression, I became extremely angry at my life, myself and at my parents, seeing they are the only ones I can get angry at. As a result, I hadn’t been speaking to them very much except just the occasional nod of the head or the like.

I felt that this lack of communication, which is made worse by the negative thoughts, was adding fuel to the fire. It became a vicious cycle. The more I thought of all the things I wanted to say, the more I felt I would never be able to say them and moreover, they wouldn’t solve anything. So I kept quiet, and that in turn made the situation worse for all of us. But as you might have guessed by now, my mom doesn’t really leave me alone.

She was pestering me to tell her what was going on in my mind. So I gathered all the courage I had and tried to focus my wandering mind to talk to her. It isn’t easy for me to talk to people. It takes a huge amount of effort to take the words out of my mouth. It took me about three hours, but I kind of had a heart to heart with her.

I felt relieved and worried at the same time. I was relieved because I thought I had broken the barrier of no communication but I felt panicked because I knew I had revealed too much of my dark thoughts to her and I had said some things which were hurtful. And the worst part is I don’t really think she understood what I was trying to say. I am left feeling maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

That’s the thing about communication. No matter how carefully you choose your words, you can still end up not saying what you meant and worsen the situation further. On the contrary, not saying anything can feel equally frustrating. Is there a solution to the problem or was Aldous Huxley quite right when he compared human life to solitary confinement?

 

“Why are you lying in bed like that?”

You might have heard people say ‘some days I can’t even get out of bed’. It sounds like people just say that and don’t really mean it. How can someone just lay in bed all day, unless they are really sick. But it’s true, some days you can’t. I’ve spent entire days just drifting in and out of sleep as I literally could not get out of bed. Life seems so difficult and it is impossible to face the world. I wouldn’t even have the energy or the will to get up and drink a glass of water. I would lay in bed, in darkness, alone, not eating and drinking. Just laying with the negative thoughts running in the background.
Since the last few days, the only thing I’ve felt like doing is lying in bed. But what struck me this time was how my mother was after my life to get me up and out of bed. She just wouldn’t let me be. I know she means well and seeing me in this state is intolerable for her. But doesn’t she realize that this is a manifestation of my illness as well? She’s the one who pushes me to go to the doctor and yet she fails to recognize that I can’t sometimes get out of bed and behave normally as she wishes me to. She would come up to my room and constantly cry ‘Why are you lying in bed like that? Why are you doing this? Can’t you see it makes me suffer as well?’ Like I was doing it on purpose.

Just a few weeks back, I got food poisoning and was vomiting non stop the entire day before being rushed to the emergency for dehydration. She didn’t ask me then, why was I vomiting or why was I lying in bed all day? This is the difference between being physically sick and suffering from mental illness. If you are physically sick and lying in bed all day, people would not even give it a second thought, but if you are depressed and lying in bed…well how dare you behave like that! Get up and do something! Lying in bed all day is not normal!

Our minds are already beating us up enough with the guilt trips, for not getting up, for not doing anything, for being lazy, for missing classes or work. So other people reminding you of the fact just adds to the insult. With depression, even I sometimes don’t consent to this behavior, you don’t always realize that the day was just like any other sick day. No sir! the depression will tell you, you are a lazy person, you wasted a day, you are good for nothing! It took me a while to understand this, that it’s not me, it’s the depression.

I know that awareness about mental illness is much better nowadays but even the most well meaning of people still forget that someone with depression is as sick as someone with a physical disease and needs to lie in bed sometimes not because they want to but because their disease forces them to. Just like other sick individuals they need their time to lie in bed and rest. They have all the right in the world to not get up if it is too much to handle.

I don’t mean to blame people or my mother for that matter, I know that it is very difficult to deal with any disease be it mental or physical. But it would be nice if people understood more and put in a little effort to be careful of how they treat someone with mental illness. So next time someone is lying in bed all day, they don’t immediately say ‘Why ?’ but maybe they say ‘It’s okay, take your time.’

 

 

 

Bound to medication

I have a love hate relationship with my meds. I know there is absolutely nothing wrong in taking medication, and moreover they help tremendously. Yet, something inside me always resists against them. I was stubborn and refused to take them the very first time they were prescribed. I had this notion in my head that once you start, you get used to them and then there is no turning back. You have to take them continuously. Well, today this fear was realized.

Of course, I gave up my reluctance and eventually began taking anti-depressants. I also required anxiety medication when I got the attacks, usually at crucial moments of my life when I needed most to be calm. The palpitations were the worst of all. My heart used to be in my throat and my eardrums pounded in unison with my heartbeat. The medication pulled me through those anxious moments, and I am thankful for that.

However, “when would I be able to stop taking them” was always on the back of my mind. I hate to admit it but I felt….I guess I still feel… ashamed of the fact that I needed pills to get through situations which were normal for most people. I felt less of a person. It hurt my pride. So the instant I thought I could, I got off my medication (it was a bad idea). I know it is wrong to think like this and it’s just the social stigma at work (another thing I desperately need to address), but that’s what I thought. Up until today, I had been off my meds for about a year.

Today, I went to my psychiatrist, after a year and a half. I was feeling so defeated. The hospital I go to is located in a rather dingy place and the approach road to it is just a mess. I hated the fact that I had to drag myself and my parents to this god forsaken place again. While waiting for my turn, I could hardly contain the tears in my eyes.

I could hardly speak to the doctor, I cried silently, the words escaped me. So I pretty much didn’t inform her of the new symptoms I had. My mother was there and that was another problem. She worries too much and I can never speak about this stuff in front of her, although the symptoms show and I can’t always help it. I wished she would leave me alone for a while. I was so angry at her.

Anyway, coming back to the point. It was what the psychiatrist said that confirmed my fears. It was along the lines: ‘the medication will have to continue for a long time, or else the depression will just keep coming back’. I knew then that there was no escape and I was forever bound to medication. I will have to take it everyday for the rest of my life to lead a normal life. My heart, which is already broken by the way, crashed a little more.

How I underestimated this battle with depression. How I thought, a couple of years of therapy and medication and voilà I am cured. One bad episode, one bad break and boom…..a full blown relapse. The thing that hurts most is that life will always have problems and I can’t handle life without the Fluvoxamine running through my blood.

As I was buying the pills, which are not to mention, quite expensive, and the pharmacist asked me ‘how much do you need?’, I felt like replying ‘ Why don’t you put me down for a life time supply?’. I accepted the one month supply with a sigh. But then as I was returning home, almost in a phased out condition, I thought why not take the support of medication to ease my existence a little. Why shouldn’t I just keep taking them and do what is important in my life right now, like finish my studies and get a job, without being interrupted by depression and its effects? Why do I have to risk losing out on those things because of this stupid notion in my head?

So I took the first of many tonight. That something inside me might keep revolting, I have to learn to stop listening to it. I have to learn to be okay with it. I have to learn to accept it.  I have to learn to live, bound to medication.

 

 

When relapse stares you in the face

My depression has relapsed. It’s back. There…I needed to write it out for me to accept that I cannot control my symptoms, yet again. Tomorrow I visit my psychiatrist, and wait for my therapist to fix up an appointment. It might be a couple of weeks before I can see her.

Since the past two weeks, I have been trying to evade the fact that certain circumstances have triggered the relapse, that I no longer feel okay, that I cannot control the relay of negative thoughts running through my head, that that familiar feeling of unworthiness, of life having no meaning is haunting me incessantly. I see no future, only darkness, hope seems like a myth, and death seems like the only answer. I am too weak to fight it, all the lessons learnt in the past have gone down the drain, and depression has won.

I was trying to avoid going back to medications and therapy, but I can’t anymore. Too much is at stake, I cannot let the cycle repeat itself. Last time it took me only my entire teenage, college life, and two failed attempts at therapy to get my illness in control. Not to mention that I lost a career and the best years of my young life in the process.

At that time I was a lost soul, trying to make a sense of the world which appeared so strange. What I did not realize was that I was the one with the crooked glasses, that it was my own convoluted brain that was lying to me. It was my mother who picked up on my symptoms of complete apathy towards life, moodiness, lack of energy, anxiety and utter hopelessness and suggested that I have depression. I, on the other hand, never saw them as symptoms. My mom kept insisting that this is more than just a passing phase and I kept arguing that I will change, just give me some time.

I am surprised that even now, when I have the knowledge and the experience that what I am experiencing are symptoms of depression, I am unwilling to see them. I just don’t want to accept that I was weak and I let it come back. The guilt is rising inside of me. I hate to make my parents go through this all over again. Of course, as I write these lines, some sane part of my brain tells me that the guilt is also part of the symptoms.

In 2011, my mom forced me somehow to see a psychologist, but the moment drugs were suggested, I bolted. I did not want to go down that road, I was obstinate. Two more years passed, things got really bad, I started having suicidal thoughts, and I wasn’t getting anywhere. I finally accepted my situation, started seeking professional help. I continued for two years, taking medications, attending the sessions religiously. I got better. In April last year, I felt confident enough to get off medication and I did really well.

But here I am now, back on that same road, with a relapse staring me in the face. Depression is ready to punch me in the guts and knock me over. It has come with new symptoms along with the usual ones. I experienced enormous amounts of anger about trivial issues. I felt such rage that when I didn’t know how to handle it, I cut myself. I also tried to overdose, what stopped me midway was the thought of my parents having to deal with my dead body.

My mood got a little better for a few hours and I decided to write. It was the only outlet available to me. I am surprised at how I even managed to write a couple of posts that I did, because most of the time, I was just lying in bed, listless, tied in the cage of my negative mind, ready to throw in the towel.

I was being obstinate again about getting back into therapy,  the more my mother tried to talk to me, interrogate me, ask me to go to the therapist, the more I shut down, pushed her away and got worse. But somehow, she got through to me tonight and I agreed. This is my first big relapse after getting better and maybe that’s why it was so tough to acknowledge. Relapses are hard, hard to accept and harder to manage, because it means going through that same tedious process.

I begin mine again, tomorrow.

 

 

 

Depression creeps up on you

Now, to give you a little background, I am writing this blog because, first, I always wanted to write one, no surprises there! and second, I did not have anyone to share my stuff with. To be honest, I had gotten used to not sharing anything I was going through and that became normal for me. For many years now, I keep everything in the strong hold of my own mind. But it was a couple of weeks ago that I came across a TED talk by the psychologist Guy Winch called Why we all need to practice emotional first aid (https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_the_case_for_emotional_hygiene) , and I realized that I needed to open up and share. As it has been difficult, almost impossible for me to express myself to others, I thought well why not write about it?

So, here I am, sharing my story, and looking forward to listening to others’ as well. For years I have tried to get myself out there, but the fear, the fear of people not understanding, the fear of being seen as weak, the insecurities, have stopped me from sharing.

In the spring of 2013 I was diagnosed with major recurring depressive disorder, anxiety and OCD. However, I have been suffering from depression since my teens, but I was oblivious to the fact and did not have the courage to accept that it was a problem.

I know to where I can trace the beginning but that would be going too far for an introduction. Staring from my first year while pursuing my undergraduate studies, in 2005, I starting losing interest, became chronically anxious, my grades went down, I felt sad, always. I had no energy and I did not want to take initiative to do anything. I kept ignoring it, reasoning that it was simply my laziness. It came to a point where I became so scared inside, so unsure of myself, that the moment I was asked a question, my heart would start pounding, I would start trembling, and I fought to not let it show, to stop my throat from getting dry. This happened now on a daily basis and finally in my third year, I crashed. I failed my exam, I closed myself up, stopped talking to everyone, locked myself in my room and just started studying to retake the exam. Even then, I thought not of depression, I was too blind to the demon who had bought this upon me. And it would take me another six years to finally accept the fact that all was not well, that it wasn’t just a case of blues, and that I couldn’t shake it off and that I needed help.

A lot has happened since, and I will share more in the next post.

 

Right to your body and hair

I want to cut my hair. It’s my hair, I should be able to do it right? What’s the big deal? NO. As it turns out it is not that simple for me.

I belong to one of those religions in which cutting your hair is forbidden, and though, a lot of people nowadays don’t really follow such rules, in my family it is a very strict rule. It is considered a sin to cut your hair.

I am going through a bad phase in life and I feel like I need to change something about myself to move on or something. I have thin, straight, frail hair that keeps falling all over the house and all I can do with it is tie it in a tight bun. I am tired of it. I want to be able to wear it lose, not put in a restrictive state always.

My parents are very religious and it is unimaginable for them that their kids should do something so outrageous as cut their hair and bring shame to them. I, on the other hand, am past all the “religion dictating your life” crap and I want freedom to live the way I want to. I am talking about the right to your own body and well, hair. Is it too much to ask for? Shouldn’t I have the freedom to keep my body as I want to? Don’t my hair belong to me?

The truth is they don’t because my parents lay claim to it. It’s like their children are their property and they will say what they should or should not do.

I am 30 years old but because of my depression, I made a lot of bad decisions, and I am still living under the effects of those bad decisions. I am in the middle of changing careers since the past four years and am still unemployed and have to live with my parents. So when I gathered enough courage to say to my mother that I want to cut my hair, the reply was something like this: “complete your masters program, get yourself a job, become independent and then you can do whatever you like”. It was infuriating.

The fact that I can do it if I want to, who cares about what the parents say doesn’t quite apply. My parents are very supportive otherwise and I love them too much to hurt them. And I know that cutting my hair will hurt them and their religious sentiments immensely. That is the only reason I don’t do it. I don’t believe in religion or god, but the importance of god and religion have been pounded into my brain since I was a child. I want to shout out to my parents that I don’t believe in it. But I can’t or I won’t.

I am stuck in this dilemma until I can have my independence. The funny thing is though that even when I will have a job and financial independence, I would not be allowed to live on my own. So this remark my mother made has no significance, it was made just to stall me from thinking about cutting my hair.

And that’s why, for me at least or other young people from my religion who are stuck in this kind of a situation, our bodies and hair don’t belong to us and we don’t a natural right to them.