Musing

What is High Functioning Depression?

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One term that has stuck with me for a while now has been ‘bastardise’. Funny, you would say. But, I think it is an important idea (if not the term), to keep in mind when speaking about anything that is a trend on social media – feminism or mental health awareness. I use the term bastardise because thats what I feel bigger media houses with corporate money end up doing to ideas that mean something fundamental. Remember the ‘My Choice’ video? Yes, thats bastardising feminism and women’s empowerment with a  few token women from rural India making it to the cut.

Anyway, I have been fearful of bastardising the depression and mental health for the fear of making both too trivial by writing about them. After a lot of thought and encouraged by a campaign #LetsTalk by Youth Ki Awaaz, I decided to write about it and see how it comes out. I was sure that if it was crappy, I will not share it. However, going by the numerous people suffering from anxiety, depressive tendencies, mood swings and depression, as a writer and a survivor of depression and anxiety, I felt it would be terrible to not share to maybe, bring light to an issue that I got aware of only when I found myself suffering because of it and hopefully, this would help the reader understand what they or people around them could be going through.

The original post can be found here. Sharing the same below:

I believe that the scenario of mental health awareness in India is much better than it was some seven or eight years back. Depression and mental health are finally being recognised by celebrities and public figures – Deepika Padukone, the founder of The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLF), being a prime example. Some of them have even opened up and provided first-person accounts of their struggles with depression. Using a first person narrative, I would like to focus on the issue of perceptions of mental health and depression through this piece.

I had first shown signs of mild depression when I was a student. Even while suffering from this, I fulfilled the roles of a daughter, friend, classmate and student. During this time, only one friend (whose boyfriend is a psychologist) expressed concern about my well being worried that there was something up. It’s not that I had stopped eating or studying. It was just that I had started suffering from a lack of concentration which was a rarity in my case. I was okay at most times but, as soon as I found myself alone, my state of mind would just dip without any certain cause. I also took to smoking regularly whenever, I would be in a dip. That also embarrassed me and made me feel ashamed and guilty as I really didn’t want to smoke but, felt that that was my only escape. Whenever I could hide from the world, I would smoke a minimum of three cigarettes.

I questioned myself and tried to understand what had changed over the year. I constantly asked myself what was happening to me and why I felt that my life was worthless, whenever I was alone. I set out to understand what was happening to me. When I googled the cause for everything I was going through, I realised that I may have been suffering from depression. Surely, I could not fall into depression, right? If I was, then how was I studying, eating and being a friend and daughter – all at the same time? Didn’t people say that being depressed meant being completely non-functional? I immediately shut my laptop and brushed the possibility aside.

Rain ☔️ Inspired by a series of artists' portrayal of what #depression looks like. I'm sure most of us have experienced depressive moods at a point in time, or known people going through it. You can check out the series on @boredpanda. Prompt for today was chosen by me. Met people who are really living with dark clouds hovering over not just their heads but, filling up their hearts. The more number of newer people I'm meeting these days, the more I feel that the national data is too, too low about the number of people suffering from this. I've seen it around in more ways than one and can only say that there's always hope, even in the bleakest of situations. Even when you're in that dark space in the recesses of your being, you will come out of it. From my personal count of people, 7 out of 10 suffer from depression or anxiety and you're not alone. Talk to someone, eat well, paint, create something or go to the therapist if you want but, know that you'll come out sooner or later. Please don't give up. #rain #mentalhealth #india #wellness #hope #art #artist #illustration #ink #sketch

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Another year down the line, I got a job and moved to a city where I suddenly found myself all alone. Moreover, this experience proved to completely different from the five years I had spent away from my home and parents. I was now an adult, but I had no friends to lean on to in a city which was completely alien to me. Here, I was hit by another bout of depression and anxiety. I used to be on top of my game at work, where I used to laugh and talk with my colleagues every day. However, in the evenings, I would sit quietly in my room doing nothing.

Gradually, I lost interest in reading, writing and other activities. Cooking also became too big a chore for me. It was around this time that I also sought help for the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) I was suffering from. Since it was homeopathic, it focused on working with the psychological causes of my hormonal imbalance and helped me get better even though I was still in denial of depression.

I was lucky to have found some beautiful friends and a life philosophy, which started pulling me out of my depression somehow making me feel that I could do it. Today, I can say that I am completely okay but, it has taken my acceptance, understanding and efforts to not succumb. Of course, there are days when I find myself in a low, but, I am now able to bounce back.

The reason why I decided to share my story is to highlight a few important things about depression and mental health. The first point concerns the demystification of depression. When one talks about depression, one usually associates it with something as blatant as madness or something akin to a disability or dysfunctionality. These are the reasons why I denied that I was suffering from depression. The taboos of societal perception of depression made me fear being looked down upon or being non-functional in society. We forget that there are degrees to depression and even if it is severe, it always has a cure – it is not a disability.

The second topic that I want to talk about concerns what is known as high-functioning depression. I came across this phrase only when I was out of the pits. In my opinion, people suffering from ‘high-functioning depression’ are more prone to danger and high in number, because of society’s lack of acceptance and their own lack of an understanding of depression. I feel this is very dangerous because it bottles up issues (which should be addressed) due to misconceptions or shame. Over time, these bottled-up issues can turn into ticking bombs!

In order to resolve a problem or to cure an illness, diagnosis is the first step. Even in cases of severe depression, the first step towards healing is recognising and accepting the reality of depression. Of course, the struggle is intense what with the small numbers of professionals understanding of the issue and even smaller number that continues to understand the reality of the person suffering from it and work with them with the conviction that depression is curable, it is just a chemical imbalance. However, I feel that there have many discussions on these topics. The reason why I chose to speak about high-functioning depression is because it is a side of depression and mental health that is rarely discussed, but is regularly affecting more Indian youth like me.

I say this because when I was going through the phase, I did not recognise and identify what I was going through. A lot of my symptoms would show in spurts on a much lower scale. Back then, I used to feel that it was just another struggle in my life, and that was all! During the days when I used to be really low, my mind would only interpret it as one of those days on which I would have to struggle through, trying to find a ray of hope.

The gravity of it all struck me when I shared a little of my past struggles with a friend and colleague of mine, over lunch. After listening to me wide-eyed, he responded with a tone of surprise, saying that he could not believe what I was going through, while being an excellent worker and interacting with my colleagues as if I had no troubles in life.

In retrospect, I think the other factor that contributes to this not being recognised is the depravity perpetrated by social media and other means of communication. I am not against technology or the amazing facilities of Skype or Twitter. However, excess of anything is harmful. This is also true in the case of social media and other means of communication.

Today, in the bigger cities, people tend to stay in offices during the week and then hang out with friends or stay in their homes during the weekend. In such a setup, face-to-face conversations are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Friends now mainly talk over WhatsApp or Facebook. Every social outing is checked in on Facebook and then posted on Instagram.

With such a culture and the increased migration of youth to bigger cities (for work) – possibly without friends or families at close hand – social media turns out to be the sole means of communication in many cases. Psychologically, social media is linked with instant gratification and happiness, which fizzles out once the phone or app is switched off. It is no wonder therefore that people with depression isolate themselves even further when they see people posting happy-making pictures on social media. For me, it was easier to be proficient at my work, because I didn’t have to divulge my worries and emotional issues to the people around.

I think it is important to not brush off people’s worries or emotions as nothing. In fact, such an attitude only decreases the self-respect of such people. Getting brushed off by a friend or a senior can only increase the sense of isolation and self-hatred in people suffering with depression, which can spiral even further.

One also needs to be aware of issues concerning mental health to recognise people who are silently suffering from depression. I would urge all readers to read up on depression and not base your perceptions on what you see in films or hear from other people.

Generally, we tend to normalise depression in a manner that belittles the victim. On the other hand, we also portray depression as a horror that one should be excessively aware of. I think both perceptions are equally damaging. The more informed we are about depression, the more we will able to help people cope with depression, and also demystify it in the process.

Daily doses of sexism

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There have been way too many times that well meaning male friends, co-workers etc. have given me the “not all men” logic when talking about sexism. One in particular, I remember giggling at the mention of the term believing that too much education has damaged my brain. Typical, right?

This morning and evening, I experienced the typical on road sexism of women can’t drive in very unique ways. This came about when I read the following quote by an early Japanese feminist this morning:

“In the primordial age, woman was once the sun.” – R. Hiratsuka

As this further goes on, she says that woman has been the moon for too long, the moon that takes its light from the other and has an ashen pallor. Reading this made me question and hunt parts or instances of my life where I might be the moon? It was a strange exercise ’cause after a lot of work, I did believe that I have overcome all conditioning of patriarchy meant for my sex and I could start afresh.

One example of being this moon is in making way for others before the self – be it entering a room, be it exiting or even driving on the road. Now, I have known a few men also like that but, they are not totally perceived as masculine in the society and that becomes a bane for them too, bringing in a strange sense of denial of everything masculine. As far as I can remember instances in my life, even while getting out of a rickshaw, I would apologise to the rickshaw driver for taking a little longer to whip out the money but, be angry at the car behind to honk. A couple of times, I got a warm, “don’t worry” from them. My reason? I dont want to be an inconvenience for anyone and wouldn’t entertain another person be one either. I felt it was balanced that way until I was told by a friend that I tend to wait way too long to cross the road and that the other cars can manage their own business. Sigh. Didn’t know this is where my moon shone.

Anyway, so today, I brought the Sun out in almost full blazes. It started first with a man at the petrol pump. As I got ready to turn the key and scoot off from there and the gentleman waited in the queue behind two others, I hear him loudly ask me to move ahead, when in my moving ahead and him immediately gurgling the fuel down his throat tank were totally not related. I know one could say it was a sign of impatience and it very well is but, my question is what made him believe so naturally that he has every right to ask me to do anything and not any of the five others (all male).

On a lighter note, let me self doubt like a ‘woman’, why did he think he could ask me to move as if I was planning to set up camp there? Did I seem to have set up camp there? Oh no.

Anyway, after this, I encountered the silent ‘women can’t drive’ attitude. As I was driving, I could hear a strange whirring sound. Since I could not see anything up until the end of the road in the rear view mirror, I presumed that my engine was a little wonky and must be checked. As I turn some 200 m away after having given the signal, I am suddenly faced with this wiry chap and a lady on a bike. THAT was the whirring source! Taking a recap, I was turning right, had the indicator on and was in the middle of the two way road leaving the entire road on my left free for anyone to go straight (where Mr Wires was going) and the dude decides to overtake me from the right just when I turn. While I know idiots abound on the road, what was the highlight of this incident was the man’s attempt at scaring me by giving me a murderous glare while the woman in fear and panic continued to apologise eventually whacking him on the shoulder as he tried to go ahead while bike brushed against my foot. While I was in full control, I could not stop being angry at his stupidity nor could I say much for the sake of the panicking woman behind him. At the end of it my head buzzes only with questions – what is it with men like these? Classic examples of “women can’t drive” road sexism? Classic examples of cowardice and egosim to simply not admit to one’s stupidity and move on? Where does this conditioning for idiocy and childishness begin?

Sigh, men. You make me wonder how old the child within you is.

PS – Dont want responses of “not all men”. I know, I know!

Lure

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The sea my seductress

The sea my lover

The sea is my mother

with a womb deeper than the universe.

I’ve been standing on the edge,

waiting,

as she waves her tresses.

back and forth, forth and back,

tempting me, teasing me,

calling me in

binding me in her charm.

Slowly, dangerously,

she laps up at my feet,

chipping away on my ground, bit by bit.

Shining, glowing, smiling in the moonlight,

almost taking me home,

only, to go back alone.

Home

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Home

Have you been home lately?

That place… do you remember?

where winter afternoons were spent 

basking in the golden glow of the sun

as trees danced a shadowy dance.

Where summers were spent in the 

cool recesses of the shade that home provided.

Where every time the skies poured, it felt like 

the clouds too, were party to this bubble of happiness.

You have been, you say?

Isn’t it truly home? Wont you go back soon?

Wouldn’t it be lovely…

and right, to be home at last?

What? You say you’re home?

I am confused now. 

Dont they say, ‘home is where the heart is’?

Isn’t your heart in the past?

Isn’t nostalgia home?

Take it easy bra(h)!

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Women have a funny relationship with bras. From the myths of bra burning, to listicles showing what relief being braless once home brings to everyone who chooses to wear a bra daily. There are conversations about understanding all sorts of bras, some preferring one type to another and many, not wanting to wear one at all. I have always hated this piece of cloth since I can remember. As a youngster rebelling against anything that pleased others when the question of appearance arose, especially, demanding dorky teenagers to look all girly and feminine, I assumed that the bra was be worn to make a girl’s breasts look presentable. I remember cringing at the thought and deciding not to comply.

I can’t blame my childish self for presuming that. Back then, media selling lingerie danced to another tune as opposed to the current tune of making bras desirable for women for their own likes (hell, make them cheaper?!). Shreds of memories of men selling lingerie at counters and once that of watching a man pick out bras by testing out the strength of the cups while accompanying mother to the store left some very strong marks on my desires to wear one when the time came. I pushed the inaugural date by a whole year and I remember my friends all stare with widened eyes every time I would proudly say that “I am bra-free”. I can still picture the look of immense pride on my face, almost as if I had conquered the Kumbhalgarh fort and the judging eyes of my friends.

I would definitely say that I have had the most forward thinking mother, in a geography like Rajasthan, who had always set the example for me. She would talk about bright colours and rather nudge the deliberately prudish daughter of hers to buy the nicer colours. As I learnt more and evolved more, I did accept that these pieces of cloth weren’t that bad at all and that, at certain times, they are much needed as well. It is just a manner of choice and whatever is comfortable one must choose. Like your favourite cocktail, the best fit for you will always be different and no advert, model, film star or the salesgirl at the lingerie store should dictate to you what you would like best.

Why am I talking about bras here?

I was reminded of my entire bra journey recently when walking towards the gate of a reputed gated colony in Mumbai. Let me recount – as I was walking, I saw a lady in a yellow and red t-shirt and pink track pants sitting and staring into space, presumably taking a break from her morning walk. I only glanced at her from afar and continued on my way. As I passed her, I heard a loud yet attempted hushed up “listen!”. I looked at her and  responding by way of raised eyebrows asked her if was the one she wanted to talk to. Happy that I had heard her, she promptly whisper-screamed “its transparent, your top…its transparent, I can see it.. (you know what)”, all of it with a look of urgent secrecy and a mission oriented glaze in her eyes that my modesty, centred around the bra I was wearing was almost saved since my hero sat right there in pink tracks.

In response, all I could do was stop myself from bursting out in (actual and not mirthful) laughter and just nod and say “okay!” as I hastened to run and laugh as she gave me a look of utter annoyance at my not getting the point of bra hiding sisterhood.

I am not saying that I was always like this. When on my personal adolescent mission to not wear pretty bras to dress up for the world that looks at desirable breasts in one way, shape and size; I was a hater of halter neck bras. I did not see the point of those and I still don’t like them, primarily because of my bad neck. But, the point is that I had always presumed the possibility of this to be in a smaller city / town and not in Mumbai where school kids grow up way faster than women my age have. I still don’t appreciate school kids imitating pop idols or models and wanting to wear hot pants or anything to ‘fit in’. If it’s out of own choice and comfort, of course no one must say anything. However, it sure felt funny to be called out by a resident around for an allegedly transparent shirt (was not wearing cellophane or any NSFW shirt) while living in a locality with quite a few of those grown up school kids.

This brings me to my point again that feminism clearly isn’t anti men. Here, it was a woman telling me and requiring me to cover up something which was already covered up and she had no business doing that! It is against such mindsets that are rooted deep in our culture to surface in this top notch cosmopolitan city of mine. I realise today that I could have probably had a dialogue with her trying to communicate to her why the bra is not something to be so scared of, that a suggestion to the world that women have breasts under the cloth is not to be fearful of, that patriarchy controls the female sexuality precisely in this manner and hyper-sexualisation of the female body on media is just an economic gimmick. But then, I shall leave it for another time when I am more well prepared and not as taken aback, even humorously so.

Men like ants

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Wasn’t what happened in Bangalore assumed to be only limited to the new pussy grabbing America?

Or wait, maybe these men were just following the world order of aping the West? 

But, aren’t we very simple and cultured Indians?

So? They still can. 

Why? 

Duh! Because they are men and they can.

Ummm, okay but, not all men behave like that I think. These were some stupid ones I think. They were just drunk… But, then doesn’t Abu Azmi say that ALL women like sugar and ALL men like ants? If he is in power, then he must be speaking the gospel truth right? ‘Cause it is ONLY honesty that makes you a cop or a politician? Only the regular people are dishonest aren’t they? Oh sorry, it is the women’s fault. They got too liberated because of these stupid liberals. Those women should have known their place. Where is that, you ask? Inside the walls of patriarchy but, of course!

Till today it is difficult for me to believe that the city where I spent two of the most wonderful years of my life witnessed such an atrocity. It was that city that had sent me back to my home state with a set of very uncomfortable questions. It was that city that was safe to be traveled in buses as opposed to Delhi. Only once in 2 years did I witness lecherous behaviour there and heard of a few. I brushed it off assuming that where we were was, after all suburban Bangalore, where a serial rapist and murdered had escaped from the state jail. Such things were okay to be heard of or read about in suburban or rural areas or as many spell out the names of Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan – the last one, especially, with a strange smile that asked too many intrusive questions without uttering a single word. But, now it has happened in a very central part of a growing cosmopolitan city. When a photo journalist was raped in a mill compound in Mumbai, it was again forgotten quickly since she was alone and they were ‘illiterate, north Indian men’ who do such things often. But, now Bangalore and the numerous protectors of women’s modesty, the owners of open spaces in the society did something unimaginable.

I can only imagine by a little ounce of what those women must have felt as 2017 dawned and they found many, many city dwellers, maybe quite a few ‘educated ones’, act as if these women were nothing but, stupid toys that could be flung here and there or maybe lab rats that could be poked here and there and just observed.

I am not saying that the northern part of the country is heaven or is even in some twisted competition against the south / east / west in its sex ratio or data of (ill)treatment of women. Living in Bombay, I have seen an amazing number of cases of harassment, stalking, sexism at workplaces than what was combined in Jaipur, Delhi and Bangalore. I will also say that I had the fortune of being told that I am a girl and need to behave accordingly very few times in my life. Even when I was, thankfully, I knew better. However, that is not the case for so so many of my friends who told me that feminism or belief of total gender equality are things to be read in books but, compromised with when out in the real world. What do I say of the the vast majority of unknown female Indians.

Why I did not pay as much attention to the media, nor did I get passionately angry like I know myself to get at the hands of injustice of any kind is because somewhere deep down, I have been conditioned to accept that such things happen and we can only fight our own petty battles, that even when some people are caught, people are going to go back home and still make this world entitled to the male sex. What is needed is a cultural shift and a consciousness of thought, speech and action. It is each human’s responsibility and I believe that the ‘change’ or the equality of gender can be brought in only through attitudinal shifts in understanding that the one with a vagina is a human being at the end of the day. Formal education does not guarantee any change. I have been dealt sexism at the hands of the smartest (well educated) men and women – even those who shout out for creating an equal world.

What does this say to you? What kind of world are we living in? Grabbing them by the pussy or by the breasts or even dragging them by the hair. Haven’t we learnt better?

If it is religion you follow, seeking the principled Ram and his conduct with his wife, also remember Durga. Religion, philosophy is what we choose to believe in at that crucial moment when all we have to behave as is a human being.

To the men who read this and cringe saying not all men think like this, I would just say that its quite good on you if you dont but, every time you see a woman pass by, I hope you dont eye her as if she is grilled meat no matter what she wears. I hope you dont cut through what a woman might be saying at work in a meeting to just repeat what she said a minute back. I hope you dont judge a woman based on her relationship status or sex life and her position of power in the workplace. I hope you don’t feel slightly crestfallen when someday your first born is a daughter. I hope you dont tell her that some things are not meant for her. I hope you share such ideals of yours with other men around you and raise a son who follows all of this and treats a person simply as a human being without being biased with whats between their legs.