There is a lovely, oversized, semi-woolen, red-and-black checkered shirt that I frequently wear and indiscriminately slip into every evening after returning to my room. Mind you, it is stolen property—I finagled it from my father when I was exactly 6 years old and wildly impatient to obtain a cape-like attire. You see, it was imperative for me and my playmates to have a superhero costume handy that evening in case it rained and confined us indoors, which it did. Thus, the thievery.
Years later, the shirt has lost its association to colorful tales of faux heroism and has become somewhat of a curio, only better: it is wearable, warm and immeasurably comforting. I might now associate it with home, or just homeyness, and on some days it is not even home that I miss, but a sense of belonging that I constantly find lacking in recent times—the past year, to be precise—making me feel adrift and lonely. It is not unique, nor is it novel; most people have this ‘loneliness’ complaint nowadays. The scale of this affliction is scary, and its direct relationship with the number of people alive today, confounding. But everyone finds their own coping mechanism, I think.
Imagine being a regular adult and believing that wearing a shirt will chase your private demons away.
It takes, I suppose, a good amount of certitude to wake up one day and believe oneself to be ill, especially for stubborn, egotistical people like me. I am not ascribing any noble qualities to myself, except that I am glad I live in this day and age, and have access and exposure to information a lot of people could benefit from, and that I acted in a manner that would ensure my future happiness. I don’t have any tragedies to narrate, nor any sad tales to regale you with, except that I found myself spiraling down over the course of one dreadful college semester into one of the worst periods of my life. And without any apparent reason too.
Or maybe there were a few reasons, like a disillusionment about my future, a sense of unworthiness, guilt about the privilege I have been borne into but have wholly disregarded, acute body dysmorphia, etc. But none of these are real problems, right? I am not self-rejecting my own hypotheses—though I am prone to do so—merely saying that all these despite having the ability to weigh heavily on one’s mind can easily be boiled down to imagined problems. I am sure if I had just stopped focusing so much on them it would have put me back on track to face the droll drudgery of college with its accompanying excitement with the same enthusiasm as before. But it seemed that I just didn’t want to be okay; I was an active participant in conjuring up all sorts of terrible scenarios for myself and I didn’t seem to want to relinquish that role anytime soon.
I had lost all interest in continuing to attend classes, attend parties, attend gatherings, be with friends, be with family, visit a new place, visit a familiar place, eat, follow my dreams, having any dreams. It was a like I was observing my days and nights morph into a tedious, unremarkable time-travel movie and I was the sole spectator trapped in a soundproofed viewing gallery restlessly trying to draw attention to myself, and eventually succumbing to the futility of it. All I wanted was to disappear—just miraculously cease to be—with the least burden to anyone else.
Exhibit A: Depression
It wasn’t the first time it had happened. I just didn’t relish the prospect of its return, though being forewarned helped. I took my time in acknowledging it however, after breaking down in the middle of many nights and struggling to stop breaking down in the middle of lectures for more than two months. I had distractions enough in the beginning, but over time they lost their power, and slowly, their luster. Soon enough all I wanted to do was lie in bed and stare at the ceiling with intermittent displays of crying for no one but myself—like if I stayed inside long enough people would forget that I existed and then I could go out and disappear at will. Maybe become a hippie too and gallivant to far off lands, but I’m not so sure. It was oddly addictive, this logic defying pull to sit and stare my life away.
Exhibit B: Anxiety
When I did have rude interruptions in my private, sullen reverie from the world around me—like deadlines and exams and the requisite internship hunting—that’s when I would panic. Who am I kidding? That’s when anyone would panic, but a lifetime of being a student and not much else had surely prepared me for that? What is worthy of mention though is a heavy weight often lodging itself in my chest, sometimes moving, giving palpitations so hard and making me so breathless that I thought my breathing would disrupt the teacher’s monologue. Sometimes the reasons for these anxiety attacks—like getting validation from friends and peers, which in former days my brain would not have dignified with a response—were enough to send my head reeling. It was most inconvenient, especially when the occasion called for peals of laughter and giving and receiving platitudes. Smiling felt like a chore, and all I would hear is the effort of my face muscles trying to keep up appearances. I Googled this sound:
"The loud rumbling sound (sometimes like thunder) that’s produced in the ear when you close your eyes too tightly is due to the contraction of a muscle called the tensor tympani muscle. It is a muscle located within the ear and it functions to dampen certain sounds."
For a while I sought solace in my shirt. But then it began to disrupt my life. I think the smartest thing I have done this year is realizing when this phenomenon was disrupting my life: that I had to drive out of the blinding mist of despair and understand that it wasn’t normal or it would be okay if I took five deep breaths and fixed myself a healthy lifestyle.
My first instinct was to manage everything on my own—no one need know anything. Parents needn’t be bothered, friends needn’t be put upon, if I could just fix myself as soon as I could get away from observant eyes and good intentions no one had to be any wiser. That idea was given up immediately. I did need support, and my brain was ill-equipped to give it to me. The frightening part was convincing myself and my parents that I wasn’t a fool for seeking help for mental illness—the amount of energy it would require to explain what I constantly felt seemed daunting, not to mention revolting, especially when every instinct in my body screamed to bury it inside lest it backfired in my face and opened another issue on GuiltHub. Guilt was perhaps the biggest contributor to all my problems.
What depressed people like me fail to see in the miasma of hopelessness is that the world continues the same way as before, and the people continue with it. Nothing changes for them, and so it follows that I must be the same loved one to them as before, even if tides of emotion have arisen and fallen inside me. They have their own share of vexations and suffering, but it does not render them senseless to reality and persuade them that the problems attending their lives are imaginary, immaterial, unfounded, and hence unworthy of discussion. It is but normal and an obvious course of action for them to ask for help.
It’s not a matter of holding on to or retaining one’s false pride anymore when we refuse to ask for help, but it crosses over to the realm of self-loathing and extreme self-consciousness. There is no expectation placed upon anyone because it becomes a bygone conclusion that it will be too much, and we are undeserved of such consideration. And god forbid we place an expectation that is not met with—from there on it’s a speedy one way trip to rock bottom.
It took months, several trips to several doctors, and many, many medicines to reduce it to a state where I can write about it. I enjoy writing, yet the idea of articulating something so intensely personal, which has been the cause of so much misery froze my fingers in every attempt. I still take medicines, although milder doses, and I still break down without any apparent reason, but I don’t fear this unknown territory of my psyche that, if allowed, can wield the power to haunt me. It needs to be quietened, ideally be killed, and it would be callow disregard to my well-being to pretend it does not exist.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and what doesn’t make you stronger needs to be banished. There is something to learn when you are at your lowest: the journey is only upwards. But you already know that.
I am wearing the shirt as I write. I also just took half a tablet of desvenlafaxine—breaking it into halves is a huge pain—and I am anxious about meeting some deadlines this week. I am also looking forward to celebrating this weekend, and spending time with my friends. I am also impatient to finish a project I am currently working on and getting started with reading some research papers. And most importantly, I am becoming passionate about things again, like fried chicken, music, and politics.
This little bit of renewed liveliness is all I could have hoped for back in March, and now I am improved enough to hope for much, much more.