On the other side of depression
I have started associating weight gain with depression. All my life I’d been skinny. In fact, I thought I looked better with a little weight – particularly my face didn’t look as bony and I WANTED to weight more. Till depression hit.
To long term readers of my blog, the troubles I had in my marriage and the utter despair I went through will not come as a surprise. I would like to call my now separated husband evil, but he had his own demons to fight and cannot really call him malicious, so much as fighting a losing battle against them, then. Regardless, the impact on me was a prison without choices and I was severely depressed.
I lost interest in everything. Abuse used to waft over my head without reaching. I had stopped doing almost anything except caring for the child, and my blog and Twitter – which helped keep me sane (more on that later). The home was a mess, I was a mess and frankly, all I cared about was getting through the day. I had considered suicide several times. Having a child dependent on me ruled that out. I had committed to him and I was going to follow through on that. It was about surviving. Getting through the day. There was little enthusiasm for anything.
Sheer disinterest in absolutely everything, combined with a naturally asocial preference left me pretty much stagnant in terms of activity. And I put on weight. Relentlessly. Particularly in the last three years of our marriage To someone who had never weighed over 45 kilos in her life, 68 kilos was unthinkable. And I was barely eating. My body FELT alien to me – another reason not to do anything with it. I had no idea how to steer that extra weight.
All those plump, cheerful women I had admired….. was not how I looked. I looked bloated, stagnant. Lifeless. That was the only visible difference in me, while I became an unrecognizable person on the inside. Fearful of braving the world with a disabled child in tow, belief in self non-existent, the woman who moved to the Himalaya to live on her own terms as a nomad didn’t dare move out of a home she had come to despise.
On some level, my experience working with people and behavioral science saved my life. I was aware that I was depressed, though I had no motivation to do anything about it. I was aware that I was going deeper. The blog and Twitter was my lifeline – a window outside my prison – a space where I could be me without being forced into being what was expected of me. It was also a space where I spoke openly of what I was going through and the feedback helped me see beyond the fog of despair I lived in.
I slowly started asking for help. And got it. I knew that I had to escape my marital home if I had to remain sane. Whether my husband was evil or not, was irrelevant. I did no have the capacity to deal with the abuse and remain sane enough to care for myself and the child. The day I gave up, Nisarga was doomed along with me, and I was close. This child saved my life – by simply needing me with no alternatives.
I failed many times. People reached out to help. I lost my guts. People sent me money to help. I lost my guts and eventually the money got spent on the existing hole of despair I lived in. People offered for me to move into their homes. They offered to come over to help me move…. I have been blessed with friends who continued to offer to help me – and still do – in the face of failure after failure to “save myself”.
It is the nature of depression. Inaction. An emergency happened and the fog lifted briefly enough to recognize the need to move out. That window of clarity never sustained. Reasons to remain in the limbo of the status quo kept emerging. My son couldn’t even sit independently. How would I move with him in tow? I had no income. With a disabled child dependent on me 24 x 7, I couldn’t just “get a job”. How would I survive….? And it was back to a limbo of getting through the day with as little engagement with it as possible.
A doctor on social media recommended that I should get help for depression. I did not think I had the energy or the time to go and meet a counsellor regularly with a handicapped child in tow. Cheap/free services would mean traveling to where they existed – not any and every local facility – even if there was one nearby. Didn’t happen. I could have asked a doctor for medications, but I have seen my mother, who has schizophrenia turn from a spirited, if sometimes delusional woman to a zombie. I had a child depending on me. I did not trust anything that could space me out worse!
It took a night when the drunk husband pulled out a knife and threatened to kill our son rather than leave him with a “woman like me” for me to realize that this was the dead end. I called the child helpline. They are not active outside the city. They offered to tell the local police – if I wanted and it was an emergency, but police also couldn’t do much about it. They spoke with my husband who was dead drunk and lectured them about wives who don’t care for their husbands and use them (read paying all the expenses+responsibilities in return for the favor of a roof on my head). They told me to go to Thane (3 hours away) to file a case in a domestic court. In other words, I was on my own. It was the usual time for drunken problems in our home – between 1 am and 3 am.
Oh, he would not have killed our son. He loves him. I was not as sure about him or me while he was waving it around while drunk. The point was that he did not love the person I had become, and I did not love the person he had become, and the blame for it and pressure on me to restore his happiness was just going to keep rising and perhaps escalate to physical harm if I called his bluffs instead of complying. On other occasions, he had threatened to commit suicide and leave a note blaming me – yet he did not want me to leave.
I broke, that night. I had broken many times before. This time, I did irrevocable things before I changed my mind and gave in to the all pervading apathy. And perhaps it was the best thing that happened to me. Before I could get back to my fog of indifference, I put out an appeal for help. I didn’t have money. But this time, I asked people to commit to an amount every month – even if smaller, instead of one big amount right now that would run out and leave me stranded with a child depending on me. I begged friends to nag me to stay on the plan if it looked like I was going back to being okay with the status quo. And they did. Several of them asked me on a daily basis what the progress was with the house hunting. Many offered sites to find homes on rent. Others offered to come with me to see homes and negotiate leases – I’d never rented a place before.
My mother, who can do very little on her own, came over to babysit Nisarga so I could go to book a gas connection and sign the lease and more. Friends sent everything from used clothes and curtains to utensils. Another friend picked stuff up from Powai to bring to me – and I couldn’t even offer him cold water – no glass, no fridge.
The depression was born from a belief that I had no way out of the unhappiness. The relentless engagement to seek exactly that helped fight it. I often fobbed off estate agents to meeting later, but I went and saw every home available till they all looked the same. One small step at a time, but keeping at it, led to a morning when I woke up next to my son in our own new home with the sunlight hitting us right across the room from the French window. I smiled before I opened my eyes. I was free.
I haven’t stopped smiling since.
I like to think of it as the moment when I beat depression, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The fight had been as long as the depression. If anything, taking irrevocable actions and putting in safeguards that would prevent me going back on them saved me. Reaching out for help, advice, going out to find a home, doing the hundred things it took, gave me robust contact with the world instead of the limbo of indifference. Seeing things actually happen – in however small steps PROVED that changing the situation was possible.
That morning was just one of the most dramatic moments of the journey back. I have continued to fight with many long ingrained habits. I have fallen apart when a friend didn’t humiliate me in public when my son smeared himself with food on his first visit to a restaurant – out of relief – because six months of freedom and I hadn’t realized how much cringing had become a part of me.
It is a journey. I still have days when instead of seeing what I was able to achieve, I look at the financial assistance I still need and think I’m worth nothing. But it is a work in progress.
That puffy, bloated, unhappy look is gone. I’ve been losing weight almost averaging 2 kilos a month initially, and a kilo a month later without any change in diet or exercise. The simple fact that I was engaging more with life made me more active. I am hardly back to my earlier weight, but I LOOK HAPPY!
I am no expert, but if I have to share advice based on my journey, it would be:
- Speak up. Vulnerability is human. Speak of your troubles and your thinking becomes clear. Interaction brings the larger picture and help. It breaks you out of the dysfunctional cycle you are trapped in.
- Take irrevocable actions in moments of lucidity. Depression causes inaction. Everything is too much trouble. In the few moments that you see the need for action clearly, commit to it in a way that forces you to continue when you are at risk of sliding into indifference. I had tried and failed for ages till I did this.
- Persevere. Progress WILL be slow. It is also inevitable if you keep at it.
Lastly, sharing the contact for iCALL helpline 022-2556-3291. Monday to Saturday, from 10 am to 10 pm. You can talk to them when you are depressed. They may be able to help.