I was diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of 23. To be honest, I think it was lurking around long before my diagnosis in early 2014. While personally I was relieved (because I knew what the problem was), I was terrified about what my friends would think. To them I was an outgoing, bubbly, happy-go-lucky kind of girl, the kind of girl to whom this would have never happened.
Depression is like that imaginary friend you have as a child. It’s always by your side. The sadder you get, the deeper the bond. It’s like having a voice in your head that is always rooting for your loss. To tackle this imbalance of serotonin in the brain, psychiatrists usually prescribe medication.
Since I was so afraid that people would think less of me, I never told anyone barring my immediate family and my best friend. in all only 5 people knew. During those 8 months of treatment I literally dropped off the face of the earth and that is how I wanted it to be.
In 2015 when The Live Love Laugh Foundation was started, I was asked to write my story. Of course I only had to do it if I wanted to. I thought about it for a while. Mind you this was before depression was being talked about so openly in the media. Writing my story meant the whole world would know a secret that I had fought so hard to keep to myself. I don’t know what made me do it, but I did. Looking back, I am so proud of myself for taking that step. Writing my story made me feel so empowered. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It felt so good. In my story I wrote about my experience with depression and the events that led up to it. I wrote about my sexual abuse, about my inability to feel happiness, about the anger I had towards the world. About how I wanted my life to end. How I would lie in bed holding my breath just waiting for life to stop. The painful realities of the life I was living came to the surface. The more I wrote, the more I healed.
When the website was initially launched, I would get messages on Facebook from people I didn’t know. They wrote to tell me how my story gave them the strength to go seek help. I cannot begin to tell you how it feels to know that something great can come out of something that made you feel so horrible.
In 2016 I joined the team behind The Live Love Laugh Foundation. In October we launched India’s first public mental health campaign. The launch of the film was followed by our print campaign that featured survivors. I was one of them. Writing about mental health is one thing, having your face on outdoor media in an advertisement for mental health is a whole other ball game. To add to this, some media outlets carried my original story and that is when I realized how deep rooted the stigma in our country with regard to mental health is. Friends whom I had known for years suddenly backed off. I heard really strange rumours about me and how I was crazy. Some even went on to say “Ah, no wonder she used to act like that”. I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt, because it did. I was like someone ripped the scabs off a wound that was healing. I stopped getting invited to social gatherings, I stopped being considered a valuable asset to some of my social circles. It was almost like I ceased to exist.
However every dark cloud has a silver lining, and I was just discovering mine. Friends I had lost touch with for many years, sent me messages that I still sometimes read on a bad day. The messages were filled with admiration and appreciation. Some told me how they could relate to things I had written about. Others wrote saying they are so proud to see the person I had become. And that’s when I realised something very crucial. Sometimes those closest to you are going to be the ones who are most judgmental. My mother even got calls from so called ‘well wishers’ asking her why she had been so irresponsible in letting her daughter talk so openly about such “sensitive” things. I was appalled. I was angry. Angry that even after years of trauma I still seemed to surround myself with people who cared so little about the things that really matter.
One would think education changes your outlook on topics such as mental illness and sexual abuse, but it really doesn’t. Society makes us believe that if we don’t talk about negative things, they will cease to exist. I realised that by not talking about it for so many years it had grown so big within me that it took precedent over everything else. Not talking about it had made it even worse, so I decided to heck with it. The more people ask me not to talk about it, the more I was going to talk about it, because it was making a difference. I was bringing awareness.
If merely talking about mental health can give someone hope and faith that it’s all going to be okay, then why not? Statistics say 1 in 5 people will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Let’s start the conversation. Let the world know it’s okay to talk about mental health.
Anovshka is a born and bred Bangalorean. She studied at St. Xaviers, Mumbai and is currently working as the Digital Lead with The Live Love Laugh Foundation. She is an eternal optimist, dog lover and survivor of depression and still believes in magic.