There are several schools of thought on how best to deal with a mental health challenge, but I am no expert. What I can say is, that as an adult male who grew up in a fairly well-to-do family in New Delhi, I was absolutely unprepared to face acute depression.
No problem is too small when it comes to depression, but no problem is too big to get out of. It’s about dealing with issues with the right mindset. The fickle nature of our minds has the ability to exaggerate circumstances in our heads to an extent that transcends rational thoughts. I experienced this firsthand when my college administration, in the US, revoked the funding for my research and left many students and faculty members empty handed and directionless. Now that I think about it, my professor whose research of 10 years was defunded, had much more reason to be ‘depressed’, but we can’t choose how our minds react to situations. This was a double whammy for me because, unlike other students, I had no back-up interests–I had all my eggs in one fluid mechanics basket. And some might think, this is not a big enough reason to be depressed about life, and other people have much more severe issues to deal with, and I completely agree. And at the time, I thought the same thing. For a 23 year old, who had never had to worry about the next steps of his life, this was an unprecedented situation, and I had no idea what was next. On the surface I appeared to be fine. I was on an academic scholarship, and my parents still funded my living expenses. I went from 14 hour work days, to having more time on my hands than I knew what to do with. I was not lazing around either. I was attending classes, but there was this ghastly emptiness in my life, which I couldn’t share with anyone due to the expectations they had of me. My inner thoughts ranged from – “what am I going to do next?” to “what is this one and that one going to think?” While the daily realisation of the fact that my parents or friends have no idea how clueless I am about my future, just kept gnawing inside me.
And for those who think of the US as the land of opportunity, it can be a very lonely place and has the highest rate of depression in the world. I couldn’t speak to anyone with an honest mind. Not that I wanted to, which was the dumbest thing to do, but there was no one really around who could understand what I was feeling inside. And one day, while my roommate had gone home for the weekend, I experienced it. This indescribable feeling of hollowness inside that just cannot be put in words. Hands down the worst feeling of my life. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemies. I remember that feeling quite vividly.
My parents are wonderful, but being from a traditional Punjabi family, for some reason they would never understand what I was going through. I knew if I shared with them what I was feeling, I would be labeled as a weak person. That’s the thing, I’m not a weak person. I have seen my fair share of joint family issues and have not let it affect my life too much. But depression will come to you regardless of your emotional strength. The worst thing was that I had no idea, I was going through acute depression and moreover no idea how to treat it. Indian schools, much like how they treat sexual health, teach absolutely nothing and do not support mental health, which may explain the obscene number of suicides that take place every year. But that’s a never ending discussion in itself. Coming back to my situation, some months passed, thanks to my Minor in Computer Science, I got a work at a tech company in New Jersey, a company that prided itself in hiring Indian tech guys. Good pay and good hours, but that empty feeling still remained. I was living a decent life, a life that many would consider themselves privileged to have but I was still lost. It wasn’t until two years later till I discovered Buddhism, that helped me make sense of things. Now, I’m not trying to preach. Whatever your religion or philosophy is, if it makes you happy and a good human, that’s the way to go. Buddhism gave me a huge sense of clarity about why certain things happened, and what I did wrong in the past. Being spiritual, brings within you the innate ability to look at yourself without any biases. It didn’t happen overnight, but I developed the insight about my strengths and had the courage to recognise and accept my weaknesses. Recognition is the first step, but it requires a lot of courage. I see people with so much potential not able to find the right path for themselves in their lives because of a lack of acceptance or escaping their true problems. I consider myself lucky, that during my depression phase, I didn’t have a bad influencer arnd me, otherwise in that vulnerable phase it’s very easy to slip in deeper. And once you’ve slipped deep enough it becomes very difficult to climb back out of it.
To all who are going through a tough mental phase or are not sure if they are depressed, it’s not easy to be open up about it specially in our society. But if you keep living in denial, you are not going to be able to live up to your full potential and moreover you leave yourself vulnerable to dangerous things. Talking to someone, meditation, yoga, running, do whatever suits you but do not ignore your mental health. Never be ashamed of what caused you mental pain. Life will have problems there are no two ways about it, but only if we face them can we move forward. Today I’m working as an analyst in one of the best renewable consultancies in India, with clients from all over the world. I absolutely love my work, and cannot get enough of it. I haven’t taken a vacation in a almost two years. But if I could tell my 23 year old self one thing, it would be this: Problems will come in life, but if you don’t have a healthy and stable mindset to face them they will drag you down sooner or later.