By Deepa Singh
This personal narrative of my battle through anxiety and depression is written from the perspective of sharing my story with as many people as possible in the hope of reaching out to those who may benefit from it. A similar story three years ago put me on a path to recovery, and if even a single individual can learn and get better from my experiences, my aim would be achieved.
We all have our share of anxiety, tensions and rough patches in life but they do not necessarily translate into a psychological issue. They may or may not compound the underlying problems. As I understood, in my case most of the time it was the chemical imbalances in my brain that caused episodes of darkness and crippling anxiety. As per my simplified layman understanding, doctors do think genetic factors could have a role to play.
The First Signs
Let me start with how it all began. I was living alone in Delhi, newly-married, settling down into a new life. I had decided to pick up where I had left off — I joined a coaching for the civil services exam and started off quite well.
But very soon — within months -– there was a sudden dip in my moods and my outlook towards life in general. I gradually started developing sleeping and eating disorders. I tried everything within my power to change the situation and get back to the way I was, but failed. At that point, I did not even have the faintest idea of what I was facing. But whatever it was, I kept it to myself and kept going somehow.
I decided to be brave about it and keep quiet about whatever was going inside me. I did not talk about it to anyone in my family, not even my husband or parents, because I did not want anyone to worry about me.
Becoming An Internet Doctor
Googling my discomforts became an obsession. I spent a few hours every sleepless night reading up on my symptoms and what could be the cause behind them. What had initially started as a method of self-consolation soon became chronic. I was utterly confused and lost. As time lapsed, a sort of syndrome developed. I found it difficult to breathe, had chest pains, nausea, numbness in limbs and giddiness. Fear and paranoia would grip me every few hours.
It would happen anytime and anywhere without warning. I once blacked out at a metro station and stood unmoved. It look me a lot of courage to not make a sound about it. BUT was it courage? Is that adage about KEEPING CALM and CARRY ON so important that one may choose to silently suffer instead? In retrospect, the answer is: NO!
But I would say that despite all odds the human spirit is indomitable. At one point I gave up everything — going out, visiting people, going to the market -– for the fear of having one of those blackouts. Misery reinforced and perpetuated itself. All the while everything looked gloomy and dark. Nothing would give me happiness. Nights were even more difficult for they would reinforce the darkness in my head. The feeling of loneliness got stronger.
This went on for weeks and I barely had any sleep. Sunshine breaking out in the mornings made me feel slightly better but only momentarily. I’d spend my day thinking and worrying till my mind would get tired and shut off to sleep. There was no falling off to sleep – just shutting down.
I’d read on the Internet and then read some more. It didn’t seem to help much though, till then. Meanwhile, I had somehow figured out after matching my symptoms on various websites, that I had anxiety. ‘Panic attacks’ sounded exactly like what I was going through from time to time. Then, one day, I read about how to manage a panic attack with breathing exercises and tricks to distracting self but applied none of that, as I was in denial. After all, I had never heard or met anyone who had anxiety! “It couldn’t happen to me”, I’d think aloud.
So I spent my days researching my symptoms, reading stories of people and rewinding. I was slowly moving towards realisation. What genuinely helped me then, were the first hand accounts of people who had fought these symptoms through. And they became my motivation.
Anxiety/Depression was by then like writing on the wall that I was trying hard to ignore. I realised the truth and yet denied it. So even though I would read a lot on anxiety I was reluctant to apply what I read.
Research online is depressing, well mostly. More so, if you’re trying to find clear-cut solutions in life. I reckon even doctors cannot prescribe those. Most accounts I came across online presented a gloomy picture and that scared me to the core.
But then, there were stories of personal battles, of victory, of never accepting defeat, of braving any storm, of coming out of the dark tunnel. I focused on just those. They were the only glimmer of hope that kept me afloat during that time.
It helped that my brother and our pet lived right across the street from me. At any ungodly hour I’d knock at his door, breathless with a wallet in my hand, ambulance details and what not. I was convinced that I was dying (still don’t know how) and my aim would be to convince him too. I feared he’d take my symptoms lightly. Such was my insecurity.
Once I even got to a hospital at 4 am complaining of palpitation and chest pains. Yes, it was a panic attack but I was in denial, as I said earlier. I still wanted to attach my symptoms with more relatable/heard of ailments. I despised my helpless self and finally decided to try doctors and medicines as a reasonable course of action, even though I was fully convinced that my illness was physiological and not psychological. Based on my symptoms, I chose to go to a cardiologist (just imagine).
I tried one doctor after another and got all the tests done. All cardiologists I consulted outrightly denied that I had any cardiac issues. Still in disbelief, I kept changing doctors.
One day my doctor was on leave and I was referred to another cardiologist. He patiently listened to me. My whole story –- the long version of it. He went through all my reports and very gently told me how he had seen many such cases among the younger lot, mostly in their career-building phases. Such was his confidence and empathy that I was compelled to trusted his words.
ANXIETY as the cause was finally sealed!
Once I knew what the problem was, I got after Anxiety with all I had. I started with a reputed psychiatrist but alas, the suffering had to go on. The doctor had no interest in what I was saying and the session was disappointing. But I came back with a prescription.
In my pursuit to get better and to feel some happiness again I went with his advice and loaded my system with pills. All I could feel or see was fog. I could do nothing but lie down or sleep. I followed the regimen for a week but it only made me feel worse. Desperation and frustration took hold of me and I relapsed into thinking I’d never know happiness or joy again.
After a week of living in fog, lying on bed and my brain functions reduced to nothing, I decided I had to stop whatever medicines I was having. And I did.
I never went back to that doctor and in the meantime, as research-oriented as I had become, I decided to keep reading stories of people in the hope of finding one story that resembled mine.
And then it happened – I came across a blog that instantly clicked. The writer sounded just like me. The issues were the same. I could connect with everything she was saying. Everything! It was as if I was writing all of that. The author of the blog had mentioned a book and I instantly read it.
I’m not suggesting here in any way that one may follow the exact same path I followed I was just following my gut desperately trying to find a solution. And I did whatever seemed right to me at that point.
Reading and reflecting a bit more, I looked inwards. In my heart I knew the fear that was working as an umbrella for all other insecurities was my fear of ‘Mortality’. My subconscious had stacked everything under the ‘Ego’/’I’ and ‘Existence’. I needed to get to my fears, to understand and solve them or at least find a workable solution back to being a functional/normal person again.
The book I read guided me in a way any good counsellor would.
It is important to mention that I never went to any counselling session as I had developed a deep distrust for such measures. I had lost my faith in the usually recommended courses of action. I don’t know why, but I just trusted myself more at that point.
I was determined that only I could find a solution for myself. Well, this approach may not have been appropriate as by then I had family and support. But something was still amiss. Those who have been/are there would know what that means. I was on a distant lonely island or at least I felt like it. Family came in support after an initial phase of denial. They were trying to be of help but had no clue what to do. Family does suffer with you and that makes it all the more worse.
I looked inwards, reflected a lot and talked to myself a lot. Cut anything and everything that was potentially negative. Living each day, mindfully aware of small joys of life became my life goal. I took life one day at a time and tried spending it as happily as I could. I diverted my focus from the negatives that somehow always caught my attention first, gradually learning to address my fears and insecurities.
I decided to head home and spend time with family, and it worked wonders. Meanwhile the panic attacks continued. Only now, I was more equipped to deal with them. A time came when I could just sit through a panic attack calmly minus any thoughts of collapsing any second and dying. Parents took me to the family doctor. I presented a slight resistance but gave in.
The doctor understood my psyche after listening to me at length. He took the pains of explaining to me exactly what was going on. He even shared a medical presentation on the same subject. Every word he spoke made sense to me. I was prescribed just one medicine, an anti-depressant. He prescribed anti-anxiolytics too but advised me to use them sparingly. And I did the same.
I questioned the idea of an anti-depressant as I thought I just had anxiety. But the doctor believed it was all just a ramification of depression, which was the core issue. I put my scepticism aside and decided to trust him on that. And it worked! The course of medication went on for more than two and a half years. I mostly tried to manage panic attacks and took a pill only if I thought I really needed to. Within six months of starting the medication my panic attacks significantly reduced.
I spent most of my time in pursuits that made me happy and consciously stayed with my parents & later joined my husband on a distant field posting. I did that not just to heal but because it gave me true happiness!
My symptoms gradually started to fade away.
Cut To Today: I went off medication in March this year. I think it’s very important to phase out the drugs off your system,very gradually as there are chances of strong withdrawal symptoms. Please listen to your doctor on this.
Finally, I have been successfully off any medication for the past five months. There were one or two mild episodes of anxiety/panic attacks that I managed on my own. The darkness lurks around but I know I will ward it off.
I can say that my road to getting better was a combination of many things. Understanding and support are as important as finding the right doctor and proper medication. But what is even more important is self belief. You see that sliver of light? Yes, it exists amidst all darkness. Keep walking towards it. And never give up believing in yourself ever! I tried to do just that.
From here on, I intend to carry on with positivity and keep looking at the bright side of things. That may not always happen but I still make a conscious effort.