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D is for Depression

The following is excerpted from The D Word, by SHUBHRATA PRAKASH with permission from Pan Macmillan India. (Emphasis our own)


Chennai | March 2006–September 2006

I first remember feeling hysterical and suicidal a couple of days after the birth of my first baby. We were living in Chennai then. The day my baby was born was one of the happiest days of my life. Becoming  a mother for the first time was a very, very momentous event.

Holding my soft, cuddly baby and seeing how much he looked like me . . . holding his tiny, closed fists and finding his tiny fingers curl around my finger . . . watching over him to see when he will wake up and open his eyes . . . he seemed the cutest and most adorable baby in the whole wide world. It was so cosy . . . my husband and I with our tiny little bundle of joy . . . it was like a fairy tale.

So what happened? How did the fairy tale suddenly turn into a death wish? I don’t know. I had read up books on pregnancy, and my pregnancy bible was What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

I knew about the baby blues or post-partum depression. But the first symptom of this all the books described was a feeling of apathy towards the baby or an urge to harm the baby. And I simply loved my baby. I was so delighted that he had chosen me to be his mother. I had loved him before he was born, and I loved him even more now. But I couldn’t stop the weeping. I didn’t want to go home. I was terrified of taking care of the baby by myself. My C-section wound was the most painful thing that had happened to me. I didn’t have a proper cook at home and I wasn’t looking forward to the bland and unpalatable food at home. There were too many people at home . . . it was all too confusing . . . I just didn’t know how to cope with everything happening around me.

I remember just weeping and weeping. The nurses wanted to know why I was crying. The head nurse was a particularly caring lady. She sat down with me to figure things out.

‘Why are you crying?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know. I just don’t want to go home,’ I remember telling her.

‘What is the problem? You are an officer. Your husband is an officer. You have so much help at home.’

I was now weeping even louder.

‘Look at me,’ said the nurse. ‘I have to cook at home, look after my children, attend to their homework. After my twelve-hour shift  ends, I’ll go home and cook. You are a big man’s wife. Why do you cry? Look at the baby. He is so beautiful.’

It was a useless conversation, like so many others I would have with different people in the future – only, I didn’t know that then.

The first two weeks at home were hell. Sleepless nights. Hot and sleepless days. There was a terrace balcony adjacent to the bedroom. Often I would go there in the evening. Opposite was a large open stretch of land that had been recently occupied and inhabited by labourers, and the silence of the evening was often punctuated by the cries of their children. With all the motherhood hormones gushing around in my veins, I would get very upset. My husband and I worked around this, and we started sending packets of biscuits daily to the settlement, as we both felt the kids there were definitely going hungry. Yet, many a time I would just feel like jumping off the balcony to end the agony I was living in. Then I would look at the sweetest face in the whole wide world – that of my tiny baby – and stop myself. I needed to live for my baby.

And that was that.

In hindsight, what I had was a major depressive episode. I didn’t know it then. Neither did my husband. No one else knew either – neither my doctor, the head nurse, my parents, nor anyone else we knew.

Slowly, things eased up. We moved out of Chennai for a while. I got help with the baby. 



Shubhrata goes on to write more of what followed:

September 2006–October 2007

… I also felt more lethargic day by day. I would see that the baby was about to fall but wouldn’t, or rather couldn’t, react. Or I would react too late. It was as though my thinking and perception were working in slow motion.

Everything was in slow motion. I kept getting obsessive thoughts about every single wrong that had happened in my life. Sometimes I would find the tears just rolling down my cheeks. Sometimes I would find my fists balled up in anger. All this without being aware of it – as if my brain had gone out for a walk somewhere and secretly messaged my body to react this way, having bypassed my conscious mind completely.

I began to lose interest in work…. 

Shubhrata goes on to document a dip in energy and interest

My interest in other activities began to wane.

Every weekend I would make plans for the next weekend, but never acted on them. My to-do lists remained to-do. The books I bought to read to my toddler remained untouched. Of course, not all days were bad. A good day at work would cheer me up.

My toddler was the love of my life, and his cute words and actions always gave me pleasure. I would have lively discussions with my husband. But I was simply not fully there . . . some part of me had gone missing.

I did try to analyse what was going on. I honestly did not think that something was gravely wrong with me. I thought it was perhaps post-traumatic stress related to the events that occurred after the delivery, or related to the harassment at my superior officer’s hands in my last charge, or even related to everything that had gone wrong in my life. If that was so, I knew I would bounce back, as I had bounced back from every setback in life, including a heart surgery at age twenty-seven. I even thought that motherhood might have changed me. It was something to do with the hormones, I thought. 

My husband would often get irritated to see me simply lying in bed or on the sofa, or wherever. But we didn’t know what we were dealing with . . . and we would not know until a very long time afterwards.


Coming soon on the Health Collective: An Interview with Shubhrata Prakash

Editor's Note: If you or anyone you know feels you might be suffering from depression or post-partum depression, please do not hesitate to get help. A partial list of resources is available here

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