The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, June 22, 2003

Life Ties

Why leave depression untreated?
Taru Bahl

ABHAY was easy to get along with. Neither did he cultivate intense passionate friendships nor did he have major differences with those who came into contact with him. He maintained a discreet distance, which without being offensive was actually amicable. This was perhaps why no one got to know the real person behind the fa`E7ade. Severe mood swings, feelings of acute loneliness, isolation and depression were sensitively camouflaged by this intelligent young man. The last thing he wanted to do was cause his loved ones anxiety or worry. His smile hid a million tears. The fact that the radiance of a smile rarely reached his forlorn eyes was something his family and friends saw much later, while going through old photographs and videos or when they did a realistic flashback of moments spent together.

One reason why those around him could not peel off his masks to see the turbulence in his mind, was because they took him for granted, especially since he came from an affluent family. He looked normal, happy and participative, giving no reason to dig for complaints, unfulfilled desires, anger or pent-up frustrations. It was simple to assume that he was quiet, non- interfering and welcome everywhere. However, strong divisions there may have been in school and college among classmates, he was one of the few who had access to all groups. No one was threatened by his presence and everyone counted him as their pal. His being harmless and acceptable to everyone was his greatest claim to fame.


Which is why when he attempted suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills, it sent shock waves in the entire community. After probing for substantial provocative factors, they came up with a blank, further compounding their confusion and fear. Initially, their imagination ran wild. Did the shy and introverted Abhay get jilted by a girl in a classic case of unrequited love ? Was he unable to cope with work pressures at a time when keeping the business going was such an onerous task? Did the failures of his dot com ventures eat heavily into the family fortunes, eroding his reputation as a new age entrepreneur ? Was his mother's being diagnosed with cancer a reason for bringing his world crashing down ? Somehow, they could not imagine any of these reasons as being big enough for the calm, composed and sensible Abhay to crack up to the extent of getting fed up and wanting to take his own life. If he wasn't one of those exuberant, full-of-fun boys, he surely was not a weepy sort either to endure each day as a burden. As he lay recuperating in one of the city's fanciest hospitals, surrounded by people who loved and respected him the question on everybody's lips was: "What if he attempted suicide again and there was no one around to render immediate first aid ?" They wanted to help but were clueless what to do. Till a leading psychiatrist took charge. Friends and family dissuaded him from taking on Abhay's "case". Of course, he was in no need of psychiatric help. This was only an aberration. A terrible happening must have triggered the negative process. Once he shared that with family, they would find a way out and he would be back on his feet in good mental and physical shape. There was no need to stigmatise him by putting him on the psychiatrist's couch for a long-term intervention.

What put their doubts to rest was Abhay's willingness to go in for therapy and place himself in the psychiatrist's hands. As the months went by and his once-a- week sessions became part of his routine, there was a perceptible change in his behaviour and attitude. He became more outgoing, spontaneous and relaxed. If his earlier quietness hid his insecurities, doubts and fears now his quiet spells were because he actually felt at peace with himself. The anti-depressant created a sense of satiation, helping him cope with daily-life tensions. For most people it was difficult to accept the diagnosis as a "patient suffering from depression and anxiety" for he appeared outwardly in control. He did not have an aggressive persona which was easily provoked, argumentative or volatile. Terms like "nervous breakdown", "creaking up", "going to pieces" could not be associated with him. Yet, he was depressed and had been depressed for years. The symptoms had been there, only now they were beginning to interfere with his day-to-day living.

A voracious reader, he had been unable to concentrate on a single book for years. His attention span was limited and mind would wander. He may not have vigorously participated in social gatherings but he had never abhorred them. However, in recent years he had been studiously avoiding company, finding normal conversations a drag, meeting people tiresome and keeping pace with the latest in menswear irritating. He who loved his morning and evening walks had become so erratic with his schedule and had to push himself to maintain the same routine. Always open to new cuisines, trying out the latest eateries in town, he couldn't remember when he had last savoured a meal. Not one to forget friend's birthdays and anniversaries, he was embarrassed at how he was now giving belated wishes or forgetting altogether. Deep down he knew that life was slipping through his fingers. He wanted the strength to cope and pull himself together but was not being able to do so.

What upset him was that there were no horror or tragic stories in his closet, then why had he gone into depression ? Why had he allowed so many negative thoughts to build up in his mind, leading up to a stage where he had begun to find life meaningless, relationships full of deceit and opportunism, words hollow and work uninteresting ? He had actually got so fed up with going through the daily motions of a wasted life that he had thought of putting an end to the drudgery by trying to take his own life ? His this one single act had shaken up the entire family. They were now constantly hounded by the fear that he could repeat the act again. They were guarded in their responses and were treating him with kid gloves, lest they say or do anything to set his mind ticking. This had stunted his interactions, robbing them of spontaneity. He had put everybody through a painful ordeal.

The treatment and the counselling by a person who was unbiased and neutral is what helped him put things in perspective. The effects were slow in coming. There were times he felt there was nothing new that was being said and that the Rs 500 an hour per session were a waste, yet, he saw the treatment through. It took him three years to come out of the depression and give up his medication but it left him completely cured of his suicidal tendencies and created a lightness of being. Becoming more spiritual, he was able to respond to situations and people with an acceptance that he had lacked earlier. Most important, he could now articulate things he did not like without hiding beneath a polite veneer. He was firm when it came to saying no to things he did not want to do. As a result, whatever he did he was at peace with himself, happy with the direction he was giving to his life. Depression may still be a curse word in the social circles he moved around in, but he knew that undetected, untreated mental ill-health was the worst thing that could afflict an able-bodied, well-meaning young man. Thankfully, in his case this was a thing of the past. Something he could think of and draw lessons from and maybe reach out and help other unfortunate sufferers.

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