One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.
- Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet
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“NO! I want to die. Don’t you see? Why can’t you just let me die?”
What’s the indication of a nightmare? I woke up in cold sweat, but all of this was just a dream. Nightmares have a different definition to me.
It’s too early to overthink this. I should get up.
I reach to my phone on the side. Its thirty minutes before the alarm to go off. “ oh yes! Extra thirty minutes of sleep.” But after looking at the date the anxiety kicks in. It’s that time of the week again. So like every other teenager, I procrastinate on letting the dread kick in and scroll through my notifications. Lately I’ve been noticing that there’s nothing but memes, tags and early morning snaps and that makes me wonder, since when have I stopped getting ‘how are you?’ messages. Maybe I’m just overthinking it. Okay now it’s really the time to get up.
I’ve been taking showers a little longer these days. I should note this point. I have made a list of all the changes and feeling I’ve been feeling this week. This is because I never have anything to say and I find my comfort in writing. I have a cup of coffee and take my car keys. And as I’m driving I go over the things I shouldn’t mention. You’re not ready yet. Driving can be therapeutic to some, but for me it has always been about how much anxious can I get till the point of having an anxiety attack. I am more afraid of open roads. Traffic never bothers me, as on the open road my mind often drifts away trying to catch up with the relativity the time moves inside and outside my car, like my life depends on it. In traffics at least I catch up. But this one seems immovable, I can’t afford to be late. Stuck, is all I feel. No get your mind away from these thoughts. I blast on my radio hoping maybe the music will silent me. I extend my sweatshirt sleeve covering away the ever occurring chills, I know it’s weird wearing a sweatshirt in Mumbai summer’s heat, but I’ve been feeling cold lately. My body’s weird it acts like this.
Being twenty minutes late to my own appointment I am in two minds. I’m happy that I will have to face it for a less amount of time now, but I’m also angry because I’ve paid for a full hour. And therapy doesn’t come cheap. The receptionist, Sanjana, to me seems to be the least judgemental person and I think we are somewhat friends now. It has been four months that I’ve known her and with her smiles and greets she never fails to make me feel a little warm, a little more comfortable.
“ He’s waiting for you, Amira.” She says covering her already on going phone call and like always doesn’t fail to give a smile.
“ Yeah, sorry I’m late it was traffic”
“It’s okay. Now don’t waste anymore time, he’s waiting.”
Oh god, here comes forty minutes of talking, opening up…yeeda yeeda.
I find Dr. Dutta’s office surreally quite everytime I enter. And as always he is sitting there with his poker face. “You’re late. I was concerned.”
“Because of the discussion we had the last time?” I say while following the standard procedure, lying on the chair, which I always imagined to be at a 120 angle.
“Yes. You were pretty unstable and you have every valid reason to be. But today I’m noticing some changes, so let’s start this session with the simple question. How are you?”
“ I find it funny, this question, ‘How are you?’ like everyone knows the answer and most of the time it is ‘fine.’ Asking this question one expects short replies, thus we limit our words which never truly answers the question. To answer it we have to answer with some philosophical shi-“ I simply stop answering because my brain pulls the emergency breaks when I start overthinking. I think Dr. Datta knows me too well, he’ll catch up on it and try to explain me and I will have to overthink again. It’s like a loop, him trying to break the concrete under which I’ve trapped myself in and my brain trying to resist, over and over again.
I’ve been quiet for some while. Great did I just overthink about me not overthinking.
Now I expect him to say something about this, but to my surprise he just moves on. “Did you have any nightmares the past week?”
“Just the usual. Me running endlessly in an endless field, my legs giving up; cut to me lying in a hospital bed, all I see is flickering lights, concerned faces, but none of them familiar and all I could hear is me screaming ‘Why don’t you let me die?’ and finally waking up at random intervals in cold sweat. Same old same old dream.” All of this, I say like a robot reading off a scream, emotionless without batting an eye, staring blankly at the small crack in the perfect concrete above. I’ve memorised this dream because I’ve dreamt about it so much it is wrong to call it a nightmare. To me, dreams are dreamt while nightmares are lived.
“This recurring dream, does it make you have any suicidal thoughts?”
“No. I have never practically thought about suicide. In fact even in my dreams I don’t ever see myself committing to it.”
“Why do you think that it?”
“Isn’t it kind of your job, doc?”
“I’m not a dream analyst and I’ve never felt what you feel.”
“Oh. Is it like, no matter how much I read about it or hear about it I can never feel what exactly one is feeling consumed with depression?”
“Exactly. I cannot tell you how your depression feels as much as I can’t tell what your dream means. It is you who has to introspect and I can merely tell what your brain is trying to say.”
“Wow didn’t know you were poetic too doctor. Well my introspection tells me that I’m overthinking and should stop; which is also as a matter of fact my coping mechanism.”
“You’re not overthinking, the depression is creating an illusion that you are, to trick you into believing your thoughts aren’t valid.”
“You say it like depression is an invasive parasite. And I know I don’t have any science to support it, but here’s my theory. It’s me, my brain is making a fool of itself thinking that it is fighting a war with a monster, the truth is that it’s like a civil war; my brain is fighting with itself thinking the winner will get the control of this body, not realising that the conflict doesn’t exist and is destroying itself. Depression isn’t a foreign invasion; it’s more of a metaphorical dog attacking his own reflection because he’s afraid of it. See my brain doesn’t know itself and when one doesn’t know itself they either hide and put on a mask pretending to be someone they’re not or have this personal conflict that is so self-destructive. Either way the brain is afraid. Fear creates monsters.”
“Interesting analogy. Depression is different to every individual and that is a fact. There are no rules or limits to describe it literally. It is as important as the physicality like chemical imbalance.” He stated. I feel lucky to have found him even though I dread to come here every week, I always forget how amazing it feels when someone listens to your bizarre theories or literally meanings. My experience with therapists have always been about them asking about my physical symptoms, drugs after drugs prescribed and even some weird tests. Until Dr. Datta I never felt anyone was listening to what I’m actually saying that led to me bottling up my thoughts even more; sure the medicines used to give me temporary escape from all this emptiness and anxiety, but my head used to always be heavy. Coming here I feel a sense of release of this heaviness in my head. I feel light and the less doses of medicine resulted in a lasting effect. Last week was terrifying, I was at my lowest. Yes, losing a loved one is never easy and to me it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through. I am used to crying, but that week no tear came out. I was all dried up, didn’t know what to feel, how to grieve, what to do. The whole week I didn’t even get out of my bed, didn’t eat or drink enough; and usually my mind keeps racing with all these thoughts, but at that time all I could think of, the only word stuck in my mind was death. And I don’t know what would’ve happened, don’t even want to think about it; if my sister hadn’t practically forced me to go for therapy. She sat there in the lobby the whole time; in the office I vividly remember being quiet for thirty minutes and finally breaking down. But I don’t remember the talks we had that day, maybe it’s for the best.
“Are you thinking about last week?” he said, as always reading my silence.
“All I could think about was death. Like how inevitable it is, but also how alive and selfless it is. All things die, that’s the standard rule, but no one talks about how alive it is to the living. How when one is dead they live for an eternity in the memories of the living. We hate death too much. Death is just the way of life. Even if the physicality of someone is lost forever, literally the person is immortal and we know this because, we often celebrate memories. I don’t know if I make sense.” I never do make sense to me, or maybe my ‘depression brain’ doesn’t make sense to its mirror image. But it’s nice to let out what I think about once in a while.
“You realise that you’re repeating the exact same words of the conversation we had last time, right?” perhaps he was shocked how did I say it exactly the way I did before like I’m saying it for the first time.
“I didn’t know. I tend to do that. Just like I tend to express all my thoughts in literature and not by signs and symptoms.” I mean if someone asked me how does depression feel and expects some physical entities and scientific answers, I say I feel empty throughout, cold most of the times and I get headaches and random pains often.
“Let’s try this. Tell me your signs and symptoms of depression.”
And without skipping a beat I say, “ I feel empty, cold and get random pains and headaches.”
“Now, describe these signs and symptoms like you would describe something poetically.”
I take a long pause and blabber out words that I don’t even know makes sense,
“ Empty, like the whole world is condensed matter interacting and I’m the vacuum, the void with nothing but darkness and all that separates me from the world of masses is this skin of concrete. Cold, as if mimicking death because it makes me numb while hotness is always mimicking the burning desire and all the senses being alive. The random pains are maybe the bruises from the civil war I’m fighting. And my brain is just so tired destroying itself it is heavy with all the guilt it carries.”
“Which feels more real that you talk about it?”
“The poetic one”
“Exactly. See people often forget that depression is a mental illness, your brain is sick and a major part of your brain is dedicated to your subconscious, your imagination; people fail to realise that every imagination, dream, poetry out of your brain is real and should be heard and recognized as a sign and symptom. You cannot simply diagnose mental illness by chemical or physical imbalance and give drugs hoping to find a cure if you overlook the thoughts, the emotions, the feelings, the psychology.”
He is right, the thing is people who say ‘it’s in your head’ like it is not real fail to understand is that physical and chemical parameters aren’t the only thing that makes something real. All of these thought, imaginations, dreams, feelings are a part of the brain and the brain no matter how magnificent and mysterious , is not perfect, it gets sick. Mental illnesses are as real as any other disease. Though you need drugs to help with the chemical imbalances and physical symptoms, you cannot cure mental illness just by them.
“I get your point doc.”
“Final thing we’re going to do. And I want you to really think about it. Be as imaginative and poetic you like.”
“Okay, what do I have to do?” I say while my mind is already running from one thought to another.
“Describe your depression. Not in terms of your brain, but in terms of you.”
How do I describe something that is so much a part of it without letting out the thoughts that I’m so afraid of? How do I say this without breaking down? I close my eyes and go to my escape land. An endless field, I prepare myself for running.
“It’s like you’re out of breath. Like running with no end, just want to escape something you don’t even know exist. You love running, just running away from everything, from everyone and every time. You can’t feel your legs, your lungs cease to exist, all the oxygen is gone. Now you’re in a void and cannot survive for too long, your skin cracks and you can’t run any further so you just float. It feels like every colour is turning black and white after flashing red. Overtime your eyes give up, even the whites disappear. The only singularity you know is black. Numb is all you feel and you feel as if you’re caught in the middle of a supernova. You scream, try to scream. You’re disintegrating into nothing and that’s what you feel. But with all the blue inside you, you get stuck in the eye of a storm. Breathing again, but the damage to you is already done. While the whole world near you goes in a spiral of destruction you just float with calm and nothing. You can’t move, you’re trapped; forever. Till the storm is over and it happens all over again. You start running, but you drown. You start screaming, but there’s no one around. You try breathing, but the oxygen is gone. This time you think it’s over. It never is. It never is.” That’s it. I said it. Now that I think about it, how in the world do I make sense? I didn’t understand everything that I’ve just said, but felt it. And I thought I would be crying after that, but surprisingly I was calm and smiling. Somehow my brain wasn’t overthinking or embarrassed about everything I said? That’s new.
“Introspecting.” He said.
“I guess. Oh look the time is up!” I noticed the clock.
“See you next week.” for once his poker face smiled.