When I played my own hangman

My heart hammers hard when the unpleasant episodes of my painful past haunt me

The demons of depression were dancing in my head when I tore my t-shirts and played my own hangman in a Bengaluru hostel. Alone and agonized in that southern Indian city, they could've taken me dead next morning. But then, life never wanted it that way.

Before reaching a crescendo, the crisis created by lived-trauma, bullying, teasing and name-calling had transformed me from a social to silent person. The change undid my image and kept me away from my friends and family. I became captive of my own dark dungeon. In those harrowing hours of my life, none could see beyond my sulking shell. Perhaps, in my wretched homeland, I wasn't alone wearing those miserable shoes.

But then, when depression invaded my mind, it altered my life. By not speaking about it was to save myself from quick value judgments. When people run their mouth for the heck of it, it touches my raw nerve. Such is the mental makeup of some sensitive lots. And I don't think they deserve to be culled for being wired differently. In the run-up to the Bengaluru buildup, I was diagnosed with chronic depression. I felt lost and lazy. Overwhelmed with joy at one moment, I was crying bitterly the next. The sailor in me had suddenly become a cast away crew member in an anchorless ship.

Overthinking changed my behavioral patterns. My confidence tanked. And yet I was assured: "You're fine, Abid." All those assurances sounded like the clichéd eco-chamber of the valley: "It's ok. That's how it was meant to be." But I was far from being ok. I was losing my mind. Sudden panic attacks made me blank, burden and berserk. Bereft of a crying shoulder and a cushion support, the world looked dark and dismal. As I became apprehensive and anxious, I repeatedly cursed myself for being a misfit. My head became a battleground of competing thoughts. Despite pouring my heart out to my friend, I felt suicidal.

Inside my room, I was blaming my years of torment—allegations and accusations from all and sundry—for my miserable mindscape. And yet, as a fight back response, I was trying to console myself that even the biggest and brightest of minds battled depression at some point in their lives. But the truth is, when you live with it, this mental agony feels different from those depression survivor accounts being celebrated for their life lessons and resilience. It feels like a messy misery, a real disease, pushing you in a bottomless pit. Even anti-depressants hardly come to your rescue. And while passing through a pitiful state and stage, I realized it that depression isn't only about constant crying inside the room. It's like doing all your work like a normal human being but feeling empty inside. I was carrying that empty world with me for long before it exploded unexpectedly. My mind wanted to die, while my body fought to survive. I struggled to smile and laugh. Even routine losses numbed me. My pills fleetingly altered my mental state without exorcising ghosts of gloom.

Despite gifted with willpower, the mental mess made me feel totally waste — a withering, a wondering, a wandering soul grappling with darkness. I became victim of delusional perceptions and plunged into the self-imposed internment. In that morbid frame of mind, a day with depression was more than a bad day. I was drawn into a dragnet, where I was losing a fight back grip and grit. Small blessings in life became as tasteless as the tongue of a Covid-19 patient.

I became as lonely as those long incarcerated men who in their post-prison life hardly adjust with the society. I was an aimless soul drifting alone in the crowd. And the very feeling was cruel and crippling. I was the one motivating everyone with my work while battling with being loneliest. Something in me was dying every day. I couldn't voice it as the culture of denial still exists in our community. We hardly talk about our mental health due to stigma attached to it. Plus, being man and depressive looks mismatch and invokes Chris Rock: "Only women, children and dogs are loved unconditionally."

A man dies every two hours due to this silent killer. Why is that? Why male suicides don't trouble us? Just like many men don't understand pre-menstrual syndrome or postpartum depression in women, the other side also doesn't understand lows in our lives. Men also feel bad days and break down. Men should talk about it. There's no machismo in masking this mind muddle. We all need help. If we don't talk about it now, it'll remain shrouded in stigma and force someone to prepare his own noose, just like I was staring at my own in that Bengaluru room. But after failing to do unthinkable, I dreaded the idea of returning to my family in a body bag. I thought of my dreams and my years of slog. But then, not everyone in my depressive shoes gets another chance.

Depression is a prison where you are both suffering prisoner and a cruel jailor. It is too taxing when your very own people don't understand the idea of mental health. Once a trickle, now a torrent, It kills around 800,000 people every year. Over 300 million people are suffering from depression worldwide. Depression is not crying endlessly. It is like doing all your work like any normal human being but feeling empty inside. Dr. Israr Ahmed once remarked, "Genius and extraordinary minds face highest levels of depression." In modern psychology, we call it maniac depressive psychosis.

Mental health is a silent pandemic. No one lives happy-go-lucky life. There is no picture perfect pose. Celebrities are living agonizing lives. Meghan Markel recently spoke about her struggles with mental health, about being depressed. From J.K.Rowling to Michael Phelps, the brightest of minds have battled depression at some point in their lives. 1993, when a royal lady princess Diana spoke about her battle with bulimia, scores came forward to talk about it. Dwayne Johnson and Deepika Pudukone also opened up about their personal struggles with depression.

This is a highly stigmatized topic. You don't have to say I am fine when you are not. We seek help when we break a bone, why don't we do the same when our heart is broken. Why is mental health a taboo? Over 260 million people are living with anxiety disorders. In India, 150 million people have mental disorders especially among youth. Women are twice as likely to have it as men. There is one suicide every hour under 25 age bracket. Suicide, depression is the next big epidemic to hit the world. Depression and mental agony are going to be number 2 cause of death in next 10 years. Fleeting relationships, no jobs, family feuds, are taking a toll on our mental health. There is nothing wrong in being depressed. The problem begins when we hide it.  Most cases go undetected and untreated. The result is this: Suicide.

Mental health dictates our mood, behavior and decisions.  Serotonin hormone is called a feel good chemical. Its role is to allow communication between brain neurons. Imbalance in serotonin is often being linked to depression. Psychologists at the University of Liverpool say that traumatic life events are the biggest cause of depression in the world. It is just like a pettish feeling in our stomach. We can't hug our bank balance or nice apartment when we are unhappy. When something bad happens to us, we ask ourselves why me?  Let's trigger a conversation.

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