I was writing a draft for this post but that was so long ago that I've decided to just forget about it and start new here. It's a Sunday, June 11th, 4:44pm.
This post, I want to talk about mental health.
For context, we'll start with my upbringing. I grew up in a wonderful typical Asian/Malaysian household. Typical being we ate a lot of rice, we went to extra tuition classes, we had a big external family (lots of cousins and aunts and uncles), we were shy with our "I love you"'s and... we never spoke about mental health. Was it a lack of belief or was there just not much conversation about mental disorders in the community at the time? We were always questioning it like it was a choice, it'll sound something like "She's so rich, why is she depressed?". I don't know anyone in my family who went through a mental illness but it could be because no one identified nor acknowledged it at all. I grew up with that and so I, too, never got it. Never got what it means to have anxiety, depression or anything beyond that. It just felt to me like a state of mind that you could just "get over".
That said, I never liked saying the word "depression" for fear it may seem I was belittling the actual illness. Sure, I never really understood it but I also didn't want to disrespect the term. It was the same with anxiety. I had a friend who went through intense anxiety when we were studying abroad. There were Facetime calls that started with crying and breathing difficulties and panting and all that. I sympathised genuinely but again, I just never really got it. I could not understand how something could set off something so much bigger within. I looked it up numerous times and after reading so much material on it, I got a better idea of what it means to be anxious and have panic attacks.
I'm having a bit of a hard time segueing into the part where I tell you that from being a mere audience to friends' experiences with depression and anxiety to then finding myself in my therapist's room as she nudges the tissue box to my direction as I stumble for words to tell her why I'm there. She diagnoses me and she talks to me calmly. The whole time I'm just dumbfounded that I'm even there, that I've allowed myself that mercy to seek help after weeks of complete gloom. The weeks following that appointment, I had a lot of trouble coming to terms of what I've been feeling. I hadn't shared it with a lot of people other than my 2 sisters who lived with me at the time. And even with them, it went unspoken and from knowing me their whole lives, nothing had to be said for them to know that I was not the same.
If I could explain it simply, depression feels like a weight on your heart. Some days, I can feel it hover over me. I'd be walking around, driving, eating or doing a chore and I can feel my heart get heavy and soon before you know it, the feeling overwhelms your whole body and then it gets too much and the only outlet for this is to breakdown and cry. I'd always feel dazed and my only source of comfort was complete literal darkness. I'd pull my curtains together, got under the covers and faded in and out of sleep. I felt detached from work and had low energy levels for months on end. I stepped away from the social circles I was in and left social media because it was my biggest trigger. I stopped doing things I enjoyed and just wanted time to pass by. I appreciated truly all the friends that checked in on me but had no energy at all to get to them. For the first time in forever, I really didn't care about anything at all. I just wanted to be left alone.
I wish I could snap out of it and just get back to the regular programming of my old self. It's tiring, man. Being sad in itself is tiring but no one tells you how draining it is to live in between those episodes, to constantly anticipate the next breakdown. You have the nice moments here and there, I've had some great moments with friends and family, I've traveled here and there alhamdulillah but for now, it still follows me everywhere I go and while i'm grateful for the sweet things in life and the hikmah that has come out of it, I still struggle on most days.
No one wants to be sad all the time, no one wants to go through a hard time in their head, no one wants to be tired and no one wants it to obstruct their lives and the relationship they have with the people they love. It's so easy to say to someone to cut it out, take it easy and just be appreciative of what you already have than to be grieving over what you don't. Taking yourself out of that rut isn't easy and will never be easy. It's a huge climb to being well and the path there is never linear. I was doing ok for a couple of weeks and then I fell through. It felt devastating to see the progress and be confident with where I was going only to be proven wrong just from a single passing thought.
I have a completely different outlook on mental health issues now that I'm going through one myself. It's not by choice, it's something that just happens. My doctor told me that going through depression means the brain is going haywire. All the neurons and wires that were meant to connect normally are now all tangled and messy which would explain why you can't find happiness or enjoyment in the things you used to. I won't count myself as an expert but if you're going through something that feels out of your ordinary and if it feels like anything I've written here, I sincerely hope you take time out to find ways to be better. Don't dismiss it and expect it to go away. Acknowledge it and take care of yourself. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Just as you would find ways to fix a wound or a fracture, you gotta also do it for the mind and heart. I highly, highly recommend therapy and seeking professional help. I'm embarrassed to say I was a disbeliever of it but after going to one, it did a lot of good things for me at the end of the day. There are many qualified ones here in KL that you can easily Google through but I'd be happy to share with you my personal one if you'd like.
I'm taking it a day and a cry at a time. The other day, a song I've avoided for so long came up on my Shuffle and instead of rushing to click Skip, I thought ok let's try. I let the song play out and as I hummed through the last note, I switched off my radio and sat in silence. In a lot of ways, getting through the song was my tiny and precious win. But I also knew it in myself that that was as far as I could go that day. Learning bits and pieces of how to live your life through depression and anxiety is something I never thought I'd do but making peace with it and moving ahead anyway is something I'm grateful for.
"Best we can do is to keep asking for help, and accepting it when you can and if you keep on doing that, you'll always be moving towards better" -Higgins, Ted Lasso.
This is just something additional that I sincerely hope won't isolate groups of people, but personally for me, prayer helped a lot. I've watched a lot of videos on Youtube about depression and faith and it has really, really helped me understand this a lot more. About grievances, about finding the light at the end, about being patient, about instances of reward for having trust and patience and ultimately for understanding that taking care of yourself is an act of ibadah also. So don't worry about the stigma and focus instead on being healthier. Some days might look bleak and like you have no hope, but God is always with the lost and the sad. Know that and continue to do what you can to be better. Minute by minute, day by day, week by week, month by month. You'll get there.