Shubhrata Prakash, author of The D Word, which is excerpted here, speaks to us about her journey battling depression. She is equally honest about what keeps her going, as she is about the challenges that remain — because let’s not kid ourselves, there is no magical short cut to happily ever after. Healing takes work.
Her book offers a glimpse into her personal journey, but also explains various facets of the condition, medication, and much more, as she attempts to raise a conversation on a topic that has long been difficult to discuss, here in India.
1. Looking back at all that you have gone through — and continue to go through — what has been the most challenging part of the journey?
I have found getting past the bad days the most challenging, though dealing with the social stigma of mental illness is a close second. In order to help myself during the bad days, I have to be constantly alert to the altered thought patterns, and keep telling myself – this is not me thinking; this is Depression thinking in my mind.
In order to help myself during the bad days, I have to be constantly alert to the altered thought patterns, and keep telling myself – this is not me thinking; this is Depression thinking in my mind.
2. What do you wish you — and loved ones — had known a few years ago?
I surely wish we had caught on to the fact that I had post-partum depression. I also wish I had access to psychotherapy, especially CBT, in the early days. I wish there was more awareness all around.
3. How important do *you find it, to read about first-person accounts of living with a mental health condition. You mention Dr Google in the book for example…
I have found reading about other people’s first person accounts to be a life-saver. World-wide, the level of research, and knowledge arising from it, about Depression, and other mental health conditions, is still at an early stage of evolution. Till date, no cause-effect mechanism has been discovered for what causes depression. Hence, there is no silver bullet for killing the beast yet.
That is why reading about other people’s experiences – what helped them and what didn’t, and how similar having depression feels across gender, nationality, socio-economic status, how others held on to hope when things looked bleak – all help in holding oneself together and in trying to find a way out of the darkness actively, rather than giving up on living.
This is all the more important as in the Indian health care system, the doctor-patient ratio is so horribly skewed that most doctors do not have time to sit and explain things beyond the basic prescription. A word of caution on Dr Google though – do not try out anything new without consulting your doctor first. Google is open-sourced; everything you read there may not be true. Use your better judgement.
4. Being in a government service, was it harder for you to access help, or any challenges linked to the fact that both you and your husband have government/ transferable jobs? Was it something that you thought about while writing this book?
Well, having frequent transfers is a part and parcel of being in government service. As I have written in my narrative, sometimes it was on our request, sometimes it came out of the blue. It does cause disruption in the daily routine, and more so when one is dealing with a mental health condition. It takes time to settle in with your team, especially your psychotherapist. You build a rapport, and you are getting down to working things out, and then suddenly – transfer!
However, being in government service also placed us in that socio-economic bracket where we had access to the best facilities possible wherever we were, including an international hospital in Bangkok. For the most part, my husband and I have received a lot of empathy and support from our colleagues, and that has made living with my condition a lot easier.
5. You have also listed out major myths and facts — you don’t take a strong line against superstitions, but caution people to not go cold turkey on their treatment. Your thoughts? (Especially as someone who’s learned that she was given the wrong dosage/ drugs with serious side-effects.)
I have faced a lot of nastiness and derision from society because people, in general, are uninformed or misinformed about depression. People mistake depression for sadness –- they do not know it is a brain disorder, and as real as any physical illness. So, I have focused more on myths and commonly held beliefs. I haven’t come across much superstition.
On the issue of drugs, as I have discussed in detail in my book, well, there is so much that is not known. Since the root cause of depression is still not known, anti-depressants are still a trial-and-error way of managing depression, and how someone will respond or react to a particular drug is unpredictable. Person B may not react adversely to Drug A, but Person C might have severe adverse reactions. I had to taper off drugs twice because of severe adverse reactions, which the doctors were not ready to acknowledge. Going cold turkey off psych drugs is not at all a wise thing to do because the withdrawal or ‘discontinuation effects’ can be dangerous.
People mistake depression for sadness –- they do not know it is a brain disorder, and as real as any physical illness. So, I have focused more on myths and commonly held beliefs.
6. It’s hard to remember to have hope when the black dog is around… anything that helps you, that you would want to share with others?
Whenever life loses its sheen and looks less appealing, I anchor myself to my family – my husband and children – and life looks rewarding again! Have your own anchor in place, whatever it may be.
7. What is the one thing you’d want loved ones to know about depression — if you can share with us, some of what you write about in the book?
Depression is a brain disorder, an illness. The behaviour, thought processes, crying spells, malaise – all are involuntary because that is what depression brings, much like high temperature is what fever brings. Be kind, be empathetic, be accepting; that is the first and foremost step towards helping your loved one recover.
Be kind, be empathetic, be accepting; that is the first and foremost step towards helping your loved one recover.
Editor’s Note: As always, Please remember that if you or someone you care about shows signs of possible depression/ PPD or another condition, it’s best to seek expert help. Some resources are listed here.