The first time I was exposed to it, I was very young. My aunt, who I was very close to, had it. She married at 35 and was a widow by 40. She battled with it, her entire life. She used to tell me, she had this sinking feeling. She couldn’t really participate in joy. The last time I saw her laugh was when I put a Snapchat filter on her, a few years ago, during Christmas. The reindeer horns and Rudolf nose made her laugh out loud. I remember that laugh vividly and thankfully, I have the video saved.
She passed, last year. I am glad that she did, because she battled against this demon, for nearly forty years.
Most people do not understand it. They do not understand how emotions can get the better of you. ‘Be practical.’ ‘Let go of negativity.’ ‘Do things that make you happy.’ I am not saying that for them it’s as easy as a switch to be turned on, I am just saying that for them, being practical is easier.
I had my first bout of depression at 20. I was young then. I had my first love leave me. I remember crying, at nights, for months on end. Staying alone. Seeking some sort of understanding. I remember sitting on a water tank, up on my grandmother’s terrace, and thinking how easy it would be to lean forward and end the pain. I wrote poetry. Poetry has been a crucial vent to this surge into a pit of disfeeling. Time, family and friends brought me over through that time.
I experienced death quite a few times. I lost people I loved. I lost pets I have always regarded as my children. I have seen my mother battle cancer. I have taken the hard call to put one of my daughters (for people who want a simpler term, pet dog) to sleep. And I faced a crisis in my then-thirteen-year-old relationship. I faced this pit then. I looked into it. I dwelled in it. I came out of it, because again, life pulled me out. I was 38 then.
This year, it has come visiting me again. Tour de force. I have had a heart break. I have dealt with death again. I have lost two of my greatest support structures in one go. Family still rallies around me. I have populated social media requirements. But this time, it’s more difficult to bear because friends have to stay away – a pandemic governs the world. Fear compounds anxiety.
For the first time, in my life, I have to resort to taking a pill to sleep. When I sleep, I am wakened by vivid dreams of loss and insecurities. My eyes snap open. I am wide awake. I realise it is all true, and I cannot breathe. Panic attacks are common. The surge of emotion becomes so graphic that I cannot express the need to escape it. I will try to explain it.
My aunt wasn’t a woman of detail. So, I couldn’t understand it completely. Now I do. It is like an invader in your home. He has broken doors down like match sticks and entered into your space.
You know he is around. You know he intends to harm you. And you think, if you ignore him, he won’t attack. Because you know, if you call for help, no one will be able to see him. So, you try and do your chores. You answer messages. You talk to the ones you love. You make your tea. Then some object, some memory, around you, reflects him. And – you spiral.
He picks you up and puts you on the bed. Gently. Then he climbs on top of you. Straddles you. He places his elbows on your chest. And he is heavy. (Boy, is he heavy!) Your chest feels as though it is going to cave in with the pressure.
“Breathe,” you tell yourself.
“Breathe,” people, you reach out to, say.
“Try,” he says, with a smile.
And you look at him on top of you. Smiling. It’s a genuine smile. And you can see his eyes. They reflect your fear of loss. They are honestly telling you to breathe, too.
But you cannot.
And then you fall inward. Memories burn. It feels like you’ve hit cold water. Suddenly. And gasps tear out of you. There is no real escape. You hope that it will pass. You look back into his eyes, and say, “please”.
Time passes. You cannot realise if it has been a minute or hours.
Either of two things happen. He stops smiling, and with some power that governs even him, he increases the pressure. Or, your child comes up to you, asking to be taken down. Or your mother yells from somewhere in the kitchen to answer her. And he gets distracted. The weight lessens.
“I have to get up now,” I say. I can say that much.
He turns to look at me. He nods. He knows I love them. He gets off my body.
I sit up and realise I had been crying. I wipe my face. Stand up. And go to answer my kiddo’s needs or my mom’s call.
I turn to him, like a lover. He looks at me, his hands in his pockets. He shrugs. “I’ll be right here,” he says. “I won’t be abandoning you, you can count on it.”
I swallow to wet my dry throat and attend to my duties. Maybe, my mom notices my face. She grows concerned and from her concern comes fatigue and irritation. “What happened to you now?” She questions.
“Nothing,” I have learnt to say. “I am okay.”
I want to call my friends, whom I cannot meet. But guilt takes over. They have seen me through days, when things were unbearable. I wonder, if I am not capable of being strong. If I call them, they would wonder why I cannot take a grip on things. They have their own lives, why would they want to deal with something I cannot even explain properly. And my breath falls short.
Then, from over my shoulder, I hear him say, softly, “hey.”