Recently, I lost a good friend of mine. He was a “motorcycle pilot” but much more than this. He would double himself as a male nurse, blood transfusionist, plumber, carpenter and electrician. He had mastered the art of embalming dead bodies. All this, despite having never been to a college or to a nursing or medical school. He was endowed with an inborn dexterity rarely seen. He came from modest beginnings. To me he was like a brother. Soft-spoken and of humble mien he faced hurdles with equanimity. When I learnt that he was crushed under the wheels of a train I was in a state of shock and cried bitterly, went to his grave and adorned it with flowers. Later, I was even more stunned when I was told he allegedly committed suicide. Was he depressed? Did he face any problems? He had never confided anything to me. What an irony of life! This was the same friend who took me as pillion-rider to various psychiatrists at a time when I myself courted major depression. He never asked me a word. But knowing how tremulous and unsteady I was from the effect of “anti-depressants”, he would hold my hand and gently hug me. Oh God how I miss him as I shed tears in vain!
Sometime ago, a distant acquaintance of mine went into “major depression.” He was a daring, strapping man in his sixties, a noble and fearless crusader. “How can such a “strong personality” go into depression?” people would ask. Many questions regarding depression remain unanswered. Why does it affect some and spare others? Why some never get over their depressive mood and even commit suicide? Why do some recover - as if by magic! - to then lead lives that are a hundred times more productive, energetic and fertile than ever before?
Everyone admittedly feels sad from time to time and this is a natural human emotion. But depression is a serious condition that can affect every aspect of a person's life. We have “situational” and “clinical” depression. Situational depression is the transient form of depression in the aftermath of traumatic changes in life. Clinical depression is the more severe form of depression. Situational depression often goes away in time. If recovery does not occur, the more severe condition of clinical depression may develop which is harder to resolve and the sufferer should seek medical help.
Here’s the story of Danielle who always thought that people like her don't get depressed, “I'm always smiling, happy, always the first to make a joke out of a bad situation. I’m a born optimist”, she would boast. All of a sudden she began to experience a constant sense of hopelessness and despair, difficulty to work, sleep, eat, and enjoy friends and activities. On several occasions she contemplated suicide. She consulted a psychiatrist who diagnosed her as suffering from “major depression.” It took nearly a year on drugs, counseling, etc, to overcome her problem. Today, after having fought back her disease, she is in a buoyant mood. But this is what she wants to tell everybody, “My own experience made me recognise that depression has so many different faces and forms. Mental depression can affect anyone; it doesn't matter if you are fat or thin, rich or poor; it doesn't care if you’re male or female; it is what it is; it strikes without warning and can take away your life. You can't help the way you feel. It's there tormenting you hour after hour, day after day, until most of us mercifully snap out of it.”
Many like to keep their tryst with depression a closely-guarded secret. In my own case I make no bones about it. Having courted depression I feel I am in a better position to counsel and give confidence to others. Yes, I have struggled with depression many a time. If I became the person I am today it is because of the hardships I went through. I have also been blessed to learn along the way more about myself and life in general. Here is a piece of advice to anyone facing “melancholia”, a) Do not bottle up your emotions, b) Remember you are stronger than you realize and you are not alone, others go through it too, c) Just because you have struggled in the past it does not mean there is something wrong with you; you are still you, a beautiful person that has overcome the most difficult of obstacles, d) Don’t sweat the small stuff, e) Medication is not always the answer, f) Genuine friends are only those who will stick by you through anything, g) Family support is a must, i) Learn to appreciate life… life must go on no matter what, j) Recovery is a continuous process with good and bad days interspersed. Keep fighting!
There’s a powerful saying by an unknown author that had a great impact on me: “I walked with “happiness” for many years and learnt nothing, I walked with “sorrow” for a month… and learnt everything.” Despite my thousand and one imperfections (too many to be listed) I must confess, above all – and I thank my lucky stars for that - that every time I’ve fallen (and risen!) I’ve been brought closer to God, the Source of Love and Life.
(Dr. Francisco Colaço is a seniormost consulting physician, pioneer of Echocardiography in Goa.)