Understanding Depression, Innerstanding the Depressive

by Debasmita Chakrabartty,

Following the tragic news of fashion designer Kate Spade’s death due to depression and anxiety, came another blow three days after with renowned chef Anthony Bourdain succumbing to it. As usual, an over-enthusiastic energy is seen in conversations on depression and anxiety, particularly on social media, after celebrity suicides. Nonetheless, should only tragic news drive us to discuss depression? Can depression not be included in regular, day-to-day conversations? While I have been very open and frank about it in every day conversations, I wonder why I did not write about it earlier. But I am writing today, with the hope that people give this a read, from the many articles that are already floating on the internet, because depression is #NowTrending.

Coming to what I intend to convey, how many of us truly understand what depression ‘feels’ like? How many of us innerstand depression? Understanding depression is not difficult, but innerstanding it either needs experience or heart. Let’s begin with understanding it first. Depression is a dysfunction of the brain caused by inadequate amount of serotonin and dopamine subjugated by heredity, lifestyle, over-consumption of alcohol, repeated drug abuse (typically the synthetic ones), a variety of vitamin deficiencies and/or life events. Any or all of these, sometimes lead to a prolonged mood disorder, also known as ‘blues’. It works similar to insulin, where your body is unable to produce enough to maintain a normal blood sugar level that eventually leads to diabetes.

What does depression feel like? (Here we want to innerstand depression). It is a mysterious combination of feeling hopeless, worthless, incapable, incompetent, inferior, lacking interest in anything and everything, along with impaired thinking, self-loathing and shattered self-confidence. You unintentionally end up over-introspecting and belittling yourself day after day, month after month eventually developing a heavy social anxiety. So, what makes people take their life? (Something most people fail to understand). Although untrue, depression makes you believe that you will never come out of it! You know something is happening to you, but you don’t know when it will end. You feel like you are going crazy when you are actually not! And then there is this constant feeling of sinking with mild to moderate breathlessness. There is no relief and death feels like the only way out.

I am giving the diabetes reference again for another bout of innerstanding. Hypothetically, if the sugar level of your mom or dad rises above 300, how worried are you going to get? I am certain it will alarm everyone in the family. Because this could mean organ failure, dialysis, blindness or death! Like diabetes, depression too, takes life, in a much melancholic way. Why be so indifferent to the depressive then? I have often heard people asking, “How is it possible to feel like this?” Well, here’s a way to find out – read Reasons to Stay Alive. The book is so profound; you feel every word, every letter even if you haven’t experienced any of it before. So many people are living with depression without knowing or with no real understanding of it. So I get why it can be a challenge for others to fathom these kinds of disorders.

We are conditioned to relate mental disorders to mental institutions. Invisible disorders like depression and anxiety are easily disregarded and passed off as ‘over-thinking’. But that is the problem actually! How on earth do you get the mind to shut up!? Then comes, the meaningless insensitive clichés, adding to the agony – “Don’t think so much”, “Be positive, you don’t look good this way”, “Life is tough,” and my personal favourite, “Try not to be sad, learn to be happy”. Most people confuse depression with sadness. No! Depression is not sadness. Sadness is a natural human feeling. It is an emotional response, not a disorder. Sadness will not last for months, or years together. Depression is persistent, it is stubborn, and thus needs therapy second, innerstanding first. Empathy is needed here, not sympathy.

In high stress industries such as fashion and media, many people suffer from smiling depression, the most dangerous kind. This is masked by appearing happy and fun on the outside while the insides are a battle ground, tearing you with every passing thought! You have to smile for the shutterbugs. You have to smile for glamour. Amidst all the glitter and glam, such industries often end up being a dark and lonely place for people. A classic example of this was Ms. Spade, even actor/comedian Robin Williams. Because they looked so happy, no one could see what was coming! Ms. Spade was seeking professional help though, which suggests that her condition was known to her close ones. It will be fair to say that it was only known, and not understood. Most people in the industry are seen inducing false positivity because it helps them keep the façade on for a longer span. No sooner than you show you are vulnerable, a tidal surge comes washing you away.

Intolerance is the bedrock of depression, where your feelings have no validity. No matter where you go, there is never a dearth of minds showing off intellectual/fashion prowess, minds that can never create an inclusive environment for everybody to thrive in. Your existence means nothing! A friend, or so I thought, time and again ridiculed me and once mockingly said to me, “You can’t wear black over black! It’s a fashion faux pas!” Excuse me for my condescending tone, but who are you again? Donatella Versace? Allowing useless opinions to seep into the subconscious slowly slip us into depression – of being “just not good enough”. Why is it so difficult to accept that everybody has a personal style that reflects individual personas? Fierce competition and the ever increasing pressure of being the best, making the most sales, more money, coping with the market, keeping up with the Kardashians! *Pfff!!!*

We are being fooled by fools every day, leaving us overwhelmed and troubled with anxiety/ depression. Anxiety of looking like a fool if we do not incorporate the current trends and depression because self-expression and self-worth is plagued by self-doubt that turns to self loathe in a jiffy! We don’t want to kill ourselves; we don’t want to live either. But what really makes us pull the trigger, a bunch of hormones? Are you sure you are ready to say the final good bye because of lack of serotonin? Are you going to let hormones fool you into killing yourself? Or can we get these little assholes to better work and look forward to experiencing beautiful picturesque sunsets and sunrise together! You ought to believe that you are amazing and that you are not going to let people around you or the industry you work in define you!

With more and more suicide cases and reports coming out, I feel it is crucial for people to make conscious efforts towards trying to understand depression. As an individual, as a human being, I often bring up this topic with people I meet on a daily basis and with every new person I meet. It might look like I am always talking about negative things. But it’s all right, as long as this could prevent potential suicides. So many hidden stories could come out if you just make it normal for people to talk about how they feel. So many people can get help and find hope to live longer. So many smiling depressed can finally begin a new journey to smiling fearlessly.

Debasmita Chakrabartty