My name is Harshi, which essentially means “someone who brings joy to others.”
I have depression. I have dealt with it almost all of my life and with my depression comes substance abuse, body dysmorphia, anxiety and insomnia. Depression is like that sometimes- it brings all its friends to a party in your head that you didn’t ask for and that you cannot seem to stop.
I don’t really know when it began. I don’t think anyone does. It always just begins, slowly seeping into your consciousness - a culmination of everything that happens, and then one day you wake up feeling nothing at all, and everything at all, all at once. All I remember is that after my birthday, I was puking up my cake because I felt fat. I remember standing on my school rooftop contemplating jumping because I felt like no one liked me. It was me sitting in the back of my class, unable to breathe and cutting myself with stapler pins, and no one ever noticing. And for the longest time I believed that this was normal. I didn’t have anyone to tell me that people don’t think about killing themselves. And even when I did, no one ever told me that it’s okay to feel this way, only that you have to work until you don’t feel that way. When I was finally taken to a psychologist, it was because I told my mother that I didn’t want to live anymore. That’s what it took for her to take me in for an appointment. I remember detaching myself from her for so long, waiting it out, secretly hoping that she’d stop loving me and feel less pain when I ended it all. But when she knew, she knew, and she took the necessary steps to help me.
For all of my life I felt like my issues weren’t real enough to deserve talking about. I never asked for help, partially because my disease made me feel like I didn’t need any help at all. I felt like I’d be a burden on people so I shut myself out of the world. My depression created a bubble for me to live unhappily ever after. But, I remember my mother on a call with a psychiatrist, crying, while saying the words, “my daughter has been talking about killing herself.” I will never forget that day. It was the first time I saw my mother cry. It was the first time I realized that my life has meaning to not just me, but to others too. My mom had to drag me to my appointment because I kept saying that my feelings were normal and I felt a sense of uneasiness talking to someone I barely knew. But it was what had to be done. I never wanted to see my mom cry again and if that meant pouring my heart out to a stranger, then so be it. That is one thing my disease couldn’t take away from me - my name. I needed my mom to feel joy, even if I didn’t.
For a long time, I denied my depression and eating issues. If anyone asked me why I had scars on my hands, my cats would be an easy target. If anyone asked why they hadn’t seen me eat, I had a list of excuses ready. My psychology teacher in high school asked me time and time again why I wore long sleeves, even in summer. I knew all of these people knew that something was wrong, but I was so afraid of them wanting to make fun of me instead of helping me. I was so scared to open up to my family because I didn’t want to be a disappointment. I didn’t want to be someone with a mental illness, because I believed that if I could cover it up under my blanket and turn off the lights, then no one would notice the bed in the middle of an ocean.
My symptoms are like a range of mountains. Some days I’m at the valleys, with beautiful rivers and birds chirping, and other days I’m up the mountain with so little air that I can’t breathe. My symptoms are triggered by people, events, failures, mostly negative life situations. There are definitely days I wake up feeling tired and unable to cope for no reason at all. Those days I sit on my bed for an hour and go to my classes in pajamas. It isn’t easy but I come home, I have a bath, and I try to change, and I try to be at least a little better. It’s a journey. There will always be ups and downs and there will always be triggers. I believe that with proper therapy and medicine that work for you, the illness will stop looking like a range of mountains, and instead look just like a very uneven plain. But whatever the topography is, I know I need to walk. Standing still will get me nowhere. So everyday I try to take steps. Some days the distance is in kilometers, some days it’s just a few steps. And some days, I walk backwards. But I try my best to go ahead, as much as I can.
My illness has changed my life. For one, it has made me a lot more empathetic. I don’t remember where I read the quote, but it said “everyone faces their own demons”. I never really understood it until I faced my own. Everyone has a journey, everyone breaks, everyone feels terrible. My illness has made me very sensitive to the slightest change in people’s behaviours. It makes me want to reach out, to help- to be the hand in the ocean that I clung onto when I was drowning. But with every good comes some bad and my illness has broken me. It has shown me that my mind holds a dark place that it can retreat to when I don’t have enough in my life and nothing is ever enough sometimes. It’s shown me my vulnerability and it’s shown me just how low my lowest is.
My illness also made me selfish. I only thought in “I”. I want to kill myself. I want to die. I feel like shit. I never, ever bothered to look at the damage it caused to people around me. If I wanted to cut myself, I’d do it, and the next day I’d try my best to hide my arms from my friends and fail miserably and see them sigh and be worried about my health. But being in therapy has helped, of course. Being in therapy has made me so much more grateful for all the people I have around me, for all the help that they provide, and how they can take pails of water out of the ocean I’m sinking in and slowly, but steadily help me out of it.
My illness showed me my willpower. It showed me that I am strong, I am capable, I am loved. Getting help and starting treatment made me see the world through a different set of eyes, and I am glad that my illness existed in me because if I didn’t know what it was to be sad, I would never appreciate my happiness.
I want people to know this one thing- we aren’t seeking attention. Depression, eating disorders, panic attacks- they aren’t just cries for help. Not taking them seriously could do more harm than good, and I want everyone to know that. Tomorrow is always too late for someone you think has a mental illness. Do it today, do it now. You wouldn’t wait for tomorrow to take a person with a broken arm to the doctor, right? And then, even if the doctor says it’s a sprain, you wouldn’t blame them, right? So treat mentally ill people the way you would with any physically ill person. We have a disease, and it’s already bad as it is. The least you can do to help is acknowledge it’s presence.
#dontcallmecrazy. My name is Harshi and I have depression, but it does not have me.
- Harshi Shah, 2018