Surviving Depression

Prologue

Profound sadness is what I have experienced for most part of the last decade. It was easy to close my eyes and let myself spiral down into a bottomless pit. Ceasing to exist was not an option given the dependencies I had let create, and the wonderful people who would be left hurt.

I had to exist.

It had taken me a few years to recognize/acknowledge the suffering. Once I did, I sought help from a few psychiatrists and psychologists. The former gave me happy pills (Mirtazapine, Venlafaxine, Escitalopram, …), that numbed my senses, which was nice, but came with unpleasant side effects. Also, the relief was temporary and I’d max out the dosage in a few weeks. I was impatient with the latter. To be helpful, they needed sufficient context about why I am the way I am, and sharing that information over hour long sessions spread across weeks was an act of faith I did not want to commit to.

I spent a lot of time lurking and asking questions on subreddits and HackerNews hoping to draw inspiration from stories of successful recoveries. My inability to find anything relatable made things worse.


Hello, world.

It’s been over a year since I started trying to fix things for myself. I’m better now. It’s hard to call myself “happy” (what is happiness anyway?), but there’s a lack of sadness, and that to me is a great state to be in.

This is the first personal blog post that I’m ever writing, in hopes that maybe it might resonate with or in the best case inspire someone stuck in a similar situation.


What worked for me.

I set aside hours each day to do nothing. In some sense, this was meditation. Except, I did not force myself to not think. I wanted to get comfortable with the voice in my head. I would sit, lie down or walk while paying attention to my body (the heartbeat, the breath, the funny noises my stomach made), and the physical world outside (there were so many beautiful things to trip on). It hurt at first, I would be consumed by self pity and loathing. But it got easier and quieter with time.

I read about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and put some parts of it to practice. I wrote down what my core problems were, and spent time writing and reflecting about why they hurt as much as they did, and about the baby steps I could take to improve things. Some of them were selfish, like cutting out people who were energy sinks. Some of them were necessary, like exercising (which I still don’t enjoy to be honest, but is now a part of my morning routine). It took some time to condition myself to spend brain-cycles only on the solutions to the problems rather than the problems themselves. Writing, like always, helped.

I opened up to a few friends about what I was going through. I felt the need to clarify that sympathy or attention was not what I wanted. Most of them could not relate and some were surprised given how “happy” I’ve always seemed. But they all understood. These conversations were free therapy/rubber-duckying sessions that helped me gain clarity.

To reduce external dependencies, I restarted hobbies that I had moved on from. I went back to listening to Carnatic concerts, fiddling with the violin, shipping more code at work and playing Counter Strike (apologies to the many teammates that I let down while blaming the lag, it was my poor reflexes all along). I suddenly had a bunch of little things to look forward to doing each day.

I made a Trello board with lists of

  1. wishes that had become a reality (like getting to work at Google and the 50% discount I got on the cheese cake at Coop one night).
  2. wishes that were yet to be fulfilled (like watching the northern lights with my wife and taking my parents on a Euro-trip).
  3. people who I knew loved me unconditionally, and would miss me if I were gone and vice-versa.

This Trello board was pinned to my browser across all workstations and would occasionally pop up as I cycled through tabs. When it did pop up, it was hard not to feel grateful.

Lastly, I treated myself. I was privileged enough to afford most of the things I wanted to do, like buying that cheese cake at Coop even without the discount and quitting my job and moving back home. It was refreshing to indulge in the harmless things that felt right without overthinking.


Epilogue

Once I stopped letting things stagnate, it became easier to internalize that I was not helpless. I’m now surprised by how with some patience, I could rewire my brain.

I don’t know if what worked for me will work for someone else, given how we are shaped by and stuck in different worlds. But hopefully the fact that things did get better for me will inspire you to stay and figure things out.


P.S: If you ever need a rubber ducky, please write to me at vishnu@vishnu.tech. I will positively respond.