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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Going down under: Dealing with depression

How does one deal with depression? What does it mean to talk it out? An IT professional writes about being stuck in the loop of anxiety and breaking out of it.

Written by Himadri Shekhar |
Updated: March 21, 2017 2:02:50 pm
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I arrived in Sydney in January 2016. I uprooted my relatively stable 12-year-old life in Bangalore. I left my job, sold my car. The idea was simple — find a job, settle down and live.

It was clear to me in a few days that I had not anticipated the struggle that lay ahead. I was blinded by the good life that I had stupidly believed was rightfully mine. I was sharing my friend’s house. My family was back in India, awaiting the breakthrough that everyone thought was just a matter of time.
And it did happen. After a few initial hiccups, I aced almost all interviews and was offered a job by the end of February. My family joined me in May. We slowly started settling into our lives — renting a house, filling it with furniture, building our lives from scratch. Whatever I earned was spent on setting up our modest home.

Sometime in July, subdued conversations began among colleagues about a sudden slowdown in work. They said that anything could happen. A project that I was a part of was shelved indefinitely. Something was building up and, at my level, I did not know what to make of it.

It was during that time that I was “advised” to start looking for another job. I was taken aback but my first reaction to it was blankness. I was the newest member in the team and, thus, the most vulnerable.

Financially, I had money to survive a month. It was worse than when I didn’t have a job because now I had obligations — rent, internet, telephone payments, gas and electricity bills.

At my workplace, I was still coping with the cultural changes — the way a software company works in Bangalore is vastly different from the developed world. We are used to a certain job security in India, which is unheard of in the West. In a passively volatile environment where I was, people develop their own defence mechanisms. I was still finding my feet, gauging emotions and reactions while trying to develop my own instincts.

There is no “perfect” time to be asked to leave a job but, for me, it could not have come at a worse moment. I was vulnerable, financially and emotionally. That is when I started to move into a downward spiral of anxiety and depression.

A spiral is what it is — the circles are bigger in the beginning. You spend more time going through an array of negative emotions and thoughts before they repeat themselves — and with every cycle, the intensity goes up a notch. As time passes by, the circles become narrower and as the same thoughts assail you, they start having a stronger impact on your emotional state.

You are a sum of your circumstances — your past, present, your decisions, your positives and your negatives, and everything in between. I was bullied during my childhood, incidents that haunt me till this day. I had a heartbreak when I was 22. It led me to move cities and travel aimlessly as I plunged into years of depression. I am 35 now, but my personality at this point in time is a sum of those circumstances, because, however much I may run away from it all, I am affected by those events until this very day.

It was during that time that I opened up to my wife about the probability of losing the job and the hard time I was having at work. A few days went by and she feared things were going from bad to worse. She floated the idea of talking to the general practitioner.

The first thing my GP did, when I met him, was refer me to a psychologist. He thought hard about the anti-depressant. But fearing the worst, and I do believe I was somewhere there, he thought it was in my best interests to take it. As it is with all things in life, I was sceptical about the psychologist. My first meeting with her happened almost a month later — she was booked throughout (an indicator, perhaps, I thought, of our society’s mental health).

Most of the people I like to talk to have been outside of Bangalore. I never had an active social life so I did not miss that in Sydney. I like having a bit of time alone, long conversations with friends, most of them online, when I can. In that regard, social media is an excellent thing if done right. But friends are human beings and with time, their lives change and so do they, and with them, the friendships that we share — that had hit me hard over the last few months. I found myself longing for those conversations with the few people I am close with.

When I told a friend about what I was going through, his first reaction was “Why?” He was certain that there was no need to visit a doctor. I decided not to speak about this anymore.

So there I was, I thought. I had left everything back home to “make” it in Sydney — a job with one of the best, earning a decent paycheck, triumphant in the eyes of others. But here I was awaiting my turn outside a psychologist’s cramped office, on a Monday morning that also happened to be my 35th birthday.

That meeting, and the next few, didn’t do much for me. Though she tried to be empathetic as best as she could, I found that it is difficult for her to be in an (Indian) immigrant’s shoes — the cultural differences are just too vast, the priorities too different. There are financial aspects that are specific to a culture and the sensitivities are different. Our sessions would go on for 45 minutes or an hour. I’d talk and she’d listen, nodding her head, asking questions to get a clearer picture. Over the course of the sessions, her questions had led me to answers that made me realise I was solving my own riddles, untangling my own self.

My scepticism wore off and one day I realised that she had dealt with my situation in a way that I could understand best — by making me look at the facts. Things so tiny that I had started overlooking them but were positive and basic, undeniable pieces of truth. In my muddled state, I had been hunting for uncomfortable bits of truth and here, in my therapy, I was cherry-picking the sweet ones.

Though I am still on anti-depressants, my therapy ended with the psychologist telling me that I no longer needed her, after almost three months. With time, my circumstances changed (they always do) but I also made some changes that help me deal with anxiety and depression better — I meditate daily and have found ways that help calm the mind. I do try and carry those bits of positive truths in my head.

So how does one deal with anxiety and depression? The truth is that there is no definitive answer. But acknowledging that you need to deal with a problem, whose solution is much more than “talk it out”, is a good start.

📣 The above article is for information purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional for any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

The writer is a software professional in Sydney. Himadri Shekhar is his pseudonym.

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