By Shehar Bano Rizvi
This month has seen a number of suicides, including the famous designer Kate Spade, Chef Anthony Bourdain and two other men who committed suicide in the Holy Mosque of Kaaba. These suicides make one thing abundantly clear — that depression has nothing to do with wealth, success or faith (or the lack of it).
After the most unexpected celebrity suicides, social media exploded with posts and messages, pushing for people to “Check in on your stronger friends” and peppy messages like “You are NOT alone”. But still fewer have come forward to say, “You are NOT alone… because I am WITH you!”
People may want to show their support, but fewer still want to come out in public and admit they suffer from depression, too.
Well, that’s why I am doing this today — I am going to tell my story of dealing with depression. It may come as a shock to a lot of people because my ‘perfect’ life on social media is contrary to what I am going to narrate today. But yes, there is always another side of the story that we hardly see on the social media.
What is depression?
Depression is a very common and serious medical illness, which is largely still a taboo in our society. It affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. It’s a mood disorder that can make doing the most mundane and basic day-to-day activities look daunting to the one suffering from it. Depression can lead to even more severe complications when left undiagnosed or untreated such as self-harm or attempted suicide.
And I can say that because I have been there myself.
How I figured out I have depression and what it felt like
I never knew it could happen to me until I left Karachi, the southern port city and financial hub of Pakistan, some 14 years ago. I got married and moved to Doha, which on paper looks like a good change and it was — but it came at a price. It changed everything in my life. I left my family, my job and my country to move to a new place, with no friends and no career.
Like every newly married woman, I enjoyed that break for about six months. Setting up our own place, together with my wonderful companion and exploring the new country and making lots of wonderful memories. Everything was perfect, but then sadness started to creep in. I didn’t want to go out; getting out of bed every morning seemed like a daunting task and even I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me!
To be sure, I was happy in my marriage; I had everything I going for me and yet there was a cloud of sadness hovering over me. My husband figured out that I missed my work and so pushed me to restart my career, which helped me jump back at life.
But then, sadness hit me again when I was dealing with infertility and going through its emotionally exhausting treatment. It was one of the most difficult times of my life and people around me didn’t help (intentionally or unintentionally). Questions, comments and remarks like….When will we have a baby? Why don’t I stop working and focus on starting a family continued to mock me! It was a tough time for both of us, but I was the one who failed to cope with it.
I slept all day, didn’t want to get out of bed, cried at every turn and couldn’t deal with even the minor day-to-day issues. I felt I had no energy in my body to even get up and take a shower or get in the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I felt like I was dragging myself to go from point A to point B every day and life felt exhausting.
Many a time I thought about ending the misery by ending my life. I had suicidal thoughts and that’s when my husband reached the conclusion that it wasn’t something that I could deal with myself or he could talk me out of. I really needed professional help.
Reluctantly, I went with him to my first appointment and I can clearly recall how difficult that was. I was in a state of denial, trying to fight the notion that I was a ‘mental’ patient. Sitting at the psychiatrist’s office and looking around I felt ashamed — What if someone I know saw me here? What would they think of me? Why am I sitting in the office of a psychiatrist? All these questions affected me, and on an impulse, I just wanted to leave — go back home, get behind my closed doors, in my bed, and weep all day!
But my husband made sure I didn’t. I had the most difficult conversation of my life in that room. For the very first time, I was telling a stranger how I felt, with tears rolling down my cheeks uncontrollably, as I confessed about my darkest and deepest thoughts and fears. The psychiatrist immediately knew I needed help and put me on medication.
Medication for depression
Medication for depression? There was an immediate rejection from within.
“I can’t take these. I am NOT mentally sick. I am just sad and troubled”…my inner voice told me. I feared that taking the medication would get me labelled a mental patient and that scared me to death. I tried to ask him if I could have therapy and talk it out, but he insisted that I needed them as I had a moderate/severe case of depression and I won’t be able to talk it out until the clouds above my head, cleared up a bit. He started me on Prozac and reluctantly, I gave in.
In as little as two weeks’ time, I started to see a difference. Moving my body from point A to B didn’t feel that exhausting. I was able to get out of bed and go out. I was able to function and it got better and better with time.
Taking the medication has been life-changing for me. I have been able to cope with so many difficult situations without breaking down. The quality of my life has improved drastically.
Antidepressants work by balancing chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters that affect mood and emotions. These depression medicines can help improve your mood, help you sleep better, and increase your appetite and concentration.
How long you need to take them totally depends on your situation and condition. I have a genetic factor involved (my dad suffered from anxiety) which means I need it for longer, but that’s not the case always and the medications can be tapered off as well. There is a possibility that you might not need the medication at all and can only be treated with psychotherapy, but your doctor is the best judge of your treatment, so professional help is instructive.
What can you do to help yourself?
Exercise can do wonders for your brain health. A single workout increases the levels of neurotransmitter like serotonin in the brain and uplifts your mood almost immediately.
Diet can also have an impact on your brain health. For example, leafy greens like kale, avocado, berries, bananas, walnuts etc. are considered good for your brain health.
(Disclaimer: These are good for your brain, but not a treatment for serious depression. It’s best to seek professional help)
Other reasons for depression-like symptoms
Another thing that I want to talk about is that there can be depression-like symptoms, but these can be totally related to some other issue. For example, I also suffer from hypothyroidism and Vitamin D deficiency, and both of them have depression and lethargy as their symptoms, too (and very common, especially among women). I was treated for them first before my doctor started me on antidepressants, so one should get his/herself checked by a medical professional if one has any of the symptoms to get the correct diagnosis.
Living with someone with depression
Dealing with depression is not only difficult for the person, who is depressed, but can be extremely exhausting for the family, too. I know how frustrating and exhausting it was for my husband to see me like that and trying to help change my mood. It’s extremely important for you and your loved ones that you get proper treatment and help.
Support for depression in Qatar
HMC has excellent Mental Health services where you can seek professional help as depression is the second most common mental health condition in Qatar, according to HMC experts.
There are a number of other community groups that provide support (like Qatar Mental Health Community, Doha Mums Post Natal Depression Support Group and many more).
Depression is REAL. It’s a disorder which is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain.
It has NOTHING to do with how strong (or weak) your faith is; how fulfilling and blessed your life is, or how ungrateful you are for sulking and not being thankful to God for all the blessings in life.
Don’t ask people when they tell you about being depressed by countering “Why do you feel depressed or have depression?”. Because it is likely that there is NO reason for it. It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain. Do we ask someone with cancer, “why do you have cancer?”
‘Advising’ people who suffer from depression to “try to be happy” won’t help them, because it is NOT in their control. They need professional help.
The need to talk about depression
Depression or anxiety (which go hand in hand) or any other mental disorder is a malfunctioning of the human body like any other disease…say hypothyroidism, hypertension, heart disease or even cancer. When we don’t feel the shame in talking about these disorders of the body or shy away from getting treatment for the same, why do we feel the shame if it’s associated with mental health?
We need to talk about it more so that people who suffer in silence can feel comfortable talking about it and, in turn, seek help.
We may save lives if we talk about own struggles. Let’s break this taboo. And this is exactly why I have chosen to tell my story to the world.
* The author is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Software Engineer by profession. A Pakistani expatriate, she has been living in Doha for more than 14 years, and blogs about her life, parenting and more by the name ‘Diary of a
PMP Mom’— @thepmpmom
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