Getting back on first gear : my decision to live
“It’s been a year” said me to me. It truly has been a year and every time I think of it I glee with pride, tears and gratitude. Around this time a year back I made one of my wisest decisions. No this was not about getting into college or getting a job or paying off debts or about all the other first world problems that we all face. This was just a very simple decision to live.
I remember it was a Sunday. And on the Saturday before I had this meeting with the CEO of the start-up I was working with then. It was at a Starbucks and in this place called Kent Ridge in Singapore. The meeting was interesting as usual but half way through I went blank. This was possibly the third time that week something like this was happening to me. It was very unusual. The feeling of blankness was not something as shallow as forgetting a piece of information. It was deep and very hollow. It felt like nothingness. I was like a robot that moved because it had too. So I couldn’t concentrate much during the meeting and pretty much all of the conversation went above my head. It was like my mind stopped working.
I was coming back to my friends’ house post the meeting and this feeling of hollow continued. It drained me. Walking was tough and it did not help that their house was about a kilometer away from the train station. By the time I reached their home a sense of panick was setting in and I tried hard to keep my mind alert and away. I entered their home and head straight for the sofa. I had to rest. I remember my friends asking me if I was okay. It required immense energy to even say something or to even twitch my face to pull a smile. I remained silent. That was comforting.
I remember fixing their shoe rack; an effort to keep my mind away from the series of internal breakdowns that I was having. They had just moved to a new place after graduation. I had returned home to live with my parents after four years of engineering at NUS and a heavy last year of being diagnosed with depression, of meeting the psychologist, of completing my thesis, finding a job and finally graduating. The last year was tough and the psychologist sessions almost pulled me out of depression, but not quite. I had come to learn a lot of things about being able to control my mind and about being able to be happy (I am a happy person in general. Those who have met me would call me “crazy” simply because I can laugh at almost anything and am almost always smiling). I worked hard on practicing mindfulness. Every night I would walk on the road at the back of my hostel to practice gratitude. I called them my “gratitude walks”. These walks would leave me refreshed and energised. I completed that year with an honours in engineering, my thesis was graded well and most importantly I landed with a job that was making good use of my engineering knowledge and at the same time was working with a very innovative start-up.
Three months into my work, depression slammed back hard and this time in a very unique way. Getting back to that Saturday, night-time had come and the situation worsened. By now I was panicking inside. I was vulnerable and of the sort that could break into tears any time. One of my friends was leaving for her dance practice class and I remember hugging her tight and saying “it’s happening again”. She told me very wisely to not think about it and put it aside. At night I got a call from work and this was the very first call on some issue happening in the production line post my probation period (My company fabricated LEDs). I didn’t quite know how to solve, and the panicking worsened. I left my friend’s place at about 1 am nearly in tears and head to work. People there were very pleased that I had come down on a Saturday night to help out. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much of a help and postponed the troubleshooting to Monday. I got home at about 2am Sunday morning and crashed. Hoping this would leave me. Hoping that I would feel better the next day.
Sunday came and I woke up to the same emptiness. Only a lot more worse. I had a start-up team meeting to attend and I had to make a proposal to my team. I was tired, cranky and empty. As I sat on the train that took me to work, I made a decision. This was my first decision. I was going give up this fight. I thought of my friend who had asked to me to “not to think about it” and told a little “sorry” to her in my mind. This was going to be it. The mental torture was tough and I had fought this long enough. I missed my ability to smile and not being able to feel anything was so draining! I am a planner by nature and I didn’t want to take everyone by a shock. I was aware that a decision like this would affect so many lives around me and I wanted to send them some parting words. I wanted to tell my then boyfriend, who now I have been with for a year, that I was sorry and that he could do better. To my family and best friends, I wanted tell them “thank you for being there” and to my boss, I wanted to say “thank you for believing in me and hiring me for the role” but that he would have to find another candidate now. I figured that I would need about a week to wrap up some things at work and mail these letters. I’d spend the weekend at home and the Monday next week would be my last day on earth. I had the location for the “transition to the heavenly realm” planned too.
I got done with the meeting and on my way back gave my entire plan a second thought. I asked myself numerous questions and re-evaluated. It did seem to me like a perfect plan and that’s when something faint spoke to me and I made my second, back up decision; to give life one last shot. That faint something in there told me to try just once more. I went home and told my parents to arrange an appointment with a doctor ASAP. Quite naturally, they got worried. My father sieved through lists of psychiatrists and booked my appointment for Monday evening at 5pm. I was to leave work early to make to the psychiatrist.
That was the first time I had experienced the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. I went there expecting another counselling session but it was much more different. They listened to a little history and then to my symptoms and very easily suggested a set of pills for me to take. There were three pills given to me. First was one that controlled my anxiety levels. Second, was the magic pill. My doctor explained this pill to me as a sealant to clog the hypothetical hole that had formed in my mind, through which hormones were “draining” away. The third pill was my emergency pill. In the event that I lost complete control of my mind, this pill would work like a “super fast” anti depressant. My doctor described this as a pump that pumped happy hormones into my body. I was told to constantly keep these pills with me and thankfully I never had to take them. What really defined my first experience with the psychiatrist was his parting words “you want to treat a cut, you should apply medicines not talk to it”. The thought of a doctor talking to a cut on your leg was a little funny.
So what happened after? Well, I am writing this blog. I am still alive and clearly my primary plan failed. The medicines worked like magic and It’s been six months since I have stopped taking the medicines. Today, I am able to smile again without feeling like as if I have to harness all the power in the world to do so.
This period in my life is what I call getting back to the first gear, cause I am back again on the driver’s seat of my life. You know it’s like when you meet with this crazy serious accident and then life comes to a stand still. You aren’t doing much, but really just putting your efforts into recovering. My six month medication period was that recovery period. I maintained strict discipline on bed times and waking up times. I tried to have as much home food as possible, stayed away from alcohol. I met up with friends on a regular basis and spoke to them very openly about my progress and where I am now. I had no big ambition to pursue. I broke down life one day at a time. Every day I had some basic goals to achieve; smile more often, work well, find at least two or three good things that happened that day (I would end up finding way more than three), practise controlling my mind, and give gratitude and love to everything I did and everyone I met that day.
Taking those medicines made it so much more easier to meet my daily goals. I researched quite a bit and spoke to my doctor about the condition itself. It was more like my rate of serotonin re-uptake had changed. Hence, I’d be normal and okay at one time and then all of a sudden there would be no chemicals and then I’d feel nothing. My condition gradually improved. My re-uptake rates got back to normal. The frequency of the “emptiness” reduced. Once in a while it would come back and say “hi,hope you haven’t forgotten me”, but the durations were much smaller. I’d wake up and it would be gone.
Today, as I write this I am proud of the back up decision that I had taken. I have learned that sometimes when you are trying to achieve too many things in life, you often forget the basics. And so I make it a practice to thank what I have now. The smile on my face is my priciest possession, the love in my heart for this life and the people in it is my treasure and being able to feel them is my proof of existence. It’s true, that only when you don’t have them that you realise their importance.
For those out their facing depression, reach out! The world is there to help you. Talk to your parents, talk to your closest friends and never ever think about giving up. Try and try hard to search for that will, however faint it may be, that tells you to “hold on”. I think in my case it was really that faint inner call that wanted me to smile again, that made all the difference. To those who have friends or family members facing depression deal with it like a team. Accept and recognise this as a disease, be patient and just tell them that you love them. Tell them why you love them and that they are awesome. Hug and kiss them often (oxytocins!) and tell them that they need to fight. Tell them that you need them to smile.
On a parting note, here is a picture of me taken on my last trip to Queenstown. It was taken by a very dear sister-like-friend of mine and the highlight is my smile. Let me know if you like that smile. I love it!
Here is a follow up story on what I am doing now an how I got there: Taking that leap — becoming a consultant