By Abhishek Thakore May 2007 A young achiever writes of the journey into depression and out Life. It has an uncanny way of getting back to you. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured, you get the biggest setback of your life. It has probably happened to you. If it hasn’t, sometime in your life it might. It’s amongst the most painful levels of existence you could ever dip to, when still alive. People call it by many names. Feeling low. Gloom. Being ‘lost’. Clinical depression. I don’t know when it all started. It stands as but a faint memory now. It was a combination of things – not doing well at job, relationship challenges and yet nothing that was very difficult to handle. I recollect feeling extremely bad. Emotions would translate into physical pain. A hopelessness about existence – nothing to look forward to. I remember not having anything to talk about – spending hours in loneliness, wondering if I even made sense when I spoke. I remember how irritating any input felt – music, TV or even normal interaction. I remember absolutely losing my ability to communicate. All because all I felt within was an empty, aching void. It started as a “low mood” – then it was for a long while and not getting any better. I spent long hours doing nothing at work. One day I was surfing for symptoms of depression. It was only then that it hit me. I was clinically depressed. The solutions were all out there: Exercise regularly, no sweets, the works! And yet I couldn’t act. Just couldn’t get myself to move. And it only went from bad to worse. Sleeping 18 hours a day. Not responding to parents who were sleepless and worried. Not getting moved by a girlfriend who wept for hours on end. I was numb. I did not like me. I wanted to die. With serious contemplation I remember arriving at the conclusion that jumping off the building was the best solution for me. Luckily, I shared this thought with a few close to me. If I wouldn’t have, I’d probably have ended up doing it. The thought of my parents and loved ones stopped me. Life, of course, went on at its own pace. I remember having to go back to campus of IIM- Bangalore, to give a talk to the incoming batch of my MBA school. I sat in the plane with a genuine heartfelt prayer that it should crash. Time crawled. The black hole seemed eternal. It was not that I had done badly for myself. Quite the contrary, actually – given three published books and an NGO to my name, education at a premier business school and ironically also, a lot of Laughing Buddha columns for Life Positive. I was a role model to many. But in this state, I was ashamed to even look myself in the eye. I avoided people as much as I could. Suddenly, all that self-help I shared with people for years did not seem to work. My faith was shattered. The last ray of hope too seemed to have vanished. I guess it was my success that became the reason for my failure to retain my composure, my balance. Suddenly, I found myself at a place where it was very difficult to succeed. Where none of what I had learnt had helped. My dreams of contributing to the world crashed. From the ivory towers of arrogance to the realization that I am a cosmic blip… it was a slow arduous journey. Alongside was a very important realization. All my life I had lived with the identity of an achiever. Sure, there were setbacks, but I bounced back quickly. People around me reinforced this identity. However, what I had set out to accomplish was prone to failure (entrepreneurship). Somewhere, having that identity meant that I denied myself the permission to fail. I whipped myself internally. It was a vicious cycle – of doing bad, feeling bad, mental whipping and feeling worse, interspersed with temporary highs from sweets. And then slowly I started coming out. As soon as I accepted the low, as soon as I accepted myself, I started moving out. It was an ugly picture on the outside. It was so comfortable just being depressed and getting away with things. Externally, everything was dismal – scattered relationships, lots of added weight because of the sweets I used to overdose on, a career that seemed heading nowhere, totally rusted talent and, most importantly, no faith in life or even self-help. And yet today, out of my low I write as a totally different person, talking of a completely different reality. I wonder what worked. One thing was the faith of the people around me. The other was taking action, even though it felt like it would never end, even when every action seemed useless, just continuing the basic movement. The low has been one of the deepest learning experiences of my life. For one it has given me my much-needed dose of humility. It has made me realize what is most important – not million-copy bestsellers with your mugshot on it, or hundred-people seminars, not high fame or loads of money, but the most simple things in life. People. Relationships. Nature. The low has made me experience life more fully and made me realize that there are so many others around who are going through it. Many without even knowing it. Others who know it but won’t accept it. And yet others who won’t reach out. Having been there, it’s easier for me today to identify people who are going through it. And to stand as a living example. I now understand that life has its own ways. The universe has its own plan, often far greater than what our tiny minds can comprehend. And that in the end, it actually is all for the better. When life chooses you for a rigorous course, remember what Benjamin Disraeli had correctly observed – there is no education like adversity. “Adversity is the first path to truth.”Lord Byron
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