Hi, my name is Rishav Ghosal, I am a first-year medical student. I've been dealing with depression for almost 5 years now. I was formally diagnosed with clinical depression and mild anxiety in May 2019. I've been in therapy since, and this is my story.
Before I begin, I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself. For starters, I really enjoy talking to people. I love getting to know them, learning about their cultures and personalities. Pretty sure I have a few friends in every continent except Antarctica. I also enjoy video games, podcasts and self-help books.
It's hard to say exactly when I began dealing with depression and anxiety but I was around 15 years old at the time, going into 9th std. I used to feel sad, upset, empty, and sluggish and nothing seemed to matter. As time went on, the things I enjoyed no longer interested me. Somehow this gave way to anxiety, nightmares, and panic attacks. By the time I reached 11th std., things were bad enough for me to start considering suicide as a valid option. I would have suicidal thoughts and panic attacks almost every other day.
I was scared and didn’t know what I could do. I wasn't too close to my parents; the thought of opening up to them and asking for help was terrifying. I didn’t really have many friends growing up. Sure, I had acquaintances, but no friends, no people whom I could open up to, no one whom I could ask for help. So finally, I decided to create a support network for myself, which I could fall back on for when things became too much to handle. Thankfully, it worked and I managed to make a couple of really good friends during this time. Looking back, I knew that I should’ve sought professional help sooner.
Instead, what I started doing was follow people who spoke about mental health on social media, and I did my best to help myself however I could. They gave me something that I desperately needed then - hope - that things will be better one day. Eventually, as I started taking care of my mental health, things did improve. I wasn't cured, not by a long shot. I was still battling depression, I still had panic attacks, anxiety, I still had suicidal episodes, days where I could do nothing but lay in bed because getting up demanded energy which I didn't have. It was just less frequent.
I even got in a relationship at the time, and my then girlfriend was perhaps my biggest source of support. She was someone I could talk to when I was feeling low, and even if she couldn’t cheer me up, at least she would listen to me and make me feel acknowledged. It didn’t last, but I still cherish those memories.
“The courage to open up to my parents came out of the fear of what would happen to me if I didn’t. Things were pretty horrible for me a year ago, and they had gotten slightly better; I didn’t want to go back to it. I also knew it would affect my studies and I really wanted to do well in my exam.”
So, I decided to reach out and opened up to my mom about everything that was going on. I sat her down and explained to her, presented the data from an app I was using to track my thoughts, which was telling me to seek help. To my dismay, my mom told me it was all in my head. She said that it was because I was cooped up in my room all day studying, that this didn't exist in her time, and I would be fine if I just went out for evening walks. She also said that I won’t kill myself because those who die by suicide don’t tell other people. I knew how wrong she was, but I was powerless to do anything about it.
This happened in November, 2018. I am incredibly grateful that I had friends to support me during this time. I was afraid I would go back to feeling numb. My mental health deteriorated, and my academics reflected it. Things would get even worse as time would go on. I did my best to slow the decline so as to not break down before the big exam. Things were bad, especially in the last few months of my NEET preparation.
I felt the anxiety, the panic attack, the lethargy, the sluggishness all coming back, and it terrified me. By the time I had taken my NEET exam in May 2019, I was almost completely broken. I had applied for 2 more exams after it, but I couldn’t do it without risking a complete dysfunction. I remembered how bad it was 2 years ago, and I couldn’t go back to that under any circumstances. I was afraid. I was tired of this illness preventing me from being happy, from being the best version of myself that I could be.
The first thing I did after the exam was sleep, the second thing I did was write an email to a group of counsellors I had found online. I knew I needed help and I didn’t want to wait for anyone’s acceptance anymore. I was also secretly hoping they wouldn't revert because I was terrified of having similar conversation like I had with my mom again.
They assigned me to a therapist who reached out to me and told me what the basic procedures were. My mom refused to listen and told me to speak to my dad about this. Thankfully my dad was much more understanding and compassionate about it. It was the first proper conversation I'd ever had with him. He wanted me to see a psychiatrist of his choosing first, to make sure I needed therapy and I wasn't being scammed. I was perfectly fine with that.
The Doc diagnosed me with clinical depression and anxiety after listening to me half-heartedly. I was extremely disappointed with the way he treated me, but at least now I could finally begin therapy. Two weeks later I had my first session with my therapist. She asked me what my story was, and I told her to the best of my ability. I told her what I had been through, what I was dealing with, and what my expectations were. She was incredibly patient throughout the session and it felt good. I felt as if I could be open, without fear of judgement and without feeling like a burden. Therapy soon became something like a safe place for me.
To be honest, I didn't believe that a therapist could help me. I had already done everything conventionally advised to take care of one’s mental health – opening up and talking to people, journaling, meditation, physical activity and exercise, everything I could think of. I really believed that there was very little that someone could tell me that I didn’t already know. Thankfully, I was wrong. I am a very different person now compared to who I was a year ago. Going to therapy was the best decision I have ever made.
So here I am, I still have occasional spells of depression and anxiety, but I am much better at dealing with it now. These are things which never really go away, you just get better at handling it as you get to know yourself better.
I still have panic attacks and bursts of anxiety, but I now have the resources to effectively deal with them. My mindset has changed and I guess that’s been the biggest change. My therapist helped me re-evaluate the things that were actually important to me, things I should be focussing on. My desires were contradicting to one-another which was creating conflict, so we managed to reorient myself to things which mattered most.
Together, we spoke about all my insecurities, and uncovered childhood trauma, which helped me get a better understanding of myself, and in turn, a greater appreciation of everything that I’ve been through. I learned to embrace the hard times – as the saying goes “smooth seas don’t make good sailors.” Hard times make us who we are, they give us opportunity for growth, to learn; they should be welcomed.
I still remember during our very first session she asked me what the things were that I wanted to work on and improve? I said self-discipline and self-esteem. She said that we could do that, but I should start with self-love.
I accepted it because she was the professional and knew what she was doing, but I can now understand how correct she was. Self-love is perhaps one of the most important things one can possibly develop. It’s at the core of everything. I am not perfect, not by a long shot, but I am trying to better myself every day. Right now, I’m practising self-compassion more.
Another important mindset change I experienced is that I stopped looking at life as a series of successes and failures. Life is more like walking on a path. You can walk for as long as you want, but sometimes you have to take a break and sit down under a tree. You’ll sometimes stumble and fall down and maybe bruise your knee, sometimes you’ll take a wrong turn and have to retrace your steps, sometimes there will be a storm and it’ll leave you drenched. But sometimes everything will be absolutely perfect, and you’ll meet some amazing people whose paths intersect with yours and you’ll get to enjoy their company.
We all have good times and bad. Sometimes the people who we thought we couldn’t live without leave us, and that’s alright. Everything changes, and that’s something that we need to accept and embrace. Nothing is truly permanent, not the good things, but not the bad things either. I guess the most important thing that I learnt is to know that no matter what happens – I’ll be okay.
If you're wondering if you need therapy, know that you don't need to wait for a personal catastrophe to be eligible for it. If there's something you feel that you need to work out, then a therapist can help you. And if you've had a bad experience with therapy then please don't give up on it. There are some therapists whom you can't connect with so don't be afraid of changing your therapist till you don't feel satisfied. Therapy is a wonderful opportunity for personal growth, and you really do deserve it.
Rishav is currently pursuing his medical degree from a college in Siliguri, West Bengal. He still continues to work on his mental health every day, finding a safe space in monthly therapy, books and the people around him :')
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are of the author.