I didn’t realize I was having depressive episodes till last year. I’d initially gone to the psychiatrist after a nervous breakdown and I had no idea what was going on. I was diagnosed with persistent depression in 2015 and I didn’t know what it meant, the doctor called it dysthymia. When I went to a therapist, she told me what the depressive episodes were so I started looking at them more analytically and realized that traveling was one of my triggers.
When I got triggered, the symptoms that I would see were fatigue, feeling not just paranoid, but insecure as well. I’m not prone to thoughts of insecurity, I just don’t usually feel them. But, during these depressive episodes, there would always be insecurity, a persistent sense of being unsettled, with not being OK where I am. It was marked with low fever, sometimes even low blood pressure, and racing thoughts.
Earlier, I would think that these feelings were just the product of strenuous travel or stress about meeting my family. After a while, I realized these were depressive episodes. I would go home and I would have a fever for two days. My mom would say, “you’re so stressed in Bangalore and when you’re back home in Chennai, you’re literally in bed for two days, wasting days of your trip.” This would keep happening and I used to think it was because I was taking leave and it was work that was stressing me out so I was burned out. Then, I understood that it was beyond my lifestyle, it was a characteristic or symptom of my depression.
When I brought this up with my therapist, we isolated the cause of the majority of the anxiety. I don’t have these depressive episodes if I’m going on a holiday, it’s usually concentrated around going home and coming back. My therapist identified that it could be caused by the guilt I was feeling for supposedly abandoning my family and the overwhelming responsibilities I have after I come back.
Human rights law isn’t the most financially stable field to be in and I work independently, so those kinds of insecurities would crop up. Basically, the reason why I became this way and have these depressive episodes is that I was returning to something that was emotional baggage. I didn’t have space to feel my feelings or be myself and I automatically went into that space where my body and my mind would just crash. My therapist called it double depression. She said, “you’ve been diagnosed with dysthymia, you do live with depression and are on medication for depression and on top of that, when you go to a place that brings up residual feelings, you fall into a doubly depressive state.”
“The loss of control makes you feel angry with yourself, makes you feel guilty, frustrated, and lowers your self-esteem.”
She was very helpful, gave me a few grounding exercises and made sure that we scheduled therapy before I traveled, and after I came back to ensure mental health support at the right time. Earlier, I would try to push through, I would get up in the morning, force myself to do things, basically force my way through the day and then actually fall sick. That was my way of coping, I would get work done but still be sad, depressed and low. After I actually unpacked stuff with my therapist and was supported successfully by medication, I just stopped trying to overcome it. I sent out emails to put work on hold and allowed myself to get through those days, I made sure I maintained a certain routine by working out, eating right, and getting rest.
Showing up for yourself is the most challenging part of going through depressive episodes like these. The loss of control makes you feel angry with yourself, makes you feel guilty, frustrated, and lowers your self-esteem. Those are the times we have to show up for ourselves and support ourselves through whatever bodies and minds are going through.
I recently started writing which has really helped. I wrote down a lot of thoughts during my last episode and revisited them before I traveled this time. It helped me get through the episode because I saw what I had written and had felt and knew it would pass.
You can see these episodes coming but you know you can’t do anything about it. There is this profound loss of control that is the most challenging thing about it. I would be lying if I said I am not concerned about it. But it’s nothing new, it’s never stopped me from traveling and it’s honestly something that I have to take one trip at a time.
The interview has been edited for clarity.
Krithika Balu is a human rights lawyer and researcher based in Bengaluru. As told to Sherina Poyyail.