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For 2015, I’m Trying To Give Up Antidepressants

By on Jan 2, 2015 in Personal | 3 comments

It’s been a while since I have spoken about my mental health issues publicly. And I think it’s time to talk because I’m trying to stop taking antidepressants…and I don’t know yet whether I’ll succeed. *** I stopped taking my antidepressants in the first week of December 2014. Not suddenly…I went on a proper action plan for slowly weaning myself off them. My current bout of depression started in September 2012, which makes it just over two years now. For over a year, I had been on the highest dose of my antidepressant medication – citalapram, 40mg / day – as my course of treatment. Additionally, I am still currently on pregabalin – a drug more commonly used to treat nerve pain in chronic cases – to control my Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Seven months ago, I started feeling better…and that depression was no longer my problem. I felt a modicum of control in my life, through the consistent treatment that I was getting from my psychiatrist and my therapist. Sure, I still had “issues”…but the world didn’t feel permanently dull and dim, like it did in my earlier phases of full-blown depression. So, I told them that I was feeling better and would like to begin proceeding with ceasing antidepressants. I began this process in June 2014. I had good reason to be worried about “doing this the right way” because antidepressant discontinuation syndrome is a very real thing. In the alphabet soup of mental health disorders, this one’s bad because sudden or quick cessation of SSRI antidepressants (like citalopram) can cause electric shocks in your brain (“brain zaps”; which I’ve had to deal with earlier), sensory disturbances, insomnia and a whole lot more. The cause for this, like many other mental health problems, remains unknown. It’s the possibility of insomnia that I was most worried about. I knew that worsening insomnia would flare up my anxiety disorder, because it usually does. I wanted this badly. There was a part of me which wanted to know that I had won. And I wanted this from a medical professional because I worship objective feedback. I desperately wanted closure on this chapter of my life that had gone on for the past two years. I needed this. The road to the end of the tunnel wasn’t easy. Technically, it’s possible to taper off in a couple of months. It dragged out to six months for me because dose adjustments sometimes took longer to get used to. I also had to pause on cutting back dosage during weeks when I had to readjust the dosage of my anti-anxiety medication upwards to counteract issues are they cropped up. But, by mid-November 2014, I was on the lowest “starter” dose of citalopram and I got the go-ahead from my psychiatrist to stop once I finished with my last batch. At first, everything seemed to be going okay. I stopped taking citalopram and felt fine. While it was too early to celebrate, I was secretly doing victory laps on the inside. And then, a few days after I stopped taking it, everything went spectacularly shit. The worst part was the first week or so. I found myself hitting random brick walls of grief which came out of nowhere. I found myself crying uncontrollably, something which always wrecks me because I hate crying. What shook me to my core was that all of this was happening without any reason: not a bad day at work, not fights with people, not a sad song or a book or a film or a TV show. I always look for rational explanations for life events, and especially when it comes to emotional matters I find that I can’t deal when emotions come out of nowhere due to the loss of a sense of control that evokes. It scared me because after six months of slow progress, I was suddenly facing what happened at the height of my depression. A sudden and unexpected regression that seemed like an unravelling of everything that I worked towards to make go away. The answer, of course, was that I needed to stick to the path of staying off my medication a tad longer to see if the situation improved. I always talk about the importance of seeking professional medical help. When I detect things going wrong, when I notice the early-warning signs, I make an active effort to set up an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible. I exercise, practise meditation, eat right, ensure that I have an active social calendar so that I don’t stew in my own thoughts, stick to my medication religiously. What bothered me is that I did everything right. What bothered me is that I have ended courses of antidepressant treatment in the past when my depression went away without any of these problems. Faced with this supposed regression, I started questioning whether things really have gotten so bad that I need to stay on them longer. And how much longer I needed to stay on them. And whether there is any light at the end of the tunnel for me. Whether this will affect me for the rest of my life. At this point, I found myself blaming one person: me. I was the one who thought that I was better. I was the one who asked to be taken off antidepressants. I have...

Why I voted for Congress in Delhi Elections 2013

By on Dec 4, 2013 in Personal | 4 comments

My newsfeed on Facebook and Twitter is filled today with millenials, like me, who voted in an Indian election for the first time posting pictures of their fingers marked with indelible ink. Without any concrete demographic information, but based on what I saw anecdotally, the eventual 66% voter turnout probably comprised a significant portion of millenials. For me, it feels weird that the first time I’ve ever voted in elections was in the UK, not these Delhi Elections. I’d have taken my phone along to take pictures, had I known it was allowed. I saw many people at my polling station with phones, although I’ve heard other reports that people had to leave their phones outside. (The Election Commission of India’s website, unfortunately, has no FAQ for voters. For some reason, they also keep two designs for the website live.) My newsfeed is filled with ink-stained finger pics. I think Election Commission of India should tie-up with Instagram to verify voter count. — Ankur Banerjee (@ankurb) December 4, 2013 The process was surprisingly painless. I only had to wait for fifteen minutes before I got my turn to vote, with the usual procedure of checking electoral rolls and inking of my finger. And it was at that point I headed to an electronic voting machine, behind a bewildered old couple who’d never seen the contraption, and cast my vote for Congress. *** Ever since I’ve been back in Delhi, I’ve been trying to decide which party to vote for. I’m not particularly in touch with Indian politics these days (I don’t even read newspapers here) but it’s hard to escape the constant cacophony of various parties conducting rallies and advertisements everywhere. Every day on my daily run, I would hear at least one ad on the radio from BJP, with an annoying jingle about how they will reduce prices of vegetables and remove corruption. There are hoardings at bus stops talking about prices of onions and the number of rapes in Delhi. While both are sad in their own right, I can’t see myself supporting a political party which bases its entire campaign on ad hominem attacks trying to play on the anti-incumbency factor. Reducing the debate to prices of vegetables is a joke, given that it’s a lot to do with inflation in the Indian and global economy at large, rather than a local factor. More importantly, it isn’t as if BJP is particularly spotless when it comes to a track record in combating corruption. But perhaps my biggest reason for not supporting a Hindu fundamentalist, right-wing party like the BJP is because of its prime ministerial candidate for the general elections next year: Narendra Modi, who features prominently in their advertising campaigns across Delhi. I believe it’s a matter of national shame for India that a person who sat by and watched as one of the worst communal riots happened in India got off scot-free, and is in the running for the Prime Minister of India. For his face Perhaps the same argument could be lobbed towards Congress politicians for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. My grandfather himself sheltered Sikh families in his house when those riots took place and risked his life to turn away mobs who were going house-to-house looking to murder people. Yet, as far as I know, none of those perpetrators are running for the post of running the entire country, even though they may or may not have been convicted. I don’t care for argument that go along the lines of “Gujarat has advanced a lot under Narendra Modi”. That sounds just like the argument supported Adolf Hilter’s rise to power in Nazi Germany. I cannot support a politician who is so morally bankrupt and who has never apologised for the 2002 Gujarat riots. My second choice was the Aam Aadmi Party. Started by political activist Arvind Kejriwal, the party has built its credentials on an anti-corruption platform. When I first saw their logo (on a McDonald’s TV screen, no less), I actually thought “Aam Aadmi Party” was a tagline Congress was using, because of AAP’s use of tricolours in their logo. AAP certainly has been loud and vocal about what they want to do, and because of the pedigree of their leader, I wanted to check out their manifesto (summary in English, entire manifesto in Hindi). They make quite a few lofty promises: reducing electricity bills, 700 litres of free water per day, schools and hospitals in every neighbourhood, et al. All very noble goals, but nowhere does their manifesto do they mention where they will find the money to do all of their stated goals. Higher taxes? Surely that’s not going to be better for the “common man”. For instance, take their promise of providing 700 litres of free water per day, per household. According to a paper published in 2008, the average daily household consumption of water in most Indian cities is 400 litres, so 700 litres is vastly generous. But why should this be provided for free? Access to clean water is a right worth fighting for and there are many parts of Delhi which go without it, and eliminating a revenue source completely (because it’s unlikely most households would ever exceed their free quota) isn’t generate revenue to expand water coverage across Delhi households. Similarly, they claim to have 20% of Delhi’s power needs generated by solar energy...

Saying goodbye to gyaan.in

By on Oct 30, 2013 in Personal | 6 comments

Back in 2009 when I was on a gap year, I had a conversation with two friends from the quizzing circuit: Rishav Dey and Prateek Vijayavargia. We all felt that, at the time, while there were many resources in the form of quizzing blogs run by university quiz clubs, there wasn’t much in the form of discussion going on. This was back when Orkut, and not Facebook, was popular in India so there wasn’t even a pervasive social forum where these discussions could be held. Through this brainstorming, primarily driven by Rishav, the idea of starting a quizzing forum came about and we decided to call it “gyaan.in“. I registered the domain name on 26th January 2009 (it felt symbolic making the purchase on Republic Day), put up a joke landing page proclaiming “Never tickle a sleeping quizmaster” and that was that. But there was something about the idea that kept drawing us back to it. Behind-the-scenes, more people came on board as they found this idea fascinating too. A crucial role was played by Vishesh Kumar, who came up with the gyaan.in logo through a process of iteration. With the branding in place, it took many more months to bash out what gyaan.in would be about. This is what the team came up with when we launched gyaan.in on 20th July 2009: Nothing Official About It At gyaan.in we intend to extend informal interactions between members. For too long in the quizzing circle people have considered each other in a mildly to overtly hostile manner. Informal interactions – members getting to know each other as real people – instead of simply ‘competitors to defeat’ should make a nicer quizzing world. Don’t Be Evil An extension of point 1, at gyaan.in we intend to ensure that no sort of politicking kicks in. To maintain sanity (actually, to combat spam) we will have moderators on the forum but we do not intend to have any sort of ‘positions’. You – the user – have your say in matters and the community decides collectively on its future. What we will have, instead, are evangelists / moderators within the community to spread the word. If you’re interested in being more actively involved in organizational matters then please get in touch with us at contact [at] gyaan [dot] in. Quizzing, But Not For Points We do not intend to have a league table to keep track of who’s getting how many questions right on the gyaan.in forum or events. Partly this is intended to ensure that members who arrive late to the scene aren’t disadvantaged by early adopters who have had a head-start in answering questions. The main reason, however, is that we don’t want it to become Yet Another Place To Look At Other People As Competitors. IRL Once members get acquainted with each other on the Web, we would like to extend the interaction by holding ‘offline’ meets where you can get to converse with members IRL (‘in real life‘). Some of these meets could be where a small quiz is conducted, others could be simply informal meets. Quality Content Providing regular, quality content quizzes, articles, news, archives. Giving you a platform where you can share such resources easily – with our dedicated team of gyaan.in moderators providing editorial support. Content would cover oft-ignored topics in quizzing circles too such as technology and contemporary music. Promote Quizzing In Delhi, Especially In Schools Compared to other cities like Bangalore, Kolkata, Pune, Chennai, Mumbai etc Delhi is often considered to be ‘lagging behind’. While that isn’t entirely true, we do feel that a lot more can be done in encouraging schoolkids to take up quizzing. Our first focus would be to make significant progress on this front in Delhi. The only equivalent around at the time for discussions were quizzing groups on Yahoo! Groups, many of which are still around (but perhaps not that visited – I haven’t checked for a while). Anyway, the point being that Yahoo! Groups was a clunky forum software, and the communities involved more often than not had a competitive bent to them. The gyaan.in team wanted to avoid that: the idea was to have a “safe place” where quizzers could congregate online and share knowledge just for the fun of it, rather than for competitive reasons. There was palpable excitement in the air, driving even usually stoic Karmanya to claim a revolution had begun. *** Although the idea was to be a forum for any kind of quizzing, perhaps because of the fact that most of the moderators on the website were my friends from high school who’d only recently left school or were still at school, the discussions tended to focus around school quizzes. Over time, gyaan.in became the de facto forum for any kind of school quizzing related discussion in India. I’m not exaggerating here. Take a look at the visitor charts (split over StatCounter and Google Analytics)… Over its lifetime, gyaan.in had 0ver 100,000 unique visitors and over a one million pageviews from a community of just slightly over 1000 users. I’m not rounding out those figures for the sake of it, but that’s what it has actually worked out to! Since its very inception, gyaan.in’s community was highly engaged with more than a quarter of the community spending five minutes to more than an hour per day (at least 10% of the visitors) – stats...

2013 Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix

By on Oct 28, 2013 in Personal | 0 comments

Starting grid. Our seats were in the main grandstand upper tier, one of the best seats in the house! The grid girls all looked like clones of the same woman. The pit crew for Sahara Force India team reminded me of Stormtroopers. Sebastian Vettel pulls of theatrics at the end, spinning his car around on the racetrack. Podium finish with random Rajasthani dancers on the top floor. I felt bad for them since they (and the grid girls) don’t seem to have any ear protection. Didn’t wait around for the champagne finish to beat traffic I went with Aditya – his dad had “procured” tickets – to watch the 2013 India Grand Prix yesterday. His dad had good contacts with the organiser’s company, and our seats in the main grandstand right in front of the podium were possibly one of the best seats in the house. Aditya wasn’t particularly interested in attending in person even though he’s a Kimi Raikkonen fan, but was convinced by his dad to go along and see it in real life. This was my third Formula 1 race; the first two I attended were the Singapore and Malaysian Grand Prix. So I was somewhat aware what the experience is like, except it felt different this time because I was sitting in the grandstand. On both occasions earlier I had been in free seating grass areas or had walkabout passes. Viewing it from comfortable seats, with the starting grid right at the front, felt more sanitised but I actually got to see much more of the race than merely cars whizzing past obscured by some tall guy’s head – my default view on previous occasions. The impression that I got at the circuit was that most people who were in attendance had come with comped tickets. Perhaps the fact that Formula 1 as a sport doesn’t have much of a following in India, coupled with how far away the circuit is from Delhi – it took us approximately two hours to drive to Buddh International Circuit – makes it a tough sell. The overwhelming sentiment is “This is my first time here, and I only came for the experience…and I won’t pay to come here again.” Doesn’t sound like this race venue will survive for long, which is a shame because the race venue looks...

So, I guess I’m not graduating with everyone else

By on Jun 27, 2013 in Personal | 3 comments

I can’t believe this is happening. My university released its results for this academic year and I’ve just found out that I’m not graduating this year. I need to resit two modules in August as part of the late summer resits the university offers, which means that the exam board will not be able to ratify my results in time for the graduation ceremony in July. In June, I was called by the department to discuss “my case”. I was told in that meeting that I had the following options: Take a leave of absence from university on medical grounds, take exams later, and defer my graduation until next year. Sit for the June exams as normal, but in doing so acknowledge that I was going against the department’s advice. I do accept my personal responsibility for why this is happening. I chose the latter option, and the gamble didn’t pay off. *** It’s not hard to pinpoint where my academic career went off the rails. Earlier this year, I talked at length about the mental health issues that I have been facing for a considerable period. That was back in April, at the beginning of Easter break. I was still struggling to get back on my feet when I wrote that piece, as I was ramping up my dose of prescribed antidepressants at the time. By mid-May, I finally felt better, felt that the situation was under control. The problem I faced was that I’d gone into a freefall for the period from February to May. I had a pile of work to chew through and not enough time. I felt paralysed. I felt claustrophobic. My primary concern was my dissertation. I’d sunk a lot of effort into it at the start of the academic year, and it was a project that I was proud to be doing because it was innovative, it was an idea that I came up with myself, and something that I felt passionate about. I planned to use the Easter break to catch up on my project, and I emailed my dissertation supervisor for guidance at the time. I never heard back. I looked up to my dissertation supervisor as role model in academic research, almost as a father-figure for how he guided me through the year. (And my counsellor was someone that I looked up to as a mother-figure too.) It wasn’t until that blog post I published on depression that I felt comfortable to talk to him about what I was going through. I was ashamed to admit it, and I was scared whether he’d consider me less capable for it. In fact, he was quite understanding and supportive. It reassured me the tiniest bit to know that he had my back. So when I didn’t get an email response back during Easter break from him, paranoia kicked in. I thought my supervisor was mad or disappointed with me, for letting him down. I felt shame and guilt for not performing to what I thought was the best of my abilities. Faced with technical challenges, I just plain gave up on working on the project for weeks. The truth was for more mundane: the email that I sent simply got buried in the flood of emails that academics usually get. I could have resolved the situation simply by pinging him again. When I finally felt stable, I tried to get on track with getting in touch with people in my department. I’d been regularly attending counselling sessions and having medical reviews of my case, and I went with this evidence to them. The university does have procedures in place for considering extenuating circumstances. Unfortunately, the process of applying for one and the evidence being considered is a long-winded process, and decisions can take weeks – if not months – to be reached. By the time I applied I started getting decisions back on coursework and dissertation deadline extensions, it was already a week to go for my exams. It literally came down to the wire. I remember frantically panicking in the library because I’d supplied all the evidence, and yet only found out half an hour before the normal dissertation deadline whether my circumstances would be considered. I almost had a panic attack. And then…I just got a week extra, when I was finally getting back on track but felt I needed more time to catch up during all those lost weeks. I didn’t realistically think I’d get an extra three months, but what I wanted was to have my dissertation deadline stretch into the summer before the exam board met so that I could focus on preparing for my exams. That, apparently, wasn’t possible because of logistical reasons. I could have appealed the decision my department took directly with the university. However, due to the procedure laid down for this, it would have meant waiting for 3-4 months before I found out the outcome. And if I lost the appeal, well, I’d be up shit creek without a paddle for having failed my dissertation. So I decided not to, and rushed through with wrapping up my project. I redirected all my efforts into getting the project, and did have a working demo in time. My project was to create a real-time gaze tracking system that worked with standard webcam video on mobile phones. (Kinda like what the Samsung Galaxy S4...