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Sex, Pain, Emotions, Depression

By on Apr 8, 2013 in Personal | 3 comments

It’s 3am as I write this blog post. Yet, I can still hear birds chirping outside my window. I’ve been stuck in a rut for the past few weeks and honestly, I don’t know what quite to do with my life at the moment. There are times when my mind is racing along at a thousand miles an hour with too many thoughts than I can humanly handle; times when every thought seems to be coated in a thick dollop of honey and crawling along. I either starve myself or binge eat on most days. My sleep cycle is off the charts, either sleeping for less than half an hour a day (or not at all), or spending sixteen hours a day “napping”. Smoking, which helps with stress release, is something that I’m indulging in like a chimney stack right now. There’s simply too much going on in my head and I truly wish I could talk about all of those things here. I can’t, I simply can’t bring myself to do it though – partly because it involves not just me but other people close to me too, but mostly because I’m usually not comfortable talking about my mental health issues. I wrote a blog post a couple of months ago – Depression, Zen, and barber shops – the first time that I ever publicly talked about the fact that I’m affected by depression. It felt cathartic to, in a sense, shed a skin I’d been hiding inside. But I still didn’t go too far with talking about what it’s like to actually deal with depression on a daily basis. That’s what I hope to do now, in the hope that it helps me clear my head. Helps me get out of this rut. *** The popular conception of treatment of mental health issues is that of an ornate leather couch where you lie down on, get shown some ink splatter, and then a distinguished and bespectacled gentleman with a beard nods sadly and tells you that you want to have sex with your mom because of underlying trauma. I wish I had a fucking couch to lie on the first time I sought help for depression. Freudian psychoanalysis – to which the whole shebang of inkblot tests and lying on couches belongs – is fairly discredited in the modern mental health community. This is primarily due to advancements in the understanding of how mental illnesses actually affect people. The first point of contact when seeking help, as is with most people these days, is usually through a recommendation from a counsellor to a general practician – yes, the same doctor you see for common cold and chlamydia – where you’re evaluated for how seriously depression is affecting you. My first appointment ever with a doctor regarding depression lasted less than ten minutes. Evaluation is done using a standard nine-question questionnaire that checks for statistically objective indicators of behaviour that have been shown to show a strong positive correlation with the occurrence of depression. I was considered a serious enough case to need medical intervention (as opposed to just counselling) and sent away with a prescription. The truth is that modern mental health treatment is firmly based in the usage and prescription of antidepressant drugs. The whole operation runs with the ruthless efficiency of a battery chicken farm. To this day, nobody really knows the precise mechanism of how antidepressants work. Well, the doctors have their theories. The fundamental idea is that when a person suffers from depression, their brain chemistry is physically altered due to reduced levels of certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, chemicals that help transfer messages within the brain. From this correlation, it was found that certain substances that alter brain chemistry by increasing the levels of these select neurotransmitters over time help patients recover. Therein lies the crux of why modern medical science places so much faith in pharmaceuticals: they have been proven time after time to be incredibly effective at solving the problems they are intended to solve. Even though the mechanism of how the drugs work may not be fully understood, in comparison to placebos, antidepressants on the market have been shown to work. But while antidepressants do work in helping a person feel better, most of them come with a host of unintended side effects. It’s just something that you learn to live with. The first time I had depression, ages ago in high school, was a mild episode that was solved through talking therapy. I was so glad to have the support of my teachers back then. Then a second wave hit me: the first antidepressant that I was ever prescribed  was one that a lay reader would probably be familiar with – fluoxetine, better known as Prozac. The infamous blue pill – although you’d be hard-pressed to find it in its original form as developed by Eli Lilly due to the rise of generic versions – is the line of first resort for any doctor. I went through two courses of fluoxetine for different episodes, and it worked well. I got better. I got happier. It felt good, it felt like a dark and sad chapter in my life had finally ended and I’d beaten something that I never hoped would enter my life again. Something changed two years ago. I started my industrial placement year…and after...

Depression, Zen, and barber shops

By on Dec 28, 2012 in Personal | 11 comments

The last time I had a haircut was back in February. Since then I have cycled through various iterations of dyed hair: ginger, blonde, grey, blackish-blonde, reddish-black. I simply love the attention that I get from dyeing my hair after each episode – and from the general perception that people who know me get from it that I do “crazy, spontaneous things”. The truth is that it helps my self-image a lot to be perceived as outré. I have a weird relationship with my self-image. I meticulously cultivate a persona that ensures that I get attention from others. I do genuinely like having a different taste in culture, although I do wonder whether at some point this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (I like different things because I like being different?) I go through intense phases of self-loathing despite outwardly denying this ever happens. There are times when I feel intense hatred towards my parents for what I feel was a lackadaisical attitude in parenting in my childhood, sometimes I feel indifferent towards them, and yet other times I feel a needy yearning for their approval. My relationship with my parents is another one of those things I am incredibly uncomfortable with because I don’t know myself where I stand. When I said in my last post that I could not decide whether to fly to India or not, this was partly the reason: I wasn’t sure whether I was ready to face my internal demons on where I really stand with respect to my parents. (I took the decision to solider on.) Thus far I have shied away from ever mentioning this publicly, but you know what, fuck it: I suffer from depression. It’s become a fact-of-life that I have struggled with for years, along with associated problems such as behavioural and eating disorders. I consider cognitive behavioural therapy to be “for losers”, even though I rely on it – and medication – massively as a crutch to remain a functioning individual. I loathe how being on medication appears to make my emotions ‘flatline’ while generally keeping my mood stable in a way that I cannot without their help. Most of all, I hate the side effects that come with taking antidepressants – which have been various depending on the specific antidepressant that I’m on at any given time. What has been hardest is that I’ve never let on that I suffer from depression, except to a handful of friends; although of late I’ve let more and more friends in on this ‘secret’. Acknowledging what I see as a ‘defect’ in myself simply did not sit well with my curated ‘public’ persona. My biggest worry with telling anyone about this has been that I don’t want to be pitied and, well, when I do tell friends what are they going to do about it anyway? Depression is, ultimately, a problem that I need to deal with myself. Still, I’m grateful for friends who over the years have lent an ear to me in my darkest hours. The past few months have been incredibly harsh as I went through a major depressive episode. What really freaked me out is during this time I had thoughts of self-harm – and I usually haven’t been that ‘bad’ to have thoughts of harming myself or others. This was driven less by self-loathing and more by a lack of any kind of feeling during this phase, to the extent that I wanted to hurt myself just to experience ‘something’. One of the reasons why I started letting more friends know what I was going through is because I was incredibly scared of losing grip and actually doing something stupid. I put on a brave face regardless because I didn’t want my friends worrying about me, but it was nice to know that there were people who went out of their way to simply meet up with me and chat about what I was going through (and what was going on in their life). Part of this self-image cultivation is my online identity. It crept up in a way that I didn’t even notice. I was timing posts on Twitter or Facebook so that I knew they got maximum exposure: craving for retweets, likes, and shares consumed me and I when I got them, I genuinely got a kick out of it (no matter how much I denied it). That’s what I was on about when I wanted to disconnect during my trip to Turkey. Thus the cycle continues. I feel smug about how self-aware I am, feel smug about recognising my own feeling-smugness-of-my-self-awareness and so on as I take one step forward two steps backward on what I keep thinking is a path towards self-actualisation and personal epiphany. For all the noise that I make about changing as a person, I don’t know how much of it is just that – noise – and how much I’ve really changed. My takeaway from being more open about what I’m going through has taught me one thing: that a lot more people than you think suffer from mental illnesses, from personal experiences that I found out when I told my own experiences. Am I wrong to feel somewhat comforted by this fact? I don’t know. What I do know is that mental illnesses are still an awkward topic, and there are people who look at you weirdly...

I Survived A Zombie Apocalypse

By on Nov 13, 2012 in Personal | 0 comments

Watch the horror unfold among our group in this video on 2.8 Hours London 2012 You never think a zombie apocalypse will strike your city – until it does. Fortunately, my friends and I were prepared when one struck London on 10th November. Or at least we thought we were prepared. Conceptualised by Slingshot Games, 2.8 Hours Later is a real-life zombie apocalypse game where players need to navigate their way across a city in “2.8” hour-long marathon while dodging actors dressed as zombie hordes. Essentially, it is an elaborate game of tag, as getting ‘infected’ by a zombie means they tap you and you must stop to let them mark you with UV pens. The catch is that some of the UV marker pens work and some don’t, so you don’t find whether you’re infected or not until the end when you’re ‘scanned’ at a quarantine camp. In case you’re infected, they make you up as a zombie, and then you’re off to party at a Zombie Disco. My friends and I were told of our starting location near the Docklands in London mere days before the event. We made our way there on a cold Saturday evening, along with about two hundred other people taking part on the same day. Once we signed the customary waivers (“remember, if you get hit by a bus, you WILL die!”), we were briefed and given maps with grid coordinates and sent off on our way. Our first checkpoint was through an underpass – which we were told was ‘clean’ – but, surprise surprise, there were zombies there. And while we ran, my map fell out of my pocket. I would probably be the most useless member of a group in a real zombie apocalypse if I lost my map within the first two minutes of trying to make an escape. That first encounter with zombies left us spooked, and we spent our time constantly checking our corners and walking in separate flanks. Next stop was a shipping container yard. Bit ironic, because while on our way to the game we were discussing the best places to hide in a zombie apocalypse and a shipping container yard was one of our top choices because we figured they would be a storehouse of many different kinds of essential supplies and not many people would necessarily think about going there. We quickly realised why nobody in their right mind would ever go to one: shipping container yards are fucking scary places at night! Especially when you have a crazy actor with a hook torturing a bound woman inside a container (who gave us the next coordinates) and not knowing whether there would be a zombie around the corner. (And shipping container yards have lots of corners as we discovered!) The game is as much about orienteering as it is about strategy. At each checkpoint on our way to the “helicopter extraction point”, actors played various eccentric characters who gave us grid coordinates for the next location – sometimes in exchange in for tasks which, not surprisingly, involved going into dangerously zombie-infested areas. And then we had to figure out the best way to reach that coordinate using the map we were given. We reached a multi-storey car park, where we found the “husband” of a woman (actor) we met earlier in the game. Apparently, he was a diabetic who had dropped his sweets on another floor of the car park, and needed us to get them. You would think that teamwork is the best way to tackle this, as there were three floors between us and the sweets we needed to get, and we did indeed start off that way but man, when a zombie starts chasing you, you really do forget whatever you planned! once one of us did pick up some sweets, we were hit by the that sinking realisation “Aw shit, now we need to make it back.” I was the first person to get ‘infected’, tagged by a zombie as I indeed up being a human shield against one of my friends. The game organisers went out of their way to make it creepy. Along our route, we found makeshift memorials with pictures of “missing people” with nobody around. As usual, we were spooked and keeping out a watch. Were we supposed to do anything at the memorial? We didn’t know! This element of uncertainty throughout kept the game interesting. By far the scariest bit was a park infested with zombies that we needed to make our way across. We walked in and saw the footpaths and the greens littered with shuffling actors (at 8pm at night, you can’t even clearly see them) when a couple asked us whether they could join our group. We said yes and started discussing how we’d approach this, when that guy started screaming. In that instant, it clicked for us that it was an actor and we ran for it. And boy did we run, with zombies chasing us from all directions! We were told that the helipad in the field had been overrun, and we needed to cut our way across the field to go a blinking transponder which would give us our next location. Many of us got tagged in the process. There were chances to ‘cure’ ourselves too. At one point, when walking down a road we were told there...

Layover

By on Sep 7, 2012 in Personal | 0 comments

I’m writing this at Zurich Airport, in transit to Istanbul from London. I’m paying more for wifi at the airport for an hour than I do for the whole month back at home because I just wanted a screen to stare at to comfort me. I finished with my placement year not too long ago and there’s so much to talk about that experience, and I wanted to, about what it taught me. I never got around to doing that because the last couple of days have been rough. I don’t think talking about it right now is going to make me feel any better so I’m not going to. I have the worst headache ever and I spent most of yesterday curled up in a blanky so I don’t exactly feel stellar. All I can say is that this holiday to Turkey…I really need it right now to try and recover. I’m also going to take this opportunity to disconnect from social media when I’m travelling. Part of my problem, I believe, is that I use Twitter and Facebook as outlets to boost my ego. There’s nothing inherently wrong with people sharing what they think on this sites. Sharing tweets / status updates itself is not an issue, many people can handle that. Just that for me, it has become part of a much bigger problem, where I feel a constant need for validation, a constant need to say something to make myself appear funny or interesting. It’s a small stab at solving a much larger problem with my behaviour but it’s a start. I will keep my accounts active on Twitter / Facebook because I use it to stay in touch with friends and discover news, and that’s all I’m going to use them for. I enjoy longform writing – something I’ve hardly done for the past year – so I’m going to keep blogging (and there’s a script that automatically publishes new posts to Twitter / Facebook, I’m going to keep that active for those friends who do want to know what I’m up to). I’ve never taken a stab at travel blogging so perhaps I’ll try that, if it helps me get my mind off things, and I’m going to focus on only publishing positive experiences here, for a while. There’s a South Park episode titled Casa Bonita, where Cartman wants to be invited for Kyle’s birthday party at a Mexican restaurant so bad, but Kyle doesn’t invite him because he doesn’t consider Cartman a friend. Cartman vacillates between lashing out and going on a charm offensive. One day, he shows up at Kyle’s door and the conversation goes somewhat like this: Cartman [in a sweet voice]: “Hello Kyle!” Kyle: “That’s not being nice, that’s just wearing a nice sweater.” Time to move beyond the nice...

A Third Culture Kid

By on Jun 3, 2012 in Personal | 11 comments

I stumbled across Wikipedia’s entry on ‘third culture kids’ a week or so ago. Story of my life, I thought. A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background. I don’t fit the dictionary definition of a third-culture kid as I didn’t follow my parents into a different country and then return to my ‘passport country’. In a way though, I have always faced a cultural identity crisis. Although my parents are both ethnically Bengali, our family starting with my grandfather have been living in Delhi since the 50s-60s – significantly before a majority of Delhi’s population. Among my friends who are typically first-generation Delhiites and often not brought up in the city, I’m a second-generation Delhiite. My granddad worked in the Air Force and was posted all over India. My dad was born in Tamil Nadu, though like me he’s a Delhiite by every other measure because this is where he grew up. My mom, on the other hand, was born in Jharkhand. (Hell, I was technically born in Jharkhand – because that’s where my mom’s parents live – but when it comes to considering what my home town is, it cannot be anything other than Delhi since this is where I grew since I was an infant.) So my parents are both Bengalis who grew up in a culture different to theirs – unlike many of our Bengali relatives who live / grew up in Bengal – and I continue in their footsteps. By virtue of growing up in Delhi, my dad’s more of a Punjabi than a Bengali. Fine, my mum’s fairly Bengali. Thanks to growing up in Delhi / my dad, I can identify a lot with Punjabi culture. Every summer vacation for the first twelve years of my life, I was shipped off to Jharkhand with my mum (her parents still live there) – so I can identify with a lot Bihari / Jharkhand culture too. I lived near a cemetery, attended summer school there, had actual milkmen visit my granddad’s house and squeeze milk out of a buffalo while he fought over the price, gone on weekend trips to Bodh Gaya, seen snakes crawl into the house when it rained too much, can follow conversations in Bihari dialects others would find arcane, and – early on – shit in an outhouse. I’ve been around the block. I’ve seen and experienced first-hand through my time there things about Bihari culture I’d take for granted in Delhi. The fanfare when they got traffic lights! Mobile networks! An ATM open in town was a festive occasion! A mall! (That mall would probably only count as a very large shop by Sarojini Nagar standards.) I’ve been to Bengal  a grand total of perhaps four times in my life: the first time ever was for my Cadbury Bournvita Quiz Contest shoot, the most recent one a couple of years ago for my cousin’s wedding, and the other two times while travelling around. I haven’t spent more than a month in total my whole life in my supposed ‘cultural birthplace’. I suspect my parents are almost as worse off for people of their age, for they haven’t spent as much time in Bengal. It was weird growing up in Delhi. Even within the same city, I’ve attended three different schools and lived in different neighbourhoods. At a smaller scale each school or each neighbourhood had its own ‘culture’ of sorts too. So while I do know friends who’ve studied in different schools or shifted cities, it was always necessitated by shifts between cities. I don’t even know why I changed schools. Each school came with its own culture, its own set of values that the teachers and the students there valued. I have native fluency in both Hindi and Bengali – more so in the latter than most Bengali kids because I know the language beyond conversational fluency as I’ve read ‘proper’ Bengali literature AND learnt to write (I’ve forgotten the writing part by now). My household was a weird one. I’d often speak to my dad in Hindi, I reckon because it was a language he was comfortable with while conversations with my mom were in Bengali. My mom hated Hindi conversations for some reason – and she’s a Sanskrit teacher! (Certainly came handy when I took up Sanskrit as my language in middle school.) Over time, a majority of my conversations with my parents defaulted to English because it was a ‘neutral ground’ they both agreed on. That, I think, explains my affinity towards the English language to the extent that it’s the language that feels like ‘home’ to me. Bengalis are massive anglophiles anyway. I am an only child, and to be honest, my parents and I weren’t really close during my childhood (I didn’t have birthday parties, we hardly ever went on family vacations even though my dad’s an avid traverller, et al), so a lot of things that shaped me came from my school peers – more so than other kids, I feel – and that too was never...