I suffer from depression and anxiety. I donʼt say that to elicit pity or condolences. I also don’t intend to make it sound like a bumper sticker expression (although I’d like to live in a world where it is acceptable to). Itʼs just a fact, not a statement or judgment or disappointment. Mental health is a continuum and I often fluctuate on the harsher end of the spectrum. There have been days when I wake up with puffy eyes after having barely slept because of thoughts gone awry, and there have been days when I sleep through the best bit of the sunshine. My analogy of choice for the vicious cycle of a depressive episode is drowning; it feels like a dementor is drowning me. To begin with, I fight it. Then I realise it is too powerful, so I let it drown me into unfamiliar waters. This is usually followed by a dose of self-blame. I am robbed of self-pity, the only redeeming part of sadness.
Depression is crippling as it is, and coupled with anxiety, my senses teeter between reckless hyperactivity and withdrawal inertia. It is confusing, lonely, isolating by its very nature, so on days when I am able to witness a sunrise, or wake up without an attack of intrusive thoughts, I am overcome with an uncanny sense of gratitude.
Depression has been a hard taskmaster and teacher. But it has taught me an important lesson: to be grateful for the days when I am not at the receiving end of this inexplicable suffering. If I can trace the genesis of my sadness, I am grateful ‒ sad, but grateful that I can walk into the battleground armed with this knowledge. On good days, I am grateful to be alive and functioning. This gratitude has been my torch to kindness. Because our mental health is so invisible yet inevitable, we never know what another person is going through, and how else can we cure this but by being gentle with each other?
Practicing conscious gratitude has made me sensitive to acts of kindness, like that time I couldnʼt bring myself to get out of bed, and a friend offered to cook for me. Or when a stranger noticed my bruised foot and saved a seat for me in the subway. When I recollect all the times I have been on the receiving end of kindness, I realise it is not a premeditated, grand gesture. Instead, I am convinced that kindness exists in the nitty-gritty of everyday life. Itʼs in the actions that make our life easier, in that moment. Life is hard. Kindness is as simple as being there for a friend when they are having a time coping with life.
The thing about kindness is that it is a very actionable practice: you can always be exercising kindness. It is tangible more often than it isnʼt. But that doesnʼt discount how hard it is. Because we cannot be kind in a surprising grand gesture, we need to be consistent and dependable.
You need to do it every day, that is the hard part.
If we were just a wee bit gentler to each other, refusing to judge others through a metaphorical monocle, so much heartbreak, so much suffering could be avoided!
I often look back at my formative school days. Each time, I wonder why we were never taught empathy. Was it because it was assumed empathy is inherently and instinctively ingrained in us? I realise that the only way kindness can be taught is by example and experience ‒ so perhaps our curriculum copped out and chose to teach us unambiguous morals like helping an elderly cross the road, or watering the plants. Kindness and empathy on the other hand are hard ‒ what about helping an elderly cross the road when you are running late for work and could lose out on your promotion? What about watering the plants in someone elseʼs garden even though they unknowingly killed some of yours?
It’s a grey area. and we might end up spending a lifetime answering these questions, but on days I wake up without that melancholic feeling, without that crushing feeling of self-doubt and inexplicable sadness, I am incredibly grateful.
If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, suicidal ideation or similar symptoms, please reach out to iCall helpline at 022-25521111 (available 8 am – 10 pm, Monday to Saturday in India), The Samaritans. (116 123 Or email email@example.com) in the UK.