One evening in late 2006, I started hitting my legs with as much strength as I could muster. I screamed and cried using the little lung capacity that I had. Why wouldn’t my legs work? Why wouldn’t my body listen to me? Why couldn’t I walk, or even sit without support? Why couldn’t I be the same person I was before I got sick? I felt scared, hopeless, numb and angry at the same time. Grief flooded my body.
I had become paralysed from the neck down only a couple of months ago. The fact that my body refused to obey me was a complete shock, especially as I had been a dancer and a musician before the accident. Losing the ability to gesticulate with my arms, or to make music was devastating. But the fact that I was so dependent on other people was hardest to bear.
At first, I was sure that I’d walk again only in a couple of months. After all, I’d miraculously survived an accident after which doctors had said I would not live. I wanted to believe that my recovery from the accident would be as quick and miraculous as my survival of it. But I should have known better – I should have listened to my medical training, and to my gut, both of which would have told me to be more patient.
A couple of months down the line, the severity of the situation began to dawn on me. And with it came feelings of hopelessness. Because I was dependent on my parents to be dressed, bathed, turned, seated, fed, and anything else you can think of, I started to feel like I was a burden on them. I had never felt that way before.
The rest of my family, and all of my friends ditched me after I started using the wheelchair. Apparently I was not good enough for them anymore. I was only fifteen years old, and I had no social or personal life left.
I developed anxiety; I also became distant. I couldn’t reveal any of this to my parents, because they were working so hard to make me feel better. But I couldn’t deal with my emotions anymore. Instead of accepting that I needed help, I sunk deeper into these overwhelming feelings. I didn’t call a helpline. I didn’t want anyone to know that I felt like killing myself.
After a couple of years during which I battled depression, I decided I was ready to stop feeling this way. I could no longer accept a life in which I felt helpless and alone. I no longer wanted to be a burden, especially on my parents. I decided to end my life. I swallowed a bottle of pills. I could hear my breath becoming shallow and my heart slowing down. I felt dizzy, but relieved. Just then, my mother came. She saw the tears in my eyes, and I saw the tears in hers as she called the ambulance.
Thankfully, that’s not when my life ended. At the hospital, I finally told my parents how I’d been feeling.
I told them about the fact that I felt like a burden, like a lost cause – that I felt hopeless and wanted to harm myself. With tear-stained cheeks, they listened patiently and quietly.
They told me that none of the things I’d been saying about myself were true. They told me that I was a warrior, because that’s what my name means. ‘How does a name define someone?’ I thought. I didn’t quite believe them. But they never gave up on me. They kept telling me that I was going to prevail.
I was given a psychological consultation, where I was told that I had become depressed because of the trauma from my injuries, and the sudden change in my life that these had caused.
I wanted to reject the word ‘depression’ as soon as I heard it. I had never been diagnosed with it before my injury. But it made sense to me that I was in pain was because I had lost so much that had once been a vital part of my life – relationships with friends and family members, an entire social life.
Many people experience depression as something that doesn’t necessarily arise out of a specific incident. But my depression had a direct cause that we could identify. I told myself that my feelings were temporary, and with the help of my parents, I set about trying to overcome them.
My parents started taking me out more to show me that I was still valued and loved. They told me how much I was helping them, even though my arms were still weak. They helped me to develop interests that distracted me from my negative thoughts. But what helped me the most was online forums that educated me about depression, and made me see how my feelings were caused by the fact that I could not accept what had happened to me.
Acceptance was difficult, but it helped tremendously. When I started to accept that I was paralysed, I started relieving myself of those negative feelings. I realised that the only thing I could do was to improve my physical condition, and I did that. Upon gaining independence, my feelings of negativity slowly dispersed.
Mental health isn’t something to shy away from – it needs to be spoken about openly and freely.
To anyone who might be feeling this way, I have a message:
You’re not alone in this battle with depression. There isn’t anything wrong with being depressed or admitting that you’re depressed. It’s important to see a doctor and to get help so you can control your depression better. It’s helpful to talk to someone, even a stranger on a forum.
Featured image credit: Upasana Agarwal
This is part one of a two-part series of personal essays on depression by Virali Modi. Read part two here.