Defying Depression: How I Mastered the Art of Numbness


Defying Depression: How I Mastered the Art of Numbness

Illustration: Akshita Monga

My hands in my pockets and two fluorescent headphones dangling down my earlobes is usually how my pensive mood sets in, and when it does, it stays.  

I am, in most cases, defiant to depression – if my mind requests me to oversleep, I do not let my dreamy ordeal continue for more than five hours. If my nerves beg me to stop eating, I binge. When the grey days becomes greyer, I force myself to do some stretches and occupy myself with indoor gardening. But, if you’ve lived in this world, you will know that on most days these affirmations do not work, but you never stop trying for lucidity and light.

I don’t know how and when it started. If I join the dots, maybe I can lean toward the stage of adolescence. Struck by a dull state of lethargy in the middle of a playground, pounded by absolute stillness while laughing monstrously with friends, waking up late at night and crying back to sleep for no reason, is how I remember my mid-school and high-school days. I was told, “It happens… this is just a phase, hormonal changes.” Somehow, in the face of transient life this simple adolescent phase looks endless, unwilling to give up its control on me.

I’ve analysed my depression closely. It takes away my power of rational thinking, and transports me to a make-believe world. It is quiet in this world. Far too quiet… almost numbing but it is also meditative. In this state, I hammer out poetry like Charles Bukowski. Flowers, leaves, dustbin, my ripped jeans. In this state, anything becomes my muse. On other days, I paint random thoughts on white sheets with colourful blots. It is a practice in the art of numbness. It comes with a sense of urgency, a desperate call to action during a desperate time. Like right now, as I try to write down a romanticised version of the art of numbness, I feel like breaking down with each letter. It’s like Sylvia Plath said, “I wish to cry. Yet I laugh, and my lipstick leaves a red stain like a bloody crescent moon on top of the beer can.”

I envy Plath for her words and I’m thankful for mine. I wonder how people deal with such tender moments of pain, anguish, loss, helplessness without the salve of poetry to soothe the inflamed nerves? I am thankful because even as I have words to hide behind and to make the most bleak day a thing of beauty, 322 million people who live with depression do not. They continue to go through life, looking for a silver lining in the desperate labyrinths of their mind. I have seen people growing bald, growing thin, or obese, growing distant, or then just leaping from a their terrace when none of it worked.

I wonder how people deal with such tender moments of pain, anguish, loss, helplessness without the salve of poetry to soothe the inflamed nerves?

In the absence of words, there can be music. I have often tried to cope with the art of numbness by listening to music and working at the same time. If I hear voices in my head, I try to avoid empty spaces, and let music drain from my eardrums into my veins until it takes over my complete conscience. Music so loud that even my inner scream isn’t loud enough, music so crushing that there is no space for pain or delirium, so intoxicating that it destroys your damaged cells. In these moments, I forget the implications of listening to loud music, while my vibrating head keeps lolling from one side to another like an antique pendulum, one that I always envied, never owned.

Everyone has a coping mechanism. For Sylvia Plath it was a bath. She writes, “There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: ‘I’ll go take a hot bath.’”

But baths didn’t stop Plath from shoving her head into the oven. Even I’m sometimes overawed by the task I have ahead of me. The years that I have ahead of me to continue the fight. I know people who have given up. People who have said it’s too much to live with and declared their exit. I understand their point of view. I have already lost a close cousin, an acquaintance, and a friend to this inner fiend, and maybe someday I will also give in to the void. Or maybe I will emerge victorious, but either way, I cannot give up trying to cope. I know that my art, my music, and any other coping mechanisms are not part of a foolproof success story. It is full of omissions, slips, blunders, messy notes all over my desk, sometimes followed by random midnight anxious calls to a close friends or my sister. But each one of us living with depression needs a coping mechanism.

We  will cope and cope and so that hopefully one day, when the oven beckons us and invites to put our heads into it, we will turn it down and shut it off.