Editor’s Note: Life events, such as being in significant relationships and switching professions, play a great part in affecting our moods and day-to-day functioning.
Having a keen sense of insight and self-awareness, Debra identifies these two major stressors which had led to her depression and anxiety, and what it means to lose something, only to gain something far greater.
It’s on a Saturday afternoon – a beautiful one – dappled light of the setting sun tracking its languid way across the building, across the empty desks which are scattered with the quick getaways of the past Friday, finally rippling its inexorable path over the gnawed circles of my fingernails, the frantic scribbles on tired sheets of paper, as I sit frozen, staring at the PC, in a paroxysm of fear – that I finally come to a long-overdue admission. I am in over my head; paralysed in a cocoon of anxiety, depression and self-loathing. I needed an exit plan. And I needed it soon.
Fortunately for me, I knew the exact causes of my terrible moods.
The first, as with many people, was from work. Deciding impulsively to move from the relatively peaceful environment of teaching to a public relations agency was at the time, an exciting prospect, allowing me the chance to work with varied brands and clients in an exciting media landscape. The reality however, was far from what I had anticipated. The hours were gruelling (15 hour days were de rigueur), the competition was intense, and there was oftentimes little direction from my mangers, who oftentimes appeared just as lost as me, finding their way with tepid, frightened little steps, as we collectively sank in a cesspool of fear-mongering and finger-pointing.
While work-days were hellish, frantic and exhausting, weekends gave their fair share of torment. Every Sunday would find me crouched at home, my mind nervously playing over the coming scenarios of the next work day, checking off a looming ever-growing to-do list, pondering what I had failed to do, who would eventually find me out and hold me accountable.
Inevitably, unable to take the loneliness, the stark panic, unable to find anyone on-hand who would understand fully, I would message one of the few friends I had in the office, Ranjeet, an enviably competent executive, who with far more years’ experience in the trenches, couldn’t seem to understand the panic that overwhelmed me every week. Our weekend conversations inevitably left me feeling more alone than ever, more isolated and more fearful.
The second was the beau. A tall, lanky American with piercing blue eyes, and the easy ruggedness of a MAN who spent his leisure trekking in the wilderness of Pakistan, and who with the easy grace of an academic would read me passages of EM Foster’s “A Passage to India” – had me head over heels in terrible, dire infatuation with him. The problem, however, was finding him. Busy with a work schedule that had him out of the country two out of four weeks, he was also deeply private and introverted and as he apologetically but firmly articulated “very much in need of his own space”. Our dates were irregular and infrequent, our verbal and SMS communications pitiably sporadic. In response to the inevitable curious queries from friends, I would oftentimes jokingly refer to myself as a “work widow”, brushing off their questioning looks with a forcefully light-hearted laugh.
Alone and on my own however, I often wondered about the status of our relationship, pondering long and hard into the night on what I had done wrong, what awful thing I must have said to have pushed him so far away from me.
Both factors in confluence sent me in a spiral of fear, insecurity, self-hate and hopelessness.
Unknown to me at the time, I exhibited all the classic symptoms of clinical depression.
I was persistently sad and anxious, even on days when things had gone relatively well. I felt empty and unable to find happiness in my usual pursuits. Restless and irritable at the same time, my focus waned; I was oftentimes distracted and lethargic, unable to concentrate on the task at hand, although I so desperately needed to. On weekends, I was prone to sudden bouts of weeping, alone in my room, with a pillow to muffle the ragged sobs of overwhelming panic and fear. Insomnia also plagued me – resulting in more frayed nerves at work. Above all, was the over-riding feeling of worthlessness, guilt and inadequacy. I cast suspicious eyes at my colleagues in the office, convinced they were talking of me, talking of how deeply unsuitable for the job I was, a poor fit, a crow amongst pigeons.
In one sense, I was fortunate. Because I knew the specific root of my depression, I was somewhat able to remedy the problem.
The second problem was surprisingly easier than the first. The lousy excuse for a beau was ceremoniously kicked to the curb, a decision fuelled by the belief that ripping off the band-aid was indescribably better than seeing it slowly drip and fester off.
The timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous.
Barely two weeks later, a mutual acquaintance told me that said boyfriend had been cheating on me over the past several months. The resulting rage that descended, dissipated any lingering feelings of self-doubt or regret. A balmy evening later that day, I charged into his apartment, just as he was settling down for his evening meal, planted myself purposefully on his couch, seeding my feet to the carpet, refusing to budge until the wee hours of the next morning, whereupon his haggard countenance and gummy bloodshot eyes, convinced me that whether sorry or not for having had the moral audacity to cheat on me, I had made him at least excruciatingly sorry over the past 12 hours for having been found out. Later the next day, I send a profanity-riddled email reiterating in black, angry, text a summative version of everything I had shouted and shrilled over the previous night.
The resulting effect was deeply cathartic. Power regained, equilibrium established, dignity somewhat restored, I was able to close that chapter of my life. I am glad to say I have never looked back.
The first issue was harder to tackle. It took a long, hard, honest look at myself – to purposefully, deliberately and with careful conviction, kill off the dream of my once younger aspirational self.
To honestly look at myself, weigh my strengths and weaknesses, and admit that I while I had done my best, I was not meant for the PR industry.
Decision sewn up, I was finally able to listen to what my inner circle had long been saying to me, people who knew me better than I had perhaps given them credit for, people who knew me far better than I knew myself.
As I sat, morose on a friend’s couch, what she had been saying to me for the past few months finally seeped in. “Teach,” she said. “Go back to teaching. You were the happiest then.”
The next day, I sent out several hastily put-together resumes to several educational institutions. Like a kite discovering its second wind, I unabashedly made cold calls, enquired amongst friends, sent polite but dogged follow-up emails, and attended interviews at the drop of a pin. The efforts eventually paid off. A few months later, in part due to my varied experience in the public relations sector, I found myself a teacher in a local school, teaching the English Language.
A wise man once said, you can have everything in life, if you sacrifice everything you want for it.
What he meant is, nothing comes without a price. To live free from the demons, I had to relinquish dreams of a younger, more naive self. Glossy images of the coveted career, with the coveted man, were traded for a more prosaic but fulfilling existence.
A teacher for the past five years, engaged to my fiancé who may not quote me Chaucer at night, but who will comfort me when I cry, I’ve learnt to find contentment and peace in the things that truly matter. And because I know I’m prone to depressive fits, I’ve learnt to steer clear of the things that move me in that direction.
We all deal with our problems differently, for we all shoulder different ones. For me, the late singer Laurel Lea perfectly articulated it when she spoke of the ‘peace’ to be found ‘in an open and upraised hand that isn’t grasping for anything.’
I’ll be keeping my hands open, and my face upturned to the light that comes from the small things, close to heart, that keep me grounded, free and happy.
Debra Dsilva is the pen-name of a Singaporean teacher, specialising in teaching English in a national school. Aggressively unfancy, she has her own hair and likes ugly things.
Image Source: EPM