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When I think back on the darkest time in my life and try to remember what the days were like, I can’t. Hours turned into days, days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, but I don’t have much memory of that period because I was living in a fog. I wouldn’t even say that I felt sad, but just felt soulless and empty, and I got to a stage where absolutely nothing could make me feel better. I didn’t enjoy any of the things that I used to, no matter how hard I tried. The more I thought about that feeling empty, the more I would get stuck in a vicious cycle of negativity. I’d go to sleep and wake up the next day hoping I wouldn’t feel that way, but I had no control over it.
In the summer of 2016, I moved to Toronto from a small city in British Columbia for residency in Internal Medicine. Realistically, this should have been a happy time — finally reaching residency and getting into a top program, living in an exciting new city, a happy relationship, a puppy — but it quickly became a very dark time. After about two months into my residency I took a year off work, which was so hard because I lost the main purpose of my life that I had worked for so long to achieve.
I didn’t talk to anyone about my depression because I thought I was weak, and I was embarrassed. I stopped talking to my friends and shut people out of my life without actually telling them what was going on. I was never embarrassed to tell my family; I never thought that they wouldn’t support me. But they’re Indian, and culturally it’s just that they don’t “understand depression” like that, so I kept it all from them, too, and would even dress for work and leave the house for the day when they were in town visiting, trying to keep up a façade that I was doing well.
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The scariest day for me was a day where I just felt so empty and kept thinking of anything at all that I could do to make myself feel better. I couldn’t think of anything and that was the day that scared me the most. That’s when I knew that something had to change, or that I had to change. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own, and so I started to reach out for help.
Then one day the switch flipped. I don’t know how, but the emptiness switched off and I vividly remember when it went away and it felt like I could feel again.
Part of the reason I want to talk about this is because I had the most ideal situation for someone who is depressed, and I had all the tools to help me come out of it — a supportive partner and family (including my little dog), a job that allowed me to take a paid sick leave, a psychiatrist, a free psychologist appointed to me by my work. I can only imagine what it’s like for people who don’t have access to these things and because of the stigma that’s still attached to it. What if it happens to someone in university and they have to drop out? Or to someone who can’t take time off work and then they lose their job? Their partner or their family? Maybe they don’t want to tell anyone about it and so they suffer all the more.
I want to encourage more people to talk about how they feel — or don’t feel. There shouldn’t be a stigma around depression. Facing this was the worst year of my life, and there are of course aspects and repercussions that still affect me now, but that’s OK. Let’s talk about it so we can remove that stigma, and so that anyone who’s going through a difficult time with their mental health doesn’t have to feel alone.