Depression and the Dreamer: My Story

Ever since my voice first cracked, depression became a major problem. At first, it was the acne, then my seemingly permanent braces, and finally, a vague, deepening feeling of insecurity. I was refugee skinny, my face was weak, and I would wake up every morning, stare at my mirror image, and think of all the structural changes that I wished my genetics had determined instead. A bit of bone here, a little less hair there, a smidgen more muscle everywhere. I was ugly. That was my view of myself, and it influenced everything about me.

But I made it through high school relatively unscathed, mostly because I pushed myself to be active in athletics, earned high marks in my classes, and developed a sense of humor that earned me friends enough that I was sure I was a person of value, even if I was physically unattractive. Importantly, I forced myself to discover and cultivate aspects of my personality that gave me a feeling of value as a human being.

Unfortunately, my depression was not left behind in high school. The unique pressures of college introduced new and even greater problems. In college, though my looks transformed – many even thought I was attractive (oh happy day!) – I found myself struggling with my social self-worth. I met great people and was part of a fun group, but I was no longer the center of attention, a role that I had grown used to in high school as the ‘clown’. My social anxiety and insecurity, however, was ultimately minor in comparison to new issues concerning my academics and career path, and what followed was the most severe, long-lasting depression of my life.

But let’s backtrack to the beginning of college.

When I first arrived, I knew I was going to be a doctor – a neurologist, to be precise. Thanks to a glitch in the computer system at a university summer program after my junior year of high school, I was accidentally placed in a health sciences career program. I wasn’t a science guy. That just wasn’t me. I was all about history, art, and literature, but I figured if I already knew what I liked, it wouldn’t hurt to try something different. So I took the course, enjoyed it thoroughly, and in the end, before the start of my senior year of high school, decided that I was going to be a neurologist, and that was that. My family – highly-educated Indian immigrants to the USA – who originally assumed that I would bounce between liberal arts majors in college until finally settling on some sort of stable, well-respected career, were astounded by my decision to pursue medicine. For the first time in my life, my decisions brought my family genuine happiness, and it was addictive.

Fast-forward to the second semester of my sophomore year of college. I was applying to the early-acceptance medical school program at my university. By this time I was very conflicted about my academic path. Though I enjoyed neuroscience well enough, I found the sciences meager satisfaction in comparison to the joys of history, philosophy, drawing, and other liberal arts, which I continued to pursue even while going through my pre-med studies. I remember looking at my early-acceptance medical school program application, half-filled .pdf on my computer screen, and being surprised by a sudden influx of anger. In that moment, I wanted more than anything to smash my screen and scream. Regardless, my family convinced me to apply – might as well, considering that I had worked so hard for it already, they told me – and several weeks later I was chosen to interview with the medical school, and several weeks after that, I was told that I had been preliminarily accepted. I was in. News of acceptance erased my mind of the conflicts that had once so thoroughly gripped my mind. Family and friends encouraged me, and I was genuinely excited. In the back of my mind, however, I was taking mental notes. I knew I didn’t really want to be a doctor, but I told myself it was okay. I told myself that I could write a book or do indie films on the side, especially with the steady, high income of a doctor, and maybe I would generate enough of a following eventually that I would be able to quit and pursue something creative full time.

That summer my grades slipped drastically. In the fall, I was thrown out of the medical school program. When I spoke with the medical school dean, it was apparent, however, that re-admission would be trivial. I would need to improve my grades, finish the pre-med track, and everything would be okay, just as how it was. I remember thinking at the time: this is my chance to say no. And for the next year, I said no. I said it over and over and over again. My depression deepened as my family’s disappointment increased. I began to delve into the creative arts, film in particular. I started taking classes, making short films and writing short scripts in my free time. The depression forced me to think. I decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was obsessed, but it dawned on me that I was making very little progress and taking too much time. Senior year was fast approaching, and I had only a few badly lit comedy shorts, and two reasonably well made serious shorts, under my belt. Pretty soon, it was either medical school, or a 9-to-5 job, or some other graduate school, and my opportunity to explore the creative arts would be extinguished. I started to have suicidal thoughts. People told me to seek therapy and possibly medication, but I was convinced that White American therapists wouldn’t understand my Indian-American family and value systems, and they didn’t. Medication? I believe in the power of psychiatric medication, but I knew what my issues were, and in that moment, they were purely external. Depression is a complicated thing that depends very much on one’s personal circumstances. I learned not to rely on simple people to give me the answers I needed.

Long nights with my depression forced me to think and reflect even more. I realized by that point that the creative arts were my true passion – nevermind the medium – film, writing, drawing, whatever. I wanted to create. It explained why I bounced between so many potential careers from high school through college, and never settled on one. People tend to assume that indecision is an indication of lack of passion. That is completely untrue. Indecision is often a result of being forced to choose between a set of terrible answers.

Senior year rolled around. I had not taken the MCATs, and decided not to complete the pre-med track. I was locked out of the medical school program for good, now. My neuroscience degree from my university, graduating in a rough economy, was not going to get me a respectable job. My family pushed me to apply to law school. I figured that it wasn’t a horrible idea: I still very much enjoyed history, philosophy, and politics, and I thought of myself as an effective debater. Why not? My passions took a backseat, again. Just as I did with medicine, I imagined that I would be able to pursue writing or film or something similarly interesting while I was a lawyer, so everything would be okay. At some point, I could start living my dream. At some point.

The LSAT came quickly. Got my scores back. Was very pleased with my performance. Applied to my older brother’s Ivy League alma mater. Got in. I was conflicted, still, but excited. My family was proud of me again. My friends were encouraging. Everything was okay, for a time, and the depression subsided.

Fast-forward to law school. I hated it. I hated it more than an academic institution ought to be hated. I was upset at myself, my family, and the world. Myself, for not finding the courage enough to have pursued my dreams at the expense of short-term comforts like social respect and acceptance. My family, for pushing me down paths that I never wanted to pursue in the first place. And the world, for showing me people existed who had the courage I didn’t have, who had the determination I didn’t have, who had the talent that I had not cultivated. I sank into a deep depression. I began to have suicidal thoughts again.

And under this depressive spell, at the start of the summer between my first and second year, I came upon the most important epiphany of my life. If I was willing and ready to die, given all that I had and was on track to have, then none of it really mattered.

“It is only after we lose everything that we are free to do anything.”
– Tyler Durden, Fight Club

I was willing to throw away my entire existence because of the choices that I had made. It made no logical sense to continue to make the same choices, or to walk the path created by those choices.

I started to write. Furiously. I wrote and wrote. I wracked my mind for ideas and characters and stories. Entering my second year, I felt happy, truly and completely happy, for the first time in a long time. Yes, I was still in law school, but I still had time to make my dreams happen. I couldn’t give up yet. I stayed up long nights, skipped some useless classes, and by the end of my second year, I had written a full novel, upmarket general fiction, that I was proud of. Then, I took more risks. I was lined up for a New York City corporate law firm job, you know, suits and long workdays and shitty personalities. I told them no.

Enter this summer, coming quickly to an end as I type this. I have been trying to get agented, but have been reconsidering traditional publishing in lieu of self-publishing. Meanwhile, I’ve already started on a second book, fantasy this time. Things didn’t pan out the way I foresaw this summer. I figured that I would have an agent, that I would have publishing houses fighting with each other to give me a contract, and that I would be entering my third year a writing success. But I’ve figured out my shit. I’ve fought the skeletons in my closet and come out victorious. I’m not depressed anymore, beyond the occasional blues that everyone gets once in awhile. Why? Because despite my short-term failures, I know that I’m doing what I need to do.

I’m following my heart, and no matter the results, that’s what fucking matters in the end.

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20 responses to “Depression and the Dreamer: My Story

    • Thank you for the kind words Diane — it was definitely difficult putting this decade-long battle with depression into words. I’m glad you enjoyed reading!

  1. Thanks for sharing. It shows people like me that I am not alone in much of what I went through and continue to go through. It took me a long time to figure out I wouldn’t be happy until I decided to do what I wanted to do. Not what would make other people proud, or what other people thought fit me. It’s a scary feeling to know you may be the only person who believes in oneself, but in the end; that’s all that matters.

    • You’re welcome — I’m happy to hear that I was able to relate to your struggle as well. I’m not sure how it is for you, but for me, a big part of wanting to please my family and make them proud came from the fact that they are first generation immigrants whose values center around financial stability, social prestige, and integration into the larger society. After a while, I’d had enough. I definitely agree with you that in the end, what matters is understanding what makes us happy. It’s even tougher if you’re the creative type though. Creative careers are inherently riskier, pay less, etc., so it’s a struggle to convince everyone that these risks are worth taking.

      • I come from the opposite. Grew up in an urban area where dreams and college were rarely spoken of. The motivation was selling drugs and buying nice cars. I chose a different path, I was blessed to have athletic ability. Basketball kept me away and paid my way through college. Still beating the odds didn’t complete me.

    • Interesting. Thank you for lending a unique insight and perspective. If you don’t mind me asking, what is your plan now (given that beating the odds and going through college wasn’t the satisfying end-all)?

      • I’m still stuck. I know I want to help people, change lives. I’m stuck between my writing and becoming a Clinical Psychologist. I’ve signed up for school to further my education but I am still unsure. It’s frustrating not knowing what would complete me. I started this blog thing to see how well I’d like it. I happen to love it and I find it very therapeutic. I have until September to figure out what I’ll put all my effort into. What have you come up with?

    • Agh – wish there was a way to continue to reply to comments in a chain, haha. Clinical psychology would be a really satisfying career for some. I guess I’m a bit biased against graduate school because of my bad experience (by the end of my third year of law I’m going to be around $210,000 in debt to my school). But yeah, starting this blog has been very therapeutic, and is a nice change of pace from writing novels. Personally, I’m trying to get my first novel published and am writing my second to see where that takes me. If that doesn’t pan out by the time I graduate and earn my law degree, then I’ll work for a short time in the law world to earn enough money where I can move abroad to live in India or Istanbul or Southeast Asia and I’ll write some more off of the money. That’s the plan, anyways.

      I don’t know if you’d necessarily be interested, but there’s this thing called the Yahoo Contributor Network where you can register and receive ‘assignments’ for writing articles, and then you either get paid up front or you receive payment for how many clicks your article generates. If you’re considering writing, that seems like a rapid-feedback way to see how you like doing a bit of freelance work.

      Best of luck to you!

      • Haha me too. You’re awesome!!! You just put me onto something. Yahoo would be a great place for me to start. Seems you have it all planned out, you’ve decided to go after your dream and see what happens. I love it! I’ll keep you posted on what happens with me come Sept.

  2. smittenkittenshelby

    So crazy how much I can relate! Thanks for sharing..

  3. Everybody has it’s own depression. Stand firm and believe in yourself

  4. Hey there! That was an amazing piece…kept me captivated till the end,
    Very good work! 🙂
    When we have dreams which we nurture in our hearts since we’re young, they kill us, “literally”….until and unless we go on a path towards fulfilling them!
    And yes, we must so totally Listen to our hearts!

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad that you enjoyed reading it. And yes, I absolutely believe that we have to fulfill our dreams and not let them fester. Wish I had known earlier, though 😛

  5. mysteriousdamselindistress

    That last sentence might just be one of my new favorite quotes.

  6. I am so glad I came across this…I just quit a great job last week (great by society’s measures) after forcing it to work for nearly 3 years. Despite a tinge of doubt instilled in me by most of the world, I feel good about the choice I made. Parts of this post felt like I was reading my own thoughts, thank you for helping to reaffirm my decision!

    • You’re welcome, and thanks for reading! I definitely understand where you’re coming from. For idealistic people like us, it can be very difficult to do what we need to do because we’re a psychological minority. That’s why it’s so important for us to support one another in our endeavors. “Forcing it to work” is such an unfortunate phrase, but strangely enough, I think it applies to most decisions that people make in their lives — both career and personal. I wish you all the best in your future!

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