Depression, Diwali and Darkness

Today is one of the most famous celebrations of India, the festival of lights – Diwali. On this day, people celebrate by lighting candles and bursting crackers. But today is yet another day that reminds me of my depression and the crippling loneliness that is my constant companion.

As my sister decorates the room with fairy lights, I am reminded of the time when Diwali meant celebration. When I was a child and didn’t know what depression meant. Today, as I have grown into a young depressed adult, I think about people like me, suffering from depression or other mental illnesses, who are scared of celebrating because it reminds them of people who left them midway, who never dared to stay, the blame they faced, the lows, the never occurring highs and all those memories of when they used to be happy.

Celebrations are biased. They are meant for ‘happy people’. And ‘happy people’ seldom care about the ones who are suffering. I am biased in my judgment of ‘happy people’, but that is what I know and have learnt over the past four years.

Today, as my mother’s and father’s phones ping with different WhatsApp forwards of Diwali greetings, my phone stays perfectly silent with nobody to wish me except my boyfriend, who somedays become the collateral damage of my illness. I keep waiting all day for someone to message me, but again and again, I am reminded of all those friends who left me behind in the race to move ahead for they had no time for a depressed friend.

I don’t blame them, but I blame celebrations. These celebrations don’t care about people like me, they don’t come with a trigger warning, “Beware, today is meant to be so happy and full of lights that it will remind you of your own darkness.”

I sit in my room, perfectly silent, waiting for this day to be over. But time moves at a slow pace, and every second brings a reel of memories that mock me and tell me how I now have a ‘before/after’ when it comes to my personality. How my illness changed me. How I will never be the same.

But this doesn’t mean I am envious of ‘happy people’, those who can feel the dopamine in their brains perfectly well, and don’t need to depend on external chemicals like pills to function.

My mother asks me to light a diya. Perhaps she hopes that lighting a diya will scare away the darkness that flickers like a faulty light bulb. But what she doesn’t know is that her daughter has changed over the years; that her darkness comes with a gush of wind that keeps blowing out the diya and that no amount of fairy lights can dispel it.

But today is a happy day. It is meant to be a happy day. So I dress up, command my facial muscles to stretch and smile to show off that little dimple, and say ‘happy Diwali’ with a sadness so profound that it seems like a mirage as my anxiety and depression celebrate yet another year of me trying to control my tears.

Bharti Basal is a 22-year-old poet from Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.

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