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How Depression Drained the Color From the Most Amazing Place

My husband is an Indian pediatrician, and he and I worked together as doctors for 11 years in the Himalayan foothills of North India. I was captivated by this work, and dreamed of creating a health program that would be truly meaningful for remote areas of the mountains. I also formed deep relationships with the women on our health team. But we were faced with many difficult challenges — repeated illnesses, an earthquake and severe political turmoil. All of these crises took a terrible toll on my mental health. I fell into a severe depression, which lasted for many months.

During that time, I lost all joy in life and was no longer able to work. I gradually became more and more isolated, avoiding contact with colleagues and friends. I felt powerless to break free from the depression. I remember trying to go for a walk outside, and feeling as if the world around me was like a black and white photograph – the color had disappeared, leaving nothing but shades of gray. This stark world of angles, planes and lines, devoid of contour and depth, was profoundly disturbing. It was so unsettling that I turned around immediately to go back inside, to the safety of my room.

I remember waking one night at 3 a.m. Unable to fall back to sleep, I slipped out of bed and tiptoed down the stairs to the living room. Our dog had recently given birth to three puppies, and they were all curled up in a den under the stairs. When my dog saw me her tail began to thump. I sat on the floor beside her and picked up one of the puppies. He was a handsome little fellow, with russet-colored fur, sparkling eyes and a furiously wagging tail. I patted him absently, noticing the joy I usually felt with our dogs was gone. Now all I felt was a numbing sense of guilt, which seemed to encompass every aspect of my life.

Weeks passed before I began to slowly emerge from that shadow world of depression. Many things contributed to my recovery – the support of friends and family, a course of antidepressant medication, and finally a meaningful pilgrimage to the parts of Garhwal I loved best. Now, years later, I look back on that experience of depression and I realize there were some gifts of this illness. Knowing the pain of depression has made me more sensitive to the wounds of others. I have become a more compassionate physician and the more understanding friend. Also, I know I will always be susceptible to another bout of depression. Understanding this, I have realized how important it is to care for myself – body, mind and spirit.

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Photo by Arto Marttinen on Unsplash