003 – Mentally speaking

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↠ Dispatch 003, October 2018 ↞

Mentally speaking


This comes a few days off from the every-full-moon schedule that I’ve set out for myself but I’m sure you won’t mind. The best of plans always go out the window when the universe brings its own to your doorstep. 

But before we get into things, I want to say welcome to those who are receiving this dispatch for the first time. If you need an introduction, then I suggest reading the prologue to this email series. If you’re curious about what has been written lately, then click here to get a glimpse of what you might be getting. Lastly, if you start to regret that decision, the unsubscribe link is right here

Still here? Thank you good person. I appreciate you for hanging around.

Not too long ago, in celebration of World Mental Health Day, I ‘came out’ with my decade-long battle with depression and anxiety through a post on Instagram and Facebook. It led many to respond in public and also private with their messages of support, and a lot of ‘I-never-knew-you-had-it’. I also received many questions in private about my journey, some of it I replied publicly through IG stories (it’s still on my highlights if anyone is interested). One of the questions I received but did not answer was: “What does it feel like to suffer from depression and anxiety?”. The answer to that needs space, and this dispatch gives me that.

What life with mental health issues look like

Many have attempted to describe what depression feels like and one of my favourites has to be J.K Rowling’s manifestation of depression as the Dementors in her Harry Potter series. But to really know what day-to-day living with this looks like, I’m going to use the Spoon Theory to illustrate mine.

Imagine that a regular human being starts the day with 10 spoons of energy. Everything that a person does uses up spoons of energy (eg: eating, walking, working, etc). If that person is an introvert like me, some actions use up more spoons than others. For example, going to a social event may use up 1 spoon for regular people, but it is 3 spoons for me. Having group conversations may take 0.5 spoons for others but 1 entire spoon for me.

Then, as a ‘man’, a ‘husband’, and ‘leader of teams’, there is a societal and cultural expectation to lead, provide and protect for the people around you all the time and the truth is, most of it are self-imposed. So in such a situation, I often spend not just more spoons doing more things, but also spend spoons of energy through the mere act of worrying about the responsibilities on my shoulders. Now, add the stress of living in a dense and expensive city like Singapore which as you might guess, use up a lot of spoons of energy. Lastly, the intensity of one’s anxiety disorder increases the rate at which your spoons are used up as well. As you can tell, that’s quite a lot of spoons of energy to spend in every single day for someone like me.

On top of all that, I rarely begin my days with 10 spoons of energy. My starting level can change quite dramatically from day to day, and on the really bad days, I don’t even have enough spoons of energy to get out of bed and start the day. On most days I have enough to get by with some help from my supporting mechanisms, but there are also really demanding days which can leave me with zero spoons at the end of it, and on those evenings, I literally reach home and just collapse on the floor to recharge. I also occasionally lose spoons of energy inexplicably within a day.

Can other people tell when I’m low on energy? Over the years, I’ve developed the ability  to conceal my depletion of energy. I switch to “energy saving mode” or glide away to “recharge” on my own as often as I can when no one is noticing. This allows me to function as “normal” as possible for as many hours as possible. I usually keep the tough battles in my private spaces and only those closest to me can sense it when I’m down. Unfortunately, there are also really bad days where nothing works no matter how hard I try, and on those days, I simply make myself scarce.

I’m extremely grateful that life has given me the opportunity to learn and have various support systems and techniques in my mental health toolbox to deal with all these issues. I have to constantly train and feed my thinking mind with the right things, and wherever possible, I develop practices and systems to give myself the best chance of leading a good life.

So that’s what my life looks like, and I’m sure others may have their own version of things. If you have one to share, I would love to hear it. Also, if you think this will be helpful in helping others understand the issue a bit more, I hope you’ll share it with others. 

A time for reflection and solitude

Hello November, it’s nice to see you again. This is always the month where I try even harder than usual to carve out time to reflect on life. It’s a birthday-month ritual that I’ve been doing for years and it often manifests in long personal essays to self, long walks, silent retreats, and commitment to new practices. With so much of the ground beneath me shifted in 2018, I’m looking forward to settling into new foundations. My wish is that at this end of the year, you too will have time for reflection and solitude as well.

As Paul Theroux said, “You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.” It is anyone’s guess how I will emerge at the end of this retreat into my inner worlds, but I do get the feeling that some of it may become part of a future dispatch. I hope that you’ll be around for a future edition when I return. Also, if you think there are others who might appreciate this kind of dispatch, it would be nice of you to direct them to adibjalal.com/dispatches and be added to the mailing list. 

Till then, be well, be love, be you.


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