‘Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night’ – Sarah Williams, The Old Astronomer
I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier by Shaheen Bhatt was an impulsive buy for me. Although I don’t remember when I bought it, I am pretty sure it was just after its release and the ebook price was quite cheap. And therefore, it found its way into my kindle. I began it soon after buying but left it after a few pages because I couldn’t digest the topic. It seemed mundane and uninteresting to me. Today, after a gap of more than a year and a half, I picked it up again because I had to choose a non-fiction book for a readathon on the gram. So, back again to this.
To those of you who don’t know, Shaheen Bhatt is the elder daughter of Soni Razdan and Mahesh Bhatt. This book is about her journey, from 12 years old to 29 years old, caught unawares of the Feeling that hit her.
I went to bed with it and I woke up with it. It lived inside me. It became me. It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I found out that the Feeling had a name. Depression, they called it, and then everything changed.
Shaheen has been diagnosed with clinical depression. For those who don’t know what it means, Google. Having felt the Feeling hit her as a mere child of 12, she lived with it through her teenage years before finally knowing what it meant. It was easy to hide behind the raging hormones of those pubescent years, blaming one or the other changes as a cause of being irresponsible or whatever others called. But when one is alone, one knows the Feeling that nobody else does. And Shaheen knew she wasn’t well. She reached out for help after a failed suicide attempt and has been in therapy trying to deal with her feelings and not living the life not meant to live, for anyone.
The assumption is that if you have a happy and comfortable life, you have no cause for, or no right to, the despair you’re feeling.
I delivered almost two and a half years ago. Despite the initial shock post-delivery that birthing was the easiest part, I managed to wade through motherhood quite uneventfully until a year ago when cracks started to appear. What I had thought of the show period for PPD, in my case was just the incubation. It came subtly at first, and then in hordes, the PPD and I were left powerless. I would have been managing well because I had known this was a common issue postpartum, I was preparing to battle it mentally when the pandemic hit and lives became abnormal. Needless to say, it all spiraled out of control, and the only solution for me was taking medicines on and off. The pandemic is still here, and so is my Feeling, but I manage better on most days.
Why did I make you read through my mediocre writing about my PPD? Because I wanted to tell you that I am there where Shaheen was/is and that is why I could read this now, and not when I had bought it. I can relate to her writing more than a person who hasn’t felt the Feeling ever, and this is true for everyone. One has to have suffered this in order to simply understand.
I dream of being carried off to a faraway place where I can finally stop being the living, breathing contradiction that I am—so empty and still so full of pain.
Shaheen describes the Feeling so beautifully, pardon the irony here, that I felt it spoke about me. The endless days of feeling sad for no reason, the self-loathing, the suicidal feelings, all resonated. The inability to get out of bed, the physical handicap because the mind can’t be happy, the low levels of serotonin, there was nothing that I couldn’t understand.
Having seen a dear person extremely close to me suffering for almost a decade now, it was only when I found myself in the abyss that I could understand the gravity of this illness. I know the feeling of helplessness to help the other, and I know the Feeling that makes it impossible to help oneself. Living with the Feeling is not easy, and neither with the person who is suffering.
The only reason I made it through so many of my darkest days was that I had hope, a sense of humor, and a steadfast belief that my pain didn’t signal the end of my life.
Even as a person who accepts having felt the Feeling, this book seemed a little drag. On point, yes, but could have done better with crisp editing. The prose isn’t great but it doesn’t matter much here, the topic is more important than being a world-class writer for her. The message has to reach. I wouldn’t recommend this to just anyone, but to those who think they have an open mind to understand and accept that Depression is an illness and not just a fabrication of sadness of the mind. Let me tell you, no one wants to live like this.
I remind myself if happiness is fleeting, then so is sadness.
I remind myself depression is the weather, and I’m a weather-worn tree.
I remind myself even the worst storms pass.
I remind myself I’ve survived them all.