“Leena… are you depressed?”

My little brother had just gone through the diary my best friend in boarding school made for me. The cover was a white plain canvas covered with drawings and the message “you gotta swim… don’t let yourself sink.” Ironically, the diary was very much full of drowning thoughts. I got the idea from a counselor at my school. She said whenever I was overridden with anxiety to write my thoughts down and not look back at them for a while. I had written down so many haunting things. Now that my brother had read through them, I decided to take a stroll down misery lane.

I quickly came to the realization that the things that gave me excruciating anxiety did not even matter. The girl who made me the diary didn’t hate me. I passed math. I did well in Dr. Feske’s class. My GPA was still great.

“No.” I calmly said to my brother and grabbed the diary from him. I hid it somewhere and have not seen it since. There are still days I’m so plagued by depression and negative thoughts in college that I turn my apartment bedroom upside down looking for the journal. I throw piles of random belongings on the floor in my Louisiana home hoping my fingers will graze the rough cover and go through the exercise again but to no avail. 

It started with maddening anxiety in high school. Then its best friend depression invited itself over my freshman year of college. I thought worrying was necessary. If I was so chill, how would I get anything done? But when I started sleeping an upwards of 12 hours a day and waking up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts, I knew something was wrong.

My depression was definitely triggered by past events. First in high school from the childhood bullying. Then college from the indecisiveness of what to do with my life. Failed relationships with people were the cherry on top. Once depression comes, it never seems to completely go away. I sought out help freshman year and was directed to a wellness coach despite being suicidal. I grudgingly got through the appointment and went to go fail my final less than 30 minutes after. I lied about having trouble sleeping just to get my parents to schedule an appointment with my primary care doctor back home in Louisiana. My mother was already in Punjab and my dad was unable to accompany me inside because he had to go to work.

It was perfect. I could dish out everything to the doctor without having to tell my parents. And so, I did. I was in denial that I was depressed despite having taken the free online depression assessment provided by my university at least three times a week for two months straight. I told her I had anxiety and then the waterworks began. She took one look at me and said there’s a depression component to this, too. There. The doctor had said it and I couldn’t deny it anymore. 

I went home with a prescription for anti-depressants and therapy. I told my dad and all he could do is wonder where he went wrong. He thought he had failed as a parent. I called my mom and told her and all she could ask is, “Why are you depressed? What do you have to be depressed about?” They failed to realize that a traumatic childhood largely hidden from them and the desire to no longer pursue their dream of me becoming a doctor had ruined my life thus far. But I knew I had to stop it. I had to be happy with my life. Being depressed to please people wasn’t an option.

The sleepiness didn’t stop. In fact, my medication made it worse. But I was not feeling as depressed or hopeless anymore. In fact, I had mellowed out more than I had ever since I was about 14 years old. I liked it, but I was also tired of being tired. I eventually switched my medication around the time another emotionally traumatic event happened to me. The feeling of depression would come and go in pangs in the pit of my stomach. Though they have largely stopped, there is always a fear that something will trigger them again. 

The sluggishness, grogginess, and general hopelessness gets worse during the winter months. I stopped my studying to write this testimonial because it’s almost 8 p.m., the sun was going down as I woke up from my nap, and honestly, my finance midterm isn’t helping the gloomy mood. 

What I’ve learned, though, is that I have amazing friends willing to talk through these things with me. I am not alone in my struggle, though I do envy my friends who don’t suffer from anxiety or depression. Mental illness is common – way too common. The key is to not be in denial. Look for signs in your loved ones and help them help themselves early on. 

No one beyond my parents and little brother knows about this mental illness in my family. It’s a well-known fact amongst my friend group. In fact, it’s a widespread illness in college. I know far too many people with mental illness who refuse to seek professional help. Help doesn’t have to come in the form of medications. It can include various types of therapy, exercise, spirituality, etc. The possibilities are endless and there is hope for every single person out there. 

Oftentimes, depressed people seek to end their pain. That’s why so many turn towards suicide. It is our job as a community to help them get past that emotional, mental, and physical pain so they can once again feel the warmth of life. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but that village also has a responsibility to nourish, support, and help the child thrive.


In alignment with our mission to encourage others to #SpeakUp about mental health, we’ve created this blog – a passion project highlighting those who wish to share their stories with the world.

Open to anyone, the series features personal anecdotes from members of the South Asian community who have struggled with mental illness – and the stigma that comes along with it.

To submit your story, click here.

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