Staying alive was the best thing that happened to me. I had a second chance at life and I lived to tell my story. That is what I think is my major achievement.
For Anita Peter, who wears many hats in her journey through life as a writer, dancer, actor, biker, motivational speaker and a corporate employee, all these are only secondary, she says. ‘Staying alive’ is also the tag line of the short film she made as part of her life’s journey battling depression. She’s no medical doctor, but when she took center-stage on World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept 10 this year and led a medical session on depression, doctors listened to her.
Anita’s story is not just of a survivor of depression that drove her to attempt suicide. The story is about her triumph over her struggles that continues in her journey of life. “I am not ashamed that I needed psychiatric help”, she says, opening up the bagful of stigmas around mental health.
Organisers at the Psychiatry Department of the ESIC Hospital, Telangana, could not think there could be a better speaker on the subject. Delving deep into the psyche of a patient fighting depression, she brought out the fears, apprehensions, the comfort zones, the societal attitude that cows down most people struggling with depression.
People need to recognize the symptoms of depression and get professional help, she says. Just like any other disease. I want all people to know that it is a medical condition and that it needs treatment and care just like diabetes or hypertension. If not taken care of, it could become fatal just as the other health parameters could lead to heart attack or stroke.
Perhaps there is better awareness today about depression, says Anita. But the stigma of going to see a psychiatrist persists! “I never got a guiding hand till I took the extreme step to end my life”. Her first bout of depression was in 2004.
“There was no help forthcoming when I kept crying for help. People have no idea about Panic Attacks”. “It’s illusionary – just your feeling”, is the general reply.
She had her share of therapists who pushed her further into clinical depression, says Anita. There are many such people now – online and offline about whom there should be better awareness. Anita believes that a counsellor’s passion and compassion in understanding the patient creates success stories. The patient too should be ready for therapy.
When bouts of depression engulfed her a second time in 2011 and she tried to end her life, mental health and depression was still a taboo. There was better awareness when in 2018 she had another bout of depression.
Her trauma had engulfed her despite her busy life. From being a company executive for Learning and Development and Communications Head, she switches to become a Mohiniyattam dancer or a motivational speaker, an actor in TV serials, taking time off to ho on a motorbike journey and now into writing books on mental health. It is difficult to say what personifies her most as she says, “I live in the moment”.
Anita had some counselling sessions during her earlier bouts of depression, but these sittings, she felt, were always incomplete. By the time she had her next session, her condition would have worsened. So, she started writing down her feelings each day.
Her episodes of panic, her thoughts of fear, happy moments,sad ones, breathlessness – how long they lasted what made her happy and so on. Documenting herself helped – a technique that perhaps brought her out of the earlier spells of depression. These became the content of her first book. “It was not written as a story, but my journey each day of the struggle.”
Feedback from readers had been encouraging. “It makes me happy to see that my book made a difference in the life of even one person”, says Anita.
Though there were also criticisms on how a non-doctor could write on the issue, there are many doctors who have welcomed it.
Her book is now going to be written more as a story than a guide to people with depression.
Making a difference in the lives of people with mental health issues and the elderly – two important sections of the society whose problems are not much understood, Anita is now onto yet another new aspect of her journey.
A lifetime seems too short for her to invent herself in myriad ways.
For all these things to happen, living every moment is important.
So, stay alive!