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The Boxing Ring

by Dr. Pranav Kodial

Approved by Consultant Nutritionist Malavika Athavale. “Happy to see this on your page. Honestly the need of the hour. Long read, but worth it. Sadly most battle depression alone or are shrugged off when spoken about. Our society needs more people to openly voice thier issues and also our society needs to openly accept their issues and work on them. Sadly; our society only likes to hear stories and problems but very rarely give help or solutions the right way. Approaching a clinical person is very important. Spring or Summer one only needs to give a hand and trust me the journey is wonderful for the person who holds the hand.”

Today being the tenth of October, this story is dedicated to 300 million of the world’s population. Hopefully, it will serve as a source of inspiration to them. And knowledge and understanding to the rest.

Please choose a quiet, undisturbed time to read this article. It isn’t light reading, but anything you find unclear will become clear once you get to the end. Then on re-reading the story, you will really understand its many layers.

So remember…there’s always hope.

Sakhi

Spring Break. At least, that’s what I call it. My most coveted time, in my most coveted place. Springland.

Springland is a fabulous place. Valleys and hills painted in all kinds of green. Colourful butterflies, fragrant flowers, blue skies—you know, the works.

Here, happiness abounds. In myself, as well. How I wish I could stay here forever. How I wish—

Ding!

The bell…

Shit.

Minute cracks begin to emerge in the valleys and mountains and butterflies and flowers and sky. They quickly proliferate, coalesce and tear up my surroundings, oozing black swirls of smoke; first as wisps, then growing, blooming like black algae, spreading and covering until all that is left is darkness.

A second later, the bright overhead lamps switch on. My worst fears, confirmed.

I am back in the Boxing Ring.

No worries, I tell myself. My new, reinforced defenses WILL help this time. I jump off my stool and dance around the ring, bobbing my gloves in front of me. My eyes are keenly focused on my opponent, Jeevan, who is matching my steps.

Jeevan isn’t your regular boxing opponent. He is bigger, faster and more ruthless than anything you’ve seen.

He starts off without preamble, with an upper-cut and a blow to my right shoulder. But I am too quick for him. I dodge the first and meet the other with one of my own.

It feels good. This round may go to me, I think. As if reading my thoughts, Jeevan smiles. A ‘this was just the trial’ smile.

Then he begins.

Even before I stop the dummy right hook, he drives his other fist into my chest. I gasp and totter backwards but manage to remain standing. He lashes out with another punch into my abdomen. I fold over in agony. But only momentarily, until another blow on my forehead hurls me into the ropes. I bounce off and crash face-down into the floor.

Seconds go by.

No, I tell myself. I am not down and out. Not yet. I can win this one. With every ounce of my remaining strength and resolve, I heave myself up on my elbows, knees and stagger to my feet.

That’s right. I’m back in business. All I have to do is—someone lurks up behind me and sinks a couple of vicious jabs into my kidneys. I groan, more from the shock of the realization, than the pain. Please, not Manas as well…

But it is him. Manas, the scoundrel. Manas, the traitor. Evidently, all that time and energy and money spent on him, completely in vain. Goddamn him.

I grab a chance, wheel around and shower Manas with a series of hard punches. He laughs as they slide off him, water off a duck’s back. “That barely tickled,” he sneers.

Jeevan resumes his attack and their combined punches hammer me from all sides. Each blow worse than the other. Manas, worse than Jeevan.

I flail my hands about, trying to protect myself, and scream at the referee, “It’s not fair! Everyone else has to fight only Jeevan.”

But the referee is gone.

I scan the audience for my partner. If Jeevan and Manas are going to double-attack me, I might as well call in someone from my side.

My eyes flicker from one face to the next, from one row to the next. The truth seeps in like a paralyzing snake venom. She’s gone as well…

No point pondering why and where. Maybe she got bored—my losing every bout and the pathetic aftermath. Maybe she found someone else, who won most of his rounds.

I swivel back to Jeevan, just in time to meet his zooming roundhouse punch to my face. An explosion of stars as the blow spins me around, and I slam onto the floor. Blackness.

Seconds pass by.

I find myself spread-eagled on the floor, breathing heavily. Get up, I urge myself. Get up!

I try. But can’t.

Then I understand why. Lead-Man has just joined the party. Lead, as in the chemical element, not as in ‘leader’.

Lead-Man is the name I have given to a close relative of the Devil, who appears at the wrong place and wrong time and performs his sickening witchcraft on me. Now, too, he has cast his usual spell and turned every muscle fiber in my body into lead.

Nevertheless, I drag myself onto my side, reach for the rope, and struggle to pull myself up. With no success. Feels like my body weighs a ton. The punches continue and every inch of me racks with pain. Still, I persist in my attempts to arise, more from desperation than courage.

Finally, I let go and fall back, panting. I can’t get up. Now, I don’t want to get up.

Suddenly, my agony skyrockets and I gasp. I don’t need to be told the reason—the appearance of another lovable member of their team, an ugly witch named Excrucia. Yes, my special title for her, because adding ‘ting’ to her name describes the kind of pain she gives me. From within my body, not without.

I curl up on the floor, my face buried in my gloves. Tears stream from my eyes. As always, only one question reverberates throughout my being—a silent, unending scream: When will this end?

Manas whispers into my ear. Make it easier for everyone, Shikar. A deft, deep slash on each wrist should do the trick.

Perhaps, he is right. Perhaps, he has always been right. I squeeze open my swollen eyelids. Through the viscous haze, I can see the crowd surrounding the boxing ring. Some of them, my near and dear.

As usual, I can hear many of them jeering. Some audibly. Others, soundlessly, through their expressions and behavior:

“Weakling cry-baby.”

“Ungrateful lout! Always whining despite having everything.”

“Snap out of it and get up, you lazy bum!”

“What a loser! Look at us, how bravely we win or last out our boxing rounds.”

Not their fault, I suppose. They don’t know I’m not doing it on purpose. They don’t know about Manas and his betrayal; he is invisible to them. The same regarding Lead-Man and Excrucia.

And they wouldn’t understand—or believe me—if I told them. The few I have told still don’t.

Ding!

Saved by the bell. Words that ne’er rang truer than now. Though, I should be grateful. This Boxing Round lasted only a month.

The overhead floodlights dim, and Twilight Interval begins.

Twilight Interval. A few days to lick my wounds. To heal myself, to whatever extent possible. A calm before the next shitstorm.

If I’m lucky, REALLY lucky, the Twilight Interval is followed by a Spring Break, instead of the next Boxing Round. But that’s a rare treat. The past ten years have allowed me only seventeen Spring Breaks, lasting about a fortnight each. That’s 34 out of 520 weeks.

The clock ticks away and I become aware—not visibly, not audibly—but palpably aware that I’m alone in the hall.

Not surprising.

Everyone has disappeared. Some, to cheer those doing well in their boxing bouts. Others, called to their own rings, or to enjoy their seemingly perpetual Spring Breaks.

But that’s okay. We three are having a blast all by ourselves; no need for anyone else. That’s right, us three jolly musketeers—I, me and myself.

I wheeze out a short laugh and close my eyes. Mmm… The darkness feels cool and comforting. I’m beginning to feel this is better than a Spring Break. A welcome idea enters my head. Why not start using something to ensure a permanent state of darkness? Then nothing will matter. Nor anyone. Conveniently for me, there’s a country-liquor bar very near my house.

But more attractive, more definitive seems Manas’s suggestion. More and more these days, I can visualize, almost feel the inviting, shiny edge of the razor blade sinking into my skin, slicing the tissues, reaching the artery—

“Shikar, you okay?”

The voice is feminine. Sounds like a breeze passing through wind-chimes. Tastes like treacle pudding. I pry open a blackened eye and see an unknown young woman bending over me.

She’s dressed in a salwar-kameez. Short, dark, pretty, with a nose-ring and a pronounced bindi. Her large kohl-lined eyes stare at me with concern. “Are you okay?” she asks again.

“Go away,” I whisper, “leave me alone.”

“No. Come on, let me help you up.”

“I don’t wa—,” I say, then after a long pause, “okay.”

She slips my arm around her shoulder and we both struggle to get me to my feet. “Can you walk?” she asks, “else, we can sit for a while.”

“I can walk.”

“Okay.”

We start off, my right knee buckles and I clutch her for support. “Sorry,” I mumble, praying she can’t see my flushed, tear-streaked face in the dim light.

“I think we had better sit for a while,” she says, as she helps me out of the ring, into a chair. “And you don’t have to apologize. Or feel ashamed or embarrassed about anything.”

She hands me a bottle of water and I chug it down. She also offers me some wet tissues and I wipe my face with them. It feels good.

Meanwhile, Ms. Florence Nightingale sits on a stool, pushes back her hair, and smiles. “Feeling better now?” she asks.

I nod gingerly and ask her, “What’s your name? And who are you? And why are you here?”

“So many questions,” she laughs, “okay. A. My name is Sakhi. B. I’m your friend. C. Because you need a friend.”

“I don’t need a friend,” I say firmly.

She smiles. “Okay. But I need one. I have just returned from my M.Sc. theory paper. An exam that I absolutely didn’t want to give, so I’m going crazy.”

“Then why give the exam at all?”

She shrugs and chuckles. “I had to. No option. Like Life.”

“Like what?”

“Like Life. Life is an inescapable exam, you know.”

I grimace. “What’s this? One of those fancy lines people say on TV that’s supposed to sound very profound or something?”

She laughs again but I don’t notice. I’m looking around me. It’s gradually getting brighter. For a second, fear grips me. Is the next Boxing Round about to begin? Then I relax. No, the ring is empty.

Sakhi’s voice draws my attention back to her. “It’s true, Shikar. Every now and then, Life poses questions to all of us—obligatory duties, unpleasant situations and challenges—that we are forced to answer. For example, the punches you face in the ring.”

I wince at the reference. Noticing this, she quickly continues, “But everyone has to take this exam. And everyone can clear it.”

“Great.” I spit out some blood and wipe my mouth on my forearm. “And how does one pass this ‘exam’?”

She shrugs her shoulders. “I think by developing certain core values and principles, and life-skills. With these, one can successfully answer all kinds of exam questions.”

“Wonderful. And how does one develop all that stuff?” I ask, rubbing a tender spot on my chest. As usual, Manas has got in ten times more blows than Jeevan.

“Through research and introspection. And learning from Life itself—one’s own and others’ experiences. Spirituality also helps a lot,” she says, and nods wisely.

I shake my head, pull off and throw my boxing gloves on the floor. I had thought Sakhi would be different. But no, she has turned out like all the rest.

She notices my expression. “What’s the matter?” she asks gently.

I let out a sigh and look up at her. “Nothing. It’s so easy for you guys to dish out these sermons, right?”

She looks at me, confused. “Meaning?”

“What if you are like me, suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, that doesn’t allow you to do all that?”

She starts to speak, but I cut her, “What if you know all that stuff—values, principles, life-skills etcetera—but are unable to use them? What if the invincible enemy that prevents you from using them, is your own incurably diseased Mind?”

Sakhi falls silent. No one says anything for a while.

Then I scowl and continue, “Before this illness, ten years ago, Manas was on my side. I vaguely remember, I too used to win my Boxing Rounds.” I wave a hand around at the empty chairs. “Now, I have no one on my side—friends, relatives…even my wife has run off. But I don’t blame her. Living 24×7 with someone like me must be—” I break off and look away, fighting the fresh tears in my eyes.

Sakhi takes my hand. “I understand,” she says softly, “that’s why I’m here. You do need a friend…”

I gaze down at my hand enveloped in hers. The warmth and comfort is overwhelming.

She continues, her tone gentle as ever, “You don’t need the entire world on your side. Only a few, or just that one person, who will always be there for you. To remind you that you are never alone.”

I don’t respond. It’s difficult to speak when you’re choked with emotion.

Moments pass, then a flicker in the corner of my eye. I turn and stare in surprise. My surroundings are changing.

Yellow shafts of sunbeams are disintegrating the dark Boxing Ring. I can now make out the different tints of green, the foliage appearing around us. The scent of roses and mountain air wafts into my nose. Then I hear the faint lilt of birdsong.

A Spring Break? So soon? But…how?

Maybe the Forces That Be felt a sudden pang of mercy on me. Or maybe Lady Luck wants to fatten me for the slaughter in the next round.

I look at the girl in front of me. Or maybe it’s because of Sakhi’s presence.

“Awesome, isn’t it?” she says, enjoying the vista around us. I gaze at her delighted smile. Buttercups, sunshine, bubbles—all come to mind.

It makes me smile as well. My first real smile in ages.

Then I remember my question. “You mentioned the exam question papers—the obligatory duties, the unexpected, unpleasant situations and challenges Life repeatedly bombards me with. In my situation, with an unhelpful, antagonistic Mind, how am I to deal with them? How will I ever pass the exam of Life?”

“Don’t fight your Mind.”

I narrow my eyes at her. “You’re joking, right?”

“You have tried fighting him. Has it worked for you?”

“As successfully as banging my head on a stone wall.”

“That’s the thing. Fighting Manas doesn’t work. Just acknowledge whatever he does or says, and leave it at that. You are not obliged to ruminate upon his activities or act as per his wishes. Remember, you are not your Mind; you are different from him. With time, Manas will be automatically put in his place.”

“And Lead-Man? What do I do when my entire body feels crushed by an intolerable weight, when I’m unable to even get out of bed in the morning? What about Excrucia, and her cancerous pain?”

Sakhi pauses for a long beat before answering, “There may be times, Shikar, when nothing seems to work. There, you have to just hunker down and brave out the storm. But during those periods, keep telling yourself that this episode too will pass. And it will.”

We spend a few minutes in silence as I chew on what she has told me. Then she asks me quietly, “Do you know who’s the examiner for the exam of Life?”

I look up, puzzled. That hadn’t occurred to me. “Nope,” I say.

“He is known by different names. But that is not important. What you must understand is that He knows everyone’s strengths and handicaps. Through Jeevan, He ensures each person gets different question papers, tailored to his capabilities. So it is possible to answer them.

“This loving Examiner also considers your efforts. You just have to do your best, and He happily accepts your answers and passes you.”

“So never forget,” she says, and squeezes my hand, “there’s always hope.”

She smiles warmly. “By the way, this Examiner attends all your rounds as the Referee, to monitor the proceedings. You may have felt He deserted you during the fight, but actually He never—”

“Forget it, Sakhi,” I say, with a sardonic chuckle, “the past decade hasn’t given me much incentive to believe in Him. Least of all, be thankful to Him for anything.”

She nods understandingly. “Okay, never mind the Examiner. We’ll keep that for another day. Are you at least willing to believe that I—your Sakhi—will always be there for you?”

I gaze at her large, earnest eyes and sigh. For me, these achingly beautiful ideas are but mere fantasies. From experience, I don’t indulge in them.

Sakhi probably isn’t aware. Relationships with MDD patients come packaged with frustration and despair. It’s only a matter of time before people like her are forced to open those packages, are ravaged by their contents, and want out.

But it’s sweet of her to offer, so I smile and nod.

“Good.” She leans forward and gives me a hug. I immediately seize up and go rigid.

Intimacy, like fantasies, is forbidden territory for me. Intensely desirable, yet intensely frightening.

She whispers in my ear, “It’s good to allow certain people inside.”

After a few seconds’ hesitation, I hug her back, tightly. A deep sigh escapes me, and more tears cloud my vision. Honey couldn’t taste sweeter.

I wonder if I could exchange my Spring Breaks for a few such hugs every now and then.

No chance. Sakhi’s ‘loving Examiner’ wouldn’t agree. Somehow, His policy has always been to deprive me of whatever is most precious to me.

Sakhi flashes me a bright smile, and more buttercups, sunshine and bubbles flood my mind. “I have to go now. Take care, I’ll see you soon. Bye.”

I thank her and watch her go.

Then my eyes fall on my arms, my legs and the rest of my body, and I stare in amazement. My wounds are healing faster than usual. The pain, too, has dwindled. Another sigh escapes me. Thank you, Sakhi.

The cooing of a koel makes me look around. Yes, it’s definitely a Spring Break. Once more, my surroundings burst with colour, fragrance and happiness. Several days go by.

Sometimes, I notice a person in the distance. When I try to get closer, the person merges into the surroundings. Who is that, I wonder.

Then one morning, a familiar dark fog rolls in out of the blue, its billowing, grey swirls blotting out everything. I give a sigh. It was too good to last…

The bright overhead floodlights clunk on. Today’s audience seems larger. I look down at my boxing gloves, then up at Jeevan. He’s pacing in front of me wearing a grim smile.

I also notice the Referee in one corner. Wonder if He plans on attending the entire round. Wonder if it matters a damn to me.

Ding!

I get up, bump my gloves and go towards Jeevan. He lands a sledgehammer on my jaw and I reel backwards.

Manas, who has already appeared behind me slams one into my side. I gasp in pain and double over, blood dripping from my mouth.

Another blow by Jeevan pirouettes me into the ropes. My knees give way and I grab the nylon rope to stop myself from collapsing. I sag over it, my head swimming, but only for a minute. Lead-Man’s black magic drags me down again, pinning me to the floor. As if on cue, Excrucia also jumps in, gnawing my insides with her fangs and claws. I groan in pain.

“No point fighting, you fool,” Manas hisses in my ear, “you’re going to lose every round anyway. Slash your wrists. End it, once and for all.”

I roll my head to one side and peer through the blood trickling down from my cut eyebrow. Yes, Manas is right. This time, I will surely—I stop and stare at the audience below.

First row, second seat.

She’s here.

Sakhi’s eyes whisper to mine, “I cannot enter the ring in every round. But don’t worry, whatever your situation, you are not alone. I’m there for you. Always.” She nods reassuringly and smiles.

Despite my painful, battered jaw, I slowly smile back.

It’s a miracle. An achingly beautiful, impossible fantasy is now a fact. I am no longer alone.

Manas and Jeevan’s blows continue to rain on me. My body still feels leaden and sore, so I curl up and hunker down. This storm will also pass, so just brave it out, I urge myself. Then I feel Sakhi’s unseen hand slip into mine and I hold it tight. Yes. Now, I can brave it out. I am no longer alone.

After a while, the heaviness drains from my body somewhat. The pain, too, diminishes. Okay. A bead of sweat rolls off my brow and bounces off the floor. I blink and smile to myself. Okay…

I drag myself up on one elbow, hook my other glove on the rope and slowly climb to my feet. I stand there for a few seconds, gazing at the smiling, lovely form of Sakhi. Then I tighten my fists and turn around.

The Referee is in one corner, watching me. Perhaps He does attend all my rounds, but I cannot perceive His presence every time. I nod my respects to Him, for whatever they’re worth, and stride towards Jeevan.

Jeevan greets me with a series of hard jabs. I dodder backwards but manage to keep my balance. I also realize I have blocked many of his punches. Gradually, I begin to work out a strategy, thanks to lessons learnt from my earlier bouts, and from watching other people’s fights. And some tips I have read or heard.

As usual, Manas torments me from behind with a volley of blows. I gasp in pain, but soldier on. Sakhi’s words: Don’t fight or engage him, just acknowledge his actions…

I swing at Jeevan, but he dodges and retaliates with a few successful hits. No problem, I tell myself. I just need to improvise. Manas tries his tricks again. I wince but manage to shrug him off. Somehow, it’s getting easier.

Days pass. Then weeks. Then months. Looks like I’m in for a long haul. Jeevan continues to barrage me with some powerful punches. However, I am able to successfully block all of them, or absorb their force.

A look of surprise appears on Jeevan’s face, and a grim smile, on mine.

Perhaps, because now, I know the answers to all his questions.

I launch into him with better-planned, well-timed blows, pushing him backwards. More puzzlement, and this time, wariness creases his brow.

A quick glance behind me leaves me shell-shocked. Manas is worn out. He slumps in the corner of the ring, beaten. And no wonder, since about a month, his blows have barely tickled me.

I swivel towards Jeevan, just in time to block his roundhouse to my face. He lunges at me like a beast in fury. I block a fleeting hook to my head, a left wallop skims my side, a cross whooshes past my shoulder and—I narrow my eyes. Now!

My right fist blazes up through the gap in his defense and rams into his chin. Thunkkk!!

Jeevan’s head snaps back and he lurches backwards. For a few seconds, he sways as if floating in a drunken haze, and crashes to the floor.

He doesn’t move.

time passes…

He still doesn’t move.

Ding!

Down and out. Round over.

WHAT…?

What in the sweet name of—I blink and stare around in disbelief. The audience gapes back at me, mouths open. Dead silence in the hall; the only sound is of my chest heaving.

Then everyone explodes in applause and cheer.

My hands fall by my side and the gloves slip off onto the floor. Utterly dazed, I drop onto my knees, shaking uncontrollably, trying to grapple with reality.

For the first time in ten years… this round is mine.

I stare at the floor of the ring as the truth sinks in. I won this round. I actually won it… I bury my face in my hands and start sobbing. With joy. And relief. And gratitude. And so much more.

Once all that is pent up drains out of me, I lift my face to the skies and give a deep sigh. I feel exhausted, but also, a deep, deep sense of peace and contentment. Then I reach for the ropes and slowly ease myself to my feet.

The Referee is watching me from one corner, a smile playing on His lips. He walks over and offers me a hand. I shake it, still unsure about my feelings about Him.

“Don’t know if you realized it, son,” He says, “but what you faced in this round was much beyond the usual. In fact, beyond what most people can endure.”

“And yet,” He adds, with a twinkle in the eye, “you won, against all odds. Congratulations, you should be proud of yourself.”

“Thank you,” I say and smile. The Referee nods, thumps my shoulder and disappears.

I turn to Manas, but he has vanished as well. Maybe he has lost his bite. And after a few more rounds, maybe he’ll be back on my side.

Or maybe he hasn’t changed and will continue to rear up his ugly back-stabbing head every now and then. Anyway, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it—now, I know how to deal with him. Same with Lead-Man and Excrucia, and the rest of their ilk.

A hand squeezes my shoulder. I look back in surprise. It’s Jeevan.

He smiles at me. “That was mighty impressive. Reckon you deserve another Spring Break, a long one. What say?” He bumps my fist and slides out of the ring.

I stare after him. Then it hits me. The unknown person that I had followed in my last Spring Break and saw merging into Springland. It wasJeevan.

A deeper realization dawns on me. Jeevan had not merged into Springland. It was the other way around. Springland had merged into Jeevan.

Life… day and Night. Spring Breaks and Boxing Rounds. Joy and Sorrow. Two sides of the same spinning coin. One, always following the other. Alternating, eternally.

Meanwhile, the Boxing Ring swiftly begins to dissolve and Springland starts to reappear.

The cheering crowd rushes up and mobs me, everyone desperate for my company, to celebrate and enjoy with me. But I push through them towards that one particular person standing there gazing fondly at me, her eyes shining with tears of joy.

That one person, because of whom I will never again fear the Boxing Ring, nor Jeevan’s question papers. Nor Manas nor anyone nor anything else.

That person, who is always there for me.

My beloved… Sakhi.

* * *

Epilogue

For those unfamiliar with Hindi/ Sanskrit, here’s a glossary:

  • Jeevan is Life
  • Manas is the Mind
  • Sakhi is a Female friend

300 million of the world’s population are affected by Clinical Depression or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). This illness (yes, it’s a clinical disease) is characterized by persistent sorrow, most often, without a specific cause. Sometimes, lasting months or years, even decades.

The biggest disservice that the English language and society has done, is to give the same label ‘depression’ to both, Clinical Depression/ MDD, and the comparatively harmless sadness after an unhappy event.

As a result, most people consider MDD as something that a person can easily overcome on his own, or with some comforting words and pep talk. Many even chastise these patients as weak-minded, attention-seeking etc. They exhort them to ‘snap out of it’ or give them ‘tough love’ to bring them out of it, with disastrous results.

Very few understand MDD to be a complex, truly destructive, debilitating and potentially lethal disease, that needs medical and psychological treatment. And rarely do patients of MDD get the same empathy and support as would a cancer or handicapped patient, though they suffer the same way.

The symptoms experienced by Shikar in the story are very real. Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, social withdrawal, low self-esteem, self-hatred, severe hopelessness—all the negativity courtesy the patient’s own mind (the ‘Manas effect’).

Shikar’s physical problems are also equally real. Extreme fatigue and heaviness in the limbs and body that make it difficult to even get out of bed every morning (the ‘Lead-Man effect’). And excruciating pain syndromes (the ‘Excrucia effect’) that studies have proven to be as bad as cancer pain. Other than these, infections, appetite problems, increased chance of coronary heart disease, diabetes etc.

In this condition, even the usual day-to-day obligations and tasks, more so, the trials and tribulations of Life (the ‘exam papers’), seem overwhelmingly challenging—like fighting a super-strong opponent in a boxing ring.

MDD may have periods of remission, (‘Spring Breaks’) when the patient feels absolutely fine. Delicious, much-coveted periods of happiness and wellbeing, that he longs to retain forever.

There are also ‘Twilight Intervals’. Periods when the patient is still depressed, but not subjected to the important challenges and duties of Life. Semi-comfortable moments, when the patient can try and heal himself and is most amenable to treatment.

What makes MDD worse is the stigma. The patient can’t even come out openly about his problem lest he be ridiculed as weak and lazy and what not. Worse, as a ‘mental’ patient.

Consequently, most patients hide their illness and suffer in silence for the rest of their lives.

Or until they kill themselves.

Yes, over 50% of suicides are by MDD patients. It is one of our society’s greatest failures of the century—to forsake those with MDD, and not to pick up the danger signs of those who are about to be pushed over the edge.

Now, perhaps, you will understand why the protagonist in the story is named Shikar. Don’t confuse it with Shikhar, like in the cricketer’s name, meaning mountain peak or the dome-shaped top of a temple. The protagonist’s name is Shikar as in Shikaar, meaning victim. Or its more apt meaning in this context: prey.

And yet, like with cancer or heart disease or handicap or any other affliction, MDD is a part of what it means to be human. Most patients can completely recover from it with medical and psychological therapy. The rest can at least come to terms with the illness, accommodate and adapt to it, and lead fairly normal lives—even ‘win their Boxing Rounds’ with resounding success.

Apart from professional treatment, the key ingredient here is support. Every Shikar needs a Sakhi. The latter need not be only female; even Sakhas can do a great job. And it need not be a romantic relationship as one might interpret from the story. As a side note, if you read the story carefully, it actually conveys a deep emotional friendship, not necessarily with romantic connotations.

The Friend may not be able to ‘enter the Boxing Ring’ and directly influence or combat the suffering of the MDD patient. But just the assurance that there is someone for the MDD patient gives the latter great relief, security and stability. It even enables him to plumb himself for courage, strength and his true potential, to combat Life and its challenges and come out as a winner.

‘Mindfulness’ is being increasingly used to combat MDD, especially the negativity of the Mind that worsens the patient’s condition. Instead of fighting the Mind, simply acknowledging its activities non-judgmentally, with gentle acceptance and compassion, helps in getting free of its negative influence.

There may be episodes when nothing eases the MDD patient’s suffering. Drugs, counselling, treatment—nothing seems to work. At that time, all the patient can to do is lie down and brave out the storm until it passes.

In such stormy situations, the presence of a Friend is all he needs, and the Friend’s presence is all that may work. And indeed, prevent the patient from committing suicide to escape the unbearable, seemingly endless pain and despair.

Also, the Friend may be in the best position to assess that risk in him, by gently asking about him getting suicidal thoughts.

Most times, the Friend isn’t required to do much. Just hold the patient’s hand and listen to him, a hug every now and then, and words of comfort and reassurance—tell him that all will be well. And that there is always hope.

So if possible, be a Sakhi or Sakha to a Shikar. You might save his or her life. And you may help a bird escape from the hellish confinement of its MDD prison cell and get back to a normal life.

And if possible, please share this article. It may create another Sakhi or Sakha.

P.S. If you or someone you know suffers from the symptoms mentioned in the above article, please seek professional and competent help immediately.

THE END

Image credits: www.deviantart.com/csifer/art/Old-prison-cell-330314469

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