Accepting Yourself and Moving Forward: Darshak Zala
Darshak Zala is a 25-year-old who’s struggled with anxiety and depression. He’s spent the last few years learning how to cope with his mental illness and is now actively working towards removing the stigma around mental health. We talked to Darshak about his difficulties in coming to terms with his diagnosis, and how he has become stronger in not only accepting this illness, but also talking about it openly in the hopes of making a difference in someone else’s battle.
Question: When did your struggles with anxiety and depression first occur, and how did you react to these feelings?
My family moved around quite a bit while I was growing up, and become anxious and withdrawn whenever a moving day came around. My anxiety subsided in college, but returned first when my grandfather, whom I was very close to, passed away, then when I moved out to New Jersey on my own from Houston.
I didn’t seek help from my doctor and therapist until a very close friend of mine passed away in a car crash. I had trouble accepting my diagnosis of anxiety and depression, and it took a long time for me to first accept myself, and then tell people close to me about it.
Question: You’ve mentioned you’ve struggled with perfectionism. Do you think that this was something that prevented you from seeking help?
Most definitely. I had a plan for how my life was supposed to turn out, and having anxiety and depression didn’t fit within that plan. I liked being in control of things. When I felt powerless during my anxiety and depression, it was such a new, different feeling. That perfectionism I had sought disappeared during these moments.
Question: When did you decide it was time to reach out and seek help?
I decided to seek out help when I noticed stark physical changes such as loss of appetite, high blood pressure, fast weight drop, and irregular sleeping patterns. I also saw emotional changes, and was unable to enjoy the things I had enjoyed previously. When this lasted for a long time after my friend passed away, I understood I couldn’t continue to stay in this state and I deserved better than that.
Question: How did you come to accept your diagnosis and realize that there was nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to mental health issues?
It took me awhile to accept and understand that my mental health issues were nothing to be ashamed of. I discovered that my father also had anxiety and depression in his 20’s, just like me. Knowing that he went through something very similar, in India during a time when families and society in general ignored mental health issues, made him an inspiration to me and helped make me stronger. My close friends also made me feel very accepted. Lastly, there were also many authors and motivational speakers that I came across who dealt with anxiety and depression in a triumphant manner, like Tony Robbins, Victor Frankl, and Brene Brown to name a few.
Question: What books, films, or media have helped you on your journey towards wellness?
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl was very inspirational. Here was a man who faced inhumane torture in the Auschwitz concentration camp, and through this, he is able to develop grit and the optimism that will one day lead him to talk about this experiences and explain the psychological strength that each one of us carries. Another book that I am currently reading is called The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter by Shilpa Anthony Raj. It is memoir where she talks about growing up and being labeled an “untouchable” (a person forced to take on society’s most unpleasant jobs). She is then given the opportunity to educate herself, and goes on to fight societal adversities and be an inspiration to all those around her.
One of favorite movie quotes that speaks to me a lot is from Rocky, when he tells his son, “It is not about how hard you hit, but about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. That is how winning is done.” It’s a testament that life will have its struggles, but it’s not about beating something, it’s about the willingness to get up again after you have fallen. That in itself is a heroic act. So whenever I fell during my more anxious and depressive moments, I knew that I too had the strength to rebound from this and keep moving forward.
Question: What else inspires you to do your best and keep going every day?
Strength training at the gym has become a big part of my physical and mental wellness. Physical exertion in order to achieve something allows my anxieties and stresses to subside, and I feel my mood much more elevated after workouts. It is part of my daily routine to keep my wellbeing and I am very thankful I’m able to do that.
Question: If there is one message that you could give to someone who is struggling with their mental health, what would it be?
This doesn’t define you, the way you handle it does. Each of us has the strength to pump our chests amidst this darkness. Seek out help and the universe will work to give you support, whether it may be through family, friends, or strangers. You are not alone in this, you have fighters just like you that are going to be your comrades. All you have to do is seek help and you will get more than you have asked for. I promise.