Month: July 2017
One term that has stuck with me for a while now has been ‘bastardise’. Funny, you would say. But, I think it is an important idea (if not the term), to keep in mind when speaking about anything that is a trend on social media – feminism or mental health awareness. I use the term bastardise because thats what I feel bigger media houses with corporate money end up doing to ideas that mean something fundamental. Remember the ‘My Choice’ video? Yes, thats bastardising feminism and women’s empowerment with a few token women from rural India making it to the cut.
Anyway, I have been fearful of bastardising the depression and mental health for the fear of making both too trivial by writing about them. After a lot of thought and encouraged by a campaign #LetsTalk by Youth Ki Awaaz, I decided to write about it and see how it comes out. I was sure that if it was crappy, I will not share it. However, going by the numerous people suffering from anxiety, depressive tendencies, mood swings and depression, as a writer and a survivor of depression and anxiety, I felt it would be terrible to not share to maybe, bring light to an issue that I got aware of only when I found myself suffering because of it and hopefully, this would help the reader understand what they or people around them could be going through.
The original post can be found here. Sharing the same below:
I believe that the scenario of mental health awareness in India is much better than it was some seven or eight years back. Depression and mental health are finally being recognised by celebrities and public figures – Deepika Padukone, the founder of The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLF), being a prime example. Some of them have even opened up and provided first-person accounts of their struggles with depression. Using a first person narrative, I would like to focus on the issue of perceptions of mental health and depression through this piece.
I had first shown signs of mild depression when I was a student. Even while suffering from this, I fulfilled the roles of a daughter, friend, classmate and student. During this time, only one friend (whose boyfriend is a psychologist) expressed concern about my well being worried that there was something up. It’s not that I had stopped eating or studying. It was just that I had started suffering from a lack of concentration which was a rarity in my case. I was okay at most times but, as soon as I found myself alone, my state of mind would just dip without any certain cause. I also took to smoking regularly whenever, I would be in a dip. That also embarrassed me and made me feel ashamed and guilty as I really didn’t want to smoke but, felt that that was my only escape. Whenever I could hide from the world, I would smoke a minimum of three cigarettes.
I questioned myself and tried to understand what had changed over the year. I constantly asked myself what was happening to me and why I felt that my life was worthless, whenever I was alone. I set out to understand what was happening to me. When I googled the cause for everything I was going through, I realised that I may have been suffering from depression. Surely, I could not fall into depression, right? If I was, then how was I studying, eating and being a friend and daughter – all at the same time? Didn’t people say that being depressed meant being completely non-functional? I immediately shut my laptop and brushed the possibility aside.
Rain ☔️ Inspired by a series of artists' portrayal of what #depression looks like. I'm sure most of us have experienced depressive moods at a point in time, or known people going through it. You can check out the series on @boredpanda. Prompt for today was chosen by me. Met people who are really living with dark clouds hovering over not just their heads but, filling up their hearts. The more number of newer people I'm meeting these days, the more I feel that the national data is too, too low about the number of people suffering from this. I've seen it around in more ways than one and can only say that there's always hope, even in the bleakest of situations. Even when you're in that dark space in the recesses of your being, you will come out of it. From my personal count of people, 7 out of 10 suffer from depression or anxiety and you're not alone. Talk to someone, eat well, paint, create something or go to the therapist if you want but, know that you'll come out sooner or later. Please don't give up. #rain #mentalhealth #india #wellness #hope #art #artist #illustration #ink #sketch
Another year down the line, I got a job and moved to a city where I suddenly found myself all alone. Moreover, this experience proved to completely different from the five years I had spent away from my home and parents. I was now an adult, but I had no friends to lean on to in a city which was completely alien to me. Here, I was hit by another bout of depression and anxiety. I used to be on top of my game at work, where I used to laugh and talk with my colleagues every day. However, in the evenings, I would sit quietly in my room doing nothing.
Gradually, I lost interest in reading, writing and other activities. Cooking also became too big a chore for me. It was around this time that I also sought help for the polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) I was suffering from. Since it was homeopathic, it focused on working with the psychological causes of my hormonal imbalance and helped me get better even though I was still in denial of depression.
I was lucky to have found some beautiful friends and a life philosophy, which started pulling me out of my depression somehow making me feel that I could do it. Today, I can say that I am completely okay but, it has taken my acceptance, understanding and efforts to not succumb. Of course, there are days when I find myself in a low, but, I am now able to bounce back.
The reason why I decided to share my story is to highlight a few important things about depression and mental health. The first point concerns the demystification of depression. When one talks about depression, one usually associates it with something as blatant as madness or something akin to a disability or dysfunctionality. These are the reasons why I denied that I was suffering from depression. The taboos of societal perception of depression made me fear being looked down upon or being non-functional in society. We forget that there are degrees to depression and even if it is severe, it always has a cure – it is not a disability.
The second topic that I want to talk about concerns what is known as high-functioning depression. I came across this phrase only when I was out of the pits. In my opinion, people suffering from ‘high-functioning depression’ are more prone to danger and high in number, because of society’s lack of acceptance and their own lack of an understanding of depression. I feel this is very dangerous because it bottles up issues (which should be addressed) due to misconceptions or shame. Over time, these bottled-up issues can turn into ticking bombs!
In order to resolve a problem or to cure an illness, diagnosis is the first step. Even in cases of severe depression, the first step towards healing is recognising and accepting the reality of depression. Of course, the struggle is intense what with the small numbers of professionals understanding of the issue and even smaller number that continues to understand the reality of the person suffering from it and work with them with the conviction that depression is curable, it is just a chemical imbalance. However, I feel that there have many discussions on these topics. The reason why I chose to speak about high-functioning depression is because it is a side of depression and mental health that is rarely discussed, but is regularly affecting more Indian youth like me.
I say this because when I was going through the phase, I did not recognise and identify what I was going through. A lot of my symptoms would show in spurts on a much lower scale. Back then, I used to feel that it was just another struggle in my life, and that was all! During the days when I used to be really low, my mind would only interpret it as one of those days on which I would have to struggle through, trying to find a ray of hope.
The gravity of it all struck me when I shared a little of my past struggles with a friend and colleague of mine, over lunch. After listening to me wide-eyed, he responded with a tone of surprise, saying that he could not believe what I was going through, while being an excellent worker and interacting with my colleagues as if I had no troubles in life.
In retrospect, I think the other factor that contributes to this not being recognised is the depravity perpetrated by social media and other means of communication. I am not against technology or the amazing facilities of Skype or Twitter. However, excess of anything is harmful. This is also true in the case of social media and other means of communication.
Today, in the bigger cities, people tend to stay in offices during the week and then hang out with friends or stay in their homes during the weekend. In such a setup, face-to-face conversations are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Friends now mainly talk over WhatsApp or Facebook. Every social outing is checked in on Facebook and then posted on Instagram.
With such a culture and the increased migration of youth to bigger cities (for work) – possibly without friends or families at close hand – social media turns out to be the sole means of communication in many cases. Psychologically, social media is linked with instant gratification and happiness, which fizzles out once the phone or app is switched off. It is no wonder therefore that people with depression isolate themselves even further when they see people posting happy-making pictures on social media. For me, it was easier to be proficient at my work, because I didn’t have to divulge my worries and emotional issues to the people around.
I think it is important to not brush off people’s worries or emotions as nothing. In fact, such an attitude only decreases the self-respect of such people. Getting brushed off by a friend or a senior can only increase the sense of isolation and self-hatred in people suffering with depression, which can spiral even further.
One also needs to be aware of issues concerning mental health to recognise people who are silently suffering from depression. I would urge all readers to read up on depression and not base your perceptions on what you see in films or hear from other people.
Generally, we tend to normalise depression in a manner that belittles the victim. On the other hand, we also portray depression as a horror that one should be excessively aware of. I think both perceptions are equally damaging. The more informed we are about depression, the more we will able to help people cope with depression, and also demystify it in the process.
Using an old sketch to share a little of what abuse feels like
In the month of March, for the first time in my life, I had read about a case of sexual harassment at the workplace being blown up in social media. It was a first of a kind situation where the same social media that makes a few powerful also used the power of many in body, one in mind to bring justice in the case of grave misconduct by a man employing not one, but many women. There were many debates on it and a lot did happen since then but, I remember finding myself at crossroads.
I was angry and at the same time, there was a sense of helplessness and pessimism that such acts invite the ire of many but, seldom lead to any corrective action being taken against the act. Overwhelmed and charged with a lot of thoughts on the same – I had written a piece by the title above and instead of posting it here, I decided to write for Youth Ki Awaaz, with the hope that a greater number of people will read it and it did happen. The article got shared by numerous people – I am assuming that many understood and connected with my thoughts through my words. The article on the site can be found here.
Why I am sharing the same here (down below) is because I also want the original piece that I had written (minus the little editing that the people at YKA did to reach more people) to be shared with people – simply because the thoughts are worth sharing and also, some parts of the edit that are required with a bigger platform like YKA are not necessary for my blog. :)
Here it goes:
As Indian women, or maybe in today’s world, as women in general, one psychological training that we get is “how to stay safe” or “how to not do things that we want but should avoid in order to protect ourselves”. It is a sad reality where women are subjected to abuse, especially at the hands of those who believe from their beings that the female sex is secondary. What made me think of all this was the recent furore over allegations of sexual harassment against the CEO of a certain (very) popular entertainment startup. While I do not want to and am not writing a response to the case here, I believe that the conversation is out there and hopefully, the truth will be upheld. My opinion on whether the allegations are true or not do not matter since, the deed of announcing to the world and the style of responses of the party have already dropped big hints.
Why I am writing this today is because I want to talk about the other side of the coin, vis-a-vis, reporting sexual assault. When I read tonnes of women responding to Indian Fowler on her post on medium.com, I found myself angry; angry with them for not standing up for themselves in time. “This is a typically patriarchal Indian thought,” you’d say? At least, that’s what I said to myself the very next moment. I delved more into the subject to really understand why I felt so. I realised that I was angry because in my head, I reasoned that when I faced sexual harassment and lecherous behaviour at an earlier workplace, I reported it and sorted it out, even if it took me some time. Basically, I was applying my general perspective on someone else’s specific situation.
I was thinking of all this and resigned myself to the fact that maybe, the women speaking up now were simply too young and too scared to report. I realised that all these girls who were coming ahead now were seemingly younger in age, were quite new to the city and also the industry. In such scenarios, it is definitely very hard for one to stand up, no matter how strong they may be. I also read a thread on Twitter, where the user shared how she had spoken up against harassment at her workplace following which she was threatened, her parents were harassed and she had to apologise (in writing!) to the person concerned! In that moment, I thanked my stars for working at a good place, that heard me out immediately. But then, as I read further, I started questioning everything again. Here is what happened:
I had been working in a big city in India and went to a smaller one for two days of work. The team there was all men and all fairly new while, I had spent a little more time in the organisation. Apart from the other regular things to be done, one of the tasks assigned to me was to train the new guys. Despite being drowsy from a very early flight, I was excited as it was my first time in that state.
Now the two new people (lets call them A and B) in the team were also the ones who were involved in an important but problematic assignment. Since they were new, and I was in charge of the assignment, I had been trying to teach them the ropes and guide them as best as I could over phone considering that they knew nothing and had no one to guide them. From the last time that I had spoken to them, it seemed to me that A, a young fresh graduate had become friendlier than necessary. Like most women, the red flag rose in my brain but, I let it pass and decided to not to be too polite to him anymore. Maybe a woman’s politeness in a workspace is always interpreted as an invitation to be friendly and personal.
Anyway, as I was going through the day in a car with the team, by instinct or going by the internalised “how to survive public spaces – for women” handbook, I stuffed my backpack right in between A and me so that our bodies did not touch in any way possible; even though, we were two people on a seat made for three. After half a day had passed, I noticed that A was manspreading and for some weakness of spine, kept on falling over the backpack, such that after a while the bag itself seemed half its size making his elbow too close to my arm.
Having internalised the need to not ‘create a scene’, time and again I pushed the bag towards him curtly asking him to sit up straight. He would oblige but, return to the same pose after a while. When we were outside the vehicle for a meeting, I noticed his eyes fixed on the area on my body where my breasts are – I was wearing a salwaar kurta, with a dupatta.
As the day went by, I found ways to take him to task since I was training him as well but, at the end of the day, I was livid with rage. I had never felt so angry. I felt violated and I kept on asking myself why since he had never touched me and I had, after all, found sly ways to set him right. Why was I still so angry? That’s when the reality of abuse hit home.
To those who might never understand what it feels to be at the receiving end of catcalls, dirty stares, grabs, molestation or any form of abuse, it feels like you do not have any right on your own self. It feels like your body is just a case in which you exist only to be used by those who feel entitled to their bodies and mine. That is what it felt like – as his work senior, I could set him right but, as a woman, I had failed to own my body. It was easier to stand up to a complete stranger – difficult to a colleague. I cannot imagine the plight of those who are abused by relatives, friends or even parents.
The next day I heaved a sigh of relief because A was nowhere to be seen. I was saved but, I forgot to tell you about B. B was this funny, talkative chap and from where he comes, I have seen this tendency in most people (men and women) and hence, I presumed he was being himself. This chap had added me on Facebook, like a lot of my other colleagues, and I had accepted the request (making only my public profile visible to him – sigh, the justifications!). Using Facebook for me has changed to sharing thoughts on the socio-political existence of the country and a little bit of my writing and illustrations. No harm in colleagues seeing that and even better if it leads to a good lunch time discussion next day?
Alas, I was wrong! It seemed that B presumed my acceptance of his friend request as an invitation to flirt and be in a strange non-professional space. I clearly remember accepting the friend request after checking his profile which said he was married. He had a lot of cute pictures of his wife.
Throughout the two days, B was friendly and kept on praising me. I was too focused on A on day one to notice what B was doing. The second day just opened my eyes. He found my name too unique and wanted to name his niece after me, he found my blog post very intriguing and he also felt his wife was not necessary to be spoken about. This made me unsure of what he was doing. When I went back to my city, I received a Facebook message from B asking if I had reached safely. I again, at that moment, presumed that he was just an obnoxiously talkative guy and maybe I was overthinking. How many times do we do that? How many times do we tell our gut, our instincts, to shut up and believe with a wide smile that “not all men” are lecherous and women need to “calm down”?
The next night (read: not day), he sent me a message on Facebook talking about work. We had email, phone, chat messages or SMS as modes of communication during the day but, no, he uses Facebook to discuss work after working hours. My gut laughed at that and just said, “I told you so”. I took screenshots of the message and blocked him. That was the end to my interaction with A and B, and I decided to forget about it all, shushing my rage that I had dealt with them and that was the end to it since the society is full of such people. Then, one day I saw two of my juniors, young girls who were perhaps a year or two younger than my 24-year-old self. My heart sank at the thought of either of them facing what I had and could no longer sit quietly. I could not bear to be in the know and not do anything about it. I decided to talk to someone.
I spoke to a lady who was in the HR department and she was appalled at the news. She noted it down and said that she would like to discuss it with the seniors. I asked her to go ahead and by the next day and for the next two months, I had become a sensation. At the end of it, A was let go and all women in the team were warned against B and that was that.
What stayed with me however, was a question that one of the seniors asked me, a gentleman I was never too fond of because of his subtle sexist attitude. He asked me if I said no to A. I understand that he was trying to be as objective as possible but, I was still taken aback. I was tired after a month of constant rechecking and hushed conversations about it. At the end of it, I trusted one of my seniors to do the right thing and stopped thinking about it, telling my colleagues about the incident one on one and warning the women.
A month after, things got sorted albeit in a slightly unappealing way, the hullabaloo died down and life was back to normal. My mother’s fears of A coming to my city and throwing acid in my face also died down. I still felt upset with no action being taken against B but, trusted a very senior associate’s word that this was the best one could do. I accepted that and moved on.
The Medium post and that Twitter thread have shaken the beehive again. I still have questions. I don’t have anything against my employers per se. The actions taken were indeed the best possible to handle the situation for everyone’s interests but, I still have questions.
- Why are we still given manuals as women to adhere to in the public space? Why do we still feel that men are entitled to certain places and hours of the day and not women?
- Why do organisations and victims of harassment at workplace feel that lodging an official sexual harassment complaint is a tedious job?
- Sexual harassment cases, especially in the workplace must be dealt with a lot of sensitivity. It does take a lot of courage to speak up. We are always asked to adjust and maybe also not “overreact”. Is it because a woman standing up for herself is not believable or acceptable to patriarchy? What about the men who get harassed as well? Where should they go? Can’t we see that patriarchy is damaging both women and men and we shouldn’t go against anyone who speaks up against it?
- Why are we okay with crimes happening in smaller cities or in poorer neighbourhoods in big cities? The current furore is just one needle in the entire basket of examples of “educated” men behaving like its the medieval ages?
- More importantly, from my own story, the question is still unanswered is how do we deal with such grey areas of sexual harassment like in the case of B who found ways to sit next to me at a restaurant during team lunch or would find ways to take centre stage in conversations and continue to flirt? Why is there no conversation about this? Why aren’t such men taught better rather than the women being asked to avoid them? Why is there no way to take action against them without it being a hassle or an agni-pariksha (test by fire, to determine one’s “purity”) for the affected person, be it man or woman?
I hope that by reading this, you will understand the politics of abuse better and learn to fight it. It takes tremendous effort but, is worth every sweat and crease of worry. Of course, it can be scary as was for someone on Twitter and yes, I have been luckier. However, I feel that the spaces where patriarchy slyly hides in guise of business, politics, power and so on, will slowly be peeled off one layer at a time.
We should start talking about it more (with friends, family, colleagues) and train our minds to speak up. When it happens, you don’t know your body to be yours since someone else seems to have ownership over it. You need to train your mind and body to be yours and yours alone. The next time that something like this happens your response will be quicker and you will claim your body then and there.