I have been reading so many tributes to Bourdain and Spade, in light of their recent deaths by suicide.
Suddenly, my timeline is filled with posts and thoughts on mental health awareness. There are people constantly sending out love, advice to anyone who would care to read, to anyone in a dark place. In time of news like the tragedy of an influential figure ending her life, the virtual world seems to come together as a community. It is indeed pitiful that it takes tragedy for us to display emotions and advocate thoughts, that seemingly are more natural to the word ‘human’.
I believe each one of us has a dark space in our hearts. Its almost like the black hole in the universe–only, the size and the force with which this black hole on the inside can suck out our soul differs for different people.
One thing that all this highlights to me is the fact that despite reading so much and learning so much about mental health, even those privileged enough to have access to all this continue to be, if not apathetic, ignorant (and indifferent) to people around us. There seems to be a continuing gap between the abundance of information on mental health and the day-to-day application of it. People with the privilege of access to information continue to struggle with depression, and the shame and stigma attached with it; leave aside those without the privilege to access information or even take online counselling.
We may care, of course, for most people around us. But, only till a point that it is comforting, only till a point that it gives us the satisfaction that we have helped someone. If we don’t get the instant gratification of pulling someone out of sadness or gloom, we give up, pulling the plug of our empathy.
It isn’t that we tend to be tardy and heartless. But, I believe that this gap probably stems from the inability to apply textbook (or internet) knowledge to understand, in case of suffering friends and family, when does general sadness become depression? Have we been able to identify it easily, more so, accept it? Probably not. Because depression continues to be seen as the typical black and white image of someone sitting with their face in their hands in a dark space, in deep anguish; forgetting or perhaps, denying the existence of high-functioning depression.
Depression can be present in someone who seems to be living it up. One can be fulfilling all their worldly ‘tasks’–doing their jobs, eating, going out, laughing with friends–while being painfully depressed. Oft repeated but, depression is not a matter of terrible and terrifying shame, to force one to deny being depressed. Nor is it the likes of a casual headache, for anyone to call themselves depressed for momentary sadness or displeasure.
Many loved ones of people who end their lives by suicide continue to grab at their memories saying that things seemed okay, she seemed okay, if there was any darkness, it was sudden or she didn’t share.
Point is, suicidal tendency stems from an innate sense of fatigue and tiredness rooted in hopelessness. This hopelessness is usually in one’s ability to ever get out of the cycle of darkness that one’s mind can spin.
Suicidal tendency in someone will not carry a tag, informing others of the state. The only way to prevent it is to teach oneself to be alert on a daily basis, to be aware of those around us everyday.
If someone has been struggling mentally for a long time, you can help them by giving yourself to them on an emotional level, letting them know that you are there. They probably have been tired of fighting but, your pinning value in their struggle and your belief in their victory over their hopelessness, will give them courage and reason to persevere, to not give up. Give them that and you won’t be wondering what went wrong.
Writing a few lines online after, what seems like, a long long time. As happens often, music and imagery tend to play a big part in enabling emotions to spill out in verse. Not that one hasn’t felt an emotion in as many days but listening to the song To Darkness tonight, I was hit by answers that I had subconsciously been searching for. Subconsciously, because when asked the same questions, I never had an answer since to me, the question never existed. I guess this is what they call ‘seeking’.
What is it that reminds you of home?
What is it about the sound of the sarangi
the song of the bhopa,
that tugs at your heart
calling you home?
What is home?
Was it just with him?
Did he take it away?
Where did he go?
Will you go home again?
I have always believed in there being a purpose for most things, if not a necessarily large cosmic plan, but, yes there being some order in the chaos called life. It has been one year since I have been practicing art on a full time basis. I still remember starting out on a mere whim to test my diligence at something that I enjoy immensely. I worried, at that point in time, that I might be disinterested or lazy soon and with sustenance, one can rarely take such risks without a decently secure financial status. At the end of October 2016, I had a collection of 31 artworks – sketches, doodles, whatever else they might be. I was in awe of what possibility life can be and took a few drastic steps. I had no plans besides swimming in the waters of uncertainty and learning to tackle the deep ends that I was safely away from till then.
Starting with the sudden bang of an exhibition and merchandise sales, this one year made me question a lot of things but, the never the leap of faith I took. I questioned if I was making a fool of myself by even drawing something since no one seemed to want to pay for it, a few claps can’t sustain me after all.
I have also found myself disillusioned at times with the state of the world, the minds of people and the technology enslaved lives that we spend. Over time, I have found my peace despite the external reality remaining the same or maybe, in some cases, worsening. I learnt nuances of canvas painting, created a total of 80 artworks, wrote unending poems and stories publishing a few, started a podcast, read newer books and started teaching art education. In short, this year has been the most fulfilling year so far.
The reason I share this is because today, I feel full of gratitude. For the past week, I have been visiting and immersing myself in art forms of varied types at the Serendipity Arts Festival.
I feel the need of mentioning my story with SAF because this festival, for the first time, left me with hope, inspiration and courage; as opposed to most others that had always left me with a butterfly in the stomach at the elitism of it. I remember having a conversation with a fellow art appreciator where she insisted that art today is very elitist. Looking from another spectrum, I felt compelled to share that it wasn’t so and it was just the inability for each one of us to connect with everything.
This thought still applies but, as I complete my year as a full time illustrator / artist / art student / teacher, I concur with her on elitism of art today. Ranging between extremes of overpriced artwork to pittances being paid to others, I have found a certain stiffness to fill the bodies (and hearts) of people in the “art circles” at times. I have no technical education, no BFA or MFA nor an uncle or aunt or godparent with their name pushing my work ahead but, all I have is the desire to create, to communicate better, to be able to move hearts, mine and others’.
That had made me once contemplate giving up completely and just drawing for myself; hell, I had even stopped drawing for a month and a half post October. But, SAF rekindled hope and perseverance in my heart again. This was the first festival that was completely inclusive when it came to people with different abilities, different understandings and perceptions. There was something for every single person who came. I have been drawing again, recalling all images that had been floating in my mind for the past month and a half. I knew I would remember each one as vividly as they seemed back then too. Each time my mind has asked me to give up, Nina Simone’s words, ” How can you be an artist and NOT reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist.” smack me in the face urging me to try harder.
With this nostalgic year end post and the hangover of SAF, I can only say one thing, art is for each human being because in the humdrum of life, it is art of any kind, that makes our hearts human. If you are exploring creation of any kind, like me, keep at it and you’ll get there someday. If not, at least you would have grown much more and found something else to morph into. That’s at least what I believe (and am told by fellow artists).
If you’d also like to collaborate with me on poems, podcasts, artwork, reach out!
Been a while since I wrote in here. Have sort of determined to be a little more less reluctant to type a blog post. Thankfully, I have been writing a lot but on paper. This world demands virtual media, however. And, need to succumb to it once in a while.
October brings along Inktober with itself and I have been creating more detailed artworks this year. Sign of progress, for sure.
I attended a workshop on Ekphrasis yesterday. According to the glossary on literature that I looked up to understand the term, I learnt that it is something that comes naturally to me. Ekphrasis is essentially writing something (mostly a poem), inspired by a visual, whether real or imaginary. I remember that I had started creative writing and poetry with imagined visuals, images that refused to leave my mind. Having never gone through the systemic teaching in literature and art, at times, I find myself doing a double take when I learn that there is a term for something I do! At other times, well, I learn something new. Feel like a student all over again. ;)
The workshop had a measly number of 4 people – one of whom ran away when we were left alone to write poems. We were presented with works by Monet and O’Keefe. I am a fan of impressionism and hence, Monet’s magic in seemingly simple, day to day scenes was quite captivating. However, I had pre-selected the artwork for my poem the minute I walked in. Poetically speaking, it felt like it chose me.
The artwork that I connected with instantly was O’Keefe’s Oriental Poppies (pictured below).
I have honestly, never really been a flower person. I mean I like flowers in flesh but, never as images. Apparently, the artist painted these and much of her work in abstraction following no real theme as such but, her work has been appropriated by many according to their own perceptions. Her work has particularly been labeled as feminist and has been interpreted accordingly.
For me, art comes from a personal space. Either its memory or emotion, it always stirs from an emotional part of the mind. While there was a gentleman who felt he doesn’t “get” art, he wrote a short poem which was so powerful and interpreted one of Monet’s works beautifully; thereby, bringing in the belief yet again that art is personal and that, many times what the artist would have intended would end up living with the artist alone.
Oriental poppies drew me in like a magnet. The fiery colours and shades emanated a kind of passionate power that I couldn’t think of any other work there. Sharing a poem that I wrote inspired by the work:
against the light.
Fire all around
emerging from the dark,
I see them in the evening
to the sounds of the lark.
As the night darkens
gathering her warm blanket over,
We huddle closer together
heads joint in a good night’s kiss.
Hand in hand
side by side, we traverse
every road, while
despite no light,
like those orange blossoms
in my garden.
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.
Wasn’t what happened in Bangalore assumed to be only limited to the new pussy grabbing America?
Or wait, maybe these men were just following the world order of aping the West?
But, aren’t we very simple and cultured Indians?
So? They still can.
Duh! Because they are men and they can.
Ummm, okay but, not all men behave like that I think. These were some stupid ones I think. They were just drunk… But, then doesn’t Abu Azmi say that ALL women like sugar and ALL men like ants? If he is in power, then he must be speaking the gospel truth right? ‘Cause it is ONLY honesty that makes you a cop or a politician? Only the regular people are dishonest aren’t they? Oh sorry, it is the women’s fault. They got too liberated because of these stupid liberals. Those women should have known their place. Where is that, you ask? Inside the walls of patriarchy but, of course!
Till today it is difficult for me to believe that the city where I spent two of the most wonderful years of my life witnessed such an atrocity. It was that city that had sent me back to my home state with a set of very uncomfortable questions. It was that city that was safe to be traveled in buses as opposed to Delhi. Only once in 2 years did I witness lecherous behaviour there and heard of a few. I brushed it off assuming that where we were was, after all suburban Bangalore, where a serial rapist and murdered had escaped from the state jail. Such things were okay to be heard of or read about in suburban or rural areas or as many spell out the names of Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan – the last one, especially, with a strange smile that asked too many intrusive questions without uttering a single word. But, now it has happened in a very central part of a growing cosmopolitan city. When a photo journalist was raped in a mill compound in Mumbai, it was again forgotten quickly since she was alone and they were ‘illiterate, north Indian men’ who do such things often. But, now Bangalore and the numerous protectors of women’s modesty, the owners of open spaces in the society did something unimaginable.
I can only imagine by a little ounce of what those women must have felt as 2017 dawned and they found many, many city dwellers, maybe quite a few ‘educated ones’, act as if these women were nothing but, stupid toys that could be flung here and there or maybe lab rats that could be poked here and there and just observed.
I am not saying that the northern part of the country is heaven or is even in some twisted competition against the south / east / west in its sex ratio or data of (ill)treatment of women. Living in Bombay, I have seen an amazing number of cases of harassment, stalking, sexism at workplaces than what was combined in Jaipur, Delhi and Bangalore. I will also say that I had the fortune of being told that I am a girl and need to behave accordingly very few times in my life. Even when I was, thankfully, I knew better. However, that is not the case for so so many of my friends who told me that feminism or belief of total gender equality are things to be read in books but, compromised with when out in the real world. What do I say of the the vast majority of unknown female Indians.
Why I did not pay as much attention to the media, nor did I get passionately angry like I know myself to get at the hands of injustice of any kind is because somewhere deep down, I have been conditioned to accept that such things happen and we can only fight our own petty battles, that even when some people are caught, people are going to go back home and still make this world entitled to the male sex. What is needed is a cultural shift and a consciousness of thought, speech and action. It is each human’s responsibility and I believe that the ‘change’ or the equality of gender can be brought in only through attitudinal shifts in understanding that the one with a vagina is a human being at the end of the day. Formal education does not guarantee any change. I have been dealt sexism at the hands of the smartest (well educated) men and women – even those who shout out for creating an equal world.
What does this say to you? What kind of world are we living in? Grabbing them by the pussy or by the breasts or even dragging them by the hair. Haven’t we learnt better?
If it is religion you follow, seeking the principled Ram and his conduct with his wife, also remember Durga. Religion, philosophy is what we choose to believe in at that crucial moment when all we have to behave as is a human being.
To the men who read this and cringe saying not all men think like this, I would just say that its quite good on you if you dont but, every time you see a woman pass by, I hope you dont eye her as if she is grilled meat no matter what she wears. I hope you dont cut through what a woman might be saying at work in a meeting to just repeat what she said a minute back. I hope you dont judge a woman based on her relationship status or sex life and her position of power in the workplace. I hope you don’t feel slightly crestfallen when someday your first born is a daughter. I hope you dont tell her that some things are not meant for her. I hope you share such ideals of yours with other men around you and raise a son who follows all of this and treats a person simply as a human being without being biased with whats between their legs.
In all this demonetisation hullabaloo, I have tried real hard to refrain from writing about it. Why? Because I feared feeling like a hypocrite to myself complaining about something that does not affect me much. Yes, it does not ’cause of a little salaried income that gets spent easily since I stay in the most expensive city in the country and more so, because I have the privileges of accessing net banking facilities of a highly powerful bank – even if at a small price, since I prefer that to ATM withdrawals.
I also did not want to write anything ’cause I was overwhelmed. I had had enough of the newsfeed on Facebook with opinions all kinds and people bashing each other in distress and social media egoism along with people globally mourning over Trump’s victory. Suddenly, everything turned from bad to worse and add terrible theatrics to it. But, this was until I spoke with the cleaning lady who comes to sweep, mop floors, wash utensils and hand-wash clothes to my apartment. Though she seems to have planned well in terms of cash kept at home since her husband has been falling sick often and she feels secure but, she says she does have a bundle of 500 rupee notes which will have to be exchanged. As we spoke, I developed a more practical insight into the matter.
To me at first, the demonetisation did seem like a viable step which was done towards a more progressive goal as going cashless is safer and more convenient for those like me. Unsure about the heroic ‘fighting terrorism’ claim. However, thinking more leaves me with a lot of questions.
- How does one define black money when calling this a surgical strike on black money? Who has this money when most of the country’s populace is an adarsh man willing to lay himself down for the nation?
- Where do the funders of our hero’s campaign fall? Don’t tell me they have all ‘white’ money! They do? Wow.
- Why can there not be more than two and a half lakhs in cash savings in someone’s house / cash register?
- Do they think this is the “shop floor” level developed state of roads, oops, Gujarat?
- Is this a democracy or a dictatorship that has to direct how I handle my money, even with the meagre salary?
- Why was decision taken in such sudden secrecy and announced by the hero of the Indian telly that is Indian polity now, instead of the FM?
- More importantly, why was this done without any appropriate survey on the daily expenses of an avg Indian. The person from that random think tank who allegedly suggested that since most of India’s population lives in rural areas, expenses there are upto INR 20 per day. I have had the opportunity to work where I have dealt with people from the informal sector – rural and urban – the same people who have been badly hit by the heroics of a certain man. They spend INR 100 on avg per day. Even if it was INR 20, what about medical expenses, any other sudden expenses? What do they pay in? Credit?
- What is this nation that “the poor are ready to sacrifice” for?
- Why do even ‘educated’ people around me not accept that nationalism is nothing but, a dated concept. We needed it (globally) when the concept was adopted. Today, with blurred borders, nationalism is limited to your passport and not to who you are. We are all global citizens, being indifferent about global issues is not a practical choice today.
- Why do we Indians need a hero? Why can’t we handle our shit on our own? Why do we feel so helpless? I know most people have difficulties and struggles but, the ‘poor’ cannot change their destinies till they continue to shun the responsibility of change on one central figure by quickly ducking the ball stating that they are helpless. When talking to my help (Manisha), this clearly came across. She is a super smart woman but, is limited by this very thought – I am a poor woman, what do I know? She voted for BJP and then says but, they are all thieves. What does the poor know, what change can the poor bring? She has 3 sons – all educated and looking for a better life. But, unfortunately, today a better life or standard of living is defined by what products (clothes, electronics, food) one consumes. There goes the education down the drain!
- Is this emotional drama (our hero has left his family for the nation) the reason why saas bahut serials are still the rage in India?
- Why can my fellow country people see divide and rule happening to us again? Earlier it was Hindus versus Muslims (yes, thats still there) but, now its black money hoarders versus ummm, the deshbhakt martyr poor? The funders of the fantastic hero’s PR still sleep peacefully.
- Lastly, does anyone – bank employees who work overtime, workers and labourers and many like Manisha who will stand in lines for over two hours for a small withdrawal in this expensive city – get compensated for the losses? A loss of 3 hours (on a work day for most people who are daily wage workers) is a loss of pay. Will they reap the benefits in this lifetime or will that be witnessed by some generation in a world that might not even exist – courtesy, climate change?
I do hope that this gets resolved soon and there is a compensation mechanism or at least a better execution of policies designed. And more importantly, that people now start questioning, understanding, taking charge and that we get better and more options to vote for in the next general elections.