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.
Have been wanting to write on the idea of home for months now but, could not really get the words flowing.
I remember understanding home to be the house and times from childhood – such as a stray memories of coming back to the coolness of the house on a hot summer afternoon with a glass full of cold of Rasna ready in the fridge – essentially linking the idea of home with nostalgia. However, today that feeling of being ‘at home’ has come far away from that nostalgia as well which brought the question to the fore again, what was home exactly. I remember the feeling coming first while watching the sun rise or while watch trees go by as I moved further on the highway. This strange feeling of comfort was something that I did not understand then but, fell in love with deeper than the last time.
Comprehension dawned in another city which was alien and distant when seen from outside on a particularly breezy evening which complemented the warmth emanating from the setting sun’s rays. The joy which was felt in that moment was exactly the same that my mind had so far associated with nostalgia of home. That is the moment that mind started seeking to understand – the idea essentially was to understand and think through the concept of ‘home’ – in lieu of the constant tussle in my head as to where was home for me as so far the head believed home only to have a place in nostalgia. Was it a place, a person, an experience, a time or was it, after all, the version of self one is most comfortable being? Was it not the spatial or time based understanding? Questioning and looping in the same thought process for some time, I left the question hanging again since there did not seem to be a concrete answer whatsoever.
The thought process sprang back to action last Thursday after visiting an exhibit of four artists who basically express the idea of home in urban dwelling today – looking at smaller spaces, killing of natural and open spaces to build concrete jungles etc. The idea around which the question of home and spaces as represented in a few art works was more around the developmental critique of mindless urbanisation, creation of gated communities at the cost of a ruined environment and the foolish association of culture and status with being a part of these gated communities.A few strips from the latest series of Adarsh Balak (literal: the ideal male child) – the only one artist I knew of before visiting the show – were also up for display. His work being presented at the exhibition talking about ‘home’ is precisely what got the cogs of the machinery in the brain running. I won’t really get into the varied topics around urbanisation, environmental concerns etc. here – more on the show later in another post.
Going back to the point of this post. What is home exactly – I think home is a feeling that you associate a place, house, person, time with that makes you happy, that really soothing feeling of contentment. It could be anywhere, with anything being the trigger of contentment but, essentially, home is where one is absolutely happy – be it alone or with people or in communion with nature.
The Great Punjab Hotel, Bombay.
This building is my favourite building so far. I’ve seen the other old ones and the others with rounded corners as well but, this building is just so beautiful that every time I go past it, I cannot take my eyes off it. Mind you, I’m no architecture geek or even an enthusiast but, I think time has made me one. Or rather, incidents have made me one. The thing about history is that traces of it that can be seen live are in the form of buildings, some as beautiful as this one.
In the more modern or Euro-fetishised ways, this building won’t stand a chance at even being compared with those pseudo-Athenian buildings (like the exhibition hall on the same road as this one) but, its more about what they talk about. This building, I think sums up what I love about Bombay and what I know Bombay to be. It is old, decaying and untouched in places and still stands in a glory that is unfathomable. The kind of old that Bombay has spells more starkness, more reality than other monuments or buildings in other cities one has seen before. Old here is real. Its dusty without any need for a refurbishment or any plastering for the eye. Old here exists as it is irrespective of the fact whether the eyes that glance at it are really looking or are just closed.
The picture’s from one Saturday when the entire day was spent walking in town with the heart leaping with joy at the sight of every old building – be it the Fire Temple at the end of the road or the library across and also ignoring the fact that I cross them every single day. I remember spending more than an hour sitting at the bus top right opposite this building. I really do love everything about it – the giant and old (not necessarily decorated) facade, the many balconies with each room, the blue plaster on each balcony, the singular wooden chair in each balcony as if there would never be 2 people sitting there!
In class we keep on talking about the semantics. The other day, there was a lecture on the different ways in which Ravana has been depicted in art. Religion giving me the kicks, ignoring one of the usual migraine attacks, I went for this lecture. The venue was one old gallery by the name of No. 1 Shanthi Road.
The lecture was by Dr. Paula Richman and bits of it (as she ‘unofficially’ stated) can be found on YouTube.
Anyway, the reason for my writing this post was the Tibetan art on display at the gallery. Due to lack of space and time, I could not speak with the artist. The artist was a young girl who had come all the way from Tibet in order to spread the word about the individual stories of the Tibetan freedom struggle. The world knows very well about the Tibetan struggle for freedom against the Chinese government. But, this knowledge or awareness gets limited as a knowledge of the collective, ignoring the individual stories that form the collective.
She had depicted individual narratives of self-immolation by many Tibetan people as a sign of protest, on pieces of paper with burnt edges, using ink and water colours for the narrative.
One narrative that particularly captured my attention was that of a 20-something man who immolated his body for freedom and his corpse was then taken away by the Chinese government. The artist had depicted this man’s story/struggle painting the Chinese government in the shape of a black/dark grey cloud with a few hands visible in the mass, taking away the corpse by way of a scarf/banner of dark(black)-ness. While the cloud was up in the sky, the ground showed the candlelight vigil of the other Tibetan people demanding the return of the corpse. The artist had painted the vigil as being conducted by many differentiable individuals painted white in colour.
Think my fascination with this particular piece is due to the constant questions of citizenship that keep on buzzing in this head. The constant questions around whether democracy is a farce, whether we truly are multicultural, whether we truly are cosmopolitan, easily got translated in this narrative. Goes the WikiLeaks way questioning the legitimacy of the state when it’s operations are no less discreet than the mafia, if one may please?