Let me be honest. If you’re looking for a blog that is oozing positivity, where I talk about the endless beauty of life and I pretend that everything is perfect, I can tell you now, look elsewhere. Granted, life is indeed filled with wonder and awe, but that’s not the full picture. Like life, this blog will be full of ugly and difficult moments, and I intend to narrate them in the rawest form. My aspiration with this undertaking is not to behave as a champion or conqueror of mental health. I have struggled with my mental health for a large part of my life, and I believe that I will continue to deal with its tumultuous trajectory lifelong. However, if by being brutally honest about my experiences, all the times I was trapped in the vicious pit of pessimism, all the times I cursed myself for waking up to another dreadful day, and the many emotions that accompany poor mental health, I can help spread awareness and touch even one person who is going through something similar, I will consider this project a success.
Being vulnerable is not easy. If it were, why wouldn’t we all take the leap of faith? However, I learnt a long time ago, that the only way to live life is to be indifferent to the opinions of people. (A major reason I took so long to write this was due to my compulsive need to impress but we’ll come to that later.) If I were to spend all day pondering on the reactions of my readers, I’d drive myself insane. To those who know me closely, my mental health has been no secret. But I’m sure if I revealed that at the age of 16, I had been diagnosed with clinical depression and I wanted to live no longer, most people would be surprised. That’s what’s so unique yet terrifying about mental illness. You never know who is quietly suffering. According to the Global Burden of Disease in 2017, one in ten people suffer from a mental illness globally.That’s crazy.
Unfortunately, globally but particularly in India, mental health is not talked about enough. In fact, I remember clearly just how dismayed I felt when after some research, I unwillingly concluded that I was exhibiting depressive symptoms. Immediately, a flurry of thoughts flooded my head. How would I talk to my parents about this? Why was I going through this? What would people think if they found out? Was there any way I could snap out of it? How did this transpire? Was there something wrong with me? In retrospect, these were all very rational thoughts for anyone who had come to face mental illness for the first time. Back then, however, these thoughts burdened me to the point of exhaustion.
In theory, a mental illness is just like any other long-term illness. If you were to be diagnosed with diabetes, you would be required to be diligent all your life, mention it every time you filled out any documents that inquire about your health, make routine visits to the hospital, take insulin shots regularly, monitor your diet, and exercise in moderation. Unfortunately, mental health is not regarded similarly. In our society, if you were to be diagnosed with depression, you would be strictly instructed not to mention it to any of your family members, friends, teachers, colleagues, etc.; you could not cite it as a justifiable reason for an absence or poor academic performance; you could not include it in any applications for colleges or jobs simply due to the fear of judgement and the inevitability of instant rejection. “Why would we employ someone who can’t even take care of themselves?” That’s not something you’d say about a diabetic.
Mental illness isn’t merely due to a lack of care – certainly, if you were to frequently indulge in unhealthy habits and thinking patterns, one could attribute poor mental health due to poor self-care. But the truth is mental illnesses are far more complex. Genetic history, chemical imbalances, and environmental causes such as experiences with abuse, trauma, etc. are just a few of the reasons for the origin of mental illness. It is this very complexity that makes mental illnesses harder to diagnose and harder to verify. How can you tell what exactly is going on in someone’s mind at any instant of time? And therefore, I believe mental health isn’t regarded with the seriousness it deserves. Often, parents and teachers in schools believe that a child is fibbing, isn’t built to cope with the pressure, is making excuses, or just isn’t mature enough. What can a child do in such a precarious situation?
It wouldn’t be fair for me to entirely discredit the work being done currently to bring mental health awareness in focus. There are several organizations carrying out meaningful work to destigmatize mental health and as a result of their efforts, mental health is gradually being spoken about more. But far more work needs to be done in the field, and it is not being done quick enough. My belief is this can only be facilitated in an environment where there is no judgement nor fear to speak about mental illnesses. Such an environment can be created through striking a balance between physical and mental illnesses and exercising compassion and empathy for those afflicted with mental health issues. But before I start to sound monotonous and drone on, let me bring the focus back to my personal experiences.
For the longest time, I was unaware of what my mental health truly entailed. It was as if I was without being. Any sparks of negativity were quickly doused with distraction and ignorance. This was far from healthy. I tend to bottle things up until they can’t be contained any longer and culminate in my emotional implosion. Pressure can only be allowed to build up so much. I didn’t give these routine implosions much importance. Towards my adolescent years, I began to grow more conscious of these thoughts and emotions that stirred within me. Only when I fully committed to therapy did I realize just how deeply embedded this negativity was and how adverse of an effect it had on my day-to-day existence.
What I do not wish to do is preach endlessly and advocate a permanent state of happiness and optimism. Unfortunately, that is not feasible. I’m well-aware that getting back on track with your mental health is no easy task. It’s tough work. There will be many moments when you just want to give up, and not deal with the mess. Instead, I wish to elucidate on my experiences and share what I’ve learnt about not only my own mental health but human psychology in general. By explaining unhelpful ways of thinking, I am hopeful that you will be able to catch them when you’re absorbed by them and nip them in the bud. Lastly, I aspire to contribute to creating a haven for those who need respite most, and possibly spark a change, however minuscule, in your approach toward and understanding of mental health.
I’m certain that even now, after reading this, there will be so many people that will look at me differently, think of me as unstable, weak, and straight-up insane. But this blog isn’t for them. This is for the girl who has to cry herself to sleep because the pain is unrelenting; this is for the boy that has to desperately hide the panic attack he’s having because he’s afraid of what his friends will say; this is for all those that think of themselves as broken, worthless, unlovable, and abnormal. It is okay to not be okay. You are strong, powerful, and beautiful. As scary as things seem now, you are never alone. Things will always get better.