After a string of brief abusive relationships, remnants of childhood trauma and countless nights of crashing on the bathroom floor yowling my lungs out, I gathered enough courage one day to say to myself, “Ananya, you need help.”
I still remember the first day I stepped into my therapist’s office. As I walked down the hall, into her cozy little office, walls painted in two different hues of yellow and white, I had no expectations – just fear and (more) anxiety. Going to therapy was not a breezy decision, taking in account the culture that I had been brought up in, where mental health issues are quietly brushed under the rug when no one is watching, hoping for them to mystically evanesce.
She was an elderly lady in her 50s, pixie hair with a gentle but strong streak of wisdom and confidence in her voice, and she was going to change my life.
When I went back home that day, I lied to my then boyfriend about where I had been. I told him I went to a book club to meet some friends. It wasn’t usual for me to lie to him, just in exclusive cases where I knew he would not approve of my decisions. Such as seeking psychological help. There were things he did not believe in, such as unicorns, wars and also… therapy.
Two months later I got getting tired of lying every week and he was getting suspicious. So I decided to come clean to him and told him that I had been going to therapy. He went into some strange place of shock and denial as if I had cheated on him.
Soon he would ask me to not tell people that I went to therapy, he was embarrassed of dating someone who needed psychological help.
One day, during one of my emotional breakdowns, he snapped and said, “Don’t you think you are wasting your money on therapy because you are clearly showing zero improvement?”
This was five years ago. Since then, I have completely fallen in love with therapy and out of love with him. Yay for me and you would think my troubles ended there, but alas!
Navigating life as a teenage girl with a mind of her own in a small-town with authoritarian parents didn’t come without some mammoth childhood trauma that also, inevitably, found its way into my adult life. It was not until two years into therapy that I was diagnosed with depression and GAD (General Anxiety Disorder). The roots of my issues were traced back to my childhood, where I was sexually abused by someone known to the family at the mere age of five, to my strict (read oppressive) upbringing, and an almost absentee father.
At the age of 16, I had lost both my grandparents whom I was very close to. The grief got too much for me to handle. I attempted suicide at the age of 17 and my parents termed it ‘drama’. Their way of handling my deteriorating mental health was keeping an eye on me at all times, checking my phone, reading through my diary and not letting me lock my room.
Amidst my towering awareness of my childhood trauma, my adult toxic traits and self-sabotaging patterns throughout the years, therapy has kept me afloat. I still suffer from bouts of depression every now and then but I would like to believe I am doing good so far.
Also read: To All The Traumas I’ve Lived
Over time, as I grew in years and wisdom, I also learnt to be unabashedly myself. Consequently, I decided not to hide the fact that I was seeing a therapist, as is usually the case in desi families. For a woman to openly seek counselling or psychological help is depicted as a matter of shame and a blot on the family honour. We are supposed to deal with our problems without making a scene or demanding any attention so as to stay true to our patriarchal cultural imagery of the ever-so sacrificial devis whose strength reflects best in how much they can endure their suffering. For a woman to openly admit that she needs help for her mental health is nothing short of blasphemous. In a culture that is busy romanticising the pain of a mother delivering a baby and glorifying her strength to do so, it is nothing short of a culture-shock to realise that women could ask for help navigating through matters of the mind.
Ever since I have started talking about my mental health unapologetically, I have been subjected to an endless stream of uncomfortable glances, insensitive remarks, and the interminably confused murmurs of “But why?” They cannot fathom what could possibly be so wrong with me that I needed a doctor for my mind.
You see, in desi families like mine, mental health illnesses do not exist. You either just think ‘too much’ or have completely lost your mind. Depression is a state of mind that you can cure by bearing positive thoughts and yoga according to my well-meaning but ignorant friends and family. In fact, for them, mental health issues are often associated with other issues and the families try to resolve other issues first and consider the mental issues will be taken care of as well. For instance, if a teenage girl is in depression, they would think it is because she isn’t getting married and will try to marry her off because having a child and a husband will magically fix all your problems.
My case is not very different, I am constantly told in subtle and obscene tones alike that I have everything a girl could possibly dream of – a nice husband, a comfortable lifestyle, an accomplished career and there is no way I might still need therapy.
I have a distant cousin, who would probably be in her mid-40s now. The last time I saw her was when I was 12 and she had come to my house for a sleepover. She got up in the middle of the night and thought that someone was going to kill her. She was locked in a room by the elders of the house and never taken to a psychiatrist. It’s been 20 some years and I have never seen her again. Her illness had been, time and again, denied by her parents and everyone remembers her as the young girl with a lot of potential who “went crazy”. The irony is her entire family regrets the fact that they could not even get her to pass off as a ‘normal’ person so they could have at least married her off.
I have always been the black sheep of my family – having boyfriends, studying journalism, wearing short skirts, and even putting up photos in them on Facebook (the audacity!) and now, another item added to the long list of my outrageous activities that people I know are keeping a tab of, is – “Did you know, she even goes to therapy?!”
My mom is visibly and regularly embarrassed by my long Facebook captions about my depression, yet she refuses to ask me about my mental well-being lest she make it real by addressing it. Some of my friends wholeheartedly believe I do it for the attention, and I do not blame them. Women speaking their truth and accepting their flawed realities is still an alien concept in our culture and anyone that tries to even slightly defy the status-quo is questioned and mocked, and that is a bitter reality.
Yet, strangely amidst the ableist labels of being an ‘attention-seeker’ and ‘crazy,’ I find it immensely empowering and oddly comforting to live my truth and talk about it.
A former journalist, Ananya worked with a diverse set of firms across the spectrum for six years before leaving the cobwebs of a metropolitan city for a quiet, slow life in the hills. Now she is a full-time writer and primarily writes about social justice, mental health and feminism. When not working or traveling, she spends her days in a quaint little town of Northeast India with her two cats and a dog, sipping red wine, and writing poetry.
Featured Image Source: Economic Times