As I write this essay, I can’t help but recount the multiple ways in which my personality was maligned and my feelings discounted. My mental illness was invisibilised throughout this traumatic process. While I am eternally grateful to my boyfriend, close friends, and other well-wishers for their unconditional support, I also feel emotionally betrayed by my family and doctor.
Perhaps the worst part of this entire experience was how my low self-esteem was denounced as an individualised behavioural defect rather than a broader social issue. After all, we live in a society where ‘bodily capital‘ carries currency and is closely associated with prestige and respectability.
Moreover, physical appearance discrimination is also a real issue in the gay community (I happen to be gay). I have already been body-shamed multiple times in the past, and so, the idea of reliving those experiences worried me again. I tried very hard to communicate my body-image and self-esteem issues with my family and doctor, but they never saw it as worth engaging with.
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Moreover, to have been infantilised by my doctor as “someone who hasn’t grown up” reinforced an erroneous stereotype that sees adults with mental health issues as no different from children. Such a stereotype comes from ignorance and discounts the lived experiences of trauma that people like myself were living with. Even though I reside in a highly urbanised part of India and live amongst the so-called ‘educated’ gentry, I believe I must call out the insensitivity I faced throughout my journey of recovery. I hope it starts a dialogue about how to better engage with people in trauma.
A few weeks ago, I accidentally burnt my hand while heating some food at my home at night. What seemed like a minor injury culminated into a third-degree burn, and in the days that followed, I was left in unbearable physical pain. Even though the wound on my hand was visible, what wasn’t visible was the mental and emotional trauma that came with it.
I consider myself a very guarded, careful, and conscientious person who tries to be as meticulous as can be about his health, hygiene, and appearance. The COVID-19 experience made me even more self-aware about cleanliness and personal safety than ever before. This is why, when I accidentally burned my hand that night, I immediately spiraled into an emotional cocktail of anger, frustration, and dismay. I started blaming myself for my reckless behaviour and simultaneously pitied myself for my deplorable condition.
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This anger and self-pity soon morphed into mild depression as soon as I started noticing how my hand was slowly swelling up and turning black, red, and blue. I had no idea whether I would ever get better and continuously wondered whether the scars would ever go away too. My doctor reassured me I would be fine but refrained from specifics. His cryptic responses to my questions made me even more insecure than I already was. In the meantime, my family remained very supportive of my injury and tried their best to support me financially. Still, they were unable to fathom the profound emotional toll this experience had taken on me.
In the days that followed, I started feeling worse about myself and my body. On one occasion, I had to leave the house for a dinner party urgently, and in haste, covered my burn-wound with a band-aid. The next day, I was rebuked for doing so and called “reckless” (because band-aids slow down the natural healing process). While my family was probably correct in pointing out my sleight of judgment, I never understood where their frustration came from. My self-confidence was already so low at that point that it wasn’t necessary to lower it even more.
As my wound slowly started to heal, the discolouration in my hand worsened, and my mental health plummeted even more. I once again started worrying about whether my hand would ever heal completely and felt immensely uncomfortable thinking about the kind of permanent scars I would be left behind with. In a frenzy, I tried contacting my doctor, but to no avail. I obviously couldn’t share how I felt with my family, so I started eating less, started spending more time in my room, and avoided interacting with my family altogether.
Finally, after days of waiting, my doctor got back to me and fixed an appointment for a Tuesday morning. The evening before the appointment, I stepped out of my room after days to grab a bottle of water from the kitchen, when a certain family member saw me and humorously jeered at me by telling the domestic help: “Yeh pagal ho gya hai. Pura din kamrah mein rehta hai” (He has gone mad. He spends the entire day in his room).
Even though I ignored this comment and went on with my evening, I could never forget those words. My depression became worse, and my self-confidence plummeted even more. Because I felt so horrible inside, I decided I couldn’t hide how I was feeling anymore. I had to open up about what I was going through to my friends and boyfriend because I needed their emotional support. So, I did and was blessed with love, support, affection, positivity, and tons of phone calls.
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The next day, my mother and I went to meet the doctor, and as soon as we arrived, he laughed at me and told my mother, “Yeh pagal hai..itna worry kyu karta hai aapka beta…it seems like he hasn’t grown up.” (He is mad. Why does your son worry so much)? Even though I said nothing to him at that point, I sat there, offended. The doctor went on to tell my mother that I had nothing to worry about because the wound had healed and that my skin would grow back in a few months. He also requested me to refrain from worrying about my burn wound henceforth.
Sometimes, just empathising with others and recognising their agony can go a long way in hastening the healing process. I was also told to ‘get over it’ by many people, and while I appreciate their honesty, I only wish their feedback came with a little bit more sensitivity. Even though my burn wounds are physical and might leave behind a few scars, these wounds will also leave behind some emotional and psychological scars on my psyche. I only hope to recover from both with time.
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Translated by R. Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
“The Forms of Capital.” Pp. 241-258 in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, edited by J. G. Richardson. New York, NY: Greenwood Press.
Featured Image Source: Resources for Human Development