The strongest stigma sometimes is the one in your head. 

“Come on, there are real problems in the real world. When you forget how to be grateful and stop taking your duty seriously is when you get all these stupid notions about being depressed or anxious or whatever the hell it is that you are convinced you feel.” 

Raise a hand if that feels familiar. 

Raise a hand if your feelings have been invalidated, if your fears and issues have been dismissed as imaginary problems in the head. I’m kidding, don’t actually raise a hand. 

But I will ask something of you. If you will, I would like you to think back on how, if at all, this kind of attitude from others has affected you. 

I have been quite fortunate in my life to have not met with a lot of stigma against topics surrounding mental health. Growing up, like most children, I’d reach out to my parents or my brother if I felt like I had a problem. If it were a rational problem, my parents were great help. However, I had constantly been told, repeatedly by them that I am either too young, or that I am too fortunate to even have emotional problems and that whatever I was imagining to be an issue there, is just that, my overactive imagination. I was told that I was being weak. Speaking to my friends never helped because they would give me sermons on how I should be a better daughter or how everyone has my best interests at their hearts. And thus, the cycle began. So, yes, like I said, I have been quite fortunate to not have met with stigma against mental health. Or so I thought, BECAUSE I NEVER FOR A MINUTE BELIEVED THAT MY ISSUES WERE WORTH CONSIDERATION.

I could talk in detail, about how I disappointed my parents when I got emotional about something. I could give accounts of all the times they sprang into their own passionate monologues, about the difficulties they had faced and how my issues were nothing compared to their own. I could…. I could totally produce an itemised list of all these events. But I have to ask myself, what good is that going to do? It’s just petty at this point. Not to mention that it’s all in the past and not any of those moments are significantly unique. A lot of people I know have gone through similar situations. 

What I want to share instead, is how all of this affected me. For the longest time, suppressing every emotional thought worked. I was a pretty rational person that functioned well enough in the society.  Every step I took became a calculative one and I was respected by my people for everything that I had achieved. Despite all that, I couldn’t help but feel dead on the inside. I was cold and numb. Everything I built started coming apart and all I could do was watch helplessly. I’m quite positive that in some cases, I was the one that set off the chain of events that brought everything down. I didn’t know what the problem was because rationally, there wasn’t a reason for all the mayhem. 

The only logical explanation left was that all the unraveling happening around me has got nothing to do with my rationale but because something else is at play. This was a phase where I became a chronic insomniac that was plagued by nightmares when I did manage to fall asleep for more than 40 minutes. I would have intense panic attacks at the mere sign of disagreement, which in turn made me resolve to being a hermit. I spent days and nights, just lying in my bed, entertaining all sorts of morbid thoughts. Looking back, I still didn’t want to admit that I was struggling mentally at this point. Admitting would have made it real. If I had to accept that I was not okay, I had to accept that I was vulnerable. The mere thought made me feel weak and I’m not exaggerating when I say that this felt worse than all the other symptoms combined. This went on for close to 8 months before I decided I needed to get off my bed and seek professional help. 

It has taken many sessions with my therapist to get to the point where I’m kind of okay with who I am today. But I still am not comfortable with who I have been. Sometimes, I feel like I have been inadequate my whole life and I feel responsible for all the things happened to me, at least to an extent. There is still a part of me that believes I should have been smarter, stronger and just better by all means. The past still feels like it’s clawing at me. It’s not my parents’ opinions anymore that affect me nor is it society’s. The toughest battle now is the one within. 

They say that recovery isn’t a linear path. It’s true. The road to healing and self-actualisation is like getting on a roller coaster without a harness to hold onto. It’s terrifying. It’s one hell of a ride though. To anyone that is reading, I’ll only say that I hope to see you on the other side. 

-Shalini Raakendra.


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