I guess the biggest barrier that comes between me and people is my fear to open up to them about my low points. Mostly because my low points keep coming back every month and sometimes, generously, twice a month or even thrice.
I was maybe in 7th or 8th grade when I felt it. The sudden urge to cry without a reason, to feel a pitfall in your stomach and hands going cold and numb. At the time, I reasoned that it must be due to my periods and i’m still getting used to it. But what I never realised, or connected in my head, was that even when I was a kid, I used to wake my parents up in the middle of the night crying and shaking. The only way I could describe my feeling at that age was ‘nervousness’ or ‘fear’ or ‘ a sinking feeling’. And my parents could never figure out why a 10 year old was feeling like this.
Fast forward to 9th grade, words such as ‘nervousness’ got replaced with ‘anxiety’. This unexplained feeling of worthlessness, feeling low all the time and this out-of-body experience where I felt I couldn’t register anything around me or feel it fully finally had a name. Till date, most of my high school feelings or memories remain blurry. So when I try to recall those times when my anxiety started to grow, I can never fully understand whether i’m making up those memories or not, mostly because I can’t remember those emotions or feelings. All I remember, was that I felt sad and lost. But its mostly a blur.
During my early high school days, social media was limited to the likes of Orkut and its scrapbook, Hi5 and the chats on it and the newly found treasure of Facebook and poking people on it. Google was used for projects and pictures. Youtube was only used for songs. Today, from awareness articles to well-being videos, the internet is a place to get exposure and understand and connect with those who go through the same thing as you. Obviously the internet has its downfalls if not used carefully, but it gives you a platform to open up about issues that you would normally feel uncomfortable doing face to face.
But even without the luxury of a well developed social media platform, one might wonder why couldn’t i just open up to people around me. Friends, family etc. Well thats a hard one to explain. I just never had the guts. Funny that you would never require the guts to tell someone you have a fever or a cold. But mental health, at least in India, was restrictive to the understanding of ‘lunacy’ in those days. The idea of telling someone that maybe you’re mentally not okay was like extending a public invitation to gossip, judgement and stereotyping. And honestly, I myself didn’t understand how to explain what I was going through. I would normally try to control my panic attacks and anxiety attacks through self harm. The idea of showcasing a flaw that you yourself didn’t understand or know how to control, to the world, was scary. I felt scared of letting my parents down. What would they think? That their daughter is weak and mad? So I kept shut. Growing up with no mention of mental health, depression or anxiety around you and seeing the stigma of being ‘pagal’, ‘mad’, ‘lunatic’, ‘crazy’ everywhere from T.V. shows to movies, there was no reason whatsoever to open up about this or approach anyone. Crazy to think that this all was 2008-2011 era, hardly 5-6 years back.
Had I known about these things before, had I known that my panic attacks, numbness and unexplainable crying actually had a noun that could be attached to it, then maybe my childhood experience would have been different. But obviously throughout the years, living with the reality of anxiety and depression has made me turn my back to the idea of regret and convinced me to learn with every passing day. Even today during my anxiety attacks, I cut off everyone. I refuse to go out and meet people or even reply to texts. I’ve even had breakups because of my anxiety and depression. This even makes you doubt yourself. You start seeing your mental health issue as something that will never change or go away and you begin to feel guilty. But what you need to remember is that nobody is perfect and we all try everyday to build a better version of ourselves. You journey with mental health is a journey of you building a better self everyday.
There is never a one sure shot solution to mental health, its a process and acceptance is the absolute necessary first step.
My story exists in a pool of millions of stories from around the world where people are still trapped behind the doors of mental health. In UK, mental health awareness is present all around you through dedicated campaigns and discussion spaces. In India, the ball has started rolling and heading to the direction of recognition of its existence. However, many countries, in them many cities and in those cities many families and individuals are still unaware of the term ‘mental health’. Its simple. Without knowing what to call something, how can you express it. The unknown tends to make you more scared and more aloof. You can go to the doctor and explain symptoms to them and they help you give it a name, then make you understand what the illness is and then you move on to the treatment. But when resources are scarce, where do you go? When people around you don’t comprehend the situation, you feel more alone. Sometimes with mental health, the odds always seem to be against you.
Even today, I am writing this entire story after just having a panic attack. In fact, i’ve been having anxiety issues for the past 3 days. When talked about it to one of my friends, she was confused. She wondered and questioned as to why was I feeling anxious. Maybe its just work or academic stress. Ironically, I felt no such anxiety or depression during my academic submissions 2 weeks ago. Anxiety and depression aren’t always due to stress or workload or nervousness. While they could trigger it or add to it, anxiety and depression can exist mostly independent of them. And thats what people fail to understand. Why are you depressed? You have such a good family and happy life and everything you want.
There is a difference between being sad or depressed about something as a mood or emotion which comes with the onset of some event like a breakup or a fight. But the mental illness of depression and anxiety don’t always come because of something. Its difficult for me to explain it, because I’m still trying to understand it even today. And thats why we need dedicated campaigns and more open discussion with an open mind to hear what people go through and see how we all can help in our own capacity.
Having a mental illness does not make you weak. I learned that the long and hard way. And i’m still learning. But trust me, that it definitely isn’t a sign of weakness. My acceptance and recognition towards my mental health issues has made me a stronger person. It makes me want to empathise with people around me and be there for them. And I would encourage anyone and everyone to speak out to their families or friends. You will never know till you don’t try.
All I can hope is that one day we live in a world where it is actually treated like any other physical illness. Where we don’t feel out of place or lost just because we can’t put a name to it.