In the early eighties in my maternal grandmother’s village in Himachal, every winter vacation, one subject of curiosity for me besides village life was a man who used to be tied to a wooden pillar on the ground floor of his house with thick ropes.
At times he used to be very calm and smile at us kids and at others extremely charged up and would throw pebbles and mud on us at the slightest hint of noise or movement. Some villagers believed that he was possessed but in plain terms, he was the ‘village mad man’.
Then when I was slightly older I came face to face with probably the most challenging aspect of mental health-suicide. I first heard that word said about a young man who had “committed” it in the government accommodation allotted to my father as residence. I was a smart child and even after the constant evasive
answers to my persistent but vague questions about the word by both my parents, I had presumed that generally whatever we “commit” is not something good, suicide must be something bad.
These were some of my earliest brushes with mental health, without even knowing the term then. Later at the university during my Masters in Literature I realized all my favorite famous authors, mostly women, had all dealt with various mental health issues and strangely all of them had “completed” suicide.
Plath, my favourite poet, had painfully gassed herself in an oven while lining all gaps with wet towels in the kitchen to protect her children. Woolf had filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself. Hemingway shot himself. Anne Sexton had shut herself in a garage with the car running and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. I read their biographies, their works and along with some world class literature also found some peek into their struggles with mental health.
Later at the university during my Masters in Literature I realized all my favorite famous authors, mostly women, had all dealt with various mental health issues and strangely all of them had “completed” suicide.
This was my more mature and distanced brush with mental health.
Years later as I struggled myself with post-partum depression, this was my closest brush with mental health issues and I started actively engaging in learning more about it and speaking about it vociferously at whatever platforms I had access to.
I realized that all of us, every single human being goes through stress triggers and low mental health phases. Strangely sometimes the very things that should be the reason of joy and solace lead you into the darkness of mental illness and depression. Sometimes apparently happy events/triggers like a new job, new relationship,
parenthood, change of location can also pull you down instead of pushing you forward.
Imagine if apparently “good” changes could lead to so much misery what could “bad” changes like – the death of a loved one, ending of a relationship, professional distress and chronic depression could do to our minds.
In recent past as the famous Mrs.Doubtfire actor and one of my all-time favorites in Hollywood Robin Williams’ suicide opened a new perspective to me about mental illness- that nothing fills the void- success, fame or money. Nothing. I realised that high-functioning mental illness is the saddest fact about modern life.
I started writing on my blog about mental health first and began to educate myself more to help myself and those around me. Then I wrote internationally at The Mighty for the first time about how the grief of my father’s death pushed me down the deep, dark well of depression to the point of being suicidal and might have even triggered and/or accelerated my chronic invisible illness.
Therapy helped, well-meaning friends also did whatever they thought they could. But that is when I realised also the silence around mental health, I was asked to not utter the “S” word in gatherings and publically, I was warned I will be labelled a lunatic and thrown out of all social circles.
I was no expert, just a learner, just someone who had suffered the apathy and the misery of depression, so I was committed to use my voice to speak up, who knows someone somewhere could be saved by this act of empathy.
This is how the idea of the book Mental Health: A Primer germinated. Brainstorming with my fellow bloggers I realised that there was a dearth of easy to read, basic and trustworthy knowledge about mental health in India and hence when someone tries to counter misconceptions and myths there is no ready reference.
So I first took up the mental health theme for April A to Z blogging challenge and then converted the content into an e-book via Blogchatter. In spite of talking at so many forums about mental health I still encounter the completely uninformed and misinformed questions often- Is depression real? Isn’t it just in the head? Won’t positive thinking help?
This book is just a milestone in this journey to raise awareness about Mental Health and why it is so important to normalise it, to talk about it the way we do about physical wellbeing and to develop the sensitivity that when we don’t ask someone with even common cold to think positive and heal it why say that about depression/anxiety or any other mental health issue?
Mental health matters and it is time we treat those suffering a mental illness or mental health crisis with empathy, understanding and sensitivity.
Cover courtesy Pooja Priyamvada via Blogchatter
Pooja Priyamvada is a poet, award-winning blogger and tea lover. The views presented are the author’s own.