TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of Suicide, Self-harm, Depression, Anxiety
My first attempt at taking my life happened when I was 13; I took 26 sleeping pills, two for each year I had existed uselessly.
Now, which part of the above sentence strikes you the most, dear reader? The fact that it was a suicide attempt, or that it implies that I had many others, or that I was a mere teenager when I first attempted? Or maybe you’re wondering why a 13-year-old felt the (repeated) need to try and kill herself?
I don’t think there even exists a valid answer to your question. Peer pressure? Bullying? Misunderstandings on the side of my family/society/friends? Fear of the future? Hormones? Depression? Even now, almost a decade later, I couldn’t tell you if it was any of these things individually or all of them combined, which made me swallow those pills on that fateful Thursday in early May.
Oh yes, I remember the month, day, date, and even what I was wearing when I attempted. I remember that it had been raining. I remember wondering, hoping, as I held the bottle of pills in my hand, if my pain would be washed away and if I would arise anew in another world, just like the earth rises clean and fresh after every shower. I remember giving the afterlife; heaven and hell and all the mythological stories my dad used to narrate to me about punishments, a fleeting thought as I lay in bed drowsy and half-conscious. I remember murmuring a ‘Sorry’ to my mom, for hers was the last face I saw in my head (or was it in reality?) before the darkness pulled me under.
Unfortunately, having been blessed with an eidetic memory means that I have the capacity to recall even the things I don’t want to, in perfect clarity.
I recall briefly regaining consciousness in the ICU as they pumped my stomach. I recall looking down at my own pool of sickness and thinking, ‘Oh crap, I failed.’ I recall waking up much later in a normal ward, gazing up at the disappointed and worried faces of my family.
And later, I recall the weeks of tense silence that followed me as my family skirted around the issue. I recall searching for a Band-aid one day to find that the whole medicine cabinet in my house had been wiped clean. I recall being paranoid about seeing if my guilt followed me around like a shadow. And I recall shattering the long mirror in my bedroom one day, because I just couldn’t look at myself.
Some say that suicide is a coward’s way out because only people who don’t have the courage to face reality and the challenges of life take the apparently easy way out. Well, having survived multiple suicide attempts and having learned something from each of them, I’m here to tell you otherwise.
It takes an extraordinary amount of determination to make the decision to end your life, and an exponentiated amount more to continue to live after a failed attempt. There’s tonnes of research and psychoanalyses pondering the question of why people consider suicide at all, so I won’t delve into that now. Let’s look, instead, at a group of people that society treats as pariahs – the survivors.
You would think that if someone comes back from the cusp of death, their near and dear ones would celebrate them, molly-coddle them and never let them out of their sight, right? Unfortunately, that’s not what happens in most situations.
Most survivors’ second lives (I like to think of them as being born a new person) are filled with awkward silences, misunderstandings, and lots and lots of heartbreaks. Our very normal and perfect society views them as abnormal and imperfect, making the survivors regret and start to hate their second lives, more so than their first.
My situation was very similar. In the months following my attempt, I found myself more confused and lonely than I had been in my entire life.
My family was walking on eggshells around me; talking to me only when necessary, I wasn’t allowed to go out socially anywhere, not even with a chaperone, not even to meet my only friend at that time, I was asked to lie to everyone that I had taken time off from school because of a stomach ache, and the list went on. So how did I deal with this?
I went into self-destruct mode.
But then, after numerous cuts, burns, popping painkillers, and a night where I spent hours and hours throwing down countless bottles of alcoholic cocktails (don’t worry, I was no longer underage) which made me end up in the hospital (again) with (another) pumped stomach, it all ended.
How, you ask?
It’s no great miracle; it’s something you see happen to everyone you pass on the streets, probably. It happened to me, too, when I was 21.
Love, the destroyer of lives. Which actually ended up redeeming mine.
Yes, reader, I fell in love. Madly, irrevocably, head-over-heels in love with probably the most understanding, caring, and loving being in the entire universe.
He was my entire universe.
Within four seconds of seeing him, he had me floored (and I mean literally, with my back on the floor, with him licking me furiously). However, redemption is not as easy as falling in love. It is a long, difficult, (mentally and physically) exhausting road filled with more thorns than roses. Which is probably why, come to think of it, one of the only two ways to destroy a Horcrux (to the non-Potterhead, it is an object of dark magic where a witch or wizard hides a piece of his or her soul) is to seek redemption for your deeds (the other one being stabbing it with something that has Basilisk venom; at this point, I would highly recommend everyone just pick up a copy of Harry Potter).
After what seemed like endless visits to therapists and psychiatrists, heart-to-heart discussions with my family, and many, many tears, I learned to deal with it all.
Oh, no, I wasn’t fine all of a sudden, far from it. All the panic attacks and the depression and the self-harming tendencies and the suicidal ideation (yeah, my latest therapist has an extensive vocabulary) didn’t go away. They were very much there. I just learned to deal with them in a healthier way.
For example, Therapist #2 introduced me to the wonderful world of bullet journaling. It was a really calming activity, especially for someone like me who used to have a creative streak before all this went down. Therapist #3 taught me mindfulness and grounding techniques and ways to deal with the urge to self-harm. While I don’t really appreciate all of them, some of them, like the 54321 exercise or even simply holding an ice cube in my hand, really work for me at desperate times.
So what am I trying to say through this (ridiculously long and depressing) rant?
That it’s okay to spiral into self-destruction as long as you come out of it? Of course not.
That love makes everything perfect? Definitely not; perfection doesn’t exist.
That people shouldn’t be stigmatized for attempting suicide? Well, yes, but that’s beside the point.
Then what is the point, you ask?
It is this; the night is darkest just before dawn.
Okay, I might have just recited a quote from Batman: The Dark Knight, but let me elaborate.
I’m not saying everything will be peachy at some point in your life, that all the trauma you suffered will fly away as though it were never there. In fact, I’m saying quite the opposite; there will be the ‘Bad Days’, there will be the days you would want to punch the smiles out of everyone’s faces (the ‘Fudge-You Days’), and then there will be the days when you would feel as though the world isn’t ending (the ‘Okayyy Days’).
I’m saying, trudge through the bad and the worse and try to live for a better day.
Because that’s all anyone can really do in life – try.
Trigger Warning: Mentions of self-harm, depression, suicide
Self-harm is a taboo topic, even in today’s world of acceptance of Pride and no prejudices. When we hear that someone self-harms, 70% of the time, the first reaction we’d have is one of horror. Not even disbelief, pity or anything else, just plain horror, followed by a poor attempt to empathize. Very few of us try to help the person out, mainly because we don’t understand what they’re going through. But that’s just our conditioning. We’ve been taught to avoid that which makes us uncomfortable and go with the crowd. It’s time to have a breakthrough.
What is self-harm?
Self-harm or self-injury means hurting oneself intentionally. Self-harm is not a mental health illness in itself. Rather, it displays an inability of the person affected to cope with a certain illness, most often something like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.
To the people who self-harm: know this. You are not going through this alone. Self-harm is not something you have to live with all your life, and there are loads of people to narrate their experiences and support you. You need only reach out to seek help.
Why do people self-harm?
There is no scientific answer to this. Some people say they do it to relieve stress. Some others say they do it because the physical pain is better than the mental pain. It is a sign of great emotional distress, and the person is often engulfed by feelings of shame, frustration, guilt, and pain. Some common reasons that people reported include:
Relapse from alcohol or drug use
But there is no weakness in asking for help. In fact, it takes great courage to open up and talk about your feelings. If you do feel overwhelmed by these negative feelings, please, reach out to someone.
Who are the people most prone to self-harm?
Though self harm is something that can affect anyone, this practice is most commonly found in young adults and adolescents, starting especially from one’s teenage years. People from unstable homes or those who have experienced trauma, neglect, and/or abuse in their early lives are also prone to self-harm.
If you are a loved one of a person who self-harms, it is important to note that self-harm is not a cry of help or a demand for attention. But this does not mean that people who self-harm don’t need care and compassion. When someone opens up about their pain, chances are that it’s not your opinion they seek; it’s your acceptance. A simple smile goes a long way!
How can we fight the urge to self-harm?
While there are no tablets or tonics for it, psychologists and therapists all over the world do commonly recommend some grounding techniques and on-the-spot hacks that can help a person relieve their urge to self-harm.
Some of the most popular grounding techniques prescribed by therapists are:
While inhaling, clench/contract one type of muscle in your body. For example, your biceps, for 5-10 seconds, and then when you exhale, unclench it. After relaxing for 10 seconds, move on to another group of muscles, and repeat the same.
TIP: Try to visualize the contraction and releasing of tension of the muscles in your body, so that it adds more focus to the activity. Also try visualizing all the stress and pain leaving your body with each release of tension. That helps a lot!
5-4-3-2-1 Technique:This is an interesting alternative focus technique. Look around your surroundings and answer the following questions:
What are 5 things you see (in a particular colour)?
What are 4 things you feel?
What are 3 things you hear?
What are 2 things you smell?
What is 1 thing you taste?
Other informal mindfulness/grounding techniques you can try include:
Mental Grounding exercises:
i) Describe an everyday activity, like brushing your teeth, in detail, to yourself ii) Try to think of as many things in one category, like dogs or plants or musicians, as you can! Tests your knowledge, too. iii) Count 1 to 100, but spell out the alphabets. O…N…E, T…W…O, etc.
Physical Grounding exercises:
i) Run warm or cool water down the place where you usually self-harm ii) Alternatively, try to hold an ice cube in your hand for as long as you can iii) Jump up and down
You can also carry a grounding object with you, a small pen, a rock, a ring, a marble…anything you can touch and take comfort from when you feel frustrated or anxious or stressed. As with the Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique, you can also visualize your object drawing the negative energy away from you, in order for it to be more effective!
Do you feel like you have no one who listens to you? Do you want someone to vent to? Talk to a LonePack Buddy today!
We are all story books; mere living documentations of memories and experiences spiral bound by the pages of Time. Welcome to this chapter of LonePack Conversations. My name is Suhas, and today we have with us Mrs. Janaki Sabesh, a well-known actor, a mesmerizing theatre artist, and a charming storyteller.
Suhas: Welcome ma’am, how are you doing?
Janaki: I’m doing very well Suhas, thank you so much for making me a part of your LonePack Conversations.
Suhas: Just to start off ma’am, I want to understand how you’re doing, particularly in these times. So first of all, we’re super stoked to have you on with us here today. How have you been doing, how have you kept yourself busy in the times of this pandemic?
Janaki: So Suhas, I must confess it to, I think I’ve been more busy than ever before, and I think I should thank all the forces of the universe that have come together to make this possible. And why do I say that? I will explain because way back in —I mean, now it feels many, many months back— but it was just in March that I heard that children’s schools were going to shut down. You know, we were still not aware of the seriousness of this pandemic. And, you know, it has just started trickling in that schools are going to close early. And I said, all right, one day I said, why not I do something online? Because I had always shied away from going online because; and as an actor, as someone who seeks instant gratification, it’s very nice to be in the energy of an audience.
Janaki: You know, see the energy while you’re doing a story and feel the energy of the audience as they give you their love, their support, and their attention. So I teamed up with a small outfit called Little Trails, and I just asked them, should I go live? And they said this is a fantastic idea! And we put up a poster together at 10:30 in the morning and at 5:00 pm we will live on Instagram; and that was my starting point. And the way I um, what can I say, I was all overwhelmed with the kind of response that I got from people, not just children, but adults, mothers, fathers, who were suddenly, you know, sending me messages saying “ Please, please, please, can you continue doing this?” Because you know, we really didn’t know how to engage. And there were mothers who were still attending office. They said, “Are you going to continue doing this? Because then I can come half an hour early from the office”.
Janaki: I was like, Oh my God, I didn’t realize that here, I was, you know, trying to take my baby steps as it were to do something online. And since that day, it’s been really wonderful. It’s been a roller coaster ride because I have engaged not only with children but with a series of live performances on Instagram and where we would also follow it up with an activity from Little Trails, where Avanti is an artist. So she was able to connect the story. So if I did a story about a spider, she would do an activity about drawing a very funny spider. So we had all these children and we were engaging with children every day. So from there, we started doing workshops for children, which was, you know, those kinds of numbers, where about 700-800 people who are online from all over the world.
Suhas: Actually, that sounds very massive. It’s a massive scale.
Janaki: Yes, it is; and you know what we did Suhas, we also recorded the Instagram Live on our IGTV, that is on Little Trails’ IGTV. So all those who had missed watching it live went on the IGTV platform; and we were getting multiple views on IGTV as well. So it was, you know, I just, I don’t know, I don’t want to sound very philosophical here, but I’d like to share with all those who are listening that my icky guy, you know, my sense of my purpose of being every day is to put a smile out there; it’s to spread smiles. And I thought I was blessed because I was able to do that with my storytelling. And when children’s workshops happen, we create communities.
Janaki: We created a safe space where we even had chat shows with experts, everything on Instagram; and then slowly, I said, why do I need to do this only for children? I think I should include adults. Okay. So I started doing short stories for adults too. I also started a series that I normally curate face- to- face. I shifted it online, which is called Melody and Memory where you sing that particular song that’s always there, you know, playing in your mind, and then you tell me a short story about it.
Suhas: Yes. Essentially like connecting verses of music with a story!
Janaki: Absolutely. So if you have a story which is from an old-timer or a Hindi movie, but you will have a story connected, maybe that was the first time you heard your sister sing it, or an uncle singing it, you know, something like that. And you know, something, maybe he didn’t sing it well. So it could be a very funny memory. It could be a memory which has been inside you for a very long time. And I’ve had people coming to the show saying, Oh, I just want to listen in, but somebody else’s memory triggers off a memory in their youth for people to share. Then I started sharing stories for adults where I did mythology, I did a comedy, and another couple of weeks I’ll be doing something called taboo stories. So I think and then of course I kept learning by attending writing workshops, attending a workshop where I would just listen and gather a whole lot of knowledge about maybe certain aspects of storytelling, which I knew just little about. And I wanted to, you know, increase my knowledge then of course, courses, like on Udemy, on LinkedIn and also on Harappa Learning. So I’ve been doing a lot, you know what I think the moment your mind is active and is continuously busy, I think you just seem so happy; not to of course I have to mention that I’ve been also exercising. The gym has moved online. I don’t have any domestic help at home.
Suhas: Okay. So you’re busy doing work at home.
Janaki: Yes. But I have a very supportive family. So we all have, you know specific chores that we are very good.
Suhas: Okay so it’s very well divided and it’s not like a burden on one person.
Janaki: But at the same time, there’s no stress of saying “HEY you didn’t do this today”. It’s like today I have a podcast recording and if I had to do something else, somebody else would pitch in. I mean, we have a family of four with my mother-in-law at 91 who provides me with all the entertainment, because she comes up with her wise-cracks and, you know, talking about corona and things like that. I think I’m keeping myself busy.
Suhas: And the best part is the fact that you know even though you are busy, you don’t sound stressed out, or that you feel you HAVE to do it. Then it sounds like you would actually enjoy doing all the things that you are very happy doing. So that’s really great.
Janaki: Absolutely. So I was doing this Sunday morning conversations on Instagram, which was a live show with people, you know, from all walks of life like musicians, you know, we had, Ashish Vidyarthi and everybody; but it stopped at last Sunday because I said, “I need to take a break”. I didn’t want it to become stressful like “Oh who am I going to interview next Sunday?” If that becomes a point of stress, then I think I will not enjoy it. So I think that is very important. But the first thing is to recognize that.
Suhas: Definitely. I think the fact that you also are aware of that and that you acknowledge that point at which it becomes too much for you, and you decided to give it a halt over there. I think that’s, that’s a wonderful point to note. So I’m going to start off with essentially the first question of the episode. So you have juggled multiple roles through your life across so many fields, be it as a marketer, a mother, an actor, an artist, a thespian or as a storyteller. So how have each of these roles influenced your perspective of mental health over these years?
Janaki: Okay. So now the different professions that you have, the different roles, each one of them be it marketing, mother, actor, artist, theatre, storyteller; they all have different audiences. So for example, when I was marketing, I was marketing a product or service. So what happens is that I am the face of the organization, and when I go and travel and I’m trying to convince my client why he should go in for a product or why he should go in for us service. The conviction with which I tell them you know, my story, my company’s story, the vision of my organization is that is what will make or break the deal, right; or make, or break the trust as you know. So for me, that audience was very different and see, there’s a lot of responsibility and there’s a lot of how do I say it, you needed to be on call 24/7! It didn’t matter; because of being in the cinema industry, I was in the media and entertainment industry, selling a product like digital cinema. And, you know, before that I was doing that, I was handling a set of studios. So I was selling the service now in the cinema industry. You don’t have, especially in India, something like non-working hours; it’s like when you have to, you need to be there.
Suhas: Got it. Got it. So when you have to chip in to do your work, regardless of when it is, you have to be up to it.
Janaki: Absolutely. So you know it was stressful because see, a film releases on Friday, there would be a lot of issues, tension, but you have to be available. And it did take a, you know, it was stressful at times, but you know, the whole thing was to not take it too personally and take it to your heart, but I can easily say now, now that I no longer in the organization and no longer in a corporate avatar. But when I was going through, I won’t lie to you Suhas, it was stressful. You know sometimes you just feel like, why are you even here? But then what really charges you up is when you complete and when you, when you are convinced at what, the decision that you’ve taken and the fact that you’ve not lied to your customer, you’ve told them what was possible.
Janaki: And the trust that you give back to them saying that I will take care of your issue. So with that game, a lot of power, you know? You become so amazed at the quality of convincing somebody because you’re truthful. And you also trust your organization, your colleagues; if there was an issue to have solved the issue. So that is one audience, but then when you go to say, a theatre production, that influence that I got from corporate is that to be very convinced about what you’re seeing. So that is what came out of my corporate avatar. But in theater, in acting I always wanted you know, how do I say, I was always scared; I never wanted the director to retake a scene because I had made a mistake.
Suhas: You wanted to do your role in whatever the part with the best of its perfection in the first take itself!
Janaki: Yeah. So, I understand that itself is a little bit of stress on yourself. Sometimes inadvertently it will go wrong for whatever reason; we can’t by-heart our lines. We know our lines and we will say it in our own way, but sometimes some directors are very fixed on what they want. Because some directors say, “I’m giving you the gist of the scene. Now you say it”. Okay, of course you can’t use your own dialogues. There are dialogues written.
And so I had these, a team of assistant directors, always who used to help me out, they’ll all come and say “Ma’am ma’am, ipdi pannunga ma’am; if you do it this way, and I’m sure you can do it” you know? So sometimes the Tamizh will be a little hard, you know, it’s difficult, but somehow I managed. So from acting, I understood that, you know, you can’t stress yourself if, if there is a mistake. So be it, there’s always another take. It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world,
Suhas: But you know, on the flip side of that particular freedom and luxury isn’t particularly available in theatre because it’s a one-time run; you have to get it right.
Janaki: Exactly. So theater, again, this whole thing about, you know, becoming nervous. My mouth went dry and I was continuously having water. And it’s like, you know, you’re constantly thinking of the lines. At night you are not able to sleep because those lines keep coming back to you. But I think it comes with practice. The more you do so, you will find your own rhythm in your own dialogues, in the way you say those lines. Like for me, it is very visual. I really do plot points. You know the main important points; say I have a monologue and I have two pages of a monologue or three pages, I will know each paragraph that begins. I said, “Okay! I did A, then I went to B. Then I went to the next”, it is a sequence, right? So that way I always remember, you know, the scripts, your audience, doesn’t for you to bounce back, even if you’ve made a mistake, it’s up to you. And that that comes with experience.
Suhas: Of course, I definitely, I understand that. So just to form a gist of what we’ve spoken so far. You know, you mentioned about how, you know, even though you’ve had the elements of difficulty in your corporate tenure and in your acting I think could I say that you the fact that you have had some amount of job satisfaction and the fact that you delivered, really helped you mitigate that levels of stress that you had for the period right?
Janaki: See, and I was always there for my team also; my team of 40-45, you know colleagues. I was always there and it’s, it’s very happy. I’m so happy when I get messages even to this day saying, “Yeah, you were the best”. And they don’t have to because I’m no longer in the system. Some of them are also no longer in the system, but it is very, very um, you know, it gives you a lot of happiness and, you know, there’s a smile on my face and I read that; because you didn’t do it for that. Somebody will write to you 20 years later that you were the best or you help. I kept them together. I motivated them, you know, there was always, there was nothing that we can solve together. So that was something and the same applies, you know, when you go into different fields and as a storyteller, remember that you know, your audience becomes a participative audience.
Suhas: Okay. So you sort of have, like a feedback loop in that, the way you proceed also depends on how the audience interacts with you.
Janaki: Yeah. If they don’t like my story, which I will know in the first seven minutes, I’ll have to do something very dramatic.
Suhas: To catch their attention, yes.
Janaki: So that you innovate on the go. So, so each one has its beautiful moments Suhas.
Suhas: Okay. I definitely understand that. So now ma’am, just to sort of narrow down for the rest of the podcast, generations differ by several parameters across so many different filters, like as an artist you’re working closely and interacted with younger artists as well right? Is there a difference in how youngsters view mental health now? Compared to a back in the days a few decades ago, when you were a teenager and you started off.
Janaki: Totally; because when I was growing up, I don’t think mental health was even discussed at home unless there was somebody, you know, distant cousin or somebody who was going through an issue. And it was always looked at as an issue. Today’s generation, my God! Everybody speaks about it. I think to be, you know I think to borrow from what my daughter says, she says, “Ma you have a very different take on all this because you’re constantly surrounded by youngsters”. I work with a very young team in terms of storytelling, in terms of theater, you know, with Crea Shakti, with whom I do a lot of theater, I’m surrounded by youngsters who don’t have an issue talking about, “I had a bad day” and then it’s not a full stop. I had a bad day dot, dot dot. So others will pitch in.
Janaki: “So what happened? Explain to me”; and it’s not immediately “Let’s go to the doctor”. NO its like “We will try; we will help you with our circle”. And then that’s where I think our safe space becomes paramount. I think the youngsters of today have found a safe space. It could be their own friend circle, or maybe a bigger circle or people like you, you know, LonePack, where people are able to connect, and say that, “Hey, I’m going through this. Do you think you can help me? Or can you at least put me on to somebody?” Therapy and things like that, I mean, everybody discusses, everything threadbare now, which for somebody who’s just reading it, scrolling on Instagram or Facebook or any other forms of social media might say, “Oh my God, this one is feeling that I’ve been feeling the same, but I’ve, you know, restricted myself, I think I need to reach out”.
Suhas: Okay. So sometimes, you know, when you read about people’s stories on social media and you sort of relate to what they are feeling and you reflect upon those with yourself as well.
Suhas: Okay. Okay. I think there’s sort of a usual saying that hey there’s a generation gap here and there’s a stark difference here, maybe, you know, you’re one of the examples where again, because of your interactions and the way you’ve been engaging yourself, sort of tells us that your environment has played a major role in you know, sort of mending that gap, that supposed to be there for the generation.
Janaki: I’ll tell you one more thing. I have a 91 year old mother-in-law staying with us and she has never, you know, I think it’s also the family, the way you’ve been brought up in not just in my parent’s home, but with my mother-in-law’s as well. They don’t they don’t shy away from talking about these things; these are not taboo words. These are not taboo topics
Suhas: Understood, on the outset. Do you feel like that mental health is still a taboo now? Even though you’ve spoken a lot about it?
Janaki: No. No, I don’t think so. No, no. I’ll tell you what I think. I, I think the way it has been portrayed and the way people are sharing, you know, everybody has their own take on social media and all, but it’s how much you consume and for what purpose.
Suhas: That totally makes sense. So I think, you know, now that you’ve spoken a little bit about your own personal ideations about this a little bit on the professional side, right? Moving on, cinema, theater, and art have played a big role in influencing the perceptions and thoughts society has about various issues and various topics in it. So do you believe that these communities are doing justice to portray mental health issues on the screen or on stage? If yes, how is it? And if not, how do you think that needs to change?
Janaki: So I, I bring out two movies which have impacted me in the sense, and I think in fact, impacted society, one is of course is Taare Zameen Par which brought out dyslexia, and which was, I think the starting point for many parents. I have a friend who, you know, a friend’s friend who said that, “My God, now I can, you know, say to the open, it’s no longer a taboo. It’s no longer something that’s to shy away”. Sometimes you need to share. And for all, you know, it might just take you at, it was not just dyslexia. It was all parenting issues. It’s all about this, you know, being in the rat race, making sure that your child is forever coming first. This class and that class, you’re not, there are so many times I’ve told parents of very young ones. “Just let them be; allow them to stare into the walls because they need to dream. That’s when you know everything in, all the butterflies in their heads will set it down”n and then they’ll be energized and re-energized just because they have one hour or two hours of time. We don’t put them in class, not even storytelling, just make them, they should come and tell you that we need to go somewhere. So that was one. And secondly, a film which I really, really am very fond of is Dear Zindagi, which normalized therapy. Shah Rukh Khan says a very beautiful dialogue there, he says that “As a child we’ve never been allowed to express our emotions. If we are angry, we are said, no, no, no, you can’t be angry. No, no, no. Wipe your tears. And when, you want to express love? What then?”
Janaki: How can you express? You know what I mean? It was all of course in the context of Alia, but the protagonist. But I have seen that even. It’s still my go to a film whenever I am seeing, like, you know, I need to learn more about why people say certain things and you know it’s so judgmental. We can be so ruthless sometimes, you know, somebody said, we don’t realize what that person is saying, and we view it out of context. You know? So for me, I think I’m, I’m sure that I’m many others, like in Tamizh Aarohanam talks about Bipolar Disorder. So these are things that I hadn’t even heard of; like Bipolar Disorder, so it makes you want to research.
Suhas: Okay so you’re telling that there have been a few movies which have been very impactful in what they aim to do.
Janaki: But at the same time, there are clichés. Now at the moment, there is somebody who, who doesn’t speak the same way as you do or language, or he’s a little different. You can’t just say that he’s been put into a mental asylum. Yeah. This is unfortunately too huge, you know, poles apart
Suhas: Even though, even though it’s sort of exaggerated for the dramatics, it sort of puts out a wrong message at times.
Janaki: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you do it because you want to show, and it does like, you know, in all advertisements where they have to depict this out. So it is stereotyping a lot of imagery and we need to get out of it. People need to do a lot of research. I would urge people who are into these kinds of topics to speak to people. And that’s when I know that even in theater, Kirukku Nagaram for which they did a lot of research with LonePack and I remember watching it and then it blew me away. And I was like, “My God”, is this how, as a society, we react to people with mental illness?
Suhas: I think I remember, I know the whole reaction to that play which was really good.
Janaki: Just to complete, that needs to be done to bring about something as strong as theatre or cinema, because we consume it! We are such great consumers of this art form that it could really be the way forward to bringing about a lot of key issues to light.
Suhas: Definitely because I totally agree with you; I’ve watched movies across so many languages and, you know, with the advent of various OTT platforms this has also been bridged. I indulge in a bit of theater myself, and I have a lot of friends in the theater circle. But I think I totally agree with you on what you said, about the stereotypes Haven’t noticed that day I think that [inaudible] doing good and Vicky says, and you know the mainstream audiences so with respect to the movies how do you think the scales are tipping impact on people with respect to mental health?
Janaki: But it started already. So now it shouldn’t be difficult for us because there’ve been already films made in this genre and it just showed us, we need to be very, the topic has to be very sensitively handled that’s all, sensitivity with a lot of research. It’s not just enough to make people cry buckets, you know, at the end of it, if people understand and say, Oh, and they want to say, Oh, okay, this is a different point of view. And I’ve been like, if I disliked a neighbour, I am seeing it only from my point of view, right? What if we suddenly change from her point of view, I might be missing something; and we never do that. Right? When we get into a fight, it’s always me against that person.
Suhas: Okay. So if I may, you know simplify, I think you’re talking about empathy and about how one should be mindful of how you are to people, why you think people might be reacting in a certain way. So empathy is very important as a characteristic for people to nurture.
Suhas: Okay. That sounds really great to hear that from you. So I think I’ll move on to one of our final questions. So, very recently a lot of talk has been happening with respect to mental health, especially in the world of cinema. So regardless of the language, cinema continues to be very fast-paced, dynamic, and being the public eye is also so difficult and not very easy. The paparazzi are always around; so could you shed some light on the relationships and emotions shared across artists that grow in the industry? How do they interact with each other? Are they always very stressed? It’s something that’s never seen to be public, the lives of people in these industries, how they are as people on the outside.
Janaki: If one sees my body of work, I’ve done about 30 films, I think since 1994, so 27 years 30 films, that’s all, I’ve been very choosy because that’s what I was, I was handling a corporate life also, you know? And so I think I’ve been very lucky and having said that I’ve been very, very shy from the media as such. People write about me, if there is a theater or something, or some collaboration or something like that. But I will tell you something that my mentor told me a long time back when I had, I think my first film had released or second film I think, Jeans. And he said “Janaki remember that even after all your films, you should still be able to sit in an auto and go home”.
Janaki: So subconsciously, I think that stayed with me and I’ve done exactly that because I can still take an auto, we’ll have a very nice conversation with the automan. I’ve seen it with some there, and then we have this conversation and he finally said, “Oh my God, Ghilli, Vijay-mother” and all that. So I enjoyed that because it gives you a kick. But at the same time, I, I do understand that this whole thing about [the paparazzi], you know, I remember one time when I was in Pondicherry a lot of people who said, “Hey, inga parunga Vijay amma” I was petrified and went and ran into a shop and hid myself because I didn’t know how to react because I don’t know. I can’t even explain that. But when I was in Sri Lanka many, many years ago, when my first film had released and a whole lot of school children came and recognized me, I was okay with it, maybe because it was the first thing.
Janaki: So even as we evolve and the ways we react to situations also change. But for my other colleagues and all I hardly meet them. It’s always on the set and on the set, I’m very happy with my book. So it’s only during the short end that we all during lunchtime are direct. And then we go back to you know, other rooms or wherever via setting, but I I make it a point to speak and, you know, I’m always in search of my learning, you know, now I, again, I don’t want to stress myself saying, “Oh I didn’t learn anything today.” Not like that. It’s just nice to hear somebody else’s journey and you don’t orchestrate these conversations. It happens on the go!
Suhas: It’s not like you sit and talk about it, it’s just something that happens when you talk in the evening with friends, or just when you’re talking with anyone, you learn about new things and then you think about it and then you probably extract some type of learning.
Janaki: It’ll come; it’ll pop up one day when you’re doing something else.
Suhas: Okay. Okay. That sounds really interesting and I’m glad, you know you’ve also evolved so much with respect to how people react in such situations. And it’s great to see that you’re comfortable taking the roads and sometimes, you know, who knows the fact that somebody spoke to you might even make their day they’d be happy and the same auto-wala would probably go and be like “Hey I spoke to Vijay amma” your buddies that would probably give them a really good sense of, you know, content for that particular day.
Janaki: Let me tell you a joke that happened. My daughter came in and the auto guy dropped her off. And he asked her “So neenga indha building la irkeengala?” [ So do you stay in this building?] ; And she said, “Yeah”. And she was giving him the change, and he saidUngalakku theriyuma? Indha building la dhaan Vijay oda amma, Ghilli”, [Do you know? In this building Vijay’s mother from Ghilli stays]. She came and said, “Ma you’re very famous.” I didn’t realize that it was very cute and you just felt nice about it like that, you know? So these things happen and you just take it in straight.
Suhas: I definitely, I think I totally understand how that feels. So this is sort of to slide into the final question wrap this up. We’ve spoken up so many things, both personal and professional, and I think one of the most pressing questions and topics in this field of mental health, professional help. So along with professional help, we require the support of friends and family when you’re going through a difficult time. So what you can, each of us individually should keep in mind when we’re interacting with somebody else?
Janaki: Okay. So I think the first thing which is something that I really, really want to even speak about and emphasize, even for myself, is to be kind to people. We have no clue what they are going through. We all wear masks and we are so amazing at wearing these masks; unless and until you know that person inside-out, you’ll see through. Even like when I’m speaking to my daughter and suppose she’s not here, she’s not in town. She hears. And she says, “Ma you, okay?” So it’s, it’s as simple as that, you know? And because she asked me if I’m okay, and because she’s my daughter, and it’s a very safe conversation that you can have with your daughter, because she’s not going to judge, you, up saying something that disturbed you, something that you will not happy, but you can’t always rely only on family members, because they are also going through their own journeys.
Janaki: So you need that one person, or you need one person, who’s your friend, or you need that safety network of friends or people, who are actually qualified to ask you some questions. It’s not like one of these “Joram iruka? Evlo irundhudhu?” [Do you have fever? How much is it?] It’s not that it’s like, do you want to talk sometimes just a simple line, some simple question, like this can completely change somebody’s life. Do you want to talk? And that person breaks down or says, yes, I want to talk. You’re not to pick up that call, to pick up the phone and talk to somebody, it takes a lot of what do I say? Lots of ups, something from inside that pushes you, which forces you to pick up because otherwise it’s easy. We can always say, no, no, I don’t want to call it today.
Janaki: You’re only delaying that call, but the more you delay that call, the more horrible you will be feeling. So I think A, be kind and don’t judge, they’re going through something and please, we can never say, “Oh, I understand what you’re going through”. You will never be able to understand that is what they’re going through. So I always, I have seen so many TED talks, you know, ‘The 10 ways of having a conversation’, all these are mindfulness, all these are going, because I tried to, I want to become a better version of myself. I keep striving because I don’t want to hurt people with statements. I’m very, very mindful of what I speak now, because earlier we’ve all made mistakes. We’re all human. Yes. And I think everyone has a story. Everyone has a backstory, as they say, you know, you like Steve Jobs says you can only connect the dots, you know, backwards, right? Yeah. So when you, when you, when you connect those dots, only you realize, Oh my God, if I had not said that that day, maybe I would have never come to this phone today, but then you’re not God, it’s okay.
Suhas: Sometimes when we make mistakes. It’s okay to acknowledge that you made it and then try to react on how to go about it before even realizing that you made one and react about it.
Janaki: Absolutely. And I think if you’re being mindful, it’s very easy for me to say it is, it is not easy. It comes with a lot of experience, practice, and maturity. You know, there is something in music and Hindi, they say the ‘tehra’, or ‘nidhanam.’ That is even when you’re telling a story, you can’t go *wadadadadada*. “Once Upon a time” [slowly], you need everyone to soak in your story. So if you want people to even listen to you, you need to first understand that it’s okay to share, but you need to create that safe space, that safe network that, that one person or two people—it could be in the family, it could be your best friend. It could be maybe an ex-colleague who’s, you know, turned out to be your best friend now. So these are things—in these strange times, the pandemic has taught me so much saying that, you can push your limits and, go there, get out of your comfort zone. But the day you are not feeling comfortable, just keep quiet.
Suhas: I think, you know, that’s very important to know that. I think this answer was, can I say that this answer really sums up how you are and your philosophy about things in life itself?
Janaki: Yes, because there are some days I do nothing and it is okay. I used to stress about not having done anything, but I don’t longer stress. It’s okay! It’s okay to feel bad for 24 hours. It’s okay to not feel good some days. But you have to snap out of it. And if you’re unable to snap out of it, go and go ask for some help. It’s okay to not be okay, and then ask somebody for help.
Suhas: I think that really sums up you know, the whole idea about mental health and the fact that conversations are important. I think I’ll be happy with the way this whole conversation in the last half hour has turned out to be really good. You know just to sort of loop in something you said at the beginning, you felt very shy and weren’t very sure on how to interact on the online space, but I’ve been following you for very long and let me tell you ma’am, you’re very enthusiastic to watch and it instills the energy back in us. I think that’s a wonderful thing to be doing.
Suhas: Just before I close off, I’d like to bring something that you’ve spoken about right. You’ve spoken a lot about the importance of a safe space, a non-judgmental safe space where people can talk; that can be your friends or family or anybody else who you know you’re comfortable sharing your feelings with. We at LonePack have also understood the importance of this, and keeping this in mind, we’ve designed an online virtual space where people can do the same thing. It’s called LonePack Buddy, and the whole essence of LonePack Buddy is to provide a non-judgmental safe space, which is also anonymous, where people can talk to other volunteers from our end. People who volunteer with us are also trained with us in a course where they know how to talk to people actively and invest themselves emotionally and ensure that they can help people on a temporary basis. Of course, this is not a replacement for therapy. Just like you said, it’s good to have someone to have someone to talk to and you know, some days with the conversation you learn a lot about yourself when you talk to somebody, especially when someone is there to listen to you. So I think that’s the whole essence of LonePack Buddy. We just wanted to let you know so that you or somebody else who probably would want to talk can use this facility.
Janaki: I think it’s a wonderful initiative because I think like in the corporate world, when you say buddy, it’s like when somebody joins the company and you know, that person needs somebody to help get started. He needs help to understand the company better, the processes better. So I think a buddy like this, a LonePack buddy will be so good for people to understand because I, they will be non-judgmental, you know, and that is what I think we need in these times, especially in these times. Thank you for even launching that, and I think that’s a wonderful initiative and I know LonePack is doing some amazing work and I know you’re doing it very quietly. And I know that I think we need to inform a whole lot of people, especially in these times when people just need the need to just pick up the call and talk. It’ll be, I don’t know, we can’t put ourselves in their shoes.
Suhas: Definitely, I agree. This has been a very heartening conversation to have with you. Thank you so much for firstly agreeing to do this by taking time off your day and engaging with us. We hope that we can share a lot from you and collaborate further and I wish you an amazing day ahead and thank you so much for this.
Janaki: Thank you so much Suhas, and thank you LonePack, continue to do whatever you’re doing. And I will always be there and whatever way I can contribute for LonePack.
Suhas: Alright, thank you so much. I’d also leave a message to all the listeners that we’ve had listening to this wonderful conversation. Thank you and have a good day.
With the quarantine in full effect, Some of us have been working from our beds – the line between home and work completely blurred. Some others have a little too much family time and work has been their escape. And, for yet many more the pandemic has cost them their jobs and uncertainty looms like a guillotine over their lives. The undeniable fact remains that this lock-down is a little crazy and completely chaotic, and working from home has only added fuel to the fire.
The conversation surrounding mental health has never been more important, and while more and more people are talking about it, one space that it is rarely discussed is work. The internal separation between our ‘professional’ work-selves and our home-selves makes the topic of mental health issues taboo at the workplace. The need for this dialogue is also scarcely driven by employees. Changing this corporate culture must be driven by every worker. Spreading awareness and building support for demanding these benefits is a vital starting point. Encouraging more open conversations about mental health between colleagues and peers can lead to a more robust employee-driven implementation of policies. Finally, focusing on continuous improvement and adapting to change is key to support a workforce that deals with rapidly changing ways of working. Regardless of the myriad occupations that each of us hold, we can focus on these common spokes to turn the wheel of change.
While some companies have started recognizing this and provide benefits catering towards employee mental-health such as free therapy and paid time-off, this is far from being the norm. Corporations exploit this diffidence to enhance their profit margins. However, businesses may actually profit from providing mental health services as part of their benefits. The World Health Organisation estimates that the cost in lost productivity due to depression and anxiety disorders is nearly US$ 1 Trillion.
The pandemic and resulting work-from-home paradigm has brought forth a new challenge to the mental well-being of the digital workforce. While traditionally, most companies viewed working from home with suspicion, the current state of the world has brought enlightening new facts to dispel this doubt. Microsoft was among the first companies to enforce work-from-home for its employees. It has also been proactive in studying the results of this ‘experiment’. Some of the highlights (or sobering facts, to be accurate) from this study are,
Employees were spending 10% more time in meetings when working remotely.
Instant Messaging usually slows down by 25% during lunchtime. However, when working from home, it dipped by a mere 10%.
Instant Messaging usage soared by 52% during 6pm and midnight.
Set up a dedicated workspace, which should be as free from distractions as possible.
Develop a schedule, which includes phases of focused work as well as breaks.
Try to establish simple routines which don’t require any self-control, such as a coffee break or starting your working day with an easy routine task.
Set up dedicated times for work and leisure – and stick to these times.
If possible, work in a different room than the one you spend your leisure time in. Particularly avoid working in your bedroom as it may remind you of work related issues, preventing detachment when you go to sleep.
Engage in absorbing activities, which capture your full attention after work. Good examples include exercise, cooking, mindfulness meditation, or focused playing with your children or pets.
Due to the advances of technology and to the delight of managers, the feeling that an employee is available at any time when working from home has become the norm. Mental health has taken a back seat. Zoom burnout and loneliness (especially in the case of the younger workforce) are frequent complaints. In a 2010 experiment conducted by Nick Bloom, a British Economics professor at Stanford University, for a Chinese travel agency Ctrip, one half of a 250 employee-group, were told to work from home while the other half worked in the office. To the surprise of the agency, the productivity of the Home group went up by 13% and the company could save nearly $2000 annually per employee from this arrangement. But the experiment also measured happiness and ‘feelings of loneliness’ were the main reason for employee dissatisfaction.
A majority of people spend one third of their adult life at work. Even if the social value of dispelling stigma surrounding mental health at the workplace isn’t enough, there is also a clear economic motive. The same study that estimated the cost of lost productivity due to employee mental health issues also provides hope. As a positive incentive for companies to take up the cause of mental health in the workplace, the research estimates that for every US$ 1 put into scaled up treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of US$ 4 in improved health and productivity. Here are the key takeaways from the steps recommended by the World Economic Forum to build a mentally healthy workplace,
Be aware of the specific needs and circumstances of the work environment of your employees and tailor policies best suited for your company.
Seek inspiration from motivational leaders and employees who have taken action.
Be aware of other companies who have taken action to put mental health policies in place.
Successful implementation of mental health policies and delivery of benefits relies on collaboration. Take practical steps to put this into place.
Figure out where to go if you or your employees need professional help for their mental health concerns.
Most of these measures can be implemented whether the employees are at office or working from home. The most important step is to ‘Start taking action NOW.’ Employees have found innovative ways to stay connected with colleagues, who for many, double as best friends and form an important part of their social network. It is time for businesses to open a more humane side of operations and recognize that whether their employees are working from home or at the office, their mental health is as much of a tangible factor in their success as any profit margin.
Karthik: Good morning, Good afternoon, Good night, whatever time it is, wherever you are listening to this episode of our podcast, LonePack Conversations, where we shine the light on mental health experts and organizations and give a voice to connect with all the impactful work they have been doing.
My name is Karthik and in this edition of LonePack Conversations, we are joined by Bhairavi Prakash, a Bangalore based psychologist, founder of the Mithra Trust and public speaker. Hello Bhairavi!
Bhairavi: Hi Karthik! And, I am from Chennai and Bangalore based by the way. Lockdown in Chennai but I am not in Lockdown in Bangalore.
Karthik: That’s interesting!
Alright, Can you give a brief introduction of yourself and the work that Mithra Trust does?
Bhairavi: Sure, I’m a psychologist as you said. I studied in Chennai. I went to Women’s Christian College here and I have been in this field for about ten years now. I have worked on everything from corporate mental health, setting up school mental health programs, to working on artificial intelligence in mental health and things like that. Then, I ended up founding Mithra as an NGO.
The idea of Mithra is to give mental health information and tools and spread awareness in a way that a friend would. I found that everything around mental health was very scientific or it was very medical. It didn’t have that personal connection or personal impact.
A lot of the work that I do is based on my own stories. So, mental health issues that I have faced myself or having lost a friend to suicide or just things that happen in life that impact you but you don’t realize at that time that it has impacted you.
Karthik: Wow! That is quite impactful to know.
So, I find that there are a lot of parallels and synergies between what LonePack does and also what Mithra Trust does. So, what was your inspiration to founding this organization? and, how is the work that Mithra Trust does unique?
Bhairavi: I’d done so much in mental health but Mithra is the first area that looks at it in a very friendly way. So, I am not talking as a psychologist to people. The tools that we provide are actually tools that I need for myself. So, Mithra just began as a way of looking at what are the things that I needed at different points in my life and making that accessible.
One of the first things that we did when we launched Mithra was this series called ‘What to say’. It is such a simple concept. How many times have you been on the phone where somebody is crying or someone is really upset and you don’t know what to say to them? So, my whole thing was, How can I help you be a better friend and How can I help you be a better support system and that’s how ‘What to Say’ started.
We launched, ‘What to Say’ for somebody who wants to take their own life and we have done series covering so many things, anxiety, depression, grief, over-thinking, heart-break, how to apologize, all the way to abortion, miscarriage and sexual assault. I keep asking the Mithra community on Instagram, “What do you want help with?” and based on that we come up with a lot of the content.
Mithra is an organization that I have created basically to help me and is helping a lot of other people… So, I think, in that way, it is very unique.
Karthik: Yeah… What you say about, when you’re in a situation, you always misinterpret things or you have the right intentions in mind but you come out and say something that is hurtful to others. So, that series is really quite useful.
So, one of the signature initiatives of the Mithra Trust is The Meh Kit and it has been featured in The Hindu. For people who haven’t heard about this, What is the ‘Meh’ and how does this kit help people tackle this feeling?
Bhairavi: The Meh, again is so personal. The Meh, is what I used to say when I didn’t have words and somebody asks you, “How are you doing?” and I’d be in the middle of a depressive episode and I couldn’t explain what I was going through. For them, the Meh could have been anything from feeling overwhelmed to feeling bored, disinterested or very sad but at the end of it, you just know that the Meh means “Not Okay”. So, the minute says ‘Meh’ you know that they are not okay. The Meh is just that overall feeling of being not okay and you say it with a shrug and you feel it with your whole body and you are, ‘Meh’. So, that’s where the Meh came from.
The Meh Kit, the first one that we have done is called “Riding out Depression” and the idea was how do you help somebody have the tools to understand their own lows and the tools to help them ride it out themselves, the tools to help somebody help themselves. It came from a friend of mine who wrote to me saying, he was a very very dark period and he wasn’t okay and he didn’t want to go to a therapist.
So, I told him that I can’t replace therapy and I am not going to do that but what I can do is that get you ready if at all you decide to go to a therapist, to make you feel a little bit better and understand what you are going through. It was a series of conversations and all of this was through email. The minute I saw how well he did with that, I was, like, “How can I make this accessible to other people?”. So, basically the idea of the Meh Kit is to unpack different types of emotions that you go through different thoughts that you have and to understand that.
So, the idea is to, one, give people information of what it really feels like and two, give them the space to understand it on their own time and three, give them the tools to deal with it when they are ready. It has everything, from the ‘What to Say’ statements to explaining this whole depressive episode through a series of comics. We used really warm colors, because when you are in that state of not feeling okay, you feel like you don’t deserve any kind of love, affection or warmth. So, the minute you see this kit, in itself is overwhelming love. Lot’s of people have written saying it’s like a hug for me.
Karthik: It is true that lot of us when we phase through this feeling of being stuck and not able to process our own thoughts, we get bombarded on Instagram with plain messages of happy, positive thoughts. There’s always this precise and surgical way of analyzing your thoughts and how to move forward in a very rational fashion, and this kit really does a good job of putting you through those steps and clearly explaining to yourself and moving yourself forward through this entire process. So, that’s great!
Let’s diverge for a bit and try to address the current situation with the Corona Virus, the quarantining and the lockdown. So, how do you think this feeling of ‘Meh’ exhibits itself in a person during this time and as a psychologist, what do you think will help people to get out this feeling.
Bhairavi: I’ll give you the answer to this question based on the conversations that I have been having with people.
People come in because they are feeling anxious, overwhelmed and they are really worried and dealing with uncertainty. There’s just a lot of fear. They are very tired. They want to be productive. Some of them are very grateful that they still have jobs but they are not able to do it. Others are very worried about parents and family being away from home, still others are very irritated about the fact that everybody is together all the time and they don’t get their own space. So, there’s all of this that is happening within one virtual space that we are holding.
What I saw is, four distinct phases, which kind of merge together. First, people kind of feel, at the start of the lockdown especially, they felt like, “What’s the big deal? They feel almost comfortable with it, almost like a summer holiday. Second, any small uncertainty gives you massive frustration. Any small thing that happens, you find yourself reacting in a very big way and not able to understand why. The third is when you feel that you are getting things back on track. You seem to have a plan. You’ve started working out and doing Yoga, have mindfulness and things seem to be a little bit in control. These three things people go through during hours or days. This constant cycle of “I’m not okay.”, “I don’t know what to do.”, “Oh my god! I am getting better.” and then again. That’s something that I saw very clearly.
The overarching thing in all of this was just feelings of guilt. “Why should I be feeling so bad when, the migrant workers, how much they are walking, how much they are being bullied by the police. They have it so much worse than me.” So, I am feeling bad that I am not feeling okay. So, this level of not allowing ourselves to feel. These are people who know it and have been doing the work, who’ve been part of therapy. Even they had trouble doing this.
We need to recognize that all of us are going to be impacted and we need to give ourselves the space to recognize that. But, understanding that it has an impact on us doesn’t take away from the very real pain that somebody else is going through. So, it is not about comparing pain. When you compare it to a physical pain, like a stubbed toe, it doesn’t make sense, “Please cry out. Of course, your toe is in pain. Is it bleeding? Does it need ice? You need to rest.”, you automatically figure out so much ways to support.
Karthik: When something is right there in front of our eyes, we give it more attention whereas when it is something in our mind, we do not express it. We are not giving ourselves the permission to feel bad or take a moment and heal.
Bhairavi: So, for me as a psychologist, the only thing to everyone in this world right now is think of your own mental and emotional pain that you are going through, like that stubbed toe, try to identify what it is and give yourself that feeling and the permission to feel that pain. That’s the biggest thing you can do for yourself.
Karthik: It’s also the biggest step you can take towards healing.
On your website, there are so many useful resources, you can head tomithratrust.com for accessing those resources, I saw there were the ‘Virtual well-being’ sessions, the ‘What to Say’ series and the ‘Meh and me’ series. The last one, ‘Meh and me’ series, I was particularly intrigued by that because it talks about mental health issues in men which is scarcely addressed. Why do you think that is the case and what can men do, who are undergoing mental health issues or who just want to help, to get out of this cage of not being allowed to feel, not being allowed to have mental health issues?
Bhairavi: ‘The Meh and Me’ series started off in November. In November, you have health month for men, Movember, where men grow mustaches and that is what it’s known for. We thought, Let’s try to bring in an interesting concept, where we ask men to submit stories and keep it anonymous. We posted them on Instagram and a number of people said, “If you hadn’t told me this was a man, I would have just assumed it was a woman.”
One, men don’t talk about it and you don’t acknowledge or associate men with having feelings like that, expressing them and going through pain. That is a huge part of our society, just the way that boys and girls are brought up. That is what you see right? You don’t see someone who is in tune with themselves. You don’t see someone questioning and understanding what’s happening, or even talking about it.
So, The whole point of the ‘Meh and Me’ series is to, (have a platform where you ask), “Tell us about a time where you weren’t feeling okay and were ‘Meh’. What did that feel like? And then what happened?” It’s just to show people that this is a simple format and we have men and boys of all ages to submit what they are going through. So, people started feeling so good about it that we extended it. It’s no longer for that month, November, but become a regular series that we do now.
Karthik: The stories were quite moving. I went through a few of them. To see that it is not only me, me in my four walls, We’re all in this together and the sense of community is quite liberating.
Mithra Trust has done some great work in bringing awareness to mental health. So, what are some initiatives that we can expect to see in the future that you guys might do?
Bhairavi: Right now, with the lockdown, we did the whole thing about ‘Connect Within’ where we sent messages to people everyday on Instagram saying ‘Take a few moments to pause, to breathe and to think thoughts of kindness, hope, compassion and gratitude.’ We have taken it a step further now. This entire week is part of Mental Health Awareness week. The theme was kindness within you. So, we have been doing these activities around kindness.
Going forward, we are doing a lot of work on building something for young people, something specifically (for them), because I think, school students, they have so much of uncertainty. Everything that they worked towards, all of their dreams, or they have gotten into college, and now, they don’t know what’s happening.
That feeling of how you deal with all these things, the things that you have been working towards and now don’t mean anything. To bring a framework and a sense around that, we are doing work on resilience, and within resilience engaging in this concept of gratitude, kindness and compassion. That is a series that we’ll be launching in June. It’s gonna be a webinar-discussion series.
‘Let’s discuss the meh’, is primarily a discussion series. ‘Doodles for the meh’, is a series where you sit and you are provided a tool, you are taught how to doodle while you observe your thoughts, emotions, while you connect to your breathing and you kind of let out the emotions through the doodle and bringing in resilience for the meh, next.
Karthik: The second example, doodling is quite a favorite of mine and lot of us try to bring it out in a creative form of all our issues, we try to express them, and it’s important to have a platform to have that exposure and getting it out of your system.
It’s been a pleasure to have you in this edition of LonePack Conversations and as we close out this episode, what would be your message to leave our listeners with and where can they head to find more about the Mithra Trust.
Bhairavi: My message to everybody is to acknowledge the Meh, acknowledge when you are not feeling okay. There are so many great resources, the fact that they are listening to the LonePack Conversations, it means they are giving themselves the permission, the time and space to engage with these conversations. I think you guys have been doing an incredible job with this. Even with the letters of positivity, it is something nice to look forward to.
If you want to find out more about Mithra Trust, just jump on Instagram, @mithratrust.
Karthik: Alright! Let’s close out this edition. Thank you for joining us and have a good day!
No one in this world is truly independent – a fact many of us would love to deny. Intentionally or not, we all form relationships with people for a variety of reasons, ranging from friendship, love, and support, to professional purposes. In fact, some of us are blessed to have several fulfilling relationships – romantic, platonic, and familial – which we depend on at some point of time in our lives. Is this reliance on others to fulfill certain needs a bad thing? Let’s dig deeper.
You might have heard of the term ‘codependency’ – often used with a disregard for its actual definition. Much to the despair of relationship therapists, the widespread incorrect usage of this term has resulted in a plethora of misconceptions. This has, in turn, skewed our perception of what independence means and what a healthy relationship – with others and our own emotions – looks like, making it vital to clarify what codependency actually is.
Let us begin by establishing what codependency is not. This affliction is far from being equivalent to being clingy or simply depending on someone; codependency is not a blanket term for a person’s reliance on another for help or support. Any relationship has a certain level of dependency. In a healthy one, it comes from comfort and understanding; for a codependent, it stems from a dysfunctional mindset. Codependency is also not synonymous with merely having emotional needs. All human beings have emotional needs. To reject or be in denial of those parts of ourselves and others is to deny ourselves of true compassion and intimate bonds.
A codependent relationship is one that is dysfunctional, where one or both partners rely on the other to meet all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. They are painful and destructive bonds that are marked by a lack of self-sufficiency, self-worth, identity, and autonomy.
The roots of this affliction are sometimes traced back to childhood, particularly for those who were emotionally abused or neglected by their parents. They are taught to go out of their way to please a difficult parent in order to obtain affection, establishing a pattern of trying to obtain love and care from a difficult person in a similar fashion. Codependency can also arise when children are forced to assume the role of a caretaker or enabler owing to an unreliable parent, having to focus on their parent’s needs and never their own.
A classic model of a codependent relationship is that of the alcoholic and their enabling spouse; the enabler encourages dysfunctional habits in order to feel needed and becomes emotionally exhausted, and the other is encouraged to maintain their destructive behavior, impeding the growth of both individuals.
Codependency is identified by the following symptoms:
Low self-esteem: feeling unlovable or inadequate, along with shame, guilt, and often perfectionism. The codependent’s self-esteem arises from sacrificing themselves for their partner, who may be just fine with receiving this “special” treatment.
Mixing pity and love: needing to ‘save’ others, fix situations on their loved one’s behalf or protect them from all harm.
People-pleasing: having a hard time saying no to anyone, going out of their way to sacrifice their own needs and emotions to accommodate others. A codependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship and avoid the feeling of abandonment.
Poor boundaries: feeling responsible for other people’s feelings or blaming their own on others. Some codependents enmesh their self-image with their partner’s, not knowing where their identity ends and their partner’s begins.
Defensiveness: feeling threatened by disagreements and reacting to people’s statements and opinions as personal attacks.
Control: feeling safe when they can control the actions of those close to them. Codependents find comfort in other people behaving in a certain manner; a lack of this may cause anxiety and/or depression.
Anxiety: suffering from constant anxiety about their relationships.
Obsessions: fed by dependency, anxieties, and fears. A codependent may lapse into a fantasy about how they would like things to be or the one they love so they can be in denial of the pain of the present.
Dependency: fearing rejection or abandonment. Codependents need people to need them in order to feel okay. Some may need to constantly be in a relationship, making it hard for them to end things even if they are with someone abusive.
As one can imagine, the impact of codependency is severe – for both parties of the relationship. A codependent suffers from emotional exhaustion and may even neglect their other relationships for one person. Deep down, many codependents feel they deserve the mistreatment they get in their relationships and hardly assert their own needs and desires. For the partner of the codependent, this relationship promotes their own dysfunctions and prevents them from learning common life lessons as they come to rely on the codependent’s sacrifices and neediness. Unless told otherwise, they may never learn how to be in a stable, two-sided relationship.
The good news is that one need not suffer from codependency lifelong. There are several ways in which this behavior can be reversed, starting with seeking professional help. By getting in touch with one’s deep-rooted hurt, loss, and anger, one can reconstruct appropriate relationship dynamics. It is also important to learn to set boundaries with the people one interacts with, and learn to find happiness as an individual. Most importantly, the road to recovery from this affliction lies in open communication.
The urgency to understand what codependency looks like stems from a deeper call to understand the psychology of relationships. The bonds we have with people in our lives – regardless of their nature – have a great impact on our emotional well-being. Our close circles are comprised of individuals who have different life experiences, baggage, and perspectives – all of which permeate into our interactions and relationships. Despite this, many of us either fail to understand or ignore the psychological aspect of relationships – either out of a fear of becoming vulnerable or merely ignorance. This leaves us in denial about the dynamics of our bonds with people, resulting in trauma for everyone involved.
For this reason, no matter what emotional baggage we may carry from our past, we must work towards having a healthy understanding of our own emotional needs and boundaries, and be able to assert the same while acknowledging those of others. Doing so is paramount for having a balanced, two-sided relationship – a treasured asset for us all.
“You have social anxiety? No way! You just spoke on stage, stop complaining”
“Yeah right, you aren’t an introvert. You aren’t shy and you’re talking to me well right now aren’t you?”
Well, count these as the most common responses I’ve gotten when I tell people that yes, I do indeed suffer from anxiety and yes, I also realise that I spoke on stage right now. Those two aren’t mutually exclusive.
[Image source: Tumblr]
A lot of our perspectives on mental health issues are drawn from what we see on social media. Films that are seeming to include more characters that cover the spectrum of mental health still have a long way to go when it comes to covering them practically. And the rise of internet “slangs” aren’t helping the situation. You see, mental health is not just one thing. Depression is not just “feeling sad” all the time. Not everyone who has depression fit the “symptoms” of depression. There are many who can function normally, still be social but still suffer from overwhelming depression. Same goes for any other mental health issues there are. Personally, the biggest problem that I’ve faced has come in the form of “boxes”.
Allow me to digress for a bit. Everyone you meet is different. They have different personalities and different tastes in music and movies and hobbies. And the same goes for their mental health as well. Ask people you know who are overcoming mental health issues and you will find that none of their experiences is similar even though they might have been diagnosed with the same issue. It is ignorant of us to assume that everyone deals with their issues the same way or goes through the same thing. And with people lacking this awareness, there arise situations in which people assume it is okay to make generalisations and comments, essentially stereotyping mental health into set “boxes”.
I deal with anxiety and am not an overly social person. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any friends or that I’m shy. I just take some time to talk to people I’ve just met and if I’m with my friends while meeting the new person then I feel so much better and at ease talking to the person for the first time. A lot of people who might be going through the same social anxiety that I am can be shy and just not talk or can be extremely social yet still feel overwhelmed and nervous inside. But all that people see is that I am a competitive stage speaker and hence, I am suddenly not allowed to feel that anxiety pumping through my veins every time I come onto the stage to speak. I realise that feeling stage fright and nervousness are common to everyone but feeling extremely overwhelmed yet pushing yourself to speak through the knots in your stomach is not. But even though the anxiety is overwhelming, I still love to speak on stage. And I refuse to be boxed away for that.
[Image source: Tumblr]
Everyone you know is going through something that might not fit your assumptions. Chrissy Teigen and Adele openly spoke up about post-partum depression while under the public’s eye and we did not know that they had gone through that until they told us. Jennifer Lawrence is one of the most charismatic people in interviews but has openly stated that she suffered from severe anxiety. A lot more examples can be drawn to make this point but at the end of it all, the only thing that matters is that people turn a little bit more understanding when it comes to how mental health issues manifest themselves.
[Image source: Pinterest]
If someone tells you that they’re going through something, listen to them. Please do not make generalisations and make them think that their feelings are invalid. The world is a very kind and welcoming place and a little bit of awareness with these issues is all one will need to help a thousand more. Let us not box away mental illnesses or file them away under certain tabs. These issues are complex and we can all do our bit to spread information and awareness.
Some of the worst times for me was when I was 17 and felt extremely confused and left out about what I was feeling. The world seemed too big and too heavy on my shoulders and I was feeling downright miserable. My anxiety skyrocketed to the point where it manifested as physical pains and I was pretty sure that there had to be a name to call out to all the helplessness and sadness I was feeling. But I was very young and unexposed to the world of mental health, so as any other person would do, I took to Google. I put in all the things I was feeling and thought that I’d arrive at some sort of an idea as to what was going on with me. None of the people around me looked like they were suffering like I did and I didn’t have the courage to talk to it to my parents. But then my confusion increased manifold as I stared at the screen; all my signs led to Depression but I fit none of the “symptoms”. I wasn’t losing appetite, my sleep pattern didn’t change drastically yet I knew I was feeling miserable. And this prompted me to start doing more research into what I was feeling and if anyone else out there was feeling the same as I yet didn’t fit into the box of “depression and anxiety symptoms”. And a revelation was made; High-Functioning Disorders.
Let me digress for a bit. You see, the students and working professionals that make a majority of people who take their lives seem to fit a certain profile. Most of them were academically well off and seemed to have a normal relationship with their friends and family. No visible symptoms of depression or anxiety could be visibly seen and they didn’t look any different, their daily activities weren’t affected in any way, and all of them seemed normal and as they would every other day. Their suicides came as a big, unpredictable blow to their friends and family since to them, literally, nothing pointed to their loved one suffering from any kind of mental health issues or, so they thought.
This observation or the lack of it reveals a darker truth. Most of us aren’t aware of a class of disorders that has now become to be known as “high-functioning” disorders. It is a recent development in the field of psychology and one that has come in a much-needed time.
For those who don’t know what they are, High-functioning disorders are the same as any other mental health disorder that one may suffer from but possess a darker trait, they do not affect your daily life. Psychologists are more worried about the people who suffer from this class of disorders since they are extremely difficult to diagnose. People with high-functioning versions of disorders such as anxiety and depression will not seem any different from a person without the disorders, superficially. They will continue with their normal lives as if nothing affects them at all, their body and brain cope very well with their conditions and as a result, their work and academic lives remain undisturbed. They’re social and active, all smiles and whatnot but on the inside, they’re still suffering and unable reach out to anyone.
[Image source: Betterhelp]
For someone who is suffering and looks to the internet first to arrive at some kind of a self-diagnosis, it really doesn’t help when none of the mental health disorders’ so-called “symptoms” fit them. Not many articles relating to these high functioning forms of disorders are present even on the internet, which is one of, if not the largest communicative space globally. And hence understandably, not much awareness is present with regard to these issues.
If you are suffering from not being the best version of yourself and doubt that it could be anxiety or depression or any other issues but experience none of the visible giveaways, do consult a psychologist.
It is never easy to battle these on your own and you shouldn’t either. The world is here to listen and to help. And if you doubt that one of your loved ones is suffering but do not know what to do since they do seem normal to everyone else, sit them down and talk to them. Ask them if they’re doing okay and if not, tell them that you’re there to help them get through this.
Everyone needs a hand sometimes. You could end up saving a life from further suffering because of the lack of awareness. Do your bit and spread the word.
Imagine if there was a machine, that can alter the way you look according to your wish. How cool is that? Every time you see yourself in the mirror your brain mentally opens a tab creating a list of things you want altered. The list might want clear skin, thinner waist, perfect hair, sharp jawline, shaped muscles, toned abs and never really ends.
What if we were in control of how we look? Whom would we want to look like? Most likely, the actors, the models we see on magazine covers, the beauty bloggers on social media, essentially someone who isn’t us. In a world where self-worth is measured in the number of likes and comments present beneath the picture you upload online after an hour of corrections and filters, it is not really your fault if you seek validation, even though it is indeed only virtual.
Now, comparison. It is an immediate reaction, to compare yourself with something you seek to achieve to look like. Sometimes, it is to keep track of the process of you wanting to become like them and in other cases, it is to beat yourself up because you will never be able to look like them.
Am I good enough? Am I worthy? Do I feel secure about my body?
We are no strangers to these questions. Answer to this, however, is the same, Self-love. You were created by someone who created galaxies, moved mountains, made the sea kiss land as waves, diverse coexistence of all life forms thrives and every passing second, two million cells in your body die, to be regenerated. It is only foolish of you to think you are any less of a miracle.
Your hands, they have touched the rough edges of the shells you collected during your first trip to the beach, they have wiped your tears at 3 AM when you felt like giving up.
Your feet that you walked to the place holding your favourite memory.
Your eyes, have shown you the most beautiful things, the faces of people you love. From the first glimpse of your best friend after ages to the optical illusion puzzles, you see on the internet.
Your mouth that has said things to people and made them smile, feel loved.
Your belly that growled in the middle of a silent class making it awkward, how full it felt every time you did stress eating.
Your heart that broke for the first time, warm when your mom hugged you after a long day at work, or simply when you see a dog.
Your ears when you hear the song you finally find after not being able to stop humming its tune.
Self-love starts with gratitude, with affirmation. In simple words to be thankful to your body because it is functioning properly.
Beautiful is stretch marks, cellulite, zero thigh gap, flat stomach, tummy rolls, acne, uneven and thick eyebrows, pale skin, melanin, waist of any number on the scale, skinny legs, no hair, more hair. Beautiful is everything you are. Self-love is a dynamic and deeply rooted journey, but let us start with level one. With our bodies. Wake up and see yourself in the mirror without opening a tab inside for alterations. Thank your body, feed it, nurture it, love it.
Allow me to digress for a bit. I love words and I love writing, that is the best way I communicate how I’m feeling and it makes the most comfortable medium for me to get my thoughts out. I dabble a lot in poetry and particularly love expressing spectrums of emotions and articulating them the right way to convey exactly what I want to, to people. However, when the same words sometimes don’t really fit together, don’t really weave themselves into what I want them to, what I want people to understand from them, all I’m left with is this frustrating pit of annoyance and helplessness with myself that I’ve somehow failed. And, for me, most of the time, these conversations happen to be on mental health. People don’t understand unless you communicate well, that much I’ve learnt. But what use is it if you can’t get what has been bothering you in your head, out? How do you make people take a look at all the swirling thoughts in your head and somehow hope that they’d understand what you’re feeling?
So, I suppose sometimes, words seem to fail me.
Or maybe I’ve yet to learn how to place them correctly.
Most of the frustrating moments for anyone battling mental health issues come with trying to make the person they’re talking to understand what they’re feeling. And what people have to realise is that it’s hard, incredibly hard to talk about it, to start a conversation. There will never be a right way to start, a right way to manoeuvre through the feelings and all that comes out is stuttered words spit out after being tongue-tied for so long. And then there is that small sliver of hope. Hope that they understand, that the other person makes sense of the words, to relate, to empathise. And if the other person has dealt with the same or any other of the same sorts, then they will get it and it takes a big weight off of your shoulders. But when they don’t, all you are left with is this feeling of inadequacy and embarrassment and crushed hope.
We’ve all been there.
So then the question becomes, how do we communicate better? Better yet, how do we make people understand?
I’ve dealt with anxiety for quite a while. And I’ve dealt with trying to make people understand why I’m not all that comfortable being around too many new people, with starting conversations, with making small talk with barely known acquaintances, with why I cancel out on plans quite often. But they don’t understand most of the time. I hope they did try to but I don’t blame them for not “getting it”. Humans are creatures of habit, anything we don’t relate to, we don’t really try too much to understand. But it becomes overwhelming when everyone around me seems to be fine and normal while I’m always freefalling with my stomach in knots and my heart in my mouth even at the mere mention of social interaction or any other thing that might trigger my anxiety. And after every unsuccessful attempt at making others understand, I’m always left with the parting thought of “Why can’t anyone just tell me it’s okay and just let me be” And then I just shut up, giving up to ever try making the oblivious listen.
However, there are people who get it, on the internet. So many support groups and forums are on the rise and I see so many other struggling with the same issues relating to each other’s experiences and finding relief in each other. It’s a big leap and one that is much needed yet while it’s comforting to find people who finally know what you feel like and are going through, the bigger picture still remains blurry.
Coming to the main point of discussion, during one of my late night YouTube surfing fun-time, I came across this new song that Julia Michaels had put out. I like her and decided why not take a listen. [Again, the way that music has helped me get through some of my worst days can form another piece on its own]. The song was titled “Anxiety” and I thought, alright then, I’m intrigued, let’s see where this goes. But to be very honest, after the song ended, for the first time ever, I felt like words in my head finally found their place.
It was a very honest, open and vulnerable song on what having anxiety feels like. Suddenly, there I was, sending the song to some who I had tried to explain my anxiety to, getting excited that they would finally understand. And I hope they did or at least I think they know better now. Anxiety can take many shapes and forms and is different to all people. This song might not relate to your anxiety but it is a start. And suddenly there I was wondering how much of a gap music can bridge if more songs were to come out openly talking about people’s experiences with mental health issues and emotions. Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful artists and bands that are already trying to do the same, I’m a fan of a lot of them yet there is this invisible glass barrier that has to be overcome still to start a dialogue about mental health. Music is a great way to start conversations and nothing would make me happier than to see music and words come together to help people understand the said swirling thoughts that people can’t bring to explain properly by themselves. There is so much potential to help people and I really hope that more artists come out to create incredible music like this and more importantly, that more people are accepting of them.
Every dialogue starts only when the silence breaks. So why not have fun while we’re at it?
Let me know what songs helped you during your hardest days and take a look at the song by the wonderful Julia Michaels as well.