Journeys of Hope: Part 3: Depression – Battling College Days

Trigger warning: Mentions of self-harm, depression and suicide

It was the first day of college, and I was freaking – a full-blown panic-attack. Was what I was wearing okay? Would I be asked to talk in front of everyone? Would everyone make fun of my figure? Would I even make any friends? A million different questions were zapping through my head at the speed of light, even as I stood there in front of the mirror, trying desperately to put on kajal without poking my eyes out. After a few (painful) attempts, I gave up on the act as tears started streaming down my eyes. Despair engulfed me as depression, my old friend, reared its ugly head.

College is a place to reinvent yourself, they say. You can find yourself, or create a whole new identity, they say. Well, I lost a little bit of myself every day for those three years. Each night that I went to sleep, I did not thank God, but prayed that I would not wake up the next morning. Each morning that I woke up was filled not with expectation or excitement, but with dread of what the following hours would bring.

To give you a little background, I studied at a wonderful place with extremely supportive staff and students, some of whom still check in with me from time to time, but it was not always joy and smiles. In fact, I can now reveal without any shame that most of my time at college was spent inside a bathroom stall while I desperately tried to control my tears.

So what, then, was my problem?

I didn’t understand it back when I was an extremely confused 18 year-old, and I’m not sure I understand it now. All I knew was that I was feeling sad and tired and so, so hopeless all the time, but I didn’t know what to call it. I didn’t know whom to open up to, and even when I did, neither my friend nor my family took me seriously. That was, until they found me one day with a plastic cover tied over my head.

Of course, like the whole world thinks, my parents were of the opinion that therapy would ‘fix’ me, that it was a one-stop solution to all my problems. Of course, I love my family, and I could never, ever blame them for what happened to me, but they didn’t understand that sometimes, there’s nothing to fix.

My therapists throughout the years have had quite colorful adjectives to describe my ‘issues’. ‘Depressed’, ‘Hallucinates’, ‘Self-harms’, ‘Suicidal’, ‘Mercurial’, and ‘Unpredictable’ were some of the labels used on me. They poked and they prodded and they dug and they dug until there was nothing left of me. Did I experience any abuse? No. Did I lose someone close to me? No. Did I hate everyone? Absolutely not, I actually bent over backwards to please them all and be like them. So why was I like this? No one knew, so they sent me to the doctors, who put me on pills that made me sleepy 20 hours of the day and made me fail several tests.

College was a nightmare, because I could neither keep up with my peers nor hold a decent conversation without breaking down/having an anxiety attack. I looked at all the other girls, and was filled with self-loathing because I didn’t know how to be one of them. No amount of lipstick, perfume, or kajal could make me feel beautiful. I hated life, and I constantly searched for ways to escape my situation, most of which were unhealthy. While everyone I knew was out flirting and partying and having fun with their significant other, I was shut up in my room mooning over my unrequited love. While they were all engaging in extracurricular activities like singing and dancing and debates, I was writing depressive and frankly scary stuff and then tearing up the pages to destroy the evidence, all because I couldn’t bear to face it, to face myself.

But this is not a rant about how awful my life was, whatever impression I might have given you so far. This is an account to assure those who are suffering like I did, that it will all change. You will make it to the other side. The day will come when breathing won’t be so difficult, when your smiles will feel that much less forced. The day will come when you will no longer have to worry about the future and shed tears about it. And the key to effecting that change? Falling in love.

Falling in love with people, with all their imperfections and faults. Falling in love with life, with all its difficulties and trials. Falling in love with the world, with all its ugliness and wars.

And most importantly, falling in love with yourself, with all your bitterness and scars.

I’m not saying that everything will be fine and dandy one day as you wake up, and you will no longer feel bad. On the contrary, living with depression is like an obstacle race that never ends. You have to face insurmountable odds, and the ground will be smooth for a little while, but the difficulties will rise again, and the cycle will continue. What I’m asking you to do, is to look forward to landing on level ground, to living those relatively peaceful days. Live for today and hope for a better tomorrow, because what do we have left, if not hope?

Mental Health in the Workplace

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.

The World Economic Forum recommends these 10 tips to boost your mental health when working from home. Here are some of the key points.

  • 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,

  1. Be aware of the specific needs and circumstances of the work environment of your employees and tailor policies best suited for your company.
  2. Seek inspiration from motivational leaders and employees who have taken action.
  3. Be aware of other companies who have taken action to put mental health policies in place.
  4. Successful implementation of mental health policies and delivery of benefits relies on collaboration. Take practical steps to put this into place.
  5. 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.

LonePack Conversations – Discussing the ‘Meh’ with Bhairavi Prakash

When you don’t have words to describe the feeling of emptiness, anger, frustration, you just go ‘Meh’. It’s an emotion that says a lot without saying much.

In this episode of LonePack Conversations, we discuss this feeling and how to tackle it, among other initiatives from Mithra Trust with its founder Bhairavi Prakash, psychologist and public speaker.


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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 to mithratrust.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!

 

Bhairavi: Thank you so much Karthik!

 

LonePack Conversations—Rand Fishkin & fighting depression through an entrepreneurial journey

Putting one’s efforts, money, time, and passion into building a company is easier said than done. Not only does it give one the fame and glory of establishing big in the business world, but also drive them crazy over various step-stones in the process to stardom. 


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Aishwarya: Welcome to LonePack Conversations. I’m Aishwarya, your host, and today we’re speaking to Rand Fishkin, an established entrepreneur and leader in the start-up space. 

Hi Rand! Welcome to LonePack Conversations. It’s great to speak to you. 

Rand: Great to speak to you, as well! Thanks for having me.  

Aishwarya: Sure. Let’s begin with a little bit of a background. 

So, you’re just about to kickstart your second entrepreneurial venture. How is life and how are things? 

Rand: Exciting, yeah. I’ve been working on this new venture for a couple of years now; almost 2 years, exactly, and have a co-founder, we have raised a little bit of money, we’re just getting ready to launch our paid product, and so it’s busy, but in a good way. 

Aishwarya: That sounds exciting! So, as the founder of ‘Moz’ and currently ‘SparkToro’, if you had to pick a challenging and mentally exhausting moment in your life, what would it be? 

Rand: I have had many. Probably too many. I would say one of the most mentally taxing and frustrating parts of my career during my tenure as CEO of ‘Moz’, after we raised our $18 million funding round. And of course, you know lots of requirements around growth and exits come with that.  We had a team of about 50 people at the time, which was a wonderful size, I really enjoyed it, but we had to grow, right? We had to get much bigger, much faster, be able to do a lot more, produce a lot more software, delight a lot more customers. And so, over the next 18 months, we tripled the team size to nearly 150 people including contractors, and that process, those 18 months, from 2012 into 2013, those were one of the hardest, most difficult of my career. 

I think that building a team from the ground up is a hard thing, but scaling at a rapid rate, right; adding more people you have in a company is really really exhausting for the team , for the leadership, it’s really hard on your value and your culture; it’s hard on all the people who are there. That stands out in my mind as being a crazy difficult time. 

Aishwarya: Definitely, I think I’m able to imagine, the way you are describing, how it would be for somebody who has bigger aspirations and goals. At the same time, those 18 months would’ve been really taxing for you. And, I actually read about the fact that when Sarah came in as the CEO after you, how things were able to, you know, bring back into the picture; how there was a sort of unity in the team, and I really love that portion. 

Rand: I found it tremendously challenging to just maintain a culture; a company culture that I wanted to exist. I think that was a huge part of the problem. 

Another part of the problem, too, is this; the expectations that come from your existing team, right, from the people who’ve been there, and who’ve helped you along the way, and what they expect from a growing company, right, a lot of people who are individual contributors want to become managers. A lot of people who are managers expect their teams to grow, and their budgets to grow, and I think as a CEO, especially a first-time CEO, it’s really hard to say no. 

Aishwarya: True, yeah. 

Rand: You’re just not used to it; you don’t expect it, you know, you have all this money; people know you have all this money; expectations, and they say, ‘Hey, I want more budget, I want more people on my team, I wanna hire three more people. You’re expected to say yes, and it’s hard to say no. 

Aishwarya: Absolutely. Each company has its set of goals and expectations, and the people who make up the company again will have their expectations, and it’s important to sort of align these together, because everybody is definitely looking out for growth map and likewise with the company, and I think as the CEO, an important task, and the most contingent task for you would’ve been to align these two together. I can definitely understand that. 

Rand: Yeah, I think there’s this big challenge where people have multiple goals in mind, so obviously, the people who were working at ‘Moz’; they wanted the company to do well, but they also wanted their personal careers to do well. They wanted their personal careers to show growth. They want their title to get bigger, they want their pay to get more, they want more people reporting to them, because that looks more impressive to future employers. These are often at odds with what you should do as a CEO. The right thing to do as a CEO; your obligation to the shareholders, and your Board, and the company’s growth, is to say no to almost everything, except a few things. 

But the pressure in the moment feels the opposite.  When someone comes to you and says ‘Hey, I’ve done a loyal, great job over the last three or four years; I expect these things from my career; this is what I’m looking for,’ and you want to say “Yes, you deserve that, I want to give it to you.” But in fact what you’ve got to say is, “It’s not the right thing for the company, and if that’s not enough to keep you here, then good luck; let’s find you a new role somewhere else; I’m happy to make  introductions, or give a nice testimonial about you.” And if that’s not enough, here’s what you can expect from your career here over the next few years, and here’s how it gets changed. It gets really hard, right.  

Startups…startups are one thing, and as they get to middling stages of growth, they become another thing. People are really bad at change; people hate change. 

Aishwarya: Certainly, certainly. I think for people, as you grow, as you start up, as you try to grow that company big, the most important and most difficult task would be to prioritize and say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to things that really matter. Especially in this case, when an employee walks up to you and asks for, say, a pay raise or a change in role, and you know that he/she is still deserving, but at that point, you might have to say no because you have certain aspirations; certain paths for the company to go through. So that’s totally acceptable, and it’s time that people start thinking about this; how to say no, because that’s one of the most difficult tasks. 

Rand: Yeah, absolutely. Saying no and saying yes; these are the hard things. 

Aishwarya: So, did depression have an effect on your physical health? If so, how did you realize it and what were the measures you took to overcome that? 

Rand: Yeah, the bad news for me is, it did have a significant effect on my health and wellbeing, I think both physically and mentally. Over the course of my…I was in my late 20s and my early-mid 30s and I had degenerative disk disease, which affects your spine and made it very uncomfortable and difficult for me to sit for long stretches, which is very hard when you have to get on a lot of planes and travel overseas for conferences and events and those sort of things. 

And it also had a significant negative impact on my sleep. Which, of course, you know, sleep and stress are very well-coordinated, and I think that that cycle of having stress, compounding physical pain which made it hard to sleep, which made every day even more stressful; that cycle, that loop, was really really difficult to break through. 

And eventually, I think the answer for me ended up being pulling back from the quantity of work I was doing; I invested in physical therapy, and mental health therapy, right—seeing a counsellor, a therapist, and a coach, and I also stepped down from the CEO role, and took another role inside the company, although I think that probably did not have a great impact on my mental health and physical health for at least a number of years. 

And it wasn’t really until I left ‘Moz’ and started my new company, ‘SparkToro’, that I think I got to a really healthy place. And so nowadays, arguably the best shape of my life, both physically and mentally; but it is… it can be really hard, and I think that people have to choose. They have to choose what’s right for them, and whether they can prioritize their health over their company. I think what’s wrong is that it’s often a false dichotomy, where you think you need to be working all hours when, in fact, a few very productive hours are probably far better than 60 or 80 hours in a work week. 

But that’s just not the general belief. I think that the culture of tech is to overwork people and we need to end that. 

Aishwarya: Sure. I think that’s quite some stress and physical toll on you, and kudos to you because you’ve managed it really well. And, you know what, you’ve set an example to a lot of listeners today because I’m sure most of them have thoughts today about starting up or they are in the process of running a company, and they are handling a lot of pressure on a day-to-day basis. 

So, I guess what you told actually gives them a good idea to reflect upon, especially when you said ‘Choose’ because, you know, as Jeff Bezos says, at the end of the day, you’re made up of your choices. And you have to make those choices in a right way; good, bad, whatever it is, you just have to analyze and try to come over it. So I think that’s a very strong point that I, along with the listeners, are picking up today for our own lives, as well. 

Rand: Yeah, yeah, I mean, my hope is that in the future, more people choose to prioritize their health first, and I believe that it will actually lead; that will lead to more successful business outcomes. 

I think there’s a mythology that by sacrificing health, and making that choice, if you will, to devote yourself entirely to your work and your business, that somehow you’re going to benefit from that; that your business is going to benefit from that…I think that’s not true. 

I think that the CEOs’ job, fundamentally the CEO’s job is to make great decisions. And every piece of research we have shows that when you’re sleep-deprived, and when you’re in pain, and when you’re not taking care of your body, your decision-making is worse. 

So I would argue that you should work less, you should sleep more, you should exercise and eat and enjoy your social life so that you are mentally in a good place, to make great decisions. Because that is your core job. 

And I know I made a lot of bad decisions when I wasn’t sleeping, when I was working 60-80 hours a week; I know I did. 

Aishwarya: Spot on! I think it’s straight from a founder’s life, and you know, these are some gold points, and I’m sure that the listeners are just going to pick this up and try to relate this with their lives, and start practising them already. 

Rand: Yeah. 

Aishwarya: From a workplace front, do you think workers and peers can be supportive about your mental wellness at the times that you need? 

Rand: Yeah, absolutely! I think that you, as a founder, can craft a culture that reinforces and supports the idea that it’s results and quality of work that matter, and not the amount of work that matters, or hard work or the number of hours in the office or number of hours online; I think those are useless matrices. I would instead reward work that is high quality, and work that gets results. And I would recognise and reward people investing in their health. 

I think that if you do those two things, craft that type of a culture, you can do that from the bottom-up or the top-down, both, and you will get a workplace that delivers really good quality results. 

Aishwarya: Wonderful! I think a little bit of a praise and appreciative behaviour of one another would definitely help in succeeding. Not just sticking on what the results are, and how much time it took for the results to come in, but actually the quality work that comes in after somebody works on it; just a small appreciation would go a long way in building team spirit. 

Rand: Yeah, yeah, and I think recognising; I mean, somebody puts two hours into a project, and the results are high-quality; I think recognising and rewarding that, more so than if somebody puts 20 or 30 hours into the same project and gets the same quality of results; I think that’s an excellent thing. 

One of the things that’s definitely true, especially in most high-tech work, is that when you are well-rested, and well-fed and in a good place mentally, you tend to contribute far better quality work in much shorter amounts of time. 

A lot of times you get back from vacation, and you’ll find that, “Wow! I got so much done in one day after vacation, compared to a whole week when I’m in the middle of a slog.” 

Aishwarya: True that! I think these are some gestures that most of us should keep in mind, and a contribution of this kind can actually boost the morale of the team. 

You would’ve met a lot of C-suite leaders, venture capitalists and startup founders. Do you see a common pattern of depression or mental trauma among these leaders, simply because all of these roles demand much energy and pressure to deliver the best? 

Rand: Yeah, yeah, I’ve definitely seen many, many entrepreneurs, founders, executives;  folks tell that they are struggling, mentally and emotionally and often physically. And I hope that’s a culture we can change. 

Aishwarya: Mm-hmm. Definitely, I think the struggle is real, and it’s important that…Actually, I have discovered that somebody has to first recognize that there is a struggle and that there are these mental traumas that are happening because I feel at this time, most of us don’t recognize that. That is the first problem, rather than the mental issues being there as a problem. The major problem, I feel, is not accepting, or refusing to recognize that there is even a problem like this. 

So, what are your thoughts on this? What do you think about people who have to recognize that something is happening, which most of them don’t do?

Rand: Yeah, I would agree. I don’t think you can solve a problem until you recognize it’s there and come to consensus about the fact that it is a problem. It is only after that recognition that you can address it. And this is why I think a lot of this has to do with regards to representation. If you don’t have leaders in these companies talking about these issues, saying that they faced it, talking about how they fixed it, I think you will continue to get a culture that frankly, rewards sacrificing life for work instead of balancing. 

Aishwarya: Definitely. So have you invested and secured in the mental health benefits for your employees and company leaders, now that we’re talking about team benefits, and how we should be mindful of each other in the team?

Rand: Yeah, I think we did a number of things at ‘Moz’ while I was still there and I think the company is still continuing to invest in that. So I think that includes paying for counsellors and mental health, making sure it’s a part of the company’s healthcare packages and benefits, it includes wellness rooms, it includes being more flexible with time off for mental and emotional health days, it also includes trying to nudge people more towards taking their vacation.

For SparkToro, it’s just Cassy and I; there’s only the two of us, we’re founders. We have a very very healthy work-life balance, so I think we’re sort of in a lucky position to be able to invest upto what we can and want to do and in some weeks and yeah, that’s a ton of time put into business. And, some weeks, it’s like “Hey, Cassy has kids and is busy with the family one week and I have relatives that I’m responsible for and taking care of and sometimes that all overtakes the some of the work that I wish I could get done in a week, and that’s okay!” We allow ourselves the freedom and flexibility to do that and we know that every other hour of every day is not important; what’s important is doing quality work when we’re at the peak of our performance.

Aishwarya: Awesome. I love the fact that you mentioned work-life balance, and you and Casey set the right path for people who joined SparkToro. I’m sure they would look up to the founders to see what kind of goals, or what kind of objectives you’d have, and most of them get inspired from that.

So you and Casey setting that example of having a good work-life balance, taking some time off for some personal duties is important, and I’m glad that you guys are doing it, so congrats on that. 

Rand: Oh, thank you. Yeah, we really hope so. I expect to keep the company relatively small and remote only, which I think allows people to work from wherever is most comfortable for them.

Aishwarya: Oh, that’s nice.

Rand: Yeah, and work when it’s comfortable for them and I think that’s honestly the future of work. Yeah, I think the future of work is doing from wherever is most comfortable for you.

Aishwarya: Definitely, and I think that’s the first step on the path to being mindful. I’m sure if people are given that little freedom to do work at the time that they are intended to do, when they can actually contribute much to the team; I think that paves the way for better work to be done.

Rand: I agree 100 percent. 

Aishwarya: So, in your book ‘Lost and Founder’ which, I’d like to document, is one of my recent favourites, you’ve spoken about the ways to invest in behaviour, without trying to focus on the outcomes. Beautiful thought, I should say. Could you elaborate a bit on that and tell us how this act helped your mental wellness?

Rand: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So this comes from the idea of personal investment, and this works really well in the business world, as well. So this is essentially saying, “My focus is going to be on contributing the highest quality work that I can, rather than focusing on whether I immediately got the outcome that I was seeking.” 

And what happens in a lot of business practices is—marketing, for example; let’s say that I’m working on building up a great content marketing channel. And so, when you put up your first, say, blog posts, or articles, or newsletters, or content pieces of any kind, and when you see that they don’t perform the way that you want them to; when they don’t attract enough traffic, or the traffic that they do attract doesn’t convert, it’s not doing well on certain channels that you hoped it would; there’s a temptation to either give up, and stop making that investment, or to try and change the way that you’re doing things. 

And I think that you can, in fact, learn from your past experiences, and use that to form the future, but I think it’s a mistake to exclusively track results, as opposed to tracking high-quality work. If you put out a great post; great content piece, you’re proud of it, you know that the people who consumed it, it resonated with them; the answer could be that you need to keep doing that more, over time; you need to give it time to have serendipitous outcomes in the future. And a lot of the time, it’s about taking the shots and missing until one hits. I think unfortunately luck and timing are downplayed in the business world, when they probably shouldn’t be. And this is why I tell folks to invest in quality work rather than exclusively investing in results and outcome.

Aishwarya: Certainly. It comes down to enjoying the whole process of doing something because the journey is more important, and it’s important to stay connected to this journey. In fact, when you talked about how to use past references and how to tailor your future, that really made sense, both in professional and personal self; to constantly analyze the things that you’ve done, things that have really helped you achieve something, and sort of replicate that, or use some references from there in your future work. That doesn’t mean you’re dwelling in the past, but at the same time it also means you’re taking control of where you want to go in the future. 

So to invest in potentials is a very very good thought that you had put forth today. 

Rand: Oh, thanks, yeah. And I would also say that you have to be careful of small sample sizes. So one of the things I see people struggle with a lot is that they make a small number of investments, right. “Hey, we tried content marketing, we invested in ten content pieces, but they didn’t work for us, therefore we think that content marketing is not right for our audience.” And in fact, the problem is, ten is too small a sample. You might need a hundred pieces, before you can truly say how effective content can be. 

Alternatively, you may be making the investment, but not putting out quality work, and instead thinking like a check-list item, just to be published and pushed out. And that’s not wise, either.

Aishwarya: True, that! I think you shouldn’t be judgemental in the first place, and as you said, ten versus a hundred; it’s important that a lot of time and potential is invested into it, rather than just tying up with the short-term outcomes. It’s important to step aside and look at the longer run, and the bigger picture. 

Rand: And this is a really hard thing, right, I don’t want to downplay how difficult it is to make investments when you don’t have results to prove. I think one of the toughest things is to ask executives and leadership to make space for failures and investments that have long pay-off periods.  But when they do, when leadership embraces that, I think you can get the expected results over time. 

Aishwarya: Yeah, I think this mentality starts with leadership, and if it’s set right there, I’m sure the startup is going to really function well because tying up to results is a problem with the urges that tend to happen to companies. Obviously, you’d be questioned about the results, about what you have done to validate your work, but it’s also important to note the fact that failures are required for you to do some quality work in the future. 

Rand: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Aishwarya: So now that we’re towards the end of the conversation, I have a quick something to ask you. What’s the thing that seemed like the one; that would bring the world down for you, back then, but now brings a laugh at the very thought of it?

Rand: Oh, gosh. I’m not sure I had something around quite that stark. Hmm, you know, there was a time at ‘Moz’ when we were getting, I don’t know, sort of subtle threats, from Google. 

People who worked at Google, like, there’s this one guy who worked at Google who would occasionally email me or say something to me like in person about how they didn’t like what ‘Moz’ was doing, they didn’t like the blog posts that we were publishing, or who we invited to our conferences, or they didn’t like the experiments that we were running, and I remember being really scared; we had board meetings where we talked about how this was going to be a big threat to the company and what we did there. 

And then it really turned out to be nothing at all. I don’t even think it was Google’s policy at all. It was just this one person, or this one team at Google who sort of got annoyed and thought, “Well, maybe I’ll mention that I’m annoyed” and we just took it really really hard. 

I regret making concessions and changing our business tactics and strategies to please some far-off person from Google that we really didn’t have to. 

Aishwarya: I see, wow. It’s a little creepy to hear as well, right, somebody personally attacking you, and obviously as you said, it’s not going to be the other company’s terms for them to directly reach out to another person of another company, and this seems like more of a personal attack than it seems from the company. 

Rand: Yeah, and Google’s done this a bunch, right, use some combination of carrot and stick to gauge behavior, and now they’re powerful company, you know, now much more so than back then, but even then they were much more powerful in terms of the web, and web traffic, and people being able to find you and trust you, and especially for an SEO company, which ‘Moz’ was, you know, we thought it was so important to have good relationships there. Yeah, I wish I had been a little more mature. 

Aishwarya: You don’t have to regret much, Rand, because at that time it would’ve definitely taught you something, which you can pick up for the next couple of your ventures, as well. 

Rand: Right, I think one of the things I’d definitely do for my future companies, is not feel bullied by bigger players. 

Aishwarya: Yes, that’s such a strong part, actually, thanks for mentioning that.

Rand: Ah, it was my pleasure. 

Aishwarya: So thank you so much for your time today, Rand. It was such a pleasure to talk to you about dealing with depression through an entrepreneurial journey. I picked up a lot of lessons today, and I’m sure the listeners would also know about the struggles before starting up, and coping with everyday pressures at work, and shattering the stigmas while they function, or try to function as an organisation together.  

Rand: Well, thank you so much for having this great conversation with me, Aishwarya. I appreciate it. 

Aishwarya: All the best from LonePack for your SparkToro journey; I’m sure it is going to be really really interesting and exciting.  

Dear Songbird

Trigger warning: Mentions of depression, rape and related issues. 

 

‘Songbird, why dost thou bear a broken wing?’

Sarojini Naidu.

Wait, I know her! Naidu…Naidu…Yes! That freedom fighter, right? The one who went on Gandhi’s Dandi march with him? There’s even a very famous photo of them marching ahead to freedom.

Freedom…Independence…Such abstract concepts! As if freedom could be gained simply by drafting a constitution and establishing that you were no longer under some country’s thumb.

Speaking of countries…can you believe that India actually celebrates more than 60 national days? Me, I can count a maximum of five: Independence Day, Republic Day, Gandhi Jayanthi…Wait, what were the other two?

Going back…

Independence Day…August 15th…Good movies on all TV channels

Republic Day…January 26th…Good movies, plus I was initiated into GUIDES in 7th grade.

Gandhi Jayanthi…October 2nd…October 2nd

Why do I remember this day? Oh yeah! I once wrote an essay on how the Mahatma was a misogynist and was ostracised for it. If I remember correctly, I claimed that his ideas set women’s empowerment back by several centuries. Hey, don’t judge me, I was 13! And while I might have come on too strongly about accusing the father of our nation, I feel that I was justified in my other ideas.

I mean, why do we not celebrate the birthday of famous women? Like, Rani Lakshmibhai, or Kalpana Chawla, or Mary Kom, or Sarojini Naidu, or even-

Oh wait. Sarojini’s birthday is celebrated. On February 13th of every year, as National Women’s Day. Because she was one of the few people who fought for women empowerment, back when it was a barely-developed concept.

Back when we were just learning to walk on our own two feet.

Back when there were so many social and cultural pressures placed on us.

Back when sati and child marriage were fresh nightmares that we were struggling to recover from.

And the sad thing about nightmares? The fact that they are so personal that you can’t even talk to anyone about them.  Not that talking to anyone about anything is easy nowadays. I mean, there are tonnes of psychiatrists, counsellors, and well-wishers just waiting to help you, but is it easy to confide in them? Well, I feel that I speak for the womenfolk when I say that no, it is definitely not easy to talk about your woes and worries, be it domestic abuse, rape, coerced sex, or any other trauma.

Just the other day, I was pondering the depths of life and love on Google when I came across this extremely insightful UN report that claimed that 70% of married women in India experience one of the above-mentioned traumatic issues at least once in their lives. The same report says that one-third of these instances go unreported.  Scary, right?

Even scarier is the question of what women in Sarojini Naidu’s times would’ve done in those cases. Coupled with the fact that dialogue about mental health was non-existent back then, one can only imagine how difficult it could’ve been for anyone to talk about the hard times they were going through.

Today, figures show that more women become victims of depression, anxiety, or similar common mental disorders due to social and familial rejection, than due to any other reason. Throughout the years, women have battled suicidal thoughts, kept quiet about the worst kinds of abuse, and encountered probably thousands of sleepless nights, all because they consciously believed that they had to bear what they thought was normal in marital life. Being single was probably as harrowing an experience then as it is now, so that was no walk in the park, either.

Thinking about it now, I wonder; why is being single so difficult?

Why is being a woman so difficult?

More importantly, why is being a single woman so difficult (pun intended)?

We have come far as a society; we’re respecting women, supporting them, their education, their ambitions and careers. And that is an amazing thing, but there is still quite a lot to think about in terms of how far we’ve come in talking about women’s mental health.

Because we are still part of a society whose majority reserves the position of ‘breadwinner’ for men. Because we still follow a culture that says that women have to bear whatever is thrown in their way and suck it up. Because we still live in a period where the female foeticide and rape are very much a reality, though times are changing.

Times are changing, and it’s time to put our mental health and wellbeing first, before the opinions of the world. 

Wellbeing, both physical and emotional, involves not just getting better with the help of medicines or therapy but also staying that way. You’ve got to be confident, secure and satisfied with yourself; you’ve got to learn to love yourself. And let me tell you, the whole world will be an obstacle in your path. But it’s time to take a stand. 

We’re part of a world that tells us that femininity and fragility go hand in hand, but at the same time, gives us great burdens to bear. Is that the case with you? Show the world a picture of Mary Kom, the woman who is a symbol of strength and courage. 

We’re part of a world that tells us that the place of a woman is in taking care of the family, but at the same time, expects us to go great heights in all fields. Is that the case with you? Show the world a picture of Kalpana Chawla, the woman who conquered space.

We’re part of a world that will beat you down and tell you that your place is there, but at the same time, expect you to be bold and outgoing. Is that the case with you? Show the world a picture of Rani Lakshmibai, the warrior princess. 

We’re part of a world that will, time and again, judge you for what you were, but expect you to be more than you are. Is that the case with you? Show them a picture of you, who are perfect just the way you are. 

It’s time to display the phoenixes and eagles inside us, instead of the songbirds with broken wings that the world thinks we are. It’s time to rise and –

Wait! Songbird…Broken wings…Where have I heard these phrases before?

Oh right! Yes, it comes back to me now.

‘Songbird, why dost thou bear a broken wing?’

Sarojini Naidu.

Wait, I know her! Naidu…Naidu…Yes! That freedom fighter, right? The one who went on Gandhi’s Dandi march with him? There’s even a very famous…

 

 

 

Threads of a Noose

TRIGGER WARNING: Talks about teen suicide

If a picture speaks a thousand words,

Then, a million spoke the one I held.

Through shattered glass in battered frame,

Crystal to me, to others misspelled.

‘Mom!’, you say in exasperation,

For the hundredth time I compelled.

 

—————————————

 

Perhaps, I was too hard, suffocating,

Like all fathers but father no more…

But I thought I was giving you space,

To grow, find your feet, to soar.

I should have been there for you,

Should have knocked down that door.

 

—————————————

 

My face ashen, 

my fingers blue,

My knees are jelly,

I held onto you.

But they say, you’re no more,

Tell it ain’t true.

 

—————————————

 

Gather them, minutes slipped by,

Herd them to slaughter,

To where I am headed too.

Perhaps, I’ll go before, or after.

Details, perilous details, 

Not too long, no matter.

 

—————————————

Most people believe that children are not suicidal or get depressed. The above poem is inspired by the documentary, “Boy Interrupted” which solemnly captures the facts contrary to this belief. Here is the short description,

Evan Scott Perry received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder when he was a preteen, and in 2005, committed suicide at the age of 15. There was a family history of mental illness; his Uncle Scott had killed himself at 22 in 1971. Evan had first exhibited suicidal tendencies when he was only 5. Directed by his mother, filmmaker Dana Heinz Perry, the film traces Evan’s growing mental illness, including videotapes made throughout his short life and interviews with his friends and doctors.

The documentary captures the raw emotion that each of the family members went through. The inevitability of Evan’s suicide is apparent, yet we find ourselves rooting for him, just as his friends and family set their belief in his recovery. 

At one point, even the doctor is amazed at how Evan had built up the facade of sanity that concealed his ulterior motive of taking his life. This is an important example of how teens today have high functioning depression and often hide or even lie to close ones in the belief that they wouldn’t understand. 

Towards the end, it is impossible not to tear up along with Nicholas, Evan’s half-brother, who laments on not having had the chance to talk Evan out of attempting suicide. ‘It gets better’. That’s the truth. That’s all Nicholas wanted to say.  

The movie, a little over an hour and a half is a must watch and is available on YouTube. 

 

Of Courage and Cowardice

Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide and self harm

 “I’m sorry that I’m such a coward.”  

It was a WhatsApp text from a very close friend that I’m not sure was really meant to be sent, because it got deleted in a few seconds.  I was just about to question the meaning behind it, when the bell ringing distracted me. Quickly throwing my phone inside my bag, I rushed to the front bench, as a proper student would do, and forgot all about the message. 

That was two years back.

Fast forward to two days back, and I was sitting there, tears streaming down my cheeks, stuffing my face with popcorn, watching ‘A Star Is Born’.  

*Spoiler Alert*

To those of you who haven’t watched it, A Star Is Born is a musical romantic drama movie about a famous singer battling alcohol addiction (Bradley Cooper) and a young woman who also aspires to be a musician (Lady Gaga). Long story short, they fall in love, marry, and she achieves her dreams at the cost of his life. 

That’s right. Jack (Cooper) commits suicide at the end of the film, which gives Ally (Lady Gaga) the tearful motivation to pursue her ambition. 

At the end of the movie, Ally is (understandably) guilt-stricken, and feels that she is to blame for his death. 

*End of Spoiler*

I felt that it was like Beauty and the Beast with an alternate ending, what with the gradual falling in love, learning about each other, secrets kept, and all that, but the movie did get in a few points in it’s favour. Like the songs, for example. 

Though I felt that Lady Gaga’s voice didn’t really go with some of the lyrics; that she could not convey the depth of the lyrics, the soundtrack was very good, so kudos to Cooper and her. 

If asked for a review, I would give the movie a 3.0/5.0 and declare it as worth a one-time watch, just for Bradley Cooper’s charm. But we’re here to discuss more than that. 

Let’s go back to when I was 19 and naive.

Two months after that deleted WhatsApp message, I almost lost my friend to a bicycle accident, as we had everyone believe. 

My friend was rubbish at lying when it came to me, so I  managed to coax out the truth. My friend had decided to die that day, getting on a bicycle and riding down a busy road with closed eyes. 

“I’m so sorry.” Were the first words my friend said to me. 

Next came the words I had read two months prior; ‘I’m sorry that I’m such a coward.”

I found that I disagreed at that point, once I had gotten over my initial anger and shock.

I’ve always felt that suicide requires a certain amount of courage. The courage to leave your loved ones behind, the courage to give up all your hopes and dreams, and the courage to look past the potential consequences of your actions.  It is quite obvious then, that the people left behind, your near and dear ones, should require an even greater amount of courage. It is they who have to deal with the consequences of your actions, who have to choose to go on without you in their lives, and most importantly, they who should absolve themselves of blame and guilt.

One way in which you can alleviate your guilt is by identifying someone else who is going through a rough phase and helping them get over it.

Here is what you can do if you know someone who might need help:

  1. Notice the signs: Another thing that ‘A Star is Born’ got right was the signs of depression that Jack pulled off quite well. The addiction, the mood swings, the fits of anger, and the deep sorrow are all things that people suffering from depression often exhibit. Severe depression also reflects itself on the physical attributes of a person, like fatigue and insomnia. If you also notice one of these signs and see someone giving away their possessions or speaking with a sense of finality, chances are that they are about to take a bad decision.
     
  2. Speak out:  Most of those suffering from guilt, like Ally, think that maybe if they had shown enough love, it wouldn’t have happened. I used to think that, too, in the days following that incident. That’s a wrong notion, I realized, because depression is a sickness, and suicide is a decision that very sick people take. We are not all doctors, and we cannot all have cured them. Love or affection couldn’t have just changed Jack’s mind, as Bobby (Sam Elliot) tells Ally at the end of the movie.
    But if you identify someone else with depression, you can take that first step; you can talk to that person. Tell them that everything will be okay; provide constant encouragement. 
  3. Never give up:  You can convince yourself into thinking that if only you had given that smile, if only you had said those words, your loved one would have been there with you. The list of ‘If-only’ is endless, and every one of them will seem true to you at the moment of guilt. But they’re all impossible because unfortunately, every known piece of Time-Turners was smashed during the fight at the Ministry of Magic.
    On a more serious note, you can help the next person. You can help by never giving upon them. no matter how difficult that person is being, no matter how hopeless they seem. Keep talking to them; make them realize that you’re there for them. In most instances, the person would need professional help, so support them while they take that step.

The answer to the most commonly asked question, ‘What could I have done differently?’ is this: nothing. But the question, ‘What can I do now?’ has a more positive answer.

What is it that C. S. Lewis said? “You cannot go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

So reach out to those who need help; especially those who do not ask for it. 

Teach them to dance in the rain and count stars in the dark.  

Show them that self-love is the first step towards living a happy life. 

After all, as a wise man once said, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if only one remembers to turn on the light.”

-Pooja Krishna H A

A Look into Copycat Suicides

Trigger Warning: Mentions of Suicide and Self-harm

We might have probably heard of the word ‘copycat’ for the first time in the playground. This childish word being associated with a deathly term ‘suicide’ calls for a serious understanding. To briefly explain, A person is said to attempt copycat suicide if he is influenced by the same method of suicide as a famous star/celebrity. 

Many cases of suicides could’ve been prevented with the right kind of support offered at the right time. But several psychological factors like stress or peer pressure lead people to take decisions that lead to self-harm. In addition, when a person reads about suicidal news glorified by the media, it is likely to trigger suicidal thoughts in his mind at their lowest moments. Studies suggest that the rate of suicides has increased whenever a celebrity has committed suicide.

An example of this phenomenon is that of Marilyn Monroe, who died by suicide in 1962 and the suicide attempt rate increased by 12 per cent. But in the case of the Nirvana lead singer, Kurt Cobain in 1994, the media made an effort for a restricting report and it saw a decrease in the rate and increase in the helpline calls. Another case was in 2014 when the Oscar-winning star of “Good Morning, Vietnam”, Robert Williams, died of asphyxia (suffocation) after hanging himself at his home. Following this, it was found that there was a 32 per cent increase in the number of deaths from suffocation and a doubling in the number of calls received by the suicide prevention lifeline. The research also suggested that this was mainly because media amplified the news by providing even the smallest of details. A very recent example is of the controversial Netflix series ’13 reasons why’. An analysis of internet search said that in the 19 days after the series got aired in 2017, the search for the term ‘suicide’ rose by 20 per cent. 

It is very important to understand how a person’s attitude can change after a famous star’s death. they may start considering it to be a way out of all his problems and It is unfortunate that media doesn’t take enough care to report the news with delicacy and explicit warnings. Media is one of the most powerful weapons of democracy and it also has the power to influence imitation suicides, if it doesn’t follow the laid guidelines to report suicidal news. It shouldn’t be exaggerating their deaths. It is also on our part to not get moved by such news and call the suicide prevention lifeline even if we have the slightest idea to do so. There is surely a way out of every problem. Depression is a fight that can be won with the right support and self-belief. with determination and will power. Life is full of obstacles, but no such obstacle has the power to end life. Even if we don’t get what we deserve, we must learn to stand alone and fight it out, instead of harming ourselves. Do reach out for help, there is nothing more important than your mental well-being. 

 

The Aftermath

Life after depression is a silent revolution that takes place within a person. It is so pleasing to watch a life ahead of the darkness, you’ll enjoy the good days, learn from the bad ones. Be a part of important occasions, being available for sharing, being physically and mentally present, looking forward to the future and loving what the universe is preparing for you, Looking in the mirror and like what is seen there.

The core of mental well being is striking a balance of emotions. We’ve discussed how depression is an illness that makes your brain sick. The symptoms, the journey, than survival. 

What happens next?

Every illness is considered to be negative, frowned upon as it affects the normalcy of the functioning of the human body. The difference between the illness of mind and the illness of the body is that it affects us in a completely different perspective. Physical illness gets rid of toxins from your body once in for all. Or after a series of medicinal attention. While mental illness opens a door to self-awareness. It forces you to learn a lesson, take a chance, try new things out of your comfort zone. It teaches us a lot. Although it takes an awful lot of you and replaces it with something much more bigger and different, what happens when the depression finally does leave you? What happens when you finally heal? What does it feel like to find the light at the end of the tunnel?

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Well, all of these questions are hypothetical in nature. You are never ‘healed’ from mental illness. However, things start to get clarity, people suddenly become approachable. Someday, you’ll wake up and just feel better. You’d want to look good,  wear new clothes. The days after depression are extremely odd. After living in a mindset of ”I don’t deserve anything I have and I want” for a very long period, this will make us doubt ourselves, the self-doubting again lands us in the vicious cycle of ‘Am I good enough for this yet? ‘

And for a split second, it’ll feel like you’re spiralling back into the person you used to be during the depression. Here’s the thing about recovery, you’re never fully healed. It never truly leaves you. The way things feel will change, they will become more optimistic and open for learning. 

Fear turns into ‘things I can get better at if I practice more’. Insecurities change into ‘Yes, I look this way and I can control over it to an extent by eating healthy, keeping myself hydrated.’ Self-doubt turns into ‘I was able to get myself through something as exhausting as depression, I can handle this too’. Frustration and disappointment will turn into ‘I can do this one step at a time.’ 

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The process of healing, as a matter of fact, is not linear. The ups and downs are sometimes extreme. The extremes will make you want to lock yourself in your bedroom for a day or more in order to avoid social interaction, Mental breakdowns in a random sequence that don’t really have a prerequisite reason or purpose. The balance of emotions plays a vital role here. On some days, you’ll feel numb.

It’ll drag you down to a point where you’ll feel like you’re back to square one, but this is the exact same moment you need to understand that looking back only means you’ve come ahead.  Let’s not worry now. 

There’s hope, there are new beginnings awaiting. And it’s your time now. 

Step out, Breath. Be.

The Quest for the Silver Bullet

“Depression resembles a vampire”. The statement sliced through the cacophony of noises clouding my consciousness and conquered my attention. Like a beagle who had just got a sniff of a bone, my eyes lit up and darted across the room towards my best friend of many years, imploring her to explain what she meant by the statement. “I feel depression sucks hope and happiness from its victims just like a vampire would suck blood”, she continued. The people around, myself included shared their thoughts on the comparison but the conversation soon moved on to other topics. Somehow, the comparison she made stuck in my mind and my attempt at writing this is an effort at crystallizing my thoughts as to why I found the particular analogy interesting.

Vampires, ghosts, werewolves and other paranormal beings appear in the folklore of many cultures across the globe and are a part of our collective social conscience. Despite modern advances in science and education, belief in the supernatural remains as strong as ever with many surveys showing that a majority of people profess belief in some form of the supernatural. Many theories abound as to how and why humans as a species tend (and want?) to believe in monsters. One interesting viewpoint is that these beliefs are an irrational response to legitimate fears that imbibed in our ancestors a cultural aversion to places and situations which represented a real danger. For example, it is very likely that large aspects of the legends of monsters which roamed forests at night evolved as a result of early human’s fear of nocturnal predators. But as time passed, the creative wonder that is our minds concocted increasingly eerie and frightening versions of these myths and legends. As with every strong cultural belief that has stood the test of time, it involves a combination of fear and hope. While the “fear” aspect of the supernatural legends needs no explaining, the “hope” aspect is in the form of methods that true-believers could use to dispel these monsters. Some examples included garlic being used to ward off vampires. In fact, one object, in particular, has been so widely used in legends as a defence against the paranormal that it is used to denote a specific, failsafe solution to a problem – the silver bullet. In folklore, a bullet cast from silver is often the only weapon that is effective against a werewolf, witch, or other monsters.

With these facts in mind, my friend’s comparison of a mental health issue to a supernatural entity becomes more credible in my opinion. One of the major impediments to mental illness is denial. Just as people choose to ignore the mountains of evidence against the supernatural since it challenges their deep-set beliefs, very often people dealing with issues of the mind refuse to acknowledge that they need help. Similarly like the monsters of legends, paranoia and insecurity are just irrational reactions to legitimate grievances that we do not wish to acknowledge. However, the one similarity that I find most striking and the one that this article is going to largely deal with is the belief that there exists a silver bullet – a magic cure.

From my own experience, while I refused to actively seek out help from people in dealing with my depression, I clung to this fairy tale idea of a silver bullet – one single incident, person, belief or action that would help me overcome my inner demons. At my most desperate moments, my search for the silver bullet became an obsession. This obsession for immediate, painless redemption latched itself into anything that my mind could interact with. Family, friends, God, self-help books, that award that I always wanted to win, that dream job – the list went on. Like a chain smoker who convinced himself that he would quit the next day, my transformational healing was just around the corner. “If only I won the competition, I would gain my confidence and people would befriend me. “, “I just need to pray hard enough and one day, I ll awaken enlightened”, “If only I loved my friends, they would rescue me from my insecurities”. These were the thoughts that fuelled my paranoia as I spiralled further into the depths of anxiety and depression as each and every entity that I thought would redeem me did not. My blind belief in an external agency that would save me only further alienated me from the ones I cared about. My obsessive need for reassurance that they would pull me out spurned irrational thoughts of insecurity and fear which played havoc with the way I dealt with people.

Perhaps the most enlightening realization that I have had over the past year when I finally decided to reach out and seek professional help is that there is no silver bullet. My belief that one person, thing or event could single-handedly provide me with a new breath of life was badly misplaced. It turned out that defeating with depression wasn’t a quick, painless glorious moment as I had envisioned but instead a long-winding, sometimes messy affair which required commitment from my side and determination to face my darkest fears myself. And while it might seem counter-intuitive at first, the realization that my redemption did not lay in a single object was immensely liberating. I was able to be much more rational and level headed in my relationships with people and my expectations about events. It helped greatly with dealing with my anxiety and identifying and observing irrational thought patterns and I can confidently say that I have become a much happier person than I have been in a long while.

 

Looking back, I can see why I wanted to believe in a silver bullet. It took responsibility and agency for dealing with my issues away from me and helped me live a life of denial and self-hate. Perhaps, it also tied into the fantasy novels that I read which fed into the idea of war being won with one masterstroke or by a legendary hero. Who wouldn’t have been awestruck by the thundering roar of the brave cavalry galloping into the battlefield, trumpets and all as they swoop in to smash the armies of the bad guys to smithereens? It makes for great literature and gripping movies but does not translate well on a real battlefield. The wars in our world are won by engaging in long winding pitched battles, using strategic retreats and by soldiers fighting on in smelly trenches winning territory in agonizingly slow increments. It might not be glamorous but that’s just the way life is.

 

I would like to end with this quote:

“’Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were heading for the shore.”

  • Ray Bradbury

 

When it comes to mental illness, the silver bullet may paradoxically be the realization that there isn’t one. I have stopped my quest for the silver bullet, have you?

  • BloodRaven