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!