Sleep is a biological necessity. Contrary to what many people say, sleep deprivation is not a symbol of hard work , and sleep is not a luxury that can be traded for more work or sadly, even for parties. Name any bodily system- digestive, endocrine, immune- chances are, it is going to be affected by problems in sleep. Apart from the quality and quantity of sleep which are more frequently discussed, the regularity of our sleep-wake cycle is important too. It is ideal to have the required hours of sleep around the same time everyday, rather than sleeping at 10 p.m one day and at 2 a.m the next.
To maintain the rhythmicity of our sleep, body temperature, blood pressure and other biological activities, our body has an internal clock called the “circadian clock” that is primarily handled by the Suprachiasmatic nucleus of the brain (It is a mouthful, so let’s call it SCN). In a way, it is the internal representation of the 24-hours cycle that is calibrated by a lot of factors around and within us. It is ideal to have this biological clock synchronized with your social clock, because major incompatibilities between the two clocks can be distressing and can have negative effects on functioning. These incompatibilities which include “delays, advances and/or complete dysregulations of someone’s sleep-wake cycle”, if clinically significant, can be diagnosed as a disorder under the umbrella of “Circadian rhythm sleep disorders”. Find more information on the disorders here.
But why fix it?
Even if many of our cycles are not disrupted enough to warrant a clinical diagnosis, there is no reason to not fix it nonetheless, given there are evidence-based ways to do so.
The importance of a good night’s sleep has been outlined in a previous lonepack post. An irregular sleep-wake cycle takes a toll on our mental health too and we will be left to navigate through the day feeling irritated and unable to concentrate. There will be difficulty in fulfilling social obligations and a lot of time will go wasted in failed attempts to fall asleep. We will also feel a loss of control and predictability which would lead to frustration. To top it all off, motivation and productivity also will plummet. Research studies link this circadian rhythm disruption to Depression-like symptoms, anxiety, Bipolar disorder, and Schizophrenia. Note that this does NOT necessarily mean that irregular sleep cycles lead to these disorders, or are consequences of having such disorders; it just means they have a tendency to co-occur.
Now, the “HOW”
It is pertinent and fair that we clarify a few things at this point:
The following steps will probably be more helpful for those who wish to realign their sleep-wake pattern than for those who wish to sleep more.
There is also a real chance that some people might require professional help based on their personalized needs and history.
Light is the most important cue by which our internal body clock estimates the time of the day, which in turn translates to the time of our sleep or wakefulness. Recent research by Dr.Andrew Huberman and his team suggests that there are specialized cells in our eyes that can detect the yellow and blue wavelengths of the sky and communicate it to the SCN (the timekeeper that we talked about). In other words, our subconscious processing of the sky colour has the potential to adjust our internal clock. Leveraging it, approximately 8 minutes of watching the evening sky that transforms from light to dark can be a strong cue for our SCN. So take a look outside for a bit everyday to help with the cues for your SCN.
However, unlike our ancestors, the technology that we have has provided us with many sources of light other than the sun, which can confuse our brain clock. Although any light during night can be off-putting to our sleep, blue light has the highest capacity to suppress melatonin secretion (Melatonin is a hormone which is involved in making us sleepy). Now, apart from the obvious but difficult option of avoiding devices close to bedtime, there are other alternatives to iron this out. There are several applications out there that filter out the blue light from the devices and some phones have a built-in “Night mode” option that can help with this. So, use blue light filter applications or better yet, minimise screen time at night to help reset your sleep cycle.
Exercise and Sleep have a mutual, give-and-take relationship between them. Enough quality sleep is necessary to undergo exercise and appropriate exercise can help with sleep. It was found in a study that every hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity above an individual’s average can advance the onset of sleep by 18 minutes. So, make sure to get some optimal exercise in but also be aware that it is advised that people with disrupted sleep-wake cycles do not perform exercise close to bed time (5-6 hours before sleep) , as it may stimulate our nervous system and increase body temperature which is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.
Caffeine is ingested by most of us on a daily-basis in the form of tea, coffee or chocolates. But there are at least three ways by which caffeine interrupts sleep. It increases dopamine making you more alert, it suppresses melatonin and blocks adenosine, both of which play a role in making you sleepy. So, make sure to take caffeine only in the initial part of the day, as it has a long half-life period of around 6 hours, meaning it takes 6 hours for half of caffeine to get metabolized in your body.
We all have heard at some point that eating heavy before sleeping is bad, but how? Our digestive system does not actually turn off when we are asleep, but it does tend to slow down. So a heavy meal during the later part of the day may cause indigestion and/or the regurgitation of food and stomach acid which we call “acid reflux”. We might not realize that our sleep is affected by this but it does prevent us to enter deeper stages of sleep. So begin the day with larger meals and proceed to lighter ones as we near our desired sleep time.
5. Calming the nervous system
Apart from these, anything that has the tendency to calm our nervous system might work because a hyperactive brain and body are the villains of sleep initiation. Keeping the temperature a bit lower, meditation practices, or anything from music to weighted blankets can help in this regard. Using the bed only for sleeping and not for anything else allows us to form an association between the bed and a relaxed, sleepy state.
However, if certain factors like anxiety and stress have been playing a role, then you probably need more intervention to address the issues. Always remember, you gotta get the ZZZs, the right amount at the right time, to feel the YAYYs as you spring out of bed.
Would it just be a person sitting on a couch and pouring their heart out to a stranger? Or is the therapist going to swing a shiny crystal, making the client spill all of their past memories and unconscious thoughts ( suddenly, you recall reading about a peculiar theory by Sigmund Freud) . Well, the possibilities are endless and now you’re just really confused and nervous.
The society’s notion of therapy varies greatly, resulting in a lot of myths and confusion about what it really is.
What really is therapy?
Most psychological therapies are talk therapies, where the therapist tries to get an understanding of what is troubling the client and then uses different ways to approach and help with the issue.
Who should go to therapy?
Therapy isn’t only for those who have mental illnesses, but also for those coping with new environments, major life transitions, stress or even for those finding difficulty in maintaining relationships or not finding joy in things as they did before. The goal is not only to treat illness, but also to promote wellbeing in everyday life.
Now one might ask, how is therapy different from taking advice from a friend or a family member?
1. Therapy provides a safe space and is confidential. One does not need to worry about any judgement or the feeling of burdening someone. The therapist is there only to help us.
2. Therapists go through a lot of training to identify maladaptive thought patterns and help in the process of healing, helping the client in the process of self-reflection and recovery. The therapeutic relationship is very different from friendship.
3. Therapy is more scientific than being a product of opinions and biases. It provides long term value on how to deal with future situations, analysing various perspectives in making long term decisions. Also,there is a lot of research proving how important and helpful therapy is.
It’s also important to understand that therapy is of different types. While there might be different schools of thought when it comes to psychological therapies, they are all well-researched and are proven to aid in the process of well being.
Some of the different types of therapies are:
1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
This therapy revolves around the belief that one’s negative thoughts affect behaviour, causing trouble. The therapist works along with the client to help rewire these negative thoughts and beliefs, focusing on solutions to overcome them.
The therapist will try to explore how past experiences might influence one’s current troubles. The focus in this therapy is to identify hidden patterns or meanings in what the client says/ does, that might be contributing to the problem. The client and the therapist, together, work through these, focusing on emotional understanding and re-education.
Here, the therapist provides a supportive, empathetic environment in which the client can look at themselves in a non judgemental way, with honesty and acceptance, helping them maximize their potential.
This isn’t an exhaustive list ;there are so many other types of therapies as well, a few being dance and movement therapy, art therapy (spoiler alert: you don’t have to be good at dance or art for this) which stem from the belief that creative expression can help in the healing process and also help develop self- awareness. There are also family therapies and group therapies.
Therapy just aims to create a safe space, free of judgement and opinions. Ultimately, it is a tool which really helps individuals in trying to navigate difficult emotional and mental situations in the long run. Going to therapy is perfectly normal and it is for anyone and everyone.
If you find yourself being around people that make you feel like you’ll only ever be sad or if you keep hearing “you should be more positive about life,” “it’s not all bad,” “it could be worse,” welcome. I share your anger, I share your angst and I understand your frustration.
Toxic positivity leaves a very bitter aftertaste when trying to open up about one’s mental health condition. One single comment can downplay serious and dangerous mental health conditions, especially if it is chronic.
The sad part is that most people don’t realize the toxicity of “love and light” until much, much later.
How exactly do you ascertain your confidant is toxic-positive?
The “positive reaffirmations”– if you keep hearing “it’s going to be okay,” “it could be worse”, “you’re attracting negativity by being sad all the time,”- You have a toxic-positive friend/ associate.
The “down-playing”– if your worries or concerns; insecurities and sadnesses are deemed “unworthy” of attention and you are asked to “deal with it”, you have a toxic-positive associate. As a human being, it’s your birth-right to feel things- regardless of if they are “positive” or “negative”. You specifically need no one’s validation for the same.
The “you are killing the vibe”– while boundaries are important in any relationship and no one should be subjected to emotional burnout, saying rude/hurtful things to someone who is already hurting and therefore excluding them from activities is top tier toxic behavior. Leaving such a situation will improve your environment of healing.
The “divert yourself, get busy”– your mental health is important and requires attention and time. Piling work on your plate can cause severe burn-outs.
The “you always feed down” – with any mental health issue, recovery isn’t speedy. And you should have all the time in the world to deal with it healthily. If you find yourself being rushed into recovery, your associate is toxic.
How to avoid being toxic-positive confidant?
Acknowledge their feeling– you don’t need to understand or empathize with your friend’s emotions or decisions, but telling them it’s okay to feel that way will open up a comfort zone/ safe place for them.
Healthy processing – seeking professional help is paramount in any mental health situation. Apart from that, using services such as LonePack Buddy, reading and researching ways to cope with the different types of mental health disorders, and assisting your friend in practicing the same is a healthy manner to deal with difficult times.
Healing isn’t linear– understanding that sometimes despite steady improvement there are times when one can revert back to their old state. Being patient and giving room for such conditions and reassuring them is important. Healing isn’t always beautiful or linear. It is energy and time-consuming. If you do feel exhausted, take a step back without trampling on your friend’s journey. Check out our blog about setting up effective boundaries without feeling guilty!
How to distance yourself from a toxic-positive friend?
Set up effective boundaries.
Communicate your concern (in a nice way)- for example, “hey, f/n, I need a safe space to process/talk about my emotions, I understand that this might be heavy for you, but sometimes saying certain things is trivializing my actual condition, which isn’t healthy.”
Respect the relationship. Not everyone can be in total harmony at all times; however, respect the past and present you share. Simply distancing yourself from this person is enough. You don’t need to take it upon yourself to educate the said friend right now. You can do that later. The last thing you need right now is more drama.
What you really need when battling any kind of mental health issue:
Unconditional support, but in the right direction.
Understand your condition and care for it- just like caring for a fracture or a wound, treat your condition as if it were physical- do the things that augment healing, don’t over-exert!
Get professional help- Therapy is always good and seeking professional help can assist in speedier healing!
Remember, there is no sunshine without storms and there is no rainbow without rain clouds. To be absolutely healthy and sound, emotions need to be dealt with in waves. It is always an ongoing process, rather than a one-day event. Give yourself the time and right environment for the same.
We have entered into yet another year. And a new year gives us the perfect opportunity to start new habits. But the most common problem that we all face is keeping up with the habits that we set and following them through. When it comes to mental health, habit formation can be a really effective form of self-care. On the days that you feel like everything is too much, habits ingrained into your routine can help give that little push you need to do basic tasks that in turn might help you feel better.
But before we take a look at what habits might actually help with self-care, have you ever wondered what actually goes into forming habits?
Habit formation is essentially broken down into 3 parts
The action and
We are given an incentive to do the action and once done, we reward ourselves to keep the positive loop up. But complexities in real-life habits make habit formation not as simple as it sounds.
One of the popular studies that talks about habit formation looks at how automaticity relates to complexity of an activity . The study concludes that consistency in settings is key to keeping up the habit. The more we perform an action, the more it becomes easier to turn it into a habit. And the level of automaticity also depends on the complexity of the task. The more complex a task, the lesser we tend to do it and hence the longer it takes to turn it into a habit.
This gives us insight into what we can do to form effective habits — break them down into simpler, doable tasks. The simpler it is, the more times we are intrinsically motivated to it and the easier it turns into a habit. Now, how do we use habits as a form of self-care?
Habits as a form of automated self-care
Now that we’ve taken a look at what goes into forming habits, here are a few habits that you can consider building into your routine!
1. Planning out your whole day – One of the major things we struggle with, especially under the virtual environment we are working in given the pandemic, is feeling productive. Feeling unproductive can be a big let down and can weigh on us immensely.
Planning out your whole day on a calendar system with allocating blocks of time for each task you wish to complete can help you tackle your day better. You will have set goals in mind to achieve and you can even get them done with menial distractions. But also keep in mind to set realistic tasks that you can achieve without pushing yourself too much.
2. Logging your day – Journaling and keeping track of your thoughts and emotions can be a great way of understanding your own self. Identifying what causes you unease and distress can be a great way to work towards bettering them. Doing this can also be a great way to remember your days as much more than just blurs of passing time.
3. The 2 minute rule – This is something that is explained in the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. He goes on to say that if some activity can be completed in 2 minutes then it should be done right then rather than later. I’ve followed this myself and it is a great way to actually finish small tasks that build up with time and seem like mountains that tire you out to climb at the end of the day.
Things like making your bed, washing your small dishes as soon as you use them, arranging your shoes when you enter your home are all some examples of this habit that I’ve developed myself and it serves as small bursts of happiness and accomplishment at the end of a long day.
4. Meal-prepping – This one is actually something that has helped me quite a bit. As someone who has to cook their own food for every meal, every single day, it becomes very tiring very easily. Cooking can become more like a chore needed for survival than something to look forward to. While resorting to take-out is always an option, I prefer to meal-prep so that I can easily reheat my meals, save some money and also make sure I have a healthier diet, all of which help in feeling better about myself.
5. Exercise – This might be the most heard of tip, but believe me it works. I’m not a person who enjoys exercising nor do I particularly want to be social and go out but doing some form of physical activity really does help. It can be as short as a 10 minute yoga stretch/ workout or even a small walk in your terrace. But this habit, as cliche as it might be, works. Do not forget that physical health influences your mental well-being as well and remember to take breaks and take care of yourself.
Habits might seem very hard to form, but a small step a day can actually help build them quicker than you might believe. Start off with simple tasks and track them over a time period. Before you know it, you’ll have built effective habits that actually help you with your physical and mental well-being. Happy habit building!
 Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W., & Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998–1009.
We are all story books; mere living documentations of memories and experiences spiral bound by the pages of Time. Welcome to this chapter of LonePack Conversations. My name is Suhas, and today we have with us Mrs. Janaki Sabesh, a well-known actor, a mesmerizing theatre artist, and a charming storyteller.
Suhas: Welcome ma’am, how are you doing?
Janaki: I’m doing very well Suhas, thank you so much for making me a part of your LonePack Conversations.
Suhas: Just to start off ma’am, I want to understand how you’re doing, particularly in these times. So first of all, we’re super stoked to have you on with us here today. How have you been doing, how have you kept yourself busy in the times of this pandemic?
Janaki: So Suhas, I must confess it to, I think I’ve been more busy than ever before, and I think I should thank all the forces of the universe that have come together to make this possible. And why do I say that? I will explain because way back in —I mean, now it feels many, many months back— but it was just in March that I heard that children’s schools were going to shut down. You know, we were still not aware of the seriousness of this pandemic. And, you know, it has just started trickling in that schools are going to close early. And I said, all right, one day I said, why not I do something online? Because I had always shied away from going online because; and as an actor, as someone who seeks instant gratification, it’s very nice to be in the energy of an audience.
Janaki: You know, see the energy while you’re doing a story and feel the energy of the audience as they give you their love, their support, and their attention. So I teamed up with a small outfit called Little Trails, and I just asked them, should I go live? And they said this is a fantastic idea! And we put up a poster together at 10:30 in the morning and at 5:00 pm we will live on Instagram; and that was my starting point. And the way I um, what can I say, I was all overwhelmed with the kind of response that I got from people, not just children, but adults, mothers, fathers, who were suddenly, you know, sending me messages saying “ Please, please, please, can you continue doing this?” Because you know, we really didn’t know how to engage. And there were mothers who were still attending office. They said, “Are you going to continue doing this? Because then I can come half an hour early from the office”.
Janaki: I was like, Oh my God, I didn’t realize that here, I was, you know, trying to take my baby steps as it were to do something online. And since that day, it’s been really wonderful. It’s been a roller coaster ride because I have engaged not only with children but with a series of live performances on Instagram and where we would also follow it up with an activity from Little Trails, where Avanti is an artist. So she was able to connect the story. So if I did a story about a spider, she would do an activity about drawing a very funny spider. So we had all these children and we were engaging with children every day. So from there, we started doing workshops for children, which was, you know, those kinds of numbers, where about 700-800 people who are online from all over the world.
Suhas: Actually, that sounds very massive. It’s a massive scale.
Janaki: Yes, it is; and you know what we did Suhas, we also recorded the Instagram Live on our IGTV, that is on Little Trails’ IGTV. So all those who had missed watching it live went on the IGTV platform; and we were getting multiple views on IGTV as well. So it was, you know, I just, I don’t know, I don’t want to sound very philosophical here, but I’d like to share with all those who are listening that my icky guy, you know, my sense of my purpose of being every day is to put a smile out there; it’s to spread smiles. And I thought I was blessed because I was able to do that with my storytelling. And when children’s workshops happen, we create communities.
Janaki: We created a safe space where we even had chat shows with experts, everything on Instagram; and then slowly, I said, why do I need to do this only for children? I think I should include adults. Okay. So I started doing short stories for adults too. I also started a series that I normally curate face- to- face. I shifted it online, which is called Melody and Memory where you sing that particular song that’s always there, you know, playing in your mind, and then you tell me a short story about it.
Suhas: Yes. Essentially like connecting verses of music with a story!
Janaki: Absolutely. So if you have a story which is from an old-timer or a Hindi movie, but you will have a story connected, maybe that was the first time you heard your sister sing it, or an uncle singing it, you know, something like that. And you know, something, maybe he didn’t sing it well. So it could be a very funny memory. It could be a memory which has been inside you for a very long time. And I’ve had people coming to the show saying, Oh, I just want to listen in, but somebody else’s memory triggers off a memory in their youth for people to share. Then I started sharing stories for adults where I did mythology, I did a comedy, and another couple of weeks I’ll be doing something called taboo stories. So I think and then of course I kept learning by attending writing workshops, attending a workshop where I would just listen and gather a whole lot of knowledge about maybe certain aspects of storytelling, which I knew just little about. And I wanted to, you know, increase my knowledge then of course, courses, like on Udemy, on LinkedIn and also on Harappa Learning. So I’ve been doing a lot, you know what I think the moment your mind is active and is continuously busy, I think you just seem so happy; not to of course I have to mention that I’ve been also exercising. The gym has moved online. I don’t have any domestic help at home.
Suhas: Okay. So you’re busy doing work at home.
Janaki: Yes. But I have a very supportive family. So we all have, you know specific chores that we are very good.
Suhas: Okay so it’s very well divided and it’s not like a burden on one person.
Janaki: But at the same time, there’s no stress of saying “HEY you didn’t do this today”. It’s like today I have a podcast recording and if I had to do something else, somebody else would pitch in. I mean, we have a family of four with my mother-in-law at 91 who provides me with all the entertainment, because she comes up with her wise-cracks and, you know, talking about corona and things like that. I think I’m keeping myself busy.
Suhas: And the best part is the fact that you know even though you are busy, you don’t sound stressed out, or that you feel you HAVE to do it. Then it sounds like you would actually enjoy doing all the things that you are very happy doing. So that’s really great.
Janaki: Absolutely. So I was doing this Sunday morning conversations on Instagram, which was a live show with people, you know, from all walks of life like musicians, you know, we had, Ashish Vidyarthi and everybody; but it stopped at last Sunday because I said, “I need to take a break”. I didn’t want it to become stressful like “Oh who am I going to interview next Sunday?” If that becomes a point of stress, then I think I will not enjoy it. So I think that is very important. But the first thing is to recognize that.
Suhas: Definitely. I think the fact that you also are aware of that and that you acknowledge that point at which it becomes too much for you, and you decided to give it a halt over there. I think that’s, that’s a wonderful point to note. So I’m going to start off with essentially the first question of the episode. So you have juggled multiple roles through your life across so many fields, be it as a marketer, a mother, an actor, an artist, a thespian or as a storyteller. So how have each of these roles influenced your perspective of mental health over these years?
Janaki: Okay. So now the different professions that you have, the different roles, each one of them be it marketing, mother, actor, artist, theatre, storyteller; they all have different audiences. So for example, when I was marketing, I was marketing a product or service. So what happens is that I am the face of the organization, and when I go and travel and I’m trying to convince my client why he should go in for a product or why he should go in for us service. The conviction with which I tell them you know, my story, my company’s story, the vision of my organization is that is what will make or break the deal, right; or make, or break the trust as you know. So for me, that audience was very different and see, there’s a lot of responsibility and there’s a lot of how do I say it, you needed to be on call 24/7! It didn’t matter; because of being in the cinema industry, I was in the media and entertainment industry, selling a product like digital cinema. And, you know, before that I was doing that, I was handling a set of studios. So I was selling the service now in the cinema industry. You don’t have, especially in India, something like non-working hours; it’s like when you have to, you need to be there.
Suhas: Got it. Got it. So when you have to chip in to do your work, regardless of when it is, you have to be up to it.
Janaki: Absolutely. So you know it was stressful because see, a film releases on Friday, there would be a lot of issues, tension, but you have to be available. And it did take a, you know, it was stressful at times, but you know, the whole thing was to not take it too personally and take it to your heart, but I can easily say now, now that I no longer in the organization and no longer in a corporate avatar. But when I was going through, I won’t lie to you Suhas, it was stressful. You know sometimes you just feel like, why are you even here? But then what really charges you up is when you complete and when you, when you are convinced at what, the decision that you’ve taken and the fact that you’ve not lied to your customer, you’ve told them what was possible.
Janaki: And the trust that you give back to them saying that I will take care of your issue. So with that game, a lot of power, you know? You become so amazed at the quality of convincing somebody because you’re truthful. And you also trust your organization, your colleagues; if there was an issue to have solved the issue. So that is one audience, but then when you go to say, a theatre production, that influence that I got from corporate is that to be very convinced about what you’re seeing. So that is what came out of my corporate avatar. But in theater, in acting I always wanted you know, how do I say, I was always scared; I never wanted the director to retake a scene because I had made a mistake.
Suhas: You wanted to do your role in whatever the part with the best of its perfection in the first take itself!
Janaki: Yeah. So, I understand that itself is a little bit of stress on yourself. Sometimes inadvertently it will go wrong for whatever reason; we can’t by-heart our lines. We know our lines and we will say it in our own way, but sometimes some directors are very fixed on what they want. Because some directors say, “I’m giving you the gist of the scene. Now you say it”. Okay, of course you can’t use your own dialogues. There are dialogues written.
And so I had these, a team of assistant directors, always who used to help me out, they’ll all come and say “Ma’am ma’am, ipdi pannunga ma’am; if you do it this way, and I’m sure you can do it” you know? So sometimes the Tamizh will be a little hard, you know, it’s difficult, but somehow I managed. So from acting, I understood that, you know, you can’t stress yourself if, if there is a mistake. So be it, there’s always another take. It’s okay. It’s not the end of the world,
Suhas: But you know, on the flip side of that particular freedom and luxury isn’t particularly available in theatre because it’s a one-time run; you have to get it right.
Janaki: Exactly. So theater, again, this whole thing about, you know, becoming nervous. My mouth went dry and I was continuously having water. And it’s like, you know, you’re constantly thinking of the lines. At night you are not able to sleep because those lines keep coming back to you. But I think it comes with practice. The more you do so, you will find your own rhythm in your own dialogues, in the way you say those lines. Like for me, it is very visual. I really do plot points. You know the main important points; say I have a monologue and I have two pages of a monologue or three pages, I will know each paragraph that begins. I said, “Okay! I did A, then I went to B. Then I went to the next”, it is a sequence, right? So that way I always remember, you know, the scripts, your audience, doesn’t for you to bounce back, even if you’ve made a mistake, it’s up to you. And that that comes with experience.
Suhas: Of course, I definitely, I understand that. So just to form a gist of what we’ve spoken so far. You know, you mentioned about how, you know, even though you’ve had the elements of difficulty in your corporate tenure and in your acting I think could I say that you the fact that you have had some amount of job satisfaction and the fact that you delivered, really helped you mitigate that levels of stress that you had for the period right?
Janaki: See, and I was always there for my team also; my team of 40-45, you know colleagues. I was always there and it’s, it’s very happy. I’m so happy when I get messages even to this day saying, “Yeah, you were the best”. And they don’t have to because I’m no longer in the system. Some of them are also no longer in the system, but it is very, very um, you know, it gives you a lot of happiness and, you know, there’s a smile on my face and I read that; because you didn’t do it for that. Somebody will write to you 20 years later that you were the best or you help. I kept them together. I motivated them, you know, there was always, there was nothing that we can solve together. So that was something and the same applies, you know, when you go into different fields and as a storyteller, remember that you know, your audience becomes a participative audience.
Suhas: Okay. So you sort of have, like a feedback loop in that, the way you proceed also depends on how the audience interacts with you.
Janaki: Yeah. If they don’t like my story, which I will know in the first seven minutes, I’ll have to do something very dramatic.
Suhas: To catch their attention, yes.
Janaki: So that you innovate on the go. So, so each one has its beautiful moments Suhas.
Suhas: Okay. I definitely understand that. So now ma’am, just to sort of narrow down for the rest of the podcast, generations differ by several parameters across so many different filters, like as an artist you’re working closely and interacted with younger artists as well right? Is there a difference in how youngsters view mental health now? Compared to a back in the days a few decades ago, when you were a teenager and you started off.
Janaki: Totally; because when I was growing up, I don’t think mental health was even discussed at home unless there was somebody, you know, distant cousin or somebody who was going through an issue. And it was always looked at as an issue. Today’s generation, my God! Everybody speaks about it. I think to be, you know I think to borrow from what my daughter says, she says, “Ma you have a very different take on all this because you’re constantly surrounded by youngsters”. I work with a very young team in terms of storytelling, in terms of theater, you know, with Crea Shakti, with whom I do a lot of theater, I’m surrounded by youngsters who don’t have an issue talking about, “I had a bad day” and then it’s not a full stop. I had a bad day dot, dot dot. So others will pitch in.
Janaki: “So what happened? Explain to me”; and it’s not immediately “Let’s go to the doctor”. NO its like “We will try; we will help you with our circle”. And then that’s where I think our safe space becomes paramount. I think the youngsters of today have found a safe space. It could be their own friend circle, or maybe a bigger circle or people like you, you know, LonePack, where people are able to connect, and say that, “Hey, I’m going through this. Do you think you can help me? Or can you at least put me on to somebody?” Therapy and things like that, I mean, everybody discusses, everything threadbare now, which for somebody who’s just reading it, scrolling on Instagram or Facebook or any other forms of social media might say, “Oh my God, this one is feeling that I’ve been feeling the same, but I’ve, you know, restricted myself, I think I need to reach out”.
Suhas: Okay. So sometimes, you know, when you read about people’s stories on social media and you sort of relate to what they are feeling and you reflect upon those with yourself as well.
Suhas: Okay. Okay. I think there’s sort of a usual saying that hey there’s a generation gap here and there’s a stark difference here, maybe, you know, you’re one of the examples where again, because of your interactions and the way you’ve been engaging yourself, sort of tells us that your environment has played a major role in you know, sort of mending that gap, that supposed to be there for the generation.
Janaki: I’ll tell you one more thing. I have a 91 year old mother-in-law staying with us and she has never, you know, I think it’s also the family, the way you’ve been brought up in not just in my parent’s home, but with my mother-in-law’s as well. They don’t they don’t shy away from talking about these things; these are not taboo words. These are not taboo topics
Suhas: Understood, on the outset. Do you feel like that mental health is still a taboo now? Even though you’ve spoken a lot about it?
Janaki: No. No, I don’t think so. No, no. I’ll tell you what I think. I, I think the way it has been portrayed and the way people are sharing, you know, everybody has their own take on social media and all, but it’s how much you consume and for what purpose.
Suhas: That totally makes sense. So I think, you know, now that you’ve spoken a little bit about your own personal ideations about this a little bit on the professional side, right? Moving on, cinema, theater, and art have played a big role in influencing the perceptions and thoughts society has about various issues and various topics in it. So do you believe that these communities are doing justice to portray mental health issues on the screen or on stage? If yes, how is it? And if not, how do you think that needs to change?
Janaki: So I, I bring out two movies which have impacted me in the sense, and I think in fact, impacted society, one is of course is Taare Zameen Par which brought out dyslexia, and which was, I think the starting point for many parents. I have a friend who, you know, a friend’s friend who said that, “My God, now I can, you know, say to the open, it’s no longer a taboo. It’s no longer something that’s to shy away”. Sometimes you need to share. And for all, you know, it might just take you at, it was not just dyslexia. It was all parenting issues. It’s all about this, you know, being in the rat race, making sure that your child is forever coming first. This class and that class, you’re not, there are so many times I’ve told parents of very young ones. “Just let them be; allow them to stare into the walls because they need to dream. That’s when you know everything in, all the butterflies in their heads will set it down”n and then they’ll be energized and re-energized just because they have one hour or two hours of time. We don’t put them in class, not even storytelling, just make them, they should come and tell you that we need to go somewhere. So that was one. And secondly, a film which I really, really am very fond of is Dear Zindagi, which normalized therapy. Shah Rukh Khan says a very beautiful dialogue there, he says that “As a child we’ve never been allowed to express our emotions. If we are angry, we are said, no, no, no, you can’t be angry. No, no, no. Wipe your tears. And when, you want to express love? What then?”
Janaki: How can you express? You know what I mean? It was all of course in the context of Alia, but the protagonist. But I have seen that even. It’s still my go to a film whenever I am seeing, like, you know, I need to learn more about why people say certain things and you know it’s so judgmental. We can be so ruthless sometimes, you know, somebody said, we don’t realize what that person is saying, and we view it out of context. You know? So for me, I think I’m, I’m sure that I’m many others, like in Tamizh Aarohanam talks about Bipolar Disorder. So these are things that I hadn’t even heard of; like Bipolar Disorder, so it makes you want to research.
Suhas: Okay so you’re telling that there have been a few movies which have been very impactful in what they aim to do.
Janaki: But at the same time, there are clichés. Now at the moment, there is somebody who, who doesn’t speak the same way as you do or language, or he’s a little different. You can’t just say that he’s been put into a mental asylum. Yeah. This is unfortunately too huge, you know, poles apart
Suhas: Even though, even though it’s sort of exaggerated for the dramatics, it sort of puts out a wrong message at times.
Janaki: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you do it because you want to show, and it does like, you know, in all advertisements where they have to depict this out. So it is stereotyping a lot of imagery and we need to get out of it. People need to do a lot of research. I would urge people who are into these kinds of topics to speak to people. And that’s when I know that even in theater, Kirukku Nagaram for which they did a lot of research with LonePack and I remember watching it and then it blew me away. And I was like, “My God”, is this how, as a society, we react to people with mental illness?
Suhas: I think I remember, I know the whole reaction to that play which was really good.
Janaki: Just to complete, that needs to be done to bring about something as strong as theatre or cinema, because we consume it! We are such great consumers of this art form that it could really be the way forward to bringing about a lot of key issues to light.
Suhas: Definitely because I totally agree with you; I’ve watched movies across so many languages and, you know, with the advent of various OTT platforms this has also been bridged. I indulge in a bit of theater myself, and I have a lot of friends in the theater circle. But I think I totally agree with you on what you said, about the stereotypes Haven’t noticed that day I think that [inaudible] doing good and Vicky says, and you know the mainstream audiences so with respect to the movies how do you think the scales are tipping impact on people with respect to mental health?
Janaki: But it started already. So now it shouldn’t be difficult for us because there’ve been already films made in this genre and it just showed us, we need to be very, the topic has to be very sensitively handled that’s all, sensitivity with a lot of research. It’s not just enough to make people cry buckets, you know, at the end of it, if people understand and say, Oh, and they want to say, Oh, okay, this is a different point of view. And I’ve been like, if I disliked a neighbour, I am seeing it only from my point of view, right? What if we suddenly change from her point of view, I might be missing something; and we never do that. Right? When we get into a fight, it’s always me against that person.
Suhas: Okay. So if I may, you know simplify, I think you’re talking about empathy and about how one should be mindful of how you are to people, why you think people might be reacting in a certain way. So empathy is very important as a characteristic for people to nurture.
Suhas: Okay. That sounds really great to hear that from you. So I think I’ll move on to one of our final questions. So, very recently a lot of talk has been happening with respect to mental health, especially in the world of cinema. So regardless of the language, cinema continues to be very fast-paced, dynamic, and being the public eye is also so difficult and not very easy. The paparazzi are always around; so could you shed some light on the relationships and emotions shared across artists that grow in the industry? How do they interact with each other? Are they always very stressed? It’s something that’s never seen to be public, the lives of people in these industries, how they are as people on the outside.
Janaki: If one sees my body of work, I’ve done about 30 films, I think since 1994, so 27 years 30 films, that’s all, I’ve been very choosy because that’s what I was, I was handling a corporate life also, you know? And so I think I’ve been very lucky and having said that I’ve been very, very shy from the media as such. People write about me, if there is a theater or something, or some collaboration or something like that. But I will tell you something that my mentor told me a long time back when I had, I think my first film had released or second film I think, Jeans. And he said “Janaki remember that even after all your films, you should still be able to sit in an auto and go home”.
Janaki: So subconsciously, I think that stayed with me and I’ve done exactly that because I can still take an auto, we’ll have a very nice conversation with the automan. I’ve seen it with some there, and then we have this conversation and he finally said, “Oh my God, Ghilli, Vijay-mother” and all that. So I enjoyed that because it gives you a kick. But at the same time, I, I do understand that this whole thing about [the paparazzi], you know, I remember one time when I was in Pondicherry a lot of people who said, “Hey, inga parunga Vijay amma” I was petrified and went and ran into a shop and hid myself because I didn’t know how to react because I don’t know. I can’t even explain that. But when I was in Sri Lanka many, many years ago, when my first film had released and a whole lot of school children came and recognized me, I was okay with it, maybe because it was the first thing.
Janaki: So even as we evolve and the ways we react to situations also change. But for my other colleagues and all I hardly meet them. It’s always on the set and on the set, I’m very happy with my book. So it’s only during the short end that we all during lunchtime are direct. And then we go back to you know, other rooms or wherever via setting, but I I make it a point to speak and, you know, I’m always in search of my learning, you know, now I, again, I don’t want to stress myself saying, “Oh I didn’t learn anything today.” Not like that. It’s just nice to hear somebody else’s journey and you don’t orchestrate these conversations. It happens on the go!
Suhas: It’s not like you sit and talk about it, it’s just something that happens when you talk in the evening with friends, or just when you’re talking with anyone, you learn about new things and then you think about it and then you probably extract some type of learning.
Janaki: It’ll come; it’ll pop up one day when you’re doing something else.
Suhas: Okay. Okay. That sounds really interesting and I’m glad, you know you’ve also evolved so much with respect to how people react in such situations. And it’s great to see that you’re comfortable taking the roads and sometimes, you know, who knows the fact that somebody spoke to you might even make their day they’d be happy and the same auto-wala would probably go and be like “Hey I spoke to Vijay amma” your buddies that would probably give them a really good sense of, you know, content for that particular day.
Janaki: Let me tell you a joke that happened. My daughter came in and the auto guy dropped her off. And he asked her “So neenga indha building la irkeengala?” [ So do you stay in this building?] ; And she said, “Yeah”. And she was giving him the change, and he saidUngalakku theriyuma? Indha building la dhaan Vijay oda amma, Ghilli”, [Do you know? In this building Vijay’s mother from Ghilli stays]. She came and said, “Ma you’re very famous.” I didn’t realize that it was very cute and you just felt nice about it like that, you know? So these things happen and you just take it in straight.
Suhas: I definitely, I think I totally understand how that feels. So this is sort of to slide into the final question wrap this up. We’ve spoken up so many things, both personal and professional, and I think one of the most pressing questions and topics in this field of mental health, professional help. So along with professional help, we require the support of friends and family when you’re going through a difficult time. So what you can, each of us individually should keep in mind when we’re interacting with somebody else?
Janaki: Okay. So I think the first thing which is something that I really, really want to even speak about and emphasize, even for myself, is to be kind to people. We have no clue what they are going through. We all wear masks and we are so amazing at wearing these masks; unless and until you know that person inside-out, you’ll see through. Even like when I’m speaking to my daughter and suppose she’s not here, she’s not in town. She hears. And she says, “Ma you, okay?” So it’s, it’s as simple as that, you know? And because she asked me if I’m okay, and because she’s my daughter, and it’s a very safe conversation that you can have with your daughter, because she’s not going to judge, you, up saying something that disturbed you, something that you will not happy, but you can’t always rely only on family members, because they are also going through their own journeys.
Janaki: So you need that one person, or you need one person, who’s your friend, or you need that safety network of friends or people, who are actually qualified to ask you some questions. It’s not like one of these “Joram iruka? Evlo irundhudhu?” [Do you have fever? How much is it?] It’s not that it’s like, do you want to talk sometimes just a simple line, some simple question, like this can completely change somebody’s life. Do you want to talk? And that person breaks down or says, yes, I want to talk. You’re not to pick up that call, to pick up the phone and talk to somebody, it takes a lot of what do I say? Lots of ups, something from inside that pushes you, which forces you to pick up because otherwise it’s easy. We can always say, no, no, I don’t want to call it today.
Janaki: You’re only delaying that call, but the more you delay that call, the more horrible you will be feeling. So I think A, be kind and don’t judge, they’re going through something and please, we can never say, “Oh, I understand what you’re going through”. You will never be able to understand that is what they’re going through. So I always, I have seen so many TED talks, you know, ‘The 10 ways of having a conversation’, all these are mindfulness, all these are going, because I tried to, I want to become a better version of myself. I keep striving because I don’t want to hurt people with statements. I’m very, very mindful of what I speak now, because earlier we’ve all made mistakes. We’re all human. Yes. And I think everyone has a story. Everyone has a backstory, as they say, you know, you like Steve Jobs says you can only connect the dots, you know, backwards, right? Yeah. So when you, when you, when you connect those dots, only you realize, Oh my God, if I had not said that that day, maybe I would have never come to this phone today, but then you’re not God, it’s okay.
Suhas: Sometimes when we make mistakes. It’s okay to acknowledge that you made it and then try to react on how to go about it before even realizing that you made one and react about it.
Janaki: Absolutely. And I think if you’re being mindful, it’s very easy for me to say it is, it is not easy. It comes with a lot of experience, practice, and maturity. You know, there is something in music and Hindi, they say the ‘tehra’, or ‘nidhanam.’ That is even when you’re telling a story, you can’t go *wadadadadada*. “Once Upon a time” [slowly], you need everyone to soak in your story. So if you want people to even listen to you, you need to first understand that it’s okay to share, but you need to create that safe space, that safe network that, that one person or two people—it could be in the family, it could be your best friend. It could be maybe an ex-colleague who’s, you know, turned out to be your best friend now. So these are things—in these strange times, the pandemic has taught me so much saying that, you can push your limits and, go there, get out of your comfort zone. But the day you are not feeling comfortable, just keep quiet.
Suhas: I think, you know, that’s very important to know that. I think this answer was, can I say that this answer really sums up how you are and your philosophy about things in life itself?
Janaki: Yes, because there are some days I do nothing and it is okay. I used to stress about not having done anything, but I don’t longer stress. It’s okay! It’s okay to feel bad for 24 hours. It’s okay to not feel good some days. But you have to snap out of it. And if you’re unable to snap out of it, go and go ask for some help. It’s okay to not be okay, and then ask somebody for help.
Suhas: I think that really sums up you know, the whole idea about mental health and the fact that conversations are important. I think I’ll be happy with the way this whole conversation in the last half hour has turned out to be really good. You know just to sort of loop in something you said at the beginning, you felt very shy and weren’t very sure on how to interact on the online space, but I’ve been following you for very long and let me tell you ma’am, you’re very enthusiastic to watch and it instills the energy back in us. I think that’s a wonderful thing to be doing.
Suhas: Just before I close off, I’d like to bring something that you’ve spoken about right. You’ve spoken a lot about the importance of a safe space, a non-judgmental safe space where people can talk; that can be your friends or family or anybody else who you know you’re comfortable sharing your feelings with. We at LonePack have also understood the importance of this, and keeping this in mind, we’ve designed an online virtual space where people can do the same thing. It’s called LonePack Buddy, and the whole essence of LonePack Buddy is to provide a non-judgmental safe space, which is also anonymous, where people can talk to other volunteers from our end. People who volunteer with us are also trained with us in a course where they know how to talk to people actively and invest themselves emotionally and ensure that they can help people on a temporary basis. Of course, this is not a replacement for therapy. Just like you said, it’s good to have someone to have someone to talk to and you know, some days with the conversation you learn a lot about yourself when you talk to somebody, especially when someone is there to listen to you. So I think that’s the whole essence of LonePack Buddy. We just wanted to let you know so that you or somebody else who probably would want to talk can use this facility.
Janaki: I think it’s a wonderful initiative because I think like in the corporate world, when you say buddy, it’s like when somebody joins the company and you know, that person needs somebody to help get started. He needs help to understand the company better, the processes better. So I think a buddy like this, a LonePack buddy will be so good for people to understand because I, they will be non-judgmental, you know, and that is what I think we need in these times, especially in these times. Thank you for even launching that, and I think that’s a wonderful initiative and I know LonePack is doing some amazing work and I know you’re doing it very quietly. And I know that I think we need to inform a whole lot of people, especially in these times when people just need the need to just pick up the call and talk. It’ll be, I don’t know, we can’t put ourselves in their shoes.
Suhas: Definitely, I agree. This has been a very heartening conversation to have with you. Thank you so much for firstly agreeing to do this by taking time off your day and engaging with us. We hope that we can share a lot from you and collaborate further and I wish you an amazing day ahead and thank you so much for this.
Janaki: Thank you so much Suhas, and thank you LonePack, continue to do whatever you’re doing. And I will always be there and whatever way I can contribute for LonePack.
Suhas: Alright, thank you so much. I’d also leave a message to all the listeners that we’ve had listening to this wonderful conversation. Thank you and have a good day.
Over a decade ago, when there were no queer Indian voices online and no safe spaces for queer people to connect offline, Sakshi Juneja and her friends decided that they would begin the conversation about what it meant to be gay and desi, in other words- ‘Gaysi’. What started as a simple blog for queer desis to share their stories, has grown into a community that exists not just online but offline too. In addition to its forum for people to share stories, Gaysi features articles from prominent voices in the LGBTQ+ community, hosts events and screenings, has its own magazine- the ‘Gaysi Zine’, collaborates with major brands and has been featured in several national and international mainstream media publications. Want to learn more about Gaysi and the queer community? Keep listening.
Ruchika- Welcome to LonePack Conversations. I’m your host, Ruchika. Today on the show, we have with us Jo- a doctoral student of Anthropology and the Digital Editor at Gaysi. Jo, tell us a little bit more about yourself and how you became a part of the queer community.
Jo- Hi, Ruchika. Thank you so much for having me here, firstly. I’m Jo. I’m a 25 year old research scholar in London. I study Anthropology and my area of work is Queer theory, sex work, lots of different things which I will not go into because it’s a different conversation. Well, I have comparatively been pretty new to the Indian queer community because I grew up in Gulf countries. I grew up in Riyadh and Sharjah for most of my life and it’s only when I got to India that I had so much more information to access that I could actually explore my sexuality and understand where I stand within the spectrums of sexuality and gender. So, I’m only about six years old within the community but those six years have been such a learning curve upwards, only upwards of learning and continuously seeing, doing, being part of the community, being very heavily involved with the community.
So, I think the first time I was exposed to the existence of somebody who is not as hetero-normative as I had seen throughout my childhood would be a close friend, when I was in my journalism degree in Bombay. After that, it was quite obvious because there was the Pride Parade that was happening in Bombay and Bombay is a very queer city in terms of its queer history. So, I had access to a lot of people, a lot of stories, a lot of voices I could talk to and then I went to Bangalore for my Master’s degree and then I got introduced to the larger Bangalore queer community as well, which has a very different texture to the Bombay queer community. That’s how I learnt so much from them as well and that is when I joined Gaysi.
So, I joined Gaysi as a writer initially and that’s how I had applied to Gaysi and they told me that I can do well as an editor as well and that’s how I sort of landed my dream job because for any queer young Indian to work with Gaysi has always been a dream because they have been such a solid pole star kind of a voice for so many of us for like the past ten or eleven years. So for me, working for Gaysi was something I didn’t expect, to be working in the close capacity that I’m working in right now.
Ruchika- Yeah, I agree that working with Gaysi would be a dream for many in the queer community. So, Gaysi as an organization does not just go by the name ‘Gaysi’ but by the name ‘Gaysi Family’. So, could you elaborate on why and how the choice came about to name it this way and how do you extend this notion of being a family with the larger queer community through your online as well as offline events?
Jo- So, if you were to think about only the semantics of the name, Gaysi started as a space where- Sakshi felt like there needs to be a space where- all kinds of people can speak about anything that they want as long as they’re queer and desi because there was no space for them to even share the most basic things. For example, when you go to a movie and you see some sort of a female friendship that looked as though it had a queer subtext, there’s no friend you could have told it to because you might be a closeted queer person. So, Gaysi was that space where you could just come and write, even if it’s just four lines. It didn’t have to be a heavily edited article, it didn’t have to be a long form seven thousand word article. It could just be five lines of why somebody felt ‘Fire’, as a movie in ‘95, was a great film to begin with. It could just be those four lines or five lines.
I think Sakshi wanted to create that family and for us, within the queer community, the concept of chosen families is very very important and I think that’s something to do with most marginalized communities because in the case of whether it’s queer families or whether it is sex workers, it could be anybody. When I think of most marginalized communities, it’s very important to have external families. Most of us would call those families “friends” but it’s a lot more because in the case of queer folks, most of our biological families might have a lot of trouble wrapping their heads around the fact that our existence is completely normal because they’ve never been taught that our existence is normal. They’ve always been taught within hetero-normative structures, that being gay, being queer, being a lesbian, being asexual, not conforming to gender, is something that is deviant behavior and not something that is completely normal and that has been around for way more centuries than even colonialism has been in our country.
Being queer is nothing new although that’s the common misconception and the stigma that is attached to being queer, which is why chosen families play such an important role because let’s say for example, I have a very close friend of mine who has an extremely difficult family right now. They are continuously triggered, they are continuously told that they don’t matter, that they’re not valid, that they’re thoughts don’t matter. They are constantly put in pressure to go and seek therapy to make them “normal”. They find peace when they talk to me and my partner, which is why they call us their parents, their pseudo-parents because that sort of parental help that we can give like for example, when this person had to write their IELTS exam, which is an English exam, I was there to walk them through the entire exam because I wrote it with them so it’s not only about a friendship but it’s something more as well because they can actually fall back on you and those friends who are more family than friends are very very very vital to the survival of queer folks because without them, it’s a very difficult world to live in. We all know about the rates of depression and suicide that affects the queer community or marginalized communities more than it affects those who are in a space of privilege.
So, yeah, I hope that answers your question about why it’s called ‘Gaysi Family’ and not just ‘Gaysi’ although colloquially we just say ‘Gaysi’, nobody says ‘Gaysi Family’ but that was the idea and that segues into the fact that chosen families are super important.
Ruchika- Yeah. While the LGBTQ+ community on the whole still has a long way to go in India to find complete acceptance, the LBT individuals in particular do not have enough support. Gaysi, however, has made a special effort to be inclusive towards these individuals. How and why did this happen? Was it something that you did intentionally or did it come about organically?
Jo- It’s a very interesting question, first of all because it’s very central to Gaysi’s functioning, talking about LBT individuals. So, well, yes. Firstly, we do have a long way to go, specifically when we talk about the fact that we’re still not seem as equals even though because of the amendment of section 377, we can see that at least we can have sex equally, to heterosexual couples but that’s not enough because letting people have sex is obviously not the government’s purview but I guess that’s one thing to be grateful for because for a lot of us, we are more content with the privacy law rather than section 377 although section 377 is a very high-profile law which is why there was so much celebration around it but the Privacy law did a lot more for queer individuals because it very clearly started that sexual orientation and gender identity is a private matter, which is a very important step but of course, because of the Trans Bill right now, we have gone two centuries back because the Trans Bill is a horrendous bill that has come out and that’s the first thing we need to be solving.
Then there is same-sex marriage acts that we have to talk about, we have to talk about the anti-trafficking bill, which convoluted all kinds of different groups- it affects trans sex workers, it affects cis queer sex workers as well so yeah, it is a very messy journey but none of our rights, whether it’s feminism, Black rights, any sort of rights in the World, none of it came easily, none of it came without tonnes of us fighting extremely hard but it has to happen because otherwise there is no freedom for all of us together so, yeah, that’s one part of the question. For the other part of the question, about the LBT community, firstly I want to clarify that when we say LBT, it would include everybody who is a gender, sexual and romantic minority, it does not only include Lesbians, bisexual people and trans people, so I just wanted to make that clear.
Firstly, the fact that Gaysi was created by cis-gender queer women who identify themselves as lesbians already creates a space where the needs of those who are are not cis-gender gay men will be put forth more than the needs of cis-gender gay men, if I’m clear. So, I’ll make that clear in the next few sentences as I go. Gaysi was created because there was already some amount of a space for cis-gay men in the Bombay queer community for them to speak about, meet, stuff like that and I think one thing we forget is that patriarchy still allows for cis-gender heterosexual men and cis-gender gay men to access public space in a way that people who are not cis-gender gay men cannot access public space because for us, in most cases, let’s say cis women, will be shut off at home if somebody finds out that they are gay. They cannot ward of marriage in the same way that cis men might be able to, for example. There are lots of things we can’t do. So, keeping that in mind as well, the space that has to be built for people within LBT communities has to be different from the space that has always existed in public space for cis gay men, which is why when it comes to Gaysi as well, when we started doing our parties, our two-by-two parties, we wanted to specifically create a space that LBT people can access freely and as openly as possible, which does not have to be absolutely mixed with cis gay men because, because of the amount of spaces that are already available, I have been to parties where there were eight percent men and twenty percent, everybody else.
That made me feel very uncomfortable because I was not able to enjoy the space in the same way that I would have enjoyed it in any other space and especially when it comes to non-binary people or trans people or people who like to cross-dress or people who have any sort of different gender identity than cis-gender, that space is not available even now, I would say. Even after Gaysi, not enough spaces are available for all minorities in public space and this is still something Gaysi has to work on. I’m not saying we’ve created this epitome of awesome space but it’s something that we have very purposely tried to do because we have to do that. Making of space and ensuring that all communities and minorities are centred and given space, does not always happen organically so it is very important that people purposely be allies to these communities, very purposely ensure that their space is valued and kept in the centre, especially if they’ve not had that access. So, I hope this answer wasn’t too academic. (laughs)
Ruchika- It’s great to hear that Gaysi is being proactive towards this cause but I’d like to ask you another question. Members of the gay community are often stereotyped into moulds that can be very problematic. For example, lesbian and bisexual women of the community are very largely fetishized in pop culture. In your life and in your work with Gaysi, have you come across such instances and how do you suggest that we tackle them?
Jo- Yes, of course! Fetishization is a major problem. I mean of course, one of the first things I came across when I was a child that had to do anything with the community was lesbian porn because I though people were only lesbians when it came to porn, I didn’t think it was a real thing because that’s the kind of stigma that we’ve been fed. That it’s a preference, it’s a choice that you make in bed and not that it’s an actual romantic sexual emotional feeling towards another person which is completely as normal as heterosexuality, So, of course that totally exists and it stems from the stigma that any sexuality other than heterosexuality is not real, which is why a woman on woman kind of relationship is very stigmatized, it’s a sexualized view and even the first time when we talk about bisexiality and how stigmatized it is, for most bisexual people, especially if they are assigned female at birth, if they go on Tinder and they’re trying to look for somebody, usually you get couples who ask for somebody for a threesome so that’s what most people are reduced to. So, again that’s another thing.
That’s part of the stigma that’s attached to the community that says that this is all bisexual people and lesbian people are worth and that is what their function is in life and it’s sad because while that’s what they might be interested in, you are not taking an effort to learn more about them, about their likes, their dislikes and you reduce an entire person to their sexuality, which is the problem, right? So that’s that about the stigma, that it does exist. You don’t see it as much in the case of gay men because I actually know a lot of gay men who’ve asked me how I can like women and I’m like “just like how you can like men.” How does that make sense? So there is a lot of stigma within the community itself.
Within the community there are homosexual people who think bisexuality is a just a path to homosexuality rather than a very valid sexual orientation and I mean there is a stigma within the homosexual and bisexual communities, there are people who think that asexuality is not valid and I identify as asexual and it’s my lived experience that I do not feel sexual attraction towards a person I love very much on an everyday basis or there is a certain way that I have understood my sexuality and I would say that all these things have always existed within us, we just have words and a language for it, that is it.
All of us feel certain things. Human beings are very complex. If we can understand that our bodies are so complex and we can have five hundred organs doing five hundred things, why can we not understand that we have five hundred feelings and systems and this and that doing different functions for us? It’s as simple as that. I think this largely ties to the understanding also of mental health. If you cannot understand that mental health and physical health is very on par and should be taken care of on a serious level on par with each other, that is also why you cannot understand that emotions and feelings can be as diverse as your own bodily functions, if that makes sense.
Ruchika- Yeah, I completely agree with you about the continuum between mental and physical health. Speaking of that, there are studies that report that members of the queer community are at greater risk of developing mental health issues but for many members of this community, access to safe mental healthcare is a challenge. So can you elaborate for our listeners on this topic? What can we do to remove the barriers that the community faces?
Jo- Yes, I completely agree. There is a major issue with how much queer folks face mental health issues because the spaces that they live in and grew up in are extraordinarily different from how it is to live as a hetero-normative person who is adhering to most of society’s standards. For example, let’s say there will be a very clear difference in attitudes towards a heterosexual sibling and a homosexual sibling because the homosexual sibling is not seen as a normal part of the family at all. The family themselves have not learnt anything beyond hetero-normativity so the homosexual child will be treated differently. A child, for example, if they have been assigned male at birth and they are wearing a saree, they probably will be beaten up by their parents to sort of make them better or something, apparently.
Yeah, I know abuse is a different thing to be talking about but a lot of children in families that are hetero-normative and if they are homosexual or if they are just not hetero-normative like the rest of the family, will go through some amount of abuse, whether it’s verbal, physical, emotional or will even just be said some things that are extremely scarring and sadly, because we don’t have queer affirmative mental heath practices enough in the country, and just generally also there is so much stigma around mental health that parents are not going to reach out to a psychologist or a therapist to talk to them about how they can support their kid. Instead, they will reach out to psychiatrists to put their kids into conversion therapy, for example. So, it’s a completely opposite way to be looking at it, instead of trying to understand why their child might be having these feelings or how we can support them better.
So, that’s the kind of conversation that we should be having that we’re still not having, which leads to obvious mental health disorders, to illnesses, to just not very healthy practices at home and yeah, of course it ends up in young queer children having to take so much more therapy for all the nonsense that their parents have fed them, so it’s really sad. The statistics are right. A lot of us face a lot more depression and anxiety because we are closeted for most of our lives, so it is a very horrible space to be in- to continuously lead two lives- to continuously be inside the closet and outside the closet with some people but not with other people and not live our authentic lives, our true lives. That’s extremely tough.
Ruchika- I agree. I wanted you to elaborate a little bit more on the queer affirmative therapy. How does it help the members of the LGBTQ+ community?
Jo- So, the reason that we need to have queer affirmative therapy rather than just queer neutral therapy, very basically, we need to have therapists who have educated themselves on the community and who need to be affirmative to their LGBT clients. That is extremely important so that they don’t end up sitting over there saying something that further demonizes the community, that further stigmatizes the person sitting in front of them and makes them feel like they are of no significance to the Earth because that can really happen a lot. For example, something very basic like self harm and we have the person opposite just guilting them, that itself can make a person feel extremely horrible about themselves. Similarly, in the case of queer folks as well, if it’s not affirmative, if it’s not coming from a place where the therapist is well read, it can really have very negative side effects on the person who is seeking therapy and that can be extremely dangerous because we already don’t have many therapists in the country and we have more therapists in metropolitan cities than in any other place and that already is a big gap because smaller towns, tier I, tier II cities don’t have enough queer affirmative practices that work. So, there’s still a long way to go, that’s where I always end up. Such a long way to go but have I answered your question? Is there something else you wanted me to elaborate on? Because I’m not a therapist also.
Ruchika- Yeah, of course but I believe Gaysi has done something about this. They’ve compiled a list of practitioners.
Jo- Yes. So, first of all, we do have some really great organizations like the Mariwala Health Initiative and other tonnes of initiatives that try and push therapists to look at their practice and make it more queer affirmative. It’s something that’s coming into the mainstream right now and I’m glad that’s happening. More queer folks, thankfully, are becoming therapists and practitioners. So, we do need queer folks from the community itself to also take up counselling because I know trans men who are counsellors and who are amazing counsellors. It’s a different thing to be able to take from your lived experience and counsel a client, right? Because when a client sees someone who is exactly like them, it’s a different sort of affirmation than for example, a cis person telling them about gender dysphoria. So, when a trans person tells them about gender dysphoria, it’s a different sort of affirmation.
So, I’m happy to see that so many more queer folks are engaging in therapy. I, myself, am planning to take a few counselling courses over the next few years because I figured that I’m doing that on a day-to-day basis anyway and I’d rather be more well-read while I do it and be a proper counsellor than be a person who is offering free therapy anyway. With regards to Gaysi, so Gaysi is technically a media platform. We do what we do through content and continuously creating content to read. So, the resource tab is something we had thought of like five to six months back when we are like okay, you know what? We need to have some sort of really easy resource guide kind of things which can be accessed by anybody and which sort of delves into these concepts that we don’t see in the Indian context.
For example, the first resource guide we had put up was something about binders that are used by people across the spectrum- the non-binary spectrum, the trans spectrum- and we had not seen any information on binders that had anything to do with Indian queer people and we saw that gap and that’s another gap that we keep trying to fill. So, that’s how the resource section started coming up and within the resource section, we’ve had so many different articles, and within that we’ve had like for example, the ‘Gaysi guide to queer positive mental health’, under which we started publishing guides on whom to reach out to if you’re feeling depressed, some helplines that are queer affirmative, some practices or therapists who are queer affirmative and whom we can go to. So, that was the whole point of the guides that we’ve been trying to create because we figured that if a person is sad, if a person is depressed or anxious or not in a good space of mind, the last thing they want to do is go on Google and sift through tonnes and tonnes of material that is available. Instead, if we are able to streamline that and do that for them, maybe it might help, which is why we worked with our writers to do that research and there is this very cool database that we have created which I am personally proud of.
It’s thanks to our writer, Anna, who put all of this together on a work-flowy flowchart kind of thing, like if you press “Kashmir”, you will get therapists who will help you, who are queer affirmative or if you press “Andaman”, you will get the same. That’s very necessary and thankfully yes, there are tonnes of lists that keep going around. So, that’s what we’ve tried to do with the different lists and most recently, we did a little chat with a therapist who was talking about borderline and bipolar disorder in the context of queer communities, which is also important.
So, we’re trying to understand how most of these mental health issues work when it comes into a space where the person is also queer and thus, might have had a difficult family background or some kind of issue with their self and how they view themselves. That’s what we’re doing in the mental health sort of thing but again, none of us are therapists so we try to push them to actual therapists if anybody needs help from us. But yeah, first-aid is something we definitely pay a lot of attention on because all of us need to know mental health first-aid just like we know physical health first-aid.
Ruchika- Yeah, so it’s great to hear that Gaysi is not just a media platform but also a resource hub for people when they want to access mental health help. So, it’s been over a decade that Gaysi has been around and has given people a platform to share their stories. What major trends and changes have you noticed in the kinds of stories that people have been submitting through the years?
Jo- Definitely one would be that the articles are getting a lot more nuanced. People are writing about things very critically. I think that’s just our time and I guess we’ve just grown as a community to talk beyond coming out. To talk beyond acceptance, because usually the most common thing for people to talk about is coming out of the closet and how people accept it. These are the two questions that people are continuously asking queer folks but that’s not the only thing that queer folks encounter. So, it’s amazing to see that people really engage with media nowadays and they really question where media comes from.
The trends that I’ve noticed is earlier a lot of us would be completely okay with brands making Pride month all about themselves by putting a rainbow flag but now we are very critical about whether that brand is giving enough money into the queer community because at the end of the day, the queer community does not need more platforms. We have enough platforms. We’ve always had a voice, we’ve just been silenced. But what they do need, is jobs. What they do need is better policy. What they do need is anti-bullying policies, washrooms that can be accessible, spaces where the intersectionalities are visible because there are disabled queer people, there are people who have mental health issues and are queer.
All sorts of intersectionalities- there are dalit queers, there are upper-class queers, upper-caste queers, middle-class queers, there are all kinds of intersectionalities that we need to talk about. There are queers in smaller towns and villages. How do we make our things more accessible to them? It cannot be continuously speaking in this vacuum of privilege, right? So, I think that is something that has grown in the past few years because there are people who come and talk to us. Recently, we had a really cool article written by one of our writers, Abhishek, who spoke about how the English language both, helps the queer community but also restricts the queer community because it’s not accessible to so many people. I wouldn’t even say Hindi is accessible to enough people because again, it’s a very small population that knows Hindi. The whole of South India is not interested in learning the language. I mean I am South Indian so, it should be in languages that are for us as well.
So, thankfully the conversation has also moved forward to other things like I personally enjoy talking about and thinking about how localizing queer support is the way to move forward in the future because even though Gaysi or larger organizations exist in the country, we cannot provide support to everybody. It’s impossible in a country especially like India and Gaysi has a very clear population and there is only a certain amount of diversity that we can reach out to. We should be aware of that and we are aware of that, which is why supporting smaller organizations who can provide localized support is very important. For example, Yol in Manipur, they are looking after the Manipur community and the communities around there, and pushing in more money and more help and more resources there would make more sense than pushing more money and resources into larger organizations. Personally, I feel like money will come easier for us anyway so it’s important for us to push forward smaller, local community help and solidarity support systems that exist in smaller towns in Coimbatore, in Chennai, in Thrissur, whatever smaller spaces and pockets that exist.
So, those queer groups should be pushed more, should be supported and put in solidarity with more because I think that’s the future of the queer movement in India. It is not having more Pride parades. I mean yes, that’s fun but that’s not it. It has to be as accessible as possible to all kinds of people as possible and that’s not going to happen with one streamlined movement. It’s going to only happen with an intersectional movement that looks at all kinds of people.
Ruchika- Absolutely so yeah, I agree because the smaller organizations are the ones that understand the needs of their communities the best as opposed to maybe the bigger ones.
Jo- Yes. Ruchika- Jo, thank you so much for joining us on this show today and for giving us such valuable insights into the queer community.
When you decide to be true to yourself and live life without hiding a significant part of your identity, it’s common for people to make you feel like you don’t belong and are not accepted. A safe space to share your story and know that there are others like you gives you a sense of connection and comfort.
Valerie– Welcome to LonePack Conversations! I’m Valerie.
Today we have with us Deepthi, one of the founders of Chennai Queer Cafe, an online and offline safe social space for anyone who is a cis woman and identifies as Queer or Questioning. She has been a member of the Orinam group and mailing list since 2011 and has been volunteering with the Queer community in Chennai since then. She has been a part of the organizing team at Reel Desires: Chennai International Queer Film Festival since 2013. She is passionate about movies, women in sports, mental health issues and intersectional feminism.
Deepthi– Hi. Thank you, Valerie. Thanks for the introduction. One quick thing I would like to say about the introduction is that the group is not just for queer cis women, it’s actually for queer AFAB (Assigned Female at Birth) individuals, which sort of includes anybody who is cis gender, identifies as bi, pan or lesbian, and who are assigned female at birth and are trans masculine, gender fluid, as well as non-binary.
Valerie- Thank you for the clarification.
You were part of the core team that started Chennai Queer Cafe, about 3 years ago, in order to create a safe social space for queer cis women in and around Chennai. What was it that compelled you to start this initiative and how did people receive it?
Deepthi– So, since 2011, like you said, I’ve been a part of Orinam and other queer spaces in Chennai but there wasn’t really an exclusive AFAB space. When we started, there were very few, less than a handful queer women who were coming to the meeting. Not necessarily out in their own spaces but even coming to the meetings. So at that point, like I think around 2013 or so, I had a really bad breakup and I was in a really low point and there was a lot of marriage pressure from the family. At that point, I really needed a space like that, where I could talk to people who could relate to my issue.
Not that there were not but then, it would have felt better, is what I had in mind and then in 2014-15, when I had the time, there were a little more people. Then we thought of a space like this and then we started an online space and slowly moved it to the offline space. So we meet once every month. Now because of the lockdown we are not able to, but before this, it’s been about three years, we started in September, three years back.
Valerie- So, how did people receive it when you started this initiative? I mean, from then to now, obviously we’ve probably had more people who are coming in and sharing their stories but at a time like then, what was it like?
Deepthi- So, the film festival is usually in June-July-August, early August or late July. So, we started sort of talking about this group around that time and quite a few people had come to the film festival and they were looking for a space like this as well. From them on, we’ve been associated with the film festival so we sort of put a word out during the film festival and the queer events. So, initially we had about 7-8 people, now we have roughly about 20 odd people that come for the offline meetings.
So just as you said, a lot of the reason you started the initiative draws from your own personal experience. When you realised you were queer, what was your initial reaction? How did you decide to come out to your loved ones and how did their reception to it impact your mental health?
Deepthi– There are a lot of layers in that question. I think I figured out and I knew I liked girls when I was around 16 or so but I never really understood the kind of impact that it had on my life or on my everyday stuff. I think it was only when I was 25 that I accepted my sexuality and slowly, I started talking to friends about it. Even at that point, I wasn’t a part of the queer community. So, slowly I started talking to friends. I knew it was a sort of taboo subject and I can’t just randomly come out at work or spaces like that. So, I was very careful as to whom I spoke to.
I had come out to the family when there was a lot of marriage pressure and stuff. At that point, initially, they were pretty hesitant saying “You were in hostels, maybe it’s because of that” but then they took me to a counsellor in Chennai. That wasn’t a very good experience, that counsellor was pretty homophobic and the they gave me some time and then they took me to another counsellor that was in Bangalore. So, the counsellor in Bangalore was pretty accepting and at the end of the session, she called in my family and she was like “She’s pretty clear about what she wants. She’s pretty clear as to what she is, so there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s nothing you should change about it. Just let her be.” Since then, there’s sort of been no discussion.
So again, when you talk about the mental health aspect of it, I would say the first session that I had in Chennai was pretty traumatic. So, that put me in a lot of pressure. At that point, I was in touch with the community but I never really was in a space to mix family and community yet. There was still a lot of pressure from family and the first experience I had with the counsellor didn’t help at all. I think at that point or even early on, when I knew I was queer, I think if there was right representation in the media or access to materials with which I could educate myself, I couldv’e guided myself better, guided my family better and have done away with a lot of trauma that I had to face.
Even now, even in this day and age of social media, we have queer Pride events happening in cities, we have newspaper coverage, there are still people and parents who believe in this conversion therapy concept. I’m sure you would’ve recently heard that a girl from Kerala committed suicide because of all this. There’s still a lot of this happening and I would say that the solution for that would be on a certain level, educating these touch-points, whether it’s somebody who works in a school or somebody who is a mental health professional or people who are in the media to do the right representation. Even articles sometimes written in the media end up being homophobic. All that put together, a conversation in every space, is what would have helped me when I was 16 or when I was 20. That’s what would help parents normalize it or kids to not feel traumatized about what they are.
Valerie- Right. I liked that you said that right representation is important and access to material so that people can be educated, which makes it an easier conversation when you decide to come out and when you decide to talk to people.
Valerie- So, you’ve been vocal about how queer women often lack access to the same benefits and legal rights compared to heterosexual cis women. This can have far-reaching consequences, especially impacting someone’s self-esteem and mental health. What are your views on this? Can you describe it for our listeners?
Deepthi- Sure. In my personal experience, I can talk about somebody who is queer cis but again, I would also like to talk about people on the AFAB spectrum because it’s quite different how the AFAB people experience discrimination or oppression. When it comes to me, I would say that queer relationships, especially, are not legally recognized so that has its own complications- whether it’s starting a bank account together or adding your partner as a beneficiary, say for example, on life insurance. Adoption is another huge challenge. Staying together isn’t always easy. People talk. There will be people that say “Oh, two girls are staying together.” Parents don’t make it easy. Even if you’re out to them, you’re not out to them.
I think, far more traumatic will be situations like if your partner is in the hospital going through something very serious, you don’t have the kind of authority in those spaces. If there is a consent form that needs to be signed or something, they would want somebody who is a blood relative. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been living together for like six, seven or ten years, they would still ask you “How are you related?”. I would imagine that can be a pretty traumatic situation.
When it comes to somebody who is AFAB and identifies as non-binary or gender fluid, I feel like since their gender expression is different in the sense that somebody who is gender fluid would want to dress up like the opposite sex one day, the societal opposite sex notion, that can cause a lot of judgement. That can cause a lot of judgment from people around in work spaces. Restrooms are again a messy situation when your gender expression doesn’t match what the society expects it to be. When it comes to documentation, it’s a huge challenge- whether it’s a government space or otherwise. So I think these can take a huge toll on especially gender fluid and non-binary people on an everyday basis.
Valerie– Right. So, we’ve talked about what it is like for queer women when it comes to benefits and legal rights but even when it comes to interacting with people in our own community, a lot of people have come out in support of the queer community but I think we’d all agree that we’ve got a long way to go when it comes to complete acceptance. What can we do, as individuals, to ensure we can be a support system to the community?
Deepthi– Whether it’s individuals or brands or organizations, especially when it comes to brands, it’s sort of very triggering when it comes to the whole Pride month because some brands, all they do, is change the logo just for PR. The sensitivity that they show or all that they talk about does not reflect in their policy. Do they have samesex partner benefits in their policy? No. Do they have a gender neutral sexual harassment policy? Maybe not.
So, similarly, for individuals as well, when it’s Pride month, everybody has a hashtag thing going on, everybody has these frames that they put up on Facebook but a lot of them are not very okay when it comes to starting the conversation around the community when it comes to their friends’ circle or family. I think that would be a huge change. It’s very hard for somebody to recognize and admit to biphobia, transphobia and homophobia.
If you want to be the person who wants to help the community or be a support system, I think learning, educating, starting conversations and creating a safe space. If it’s the workplace, you want to create a safe space for queer people to come out. So, just compassion, just learning and being a bit sensitive as to what and how. Introspect. I think mainly, starting conversations is what it is but also, along with that, being sensitive and compassionate.
Valerie– So, what are the kinds of reactions that you’ve seen when people come out, that have been negative and can possibly impact people the wrong way? As you said, people do lack compassion and very often, people are insensitive to the whole thing, right? So, what have you seen?
Deepthi– So, I’ve seen people say “Oh, it’s just a phase. You’ll get through it.” or even worse things like “Oh, you just didn’t find the right man.” Not a very good experience but this is really early on in life where I was like okay, you guys are not going to be very sensitive about it, let me just move myself away from spaces like this. I had the luxury to move away. Not everybody would.
Valerie– Right. So, from the experiences you’ve had, when it came to starting the Chennai Queer Cafe as well as your own personal experience- because you’ve heard stories of people who come to you and talk about their own journeys- what would you like to say to the people who are struggling to come out?
Deepthi– I would say that you don’t have to come out. It’s always a choice but then sometimes it’s not easy for a woman because of marriage pressure but there are usually work arounds. One thing I would like to say is- assess your situation because nobody knows it better than you do. You have to figure out if you come out to your parents, how receptive they are. Is there danger of violence? Is there a situation where you can be in like a house arrest situation? So, those are the things you first need to assess.
I would say test waters. If you are somebody who identifies as non-binary or trans, just drop a word about some actor coming out as trans or some actor coming out as bisexual, just to test waters and see where they stand. I would say, after that, depending on the situation, either you move out of your house whether it’s to study or to work, get your own financial freedom, get your own social support system, like at least five or six friends. They don’t have to necessarily be from the community but some kind of support system that will help you stay sane in times like this, when you’re accidentally out to the family. If and when you choose to come out to the family, you need to have the financial confidence and the emotional support system for you to stay sane.
So, I think these are the two things that I have pretty much told a lot of people who are like “I think I’ll come out.” Figure out what your situation is. Figure out how open your parents are to listening. Then you take a stand, if you choose to come out.
Valerie– Thank you for your insights on that. I think it’s very important, like you have mentioned in the past, for us as well, it’s important to start initiating conversation and not just turning a blind eye and being ignorant when somebody wants to speak to us. I think it’s very important for us to take part in creating a safe space and being supportive and compassionate towards people so that in turn, we can be a community that does become completely acceptive.
Deepthi– One last point I would like to add is that when I say conversations, it can be around anything. Whether it’s somebody talking about a policy in a workspace or whether they’re taking a domestic violence seminar, you have to understand that queer people exist everywhere so queer identity or queer conversations are as relevant in domestic violence cases as they are anywhere else. So, whether it’s a start-up culture, I am a queer person working in a start-up, so there’s like a two-layered pressure on me, when it comes to my mental health. So, in any space, I think these conversations need to be normalized and so they need to be started.
Valerie- Correct. It was a lot of information that you gave us today, a lot of insights when it came to the legal rights, when it came to how we accept and how we should be around people who decide to come out so that we can be there for them. So, thank you for all of the information and thank you for this conversation.
Deepthi– Thank you for the opportunity. Thanks, Valerie.
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), also known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), is a severe manifestation of the group of psychological disorders known as Dissociation. DID is characterized by an individual experiencing a splitting or fragmenting of their original personality into two or more different ones.
This leads to a lack of clarity in a person’s thought, emotions, memories and actions.
What causes it?
Extensive research by organisations such as the American Psychiatric Association shows that DID is more often than not caused by severe emotional, physical or environmental trauma in a person’s past. These causes include physical, sexual, and mental abuse, the loss of a loved one, and life-threatening or near-death incidents, usually occurring around the age of 6.
Who does it affect?
DID occurs very rarely; studies show that it affects 0.1% to 1% of the general population. But when it does occur, there is no age bracket or cases of medical history within which patients fall. DID can affect anyone, living at any place, of any age, or with any background. The onset is commonly observed to be during childhood, but the symptoms may take years to manifest, making it very difficult to diagnose and treat the individuals.
However, it is also commonly agreed-upon by medical professionals that females are more susceptible to this disorder than men.
How can you recognize it?
The following symptoms have been recognized and grouped among individuals with DID:
Eating and Sleeping disturbances
Prolonged headaches and migraines due to irregular sleep patterns
One other symptom that is observed is an alternation of personalities; a radical shift in thoughts, behavior and emotions, due to the emergence of the different ‘alters’.
Methods of Treatment
Psychotherapy: Also called ‘talk therapy’, it is designed to work through whatever triggers the DID.
Hypnotherapy:Clinical hypnosis can be used to help the person access and deal with repressed memories and feelings that are potential causes of DID.
Another effective form of therapy is encouraging the affected individual to indulge in the creative arts, music, or exercise; anything that can help to reduce stress in a positive way.
Misconceptions about DID
Multiple personality disorder, as DID is more commonly known, has been featured time and again in novels, television series, and movies, the most famous of them being the character of Gollum in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, and Alfred Hitchcock’s blockbuster hit, Psycho (1960). While it makes a good premise for pop culture, the severity of this mental illness is often disregarded and misunderstood.
Though most fictitious characterizations show one or more of the personalities as being ‘good’ or ‘soft’, and some as being ‘violent’ or ‘psychopathic’, in reality, one can never predict the nature of the ‘alters’. So it is best to seek professional help when dealing with a person with DID.
How can I help?
You can help the patient by recognizing the symptoms at the right time and taking immediate action. DID is a very serious condition that needs to be treated as soon as it is diagnosed.