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The author opens up about her mental issues and how she manages it. It’s her courage manifesto to fellow sufferers.
October is the month that has world mental health day. I was reminded of the same, and of the very existence of this day, through a companywide circulation at my workplace. A reminder to take advantage of the services available. I looked at the resources highlighted, reached into my toolkit (which I will talk about in a bit), and remembered with a lot of sadness my own challenges in this aspect.
My struggle with mental health – or rather the lack of it – is long and complicated. Not only am I a sufferer, but I have people very close to me whom I have lost to not the malice itself but to the shame and silence around it. The kind of shame and silence that makes one jump off a building. So I can’t help but remember how much of the same still exists in our society in spite of the recent courage shown by several personalities of prominence by opening up about issues like depression and bipolar disorder. And how much more frequently mental health needs to be talked about. So, I am hoping to pen this piece as a small effort towards furthering the dialogue with a high-level reminder of the signals we need to be aware of and the courage we need to foster for the sake of ourselves and our loved ones.
Mental health is still a taboo, and when someone suffering musters the courage to be open about it, often a bias starts forming in the form of doubts about his or her capabilities. How the capabilities might or might not be affected because of the condition. I have been diagnosed with bipolar tendencies and borderline personality disorder myself. Yet, recently when a person mentioned to me in a job setting he has long had bipolar depression, it caused me to immediately think: oh, he will probably be unpredictable.
This, in spite of me knowing all that is there to be known on how this condition can be managed appropriately. And that is why, even though I feel scared to write this for a post that will go into a public forum, I have to force myself to do so. Because denying bias doesn’t cure it. Only admitting it, and awareness can. I am not proud that this happened, but I will be more ashamed if I couldn’t be honest. It’s not just enough to be aware of our own conditions, but it’s also important to consciously foster awareness about our reactions towards mental issues. Only then I feel we can consciously correct.
Now coming to understanding what is going on with us and when to seek help. Let’s forget for a second that there is and will be a potential bias around this. We need to start with this as a state for self-evaluation. Why? Because this will put us in a better position to recognize and admit even if we are admitting just to ourselves. Then, we should start with the common symptoms that often get pushed under the rug by our society as either ‘normal’ or ‘excusable’.
Sadness and anger. It is pertinent to state the obvious here – I am not a medical professional and this is in no way an attempt to envelop or diagnose all mental conditions. This is just a starting point, a self-help awareness and courage manifesto from a fellow sufferer. If you do get an inkling that something is amiss, the next step is to go back into reminding ourselves of what we might be missing out by not seeking a diagnosis. Assume that there is no bias – only betterment – on the other side, and seek professional help.
Another telltale sign, you don’t feel how people say you should be feeling. For example: when I often struggle, flip-flopping between anxiety and depression, I hear how fortunate I am to have the life I have, while the voice in my head chatters incessantly encouraging me to end it. My toolkit has mindfulness, meditation, and monitoring: a check to see when my symptoms have flared beyond management with the former two. That’s an indication for going back to my doctor and discuss medication.
I go to my toolkit at least once every few days and take an inventory of how I have been with the people around me? How many times have I reacted unjustifiably? Being happy always is not needed, but understanding how you normally are, what effect that has on people, and when you are deviating. This is not easy nor exact – but the more we know ourselves and about a condition, the easier it gets to identify. One guidance often used here is whether or not something is impacting/affecting our normal functioning and to what extent.
Note: I have lost a job previously to not being aware and was almost on a route to give my child a childhood very similar to the one I detest, so trust me when I say that if not being functional is not a choice, being aware of the mind and the conditions of the mind is the only option.
I have also found that in India (possibly worldwide but I have experienced this personally more in India), mental health is not always an exact science and there is a lot of subjectivity around both diagnosis and treatment. So, I encourage everyone to research, research, and research. If you suspect a condition (in yourself or in your loved ones) or suspect a change is needed if you are already under care, look things up. There is thankfully enough, reliable (learn to spot veracity) information out there.
Also, if you are listening to a lot of self-help gurus and coaches (some of whom I have a lot of respect and regard for, so I don’t mean this with disrespect at all) who keep on saying that your mind and thoughts should be under your control, but you don’t feel so, seek help instead of forcing yourself to be what you can’t be. Mental strength and thought conditioning are realities, as are medical conditions that can’t be helped with these.
Lastly, remember, disclosing your condition or not, is your choice. I choose to do so because of haunting images of a past that could have been different if someone I love very much wasn’t asked to be ‘just brave’ and ‘strong’. It would have happened if we as a society could realize that just like cancer, a chemical imbalance in the brain is a medical condition. But you don’t need to make a difficult situation worse if you don’t feel ready for it. So, don’t let yourself be discouraged by any ‘need’ for doing so.
Happy mental health awareness month. We celebrate a lot of things, open discussions around mental health need to be one of those.
Image Source – Pixabay
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