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We women often put ourselves last, and sometimes fall prey to social perceptions of mental illness. It is essential that we talk about our depression if we want to heal, as Shikha Gandhi found out.
In the aftermath of the #Metoo movement, consent, especially sexual consent has assumed centre-stage.
But, is consent only sexual? What about granting yourself permission to challenge the status quo, embrace who you are, and change your reality, if that’s what you wish to do?
Why do women give themselves the consent to go for a nose job or a breast augmentation easily, but never pick up the courage to approach a mental health professional, even if they have been suffering from unresourceful behaviours and thinking patterns which cause them pain and harm for decades?
Why is the idea of self-care in us women just limited to yoga and smoothies? Why does the definition not stretch to include mental wellness? And can one be truly healthy without factoring in mental health?
Almost a decade back, I went through a long period of chronic low-intensity depression. The trigger was a job loss.
I had been working as a TV journalist covering health, and one day what I had been worrying about, came to pass. I was not doing well at work- I knew that I could be fired anytime. But, I was just paralyzed and could do no better than wait for the proverbial axe to fall.
But when it did, I was completely undone. I lost confidence in myself; I lost all energy and was full of an extreme sense of hopelessness and helplessness. Perhaps, the most bizarre thing is that I couldn’t identify these symptoms as depression, even though I had been reporting on health for the channel.
But, why am I talking about this today? Because, I feel that even though I did recover eventually, I never reclaimed my whole self. I didn’t become the ‘Me’ that I had lost.
Over the last 10 years, unresourceful behaviours and thinking patterns have held me back. But, it was only a couple of months ago that I sat myself down and examined how I had been thinking and behaving all these years. I also listened to what I was telling myself and realized that I had a big, fat problem on my hands.
The consent I gave myself was two-fold: one to acknowledge that I suffered from a problem that would not just go away by itself, and second, that I wanted to do something about it without wasting more time.
Finally, I took the first most important step of my life.
I reached out to a mental health organization and opted to participate in their group therapy sessions.
Group therapy can be accessed by people who may be suffering from a gamut of mental health issues like anxiety, depression, panic attacks, social phobia etc. It involves at least one mental health professional and two or more people in therapy. The group dynamic steers people to feeling better as they feel supported and this helps them achieve their goals.
Group therapy has been on my bucket list for a long time. My other goals are improving my physical health and wellbeing, let there be no doubt about that.
But, what I feel is that if you are not 100% right in your mental and emotional bodies, you will not experience overall health as well. Your physical body will rebel as it’s already under a lot of trauma.
On the day of my first group therapy session, the two psychologists present were trying to decipher the predominant issues that participants were seeking help with. One of the participants was dealing with depression and had been prescribed group therapy by her psychiatrist. The other two were trying to make sense of their anhedonia and sense of disconnect from normal life. I was seeking support for my social anxiety and self-limiting thoughts and behaviours.
Prodded by the psychologists, we started talking about our issues. I was surprised that I was able to share the traumas that I have never spoken about to even the people closest to me, so easily. Perhaps what helped me was that no one was judging me here and that I felt safe and supported.
As each one of us spoke about his or her issue, the other had always something to share that would help us deal better with our demons.
Like, I have a major problem of being judged in social situations. A participant helped me deal with this by sharing how she deals with her anxiety. She said she dialogues with her anxiety, instead of ignoring it. She actually says this to her anxiety- “I can hear you. But, please give me 10 minutes as I am doing this important task and I shall be ready to give you my full attention after that.”
It was also very easy for me to listen during the group session. Generally, I tend to tune out while listening. I either get judgemental or lose interest. But I was so invested here. I was looking bang into the eyes of the speakers and feeling so connected.
Sharing my experience of being in group therapy afterwards, I remember saying that never had I met such self-aware individuals in my life and that I had opened up about some of my worst wounds and was feeling healed.
I gave myself consent to reach-out to a mental health professional and that’s the reason that I am feeling so much better today, even though I know that there is a long way to go as group therapy lasts for anything from six months to a year and last month’s session was just my first one. But, I do feel proud that I have been able to break out of my shell, face my demons and am willing to slay them finally.
I hate being didactic, but I feel that we women need to see therapy as a valid form of self-help and be more open to interventions of the mental kind.
Beginning therapy is life-changing and can help you achieve your life goals. So, why wait? Make it your number one priority. And yes, let it supersede your dieting for weight loss plans please!
Image source: a still from the movie Dear Zindagi
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