Read on how to enrich your life by purpose, i.e. to find depth and, a reason to get out of bed each morning, your own Ikigai.
Gender Dysphoria and depression are quite common in our country and yet not talked about enough. Read Tarun’s story of struggling with both at the same time
A young boy, Tarun, aged 18, enters the chamber of a psychiatrist. Though Tarun is accompanied by his parents, he prefers talking to the doctor, in privacy. I am in the other room, busy with my own writing when he is sent to me for a counselling session.
Trigger warning: This post contains some descriptions of self harm which might be triggering to some readers.
“Hi. How’re you?” I ask.
Without exchanging any pleasantries, he replies, in a quivering voice, “I am going to die, I am unwell.”
I offer tea, try to calm him down but nothing seems to help. He just wants to talk. He starts talking but is unable to keep his composure several times during the sessions.
Make no mistake, I am not here to unfold a personal account. In fact, I am here to caution how grave the effects of gender dysphoria and depression can be if not dealt with properly.
Tarun is an only child. His family lived in a joint family until they all separated and started residing as nuclear families.
Since birth, Tarun hadn’t seen any harmony between his parents. His father worked for a private firm and then started his own business as a mobile recharge owner. However, the business did not fetch him enough revenue to maintain a household.
To add to the meagre income, the mother started a home business of making imitation jewellery items. In spite of this, the family remained under tremendous financial constraint and they are in a hand-to-mouth state.
“I never got love from my parents”, Tarun sobs.
I could not comprehend why he said so as both the parents had accompanied him to the doctor’s clinic.
Tarun appeared to be an introvert. And from our conversation, I learned that he loved wearing women’s clothing rather than the clothes meant for a boy. He liked doing so since he was a toddler. He also used his mother’s make up kit and painted his face to look like a girl. Tarun hid these facts from both his parents.
He also liked to wear a bindi on his forehead and bangles on his wrists along with other accessories that women usually wear. He draped his mother’s sarees and for hours would stand in front of the mirror indulging in himself as a girl.
His body language changed and back in school and within his circle of friends he became a butt of all jokes. They mocked him and he became an outlier in his social circle. An already introverted Tarun gradually cocooned himself within a shell. At school, no one liked to sit next to him and he sat alone at his desk and sulked.
Amidst all this chaos, came a rude shock when Tarun’s mother was diagnosed with depression. The little boy failed to understand why his mother cried so often and would not talk to him for days together.
There was a park in the locality that Tarun often visited and witnessed little children playing cricket with their fathers. It left him heartbroken and he yearned for his own father. He wished his father played with him like all the other daddies out there in the world.
By that time, his parents had severed all ties with their other relatives and Tarun did not even have a cousin to play with.
It was in standard ten when he suddenly realised he was crushed between his identities. He had suicidal thoughts and as a desperate attempt, Tarun discarded all his women’s clothing and tried to behave like what a man was supposed to again, although his body had failed him – as he perceived it.
He first tried to commit suicide by tying a rope around his neck at the tender age of fourteen. He even wrote a suicide note which he showed to his mother much later. Yet in another instance, he says he was at Ranchi visiting his grandparents. It when they were returning, the grandfather said, “Tarun you are the only son and you are the only hope of your parents. Study well and get a good job and then financially help your parents.”
It was during those days Tarun’s mother was under treatment with a psychiatrist for her depression and Tarun himself was struggling with his own mental demons. Tarun also reveals that by nature he is very sensitive. This time was no exception either.
The words of his grandfather had a severe impact on Tarun. During the entire trip back home he had cried though he hid his tears from his parents. Upon returning to Mumbai, he again tried to kill himself but this time instead of the rope he chose phenyl.
What makes Tarun more vulnerable is when he says he has no friends. I explained to him that we do not need a thousand friends, but just that one person to stick to us through thick and thin. At this point he said that he did have one good friend. However, he was always suspicious that his friends would betray him.
And he says that his fears came true when he noticed his friend getting closer to another boy. In Tarun’s mind, he felt he had been abandoned by this friend whom he loved dearly.
In all my interviews, I have never seen a boy as handsome as Tarun, and I asked him how he feels about dating a girl. Tarun who is now in his second-year commerce replied that he was eight years old when he was friendly with a little girl. They studied together and at times both of them hugged each other and had kissed.
Later, Tarun’s desire to be a girl forced him to quit this friendship. But the girl still proposed to him when he was in his first year of college. Although Tarun initially agreed, he later completely lost interest in that girl as well.
Tarun wants to play cricket, football and all the other games a boy plays, though of course times have changed and these games are no more restricted for the masculine gender. Sadly, no one plays with him.
To combat that loneliness, he had once cut his fingers as he knew he would faint as soon as the blood started trickling. But he also confessed that he did not lose consciousness; he had laid down on the bathroom floor and watched the blood streaming down his hands. Later, he got up and bandaged himself.
He claimed his parents had not bothered to ask why he had a bandaged hand. Tarun still indulges in self-harm and has lost all interest in life. He has been to several psychiatrists for his depression, until he walked into our office for treatment.
So here is the heart-tugging case of a young boy with gender dysphoria, dealing with depression. He is living with the pressure that he is the only child, and thus he needs to support his parents. Little does he realise he needs support more than anyone else.
It’s been a blessing that Tarun realised he was unwell and reached out for help for depression on time. He has been put on medication for depression and is receiving counselling simultaneously so that the boy can come out of the dungeons of his dark mind.
Tarun’s case also is a nudge to parents that parenting comes with responsibilities.There will be several challenges and it is the parents and no one else who can sort these.
Disclaimer: Based on a case study. Name changed to protect identities.
If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call.
Aasra, Mumbai: 022-27546669
Sneha, Chennai: 044-2464 0050
Lifeline, Kolkata: 033-2474 4704
Sahai, Bangalore: 080 – 25497777
This piece was earlier published here
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Rimli Bhattacharya is a First class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of
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