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Because Loving Someone With Mental Illness Can Be Exhilarating And Traumatic In Turns…

Isn't love supposed to make us be our better selves? But what if reality is incompatible with human life and depression is an honest response to it?


Love stories need not always take the same trajectories – a lot can depend upon the human beings the lovers are, especially in case there’s any mental illness…

“Am I in love? –yes, since I am waiting. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.” — Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse.

Tara, waiting

Tara waited. She did not do it on purpose, did not intentionally close her heart to everyone else as if she was saving space for someone. The waiting wasn’t a passive, discreet act of seeking or searching for something.

She waited without expectations, like one breathes; effortlessly, without being conscious that it was the essence of her life. Like one waits for sleep to come on a lonely night, a meaningless desperation for letting the time pass. She even read the book he was reading that day in Corsica. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. “Now you’ve given them hope and they’re unhappy” wrote Heller, “So the blame is all yours”.

And when she finally stumbled upon Ved again, her racing heart skid to a sudden halt, as if a train had arrived at its destination after years of wandering.

“So this is it, han?” She thinks when they go for a movie date like normal lovers do. “This is what they say. Love and all.”

In Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise Celine wonders if it can ever be possible to completely understand someone you love.”But who cares really?” she whispers. “The answer must be in the attempt.”

Imtiaz Ali’s film Tamasha is all about the attempt. 

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About Ved

But Ved as a product manager in a reputed firm of New Delhi, was nothing like Ved, the random adventurous storyteller she came across on the vacation she never really returned from.

Long term relationships are monotonous, tedious and predictable and so are the long-term lovers. The curve of intimacy is bound to flatten as every date starts feeling just the same, the stories stop building in your heads when you are always concerned about your next presentation at office. Your imagination is overwhelmed by the burden of responsibility and your slavery in air-conditioned glass-walled dungeons is applauded as progress.

Ved’s alarm ticks like a timebomb beside his bed every morning at the same hour. He wakes up, tightens the tie around his neck like a noose, and instead of killing himself, goes to work.

The curve of love that goes downhill and plateaus

With corporate colonialism, high-end restaurants and bars slowly replace the cultural spaces in the city where the working class goes to unwind after a difficult day. So neither are there stories to tell, nor crowds of listeners eagerly waiting for characters to come alive on stage.

Where did his vigour, his imagination, his abruptness go? Tara wonders as she realizes that though they are together physically, the chemistry has been left behind. The magic has been outgrown, distorted or has perished in the face of real life. Maybe she made him up inside her head, kept an exaggerated impression of him to make the short memory enduring.

Isn’t love supposed to reinvent us, compel us to discover our better selves than become a mundane repetition of rituals? I refuse to believe that Tara must have not tried talking to Ved about it. But she could only understand him as much as he understands himself. Do we ever get to know our lovers completely or this is the farthest anyone ever gets to go?

The conflict that brings out the inability to cope

It’s not till Tara rejects his proposal for marriage, that we get to see his Borderline Personality Disorder manifest. His emotional outbursts, episodes of anger, abrupt mood swings and vulnerable self-esteem, everything feels explained after that.

The major stressor was not the breakup as much as the conversation just after it, when they realise how little they know each other. A diagnosis is neither mentioned nor suspected, just like it often happens in reality.

Ved starts responding to “how are you”s with genuine answers, opens up his heart in front of autorickshaw drivers or strangers at public places, only to realise how much people are incapable of relating to each other.

The tone and pace of the film reflects the aesthetics of mental illness accurately. Painful, ugly, suffocating. His parents always find reasons to be disappointed, his partner is trying hard but unable to comprehend and unlike his happy childhood tales, Ved is left to save his own self. “All through the night, men looked at the sky” wrote Heller in Catch-22, “and were saddened by the stars.” 

Mental issues are commoner than we think…

It’s not a coincidence that every second person I come across in my life, admits suffering from anxiety or depression.

As governments sell off public enterprises to corporates, job security decreases and labour keeps getting cheaper, it’s only valid to feel replaceable and restless. The constant animalistic fear of being pushed into destitution is complimented by the neoliberal culture of “responsibilisation”.

Who is really responsible?

Every person is made to believe that they are responsible for their own poverty or unemployment. That it’s not the work culture that is inhumane but you, who is bad at adaptation.

To cope up with this relentless feeling of incompetence, we sign up for courses that offer us help regarding time management or self branding. When we have arrived at our milestones but feel no happiness, we are preached to that our responses are defective and our state of mind needs restructuring.

Can happiness really be ‘engineered’?

Happiness has emerged as a quantifiable, autonomous and psychological variable in the global middle class culture. Something that can be engineered or acquired with the right breathing exercises, expensive meditation retreats, rational thinking and individual effort, irrespective of how hostile the environmental factors are.

But what if reality is incompatible with human life and depression is an honest response to it? What if the pursuit of excellence in such a system is pathological and the appearance of normalcy is only an attempt of self-deception?

Like Erich Fromm wrote in The Sane Society, “The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane”.

In the untameable velocity of modern India, relationships are subject to your work timings. Survival has to be the first priority hence love has become an option and we spend our entire lives wishing we could have both at the same time. 

And this is why the confrontation between Tara and Ved was necessary

If Tara would have gotten married to Ved avoiding the confrontation, she could have been sorry later. Or maybe, living with him would have made things clearer for her.

If they had never met again after the vacation, perhaps Corsica would have been the story they tell their respective grandchildren years later. If he had never contacted her after the separation, maybe they would have lived on to find more suitable partners or simply understood that romantic relationships aren’t for them.

The endings can be many like the different versions of mythological epics one comes across in different parts of the world. All served with a local flavour, redefined to a certain degree by their culture and idealogy. Some are staged as plays, others turned into film scripts, some are immortalized as epitaphs and some, forgotten for the good.

I survived on the stories by Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and David Foster Wallace all my life but never really wondered how painful their struggles with depression would have been. It was only after I came across it myself, that I realized, it could change the endings for the best of storytellers. We cannot save them, but we can always love them. 

Image source: a still from the film Tamasha

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