Recovering from Depression; a Taboo Illness in Indian Society
by Aakanksha Shukla
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“Looking at the ticking clock, unable to get my mind off the chores that I didn’t want to penetrate, struggling for some thoughtless moment, crying, banging my head and indeed looking at the sky wondering if I could ever be well, wondering if I could ever be well.”
These are words that poured forth from my pen after many sleepless nights, wracked with psychological pain and anguish. These are the words that begin my story.
Migraines, eye pains, shivering thoughts, fear, and anxiety of a 22-year-old growing, yet immature, woman. In our society, we women are merely dependent creatures no matter how intelligently mature we are. We are caged for years and years under the guardianship of male family members. This treatment can lead to mental health challenges, or exacerbate ones that are already there.
People treat physical illness with medicines and care, and mental illness is treated with speculations and unwanted stares. People with mental illness are not mad.
It is believed that, in India, depression in women is far worse than in men, the credit being attributed to the “just immaculate society” in which we live; the vicious assumption of the superiority of men over women as well as the barriers placed based on the gender differences does not just treat women differently, but also pushes them into a cycle of endless thoughts, mental harassment, and mental illness.
I was one among them.
I was born into an Indian family, where the perception of a girl being added as an extra burden on the family as opposed to a boy being an added gem in the crown of the hierarchy of family broke me inside out; not because I was affected by those thoughts, but because I was deprived of those extra comforts and cares a boy would automatically be privileged to receive.
The mere fact that I had a vagina, not a penis, was a curse by birth. I was not given enough to eat, enough sleep, enough to read, and enough space to speak. And this is not just my story, many other girls in India face an upbringing like this. They are born with a cursed vagina.
I also remember the day when I started bleeding, the men of the house treated me as an “untouchable woman.” I wanted freedom but my society and its norms treated me with their age-old “wisdom.”
The worst part is the violence that Indian women face and the way these matters are disposed of by the family and the society as mere “Internal Affairs.” The worst memories come when I, being a grown up 16-year-old, was physically assaulted by my father at such a crucial growing stage of my life for the first time and the next time at the age of 24. When at 23, I told my mom of me being mentally depressed, I still remember the way she laughed! When I told her about the brain fog, she laughed out loud.
I was not someone made for the immaculate society. I started breaking down mentally, emotionally, and physically. No one to support me to raise my voice, criticism all around and no one to share emotions which drained me from all corners and pushed me into a state of trauma. The worst part is the outburst of emotions not only harms one mentally but also physically; I had this strong desire to die by suicide, the desire of self-denial for happiness injured my productive capacity, sound sleep, peace of mind, thereby exhausting me physically.
A 23-year-old girl not even able to walk a few miles made me realize the state of my exhaustion and the dire need for mental peace.
These issues went unnoticed and unheard of just because the society I belong to are uneducated, biased, and has their own antiquated perceptions. Mental illness, for my society and the majority of Indians, is just something that needs “shock therapies” and mental hospitals as a remedy.
In India, if a woman tries to break free those chains and barriers of the people around, she is threatened of her cursed vagina, and that may land her in the worst case of being raped or even being killed for her rebellious nature. The fear of these stories grabbed me from thinking of getting out from these age-old norms.
What changed the situation around me was my pen, my words, and my education.
I was privileged to get the basic education that most women don’t even get the way around.
Moving out of the family for higher studies made me who I am today, a strong warrior still battling depression, but empowering others along the way.
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I moved out of the family in the name of my education which compelled me to go out to the independent ladies and speak to them about their own families. Interacting with these wonderful souls made me realize that I am not alone. Some women have faced the worst forms of violence, being mutilated, raped, verbally, physically, and/or sexually harassed, mentally abused, and the list goes on.
It was this incident that woke me up to do something for these mentally stressed women and of course, the invention of the Internet aided me in my fight.
Today, I counsel around 10-20 women monthly for the help they need mentally. I cry with them, laugh with them, share their lives and thoughts with them.
I am a mental health activist, although on a very small regional level, but yes I am one. I teach Indian women to be progressive, educated, and mentally well. I feel proud when I see these women breaking societal barriers and flying out. I teach them happiness and share their sorrows; they are all depressed and hollow.
I lost my glorious age but I have vowed not to let any other woman lose hers. Although my mother still mocks me, the pleasure of changing the lives of many makes me proud.
At last, a few words……….
“For years we were selfless,
In the want of a perfect her,
She is striving on herself
Battling her inner world.
She is unwell,
Also in despair,
What she needs is one who can just care.
She is a bid of a flower,
About to bloom
Let us all empower her,
Enlightening her inner gloom
She is like a bird
Let her fly
Caged for years,
She now wants to cry
Give her some time.
Give her some space,
She can beat the sunshine and
She can win the race
She can win the race”
I wrote these words for the first time when I realized the power of my pen in empowering many beautiful souls. These words remind me of how strong I am and compel me to think big and do more for those beautiful souls who are still trapped in the vicious world aspiring for a “perfect her.”
In the end, celebrating Women’s Day has no meaning if the women of our society aren’t getting a “night of some good sleep,” “a supporting environment,” “loving family,” and above all “a considerate society.” Not all mentally unwell ones need shock therapies. Love, care, and moments of happiness are the top healers to cure these strong ladies.
EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
See Related Recovery Stories: BIPOC Mental Health Recovery Stories, Depression, Mental Health Aloud, Mental Health First Person Essays