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Navigating Mental Health as a 20-something Indian Woman

Source: A BRAVE FACE Masks, a charcoal drawing by Alexandra Kelso, grapples with the feeling of trying to act like everything is fine while also struggling with mental illness.

I am not okay." I have probably reiterated this more times this month than I have in my entire life. Each and every single day has been scary, tumultuous, full of surprises (rather, shocks), and a rollercoaster of events. It's funny how this generation has been geared toward strength and power. There is no time to breathe within our vulnerabilities. We have been brought up to present ourselves as fierce and smiling, even though each one of us has a story behind us. Don’t get me wrong, I love fierce women, but I also love to know their stories of struggle because it helps me relate. It leads me to understand that I am not alone in this, and my ambitions are not easy to discard. I did some fact-digging and as of the latest reports by NIMHANS and WHO, India has been ranked as the nation with the highest levels of depression (57 million people) and anxiety (38 million people). According to the World Economic Forum and Harvard School of Public Health, the economic effect of mental health will be $1.03 trillion by 2030. Gender is always present, even in cases of death. Contrary to international or other trends in India, young women commit suicide at a rate that is significantly higher than that of men. According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), women succumb to alcohol and drug abuse a lot more than men. This is contrary to popular belief, and many of you might find it hard to understand, mainly because the media has depicted men as being more adjacent to the drug and drinking communities.

As a 24-year-old woman, I am frightened for my life. Some would say that I am in a quarter-life crisis or that I am privileged enough to be aimless. It bothers me, though. Do privileged women need a grant or something to be sad over a breakup, an abuse, or a career dysfunctionality? Are we not human beings?

It's funny that we are unable to live like we really want to, and that is because most of us are feeling the spades of societal amplifications. I have been made to feel guilty most of my life for being privileged "enough." My parents always thought that sheltering me with food and decent money was parenting. Giving me money, a gadget, or clothes will never come close to emotional validation. That being said, my parents are not bad parents. The generational conflict between “authority” (for parents) and emotional acumen (towards children) is always going to collide. Yes, my parents have strongly impacted my mental health. Could it have been worse? Yes. Could it have been better? Yes. But are they bad parents, and do I blame them? No.

When we address mental health, our childhood is a key benefactor. When we are conditioned to rule out our sensitivities, mental health issues, anxieties, depression, and more, it conjugates into something bigger as we grow up. I recently had to quit a job (November 2022) and then look for another job (January 2023), which was mentally straining, given the nature of the corporate system today. I worked for about a month, and then the toxic ramifications of the same led me to take a good break for one and a half months. I do not use the word “toxic” lightly, and this phase has been tough for me. I can easily say that I lost two jobs in a period of six months. I could have easily looked for another job and found my way, but my mental health had started to suffer. And honestly, I am still suffering.

Funnily enough, it is more than these jobs. They affected me a lot initially, but with time, the societal attitude towards me changed drastically. My parents were quite supportive of my decision to take a break at first, but the concept of mental health has a tiny shelf life within their system of belief (or the force of belief). For them, their implications were the opposite. “You cannot afford to take a break for more than a month, though. How long will you take? "Two months or more?” my parents asked me. Mind you, this was right after I lost my second job. The disappointment that my mother especially engaged in, with regards to me and my aimlessness impacted me a lot more brutally. We were working on cover up stories for my grandparents. I mean, why not tell them the truth? I was still taking time to heal from the previous situation, and the added pressure to provide them with my decision within an anticipated timeframe amplified my issues.

What many don’t understand is that mental health is a subjective issue. I was and still am taking my time to get out of my house and merge with the crowd. Questions like, “When are you planning on your next job?” or “Have you decided whether you want to do a PhD or stick to corporate?”, are the ones that can be triggersome. I don’t blame these people because they are asking the right questions, but the entire “How are you, Asmita?” goes missing. To understand it differently, what if my leg was majorly broken and the healing needed months, would I still be asked the same questions? So yes, societal attitudes change drastically whether we like it or not, and the additional layer is that we have to deal with this as well. During the process of healing, I gained a lot of friends but also lost a lot of them.

It is true that I want to be an academician, a professor, and eventually retreat myself into being an author. However, those are my dreams and aspirations, and I get to decide when to step in and when “not” to step into those dreams. No other person, not even my parents, has a hold over what my life should look like. It's personal to me, and it is my step to take. All my life, I have resorted to their advice and done everything (almost) that they wanted me to do. So yes, I eventually prepared myself to work towards my PhD. It was only when my father called me up and asked me to get a job that I realised they are human beings who change their minds as much as I do. We are all shifting our minds constantly, but we seldom accept and express our circumstances, losses, and failures because we want to stay strong. Rather we need to keep up our “image” of strength.

I’m taking my parents’ example since they are the closest to me, and I have observed them stringing together the image of “ideal parents”, almost next to God. Hell, I swear at God too (really, I do). But well, all joking aside, I am focusing on “parents” because we are their extensions. At least, they see us as their extensions. And, while this may sound like I am objectifying us all, we are their “products”. They can’t help but tame us in every way possible so that we don’t turn into them. And while their intentions are the best and they know the “whats” and the “whys,” they can mess up with the “hows” a lot.

The generational conflict, the misunderstanding of love and genuineness, taking sensitivity for weakness, making us women feel inferior about our sexual choices, and most importantly, running away from difficult conversations—these are the things that lead most of us to succumb to pot, cigarettes, and alcohol, and when everything is done with, we start counting our days to deliberate our life as a whole.

If you have gotten this far, I already consider you a fan of my words. I’ll make one last point, or else this will turn into a book, sis. I don’t know if you are a feminist, and I don’t dislike people who don’t want to label themselves as feminists. I don’t care. When I am asked whether I am a feminist, I say yes, but it is very personal to me, just like God. However, I do believe in a sisterhood and we women are good listeners, empaths, sensitive and understanding. We have all the qualities that have been de-prowessed by society. But, these are the most essential qualities for the human race to survive and progress. So as a sister and friend, count me in, and let’s tell them that we don’t care. We have drained ourselves trying to be good listeners to our men, our mothers, the daughters too, our friends, and more. Damn, if we are tired. We are f***** tired. Let the world know and pause. Take a breather, and be a goddamn mess for as long as you need to. No one, I repeat, “no one,” defines your worth and your emotions.

Reach out to me for more talk on Instagram: @not_so_bangalan


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