For my Sunday long runs, I usually take a very scenic route on the outskirts of Bangalore.
It’s a Bangalore far away from the noise, chaos, and dust. Here, hills loom in the distance. A lake laps away lazily. Yawning puppies nip at my feet. Startled cows stop their grazing to gaze. Birds get busy doing whatever birds have to be busy with at 6 am.
Almost always, I take the same route. I dread to come upon unexpected uphill roads. This road, I know, I think. I have studied its contours and can control how my run goes. If that’s not a metaphor for how I have led life, I don’t know what else is.
This Sunday though I took the same road, at one point, I took a different turn. I passed factories now. The lake was behind me. And then, I saw it—a mental health institute. A memory flashed.
I had been here. Many years ago. When I was in college, we had come here to get “first-hand” experience of mental health. We were a bunch of students who knew nothing about mental health apart from the paper “Abnormal Psychology.” We had come there, gawking and gaping.
We passed by corridors of pain. A woman rocked herself back and forth relentlessly. Another stood where she was, unmoving—catatonic stupor. Someone else screamed. Again and again. My head reeled.
I came out of the wards to the green grass, and a man came to talk to us. Dressed in a red T-shirt and blue jeans, he paused to ask us questions. “I have done my MBA,” he revealed. We nodded. He must be the manager, we thought.
We spoke for a while.
Then, our escort found us. He smiled nervously at the smartly dressed man. “Sorry,” our attendant mumbled. We looked at him, puzzled. “He has acute manic schizophrenia. He shouldn’t have been near you.”
I remember turning back to look at him. He was still standing there, looking out at the grass. It was an image that would remain with me for the rest of my life. Is this what schizophrenia looks like? I thought.
Mental illness, I had thought, is all the violence, rage, stupor, the very obvious “signs.” But that man showed me just how internal our battles are and that nothing is what it appears on the surface.
Over the last few months, nothing about the mental wellness I have grappled with fits into that mold. By all accounts, people think I have it all sorted. Yet, I have gone through numbing paralysis, flashbacks, revisiting trauma, anxiety, disconnection from people, and struggles to work. After being harassed by 91 calls one day years ago, my mind started to process all calls as “danger.” It took me a while to even connect my anxiety at taking calls with what had happened, so deeply had I buried it. This year, after going through the terrifying anxiety of watching people I love being hospitalized one after another, I flinch every time anyone I love even coughs. I rewound this tape endlessly in my mind. This tape called shame and guilt. My way of processing any ill-treatment is to forgive quickly. Make things alright with the person who hurt me rather than express really what I feel. “That is a normal response to trauma,” my therapist told me yesterday. She said it kindly. Very kindly. And my heart broke at what I had been doing to myself.
So, here I am.
I am broken in different places. But those places are all letting in light.
I have gone through the most difficult battle just to get justice. I can’t write about it because that’s the price I have to pay for my safety. Women have to live in fear even when they are right.
If someone with the resources I have had to struggle so much, my heart goes out to less-privileged women and men and everyone who would have to spend their lives silenced. Who have to deal with trauma without being able to afford a therapist. Who have to manage mental wellness without the beautiful, nourishing support network of amazing friends that I have. The sort of friends who have shown me they would do anything for me.
And my mind goes back to that intelligent young man I saw then. I wonder if he healed. I wonder if he got back to using his MBA at work.
I can only send him Metta, send him as much loving-kindness for him as I do for myself.
And I can only continue to work on compassionate wellness for myself.
As part of my work with LifeWordsmith, I will start India’s first mental health content platform to provide everyone easy access to credible, authentic information on mental wellness.
We intend to build free listening circles headed by mental health professionals so that everyone has a space to be heard. For that beautiful voice of pain to burst into song.
The process of standing up has left me drained.
But there’s beauty in my life: in the love I have, the support I have, the immense beauty of the vast sky that tells me that “it will all be ok.”
I am healing, and I promise to leave your world a better place once I am done.