[This article was first written for and published on Women’s Republic.]
TRIGGER WARNING: DEPRESSION, ANXIETY
Last month, I was diagnosed with moderately severe depression and severe anxiety.
It didn’t come as a surprise to me, because I had suspected for a while that I did, in fact, have depression. There had always been this loneliness and sadness deep inside of me, an ocean of happiness just within my grasp but I was never able to reach it, to baptize myself in it. But the thing is, depression isn’t always just sadness – it’s hopelessness, lack of motivation, caring about nothing and not wanting to exist anymore. Anxiety, on the other hand, is caring about everything and it’s me freaking out over the smallest things, overthinking people’s words and every little action.
Mental health is not perceived to be as serious as any physical calamities. Why? I’ll never know. If the brain is sick, so is the body. Being a part of a desi family, I am supposed to constantly be happy, think of the future and prepare for the day I marry a Bangladeshi, good Muslim man and go to live with him and his family. Because that is the sole purpose for a girl in my community: marriage (and always to someone of the same race, but that’s a topic for another time). Anyway.
The point is, Desi families fail to understand the magnitude of mental health and the impact it has on an individual, and they are unable to comprehend the vicious grip it has on a person’s emotional state and way of thinking and perceiving the world. I was asked “what have you got to be sad about?” when I spoke about it, because “your father gets you everything and he gives you money whenever you want, he has already saved up for your wedding”. The same old question “manushe kita khoyba (what will people say)?” was thrown at me quite a few times during a lecture of me being ungrateful, selfish and thinking of only myself. Because other people are suffering out in the world and I have everything.
Other people’s suffering does not take away my own pain; it does not make my pain any less valid or real. I am allowed to hurt. The lack of understanding our families have is vast, and this causes a further decline in healing, or being able to get out of the dark hole of depression and anxiety, which constantly drags us to bed. My own family’s lack of understanding, and their use of religion as a way to shame and guilt trip me into thinking my depression is my own fault, makes me wary of ever talking to them about anything.
Many families don’t see the effect their words and actions have, particularly on a person suffering from depression – their lack of emotional support is like a giant weight on one’s shoulders, causing their knees to buckle and sink to the floor. Then we’re told, “it’s because you don’t pray enough.” As if that’s helpful. Praying is not the ultimate cure for depression and anxiety, so I fail to see why we are constantly told to “just pray” whenever the topic is brought up. Nobody says to pray away a tumor or broken bones. So why is this seen as different?
The stigma surrounding mental health is one of shame, embarrassment, and uneducated responses. It makes a person feel as if they ought to be ashamed for the chemical imbalance in their brain, for the way they feel and cannot control because nobody asks to be taunted by the demons roaming around in their mind and the cavity of their chest. Nobody wants to be bound to their bed, held hostage by depression, whilst anxiety stood guard, a soldier making sure it was impossible to be around anyone for too long, because it is scary and demanded too much, and required caring about everything and nothing and — nobody wants this.
Everyone talks about making sure your friends are okay or caring about mental health, but really, nobody does anything about it. The topic is sensitive and there’s always an uncomfortable shift in the air whenever depression is brought up, suicide and self-harm are the kind of thing you can’t exactly talk about at the dinner table. Especially not in an Asian household. “Amar essay o ami First faysi, ar amma, amar zaneh sai ami morizitam. Basteh zeh khoshto lageh. Ami sai na o dunyat roitam (I got a first in my essay and, mum, I want to die. I find it difficult to live. I don’t want to exist in this world anymore).”
How would that go?
Our families lack understanding and it is a difficult subject to broach. But we need to talk about mental health, about depression and anxiety and bipolar disorder, and eating disorders. If only for the sake of our own sanity. I was able to get one of my cousins to explain self-harm and depression to my mother. Finding someone who can explain these things in a way the elders and other people in our families will understand is an important way of getting the conversation to shift from blame and being considered “ungrateful” to being seen as someone who is in need of help and support and love.