It has been two years since my journey with Spoken word Poetry began. More than 7 years since my recognition of my declining mental health did. Speaking about it, did not begin in the first 5 years. Neither did acknowledging it exists, so any prospects of help or medication was certainly out of question. I belong to a family of well-read, really aware human beings who somehow have failed to understand mental health as ‘being a thing’. I did eventually get help.
I have struggled with telling my story. So I have often resorted to telling it in bits and pieces to suit the person or the occasion I am catering to. Today is when I put it together for once. Offer it without filters.
But this is not a sad story. It is not even a story that will make you cry. It is more of an exhalation. Me, finally speaking it all, out loud. Or rather, writing it down. This is a documentation of these years that it took for me to finally be able to talk about it. And while I am doing this, I am aware of just how many people have had absolutely no idea of anything that has been going on, Including my parents.
Trigger warnings : PTSD, suicide, self-harm, repression and depression.
My first episode with depression was when I was 16. I was unable to function or study. Being in class 10 came with all the pressures of being an over-achiever. Coming from a family of unrest, where all of were so scattered that we knew nothing about each other, I coped by learning to eat a lot. Chocolate was my go to. I remember gaining weight, being called fat, being body shamed, teased by everyone who’d never seen with an ounce of fat on my body. And guess what, I didn’t care. Eating the chocolate came easier. Another trick I had discovered was self-harm. If I hurt myself enough, anything else was just an addition to that. I could deal with the emotional stuff if I could manifest it on my body.
I was a 16-year-old over-achiever with a family almost divorced and an eating disorder. But I did top the school.
The second time it hit me was the very next year. I was almost done with school. Ready to begin out in the real world when I was assaulted in Ahmedabad. There were two men who stopped just short of rape because my phone wouldn’t stop ringing and my best friend wouldn’t stop calling. I never told anybody about this. I did try to talk to a therapist in my family, a family friend actually who told me to ‘stop making it a big deal, it wasn’t even a rape, technically.’
I was a 17 year old at NIFT with a history of trauma, depression and self-harm. I was also still an over-achiever.
Of course I could not catch up to the fast pace of a design college. By the time I got to my second year in college, I was an emotional wreck. I had amazing friends and yet had managed to get to a point where I had absolutely no idea I was so depressed that I had stopped eating. One meltdown day, I finally told my mother I couldnt stay in the college anymore that I was ready to die rather than stay there a moment longer. When she came to meet me, I was 30 kg in weight, I couldnt eat without throwing up and I could hardly breathe anymore.
2012 had me being diagnosed with 3rd-grade lung infection, which is a variation of tuberculosis, only a grade higher. I was allergic to my meds and that led to a drug-induced jaundice.
I was 20, depressed, had to drop out of college for a year, was on a bucketload of medication and weighed 30 kg. I couldn’t even breathe on my own.
The next two years were spent in recovery. The other two in college after I was better. But by the time I graduated, I was a different person. I was ready to come back to the city of Ahmedabad. The place where all my trauma began. I was also aware of the fact that I did not want to be a fashion designer. At all. Which is when I began this blog. Which is when I began writing again. I also realized I now have scars on my lungs which will last for my lifetime, as a side effect to my medication. Pulmonary fibrosis they call it.
The last three years I lived in Ahmedabad. I, am now a pro at the art of rebuilding a life. I was aware that all my plans had failed and now, I didn’t want to make one. Failing hurt too much. I was a woman untethered, ready to begin again, to give myself over to anything that caught my eye and to jump blind into this thing called life. Which is what led me to the best things that have happened to me. Everything from poetry to friends who are now family, happened because I walk through life as a blank slate, everyday. I wipe off the past everday and begin new every single day.
But the depression has no schedule. It hit me more times than I can count in these years. In fact I can chalk it all up to one big episode of being in a daze while trying my best to use a windshield in the fog.
I met a man who taught me the importance of letting people be. Listening quietly. And with all my knowledge and so-called wisdom, it took him telling me that it was not my fault, that I needed a therapist that I still suffered from severe PTSD, that I could finally gather the courage to find one. After 5 failed appointments and many downright bizarre experiences, I found one I could actually talk to. I finally stopped the self-harm, the cutting.
And while that has helped, immensely, sometimes the medication is a pain. But very necessary. I have learnt to accept my life with therapy and medication as integral parts of it. I have learnt to wake up on days feeling like a total failure and wanting to die. I have learnt that there are days when all i want to do is stop existing. I have learnt that I will want to scream, shout but I have repressed my trauma in a way that doesn’t allow me the liberty of space.
Every day I learn the extent to which I have repressed my fears. Every day I learn just how much exists in me that I didn’t know I had. Everday I change, my suffering changes. Every day, I go to sleep wishing I don’t wake up. I learnt I have multiple mental health issues. And while I thought all this time it was high functioning depression, it was last month that it became clear I am highly driven by my PTSD which goes beyond the assault, beyond the sickness, beyond the depression. It goes all the way to my childhood. But I am learning to ask for help.
And while I sit here writing all this down, hoping to make some sort of sense into this thing that I call life, I see no chronology anymore. None of what has happened has ever affected me directly. And everything I am is a jenga tower carefully stacked upon invisible bricks that might give up on me someday.
I am learning to breathe, everyday.
Poetry helped. Everything from classical to spoken word to the amazing amazing utterly gorgeous people who are a part of the poetry community helped. Poetry was the first place I belonged. They let me breathe and I, in turn, tried to do the same to anyone in need. Poetry communities have been so supportive, so accepting, so attentive to all of this. There is a place for anyone who needs. I found a quiet nook to fit in.
And while I could list down a lot of things that did help, it was mainly friends and family I made through my art that helped. There exist in this world people who are constantly trying to be better, kinder, braver. They exist, and I am lucky enough to have found some of them. A lot of them. So while this post might be a confession to many, it is thank you note to a lot. Even if you are reading this, this is a thank you note to you.
PS: I had hoped for this post to be a chronological explanation of who I am as a person, but clearly, I am struggling with that. And I think almost all of us do, at one point or other in our lives. And though I am not okay, I am learning to ask for help.
Artists who helped: Andrea Gibson, Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling, Dan Fogelman, Richard Linklater, Gilmore Girls, Lorde, Porcupine Tree, Audioslave, Sarah Kay, Anis Mojgani are few people (very very few artists) who help. Always.
This is me. Struggling, every day. Somedays on medication, somedays on self-loathing, some on pure adrenaline and some out of sheer will to not live. But I manage to take one breath after the next. This is the space where I live, in the attempt to take one breathe after the next. On my good days, I will try and be there for all people I can, on my bad days, I barely manage to get out of bed. But this is where I live, you know my address now.
I have begun using my poetry to talk, to create safe spaces, to talk more about mental health because I often struggled with it myself. And my struggle isn’t a solitary one.
So here it is. The coming out story. They say it begins by telling a loved one your story. Here it is.
(if you need to talk, need a friend, I promise to help)
4 thoughts on “Exhale …”
I briefly knew some part of your story, and now the remaining as well. Thanks to the poetry community that I wasn’t even a part of. Art, the best way to protest and the best form of self-healing. It broke my heart to see you in the picture in which you weigh just 30 kg. But I’m also so happy to see how you survived, fought and grew into a beautiful girl inside out.
After losing my father at the age of 17, things turned upside down for me as well as my family. Despite being the youngest I also had to be the bravest, taking charge of my life, taking care of my mother and an old grandfather. For two years I took any tranquillizer I could lay my hands on to fight insomnia or to avoid the horrible dreams I used to see. I still get nightmares almost every single day. Multiple incidents of molestation also haunted me every now and then. Whether it is this story or chaos, so much of it resonates with how I often feel about myself or life in general.
Having said that, I want to say how much I adore you! It may not seem believable given the fact that we have not spent much time together. But there was this instant affinity from the very first time I met you. Whenever I bottle-up, am angry and vent it out on someone unnecessarily; and then read something you have posted on social media… I imagine how kind you would have been if you were in my place. Even after going through so much at such a tender age and also fighting everything soon after, you are so pious! You come across as someone who never ill thinks of or ill-treats anyone.
There were times I thought of catching up with you but then thought you have your set of younger, closer friends to spend time with. I was also going to ask you to collaborate on work front in any arrangement you deemed fit as I love the way you write and express. That very week I found out that you are soon moving to the USA. I was both happy for you and a little sad about missing out on you as a peer.
More than anything, I just feel very proud of you. You re-instil my faith in goodness somehow and I wish I could be as kind as you.
I just want to wish you the best of everything in life. And I would like to tell you what my father told me on his last day, “Be strong, maintain your innocence and never change for anyone!”
Love and hugs!
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SWATIIIIIIIIIII You could have just messaged me.. I will help in your project however I can. I just have been going through a lot these last couple of months and have been a little AWOL. But please.. lets catch up! And I will reply in detail to this in dm! loads of love to you ❤ always!
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Thank you for sharing your story. I know how hard it can be. Surviving itself is such a triumph, and you have overcome so much, and are impacting people with your words. I hope you are proud of that!
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Thank you !! I am learning to accept it all. slowly and steadily.. and people like you help me feel proud.. thank you so much! ❤
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