“Mental Health” has probably been the most discussed issue on social media, and in households, for the past few weeks. We all have had some opinion or the other on the same and shared helpline numbers with others. But why is it that it only takes a human’s life, or the threat of one’s identity being snatched away, or an incident of racial discrimination, for people to understand and deliberate mental health? Why can’t people regard it as crucial as a three-course meal for dinner?
There’s a stigma around mental health that it’s “unacceptable” and “untrue”. “You sleep too much”, “you’re always on your phone”, “you don’t eat enough”, “you’ve been watching too many shows”, “you’re just being lazy”, “it’s get better once you get into a college”, “don’t be so dramatic” are just some of the popular remarks you will often receive from people when you sit down to discuss the state of your mind with them. And it doesn’t end here, this list goes on, followed by a few threats such as having our cell phones taken away. No one really wants to listen, no one wants to try to step into the shoes of the person sitting opposite to them, screaming internally for help. The bags under the eyes are noticed and reprimanded for, but the sweaty palms and heavy breathing is often overlooked.
This is why I think there is a lot that is wrong with our understanding of mental health or mental illness. We claim ourselves to have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) for simply cringing at a messy room. We casually say we are depressed when, in fact, we’re really just bored. Someone who is short tempered is said to have bipolar disorder when they both are very different from each other. Throwing away phrases like, “Why can’t you let me be? I am very depressed right now,” at our mothers after having an argument with a friend that smacked your ego, or yelling, “Why are you so bipolar?” at your sister who is an ambivert, or saying, “I’m having a panic attack,” over an assignment submission due the next day (and the only reason you’re running out of time is because you couldn’t miss your best friend’s cousin’s Diwali party), is not acceptable.
Do you know why? Because there are people in this world, people around us, who are actually suffering from depression, or who’re really bipolar. People who can’t step out of their houses because of OCD, people who have authentic anxiety attacks, people who’re hyperactive, or schizophrenic, or autistic, or undergoing PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). We cannot carelessly use these terms to bully someone, or for the sole reason of gaining attention, or victimising ourselves because we can’t bear the sight of other people being taken care of. A classmate of ours could be suffocating within while we’re gathered like a pack of wolves, laughing away. A colleague could be shaking their leg constantly, praying for their meeting to be over without being asked for a suggestion. A passenger in the metro could be counting down the number of stations left and the steps they need to take to carefully step out of the compartment, without bumping into someone or stumbling. An old friend could be struggling today searching for motivation to just get out of bed. We know them, but we don’t know them; their smiles can be deceptive, holding tears back, cloaking pain, suppressing screams.
This is not to say that we can’t go through falls in our lives. I’ve always compared human life with a rollercoaster – there are loops big and small, steep slopes, tight turns and sometimes inversions. I’m a big fan of rollercoasters and I’m sure many of you readers are, too. But are we also fans of the ride that our life is? Not so much. I don’t mean that we cannot get worked up to the extent that we start crying, that we cannot have a heart-breaking experience that stings so bad it makes us want to curl up and go inside a shell like the turtle. We’re humans, feeling blue is natural, going through strenuous chapters is a part of life.
Our friends and family, work, news, social media, studies etc. can sometimes be too overwhelming and we may need a break from them. Our brains can only take too much strain. When they start delivering the red warning signs, that should be your cue to let it rest, to let it breathe. And I have a few suggestions on what we can do to encourage and convince our mind to bounce back up again.
The very first step towards getting better is not feeling guilty about feeling upset. You can vent and cry, regardless of your sex, and no one is in a position to judge you. You shouldn’t bottle up your emotions in the fear of being judged, of what your friends or parents will say, or because you’re constantly hearing the ringing bells of “boys don’t cry” or “girls are so weak because they’re so emotional”. Once the cap of that bottle pops open, your feelings will hit you like a huge wave and you will find yourself drowning in them. Sometimes you may find a hand to pull you out of the water, but other times it may be too late before you start sinking to the bottom.
Talk it out. Get your parent(s), or your best friend, or your favourite sibling, or your diary, or your pet to sit with you and make them listen. The human heart and mind are dainty, and they’re connected – what affects one affects the other, so it’s necessary to treasure both. When the shards of glass can be felt piercing through your heart, the only way to prevent them from tearing it apart is by letting it all out. And trust me when I say that people do make a genuine effort to listen and understand and help you, because they love you and care about you. Never forget that.
If you’re not much of a talker, go for a walk, or a jog, or engage yourself in any other form of physical exercise. Mediate. Nothing is more peaceful than letting your mind free of all thoughts and focusing on your breath. You can go for the 4-7-8 technique – breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7, and breathe out for 8. Hear your breaths, count every single one of them, and be grateful that you’re alive. Listen to music. Lay in the middle of your bed without a pillow and all lights off, plug in your earphones and let the instrumental version of your favourite ballad blast through them. Pick a song that doesn’t make you sad but instead gives you peace of mind. Shut the world out for some time; you’re the only person in the room, in your own world, you, you, you.Give yourself a pedicure, play with your pets, spend time with your grandparents, read a good book, watch a rom-com (let’s face it, we all have a favourite), listen to a podcast, bake/cook something for yourself, order your preferred donuts, coffee and watch Friends (or any other comedy show of your choice). I never thought I’d say this but Netflix can be your best friend when you need it to. My personal therapist has been the Qur’an and I’m not exaggerating this in the slightest. I cannot stress enough on the fact that being close to your God does do wonders. So have faith.
Faith in Him and faith in yourself. In one of the verses of the holy Qur’an it has been said, “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…” (2:286). It’s my absolute favourite quote and I honestly elevate my spirits every time it comes to my mind. Take care of yourself. You may feel the need to change your company if your heart’s turning bitter and you’re having negative thoughts. You may feel the need to go off social media to get away from the toxic world that it sometimes becomes. You may feel the need to analyse the behaviour of your family to understand where the real problem lies. Do not ever compare yourself with anyone. We’re all born different and unique, help your parents understand that after you yourself do so.
Always be kind. To anyone and everyone. We never know what effect our actions and words can have on someone. Think before you speak, act wisely. It doesn’t cost us anything to show acts of kindness.
Lastly, it’s never too late to seek help, professional or not. Asking for support and comfort is not a sign of weakness and is nothing to be ashamed of. There are people who want to help you, reach out to them. You’re never alone.
Your mental health is more important than any job, any internship or assignment, more important than being aware about current affairs. Take some time off from this world to spend it for your well-being in another world you need to create for yourselves. You being mentally alive should be your top priority.Mental health is complex, it’s real and worth making time for.