On Mental Health

This is a post about mental health. I don’t claim to be an expert on the topic, the only experience I have with mental health or the lack of it is having been a sufferer for as long as I can remember. I do not use the word “depression” henceforth in this post for I am told it’s a clinical term, like diabetes, and I haven’t been diagnosed with it ever. Formally.

So here is what I find works and doesn’t work for me.

1. Sharing on social media: I am moderately open on social media about my failures and insecurities. I do this not because it helps me a lot (perhaps a bit) but because I find the insincerity of happiness projection on social media stiflingly oppressive (I am not saying I don’t do this myself, this projection). I have been advised against griping on Facebook because it gives me enemies satisfaction, and it’s true it does, but I still think it’s worth it, if only to let those that don’t share their failed dreams so openly know that they are not alone.

Here’s the thing. The unending collage of success that is your friend feed is made up of people giving you only a curated slice of their life. If they were more honest about their checkins, for instance into the waiting room at Sealdah station as they were about their checkin into Emirates first class lounge, social media might end up cooling us down rather than inflaming us further.

Is sharing your failures attention seeking? Maybe it is, but isn’t that true for all social media behavior?

2. Talking to friends doesn’t work for me. What usually happens to me is that I am told things that make me feel even worse, and since I sought that person out, I need to stay silent and bear it. Either that or I wind up listening to that person’s problems all the while thinking “which turn did I take to reach here?”

Yes it’s obvious I don’t have many friends.

3. Getting professional help. In other words, you pay so that they don’t tell you their problems.

My own experience. This has been an unmitigated disaster. Part of it has been my terrible experience with psychiatrists in Calcutta when I was in college and was in therapy for let’s just say years. Not one, but with two (one made house calls) psychiatrists. Besides the medication, which made me sleepy and made me put on weight and made me lose my metabolic balance for good but did nothing to give any sort of peace, I would sit and get shouted at by them. Yes you heard that right. Shouted at.

What will happen to my parents, what a terrible person I am for thinking like this (it should be obvious by now why I was there) and that I should “man” up. Yeah that bad. Overall these two succeeded in making me feel terrible and miserable, even more that I was, which when you think about it, was quite the achievement. And so it went on till either I cried (“man” up) or I sat stone faced and waited for the session to end. I was 21 then. For those who have read Yatrik, that story about the teacher and the boy who paints was told to me to by a person in the waiting room of the psychiatrist. The one that didn’t make house calls. The one that was the worst. There is a bit of this in Mahabharata Murders too.

4. What works for me is going to sleep. Nothing is better than rebooting the threads in your brain.

5. Maybe it’s me but I don’t think talking per se solves problems. For me reading does. I read a lot about philosophy, analytically trying to deconstruct why I feel what I feel and what I can do. I mean what can someone tell me that I haven’t already thought about myself?

6. Some toxicity in life you can’t walk away from, you own it. But some, surprisingly more than you think, you can. I walked away from Indian publishers and agents because it was pushing me to a place I knew I won’t be able to come back from. Do I miss writing? Yes I do. But it’s definitely worth what I have gained. Being sane.

And yes someday when reading habits change I will be back. Terminator style.

7. Just because you really want something the world won’t conspire to make it happen. It did for Paulo Coelho though because people bought into that shit. Just because you put your phone number in the comments of Disha Patani’s Insta account every day without fail and with full sincerity does not mean she will call you back. Recognize the boats that have sailed. And raise your hat and wave goodbye.

8. No matter how terrible you may think life is, there will be good moments, and they will come to you unannounced, the laughter of your daughter, a humming bird on a flower, a good movie, a rerun of Gunda, a great book, a perfect bite of a kabab, a kind word, being mistaken for Arnab Goswami on Twitter, and when they do happen, out of the blue, remember that moment.

Life is surprising, in bad ways of course but good too. Even if you are 9 wickets down, bat out the overs. There will be some wides, the world will overstep in your favor and who knows, it just might rain.

9. Take care of yourself, and be thankful, even if you sometimes forget what for.

20 thoughts on “On Mental Health

  1. Sunitha Ramachandran June 16, 2020 — 6:13 am

    Really liked this post. It was honest and didn’t claim to have answers. I volunteer with a helpline Samaritans Mumbai; help and resources is available and works at times.

    1. Take Care Arnab. From personal experience and from reading a lot of psychology and philosophy, have come to the conclusion that it stems from undue expectations from the world and self. Whats most disturbing is how quickly the definition of undue has been changing over the years. Upon deeper introspection, it appeared like it is stemming from “self” and its attributes. Over the years, have seen several things help, including music, movie, a book, sometimes PG Woodehouse or Henri Cecil, but honestly, funny musings including what you have written too. . I don’t know if it makes you feel better, but by just being yourself, you are already helping. What greater purpose for capabilities then? may be want to do more? Is there an end? No Answers, I guess we keep pushing the envelope and get depressed when we hit a boundary at times. I have always come out a better person from these bouts. Thats as far as I could get in my experiments and experiences. Sorry, if its unsolicited and it went exactly in the lines you expected a few to react :-).

  2. Qarrthiquoe S Aiyer June 16, 2020 — 6:27 am

    Ardent reader of your posts,sir.Could not miss the “Gunda” reference!Thank you for everything.

  3. Some real problems have been shared by you that most of us go through in our lives.

  4. Nice points Arnab. Some more points:
    1. Aerobics or some vigorous physical exercise help.
    2. Like sleep, good food also helps.
    3. Counsellors and psychiatrists are even more difficult to evaluate than medical doctors. That person may be a quack or maybe genuinely good. In the absence of good recommendation, it is better to start with a general physician whom YOU trust, rather than directly going to a counsellor.
    4. Caution: bullet#1 and 2 can work under mild conditions. For extreme cases seeking medical help is necessary.
    5. Three-good-things (check it out on the internet) can help to see the positive experiences which pessimists may sometimes miss out.
    6. It is very difficult to be the shoulder to a depressed person. I completely empathize with the friend which Arnab referred to in his bullet#2. Best of friends/family/relative cannot be expected to listen to all negativities of a depressed person without getting affected themselves. This, in turn, makes the listening-therapy less effective.

  5. Thanks for sharing. For many people, talking does work, especially to an understanding friend or a professional. I don’t think the psychiatrists you met can be classified as professionals (reminds me of the guy from Gervais’ After Life). Some people do need medication for serious diagnosed mental illness.

    Mental illness has as many facets and variety as physical ones and sometime the two are related. And it should be treated the same way and with as much focus and physical illness is.

  6. Thanks for sharing. For many people, talking does work, especially to an understanding friend or a professional. I don’t think the psychiatrists you met can be classified as professionals (reminds me of the guy from Gervais’ After Life). Some people do need medication for serious diagnosed mental illness.

    Mental illness has as many facets and variety as physical disease and sometime the two are related. And it should be treated the same way and with as much focus as physical illness is.

    1. Sleep and reading – they always work. And talking to someone who will listen – could be friend or close relative – but not everyone is lucky enough to have those kind of people.

  7. A Gunda rerun always, always works. The Room is a worthy substitute as well. 🙂

    I’m one of your early readers, although lately, I’ve found myself disagreeing with your political writings. But, in a “oh-always-interested-to-hear-what-you-have-to-say-why”, it’s always a great perspective to have. But, as one of your early readers, wanted to step in to say I have always loved your voice. It is unpretentious, hilarious and always insightful. I’m sorry it didn’t work out with those publishers. That’s our loss.

    Also, resonated with many things. Therapy and psychiatry are a joke in India and like you, I found philosophy a refuge. Schopenhauer and Foucault over medication and vague advice on “eating fruits and vegetables and briskly walking 30 mins a day” any day. Thank you for the honesty and the vulnerability.

  8. Another post which shows why you ought to be writing way more than you do.

  9. I have started to pass most of your tweets/threads and blogs to my son who is 24 now. Going to pass this one too. I am glad he appreciates them.

  10. It is surprising to know many are hiding mental health issues. I am greatly surprised until I listened to your podcast. Yes your podcast has given me immense pleasure, satisfaction and joy. my Monday 20k steps are accompanied with attention pliss.

    my podcast listening habbit started with attention pliss and now listening to more than half a dozen tech/non tech podcast. yes walking helps me overcome my mental health, specially during these extraordinary times. Only to add, my forties has worsened it.

    Like you said, I am biting certain bullets and it is always one thought in the morning when I wake up. Divine has given one more day to live.

    I have tried counselling, but it put too much introspection on one self. carrying family burden, responsibilities and middle class, you want a dreamy life, but then all your goals cannot be achieved, because living a daily fulfilling life is itself becoming a dreamy one.

    I have always wondered how this guy from tier two city from south of india, discovered ‘random thoughts of a demented mind’, understood , cherished, emphasized and laughed at, for whom gunda was never heard of or mithun was distant star or Calcutta only produced swami vivekananda

    I have nothing more to say. And one more I have bought a copy of Sultan of Delhi and enjoyed reading.

  11. Abhishek Kumar Singh June 16, 2020 — 3:02 pm

    you may remove google+ link from the blog. It is dead. Long live this blog though.

  12. Love the post. Thanks for sharing!

  13. You have a gift for blending poignancy and humor – even in a post about yourself. From personal experience, (5) works- just takes a long time ~ 10 years. Yes, generic advice from well-meaning strangers/friends/relatives is really annoying…

  14. Arnab, I’ve read you for years, but never commented. This one left me no choice. It’s touching and personal at a level that little has been for a very, very long time. Thank you for many exceptional posts over the years, and particularly for this one.

  15. After reading this post, I don’t know what to say – You just told me everything that I wanted to tell myself. However, the one thing that I cant agree with you is about therapy. I think professional help is much better than other forms of help. I’m not saying that anyone should do as I say, or believe what I say. All I’m saying is that they are people who studied stuff and generally know how to take care of the situation. It may be that reading books or sleeping will work for you, but it may not always, and it won’t work with everyone.

  16. Love you Sushant Singh Rajput. Can’t get over what he did and still cry about it. The tragic thing is I ‘discovered’ and know his true value only after his passing away. Medicine and therapy are a must. In India both are not evolved. Since depression is disease of mind, the problem that happens is it permanently changes your world view and makes you a negative person. Thus the therapist helps you separate the results of chemical imbalance in brain with what is the reality and makes you see things objectively.
    In India, not having good mental health care, celebs can become a voice and bring about change like deepika is doing little bit. I wish SSR too had founded some mental health hospitals in rural bihar. This is what would have given him endless joy for rest of his life. Making a difference and saving others. At the end of the day, you have platform, followers. Do something for others and that gives true joy, possible only thing in life worth doing. We all live a very selfish life, where we do not extend ourselves beyond our immediate family (forget friends even won’t do things for extended family). So if everyone is for themselves, then mental health issues will happen in industrial age. There is no pishimaa to carress you and feed you fish and listen to your complains about your mom/spouse/job/issues in life. Without extended family/friends support, the only other thing that helps is Vedanta.

  17. Hey Arnab,

    My first comment here. I had NCGS ( non celiac gluten insensitiivity) and was unaware of it until past few months. One of the symptom of it is fatigue, negative emotions like depression and anxiety. I suffered for 10 years but your blog was one thing that gave me temporary repreieve. Uve helped me in ways you didnt know.

    Thank you.

    I am doing well now .

    1. Thank you so much for letting me know that I made a difference. Thank you again and I am glad you are doing well.

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