Dear You (You know who you are), With an ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, life has become difficult for everyone. The effects of lack of awareness on mental health in our country can be felt far and wide. (The oblivious reportage surrounding the suicide of late Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput is a very recent example.) People’s perception of mental health has now become a funny story. Funny because despite being the most complex issue it has more often than not been placed on two ends of the spectrum.
One has to have had a suffering or hard blow in life to justify mental health battles. Or as we may have heard it so many times- He/she has got everything, what mental health issues does he/she have to deal with! Overcoming taboos, empathizing and being sensitive to someone facing mental health issues is another battle all together. This World Mental Health Day, I want to share a very personal part of me, so it can open a dialogue, more so for mothers.
It’s ironic that I have to say “luckily” I fell in the former category to escape doubts or questions about my mental health challenges.
After all, my expected happiness of being a first time mother was not just short-lived but became excruciatingly painful. My child was born with a rare congenital heart defect, literally battling life and death. It was not just postpartum hormone havoc or nervousness of the new mother anymore, it became a different challenge all together.
It’s extremely difficult to see your days old baby struggling to breathe, and knowing that her struggle will only increase with each passing day.
I clearly remember that in the first few days, I was in shock. After that I had no choice but to embrace my bitter reality.
I knew I could try to take forward whatever is in my control and move from day to day. Living in the hospital and ICU corridors months after months, surgery after surgery, you become a robot in the hands of life and just follow what is expected of you. And you crave for that sense of normalcy. And like every mother, I did not want to see my child suffer any more.
And my little baby did not suffer any further, she moved on to a better place. A place where she is no longer in pain, no longer with tubes put in her little body. It was an ironic relief. But the loss, grief and trauma of the entire experience changed me forever in more ways than one.
Trauma paralyses you quite literally. For me moving from one room to another room was a daunting task. As the sun used to go down, my ability to move or being alone scared me to no end. I knew I needed help.
The only blessing in disguise for me was being aware that I needed help. I needed therapy and while family or friends support you unconditionally, professional help is the actual solution.
We, my husband and I, had moved to a new country after our loss. The initial teething adjustments led to a situation that the therapy was online and not regular. It helped me overcome my fear of darkness and moving from one room to another.
And then I felt some excruciating unexplained pains in my leg and after undergoing all possible tests with no conclusive results for the cause of the same, it hit me that I need proper therapy again. Depression and anxiety do cause some unexplained pains. Again I was aware of that occurrence which helped me.
I would wait to go to my therapist and while my loss and grief can never get over, it helped me tremendously to be able to cope with it, make it part of me, my life and existence yet not cripple me.
Issue of Mental Health Awareness
We in India believe having family, relatives, friends around us is a coping mechanism for everything. But it’s not! We need to get out of that bubble. Unfortunately, as a society we lack sensitivity to acknowledge the need of expert assistance in matters of mental health. It has happened to me innumerable times, when the answer to my grief was converted into uniform statements like “Don't worry, your next child will be fine”, or “Don't stop trying for another baby”, or “Have another baby soon, it’ll help” and so on and so forth.
Such statements are not just brutal but even dangerous for someone who is grieving the loss of a child. And I was not excluded from such thoughts. I knew I was already in deep dark waters when I vowed not to walk the path of motherhood anymore.
My Silver Lining
Life as we know it, had its own plans. When I did conceive again without any plans, it was the most vulnerable stage of my mental health. And I knew it.
If I had to witness what I did with my first born I would be borderline suicidal I was sure of it. Again, it was therapy that came to my rescue. I made 3 appointments for abortion but it was therapy that helped my mind to make a decision, whether I wanted to take the plunge or not, and I did take that leap of faith. Therapy helped me clear my thoughts and come to terms with my apprehensions. The overpowering fear did not leave me, but therapy and some very supportive friends helped me move in the direction I wanted.
I was blessed with a healthy boy a year and half back. And once again in the eyes of the world I am at the other end of the spectrum now. She has everything - what issues will she have. But when Chrissy Teigen opened up about her postpartum depression, in my heart I knew one can have everything, but recognising the issue is the first step towards improving your own mental health.
No one can understand how many times in the night I wake up, only to check if my child is breathing or not. Only if anyone knew that a normal cold or fever can take my anxiety levels up to the ceiling.
Only if anyone understood that having another child doesn't mean you have forgotten your first one. The grief remains indescribable and the goodbye remains unexplained.
With therapy, I have touched upon healing, whatever little it might be. There are always good days and bad days. I get my strength from The Aara Project which in collaboration with Genesis Foundation, helps children like my daughter who fight for their little hearts and life.
I sincerely hope that just the way we are engaging in good health conversations with diet, physician fitness and more, we are able to give a little time to our mental well-being by doing away with the taboo associated with a therapist’s visit. Consulting professionals in the field of mental health just like any other health professional, can go a long way in improving the quality of life for an individual.
Written by Priyal Guliani
This letter has been written by Priyal Guliani on behalf of Genesis Foundation, which is an NGO saving critically ill children diagnosed with Congenital Heart Defects. Genesis Foundation relieves parents from lesser privileged sections of the society from their mental stress and financial burden by providing for adequate medical facilities.