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‘Depression Was A Voice That Kept Telling Me The Only Way Out Was One With No Return’

By Delta Gamma:

TRIGGER WARNING.

I’m not sure when or where I first heard the term ‘depression’, but I knew right away that it wasn’t a good thing. Maybe it was in primary school, when my grandmother passed away and left me feeling like a gaping hole had opened up in my chest. Maybe it was in my late teens when images of screaming, crushing domestic violence began to sear the edges of the hole in my chest. Maybe it was losing my best friend to cancer that finally did me in, with me deciding to follow her; somehow, I didn’t know how. And maybe, when I couldn’t actually press a blade to my skin hard enough, or take enough pills to do the trick, maybe it was hearing, “Some people have it worse than you” that really hollowed me out.

Depression made me swing between numbness and another crushing feeling I can’t quite describe, and I had progressed beyond self-harm. That’s where I was, in the prime of my life (people tell me) trying to throw it all away, and a voice in the back of my mind laughing sardonically at my ‘privileged girl panic’. Everybody hurts, right R.E.M.? I just had to suck it up and power through, and everything would be fine, because there were college exams to give, and people to visit, and jobs to look for, and “You’ve got your whole life ahead of you,” so “Look at the bigger picture!”

You can’t just walk away from depression. Depression is not a bad movie you can eject from your BluRay player, and pop in another you like better. Depression is the lining under your skin, the sharp feeling in your lungs when you breathe. It’s the invisible rope coiling around your neck when you find yourself trying (far too often) not to cry. And it’s the heavy feeling that keeps you pinned to your bed in the morning, when you’re too afraid to move. I thought my depression would be a quiet phase I would slide out of, but it was full of random violent outbursts, losing control of my speech, my ability to move. Entire patches of my memory were obliterated, and when I wasn’t allowed to hurt myself, I would hurt whatever came too close to me. Depression was a voice that kept telling me the only way out was the one you can never turn back from.

I found myself in a psychiatrist’s office – with my parents on the other side of the door, probably thinking they had intervened just in the nick of time. But all I got were cliches, platitudes and the advice I could’ve googled for free. So I nodded to everything just to get out of there quick and easy. And I soon learned that it was more important that people around me – the psychiatrist, my parents, my friends and classmate – were reassured that everything was fine, than actually working through an ‘invisible illness’ that no one really had time for. I didn’t have the language to talk about my depression, and I knew no one was equipped to handle it. So it became my modus operandi to ignore my rapidly deteriorating mental condition.

“How are you?” someone asks. “Good, I only thought about suicide thrice today,” I want to say, but I stop at “Good.”

“What plans for the future?” someone asks. “None. I didn’t expect to live this long,” I think, but instead I say, “I’m still figuring it out.”

“Why do you never hang out with me?” someone complains. And I almost say, “My depression is going to drive you away, eventually.”

Only I don’t, because I’m too busy convincing myself that I don’t have time to expend on being depressed. And this became the most damaging part of my depression – where I became too afraid, too distrusting to ask for help and receive it. Now on days that I spin out of control, when my condition puts my whole life on hold, I almost let myself go completely. And a vicious cycle begins with piling work, and concerned texts from friends, and the cautious gaze of people around me that pushes me back further down the hole.

But I wonder – how can I start to let people in? How can I start to accept the help that I need? So little is known about the causes and effects of depression, despite our years and years of research. But maybe the less out-of-touch we feel about mental health, the quicker we can begin to address these issues, for ourselves and for the people who know who need it the most.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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