This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Soha Kala. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

‘I Stopped Looking To Save Myself’: How Depression Became My New Identity

I had never been the center of anybody’s world and frankly, that had never even been my aim. I was happy to exist collaterally, having a repute and importance of my own.

I was looked up to by kids from the family, looked on to by adults for help with dealing with tricks of my generation. I had a close-knit circle of friends and teachers who would turn to me when they needed to. Nothing special, exactly like it is with the rest of us.

Until it all changed…

Things changed, and now it came to the point where everything revolved around my mental illnesses. If I was acting this way, it was “because of my depression”; or if I acted that way, it was “because of my anxiety”. I was distant, moody, tired, low, not doing well at school, not socializing, not eating, not sleeping, not standing, not walking… anything. All because I was “not well”.

Depression was my new identity and I had not had the privilege of choosing it. I was constantly living the ‘blame-life’, and somehow my parents, and to some extent me too; were trying to dodge every question and every finger that was pointed at me, blaming my behavior and all actions to this one ‘disease’ that I had now.

No, I wasn’t the same person that showed up at every social gathering; not because it was required but because I wanted to.

I was not the same person who’d plan out vacations well in advance; not to make holidays fun and easy, but because I could not hold onto the excitement.

I wasn’t the same person that the teachers couldn’t stop talking about.

I wasn’t the same person that my friends wouldn’t go out without.

“She’s just not that person anymore, she’s … ‘sick’”, everybody would say.

There came a point when I distanced myself; from people and feelings alike. I developed a fondness for empty things that shouldn’t otherwise be, like vacant school compounds after working hours; or cafes with no customers. Like hushed streets in big cities, or a house that had been put up for sale. I liked the emptiness that was anxiously waiting to be filled; I could relate to them and felt at ease with them.

Maybe because it hit closer to home than I’d ever admit.

I had lost sight of who I really was. I was consumed by the idea that I was a mere reflection of all that was ‘wrong’ in my head, of the sections of my brain that were not corresponding to society’s ‘accepted’ way.

I was tired, but it was the kind that sleep could never fix.

There were days when I felt more like myself, on others I couldn’t recognize the person I was becoming.

Some days I woke up, and found it hard to move. On others, I did not move at all. And it is not just physical movement I talk about here. I was not only immobile, I was immovable.

And with no intent to change that.

It’s weird how we all have a voice inside of us, a voice that we use to talk to our own selves in our head. It is the voice that you hear when the world falls silent and still.

There were days when my voice was so feeble that I could hardly figure out what it was trying to tell me. Then there were some when the loud screams were so powerful that I could hardly hear anything over my own voice. It was difficult to find a way to my own self.

And then there were the worst days. When all I could hear was my own breathing and it grew more and more laboured with every next breath I took. The silence screamed out loud and I struggled with it.

I had been bent and bruised. I now had an identity that I could not associate with personally. And somehow words and opinions managed to reach the destination before I physically could.

What happened then? I stopped looking to save myself; I had honestly lost hope that I ever would. More than anything, I wanted to save people from myself. My family, my friends, teachers; people who knew me, people who cared.

I could see it in their eyes when they looked at me. Their eyes spoke tales of sympathy.

Eyes blinded by tears.

Eyes that struggled to hold onto hope that I would get better.

Throughout the struggling years, I forgot that there was still a person inside of me. There was still a person who liked reading and crying her eyes out over romance novels at 12 am. Who got giggly about weird things that were not even funny. Who didn’t look for a reason to buy flowers for herself. Who got excited looking at balloons, and butterflies and airplanes before they finally managed to disappear behind the clouds. I forgot about all these normal human emotions and actions that I still had in me.

I forgot and soon began to take interest only in things that involved my sicknesses, the things that I thought told me who I was now.

The thing is; I never lost that girl. The person I was before I was consumed by these illnesses was still inside, I just forgot about her.

I just forgot about her but she is still in there, waiting for me to dust off thoughts that had held me captive and continue from where I left off.

I wanted to find myself again.  Only, I didn’t know how to.

I knew I was looking for a sign; I was waiting for something that would change me.

What was it, you ask?

I didn’t know.

But then it happened one day. I hadn’t planned it in advance, hadn’t even thought about it. And if I am to be honest, it was the last thing I was expecting.

I woke up, and I looked at myself in the mirror; my dark, round, soft, wounded eyes looked back. And I swear I had never felt so many things all at once.

I woke up.

And that seemed enough at the time.

Today I am both, better and worse, because of myself.  I am tidying up. I am no longer living the blame-life, and I am learning to take charge. I am learning to establish a balance; to stay still sometimes but not stuck.

I have been bent and bruised, but not broken yet. I no longer have room for your negative thoughts because I’m busy throwing out my own.

I’m beginning to love the dark parts that are under my skin. I know I have started a little late and that I don’t have forever. But if I take it really slow, really slow, it may just feel like I did.

*

The month of May is celebrated as the Mental Health Month.

It takes a lot of strength for people to come out and talk about these issues because of the social stigmas that they carry. It is about time that changed.

This post was written only to prod you to acknowledge struggles, celebrate triumphs, and just stand together for each-other. Everybody is capable of helping themselves, but we could all do with a little support every now and then.

Talking helps.

Listening helps.

Let’s make people feel like they are not alone in this. Let us not feel alone ourselves. Let’s talk about it?

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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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