For over fifteen years, I knew that there was something that had me sticking out like the wrong piece of the puzzle in nearly every social situation I was stuck in. Generally a loud mouthed speed talker, it would be hard to imagine a person like me growing increasingly reclusive to a point when I cringed at the thought of leaving the house. That, however, is exactly the position I found myself in at the age of 21; fed up of struggling with bipolar disorder, stuck with loving parents who didn’t understand the intricacies of mental illnesses, belonging to a family with plenty of mental health issues to go around.
It was simply exhausting, having to constantly convince the world that mental illness was a real thing.
A lot changed in the years I really grew up, as I left UAE (home) to come to Bangalore for college. The years of 2011 – 2014 included a college degree and internships but also conclusive diagnosis to the illness I knew I was dancing with from the age of 3 or 4, but had no name for. Everyone around me had already labeled me an odd, hyper individual but no one could really understand what was going on. Despite the desperate research, sometimes, neither could I.
Fast forward to the summer of 2015. I found myself in a space where I was struggling increasingly with bipolar. Four years of an education in psychology and literature seemed to amount to nothing. I now also had financial and professional responsibilities and the fear of messing up (which did eventually happen) spurred crippling anxiety and panic attacks. I managed to work wonderfully when I was well; but I wasn’t always well. My first workplace was the site of such life lessons, and the beginning of a great friendship with a colleague, Nishanth Johnson. He then handled marketing and I was the content manager, which led us to planning campaigns together often. As our friendship deepened, so did our honesty with each other, especially about our individual struggles with mental health.
Neither of us work at Campus Diaries now, but the friendship has lasted. Equally passionate about mental health, both of us wanted to desperately create a space to spread awareness about mental health in the most experiential, non-preachy manner possible.
This was in June, 2017. Around three weeks after Nishanth and I decided that it was high time we worked towards fulfilling our dreams of mental health advocacy, something happened when I went back home after a terrible phase of prolonged depression, anxiety and insomnia. Three years ago, I had sent a rather long email to my father explaining the realities of my mental illness, also gently hinting that it was very much in our family. The truth, is he shows every symptom of bipolar illness himself; however, I was only speaking of myself. Generally loving, my parents responded to me in a way that made me believe that they accepted and understood me.
But when I was with dad this time, he suddenly started going on and on about how I needed to stop being mentally vulnerable and make myself stronger, about how words shouldn’t have the ability to bring me down, how bipolar was just a label I was giving myself, and how that would make me weak.
I knew that he was looking out for me. I knew that the words came from nothing but love.
However, I felt a fire rise up in my throat but burn all the words that wanted to be heard. I had been trying, in every way possible, and all this talk about my mental health was getting exhausting. I’d rather be discussing books and chai and the beaches. It didn’t give me some twisted pleasure to do this 24/7, but if the once place I went to for peace ended up being the place I felt persecuted, I just couldn’t. And so the idea of “Living Stories” was born.
What if there was a place for people to listen to the mental health experiences of so many different individuals who each have their own journeys? Will the listener, after having listened to an absolute stranger, be able to empathise with their own loved ones better? After all, a lack of emotional attachment could prompt better judgement. That’s how good movies and good literature prompt social change as well, right?
When this idea expanded in our minds, Nishanth and I longed to widen the sphere being discussed and introduce mental health professionals to the mix. The reasons were several: to dispel taboos around therapy, and unveil the personal journeys that have turned these individuals into therapists were just the beginning. Living Stories is a project to initiate 1-1 conversations between a person who acts as a book and others who come as readers. The first edition of this project is solely dedicated to Mental Health (and the lack thereof). The idea is for people to share specific life experiences in the form of stories as they become books, whom interested readers can issue and read, through personal conversations.
Volume 1 of Living Stories features people whose experiences range from diagnosis of bipolar and borderline personality disorder to nights of insomnia or days flooded with anxiety. It will also showcase stories by experienced professionals and chart out their mental health journeys.
We believe that this event is extremely important for both the books and their readers, in very different ways. For the books, this experience is a catharsis of sorts. The readers are people, who are not friends or loved ones only, but also those who are willingly investing their time and resources into listening to the stories of an absolute stranger.
This event is an attempt at creating a space of acceptance of the need for good mental health and healthcare, and of the ugly realities that are the consequences of mental illnesses. We hope to promote compassion by disseminating knowledge, in the form of stories. “Living Stories” is a starting point. This event will feature 18-20 books, each with a unique story to tell. The Bangalore edition was one marked by colour and crazy, of honesty and hugs, tears, advice, suggestions and a whole load of positive energy and tonnes of relief. We hope to be causing waves in Delhi, Mumbai and more reaches of India, too!
To be a book in either Delhi or Mumbai, SIGN UP NOW: https://nj19.typeform.com/to/AcyqMv
Date for Delhi : 26th August 2017, HKV antiSocial
Date for Mumbai: 2nd September 2016, Khar antiSocial