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I Learned To Stop Trying To Be In Control Of Everything

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By: Faith Gonsalves

Last night I dreamed that I died,

On a thundering, rumbling, aeroplane ride.

Have I lived enough?

Have I left enough behind?

Will I wake into something unkind?

I awoke.

Which side is the dream?

Brought to life with a stifled scream.

That was six months ago. It was one of those rare nightmares that felt very real, unlike those which may be scary but where you can tell it’s just a dream.

Few things are as jarring as losing control in a big metal box 37,000 feet up in the sky. Four months ago, on my way back home from a lovely holiday in south India, I experienced what felt like a panic attack in the airplane. I’ve never worried about flying before and even used to enjoy it. That particular flight though, was frightening, upsetting and exhausting, because I wore myself out by just trying to keep calm. Since then, each of the eight flights I’ve been on has been slightly better than the last. Fear, in any situation at all, can be crippling and debilitating. Left unchecked, it can play horrible tricks on our minds.


A few months and a lot of thinking later, I realise that much of what I’ve been going through is deeply connected with the serious and unattended stress and exhaustion in my life. This is affecting me in unexpected and unpleasant ways. In the last couple of months, I’ve also experienced what felt like mild anxiety attacks due to exhaustion, lack of proper sleep and an inability to ‘switch off’.

Admitting that things were not okay was more difficult for me than seeking help. Realising that things were not okay and that this wasn’t the end of the world was also difficult for me. The process of taking the time to understand why I was struggling and the kind of changes necessary to feel better has helped me learn a few important things. I have shared three of these here.

Being In Control

I think my sudden fear of being in the air wasn’t so much to do with the possibility of plummeting to the earth, as it was about not being able to accept that I was not in charge. Maybe it’s impossible to completely let go, but it is possible to accept a situation as it is, with its risks and possibilities. (For instance, I drive every day. Did you know driving is much more dangerous than flying, with more than five million accidents per year? This can be compared to 20 plane accidents. I am 19 times safer in a plane than each time I get into my car. One in two people die of cardiovascular problems, 1 in 7 million on a commercial plane.)

There’s a fine line between being responsible and being in control. I can recall at least two instances of near breakdowns due to feeling completely overwhelmed, alone, anxious and burnt out. The social sector in India for entrepreneurs can be really difficult. Working with communities living in various states of deprivation that lack basic amenities, a decent quality of life and a lack of hope can be profoundly crushing. This reality of poverty, juxtaposed with so much affluence is frustrating and confusing.

Representational image.

I constantly struggle with having to rationalise to myself and others why I work in the non-profit sector in the first place. At times, I feel like a jack of all trades and master of none. The work can be thankless and demoralising and to make everything worse, our jobs offer less than ideal security or benefits. I also struggle a lot with the responsibilities that leadership entails. The accountability, strength and resilience you are required to demonstrate, irrespective of what’s going on inside can also be challenging and tiring. A very big part of why I wanted to work in the education and the non-profit sector in the first place, was to change this reality and these problems. I wanted to make this kind of work viable and aspirational. Ten years ago, when we established our small project, I couldn’t have imagined the shape, size and form it would take today. This gives me immense encouragement every day.

The lows have also taught me that I have a strong support system in my life if I need to reach out to it. I receive love, care and concern from my family, friends and colleagues every day. I have the courage and means to get professional help, if I need it and want it. I feel listened to, and I feel safe to express my fears and vulnerabilities. This may not change the complex reality of the different kinds of struggles in my life, but it plays a critical role in keeping them in perspective.

Being Busy Is Not Synonymous With Being Successful

Typically, if you’re always just busy, it means you’re doing a terrible job of managing your time, have poor prioritisation abilities, and are probably not doing a good job at maintaining healthy relationships with people around you.

As children, we grow up in an academic culture of doing whatever it takes to be the ‘best’. When we become adults, still striving to be the best, we continue to do whatever it takes, at whatever cost to get ahead of others.

We’ve built and caught ourselves in a trap of unrealistic and imposed expectations, impractical timelines to achieve these unrealistic deadlines and myopic ideas of capitalistic success (with a distaste for anyone who thinks of it differently.) We do all this while cultivating affable and attractive personas that may be deeply disconnected from what we really think and feel. I used to think that taking a break, switching off, admitting I was tired – all meant that I wasn’t doing enough, wasn’t working hard enough, and wasn’t setting a good enough example for others around me.

As leaders of organisations or businesses, managing teams big or small, and recognising the well being of our teams is so critical. Most of today’s workplaces, in both the business or nonprofit sectors, demand inhuman hours and outcomes of their employees and typically don’t even reward them properly. They reinforce the misguided idea that to be the best, you do whatever it takes, no matter what.

I’m more familiar with the manifestation this takes in the burgeoning world of social start-ups and entrepreneurs. While you would imagine that at least here, those with the ability to break these often exploitative moulds would do so, it’s rarely the case. For many entrepreneurs themselves, the line between work and everything (or anything) else in their lives ceases to exist. While many may claim that they wouldn’t have it any other way and they are completely devoted to their work, chances are, if you scratch just a little under the surface, it is hardly ever true.

Change Begins At Home And At Our Workplace

We have a “feelings” meeting at my office every few weeks. The first one was funny, uncomfortable, awkward even, but that changed quickly over the weeks. Checking in on how the team is doing, what’s worrying us and what’s going on in our lives helps us to understand one another and encourages us to be sensitive. It’s amazing sometimes to learn how much we don’t know about the people we spend most of our time with!

Through our work, my team and I are working hard towards initiating various kinds of routines and practices to build a value-oriented culture among our teams of teachers and in our classrooms.

An integral part of being productive and switched on at work is being switched off at home. Maybe that means being tech-free for some time on the weekends and cultivating other interests and activities outside work. We don’t really live in a 9-5 world, and that’s okay. But finding time to switch off, nonetheless, is so important.

Food is one of my passions, I love to cook. I also feel happiest when I know my diet is varied and nutritious. I feel most at ease when my exercise is regular. I am trying to find ways to make these everyday habits as important as getting to work. In my recent experiences, I’ve seen how the lack of sleep and being too tired can cause ugly kinds of stress problems.

Things will invariably continue to shake and get bumpy up in the air and down on the ground. And now I realise that it’s really okay.

This article was originally published here.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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