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Anxiety Is Not Cute – And OCD Isn’t Just An Adjective

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Anxiety and OCD suck. Having anxiety and OCD as a student away from home sucks even more. Yes, dear reader, the sufferer is me. But I won’t narrate a tale of hope lost or wisdom found, but voice a plea to dispel the belief that anxiety is cute, and illnesses like OCD are adjectives.

The ‘independent student life’ may look perfect from afar, but one cannot presume to be aware of anyone’s internal struggles. I study a thought-provoking course at Shiv Nadar University. Beautiful flora and fauna surround the campus. Yet, I get anxious all the damn time. I get anxious about trivial things, about the trivial things that make big things – about everything, really.

College can be horrible and lonely. There is academic as well as social pressure – to excel, live the dream college life, and discover yourself. While trying to accomplish it all, one doesn’t dwell on idiosyncrasies that could be symptoms of a larger problem. In secluded campuses and college towns, deteriorating mental health is likely as it takes time for people around you to understand you and vice versa.

Procrastinating too much, not eating adequately, staying up all night, and having ‘mild’ panic attacks seem like par for the course. If you do speak out, those closest to you may dismiss your problems as ‘generational’ or ‘adjustment’ issues, and you might believe them. Some might just tell you they aren’t even issues but a manifestation of plain overthinking, resulting in you being even more anxious.

But this isn’t just college students; almost everyone has similar reactions as there is a specific image of mental illnesses. People believe that depression is like those photoshopped pictures of a girl with tears in her eyes (not that there’s anything wrong with girls or tears). People believe that OCD is Monica Geller’s ‘cute’ habit of frantically cleaning her house. I can assure you that it’s not as adorkable as TV shows make it out to be.

These are horrible and toxic illnesses, not quirky personality traits. OCD is obsessively arranging every object in your vicinity till you tire out, it’s compulsive hoarding and overthinking. Anxiety is annoying, cloying and severely hampers attempts at living your life. It also means hearing the phrase ‘you need to chill’ on a daily basis.

Such insensitive comments stem from a flawed understanding of mental health problems because no one talks about the reality. College students, who are supposed to be aware of the reality thanks to the internet, aren’t because pop culture has repeatedly showcased mental illness in a problematic manner. A ‘groundbreaking’ novel such as “Looking For Alaska” by John Green endorses the age-old trope of a beautiful, popular girl succumbing to mental illness and a boy ‘finding’ himself through her suicide.

Not just that, movies and TV shows often perpetrate stereotypical notions of how ‘men and women’ are affected by these illnesses, thereby affecting the way society treats people such problems. For instance, men dealing with mental health issues are portrayed villainously. When we think about ‘psychopath’ we don’t picture a person who has a mental illness, but the culprit of a “Criminal Minds” episode. A woman’s emotional or mental struggles are pinned to inherent sensitivity or limited to ‘PMS’, and are thus, not taken seriously.

Thankfully, things are changing. Famous personalities, both in India and abroad, like Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone, Ryan Reynolds and Wentworth Miller have spoken up about their struggles with mental illness. The same is also being portrayed in increasingly delicate ways on television and in movies, and adding more nuances to our understanding of these issues as well. “BoJack Horseman”, “Jessica Jones”, and “To The Bone” are a few examples of a much larger movement to show mental illness as real and harrowing, rather than something that breeds violence and ends in suicide.

Being unable to understand a person’s struggle is alright, but not attempting to understand it is a problem. Making assumptions about why a person is suffering (“you aren’t sleeping properly”, “you overthink too much”, etc.) leads the individual who is suffering to doubt themselves more. Irrespective of your intention, your comments can discourage them to seek help. If a person is struggling with mental illness, acknowledging the struggle and hearing them out is the best thing to do.

The one thing I have learnt through my experiences and those of others is this – there are always people who care, who are willing to listen. At Shiv Nadar, we have a psychiatrist available, free of charge. Manipal has free health insurance. If mental health resources are lacking on campus, you can check out betterhealth.org or mighty.com.

However, many colleges in India do not have adequate mental health resources, especially government colleges. Recognizing and admitting that you may have a mental illness thus becomes all the more difficult. Many suffer from OCD and anxiety and think that they are part and parcel of student life. A doctor at Fortis told me, 1 in 5 people suffer from panic disorder. This dispelled any assumptions about me being alone in my causeless suffering, and made me work towards getting a better hold over my condition.

I’ve often sat shaking in bed, terrified at the thought of going out, and obsessively arranging objects to cope with the fear. I try to take deep breaths and repeat a mantra – I cannot be anxious about that which I cannot control.

I am listening to “Perfect Places” by Lorde as I conclude this article. The lyrics are wistful and talk of the nature of youth – there are no perfect places, but there are safe spaces. Keep your chins up, talk to someone who you think understands and carry on.

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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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