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Talking About My Fears Enabled My Healing Process

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Two years back, I was preparing for a pitching event. I had to present my work on stage in just 60 seconds and win INR 25 lakhs of funding. In the last practice session, I was sweating, fumbling, shivering and everyone including me thought was normal.

“Don’t be scared; you just have to say what you have done!”

“There is no need to be nervous; it will all be done in a minute.”

These were the words that my friends kept telling me. I remember a distinct moment where I looked at one of my friends and said, “I don’t understand why this is happening to me. I think I have a phobia of public speaking.” Another friend sitting next to me replied to what she had overheard, “Bilkul nahi yaar. It is normal; everyone has these type of phobias.” I gave it a thought and decided that he was right and left for the final pitch. I still remember the moment when I finished my speech. Everyone in the hall was clapping and cheering. But all I could hear was the palpitation of my heart and the voice inside my head – that seemed to be going over all the reasons why I would not win. All I could see was the darkness around my eyes – instead of those two-hundred faces looking at me. But I was still not bothered; this was so routine, so familiar. That’s how I had always spoken in public; with a beep sound in my ears, palpitation in my heart and black spots dancing in front of my eyes. Amidst all of the chaos, I managed to get down from the stage and reached for my seat amongst the audience. What happened next was something that changed my life for the next few months to come. With my hands shaking in disbelief, I read a message about the passing away of my very close and dear friend. At that moment, it seemed like everything was meaningless. The pitch that mattered to me so much, that speech that broke me into a sweat – I did not care about it anymore. I was devastated and felt breathless. I felt severe pain right in the middle of my stomach, and yet somehow, I got to the airport. I was shocked, and so was my body, and I found myself puking. The air hostess was kind and helped me. She served me my meal and politely pushed me to eat something, but I threw up again. Finally, I reached Pune and for the next 24 hours, while attending the funeral, I was normal, I was ‘me’ – but I really wasn’t and I could not eat anything.

As my last tribute, I went to the place where we both loved to eat egg bhurji and paranthas. I had a little bit of that and started my trip back. At the airport, the same sequence happened. I had no idea that this same sequence of things was going to haunt me for a longer time. In just a week I had lost more than 6 kgs. With time, I did allow my grief to come to me. Yet, it was the beginning of a very dark phase. Someone asked me recently to recount the feelings during this lowest point of my life. And what I recall is not feeling anything at all – just the numbness. I drew a blank every time I had to work, perform and achieve. I had to push myself to do everything. The smallest of concerns would trigger my anxiety and I would retreat into my darkness. I think I understood then – that THIS was not normal.

I remember when I felt differently. I was rummaging through my almirah, looking for one thing but I found something more precious – my certificate of participation in National Debate at Aligarh Muslim University, back in 2003. What? Right. Somehow, all of these memories had magically evaporated. With some effort, I took a trip down the memory lane and was bombarded through the whole cumbersome process of practising, articulations, voice modulations and speaking through several rounds of screening. I could see a fearless and confident Archana standing on the podium who was a tough competition for all the boys in the college – where girls were literally countable on fingertips. And here I was today,  thinking that I had a phobia of public speaking! I could not believe that this was also me. I could also not believe – that there were three trophies in my almirah that I had won for best actor for mono-play. How did I end up having stage phobia? More than that, how did I end up here, amidst all this darkness.

That was the moment, when I decided that I want that bold, beautiful and confident Archana back. I want her peace of mind, her happiness. I cannot undo what has happened in my life, but somehow, my inner child, my twenty-year-old version was calling me back. And the best decision I made was, to respond to that calling. And how did I do that? I sat with my fear of public speaking, of opening up, and I talked about it.

TALKED to my friend who worked in a mental health space to guide me how to go ahead and what to do next.

TALKED to my friends about what was happening to me.

TALKED to my family about what was wrong with me.

TALKED to my teachers and asked for support.

TALKED to my colleagues and tried to make them understand what impacts mental health.

But all this talking didn’t do much good to me back then, because most of them didn’t understand the unseen struggle I was going through. Most of them were unaware of the pain I was hiding behind my smiles and posts on social media. Most of them thought anxiety is normal and depression is a part of life. Most of them were busy facing their own fears.

But now, somehow those conversations have done enough good and made my efforts successful because now a young friend of mine came to me and said, “I saw you overcoming your challenges, can you help me too?”

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  1. gaurav khandelwal

    Beautifully narrated… Archana, you are a great inspiration. Keep rocking… 🙂

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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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