I moved to Delhi when I was 10 years old, back in the 1990s. Since then, for most of my life, I have consulted one doctor in particular, who is an excellent homeopathy practitioner. I remember being really young (around 15 years old) when I bought myself a punk, ‘masculine’ necklace. When I got back home, my mother got really worried. Now, let me give you a little background. I am born a girl. I have had short hair most of my life, at least till the point of this necklace incident. I mostly wear jeans and T-shirts, and I love to play sports. But, to my surprise, it was this necklace that was an alarm for my parents. My mother right away took me to our family doctor, and expressed her concern. I don’t remember much, except that he did not look bothered. He asked me a few general questions, which again I don’t remember. That was that; my parents never tried to take me to a doctor with any further correctional expectations on my dressing and likes.
Over two years ago, I was in Delhi, doing a final round of preparation before leaving for my Master’s degree in the US. I have been underweight, but healthy, all of my life. In the process of getting through a few medical formalities, as required by the university, I ended up at Max Hospital in Saket, where I stumbled upon a lady doctor. She had a strong, (coercively) caring manner about her. Her medication to me was nutrition-oriented. I was prescribed an energy powder to consume on daily basis, which proved to be very helpful. I gained 2 KGs in that month—a huge success considering my weight history. Soon after, my cousin would also take her underweight daughter for consultation.
Fast forward to July 2018, when I took an off from work to see my family back in Delhi. One of my best friends, now a fitness trainer, wanted to know my exact vitamin levels before suggesting some nutrition supplements. I know I am vitamin D deficient, but she wanted to know the exact figure to decide on the frequency. So I went back to the (coercively) caring, lady doctor to see if she could direct me to an appropriate blood test. My father came with me. My mother preferred that someone was accompanying me to the doctor, and he and I were also returning from somewhere, so he happened to be along. My father and I both had been fond of this doctor’s approach. I was happyto see her again, but she looked at me and sighe—I was still underweight. She declared that I was stressed, and that was affectingmy body weight.
“Yes, I have started taking alternative treatment for it.”
“Your alternative, natural treatments are not working for you, and now you are going to do exactly as I tell. Sir, she has tried her things, and now I will take care of her, if that is okay with you.”
My dad gently nods. Let me make it clear, I am 30 years old at this point. You don’t have to take my parents’ permission. You only need mine.
She also asks me: “What is the problem with you, why are you not settling down? You must get married.”
“Well, I am quite caught up in my career and I don’t really have any time for marriage and things like that,” I answer.
“Career! I am a doctor, I have children; women are like Durga, we have many hands, we balance all our work and roles, and we do it very efficiently. You don’t take care of things, and it starts affecting the whole family. Entire family is stressed out.”
I was baffled at this point, not just because she was lookingmore at my father than me during the conversation, but also the way she was tryingto build the pressure on me. She wanted to build a guilt-trap, make me feel terrible that I am still unmarried. Look at my never-improving weight, it was written all over me, and maybe she was judgingmy father’s weight too at this point (he has always been thin as well).
“I am not into men!” I blurted out in an anger that she couldn’t see yet.
“Well, I am not saying marry a man. Just settle down with anyone you like.”
It was a mantra this 30-year-old had never thought of: why don’t I settle down with the one I like! Nevertheless, this consultation ended shortly; I got the supplements she prescribed from the pharmacist, apart from giving my blood sample. I went back home and there wa a particular medicine that seemed out of place. I wondered what ‘nutrition’ it had.
Three years ago, I had consulted a psychiatrist who prescribed anti-depressants. These were tiny 10 mg tablets. I was supposed to start by taking half a tablet each night, for the first week, and then take a whole in the subsequent weeks. I never took them. I had read and researched about selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) long back, and I am completely opposed to its usage. It suddenly struck me that this mysterious medicine from the (coercively) caring lady doctor were just as tiny as those. I googled the medicine name and voilà, there it was, a goddamned anti-depressant! I was infuriated, and offended at so many levels. I was certain that I wouldn’t consult this doctor ever again. She was not a psychiatrist. I did not go for a mental health consultation. And she prescribed an anti-depressant, without telling me what it was, on the pretext that I needed to do as she says after I had exhausted my ways of dealing with stress, and, according to her, it was time for my family to get to sleep easy.
And then the other big problem—how can you pressurise or demand that someone get married or settle down when you are performing the duties of a doctor? Especially if your client is someone from the LGBTQ community. It was so stupid for her to presume I am sailing in the same boat, these last two years, or that getting married will fix my depression. Even a mental health consultation is taken in private, not in front on your parents or anybody else, and not by building more pressure, exhibiting sheer lack of sensitivity and understanding towards this area of medical service! A sensible doctor would have rather requested a private conversation, and suggested I seek help elsewhere for mental health, if they really felt the need.
Not every doctor in India is this insensitive and untrained while handling mental health issues, especially concerning people of the LGBTQ community. But most of them are. I have been fortunate in terms of having a family doctor who is far more sensible.
Four years ago, I was dealing with acute depression after a terrible breakup. I visited my doctor, the same one my mother took me to when I was a kid, and he asked me a lot of questions. He gently urged me to open up about what the actual problem was. I was reluctant; I did not expect him to take it in the right manner; he has been a regular doctor at free clinics, including the Dera Saccha Sauda, a homophobic spiritual sect in India. I expected his values to be homophobic too. But he didn’t flinch, there was no awkwardness or change in tone, manner, or approach. He prescribed medicine for my depression, while trying to advise me on how better to look at things. He suggested that nothing that can push you to such extremes of depression can be good for you. I must grow out of that relationship and those circumstances. I still visit him when I am in Delhi and when I need medication. Sometimes even a phone call does the trick.
See how one contrasts the stereotypes associated with them! My family doctor, who served patients at a homophobic spiritual community, part of a typical family living in West Delhi, is so understanding and sensible about issues of mental health and depression. There is not a speck of judgment in his attitude. However, the lady doctor from South Delhi who works at a progressive hospital, who looks confident and in-charge of her things, is coercive, insensitive, and immature in handling cases like mine.
This was still a very subtle experience for me, and I believe that people seeking help with mental health, especially from the LGBTQ community, feel a lot more vulnerable, violated, and frustrated. Maybe most of them don’t even know where to go, or cannot afford it. In recent times, a lot of people are trying to spread a very important message that mental health consultations should not be seen as taboo. There is also a strong need to train and sensitise doctors dealing with mental health issues of LGBTQ community clients in particular. Huge private medical entities (with a significant turnover each year) need to invest in these trainings. The governments of each state should also stop resisting the general public’s health needs, and take the responsibility of capacity building, and safe space provisions for people dealing with these issues.