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Fighting Internally And Seeking Help For My Mental Health

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India fellow logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of a campaign by The India Fellow program on Youth Ki Awaaz. India Fellows spend 13 months working at the grassroots level to bring about real on-ground change. They are also mentored to be socially conscious leaders and contribute to the development of the country. Apply here to be a part of the change.

By Monalisa Debnath:

My classroom has changed a lot in the last few months, in positive ways. But the fact that Mohan from class 9 still finds it difficult to count the numbers got us both a sense of existential crisis.

I dream of a class where all my kids can read, understand simple sentences, are able to put their emotions in words, and become both loving and loveable in the process. But somehow, both of us are failing badly.

Most of my last month was spent dealing with piles and fever. While staying with the local community has made me come closer to the self, it has distanced me from the world outside my village. Being a part of people’s daily lives here has tremendously helped me in understanding my students but somehow self-proclamation has been derived from it. The one who did not bother whoever said anything against her, has started giving significant time to the things burning her inside. However, like beautiful Palash in the spring, one needs to get burnt and go through the pain to show their brightest colours.

It’s been 8 months since I am breathing the air here, and I’m aware of my lungs getting contaminated with the sand of Aravalli. I am aware of my sun-kissed skin that has made art all over my body (like a zebra crossing). All the emotions grab me by neck sometimes and don’t let me breathe from time to time. The tanned skin suddenly looks fair and on days, I color my heart with the darkest shades of wax crayons to not be able to see my significance here, in my organisation, my world now. It always takes great effort to ask for anything. I usually have a 10-minute long conversation in my head before talking to a person in reality and most of the times, the context changes when I open my mouth to churn the correct words in the right order; making them sound irrelevant. In the past months, it has decreased from 10 to 2 minutes. Nowadays, my tongue has stopped responding to my mind.

I am tired of reconciling between ‘I’ and ‘Me’ (Reference: Mead’s theory), of trying to erase my 23 years of existence and what I am, and redesigning ‘me’ on the basis of what I want to be. My whole life has been like a butterfly that sits on what excites it in that moment.

I love blank pages. It has all the possibilities to get filled with the colours that can be found in the cosmos. But finding myself blank breaks me down. I wasn’t doing okay and needed help. But my friend, Vivek (also the co-founder of my fellowship host organization Kshamtalaya) held me strong, made time for me even when he was unwell so much so that I had started fleeing away even from his shadow in the fear of getting asked “How are you?” again. Though my eyes have been saying it all, Vivek waited for me to be courageous to seek help. He held out the mirror for me. But my mind had not prepared the script. Instead, ‘I’ am getting ready to come out of the shell and waiting to experience and learn from all that’s coming my way.

It was easy to lose track of time. He took me to the day we first met and let me say ‘Hi!’ to the Monalisa I was planning to kill. In the process, I saw the beauty in me and realised that I can be pretty even with a dark side. I have immense love inside me and it may not be considered a skill but it is who I am. The not-so-secret ingredient of my existence that has been bothering me since my brother told me that without a structure or an ideology, love cannot change the world. The leaf had flown away in search of a structure leaving behind who I am (Vivek was right in describing me like a leaf flowing in the river that needs everyday nurturing).

Any sound outside my classroom has been bothering me. A month passed by, in asking myself thousands of questions unanswered. All this while, people at Kshamtalaya have been by my side. I decided to get back on my feet and accept my positive aspects as much as the evil side with constant support from my friends and Maa. As Vivek says “You do not fit in this world. You create your own.”, I’m sailing my ship to the harbour of that unknown world that’s waiting for someone like me with a new dawn. A world where no one would be pretentious. People will let out their frustrations with the hope of being understood and forgiven. A world where I share and not just give or take; one that accepts me both as an angel and a monster; that acknowledges the phenomenal love I have for every living being; that doesn’t leave my side saying “get well soon” but waits for my recovery; where there is an abundance of love for each other; where mental health is taken seriously!

*****

About The Author: Monalisa Debnath is a 2018-19 cohort India Fellow working in rural Rajasthan (Kotda block of Udaipur district) with public schools on improving learning outcomes amongst tribal children. She has been brave to choose to talk about a very personal aspect of her life and hopes that it will help others who might be in the same situation like hers.

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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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