This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Devina Sikdar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

A Love Letter To Myself: “I Am Done Living Life With An Instagram Filter.”

I have been diagnosed with PTSD and suffer from depression and anxiety. Last year in November, I found myself in the ICU because I had reached the end of my rope. So yes, I had a mental breakdown and you know what? It is absolutely fine. But I can say this now – after months of therapy and introspection. But last year, it felt like I was a failure.

I had been suffering for months and instead of speaking up or seeking help, I thought it was my responsibility to push myself to get through “this”. So I pushed and pushed till I was standing at the edge with sleeping pills. Once I came home from the hospital, for the longest time, I thought that I had failed to cope. And then it struck me – am I not human? If I’m allowed to bleed and hurt, then why am I not allowed to have a mental breakdown?

Why is it considered my failure for not having the ability to cope? Why is it not society’s fault, for having unending expectations, especially from women, for creating spaces that are demanding and lack empathy? Why is it not their fault? Why am I expected to carry on as if nothing happened, as if I’m not hurting emotionally?

When I landed up at the hospital, a lot of people around me felt surprised, I suppose nobody expects anyone to end up at the ICU.

For the longest time, I have kept quiet, and not even allowed myself to be upset, and angry, when shit has gone wrong in my life, but I’m done. Women are often taught not to show their emotions, especially anger, because, well then “you are too emotional”. Anger is just not cool. People are supposed to be mature and not let things affect them. To all this nonsense, that has messed up my life for the last 20 years or so – I say, no thank you. As my therapist rightly says, we are allowed to feel everything including anger. And now I have started to embrace it, and feel it; so that I can expel it from my body organically.

Feeling angry or upset doesn’t mean beating someone up (as much I might want to sometimes). So after years of absorbing everything and keeping everything within me, I say no more.

I think that often, we misunderstand people who have this kind of “mature” behaviour, somehow it gives other people this impression that we are made of titanium. That no matter what, we will just cope. And after a point, I think I bought into this facade. Just because I may appear to be calm, doesn’t mean I have everything handled.

Just because I show up for work, it doesn’t disregard the panic attack I had the whole way coming to the office. Just because I am functional doesn’t mean I don’t struggle to get out of bed regularly. When I landed up at the hospital, a lot of people around me felt surprised, I suppose nobody expects anyone to end up at the ICU. But this made me wonder, that however woke we may become, we are still ingrained to believe that everybody should deal with their anxiety and depression and “get on with it”.  That one should just talk about it on Facebook posts and generally be happy.

For the longest time, I have hated myself. So I thought I deserved everything bad that happened to me. I felt like I had to prove myself, otherwise, people would find out I’m not worth their time. I have broken my back pleasing people, putting myself last; to the point, where I felt guilty about being depressed. But I’m so done with this.

I don’t want to simply keep dealing with stuff on my own, hiding my feelings, as if they are something to be ashamed of. I want to be honest about myself – even if it means sharing hurt and anger. I am done living life with an Instagram filter.

I feel angry at the world, for sometimes being so cruel, that it makes people suffer in silence and feel guilty about crying out for help. I feel liberated at being angry, at being able to express my anger. I feel a sense of love and maybe, a little bit of liking towards myself. It has been years in coming… better late than never I suppose. That’s my lesson for this life I’m guessing – how do I truly love myself, my scars, failures, awesomeness and all of it. So I thought of writing a love letter to myself. I have written for my family and friends, even for my crushes, but I have never written one for myself. Doesn’t that speak volumes? So finally, I write one for me. So here goes – a love letter to myself.

Dearest Devina,

You are smart, funny, passionate and beautiful. The past 25 years have been a roller coaster, to say the least. You have fallen, been lost and hurt, but you have always stood up. You have always risen up. Yes, you have had help along the way, but it was you who took the next step. Life will continue to be messy, demanding and a shit storm most of the times, and sometimes sleeping without ever getting up might feel like the greatest escape, but hold on. Even when you think you can’t go on, you will. Even when you think you can’t fight anymore, you will. It will not be a bed of roses, there will be days when you can’t get out of bed, but eventually you will. Because you are a fighter and a survivor. Because you have already survived so much.

About 10 years ago, you started writing a phrase on notebooks “Have Faith”. It may have meant to have faith on a higher being or on the fact that life will be okay. But today I change its meaning–it means have faith in yourself. That no matter what, you’ll survive the storms that come your way. So let go of the need to please others and start loving yourself a little more. I say that because seriously, you are a pretty awesome woman to hang out with.

I hope the next years make you realise how truly amazing you are and how much more there is left to discover about yourself.

Loving you with all my heart always,
Devina (the inner voice you sometimes forget)

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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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