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“The Virus Has Now Started Seeming Less Suffocating Than Living With My Family”

ReimagineTogether logoEditor’s Note: This article is a part of #ReimagineTogether, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with UNICEF India, YuWaah and Generation Unlimited, to spark conversations to create a new norm and better world order in the post-pandemic future. How have you and those around you coped with the pandemic? Join the conversation by telling us your COVID story and together, let's reimagine a safer, better and more equal future for all!

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.

For the first time in life, I was excited to go back home. College had left me feeling overwhelmed, and the idea of eating proper meals and sleeping on a double-bed felt like a cool breeze in Delhi’s burning heat. So much so that I had forgotten the very reason I escaped from the three people I call family.

Bags packed, I wasn’t crying on the metro this time. I could finally take a break from being “a mature and responsible adult” and be the ‘extremely spoiled and not-so-bright’ kid who just lazes around all day. Comfort was not an option anyway, so why not just go where there is at least good food?

Breathing freely, I reached home unaware of the big surprise awaiting me. I was greeted with smiles and warmth, a luxury I hesitantly accepted. “I made your favourite sabzi beta(I made your favourite dish) my mother exclaimed, her age-old way of expressing affection. Everything was good, “I will be okay” I reassured myself. A week passed by and it was almost time to leave for college. Unlike earlier times, I wasn’t very eager to go back, and as if the universe heard me in a very unfortunate way, came the coronavirus pandemic.

Representational image. Credit: Reuters

After the initial alarm of the virus, everything that followed is a blur in my memory. I remember checking Twitter the first thing in the morning like it was news.

Threads after threads talking about the life-threatening virus and how there was no cure. From “just wash your hands and wear masks” to “stay at home at all times,” everything around me started making lesser and lesser sense. Time wasn’t going slow or fast, it just didn’t seem real anymore.

I woke up in cold sweat at night, thinking I had caught the virus and was about to infect my whole family.

Trembling, I told my mom “Last night I cried because I don’t want you guys to be sick because of me,” “Really? I thought you were more sensible than that,” she said laughing at my exaggerated concerns. I really was alone with my paranoia. It wasn’t the first time I realized that I was a misfit in the neurotypical world, yet the realization always feels like being hit by a car. My anxiety in the initial weeks knew no bounds. There were times when I wanted to disappear, excessively sleep or just die.

This was new for everyone, so there was no way anyone could console me in the slightest way. I spent sleepless nights thinking about all the ways I could catch the disease and infect someone. There was nowhere to run and hide. Sharing my thoughts with my family was the equivalent of being declared “mad” and losing the little dignity I owed to my otherwise high grades. It felt like my world was turned upside down. Everything I knew became redundant. All the guards I’d put up surrendered before the changing times. There was only so much I could absorb. Soon, I reached my threshold.

I stopped reading anything related to the virus and distracted myself through different things. I had accepted things as they were and was ready to face anything that happened. However, it wasn’t so easy. I couldn’t pretend like everything was normal. I couldn’t be productive or use the quarantine to improve myself. As the lockdown was extended and the news became routine, I could finally get a grip on myself. However, it was of no use, because my family had started losing theirs.

I don’t live in a necessarily happy family. Rather, we are a dysfunctional, conflict-ridden group of humans pretending to be a happy family. This was my third panic attack. A normal argument for my sister was a deathlike situation for me. The lockdown didn’t feel as much of a blessing as before. The fights started escalating, sometimes turning violent. Some times with one member and other times, with all members at once. As the youngest, and being the only one burdened with the task of breaking generational curses and trauma cycles, living in a toxic household isn’t easy.

Representational image.

The virus has now started seeming less suffocating than living with my family. The constant nagging, anxiety-inducing statements and indifference towards my mental illness along with the ongoing pandemic, and my own insecurities about the future have started getting to my head. My bad days have become extremely bad and the good ones are rare.

While there are all sorts of information on the virus and spending time in quarantine, there is very little on surviving abuse. I believe that the suffering’s been long enough now, for the rose-coloured glasses have made their heroic appearance to save the world from the evil reality of quarantine. Everyone seems to agree with what the hero shows them, to the point that they have forgotten that their reality is altered and not perceived through their own eyes. They want me to see it as a lucky opportunity and prepare for my future, a future that is more uncertain than ever.

However, as difficult as it to live in a toxic household with a mental illness, it is not impossible to be happy. Sometimes, doing little things that you love, like painting or listening to new music can be your healing place. You can always talk to your favourite people and escape the world for some time.

And, when it gets too much, it is better to open the windows and take a deep breath and believe that it will all end soon, that this too shall pass.

This post is a part of COVID Diaries, a special series under the #ReimagineTogether campaign. Tell us how this lockdown and pandemic has affected you! Join the conversation by adding a post here. here.
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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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