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Loving Someone With A Mental Illness

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“Am I in love? Yes, since I am waiting. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.”- Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse.

Tara waited. She did not do it on purpose, did not intentionally close her heart to everyone else as if she was saving space for someone. The waiting wasn’t a passive, discreet act of seeking or searching for something. She waited without expectations, like one breathes; effortlessly, without being conscious that it was the essence of her life. Like one waits for sleep to come on a lonely night, meaningless desperation for letting the time pass.

She even read the book he was reading that day in Corsica. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. “Now you’ve given them hope and they’re unhappy,” wrote Heller, “So the blame is all yours”. And when she finally stumbled upon Ved again, her racing heart skid to a sudden halt, as if a train had arrived at its destination after years of wandering.”So this is it, then?” She thinks when they go for a movie date as normal lovers do.“This is what they say. Love and all.”

In Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Celine wonders if it can ever be possible to completely understand someone you love.”But who cares really?” she whispers.”The answer must be in the attempt“. Imtiaz Ali’s film Tamasha is all about the attempt. 

But Ved as a product manager in a reputed firm of New Delhi was nothing like Ved, the random adventurous storyteller she came across on the vacation she never really returned from. Long term relationships are monotonous, tedious, and predictable and so are the long-term lovers. The curve of intimacy is bound to flatten as every date starts feeling just the same, the stories stop building in your heads when you are always concerned about your next presentation at office.

Your imagination is overwhelmed by the burden of responsibility and your slavery in air-conditioned glass-walled dungeons is applauded as progress. Ved’s alarm ticks like a timebomb beside his bed every morning at the same hour. He wakes up, tightens the tie around his neck like a noose, and instead of killing himself, goes to work.

With corporate colonialism, high-end restaurants and bars slowly replace the cultural spaces in the city where the working class goes to unwind after a difficult day. So neither there are stories to tell, nor crowds of listeners eagerly waiting for characters to come alive on stage. Where did his vigour, his imagination, his abruptness go?

Tara wonders as she realizes that though they are together physically, the chemistry has been left behind. The magic has been outgrown, distorted, or perished in the face of real life. Maybe she made him up inside her head, kept an exaggerated impression of him to make a short memory enduring. Isn’t love supposed to reinvent us, compel us to discover our better selves than become a mundane repetition of rituals? I refuse to believe that Tara must have not tried talking to Ved about it. But she could only understand him as much as he understands himself. Do we ever get to know our lovers completely or this is the farthest anyone ever gets to go?

It’s not till Tara rejects his marriage proposal, that we get to see his Borderline Personality Disorder manifest. His emotional outbursts, episodes of anger, abrupt mood swings, and vulnerable self-esteem, everything feels explained after that. The major stressor was not the breakup as much as the conversation just after it when they realize how less they know each other.

A diagnosis is neither mentioned nor suspected, just like it often happens in reality. Ved starts responding to “how are you”s with genuine answers, opens up his heart in front of autorickshaw drivers or strangers at public places, only to realize how much people are capable of relating to each other. The tone and pace of the film reflect the aesthetics of mental illness accurately. Painful, ugly, suffocating.

His parents always find reasons to be disappointed, his partner is trying hard but unable to comprehend and unlike his happy childhood tales, Ved is left to save himself. “All through the night, men looked at the sky,” wrote Heller in Catch-22, “and were saddened by the stars.”

It’s not a coincidence that every second person I come across in my life, admits suffering from anxiety or depression. As governments sell off public enterprises to corporates, job security decreases and labour keeps getting cheaper, it’s only valid to feel replaceable and restless. The constant animalistic fear of being pushed into destitution is complimented by the neoliberal culture of “responsibilization”.

Every person is made to believe that they are responsible for their poverty or unemployment. That it’s not the work culture that is inhumane but you, who is bad at adaptation. To cope up with this relentless feeling of incompetence, we sign up for courses that offer us help regarding time management or self-branding. When we have arrived at our milestones but feel no happiness, we are preached that our responses are defective and our state of mind needs restructuring.

Mark Fisher elaborates on this in his book Capitalist Realism, “The current ruling ontology denies any possibility of a social causation of mental illness. All mental illnesses are neurologically instantiated, but this says nothing about their causation. If it is true, for instance, that depression is constituted by low serotonin levels, what still needs to be explained is why particular individuals have low levels of serotonin. This requires a social and political explanation, and the task of depoliticizing mental illness is an urgent one if the left wants to challenge capitalist realism.”

Happiness has emerged as a quantifiable, autonomous, and psychological variable in the global middle-class culture. Something that can be engineered or acquired with the right breathing exercises, expensive meditation retreats, rational thinking, and individual effort, irrespective of how hostile the environmental factors are. But what if reality is incompatible with human life and depression is an honest response to it?

What if the pursuit of excellence in such a system is pathological and the appearance of normalcy is only an attempt of self-deception? Like Erich Fromm wrote in The Sane Society, “The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane”.

In the untameable velocity of modern India, relationships are subject to your work timings. Survival has to be the priority hence love has become an option and we spend our entire lives wishing we could have both at the same time.

If Tara would have gotten married to Ved avoiding the confrontation, she could have been sorry later. Or maybe, living with him would have made things clearer for her. If they had never met again after the vacation, perhaps Corsica would have been the story they tell their respective grandchildren years later. If he had never contacted her after the separation, maybe they would have lived on to find more suitable partners or simply understood romantic relationships aren’t for them.

The endings can be many like the different versions of mythological epics one comes across in different parts of the world. All served with a local flavour, redefined to a certain degree by their culture and idealogy. Some are staged as plays, others turned into film scripts, some are immortalized as epitaphs and some, forgotten for the good.

I survived on the stories by Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and David Foster Wallace all my life but never really wondered how painful their struggles with depression would have been. It was only after I came across it myself that I realized, it could change the endings for the best of storytellers. We might not be able to save them, but we can always try to love them. 

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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.

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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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