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

when the lockdown hit me, i chose to live differently from the difference it brought me.

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It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities – Dumbledore (J.K Rowling)

Health is of great concern to all the people in the world. Everyone feels safe and secure, in fact, they seem happy to share the physical problems they face. They are all too happy to find a better person to treat their injured part. But the scene changes when the word physical is replaced with ‘mental’. Even though mental illness is common and can affect anyone, there is still a great stigma attached. This stigma creates reluctance and shame in seeking help.

In this pandemic when the nations decided to lock themselves up when ‘stay home, stay safe’ slogans became everyday means of survival, even when people knew the best way to make themselves was to stay at home obeying the lockdown rules, no one knew that the worst fear would clutch them- mental illness. The people who were used to the noise of the traffic, office hours and break, gossip time, weekend parties and movies, they are now finding it very exasperating staying at home for so long. This is longer than they had expected or wanted it to be. And as usual, the worst-hit were the citizens of tomorrow – the children.  

Mental illness took different forms in different groups of people. The working people were concerned about their future, job security, hectic work- from- home schedules. But children, who had great plans about their two months vacation and were the only group who really appreciated the present for what it was, were losing grip.  There were also other sections of people who earned their livelihood through the artforms. When the lockdown started with a temporary end to the festivals, they could not find an alternative method to sustain themselves. The very fear of loosing everything, the family, the reputation , the respect, the identity were strong enough to destroy a person. Knowingly or unknowingly a lot of people became the victim of the Mental Illness.

My Lockdown Days – finding love in what I had

Being a student the sudden pronouncement of the lockdown came as a shock. Even before the announcement of the nationwide lockdown the state government had declared the cessation of all the educational institutions. The happiest part was that there was no more need to attend the class, I could stay at my home with my parents, engaging myself in what I love. But the worst part was yet to begin.

When the Prime Minister announced the lockdown, I began to realize that it meant latching yourself inside your home, the beginning of the shattering of the plans. It is the vacation that brings the greatest contentment to most of the students. For me it has always been the time to concatenate with my friends, enjoy with them, make small excursions with friends and family, enjoy the religious festivals, do the festival programs . Moreover it’s the time to not focus on my academics but to brush up my talents and to learn more new activities. Well this vacation was different in every way. No get togethers, no trips and tours, no chance of weekend cinemas at theatre, no festivals, no programs – the destitution of everything from which I had found the most of my happiness. I started to doubt the very essence of having happiness when you can’t do what gives you happiness. But I was determined not to surrender myself. Not to throw myself into the pyre of depression which always waited for at least someone to enter.

Things started to change. I could see the card in favor. And it was me who had to make use of the given chance. Me with my family members started playing cricket, badminton and other small games in home . The evenings were fun filled, while the mornings were used to discover the hidden talents and the nights to enjoy it’s silence and the roaring of the sea. I perceived myself finding joy in everything I did. I used the days to the fullest. I made myself happy practicing dance, violin, watching the films which I had never got time to watch, reading those books which I yearned to read, drawing, making garden and after all, these activities never left me with the free time. But the things began to get constricted when once the online classes started. I lost the control of my mind. Anger, stress, pain, grief of not having what I need. I had become what I was not. I tried to find out where I went wrong? Why I was feeling the stress. No answer came to satisfy me. Ok I thought of dwelling into the beautiful memories I had, which would never come back to me and thus I re-read my journals. Slowly the answer came into light. It was the very same happiness that was making me go wild.

I was not ready to drive myself mad. I wanted me to be back with full energy. And there I saw the light.  And I could cope with it slowly, for that thanks to my parents, my friends and the teachers. Today I understand why was not lead into the mental trauma. I did not fear the fear. Fear was so weak in front of my determination.

I am happy to find me smiling today. I can see the light, and the hope that is prevailing is more than enough to lift anyone from the worst fear of all time.

Real Life Experiences

When I had a conversation with some of my friends I realized that the days have not been so happy for them. Here I would like to share some of their experiences.

Linto sees himself as an introvert and the greatest gift god had given him was the talent to write stories and poems. He like every others saw the vacation as an opportunity to enjoy to the fullest, to complete all the pending works. He started writing stories and poems from his own experiences. The talent seen as a gift suddenly took him to the deadly days which he had never thought of penetrating into. It haunted him. Fear, insecurity, loneliness, grief it all took his mind to a melancholic state. He felt himself loosing control of his mind. The last poem which he wrote was ‘a Love Letter To Death’. He felt frightened, completely lost. He said “the term indifference was much powerful to deceive me to come back to sense, I searched for its meaning and ended up in a quote ‘Universe is neither too benign nor too hostile, merely indifferent’ by Carl Sagan and the other quote which caught me was ‘there is a life and there is a death and there are beauty and melancholy between’ from Albert Camus. These two quotes helped me from a thwarting mind. In fact it conveys a meaning to an absolute meaningless life.”

Bhagya initially felt boring and later that boredom dipped her into the feeling of loneliness. It was the same old television and the social media , nothing new which wiped the boredom for a short period of time, then realized that it was of nothing which could make her happy always. The only relief she could find was through practicing violin, music, dance and even she started drawing. The main problem which haunted her was the fear of loosing the friendship due to lack of conversations. When she found that she was the only one left out in her class group she felt them avoiding her. ‘No one was there for me to share my ideas, thoughts and there was  none I considered close to hear me out’, says Bhagya.

Nandini love to talk. When she is with me we talk a lot. The main problem which she felt was getting disconnected from the friends. Friends the indispensable part of one’s life, in her opinion, was drifting away from her. She felt so dependent. The things which she longed for ,the things which she required could not be accessed without other’s help. The books were those which kept her happy, but still when she ran out of books in her hand she found haven in drawing.

Manu felt happy being back with her parents. But the greatest fear which held her was that came out of thinking about her brother and other family members. For her she tried hard to learn the covered portions in class but failed. But was determined to make it not the most vulnerable days, she spent her time playing Piano and enjoying with her parents.

You can rise from the ashes

The issue of mental illness is not something to be neglected. The different experiences of different people gave me the sense that there are people who are suffering and have suffered the worst. If they can find happiness, if they can rise from the ashes why not ME ? Even in this pandemic people speak positively, they talk about the future which shows that there is hope and where hope prevails the doors get opened.

It’s never too late to start. As Dumbledore says “happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light“. Rise from the ashes, rediscover yourself. Be the warrior. Be the inspiration.    

 

*the names have been changed to protect the privacy

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  1. Jayasree Padmakumar

    Great work Bharati..
    You have navigated through the minds of your friends and relatives and thus made us to realise the pain and emotions that each and every sect of people experience during this lock down …

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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