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I’ve Questioned Every Conversation, Felt Unreasonable And Obnoxious. Here’s Why

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The Knotty Mass: A Guest That Doesn’t Leave

The first time that the thought of writing this piece down came to me, I was hopeful. Life seemed to have entered a never-ending phase of spring and my optimism was blooming like a pretty spring flower. When I actually started writing it, the same hope went on an unsolicited hibernation. Life seemed to have arrived at the dawn of another autumn that was full of despair and my optimism seemed ready to leave the front seat.

I don’t know how to begin a write up of this kind. Is it even worth writing? Will it make any difference? I still don’t know. But just like a hundred decisions that I have taken without taking into account the consequences of them, I have decided to write this down too.

At this delayed outset, I want you to know that this won’t be a happy preachy jingle that begins with a negative undertone and ends in a happily-ever-after. Before I digress any further, I want to lay out what this write up deals with. In this piece, I shall address an uninvited guest that first took refuge in my head and eventually ended up in taking me as a hostage. For the longest time, I didn’t know what to call it as. After extensive discussion, I have made peace with calling it as ‘the Knotty Mass’.

I grew up as a confident kid. I was happy to be in my own skin. I wanted to sing even when I had a croaky voice, I wanted to dance even when I didn’t know how to, I thought I could draw, I considered myself good at studies, I wanted to do everything.

As life kept adding years to my age, this confidence started waning. More than this confidence that had taken a hit, I also lost the general sense of satisfaction that I had with myself. As I entered the mid-teenage years, spending time alone turned into a nightmare. The desire to look at the screen became a compulsion as hours without a gadget would mean spending more time with myself. As friends and family gloated over my grades and my skills, I felt like I was fooling everybody by presenting a version of myself to them that did not even exist.

This was how The Knotty Mass made itself comfortable in my head. I would sit every night and scribble on a paper. By the time dawn broke, I would tear those pages apart for I felt that I was fooling myself by feeling this way. What more in life did I possibly want to be able to be happy? I thought that this feeling of chaos, this despair, and this hopelessness was a thing of my teens and that it would go away when I grow up.

As I entered college, I thought that a whole new world was ahead of me and that nothing could stop me from gaining my long lost sense of happiness. But during the years of my graduation, the knotty mass converted its tenancy into a permanent residence.

Even when I tried doing things I thought I was good at, I couldn’t find peace in them. The knotty mass became knottier. The more I tried to make sense of it, I was more engulfed by it. The knotty mass made me believe that I was not enough. It made me belittle every new achievement of mine. The knotty mass convinced me that I was not doing enough. The knotty mass made me stick to my bed for weeks. The knotty mass told me that I was undeserving.

The knotty mass made me hate the outside world. It convinced me that I despised greenery. The knotty mass made me question every conversation I had with a friend. It made me feel that I was unreasonable and obnoxious. It made me hate the idea of hanging out with friends. Every time that a loved one showered love or praise, the knotty mass convinced me that they loved me out of sympathy. The knotty mass turned me into a recluse. I had no apparent reason to be sad, but the knotty mass didn’t let me feel happy.

Every time that I did something which had the potential of making me happy, the rush of happiness lasted for a while and then it would go away like it never was there, making me crave for the happy feeling more.  I wanted to tame the knotty mass and it wanted to tame me. I would want to get better by clearing the clutter in my head. I would want to lead a regulated life, to be productive and to feel better.

The knotty mass would stop me as much as it could. I fought against it at times, at others, I just succumbed. Productivity helped me fight the knotty mass but the knotty mass didn’t let me be productive. It felt like a massy web of knotted threads was cramped inside my head. I tried to untangle them but for every knot that I untied, a dozen new appeared. The knotty mass made me be uncomfortable with my own being.

I could see that the knotty mass was slowly pushing me away from everything and everybody that I valued. What justification did I have for a dead face and trembling body in sleep?

My life was smooth and I had no ailment. How could I be so lifeless all the time?

For the longest time, I shied away from seeking help. There were times when I felt like I had sent the knotty mass away forever. But each time, it managed to come back without fail.

When the lockdown was first imposed, I decided to use that time to settle this knotty mass for once and for all.

I started working out, I tried to sleep on time, to eat healthily and to eat on time and I did things that I liked. In the first month, it felt like I had finally sorted my life until the end of that month when I realized that I had not. The gloomy, damp feeling was coming back to me. Again, I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. I took to binge-watching and binge-sleeping. I felt disappointed and disheartened because this was one time that it felt like life would be out of the shadows of this knotty mass forever.

As I wanted to get out of this vicious cycle, I only got more entrapped. This time I had no means of compulsive distraction as college was off and I could only wait for the lockdown to be lifted. Alongside long bouts of low moods, I took to physically harming myself and felt suicidal very often.

The last nail I knocked into my own coffin was when I hit a loved one. When this happened, I seriously considered seeking help for the first time. It couldn’t be normal that my middle-class self had also mustered the guts to break things in anger. I understood that I was losing myself, the people I loved and my life in general.

When I first decided to seek help, it sucked. I felt terrible at the thought of needing help. Why did I need it exactly? To stay sane? Nobody struggled with it (Or did they?). My friends had real issues, people were dying and I was just a compulsive miser who generally despised life? But it was what it was. I needed help to know why I felt the way I did. I needed help to know why I felt so miserable.

I needed help to get over my insecurity. I needed help to get some clarity in life. I needed help to ensure that the handful of people who had stuck throughout these years would not be forced to leave. I needed help to be able to sit by myself and to feel comfortable. I needed help to be able to breathe with a sense of life.

All I knew about therapy was that it is expensive. I frantically started searching for therapists but as I had expected, the amount per session was too huge for my tiny college-going pockets. There was no chance I could ask my parents for help. But I did need help.

Fortunately, I got reminded that a friend had once shared a list of low-cost/free therapists with me. I scavenged through the list and called and emailed a number of people on it. I finally got an appointment with a no-cost therapist and thus began my therapy.

It has been some weeks since I started it. The idea of opening up to a stranger felt strange and scary. But the thought of letting the knotty mass strengthen its roots felt scarier. Before the first session, I remember feeling conscious and confused. After every session, I felt overwhelmed.

It was difficult to make sense of things. But as time passed, I felt more in charge of myself. Therapy didn’t get me any magic trick that would untangle the knotty mass. But I did get a sense of agency. I know that the knotty mass isn’t gone. But I also know that I had been blaming myself for things that were not in my control. I now know that it is not that I like being miserable, but that the knotty mass makes me feel miserable. I have found out that the knotty mass will exist, that the shoot of despair will stay but that the shoot of hope will also exist side by side.

I now know that I might not know ways out of being miserable, but that it is not the only way to be. I know that there might be days when I don’t like myself but I cannot escape myself. I have started having days where I can sit alone without feeling the need to dig all old graves. I have started realizing that sitting idle can be relaxing and that going on guilt-trips after every relaxing day is unhealthy. I feel lighter, happier and most importantly, I now want to let joy be the only measure of my success.

I still have bad days. There still are days when I feel like I am not lovable or worthy or capable. But I also know that these days will give way to days when I feel like I am lovable, and worthy and capable. I am still learning to love myself and to forgive myself for things that I did when I lost control. I am trying to make peace with the existence of the knotty mass. As I am writing this, I fear that I might enter that cycle of chasing the knotty mass away again. But even when the knotty mass keeps telling me that I cannot escape this, I still want to get better…

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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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