“I will carry on for as long as my body allows, after that, it is all up to God.” These were the words of 71-year-old Krishna Majhi, a domestic worker. She further added, “what can I do, I need to feed myself. I cannot read or write like you.”
Like numerous others, Krishna Majhi does not have the luxury of a #MentalHealthBreak to fall back upon.
In an increasingly globalized world, everything around us is a product waiting to be packaged and sold. Education, our emotional and physical wellbeing; Krishna Majhi’s chance at a decent life. The writer and translator Yogesh Maitreya writes, “Have you seen a factory worker? In lunch, he eats iron and drinks tears; unlike academicians, he doesn’t have the time to commit suicide.”
What we are seeing today is an increasingly prominent tussle for power, between productivity and a sense of sanity.
Hustle Culture glorifies the insensitivity of overworking yourself in the hopes of climbing the corporate ladder, or even just of having an identity. Under Capitalism, what you sell is what you are- a domestic worker selling their labour, a professor selling their knowledge, or an entrepreneur selling their ideas.
On one hand, social media is flooded with #SelfCareSunday and bubble baths and quick weekend getaways, and then there is the other side of media that uses dark humor and self-deprecating jokes to disguise what is very likely a cry for help. Existing in the duality of extremes, sometimes it feels like an impossible Herculean task to just moving from one day to the next.
Under capitalism’s rigid fist, you will be sold elaborate self-care packages and weekend trips as a means to rejuvenate. But take an actual break from work, don’t reply to that work email promptly and you are treading on thin ice, and asking for trouble.
A data scientist with Tata AIA Life Insurance, Shounak Ghosh shares his experience of navigating the workplace. He says, under the pandemic situation, “work from home is a rough myth”. There are no office hours when at home, and he was constantly at the beck and call of his superiors.
Even his weekends were completely devoted to office work and his work with IIT Bombay as an analyst speaker. There is no concept of personal space or time, he adds; a situation that has aggravated since March 2020. “They think you have all the time in the world, just because you are at home,” he laments.
Research findings from psychologists at Staffordshire University (June 2020) found that there was a growing feeling of guilt associated with taking breaks from work. Dr. Mike Oliver, the paper’s lead author, said that the psychological and social barriers which prevent people from taking a break from work need looking into.
The pandemic worsened the sense of guilt; the feeling seems to be that as the pandemic felt like an extended unwanted vacation, breaking away for even just a moment felt like unnecessary liberty. Indifferent to all of this, advertising agencies have been ruthlessly using every opportunity to sell themselves in appealing packages.
Capitalism has colonized our emotions. Self-care is used as a marketing ploy specifically targeting the female audience. The victims of other gender identities are therefore continuously denied any semblance of respite. Moreover, today the very concept of self-care is tied up with the extent of your spending power, where self-care is equated with extravagance. It is almost as if, if you are not filling the pockets of Capitalism while taking care of yourself, you don’t deserve to be doing it.
It does not end here. Most of the (deeply flawed) coping techniques for mental health which are widely spoken of today are appropriated for a very neurotypical consumer. Simply put, a neurotypical person is somebody who has typical intellectual or cognitive development, as opposed to a neurodivergent person who has different patterns of neurological functions.
There is only so much binge-eating and reckless spending which one can resort to, before realizing the futility of it. These “substitutes” will have an incredibly adverse effect on persons with an actual eating disorder, or a person with a bipolar disorder when they are in an extravagant manic phase.
It isn’t just our emotions, but even education and culture itself, which is a commodity now. Anwesha Dey, a student of Presidency University, explains this in terms of the relationship between mental health, leisure time, and cultural pursuits.
Every year we hear gut-wrenching stories about students who brave unimaginable odds to answer examinations, hoping to receive their passport to a better life. Anwesha Dey takes the example of a first-generation learner from a family of labourers. This student may need to help his own family financially, while also managing time to study. If his family has struggled to make ends meet so that he may have an education, he will feel the need to make the most of his education all the more; while also battling a sense of guilt for being an added expense to his family.
It is indeed a do-or-die situation. Given such circumstances, where does one have the time for any kind of higher creative or intellectual pursuits? And so once again, cultural growth too will become what one particular class defines it to be the class that has both the time and the money for it.
When forced to compete against the power of wealth, or the ambitions of a whole country, do the aspirations of young minds stand a chance at all? The commodification of cultures, aspirations, and identity creates a space where the only way to survive is to compete. And the winner takes all.