Talking Mental Health

By Esha Chaudhuri

As May is also the month of Mental Health Awareness, Sunday Shillong draws attention to the much shied away topic ‘Mental Health’. An issue that has deep entrenched roots across age groups, and other social classifications; one that is conveniently disregarded until desperate cries for help are made, and yet normalising it still disconcerts many. In this much revered point of discussion, a one-to-one with Jezanie Warjri traversing through her book ‘In the Midst Of It All’ proffers the significance of mental health issues through her own life incidents, coping mechanisms and its firmly established stigmatisation in society. Excerpts of the conversation can be found below –

SS: You have authored the book “In The Midst Of It All”, where you have shared about your own personal learnings about mental health. Tell us about it. 

JW: I used to think I was well informed about mental health but when I experienced depression I realized how little and how unprepared I was to handle it. I had no knowledge about the sleepless nights and restless mind that once caused me so many problems were a result of deteriorating mental health.

I was aware of the exhaustion in both my mind and body and it always felt like if I could just stay in bed all day, my problems would be resolved. I couldn’t understand the disturbed sleep patterns and the obsessive/intrusive thoughts and often attributed it to stress, till I felt this way for weeks and months. In my journey of battling depression, I learned that it manifests itself in many ways. There are a range of emotions apart from sadness, but being aware of the different emotions and its management was my biggest learning.

SS: In your experience of writing the book, how did you navigate your way through fighting your own mental battles? 

JW: I found peace in writing. It always felt better after writing, even though the feeling wouldn’t last very long but it was a good feeling, nonetheless. I formed this habit during my stint at a digital agency in Mumbai. Alongside, I’d also read and listen to contemporary worship songs. Immersing oneself in a passionate hobby is a healthy way of coping. Doctors and psychiatrists often encourage their patients to journal their thoughts and experiences. It does not magically make one’s problems vanish but it does take some of the load off. The fact that I can express myself creatively with the hope that someone else can resonate with it, is rather cathartic.

SS: You make direct references to The Bible as being your ultimate saviour; aiding towards your recovery path. Would you agree when I say that mental wellness is a combination of practicality and spiritualism?

JW: It wouldn’t be justified as the truth if I said that faith and prayers alone can get one through a mental or physical illness. Mental health should be treated the same way as any other illness. If one experiences migraines for days, reaching out to a doctor for medical relief is the instinctive reaction. Mental health requires the same attention and practicality. Keeping myself mentally and emotionally healthy required me to lead a healthy lifestyle – maintaining a sleep cycle, optimal nutrition, work life balance and surrounding myself with good company. On my bad days, I found myself constantly submerged in feelings of abandonment and worthlessness. In such times, when I needed assurance and reminders of the worth and value of my life, the Bible was my only source of comfort.

SS: As a survivor, what are the three rules you’d advocate to cope with deteriorating mental health?

JW: Firstly, not letting thoughts and emotions take precedence. This requires discipline and willingness. I remind myself everyday, not to believe all my thoughts and letting the feelings flow. Secondly, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Be it from a doctor, a family member or a close friend. The sooner the better. Lastly, an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. For most people, depression makes one want to isolate, and it also makes one lose interest from otherwise enjoyable activities; but lengthy periods of isolation only worsens the situation. Keeping oneself mentally occupied and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the key, I believe.

SS: Being heard, having feelings validated and receiving empathetic responses, go a long way in promoting mental wellness. On mental health awareness month, what are your thoughts on fighting stigma, providing support, and dissemination of correct data?

JW: I remember feeling very vulnerable and desperate for any form of help and relief but at the same time I was completely in a dark space. This persisted largely because I was unaware of the real problem, I was in denial about my deteriorating mental state, and also that my family wasn’t open to seeking supportive psychiatric help. All of these factors kept me away from receiving medical help, early on. In hindsight, I think a lot about how I could have prevented so many helpless nights if only I had gotten help sooner. Many people must have had similar journeys.

Stigma, misconceptions and misinformation poses a significant barrier to seeking help, which can be tackled by creating widespread awareness.

Although through her book, Warjri seeks refuge in The Bible, and finds her sense of calm and way forward fighting her share of mental battles, one may find theirs in other sources too. The larger picture, however, sustains on the pathway of recovery over the process.

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