When I think about the term ‘Mental Health', there is a barrage of images and experiences that flash in front of my eyes. I am suddenly transported to my childhood and start experiencing flashes of emotions that are imprinted on my memory but barring a few, most have been suspended in limbo because words don’t even begin to describe them.
When I think about ‘Mental Health’, I remember feeling forgotten and ignored as a 3-year-old when my mother brought home with her my newly delivered baby brother.
As a child who till now was the sole focus of the people around her, I couldn’t fathom why everyone was so overjoyed at the arrival of a baby that they barely knew. It’s hysterical as I have pictures clicked of me on that day, where I am wearing my grandmother's oversized sunglasses to hide my tears. While I forgot this day somewhere along as I grew up, a chance encounter with those images brought the barrage of thoughts back.
I was only three and my life felt unbearable to me at that moment. I was shortly put in a hostel later, and this adventure only lasted a few weeks as the school administration could not fathom the reason for a 3-year-old being depressed and listless and not interacting with her peers.
The story is rather long, and I would do no justice to it in 1000 words. As life continued traversing through its course, I was pulled aside time and again by my ‘Mental Health’, once it was about bearing to live without my mother as she was posted away for a year. My father did his best, but probably the insecurities started building up more coherently now. A change of town in 1998, brought so many experiences that my pre-adolescent self was not prepared for.
From being hauled from the national capital to the relatively sleepy and socially small town like Dehradun.
As a 10-year-old I was expected to stop wearing shorts and skirts and behave more ‘Girl-Like’! The words enraged me enough while I barely understood the meaning of this hyper-sexist demand.
Why do I have to behave like a girl and start compromising on my comfort and why wasn’t that an issue for any other man in the house? I could feel the disdain building up in me slowly and steadily.
My ‘Mental Health' continued to get worse, and my parents started to face their marital challenges and issues arising in a Pre-Internet and WhatsApp era that fuelled the communication gap.
For children, parents are the core and the axis of their universe, and disagreements and seething resentments can shake the sense of self-belief very intimately as well.Having to witness my parents not only disagree but avoid each other, made me feel like a worthless offspring of a marriage that was bound to doom.
I didn’t understand much about marriages then and probably a lack of insight or sensitivity about the subject at home just as well just worsened my interpretation of their problems. Their marriage survived the struggles brought by their careers and today they choose to co-exist, but me, well I still carry the trauma that the child had to witness dreading that her world could come crashing down at any moment and she would have to choose the better between her parents.
In all honesty, I didn’t comprehend ‘Mental-health’ till about when I was 13 and was molested by my uncle as I was sent by my grandmother to stay at my aunt’s house for a weekend. I was watching TV sitting on the bed, as the television was in their bedroom. My aunt was away for work and nobody else was in the house. This man grabbed me from behind and my body went into a state of shock. For a brief second that I was under his grip, my mind went into a state of trance and my heart stopped beating. I screamed and bolted out of the room. I still remember the malicious smile on his face. I locked myself in another room. Trying to calm me down and consoling myself. I didn’t want to believe that an elder uncle who was equivalent to my father just did that to me.
I waited till I heard my cousin's voice outside the room. I opened the door and tried to act normal because I couldn’t find words to describe one of the most haunting experiences of my life. I couldn’t tell what fact was and what was fiction for a little while.
This was a break of trust and respect on so many levels. And all the lust projected on a 13-year-old by a 40-year-old for what? For the hyper-fascination with the overtly sexualized female body. Or was I just easy prey? Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t tell you his reasons.
The thing about trauma is, that unlike an actual wound there are no scars on the surface, but the wound starts rotting inside, nonetheless. From that horrid day started my inward turmoil.
I would have these deep shameful flashes of that incident when I would be in school, at home, while eating my food or when I desperately needed to shut my eyes and sleep. These whirlpools of images and sensations would take over my existence which had known very little of life till that age.
I found it impossible to confide in anyone because ‘Sex’ as a topic is taboo in Indian households, and we never attempt to give it a holistic perspective. We disregard the fact that on any given day in this country, almost 104 children get molested, raped, and abused. That’s a shocking statistic. But we allow it to happen because we would rather keep our image intact as parents than empower our children to know what is safe and unsafe around them.
My journey with ‘Post Traumatic Syndrome’ continued but as I turned 18 and started college, I probably gathered more courage. I first confessed my troubles to another aunt and then an elder sister and then a few college friends to only understand that I wasn’t the only one. As compared to men, women are higher subjects to sex-related crimes in this world. It’s unfortunate but true.
Is it the patriarchy that perpetuates this issue or just the general insensitivity of the extra 52 men that overpower the sex ratio which stands at 948 women to 1000 men in this country? It was over a breakfast table in 2008 that I broke the cause of my deep-seated discontent and anger to them. My father was in shock, he is a man of few words mostly.
It was my mother, however, who shot back at me and told me that I must have self-invited this unfriendly incident of my uncle molesting me. Her initial reaction of blaming my trauma on the doings of a 13-year-old me back then shocked me beyond words. I felt lost and betrayed.
This incident marked the end of an era where I viewed my parents as superiors or gods. I understood that they could be wrong and foolish and inconsiderate, and they were humans after all. I also understood the power of words that day and vowed to use communication to bridge gaps that create them with accusations, mockery, or blame. It has taken me many many years and a lot of help from therapy and counseling to overcome this incident.
To give this entire episode a glimmer of its silver lining is that my past and my trauma got me interested to study Psychology. I went ahead and acquired a certification in special needs education and behavioral counseling myself.