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Shakti perspectives: Dina

Honestly, as someone who has tried to seek mental health support for my anxiety and dysthymia disorder, I can say that trying to make changes to a culture where most of the older generation has suppressed their emotions is hard. I think even though our generation may seek mental health assistance it is also important to provide that same support to our parents. The reason many of the older generation are not able to provide support for their children is because they themselves need healing. Once they overcome that then they can help others and in this case their children or the younger generation. We need to provide that warmth to our community that it is okay to seek help and to question them whether they feel they have dealt with trauma.

Many do not even recall or consider the abuse that they have faced because they were taught it was normal and acceptable. For instance, whether it is the relationships within family members, friends, or community members. Finding the positivity in sharing mental health can assist South Asians to seek mental support since the taboo of this concept always associates it with negativity. Taking back the meaning and owning it in a positive manner can help improve this problem.

Like many others, my own journey with mental health has been a roller coaster. We all go through phases on how we deal with mental illness. Early on random episodes of anxiety seemed like just that…random. Yet as time went on and the events became more consistent and started having a greater toll on me it made me question myself. Mental health is not easy to discuss in a south Asian household and the idea of mental illness is very commonly brushed aside. The main drawback on my journey is not getting the recognition and support of my family. It is the generational gap and cultural norms established in their lifetime which makes it difficult for them to take mental health seriously.

The main challenge I have faced is coming to terms that there is something “different” about my mental health. To be exact, it felt as though once I was diagnosed it became this permanent part of me. I had to manage my daily life around my emotions and triggers and learn to heal myself through professional help and tips. The difficulty was that I had to learn to take it seriously and not just disregard my anxiety and depression by saying to myself that it is not a big deal. Being diagnosed with mental illness in one way has eradicated that uncertainty which is only magnified within traditional south Asian households. The positive to this journey is purely with how one perceives the scenario. Even after all of this, sometimes parents and extended family members will continue to reject mental illness entirely. It is not necessarily in their control as it is inbuilt in them. The positives one should draw from all this is that at least you have put one foot in front of the other. The journey is yours to complete and the first step is the hardest in every journey. Seeking the right help and coming to terms with your situation is that first step. There is no shame in it. We are human beings, and we all struggle in different ways. Mental illness is just one of those things we need to find the strength and courage to face and find what helps us move forward positively.

I had tried to speak about it with parents and family however, the proper support was never provided as they believed it was just a phase. Given that mental health is not a well known area for them as well as considered a taboo. But after having such conversations I realised why they believed having mental health related issues is a difficult subject. As they understood it - having mental illness is not the problem the problem becomes for them when we let it consume us. As parents I understand why they think that way. The last thing any parent would want is their child losing their own ability to control themselves or allow their illness to take a toll on their life. I guess it's the hard love but that can be a dangerous toll for many others who might have a different experience with their mental health. I think maybe if we start there then more logical and empathetic approaches can be formed to cater towards each individual to manage their mental health. Having this experience has given me a perspective on how I would manage the topic of mental health with my future children or people around me such as friends, families or even strangers. At the end there is a silver lining and that is to take all your hardships in a positive way to learn something out of it. 

My self-care changes and till this day I have not found that “one thing” that completely helps me to take care of myself. I am still learning and exploring what works for me. Every situation and setting is different and has their own influence on what works. However, I have realised that over-working allows me not to think about my mental health. Staying busy and productive allows me to build on myself in a positive manner.  I also end up watching a lot of ASMR or ambient music. It works in most cases however when the panic attacks come through it isn't quite enough. In these moments, I have learned to face the sheer amount of emotion and just express what I am feeling.

As raw as it might sound, this method has allowed me to let go of my fear, tension and anxiety and is almost like a reset. It is certainly tolling at that moment to experience extremes of negative emotions, but I’ve come to the realisation that in order to cope with the fear I am holding within, I need to drain it out of my body. Once that is done, I try to treat myself with some inspiration videos, mainly religious ones. Hearing them makes me not feel so alone and reminds me that I’m only human and feeling these emotions is part of being human and there is no shame in it. What is most important is to find something that allows you to pick yourself back up. Pick up the pieces and rebuild. It might not sound like the perfect solution, but it reminds me that I have it in me to keep moving forward onto improved things. No matter what challenges life throws at me, if I can climb out of my own pit, I can deal with anything. We live and we learn. We keep trying and each time it gets easier, and the outcomes are better. 

Final thoughts

A lot of south Asian children find it hard to connect with a psychologist as there are not many POC in the field. I personally struggled to express my issues with certain cultural norms because I didn’t want to portray a negative image about my people to someone who is not from the same background. I had to protect it but that meant I couldn’t also talk about how I also want to improve that same culture. At times I also found that the solutions that were provided didn’t necessarily align with me, for instance moving out or cutting certain people off. I do hope that in a few years to come more POC join in support for mental health so that POC can also seek the help necessary and be provided the support and advice by someone who faced the culture firsthand themselves as that feels more authentic to our issues. Other than that, my final advice to all my South Asian people is that please seek help if you are not getting the support from home. You are precious and you are not alone in this, and you can overcome it. 

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