Shakti perspectives: Tarang
It feels as though – now more than ever – we are having open conversations about mental health. I’m glad that’s the case. I live with anxiety and depression and for years, I felt like I had to hide that part of me, from friends, employers and even from family. For years, I didn’t even realise that I have depression. I thought everyone felt the same way I did. But with this shift towards awareness and recognition of mental health, I’ve begun to learn more about myself and to feel more comfortable sharing more of me.
Something that’s still not talked about openly enough is how difficult it is to actually receive meaningful support. That path is rarely straightforward. I’ve seen multiple psychiatrists and at least seven psychologists over the last 13 years. I only felt like I “clicked” with a couple of those. And that’s OK. In fact, I think that’s normal. Sometimes, the care isn’t culturally appropriate – the psychologist simply does not understand the unique challenges that we face coming from a South Asian background.
It’s not just the stigma. I think there’s a commonly held perception that within South Asian communities there is an engrained stigma around discussing mental health. I don’t think that tells the full story. As communities, we’re recovering from the trauma inflicted upon our peoples, we’re healing and trying to find our own place in an ever-changing world, where, it wasn’t so long ago that people like us were killed simply for existing. We’re unlearning things we’ve been taught over generations, and learning kindness and compassion for ourselves. We’ve learnt methods from the people who oppressed us that were never intended to serve us. Evolving beyond this state is a process and it takes time and courage.
There are two defining moments for me in terms of my mental health. One was the murder of my younger sister, Nikita, in 2015. It sent me spiralling and there seemed to be no end in sight to the pain. Grief is a difficult thing to explain, and it is incomprehensibly compounded when the person you love and lose has their life violently taken away from them.
The other was my attempted suicide. It was at that point that shit got real. Frankly, I had felt in decline for a long time but I had found ways to cope, to conceal and to carry on. I was not looking after myself. But I had to make a choice and to genuinely reflect. After that, it was a case of, “I like this living thing, and I want to keep doing this living thing, so I am going to be around the people who will support me to keep doing that.”
Talking to a psychologist is a deeply personal thing. Yes, they’re a health professional. But it feels like there’s more to it as a patient. Due to chronic health issues, I have spent more time than one would like in hospital and under general anaesthetic, but that’s a story for another time. Talking to someone about what is happening inside your own mind and how you relate to the world as a consequence of your brain - that some days just isn’t working how you expect it to - is not a procedure where the skill level of the doctor is mostly on display while you’re loaded up on propofol and literally can’t feel a thing.
I look for certain things that have come from experience over many years. I look for someone who challenges me and pushes me. I look for someone who explains things and doesn’t infantilise me or assume that because I didn’t study medicine or psychology that I need things dumbed down for me.
Most importantly, I look for someone who is not afraid of telling me things I don’t always want to hear but need to hear. If I need to be told, “Hey man, you were wrong and you need to change the way you look at X situation,” then that’s the person I want. I look for someone who helps me feel I’m growing. And I look for someone who doesn’t always go for the cliche, “How did that make you feel?”
It takes time. And perseverance to find the right person for you. And I totally get that some days it can feel like, “What’s the point? This is dumb. Nothing is changing. They don’t even understand me.” But it takes time. And the process, the journey, the struggle, IS worth it. Promise. Be easy on yourself and know that you will find someone who is right for you, too.
It took me a little while, but when it works, it is the best. Take care. And as Oscar Wilde quipped, ‘Be yourself – everybody else is taken.’