CW: Mental health, depression, body disorders, schizophrenia, weight gain, alcohol abuse
At a young age, things like mental health issues were discussed in whispers or behind closed doors. No one approved of the 'behaviour' surrounding them and often penalised those who suffered.
Here are some stories of mental health that I witnessed in my life.
I remember the first time I was hospitalised due to panic attacks. They wanted to watch my brain patterns, so put the cap on my head, gels in the holes, with wires sticking out and put me in a dark room for half an hour.
'Let's see what happens'
Let's see what happens, I repeated in my head. This is the part in the horror film that they find out I'm possessed with a demon and force an exorcism on me. The thought clouded my mind and I realised they were watching my brain patterns, so started to think of flowers and 'pretty things'. They then took a few test tubes of blood and sent me on my way.
A good few years later, anxiety takes over my life and I find it difficult to leave the house. I hear 'it's because you're drinking and going out and with boys all the time. It's because you're crazy. You need to stop being an idiot'.
Fast forward to now: 'IT'S DRUGS YOU MUST BE DOING DRUGS'.
During a celebration of sorts, as I navigate the crowd, I find a group of aunties and younger girls talking loudly about someone's son. I recognise them as the 'mean girls', so hover to see who they're talking about.
'He's 40 and still living with his mum' one scoffs, while flicking her hair.
'I heard he's not right in the head' a younger girl leans in to whisper. I shake my head. I can feel it coming.
'Leh, imagine. Having an unmarried son, at age 40, who's an idiot as well! The shame *tut tut*'
I have to walk away.
The shame. It stuck in my head.
'Your dad's sister sees snakes', my cousin elongated the sssss in snakes, to make it seem comical, but it wasn't. It scared me.
'What do you mean sees snakes?'
'Ask your parents. She's crazy. She just sits in her room, seeing snakes all day'.
My eyes widen and I imagine her curled in a corner of her bed, scared and crying. My fear turns to sympathy. We shove more chips in our mouths and change the channel to MTV Base. We've moved on but the image stays in my head. I always imagine her alone and that's almost always the reality.
'Did you hear about the girl who was sent back to India because she was hearing voices', a girl in my school was talking to her friends and I was (as always) eavesdropping.
'This girl, she lives in Southall, but apparently she had to be sent home'
'How do you know?'
'My god, she's my cousin's friend's neighbour! They hear everything first hand!'
'What they gonna do to her in India?'
'Exorcisms, what else'
I was once told that I was skinny and to stay that way because that's pretty. A good man will like me for being pretty. I will find a good husband.
A developed a body disorder soon after. I didn't want a husband, but I wanted people to keep calling me pretty. Even if they didn't matter. Especially if they didn't matter. I would feel important that people I didn't even know where talking about how great I looked.
I stopped eating for a while and drank instead. I would purge and then drink until I vomit. I would look in the mirror and see a larger girl than who stood there.
Now I've gained weight, I get a lot of comments about it.
'Don't get any bigger, it won't look good'
'Do you exercise at all, you should probably exercise'
'Do you want another roti? Maybe that's enough?'
I get flashbacks, pangs of self doubt, the pain from looking at my reflection, from sucking in my stomach until I couldn't breath or speak. I take a deep breath, I settle my anger and I smile.
These moments are common in my life, where mental health has been a topic of shame or careless disregard. If you want someone to speak to, and find your family or friends are not open to this discussion, you can contact: