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Nobody talked about mental health in my community

Monday, 13 March 2023 Genevieve

Not only did Genevieve have to deal with her depression, she had to teach her family what it was.

Head prefect, the girl that travelled continents to study in Edinburgh at 21 with no family or friends in this new country, go getter, always smiling, outgoing. As I lay on my bed this person I just described was a complete stranger to me and I wondered if I’d ever recognise her again. This was exactly 10 years ago, triggered by an acute bout of cystic acne and a prolonged period of isolation. I was confused, tired and an empty shell.

“From my bedroom I saw people going about their lives – that used to be me I’d say feeling desperate and confused.”

“What is wrong with me?” The brain that had been my close ally for all of my life had no answers to give. Why was I crying all the time? Why couldn’t I figure out this heaviness? From the confinement of my bedroom I saw people going about their lives – that used to be me I’d say feeling desperate and confused.

I spoke to friends but no one could identify why I was spiraling deeper into this abyss. After isolating and avoiding video calls with my parents for over two months I realised I could not function anymore. I called them and I was on my way back home the next day.

My parents said I need good food

When I reached Goa my parents could see that something was wrong. I had lost weight with my face looking like coir, no smile and dead eyes. Surely they knew how to fix me, my mum said. “this is just nerves, you are burnt out – you need some good food”. I was taken to a doctor who reiterated this, and I was put on medication that put me to sleep for most of the day. I woke up to eat and then slept again. A month of doing this yielded no results. I wasn’t getting any better as I regressed to being a baby again.

My angel was my best friend who lived in the capital and had suffered with mental health problems herself. She convinced my parents to send me to her to get the right help. I was taken to doctors who diagnosed me with Depression and Acute Anxiety. I was shocked with this diagnosis. People didn’t really talk about mental health in India. It was taboo.

“Small reminders of who I was would greet me out of the blue, reminding me of what I had accomplished.”

Slowly I got better with therapy and medication and decided to dip my toes back to what was now my former London life on a trial basis. I landed back in the middle of winter for four weeks to see if I could rely on myself and my mind again. The idea of being back in that dark hole made me want to rush to the airport and leave. But as the days passed small reminders of who I was would greet me out of the blue, reminding me of what I had accomplished and confirming I was not ready to accept defeat and leave.

My younger self was so naïve that once I had almost recovered from this first ever episode I spoke to the GP and said “I am now cured right?” With a small smile she explained that this would never disappear. I listened but did not truly hear. Surly things could never get that bad again? I found that so difficult to accept.

True to form I have had multiple episodes since then. A severe one stands out where sitting in the park for 5 minutes was a struggle and the safest place in the world was under the duvet isolating myself again. I have learnt to accept after all these years that this is a part of me just like the mole on my arm and doesn’t define who I am. Triggers? I have learnt to stop and listen to my body I know when I need to pause and be kind to myself.

You need support

My lovely Goan parents who insisted what I was suffering from was a lack of good nutritious food still don’t fully comprehend why anxiety is something I carry everyday but are more supportive. I don’t expect to speak to them about the ins and out, but in a community that doesn’t even talk about mental health the fact that mum will ask me if I am speaking to someone or taking my medication is a huge win for me, and I love them for that.

It has taken me 10 years to put this into words, but I do so in the hope that people see this blog and thinks if someone who looks and speaks like me, from a similar background and culture, can make it out they can too. You need to find support, and if no one helps initially ask other people until you get what you need. If people don’t feel your pain, please know in your heart I truly do.

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