Mental illness and therapy isn’t cute, it’s real and painful: Thoughts on Dear Zindagi

It's great to make the conversation about mental health mainstream, but it needs to be real too.
Mental illness and therapy isn’t cute, it’s real and painful: Thoughts on Dear Zindagi
Mental illness and therapy isn’t cute, it’s real and painful: Thoughts on Dear Zindagi
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By Mehak

Watching “Dear Zindagi” this weekend, I couldn’t help but think about a time in my own life a decade ago. Sometime around then, the penny dropped that I needed help. How, when, where, I did not know. All I knew was that I needed help and I would do whatever it took to get it.

Cut to 2008 when, new to Bombay with few friends, I started trudging my way from Peddar Road (where I lived) to Juhu to Anjali Chhabria’s clinic. It wasn’t all that easy. In my early days in this city I did not who to turn to for help.

Fortunately, a friend of mine was also undergoing therapy and she happened to mention Mindtemple. My instant reaction was of relief. I now knew that there was at least one place that could help me.

Now all I had to do was gather the courage to call them and set up an appointment. I procrastinated for a while. What would I tell them? That I didn’t know how to wake up in the morning? That I didn’t feel like talking to people? That I could just sit and cry for hours together? That I needed something to motivate myself?

I am grateful to one of my exes for that bad relationship. That was followed by my grandmother’s death, which is when I knew I had snapped. I picked up the phone the next day.

I was a fully functioning, if a tad lost, independent and ambitious 22-year-old then, much like Alia’s character in “Dear Zindagi” (DZ). Unlike her though, my decision to seek therapy wasn’t as simple. My first day at the clinic, I wanted to run away when I saw the small mountain of papers in front of me.

The number of psychographic and personality tests I had to give. The struggle with the pencil and eraser on what could be the “right” answer for a particular question. After, what seemed like hours, I submitted the tests and headed home. The following week I got the test results and I was diagnosed with Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder. I decided to tell my parents about it.

What followed were long awkward sessions with Anisha* (she was the therapist assigned to me), where I would struggle to talk to her. Unlike Alia in DZ, who immediately opens up to SRK, I did not know how much I should reveal. I wondered if she would judge me if I told her certain things. It took me weeks, months in fact, to open up to her and bawl my eyes out. I thank her for her patience.

I went to her regularly, for years. She taught me a lot about myself. I wish though, Anisha was a bit like SRK’s Jugs and prescribed playing kabaddi with waves instead of mood-brightening medications. I wish my therapist’s room were as fancy and with as many kursis as Jehangir’s, instead of being a tiny cubicle with a table and three chairs squeezed in. I could have cried in comfort at least.

Don’t get me wrong, I did not dislike “Dear Zindagi”. I just did not feel for it. I was a tad offended by the romanticisation of therapy and mental illness. I am not belittling the character’s abandonment issues that have led to commitment issues.

It’s just that mental illness is what it is called, an illness. And therapy is the road to recovery. It is embarrassing, it is tiring, it is awkward, and it is anything but cute. While it is great to make the conversation about mental health mainstream, it wouldn’t hurt to make it real and uncomfortable. That is how it was and still is for me, real and uncomfortable.

*Name changed

Mehak describes herself as someone who is seduced by a tattoo machine, the hairstylist’s chair, movies and conversation.

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