Anna Chandy’s positively exuberant energy belies the battles she fought to defeat her own demons. By every standard she has it all -- a successful career as a therapist (after all she has Deepika Padukone as a client), a supportive husband, two daughters and runs a successful foundation. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Anna, now better known as actor Deepika Padukone’s therapist.
In a tell-all memoir, which also reads like a self-help guide, 54-year-old Anna Chandy traces her own personal growth from a submissive woman jumping through hoops to please everyone around her to the self-assured counsellor and founder of The Live Love Laugh Foundation that she is today.
With a foreword by Deepika Padukone, Battles in the Mind while narrating Anna’s own struggles attempts to create a connection between her personal experiences and the experiences of everyone who suffers from mental illness.
Whether it was her own complicated relationship with her own family or her own struggle with accepting herself, Anna’s journey is the journey of many who suffer through depression and anxiety.
Chairperson of the Live Love Laugh Foundation, today she is the first supervising and training transactional analyst from India. She is also certified in neuro-linguistic programming and art therapy. Anna believes it is her ability to connect people’s narratives that makes her an effective therapist.
Anna’s foray into counselling can be traced back to the time when her brother-in-law Thomas, who was suffering from schizophrenia, came to live with her family.
It was in order to equip herself to be able to deal with Thomas that Anna began to volunteer at Vishwas, a free counselling service. She went through the required training and discovered Carl Rogers’s ‘humanistic approach to counselling’. The method recognises and acknowledges people’s pains and reactions to difficult situations and central to this technique of therapy is making the person feel heard. In 1994 this fortuitous discovery was life-changing for Anna.
Anna’s recounting of her childhood is a story that is familiar to almost every Indian household. Born into a tightly knit Syrian Christian Keralite community, her birth, she believes was a disappointment to her parents. In this prosperous community, the only thing that was valued was conformity, specifically of a woman. When her own parent’s marriage began unravelling in a rather ugly fashion Anna carried the burden of her parent’s broken marriage. Writing about a childhood that was deeply scarring was therapeutic for Anna, who is now finally able to find humour in her past experiences.
“I believe we all have our own narratives. While it is my narrative, it is also a narrative of my family. I have learnt to recognise myself through humour,” says Anna to TNM.
Anna recounts how the emotional burden of her dysfunctional family carried itself into her own marriage.
“I became a Stepford wife, accommodating to the point of suppressing my own personality; cooking, cleaning, smiling, caring, buffing, polishing, dusting, shining, and serving to the point of insanity!” Anna writes.
Anna is now able to look at herself in the past with a sense of humour. “What was I thinking?” Anna exclaims amidst giggles.
However, she understands that the perfect child and woman she was trying to be was her own creation and learnt to discard the past one layer at a time.
“Anna Alexander had finally turned from embers to ash, and Anna Chandy was beginning to rise, strong and empowered”, she writes.
It was on discovering Transactional Analysis that Anna finally began to understand her own patterns and began to reach into the deep recesses of her mind. And in there was a painful dark secret, the shame of which she had carried through her adolescence and most of her adult life. It was finally coming to terms with the fact that she was sexually abused as a child. “I had blocked out this memory of abuse for so long that when it came back, it shook me anew. I was awash with fresh feelings of betrayal and helplessness, as well as guilt. Once again, I was Anna, the little child,” Anna writes.
While she has been able to get past her own traumatic experience with professional help, Anna believes that it is important to talk about child sexual abuse. Even today a majority of the people who comes seeking her help have had some experience with sexual abuse. “Adults get caught up in their own web and do not notice the children. Children will always remain loyal to their parents. So, it is up to us adults to ask our children,” says Anna.
The books is Anna’s attempt to derive at a meaning of her own stories, it also urges readers to look at their own stories through a lens of humour and to know that with a little help we can create our own narratives, winning the battles in our minds.