Being Women

Stigma Around Mental Health : Time To Put An End To It

"Immense support from my spouse and parents made me seek professional help. I guess that was one of the best decisions I made. The doctor heard me out patiently; he attributed my stress to 'Obsessive Perfectionist Disorder', a condition when the person involved aims to get everything right in life."

The Physical Issue

I was at the orthopaedics’ early last year. A gnawing pain in the thighs was recurring every now and then. I hadn’t hurt myself, and there seemed to be no apparent reason. But for months, I was experiencing heavy muscular pain that was aggravating day by day. So much so that I would find myself limping around at times.

The doctor’s diagnosis took me by total surprise; he prescribed no X-rays, medicines, or physiotherapy.

“You are not sleeping well. You are turning around in sleep and placing your legs in the wrong position. So, you walk for half an hour in the evening and 10 minutes post-dinner. If you get a good night’s sleep, you will be fine.”

The good doctor didn’t charge me a penny, but as I rose to leave, he shot a question:

Are you stressed by any chance? I would suggest you do something about it.”

Stress: The Culprit

Stressed? If only he knew. The magnitude of what I was going through is condensed into one small word: stress.

I had been experiencing anxiety for quite some time since my son entered the dreaded tenth grade. Along with a hectic job, I was struggling to juggle home, impending board exams, and the office. But how could I say that?

How could I fail? Aren’t perfect women supposed to manage it all?

The COVID lockdown set in soon after, making matters worse. Contrary to popular belief, working from home was no piece of cake. Especially for us teachers, because for months, we conducted lectures and examinations online, transitioning from one new software to another and attending numerous online training sessions, day and night. Perhaps I wasn’t sharp enough, but it was turning out to be increasingly difficult for me to cope.

Whenever I spoke of tension and increased heart rate, my family—that’s my husband and parents—would all suggest the same. Music, deep breathing, and yoga. No doubt, these would provide temporary relief, but my condition was getting worse. Erratic work hours, kid’s academics, and expected to be available for work 24×7, one morning I broke down. And I had made up my mind.

The decision to seek professional help

Immense support from my spouse and parents made me seek professional help. I guess that was one of the best decisions I made. The doctor heard me out patiently; he attributed my stress to ‘Obsessive Perfectionist Disorder‘, a condition when the person involved aims to get everything right in life. I realised I had gradually developed a duress to complete every task and responsibility to the T.

And aren’t we, from childhood conditioned to be PERFECT?

Thanks to that, I was being assigned work from every other department; apparently, others had sensed my inability to say No. I was getting more work, doing more work, messing up, and yet striving to stay afloat.

When I discussed leaving my job with my shrink, he stated it was okay to take a break or switch jobs, but not to stop working. Because of that, a sudden situation of not being engaged at all could lead to post-anxiety. Depression.

I was prescribed a mild dose, and thanks to that, I now feel a lot better and more confident in handling my chores. While on medication, I mustered the courage to bring about a little change in attitude as well. Something I’ve been practising for a while now.

To not aim for excellence all the time, but to pause for a while, every now and then, and not carry every responsibility on my shoulders. A career is an important part of life, but life shouldn’t be about a career alone.

What surprised me was the fact that one of my closest friends, who too, at one point, was suffering from anxiety, wrote my theory off entirely.

“I’m just stressed; it will wear off with time. But unlike you, I won’t consult a doctor. I am not Paagal.” She blurted out.

This is exactly what makes it relevant for me to talk about mental health.

The stigma of seeking medical help for mental health

The stigma behind seeking medical help. When there’s no shame attached to discussing diabetes, asthma, or hypertension, why should we hide mental illness, which, unlike the aforementioned, isn’t chronic and can be treated? 

I have had students who would confess that they were forced into engineering by their parents, though they were never really interested in science. They would come accompanied by their parents, and there are just so many parents I have met who would tell me their ward is depressed. Either because they are scoring less or because they are being bullied, But the moment I advised them to visit a counsellor, the parents would shake their heads in refusal.

“My kid is just going through a bad phase, madam; he has no learning disability. I don’t wish to label my child forever; what would society say?”

But if you lose your child or a loved one, would society take the blame or share your grief?

And what if some random person labels you? Is it your well-being or their so-called labels and opinions that matter?

The culprit called Stress

I had attended a course online for stress management, and what I wasn’t aware of was the fact that the immediate reaction to stress and depression in our bodies is the aggravated secretion of acid in the stomach. That eventually leads to headaches, ulcers, loss of appetite, and other gastric ailments. A mentally taxing day makes us a lot more tired physically than a physical activity executed in peace.

It’s easy for friends, family, and society in general to send unsolicited advice like ‘Give it time, relax, forget, and be brave’ but none of these are a lasting cure for a condition that might go deeper. I can tell you from my own experience that I’ve controlled my muscular pain, high blood sugar, excess weight, and acid reflux thanks to a timely diagnosis and medication.

Don’t we consult a doctor for a physical ailment? Then why should mental health be any different?

I would suggest that you stop trying to be superhuman; we are all allowed to make mistakes.

Learn to say no if you are being taken for granted. Don’t try controlling situations that are not in our hands. And despite everything, if you are disturbed, talk. Seek help and get treated.

There is no SHAME. Period.


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