My morning routine is pretty standard; I wake up to the sound of my alarm ‘flow’ and try to figure out why I’m still so tired, despite using my sleep aids. I listen out for the creaks and squeaks of the stairs and door hinges and wait for the shower to free up, I do my make up, sometimes attempting a cat eye, which often looks like I’ve framed my eyes using a Sharpie instead of with the intended subtle flick, and then I do my hair.
Until a few months ago I only wore my hair parted to the side, this was in part due to style trends but also due to two insecurities. The first being a squint in my left eye, which has since been surgically corrected, and the second, a scar in the middle of my forehead at the start of my hairline.
My forehead scar unlike Harry Potter’s doesn’t have a cool backstory about battling ‘he who shall not be named’ as a infant and bringing about a whole epic saga involving trolls and magical goblets; for starters my scar is sort of an oval shape, as opposed to a lightning bolt, and I didn’t get it from sacrificial motherly shield love, I got it running on wet cobblestones on the way to school.
Like many of my memories I remember moments of it in vivid detail but have trouble recalling other parts, often drifting between interpreted memories and real ones.
This is what I remember: I was on my way to primary school with my mum, it was Spring and raining heavily, I was running ahead of her (perhaps with excitement as school was a place I enjoyed in my early childhood), I came to the cobblestone path near the green space on our route and slipped forward, unable to break my fall I smashed headfirst onto the path.
My mum screamed to the heavens and held my caramel cardigan to head in an attempt to subdue the bleeding, I began to cry once I noticed I was bleeding and my mum attempted to comfort me. She took me to my school, where my headteacher, Ms Peacock, advised that the nearby doctors surgery may be able to help, unfortunately because this was not my registered surgery we were turned away. My mum took me home, and after explaining to my dad what had happened, he placed tumeric on my cut in order to heal it.
Growing up, in a British Indian household, it was commonplace to favour natural remedies to treat ailments; echinacea and homemade masala chai were often used to treat cold or flu, seeking help from an actual doctor was often a last resort, and was often discouraged if the treatment could be replaced by a herbal alternative in order to keep sanctity in the community.
For a wide variety of ailments natural remedies do have their benefits, to this day I still make masala chai every time I have a congested cold, but some ailments require a bit more than tea and spices to fix.
Speaking from personal experience, my elders held particularly damaging views of mental health. Often if someone was mentally unwell, the supernatural and superstition were often cited as the causation for it. Growing up I often heard stories about relatives in India who been possessed by a ‘djinn’ as cautionary tales, their mental instability tarring them with the derogatory term of ‘pagal’. A chemical imbalance in the brain or trauma was often complete devoid from any reason as to why the person was suffering, and instead they were often ostracised by the community because of it.
I was 13 when my mum first took me to the doctor for my mental health, she had found and read my diary which described my first documented thoughts of suicidal ideation and depression, at the time I was being bullied at school to the point where I was told by one person to “go die in a fire” after I revealed I had a crush on them, and added to that my home life was particularly turbulent due to my parents’ divorce. Sitting in the doctor’s office with my mum, I felt ashamed, embarrassed and betrayed, as my mum explained to the doctor that she didn’t know what to do and that most Indian families wouldn’t come to the doctor for help, but we weren’t like most Indian families and she didn’t know what to do. This was her last resort.
No constructive help came from that appointment, the doctor said due to my age it was most likely hormone related, and my mum declared that the end of it. I stopped keeping a diary, fearful it may be found, and I buried my emotions, bottling up my sadness until it erupted.
I was 15 when I made my first attempt on my life, I was in an abusive relationship at the time and I saw it as an escape. I made my second and third attempt when I was 20 and 21, again I saw these as a means of escape from the situation I was in at the time.
Following a doctor’s appointment after my second attempt, I found out this was in part due to my previously undiagnosed PTSD, depression and anxiety. My doctor commented that she was surprised no one had diagnosed me sooner, and also that many BAME people suffer from mental illness in the UK due to lack of sunlight. I was given a prescription of antidepressants. referred to a therapist, and put under the watchful eye of the mental health care team.
I was finally receiving the help I sought out almost a decade earlier. I often think back to sitting in that doctor’s office with my mum at 13. If there wasn’t such a damaging stigma of mental health in my community, would I have received the help I desperately needed sooner?
The stigma surrounding mental illness as something shameful or insignificant is incredibly damaging and is one that needs to go.
If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/