How I Convinced My Middle-Class Mind to Seek Therapy


How I Convinced My Middle-Class Mind to Seek Therapy

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

“This is good, you’re here. The first step is always accepting your condition.”

It had taken me five years to take the first step. In the beginning, was the word. Bitch. You stupid, lazy bitch. If I was watching a movie with my family after having studied for 13 hours: Bitch. Dropped a bottle of shampoo in the shower: You stupid fucking klutz-bitch. Couldn’t write a test because I blacked out even though I’d studied everything? You’ll never be a good engineer, your parents are going to kill you, they’ll send you to Allahabad University for humanities and promptly get you married to an IAS officer in Lucknow, maybe you’re not even good enough for an IAS officer to marry. Why? Because you’re a fucking-pointless-shit-can-garbage-bitch.

I’d known for five years that I was depressed.

For five years my brain had been my personal Jesse Pinkman – I was assailed by this constant stream of self-loathing. But one day Jesse went into a Shakespearean soliloquy for 52 straight hours, during which I did not eat, drink water, or sleep a wink. I only stared at something vapid on my computer – catatonic – listening to my brain railing at me like the world’s most indignant customer talking to a spineless manager. By the 53rd hour, I realised I needed help.

The only reason it took me five years and 52 hours to get myself into a psychiatrist’s office was simple. I’m a middle-class Indian girl from a small town. Where I live, depression doesn’t exist. You’re told that you’re mentally weak, emotional, or simply a sad-sack. In my milieu, where we still watch ’70s pulp movies, the paagalkhana is a bigger taboo than a woman having consensual sex with a man.

A middle-class life teaches you to ration your resources, apportion them well and fill the gaps with a single-minded desire for survival.

This mentality is a death sentence for any ideas you might harbour about seeking professional help and treatment – especially if you’re a woman.

The only options available to most of us in middle-class India are shamans and temples, being locked up in the barsaati to become the madwoman in the attic, or halfway-house mental institutions where you are somebody else’s problem. According to a report published by the Human Rights Watch in December 2014, women with disabilities in India are institutionalised against their will, subject to physical and mental abuse and involuntary treatments.

It is a strong deterrent for anybody suffering from a mental illness of any sort to acknowledge it, even if your privilege insulates you from such a fate. Because when has a depressive brain really been able to take rational decisions?

I was lucky to be able to function enough to know that I could fix the problem.

After I moved out of Allahabad and the clutches of ISC Science books, I figured Jesse had to be stopped, or he would drive me up the wall, off the building and into a splatter on the ground. Two decades of conditioning gave way to an appointment. The only issue was an issue of funds, in the sense that I didn’t have any to spare for my mental health after I splurged the peanuts I made at my advertising job on luxuries such as rent and food.

Here comes rude shock numero uno: This shit is expensive. For an hour-long session with an experienced, credible psychiatrist or psychologist, affiliated with a good hospital, you have to shill anywhere upwards of at least a thousand bucks. The National Mental Health Programme, which has been active since 1982, in the zanily named Vikaspedia enumerates a plethora of rehabilitation and education-centric initiatives. But in the seven years of depression, lived out across three states of the country, any accessible public mental healthcare facility that one could simply walk into had been sorely absent.

I did find a few garden-variety psychiatrists off Practo, and walked in and out of many doors before I met the shrink who was promised as Mr Brightside. For the first time since I was 12 years old, I felt heard and more importantly, understood. He took time to explain where on the spectrum of anxiety and depression I fell, and what it would take for me to medicate my demons into submission, so I could kill them in their sleep. I walked out of his door with a prescription for anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and a promise that in three months, I wouldn’t be impelled to kill myself with a rusty knife.

The middle-class mentality that had stopped me from getting treatment is the same thing that eventually helped me get through it. A middle-class life teaches you to ration your resources, apportion them well and fill the gaps with a single-minded desire for survival. Once you manage to drag yourself into a psychiatrist’s office, you emerge with a diagnosis. Once, you have a diagnosis, you do your research.

A minimum of 1,500 bucks a session, including commute and miscellaneous expenses, equals ₹6,000 a month if you go for one session a week. The only way to do this is to economise. Save as little as ₹200 out of your daily expenses, whether that means letting go of your daily sutta or meeting a friend at Chaayos: A little will go a long way. This is how I saved ₹4,000 a month. The balance came from introducing habits like packing a dabba for work, scrimping on an evening out where a Kingfisher costs twice its market price (and loses all its affordable feel-good fizz in the process), and taking the train instead of an Uber.

My advice to every friend with a case of the blues has been simple: Make an Excel sheet that calculates how much therapy will cost you for the next year. Then, you find the crochet purse your grandmother gave you, the one with the hidden pocket in the in-seam, and you put whatever you can save into it. Before you ask I am very fun at parties.

There are niftier ways that I haven’t yet tried. You can get insurance that covers your mental health for private sector hospitals. You can contact schools and colleges that have counsellors-in-training and see if you can get a session at a discounted price. A visit to a government hospital will help out with a quick reconnaissance of your options, because you never know where you’ll find help.

It is possible to tailor your own path to the best of your pocket’s ability. As I discovered, the more you explore, the better you get at discovering someone that works well for you – but it is a matter of considerable effort. But the minute you consider the effort an investment, it all becomes easier. Your circumstances might be temporary but recuperation is, more or less, permanent.

Everyone in our income bracket saves for something. Some save for a brand new TV, a Kindle, a vacation. We save for mental health. And if you, dear reader, have a Jesse Pinkman brain and a middle-class pocket, that’s exactly what you need to do too.