I do not know why my font has changed. WordPress and I do not get along. It does what it wants, and I say Okay, walk all over me, follow me around with that creepy block, just don’t cackle evilly and delete everything I’ve written. Every time they do an upgrade, I think Maybe I should pull a Carrie Bradshaw and hire an assistant. She magically found the money to do so; I might too!
It’s been a week. Warm weather does not agree with me, and I’m grumpy and uncomfortable.
So many people wanted to tell me their private opinions about my last piece. I do appreciate the missives, and I love you all for engaging respectfully. But I’m going to urge you gently to make your comments public. If whatever I have written resonates with you, I want you to be bolder about the discourse you wish to see in the public sphere about issues of justice. You have to be part of creating dialogue that is more thoughtful, and speaks to your heart and mind.
That said, I am not about critiquing the actual interview that Meghan and Harry gave. You guys know by now that I am interested in advocacy, and freeing up oxygen for marginalized voices. I think that this couple talked about some very crucial systemic structures, and how they impact mental health. To really hear people, we have to let their words swirl around in our systems, observing our own responses and taking note of when and why we get triggered.
I’ve been seeing a lot of desi jokes along the lines of how Indian the royal family drama is. Desi soap opera type memes and etc. While I understand the need to blow off steam, given how high stakes our family troubles can get, I detest the way we desis have of blowing off anything mental health related. Yet we have a really high depression and suicide rate, whether we admit it or not. A lot of domestic violence too. Misogyny. Gaslighting (for example, telling someone whose husband has decided that she should quit her job to look after his parents that negativity, rather than patriarchal injustice, is her problem). A lot of cliquish behavior in auntie and uncle circles. And a lot of refusing to own our impact on people who are deeply affected by us, and vice versa. But oh man, do we know how to preach about life. We are all about community, but when we are truly at risk, we often cannot trust one another.
We are good at many things too. But you don’t need me to pacify you with those exceptions. As someone whose family is intercaste, LGBTQ, and disability oriented, I have seen a whole lot of behavior from a lot of quarters. And because I’ve been writing for some time, I get told a lot that I hold people to impossible standards; I am not seeing the good in people; everyone is busy–and I am too allergy ridden to think of the other critiques.
So if we are so deep and ancient and wise and community minded and kid-adoring and etc etc, why cannot we talk with enough profundity and depth about mental health? I don’t want us to be defensive about this issue. We can’t get better at it unless we own how lacking we have been. And we can’t tell people in crisis that they can pick up the phone and call us if all we are going to say to them is Do yoga, drink haldi doodh, and stop being weak.
One: We need to be allowed to be vulnerable, and we have to offer the same safety to others. This means difficult stuff like listening without talking over people, or inserting our own anecdotes; allowing our children to be totally different people from ourselves, even if it’s depressing and alienating to try to know them and hold them despite it; and keeping private conversations private.
Two: We have to stop assuming that simplistic religious ideas are going to save people. It doesn’t matter which religion. I am not at all talking about your nice grandma who pats you on the back and tells you that Vishnu always looks after His devotees. That stuff is sweet and pure. I am talking about not assuming that everyone is comforted by the same structures that we are. And I say this as a person of faith. We have to be willing to use our faith to love people with less coercion and condescension, and more insight. Let the faith we are sustained by be in our hearts to guide our instincts and intentions, but the aid we give be free of its unacknowledged pressures.
Three: If someone has arrived at the point of despair Meghan was talking about, it is time to stop theorizing, and time to take meaningful action. Help people find professional support. Clear the path in whatever way possible so the suffering person can access the resources available. If that means babysitting or cooking meals or driving them to appointments or sitting by while they sleep, then so be it. But whatever we do must almost always happen with the consent of the person at the center of the crisis. I cannot stress this enough–do not become someone who betrayed them when they were at their lowest.
Four: We need to encourage more of our young people into the helping professions. There are enough desi doctors. And a lot of them don’t know how to speak to patients with sensitivity. There are also more than enough desi peer support organizations, and to be wholly honest, I would venture into very few of them that are run by people of my generation. Without a sea change in how we operate and communicate, and unless we unlearn things like leading with trauma but without realizing it, it is too easy to incur further damage from such spaces. We need our youngsters (many of whom have already gravitated to those careers with marvelous outcomes) to bridge the gulf between how mental health services are designed to help people, and how and whether desis actually tend to approach outsiders in times of crisis. Our community needs to see brown people in the therapists’ chairs. It’s as stark as that. Only then can we talk about our deepest struggles and be sure that we are understood.
Five: We must train ourselves and our cultural and religious organizations to step up. This includes priests. I mean it. Being trustworthy means a priest cannot rat out a vulnerable person to their family members when they share something. It means they cannot just advise someone to pretend they are fine and push themselves to achieve, or to marry someone “acceptable” when their mental health is trashed and they should be tending to themselves, or do religious penances to improve their karma. I am not making this stuff up. They also cannot tell parents to shove their children back in the closet when they have tried to come out. Or react with pity or avoidance towards someone with profound disabilities. Or even treat them as if they are saints. We are a very religious people, and where our gurus and priests lead, the populace often follows. We need to be encouraged to live in this country without being torn up inside about how to do that.
I promised myself I would stop at five things. And so I shall. I have tried to create something that contributes to a world I would like to live in. May we all be safe and nurtured in one another’s presence.
It’s been a week. Warm weather does not agree with me, and I am grumpy and uncomfortable.