Switch on…switch off and then switch it on, again. Finally, a hot cup of coffee and he starts walking towards his desk. A deep breath and that first sip. Palpitations, fast breathing, and the surrounding gets blurry, the coffee mug gets shaky…spilling it drop by drop. Suddenly a hand on the shoulder and the other on the mug and Eeshan realizes he’s having an anxiety attack. His colleague Fatima who was trying to contain his predicament had no idea if this is something she saw today, yesterday, or when? All she knew was derived or visualized from statistics, scientific terms, and psychiatric analysis…and all at once screaming ANXIETY. But did she know being humane is not being a pie chart, a touch of care is far better than a tablet of diazepam. And the fact that the biggest of the biggest clinical trials do have blind placebo trials based on trust and psychological effect.
Depression from bullying and depression from a non-supportive LGBTQIA+ environment would never be the same. One needs protection and the other probably needs a lot of compassion. Anxiety out of the fear of missing a deadline would never be in sync with the vibrations and chills that go down a body envisaging an episode of harassment. We focus on the ailment/condition/signs and categorize it as ‘single’ and under the same treatment/advice. Under the shroud of science, data and statistics lies a beating heart, at times a somber mind and maybe a troubled understanding of one’s existence. It is easy to pick a newspaper or open an online portal and read “75% of the population has depression” but how easy it is to break through that categorization and understand the plight of an individual.
So, it is good to be quantitative to know the present state, demand, and the population under the effect of a condition, but it is equally important to be humane, compassionate and perceive every individual as a person and not per cent. Medication and dosage may vary with age, height and body type and be categorized but the emotions felt, life lived, and tears shred need a deeper understanding.
Let’s have a closer look at this, considering two scenarios with the same mental health issue, same treatment. But what’s unique was how they were similar yet so different. How the medical support was taken but it all came together when empathy and love came along. Nothing can replace medical intervention, but you do need love to make the healing smooth.
Case study 01:
12:00 AM, 25th August 2016. Somewhere in Bandra, a young and promising Gay man Devesh was struggling to find a cab. Drenched in sweat, the shirt was almost out of the pants, and he was standing all alone at the signal fiddling with his cell phone. He had just finished attending a high voltage Bollywood pop-music party and now was intending to head back home.
Finally, after an hour of struggle and random bargains he boarded an auto. A minute later Devesh felt a tingling sensation in his chest, soon the sensation became prominent. A few minutes later, he realized it was painful and the breathing was heavy. Trying to gather himself, yet falling on the seat, he asked the driver for help. The driver rushed him to the nearest hospital.
The emergency department charged him a few extra INRs and he did get an appointment. Concerned, shaking, in panic and biting his nails, he was waiting for his turn. An hour later he was again in a rickshaw, thinking about what the doctor said. The pain, the sensation and the difficult breathing was nothing but an anxiety attack.
A few months later, after a couple of counseling sessions Devesh felt better. But he was still using a certain medication to sleep. He realized that he was slowly addicted to Clonazepam, a medication that’s available only on prescription and should be administered when needed. One fine evening he decided to sleep without any drug to facilitate sleep. He waited, waited, and waited and then witnessed the sunrise.
Tired, disappointed, and lost, he went back to work. His friend Jyoti was concerned and asked him if everything was fine. Finally, Devesh opened. He told her that he made his life a ‘project’. A blockbuster cinematic saga, where failure had no space. Where trials were final results and where bodies were mechanical engines and not humans with a beating heart. Expectations of being a good son, heir to the familial patriarchal system, a successful corporate man and eventually a father to a future son. Trying to mirror all these expectations he forgot he was Gay, he had different plans, he had envisaged a unique artform as career.
Every tear that rolled down his eyes, were years of trauma, crisis of identity and darkness of conscience. All Jyoti could say was “just be you”.
And today Devesh is a happy man. Anxiety managed well, with regular counselling when needed and his constant effort to surround himself with love and empathy. Today he sleeps well, with no Clonazepam because he is full of love and knows his self-worth.
Case study 02:
Hasan, born and raised in the cultural capital of India, Banaras. Well read, raised in a family of academicians with liberal thoughts and a modern approach towards life. At 24 he was an out and proud Gay man. His parents respected his sexuality and always gave him the respect he deserved. A topper at school, college and everywhere else. Hasan was known to be a winner. His life to most humans was privileged, with zero struggle and full of success.
It was 2022, a happy and jovial Hasan went to work and was expecting a promotion. He was eagerly waiting for the clock to hit 11:00 AM, the time for his one-on-one with his manager. And then it happened, but he left the meeting room with sadness, self-pity, and a volley of doubts. He was not given a promotion stating that he was colorful, privileged and someone else needed it more, rather than someone more deserving.
He went back home and made himself a cup of coffee, he lit a cigarette and called his mother and told her the meeting details. Later in the night he realized his bed sheet and pillow were wet. He was sweating profusely and there was a sharp pen in his chest. Somehow, he survived the night, and the next day took sick leave. He visited a small clinic and was diagnosed with anxiety issues. Being from the paramedical field he always knew anxiety but had never felt it or probably had no idea about how it feels to be anxious.
The next day at work made it even worse, people were gossiping that he was denied promotion and how he was so privileged and rich that he didn’t even deserve it. A few of them even came to him and made jokes about him being ‘conveniently sick’ after a failed promotional gig. The same evening when he was leaving, he experienced the same ache in his chest and fainted.
The anxiety attacks became frequent, and the counselling sessions didn’t really help him. Being alone, and mostly by himself, he didn’t have anyone to discuss what he was going through. Finally, one evening at a party he opened up to his best friend. He spoke in length about his issues. He was raised in a family that was liberal, but the outer world may not be. How dressing up in a certain way was beautiful and generic to him but for others it was expensive and high maintenance. How his problems were always looked down upon and never given any importance. How his views were taken as frivolous thoughts and never counted, considering him as the cream of society.
All this slowly and steadily led to many episodes of anxiety and panic attacks. He started abusing the medication to sleep, to forget people, to erase memories and to just be blank in the nights. The addiction became the only available resort.
But as they say, no pain lasts for too long. At a PRIDE event he gave a speech, he spoke about how privileged he may be in certain aspects of life but how needy he is when it comes to having a companion, having the best career, and being respected. Not all but a few acknowledged his story, he was given hugs, handshakes and most importantly, ‘respect’.
Today, he is an associate manager with a team of 20 people. Making the best of his life and career.
Both the case studies throw light on the importance of social bonding, acceptance, and respect. Devesh and Hasan had similar mental health issues of Anxiety. But anxiety in both cases stemmed from different reasons. If Devesh felt an identity crisis, Hasan expected respect and equity at work.
They were both on medication. Medication and counselling helped them, but the real joy came only after they opened up to people and got love. They both were doing fine but only became themselves when empathy seeped in.
Going for counseling is the best way to deal with any mental health issue but what if you have friends and family to help during the toughest times of your life. Why does the LGBTQIA+ community still fight for acceptance, equality, and equity because humans are social animals. We are not meant to be caged and looked down upon but to be loved and celebrated. I hope there comes a time when mental health issues are not a taboo, and every rainbow community individual gets to enjoy their identity and is served respect without asking for it.