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My mind matters Health

Self-help is as important as therapy to manage mental health problems

I think therapy helped me in a way that I hadn’t really expected. I have always been deeply afraid of developing a dependency on anti-depressants, so I refused to take them, and against the advice of my therapist, I insisted on figuring out how to deal with my depression without medication. This may not be advisable for everyone, but it was crucial for me. Therapy helped me somewhat. This meant that in all my sessions with my therapist, I wanted to focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of my depression. Why was I thinking these things? Why was I unhappy? How do I fix myself? Why can’t I understand the root cause of all this?

She would work with me constantly on trying to accept that some things just are, and that I cannot engineer my way to being emotionally healthy. This was something I refused to accept. I was intent on finding my triggers and figuring out how to handle them. As a result, at one point, it occurred to me that most of my issues were centred around control. I always went into a spiral when I felt that my life was going out of my control. I couldn’t control the world economy or the fact that both times my chosen line of work went through a downturn just as I was graduating and looking for a job.

Self-help is as important as therapy to manage mental health problems

I couldn’t control the fact that I hadn’t got through a master’s programme on my first attempt. I couldn’t control the fact that I didn’t have a pretty face or that I didn’t have a boyfriend. And all this was what was making me anxious and feel like a failure. Through therapy, I also understood how my own expectations, and not those of my parents, were causing me to feel like a failure...

I wrote a lot. I talked with friends and family. I began reading about mental health and other means of wellness. I pushed myself to get back out there and revive my friendships with people I had earlier pushed away. The year 2009 was one of rebuilding. Somewhere sub-consciously, in the back of my mind, I had made peace with something that I still, desperately, try to hold on to even now. It was this: No matter what happens, I will be okay. If it means never being amazing or never finding ‘the one’ and being alone for the rest of my life, or having a job that doesn’t come with fame or glory but enough money for me to be independent, I will be okay. I will be more than okay. I will thrive. I will live a full life. I will not have that be contingent on something I cannot control. I began to tell myself this over and over again until I truly believed it...

Self-help is as important as therapy to manage mental health problems

In 2010, my parents visited me and encouraged me to look for a better job and move in with a friend instead of living by myself. It was this friend, who then went on to become my roommate, who taught me how to ‘change the narrative’. She always looked for humour in every situation. Even when in physical pain, like when she’d stub her toe or something, her defence mechanism was to laugh rather than yelp. Unbeknownst to her, living with her truly changed my life. Before, I’d sit at a window during the rains, look at the rivulets of water on the glass and imagine that the gods were weeping. Once I forced myself to think of an alternative narrative, the same raindrops became little children playing a game of tag racing each other to an imaginary finish line. And I found myself smiling. I know it feels trite and pithy to tell someone to ‘just smile through it’ but in my experience, it was the simplest thing I could do to get myself through my darkest phases…

Self-help is as important as therapy to manage mental health problems

In the last ten years, I have learned to recognise the triggers that ‘bring on the funk’ and I’ve developed other active mechanisms for tackling those moments. Therapy helped me acknowledge my fears of being inadequate. I learned to think deeply about what I want and why. It helped me accept who I am. I learned how to be happy with myself. Over the years, I made smiling a habit and now I find it easier to bounce back.

And I’ve discovered something incredible that I’d never thought would happen. I learned that the world isn’t my oyster, closed and toxic, there to secrete acid at me until I become a pearl. I’ve found that the world is actually just a mirror, vast and shiny, throwing my feelings right back at me.

When I’m unhappy, I find that the world treats me callously. I am slighted easily. I have a much harder time navigating the system, be it a simple banking transaction or ordering a meal at a restaurant. On the other hand, I’ve found that when I make the effort to smile, the world smiles back at me a lot more as well.

Edited excerpts from Real Stories of Dealing with Depression by Amrita Tripathi and Arpita Anand (Simon & Schuster India)

In this series, we will be featuring first-person accounts of people who have accepted, acknowledged and sought help for their mental health problems

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 9:09:22 AM | http://www.pastpresenters.com/sci-tech/health/self-help-is-as-important-as-therapy-to-manage-mental-health-problems/article29258945.ece

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