Shaheen Bhatt wants us to talk about our feelings more
The newly minted author is using her book, I’ve Never Been (Un) Happier, to banish taboos around mental health
Shaheen Bhatt and her sister Alia were watching home videos from their childhood. Looking at their memories come to life, Alia had one question for her older sister: “How is it that I became the actor and not you?”
Born into a family of ‘gregarious’ celebrities, Shaheen herself was an outgoing child. But she began to feel a difference as she hit her teens, becoming reserved and quiet. It was a change so stark that sometimes she doesn’t recognise herself from back then.
Her struggle with depression is the main focus of her heart-wrenching memoir I’ve Never Been (un)Happier — (released as an e-book in October 2018 and now out in paperback) a journey that began on Instagram when the now 31-year-old screenwriter and author first went public with her clinical depression diagnosis.
“I was looking for pictures to post because I hadn’t posted in a long time and I was looking for happy pictures. I realised I’m not feeling happy so why am I looking for happy pictures? That’s when I decided to talk about how I’m actually feeling,” Shaheen Bhatt recounts of her life-changing decision in 2016.
“It was very positively received and resonated with a lot of people. Then, I wrote a couple of articles and Penguin approached me to write the book. I’m an advocate of sharing and I jumped at it. I felt that if a post had made such a difference, imagine how much of a difference a full-length book could actually make.”
Writing the book was a cathartic experience. One that “was difficult because I was going back to things I didn’t want to but rewarding — it was like intensive therapy.”
Formally diagnosed at 18, she’d been living with it for far longer, wrestling with symptoms since she was 13. Though coping with depression as a teenager was a confusing, difficult time, she was lucky enough to find a support system in family and friends. Says Shaheen, “Having a set of people who understand you is fundamental. Even though my mother didn’t understand at the start, she wanted to learn. We learnt together, because I didn’t know what was happening to myself and neither did she.”
Her friends helped her feel safe and encouraged her to open up, though she admits “it’s still hard to talk about my bad days, even though I share on a public platform on a day-to-day basis.”
She lives with her sister and says even on days when she’s feeling particularly low, wondering why someone would want to be around her, family-time makes her feel calmer, even if it’s just her leaving her room to go outside and sit with her sister. “It’s just comforting to know that they love me and want to be around me.”
According to a study reported conducted for the NCMH (National Care Of Medical Health), there is an extreme shortage of mental health workers like psychologists, psychiatrists, and doctors in India — as reported in 2014, it was as low as ”one in 100,000 people”.
This despite the fact that at least 6.5 per cent of the population suffer from some serious mental health disorder. That’s 78 million Indians, if you’re keeping count.
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#HereComesTheSun was born from a simple idea. The idea that we are not alone. None of us are alone in our struggles and journeys with mental health- we all have the same fears and we all hope for the same things. Here comes the sun is a friendly voice reminding you that you aren’t alone, it’s an effort to raise awareness about mental health, to start a conversation, and to help end the taboo and the stigma surrounding it. The first step to all of this is to just say hello to our demons. So I’m starting off by simply saying Hello to my depression and anxiety. The first time I felt it, I was twelve and approaching my 13th birthday. I thought that the niggling feelings of unease creeping up on me had to do with the fact that I had recently gained a lot of weight and was being teased for it at school. So, I spent 4 months starving myself and lost all the weight before my 13th birthday rolled around. Surprise surprise: not only did those painful, uneasy feelings stay put, they got worse with every passing day. I spent a lot of time oblivious and unaware that those feelings could be something more. I spent a lot of time in denial when I learned they were something more. And then, I spent even more time angry and bitter because depression was the big, scary monster under my bed that was ruining my entire life. But here’s the thing about monsters: they can only live in the dark. If you turn on the light you’ll see that what you thought was a monster, isn’t a monster at all. And the way you turn on the light is by acknowledging it and talking about it. So, I turned on the light, poked my head under the bed and said “Hello” to my monster. That simple act has changed how I deal with every bad day that has come since. It didn’t magically fix me – I’m in the midst of a depressive episode as I write this – but at least I no longer spend all my time and energy avoiding the elephant in the room. With my energy refocused I can spend time on what’s important – looking after myself. Now, I just take each day as it comes, secure in the knowledge that there’s nothing hiding under my bed – except maybe one of my cats. #HelloAnxiety #HelloDepression
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Shaheen Bhatt is now championing open dialogue about depression and mental health disorders, through her platform Here Comes the Sun. “Once I started talking about it, every single person to me said ‘you know, I’m going through something as well’,” she recalls incredulously. “I don’t know if it’s a sign of the times that we’re living in or what. Depression is not a one-size-fits-all illness and the diversity of its markers make it that much harder to identify. But the biggest takeaway is that everyone needs support, and that they need to share.”
I’ve Never Been Unhappier is available on Amazon.in