"There are different shades of the mind"
Sidika Sehgal, New Delhi
The editors of Side Effects of Living, Jhilmil Breckenridge and Namarita Kathait, met at a poetry event in Delhi. They talked to each other about their struggles with mental health and the need to break the silence around it. Talking is therapeutic. But nobody speaks openly of depression or schizophrenia or of being bipolar. The reason is the stigma surrounding mental health. Of course, India also has a shortage of mental health professionals. There are just three psychiatrists for one million people and seven for a population of 10 million.
Breckenridge and Kathait started the Bhor Foundation to eradicate this stigma and create a space where people could talk freely. Both had years of experience in mental health advocacy and women’s rights. Their first project was to put together an anthology of stories on mental health. The idea was to help sufferers realise they were not alone. The duo was unsure if people would write or if their collection of narratives would even find a publisher.
Surprisingly, they were flooded with submissions. The net result is this anthology of 40 very personal stories, including illustrations and poetry. The book is driven by the central belief that “there are different shades of the mind”. The anthology celebrates individual stories. It underlines the reality that there isn’t a single definition of ‘normal’.
Breckenridge and Kathait make no attempt to sanitise the stories. The narratives are raw and unsparing. Jayashree Kalathil’s narrative is a straightforward account of her struggle with mental health. She writes of her fight against the standard template of sanity society has drawn up for everyone.
Sagar Singh has contributed deeply private poems penned in moments of distress. Sonaksha Iyenger has chosen to express herself visually through a series of illustrations. Namarita Kathait writes a moving account of caring for her schizophrenic mother. Anil Chauhan, who has bipolar disorder, writes of how running helped him control episodes of depression. These are deeply personal stories that detach the shame commonly associated with mental health.
Side Effects of Living represents those who go unrepresented in books and films — not by speaking for them, but by giving them the space to speak. It lends validity to each experience and gives one the sense of not being alone. This is a book that makes you nod in agreement. If we acknowledge that our sense of self is constructed through language, then the book succeeds in giving us a language and a vocabulary to understand the inner workings of the mind.