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Shattering silence

Whilst many ailments of the body, including serious ones, are discussed openly, if there is one that is never spoken of, or even if so, in hush-hush terms, it is mental illness. Time and again, the media picks up stories of people beset by serious mental health issues being shackled in chains and hidden away, as the family does not know how to deal with the problem nor wishes to bring it to public attention.

In the light of this aura of secrecy, the author, Anna Chandy, is to be lauded for her courage in writing about her own pain and trauma, as she does battle with depression and comes out a winner.

Anna is the first certified training and supervising transactional analyst from Asia. She is the Chairperson of the board of trustees of The Live Love Laugh Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation, founded by actor Deepika Padukone, which works in the area of depression.

Deepika has provided a very honest foreword to this book, in which she touches upon her problems with clinical depression and how the author, as her therapist, helped her come out of it.

Early on in the book, Anna Chandy also speaks of Deepika’s good fight to overcome her depression and speak about it, so that she could help to “undo the stigma attached to this illness. Because that is what it is: an illness that can, like any other, be treated.”

Right at the beginning, Anna clarifies that the purpose in writing this book is “not to blame, find fault or persecute anybody,” but deals with her interpretation of some harsh events in her life and her path she chose for course correction.

What is remarkable about this book is that though it is a work of non-fiction, it reads just like a story, as Anna takes the reader through her life from her childhood years, up to the present. Written with complete honesty, it touches upon child sexual abuse and the disharmony in the parental relationship, which forces Anna to become a buffer between her warring parents. Adding to her complications are a whole host of relatives who think nothing of passing judgement on her parents and their bickering in front of Anna, without doing anything to repair the situation, or offering emotional succour to a child who is deeply in need of the same.

The naming of each chapter in the book clearly delineates the topic, and the reader will closely identify with Anna and all that she has undergone. Particularly poignant is the part where she wakes up at midnight and finds herself in front of her fridge from where she pulls out and gulps down iced-over morsels whole, which sit like “leaden weight” in her gut. She writes, “The contempt I felt for myself was complete; the feeling of worthlessness and self-disgust absolute.”

A part of the worthlessness stems from the childhood internalising of being born a second daughter in a traditional Syrian Christian family, which is waiting for the son and heir. The burden of responsibility further increases when her older-by-10-years sister goes in for a love marriage with a non-Syrian Christian boy, which has her mother admonish her with words like: “You must never let me down the way your sister has!”

Anna agrees to an arranged marriage with Dilip, has two daughters and ostensibly leads a comfortable life, even whilst she is battling her demons. Family responsibilities also add up, as a mentally ill brother-in-law, Thomas, comes to stay with them.

The turning point comes when she volunteers at Vishwas, a counselling centre, where she is forced to do work on herself with a senior counsellor, Uttara, before she can reach out to help others.

From applying Carl Roger’s ‘humanistic approach to counselling,’ to Dr Eric Berne’s ‘transactional analysis’, Anna is now equipped with tools to deal with her own problems as well as help others. This, followed by a weight-loss programme and a job as an on-call counsellor with a corporate, serves to build up confidence and the creation of a new Anna. From being someone whose “inability to say ‘no’ became a disability,” Anna learns to build authentic relationships with people who matter and shake off those who were dragging her down, even if they are extended family.

Testimonials on Anna by family and friends provide further insights, as do case studies of Anna’s patients. A fitting finale comes in the final chapters when Anna acknowledges the power of her inner voice, or intuition, which comes to her rescue when in crisis.

This book is an inspiring must-read for an understanding of mental illness, a malaise of the 21st century where the whole world is in a state of disconnect, even whilst being connected every moment of one’s waking day.


Battles in the Mind

Anna Chandy

Penguin

2017, pp 220,Rs 399



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