MindSpace: The day Mrs. Das visited me

In a culture where women’s voices are present only in their silence, how could I help her find her voice out of her loneliness and depression?


I still remember her expressions, the first time she saw me, and her surprise at that I was so young; the absolute helplessness she felt just before she left; each expression is so clear, like it happened yesterday. Mrs. Das was my first ever patient whom I met all by myself. She was about 35-years-old and had contacted me through a friend. I was nearly ten years younger to her and I saw her hesitation as she began to speak.

She had come with a friend who sat with her through the session. As she spoke, she was close to tears. A mother of two, she had a husband who was violent and abusive, throwing and breaking things in his anger and hurting himself and her. He was suspicious and did not like her going out. Her in-laws too were conservative and kept a watch on her, wanting an update on where and why she went. In order to meet me, she had to tell them she was meeting her friend, the only person they allowed her to meet once in a while.

Image Source: www.paintingsilove.com

Pic – www.paintingsilove.com

She described herself as a prisoner in her home. All her friends and sisters worked but her husband refused to let her work. He wanted her to wait for him and look after the home. She felt acutely frustrated and felt that sitting idle the whole day led her to have ‘negative thoughts’ and anxiety. She felt anxious that something might happen to her husband and children. When she expressed her desire to work, her husband would laugh it off, making it clear that he did not think she was fit for any job.

In the session, she kept repeating that she wanted to quickly become ‘fine’, and that whatever was wrong with her should be fixed quickly. For the past two years, she said she had a constant headache. There had also been a time when she feared that her husband might be having an affair but she had convinced herself that it was not true. She felt suffocated in her house and felt paranoid of being under surveillance.

Mrs. Das had lost her mother several years ago and her father lived with her brother and sister-in-law. She felt unwelcome in her house and uncared for. She felt she had nowhere to go and no one to listen to her: “I think I am becoming deaf and dumb in my home now.” Care had become control in her house. Her freedom to be herself had been taken away. Her family had become her captors.

Pic – www.healthshire.com

As the session was coming to a close, I asked her if she would like to come back. She said she would, but getting out of home would be very difficult for her. I could feel her suffocation. I felt stuck too. It seemed that there was little that one could do and I could feel the helplessness that she felt. I felt desperate too and said that stepping out of home, even if it was once every fortnight, would be her first step of trying to find her agency. She looked at me, a little resigned, and said she would try. I thought I was motivating her. But in my desperation to escape the suffocation, I pushed her, without fully understanding that what I was asking of her was perhaps the most difficult thing to do.

As we stood up, she turned to me and said “Can you not come to my home and meet me?” I was taken aback, unsure. I looked at her and then said “No, that would not be possible.” Her expression, haunted resignation and desperation, as that last hope that we had leaves us, still troubles me today.

This was nearly three years ago. I have grown up from my first session. Today, I realize that what she was asking me was to rescue her from her home. She did not have the resources, and most importantly, the emotional strength to do it herself. She needed me to help her find her lost voice. The sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness that permeated her had overwhelmed me as well. Mrs. Das was unable to share how she felt with her family. She was scared that they would label her as mad and alienate her further, take the little space that she had from her. The controlling care would only suck her deeper into the quicksand.

Image Source: Canadiannurse.com

Pic – Canadiannurse.com

In a culture where women’s voices are present only in their silence, how could I help her find her voice? Mrs. Das is not the only one who is afraid of “going mad”. Feeling angry was not an option for her. The surveillance and control had to be accepted as part of her life and questioning it was not something she could imagine or allow herself. How many of us accept these as given in life, and consequently deny the feelings that we feel? When we do feel anger, it is quickly covered up with guilt for feeling anger, thinking anything negative. We may not be always able to change the outside, but what we can change is how we accept our own feelings. The “bad” gets located inside us, becomes our madness; something that is a lack in me and which is proof of the fact that I am not perfect—I am not good enough.

It is so easy for all of us to believe that we are never good enough because that’s what most of us have grown up hearing about ourselves. Madness and suffering cannot be understood without understanding the unique and not so unique relationships that we form with the outside world. The person that we are and the world outside of us are not as differentiated as we think them to be, the boundaries often blur and how we are and how we relate is a product of a dynamic relationship between the two. The task before therapy is to help the other recover their agency.

As a society, we need to wake up that the madness is not located inside the other. We all feel the feelings that are labelled as “madness”. It is up to us now to befriend these parts in us and others and to see that we, as a society and as individuals, are creators of, and partners to, each other’s madness.

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Last year in India, 1,35,445 people (by official records) committed suicide. And 68% of them were between 15 and 29, seemingly normal adults, had families and were surrounded by friends. In a society where speaking of feelings itself seems like acknowledging weakness, it is not surprising that mental health and the idea of being “mentally unwell” is an issue that has been swept under the carpet for as long as one can remember. 

In association with MINDS, this Mental Health Awareness Week, we break the eerie silence around mental health through voices that show just how common the condition is, how desperately lonely one feels, how support is always far away and why we need to talk about it now. Check out our entire series on Mental Health.

If you have a story around mental health to share, please write to us at editor@thealternative.in, and we will publish it in the strictest confidence.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Urvashi Agarwal has recently finished her three year training as a therapist at Ambedkar University Delhi. She is currently working as a visiting consultant psychoanalytical psychotherapist at Fortis Hospitals. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Urvashi Agarwal has recently finished her three year training as a therapist at Ambedkar University Delhi. She is currently working as a visiting consultant psychoanalytical psychotherapist at Fortis Hospitals. more

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