I’d call my best friend and cry. She’d listen without judging me: Shaheen Bhatt
The screenwriter, author and mental health champion is set to pen her thoughts and some advice in her fortnightly column starting September 13Updated: Sep 11, 2020 12:58 IST
Shaheen has been hailed as a mental health champion after she put out an Instagram post in 2016 narrating her struggle with mental illness. The status stuck especially after her outing as an author with her book titled, I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier in 2018. However, she’s bothered when people call her brave because, she says, she comes from a place where she has “nothing to lose.”
However, to talk about a taboo topic from the heart and try to initiate open dialogue is courageous. Shaheen battled depression through her teenage life and now, she says, she’s managed to turn “the worst thing in my life to the most empowering part of my life.”
Apart from giving advice on how to cope with mental battles, Shaheen will answer tough questions on how to face the social dilemmas of everyday life in her columns in Hindustan Times Brunch starting September 13. But before she lends you an ear, here’s a peek into her journey.
“I was looking for happy pictures, but then I thought: why the dissonance between how I’m feeling and what I want to project?”
When did you start writing?
I started writing for myself when I was 11 and professionally, when I was 16. At 11, I started journaling, which was my outlet. When I was 16, I started working on scripts with my dad.
Tell us about your mental health struggle. When did it start and how did you reach a stage where you’re comfortable speaking about it?
The time I began journaling was when I started experiencing depressive symptoms. This was when I was 11-12 and it stayed through my adult life. I’ve had to manage it constantly; it’s basically like any other chronic medical condition. I’ve taken a long time to understand that my mental illness is part of my story and not my entire identity. Honestly, I did not know at 11 that I was battling depression and the medical vocabulary for mental illnesses wasn’t as expansive then. Now, of course it has become better and people are aware. When I was 17-18, I realised that my condition is something much bigger and that’s when my mother intervened and took me to therapy. Both mom and I have learnt a lot through this journey.
My closest confidante was my best friend. She was a support system for 12-year-old me. I’d call her and cry and she would silently just listen to me without judging me. She was my relief outlet.
Has social media played a role in the mental health dialogue for you? Has it eased it or made it more difficult?
Talking about my depression publicly was never planned. I was just having a bad day plus I was facing social media anxiety because I felt I needed to post something for the day. I was looking for happy pictures, but then I thought: why the dissonance between how I’m feeling and what I want to project? So I decided to post exactly how I was feeling that day and then it snowballed. That post was like a watershed and people still message me about it. I’ve managed to turn the worst thing of my life into the most empowering part of my life and I have the platform to talk about it.I use social media as a platform to connect. It’s a tool for me to communicate and that way it has really helped. But everyone knows there’s an unpleasant side to it too. You must try and analyse what social media means to you. If anyone says ‘I love you’ on social media, I don’t take it seriously cause then I’ll also have to take ‘I hate you’ seriously. So I don’t use social media for validation but as a tool for communication.
You are just as vocal for animals as for mental health. We know that you are a pet parent, but tell us more about this facet of yours.
I cannot imagine being in a house which has no animals. Having animals really helps with mental health; this is scientifically proven. Nurturing and taking care of an animal instills responsibility in you and helps you grow. It is therapeutic. I was so glad for my cat during the lockdown, otherwise I’d have gone mad.
Lastly, what do you wish to address through the column in HT Brunch?
Writing is a piece of me, so when I’m journaling, it’s a way of connecting with myself. Whereas, with the column, it’s a way of connecting with other people. That’s what I’m looking forward to with this column in Brunch.
Shaheen Bhatt’s new bi-weekly column in HT Brunch, where she will answer all queries relating to mental health, debuts on September 13. Reach out to HT social media handles to get in touch
Follow Shruti Nair on Twitter @MissNair
From HT Brunch, September 13, 2020
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