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Home / Brunch / I’d call my best friend and cry. She’d listen without judging me: Shaheen Bhatt

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 13

brunch Updated: Sep 11, 2020 12:58 IST
Shruti Nair
Shruti Nair
Hindustan Times
Shaheen Bhatt battled depression through her teenage and adult life
Shaheen Bhatt battled depression through her teenage and adult life

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.

Clockwise: Shaheen Bhatt with her father, Mahesh Bhatt; Shaheen can’t imagine being in a house without animals; Her book on her mental health struggles which she released in 2018 (Inset); Her cats (Inset)
Clockwise: Shaheen Bhatt with her father, Mahesh Bhatt; Shaheen can’t imagine being in a house without animals; Her book on her mental health struggles which she released in 2018 (Inset); Her cats (Inset)
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. 
View this post on Instagram

I've lived with depression on and off since I was about 13 years old. This is not a revelation or a confession. Those who know me know this about me. It's not something I take any pains to hide, I'm not ashamed of it or particularly troubled by it. It's just a part of who I am. I have days where I feel good and then I have days where I don't. One minute everything's fine and the next it's like someone turned the light off inside my head. I go quiet and it's difficult to get out of bed. Like it always does the world around me loses focus and I struggle to make sense of it. Sometimes these bouts last an hour - sometimes they last days. Today, I'm on day 4. I say I live with depression rather than I struggle with it because for me (and I speak only for myself here) I don't see why it has to be a struggle. I once read an idea by an American essayist called Richard Mitchell which stayed with me; it's now become how I try to approach the dips in my week or month. The idea is this: To be sick, or to suffer, is inevitable. But to become bitter and vindictive in sickness and suffering and to surrender to irrationality, supposing yourself the innocent and virtuous victim of the evils intentions of the world, is not inevitable. The appropriate answer to the question - Why me? is the other question - Why not me? *** Why am I writing about this? Well, I spend a fair amount of time on social media during the course of my day and today I found myself looking for something to post because it's been a few days since I've posted anything. I couldn't find anything so I figured I'd just talk about this - how I'm doing, instead of what I'm doing. It's as simple as that, and we could all stand to do a little more of it. P.S. That picture just seemed to work in this context.

A post shared by Shaheen Bhatt (@shaheenb) on

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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