I recently had a conversation with senior journalist Kushan Mitra of The Pioneer, on Mental Health, some of our books in the Mindscape series, and why we need to have more (more more!) informed conversations. I asked him to share a little bit of his own journey and interest in the subject here, so do read this, and then check out our chat. As always, please feel free to share your comments and feedback.
By Kushan Mitra
When I was in middle school my parents split up and while I do not believe I have many long-term issues with that, or for that matter issues when it happened, because you kind of sensed things were awry as a kid, it did colour my concept of relationships as an adult.
What really shook me up though, and something that still hits hard today is the fact that in my Eighth grade I lost two classmates in the space of three months. I was very close to one of them, Ambuj, and back then I could not face his mother. This is something I sometimes feel ashamed about today, because I used to spend days on end at his place playing video games and watching cartoons et al. While I know that it is easy to rationalise this today as an adult, I don’t know why but I still have a feeling of guilt around this. It might make no sense, but I do. And my tryst as a young adult with death was made more intense when another school friend, Vedant, who was a year junior but in the same school bus as me, died with his mom during the Uphaar inferno. It was the first time I went to Lodhi Crematorium and well, watching a mass funeral is quite obviously not a pleasant process. Both these incidents, three actually, left me with an indelible sense of guilt which even to this day gets triggered, albeit much less now. It helps that there are other school friends that do talk about this today, (although many of them bottled this up through their twenties and thirties), and that has helped alongside talking to professionals.
But the reason I went to professionals for help was less to do with the above incidents, but more to do with my job.
Back in late 2005, I went to Vidarbha to cover (the issue of) farmer suicides, and let me assure you that when you walk into the home of a widow whose husband has ended his life leaving her to raise two teenagers over a loan of under a lakh is deeply unsettling. Even more so when the clothes on your back, and your own credit card debt, let alone your cameraperson’s equipment is worth many multiples of that. It has been one of my great experiences to report on things like this, as well as partying with the rich and famous, quaffing caviar and champagne. Reconciling that in my own head however needed a level of compartmentalisation that I don’t know how my brain has done.
I believe, and was told, that no matter how well one can do this, every once in a while things are shifted, and an overwhelming sense of guilt runs through me. Bring into that the deaths above and I began to feel lousy about myself and my work. It did not help that at the time I was massively overweight and had been diagnosed with early-onset Stage-2 Diabetes and Blood Pressure. I was 27 at the time and living in Mumbai. I went into a pretty self-destructive spiral doing things that I cannot condone in others. I believe through this I was still a consummate professional, doing my assignments and never missing deadlines, but I became very withdrawn in office and you can’t really hide a drug and alcohol habit beyond a point. In Bombay while I had some old friends from Delhi, it was ‘party’ time and well, the drugs helped keep the demons caged up but sometimes they fed the demon as well.
I do have to thank a couple of people, one my former boss Sanjoy and my mother, both of whom sensed that something was off — the former maybe because he had his own demons of the past and so too did my mother at a level. I was ordered back to Delhi and was counselled by some good doctors. I do not know what would have happened if I had stayed on in Mumbai and not sought help. I’m glad that I did.
Feature image by Dustin Belt on Unsplash