Jerry Pinto is the author of Em and the Big Hoom (Aleph Books) which is an autobiographical novel that has won several awards; and the editor of The Book of Light (Speaking Tiger Books) which is an anthology of the experiences of living with someone who has a different mind.
We all know this family. It generally is presented to us in pictures.
This is Daddy.
This is Mummy.
This is Vijay.w
This is Rita.
Daddy goes to work.
Mummy cooks food.
Rita plays with her dolls.
Vijay plays with his bat and ball.
We’ve all known this family for a long time. They are all stereotypes and stereotypes are prisons. But we are led to believe that they are all happy.
Or rather they seem happy.
It is possible that there are other stories.
Daddy goes to work. He wants to kill his boss. He makes plans inside his head and spends the day in pleasant daydreams.
Mummy hates cooking. She cleans the house but she would rather write a poem.
Rita plays with her dolls. Rita is twenty-five years old. She plays with dolls and has never been to school.
Vijay lends his cricket set to his friends and then tries on his mother’s clothes and dances to ‘Kajra re’ in front of the mirror.
No family is perfect.
We should know this. After all, we all say it often enough, “Nobody’s perfect”. Take imperfect people and create a family and chances are, it’s going to be imperfect.
Every human institution is.
But we have all been held hostage by the power of this picture of Daddy, Mummy, Vijay and Rita.
We want our families to look like them.
We want to look like them.
We want to fit.
And sometimes in order to fit, we force fit ourselves into these stereotypes. And we try and present our families in the same way.
Consider a simple social situation. You meet a friend after a few months. Perhaps she’s been out of town.
Friend: How are you?
You: I’m fine. How are you?
Friend: I’m good, I’m good.
You: All well at home?
Friend: Yes, everything’s fine. And what’s with you?
You: Great, great.
You would think both of you lived in perfect worlds.
What would happen if we told each other the truth?
Friend: How are you?
You: I don’t know. There are times when I feel good. Then I wonder whether I should feel good because I’m not doing too well in college so I get annoyed that I can’t even enjoy myself when I’m feeling well. But that’s just who I am, I suppose. Are you well?
Friend: I don’t know. I sometimes think I know what I want. I want to become a playback singer. When I’m practicing in the morning, I am so happy because I’m singing. Then my father begins to shout at me because he feels I’m wasting my time and I should concentrate on my CA entrance and my mother says, make singing your hobby. And then everyone else says: you should live your dream. I don’t know how to live my dream by becoming a CA when I want to be a playback singer.
We rarely say what we think and what we feel.
There are several reasons for this.
We think people won’t understand.
We think people will judge us.
We think people will laugh at us.
And that is also the main reason why we never talk about mental ill health in the family.
And so we spend a huge amount of energy pretending everything is alright.
I’m not saying you should tell everyone about your mental health problems or those in your family. People do get judgmental about these things but those are the people whose judgments should not matter to us. Those who laugh? Well, they only laugh because they’re ignoring what’s wrong with their families. We’re all different, we all have our problems, our disabilities, our challenges. They just vary in degree and in dramatic potential.
Imagine if you told someone you had diabetes and that person laughed.
Diabetes is a problem with chemicals in your bloodstream not doing their duty.
Most mental illness has to do with chemicals in your brain not doing their duty.
It’s as simple as that.
There’s nothing to laugh about, nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to conceal.
But coming to the point when you realize this can take some time.
Don’t push yourself.
But once you start telling people you care about, you might be surprised how well they respond, how easy it is to tell them, and how much energy you save.
And each one of us who says, “My brother is depressed,” or “My sister is bipolar” makes it easier for the next person to talk about mental health issues as if they’re part of the fabric of life, not some weird thing that happens to weird people.
But this does not mean, you have a duty to do it. You do not have to if you are not ready. And please talk to the person first. You must not deny them their agency, their control, their privacy.
You don’t have to talk to everybody. Start with the people you care about, the ones who love you and who care about you, the people you trust.
It is difficult to say the first time but it gets easier each time. And finally, it’s okay, you say it, and you learn to live with the fact that some people shy away and some people stare and some people share.
That’s just how we are.
All imperfect, each in our way.’