Scribed in the gospel of all desi mothers is the cure for all diseases which lies on a spectrum that ranges from taking a dip in a vat of vicks balm to popping panadols like candies. Throw in some hot haldi wala dudh, a cup of daar cheeni wala kehwa and by God even the reaper will shy away from your invincibility. All of these concoctions and yet each one focused on nourishing one’s physical health while their mental health remains in the shadows, obscured by stigmas and acidic comments.
As someone who has seen the deterioration of a beautiful mind due to untreated mental health issues, I am a firm advocate of highlighting the specificities attached to dealing with these issues. I am not particularly fond of Charles Dickens, yet I will recount this tale of two times and how a very traumatic past often rears its ugly head in a very beautiful present.
Rewinding to the summer of 1967 on a beautiful farm in Kenya where I lived with my first husband and five lovely children. Everything seemed to be working as smoothly as a well-oiled machine until fate decided to take apart the parts one by one. I vividly remember the first time I noticed my other half’s quaint behaviour when he took three of our children to the fish market 2/3 miles away from our farm. He purchased the fish and when he arrived home, to my astonishment he returned with only two of our children!
Panicked, I confronted him about the absence of Farzana and he had the audacity to argue with me stating that he never took Farzana to the market. I knew then some cog in his mind had dangerously shifted and instead of dwelling much on verbal wars; shouted for Ali.
I had trained 75 cockerels on the land to keep watch on the farm and the children and I had one I was especially fond of; a marvellous brown and carmine cockerel I lovingly called Ali. I remember my shouts echoing in the house, “Ali jaldi kar, ja machi market!” and the alerted cockerel went cra cra craing to the market, his beady eyes spotting Farzana and tugging at the hem of her kurta perhaps to soothe her and tell her not to worry.
Another instance arrived with the dawn when I awoke to find my husband gone from the house, upon enquiring with the farm workers I was told that he had gone to the seaside. Puzzled I went searching for him and beheld the most terrifying scene ever, straight out of a classic horror movie. He stood in the middle of the sea, the foam of the water lacing his shirt collar as the waves reached his shoulders and a string of Arabic verses spilled from his lips. He was reciting Surah Yasin which is a prayer in the holy Quran and in his madness kept treading water.
Tremors shook my body, but I gathered the last slivers of courage within me and dived into the water, I used to be a good swimmer and forcibly dragged him out of the sea. Once on land I assumed he would fall to my knees in gratitude and honestly a thank you would have sufficed too but with the disease rotting his cognitive functions, the man grabbed me by the throat.
I can still feel those wet, strong fingers choking me, the sky and the sea dissolved to a soft blue as I began losing consciousness but fortunately the fishermen ambling around came to the rescue; that day would have been my last had it not been for the fishermen. For nearly two weeks I was in agonising pain and unable to speak at all but eventually I recuperated with the prescribed medicines, yet none were prescribed to the one who actually needed them.
Life became akin to some blazing inferno that ceaselessly singed me and taking care of my mentally ill husband consequently took a toll on my own mental health to such an extent that one day I overdosed and tried to end my own life. Fortunately, the farm staff found me and rushed me to the hospital where I relayed the reason behind my suicide attempt and soon the hospital staff diagnosed my husband with a mental health condition and sectioned him.
Sectioning too came with its fair share of troubles as he routinely used to escape from the hospital window covering up with some half-baked excuse like wanting to see his wife and children. Despite being threatened to be handed over to the authorities, my husband was past caring and reckless in all his impulses. Although he was on medication that was very effective in his treatment, he actively avoided taking it and completely spiralled to rock bottom.
When the logical method was deemed futile other irrational garbage floated on the surfaces of my South Asian relatives’ mind because of course a peer sahib and baba Bengali had supernatural powers that were more effective than medications but none of it worked.
During the entirety of these traumatic incidences, my in-laws were as silent as the dead but when my husband was sectioned, all five of his brothers and five of his sisters practically teleported to my farm like ants to sugar. Cherry on top of the cake was my mother-in-law who believed I was the sole cause of her son’s illness and constantly criticised me on my decision to section him. These Starplus mother-in-laws honestly have this talent to get under your skin and on your nerves because the things she used to say acted like salt on a bleeding wound.
Call it my folly or love that I still stayed, hooked on the hope of an iridescent future where everything is normal but in the end, I suffered the brunt of it as my in-laws threw me out. Ten years of patience and persistence dissolved in a matter of seconds and to say it broke my spirit was an understatement. I was devastated.
To this day, I suffer from PTSD and even my GP often comments how my traumatic early life adversely impacted me and the ill-health I suffer from has a direct link to it. I am living proof of how terrible these conditions can get and not only affect yourself but your relationships with those around you. Kehne ko “It is all in your mind” but why do we forget that the mind is our most important organ which ensures we function properly, ab wahi organ malfunction krega then error 404 is bound to occur haina?
Our community should dispel the myths and the stigma surrounding sectioning and mental health diseases and engage in healthy discourses regarding it instead of making it a taboo topic. Stop this ‘sharam’ nonsense and let logic prevail over the fabricated ideologies fed to you by a silly society. Also, sincerely if you are really concerned about black magic, do refer to the Quran and Sunnah instead of going to maulvis and peers who simply loot your money and gold and, in the end, blow bad breath all over you deeming it as a safety shield from evil. What are you, the green lantern? This is real life and not a fictional movie so please act accordingly.
Spread mental health awareness so the younger generation doesn’t have to suffer like we did. These issues are real and prevalent, and we must join together to either eradicate the root of these issues or become, softer and more understanding adults to help deal with those suffering.
Haldi wala dudh = milk with turmeric
Daal cheeni wala kehwa = cinnamon and sugar spiced tea
Ali jaldi kar, ja machi market = Ali hurry up and go to the fish market
Surah Yasin = Special prayer in the quran
Kehne ko = To say
Ab wahi organ malfunction krega then error 404 is bound to occur haina? = So when the same organ malfunctions then there is bound to be an error 404. Right?