The other day when I was watching Masterchef Australia, one of the contestants, Brent Draper, chose to quit due to mental health concerns. Later, he posted on Instagram about how proud he was of this step and how he wanted to set an example for his son. I felt nothing but admiration for him after seeing that clip. It takes a lot of courage to say out loud, “I can’t go on.”
Being born and raised in India, the concept of mental health and its necessity was an understanding that I didn’t develop at a very young age. Growing up, the narrative wasn’t just limited to “boys don’t cry” for me; in fact, in a world where women aspire to be equal to men, even “big girls don’t cry” or rather can’t cry, for that is viewed as a sign of weakness. I’ve always believed in hard work, and the idea that hard work leads to success has been drilled in my head. I don’t think I was ever conditioned to accept failure. Whatever I do, I must excel at it – that has always been my mantra. Either you win, or you lose! As harsh as it sounds, if I am being brutally honest, I don’t know how comfortable I truly am with the idea of failing, learning, and restarting. I keep pushing myself to whatever extent possible, and then some more, because despite being an aspiring mental health professional, I struggle to give myself a break at times. The only time I will make an allowance is if I am physically unwell, or having a fever. And this is a cause of concern – and a major one too!
The reason why Naomi Osaka kept making headlines was not because she withdrew from the French Open, but because she listed mental health concerns as the reason behind her decision which, unfortunately, didn’t fully settle in for most of us. It’s strange and distressing at the same time for it highlights how far we are from being a community that recognizes mental health as a legitimate, valid, and acceptable concern. When the news broke, so many living-room conversations criticizing her decision, “She was so successful, what was so difficult about going in front of the cameras and giving interviews? Who gives up their career at this point in life?” and insensitive comments like “This is an attitude problem caused due to fame,” made me realize how far we are from actually believing that #MentalHealthMatters – on most days, I genuinely believe it’s limited to just being a trendy hashtag.
I admired Deepika Padukone who, way back in 2015, spoke about her depression, but it unfortunately did not cause a significant shift in people’s help-seeking behaviour. While there are more and more people seeking help today, it is unfortunate that it took a global pandemic for people to truly give mental health the attention it deserves. Also, a part of me is still scared – what if this is just a fleeting trend? All moms get a lot of love on Mother’s Day, and every organization celebrates Pride Month in June despite not having inclusive policies that aid the LGBTQA+ community for the rest of the year.
How much value do you ascribe to your mental health? To what extent would you prioritize booking regular sessions with a therapist over buying new clothes, makeup, jewellery, or the latest gadget?
I have always been an overthinker. Spontaneity is not my strongest suit. I also am a hard worker, and while, so far, I have managed to achieve all the goals I have set for myself, the amount of effort and the pressure I put on myself makes the process not a bit enjoyable for me. Instead of celebrating, I often find myself wondering, “Was it really worth it?” My desire for perfection makes it hard for me to be content in life, and I always strive to engineer the perfect life for myself. It’s taken me a while to embrace the fact that perfection is an illusion, and nothing is perfect, and therefore by chasing perfection, I am setting myself up for failure. Prioritizing my mental health, giving myself permission to take breaks, and most importantly, spending time with myself, has really helped me. I have realized that in a culture where mental health breaks and taking it easy can often be viewed as laziness, it is up to me to draw my boundaries and evaluate which voices I need to tune out and which ones I should hear.
While I wish I could disseminate similar solutions for you, if you too struggle with issues around the desire for perfection, the need to meet or exceed expectations, or just succumbing to stress and peer pressure, unfortunately, as far as mental health concerns go, it’s never a one-size-fits-all answer. What worked for me may or may not work for you.
However, what I want to leave you with is some questions for reflection:
- What matters most in my life?
- What am I doing about all that matters the most in my life?
- Am I living true to myself?
- What are the goals that I’ve set for myself? Why did I choose those goals?
- Who am I, really?
- What is life asking of me?
- What do I want most in life?
We all have our struggles. I don’t wake up every morning ready to seize the day and conquer the world! Some days are especially hard. And it’s okay to give up. It’s okay to reset. It’s okay if your goals change over time. I know that it took a lot of courage for Brent to say, “I can’t go on.” Powerfully exposing how vulnerable you are in front of a global audience is a true act of courage. Thank you, Brent, for inspiring me with your brave action. Thank you for reminding us that there is no need for us to chase success when it is at the cost of our own mental health and wellbeing. The next time I find myself falling into the trap of stressing myself out by putting undue pressure on myself, I will remember you, and I will try being a little kinder to myself. I am not defined by my achievements and actions alone. There is so much more to me than that.
Thank you, Brent, for restoring my faith in me.