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A little late, but this thought was triggered by the many tweets that appeared on my timeline to raise awareness and drive home the importance of mental health.

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It became a big talking point last year as COVID-19 changed/upended lives in ways that no one had ever imagined. I was no exception. I lived alone through the lockdown in 2020, in a city away from family, cooped up inside my home for months, paranoid about the virus. The days were unbearably long and excruciating. No human interaction – in the fear of contracting Covid – introduced me to a kind of loneliness that was unsettling, at best, and terrifying at worst (which it was for the most part). I lived through it like millions did, but didn’t exactly come out unscathed. While I kept discussing the experience with my family and friends at every opportunity, I was quick to stash away the trauma borne out of that experience into the Closet of Hope 2021.

It tumbled out soon enough. The fear set in again as the second, deadlier wave struck. I was prepared this time, though. Or so I thought. As I dealt with mind-numbing statistics and stories of untold horror unleashed by Covid every single day, in the newsroom (virtual on account of Work-From-Home), I was still removed from the reality of it all. And then it hit home.

My mother, a gynaecologist, tested positive in the third week of May, so did the rest of the family in Bhubaneswar. I was nervous but hopeful that she would recover. Five days later, she was rushed to the hospital in the early hours as her health worsened. Early tests and it didn’t look good. A fear with the intensity of a tsunami. I rushed home, spent over two weeks in a hotel (alone for the most part until my sister flew in from the US) since the entire family was still recovering from Covid. Here I was, alone again, this time in a hotel room with my family barely 5 minutes away. The Curse of Covid. I couldn’t visit my mother (like it happened to thousands of families as their loved ones fought the damned battle alone in hospitals), but was grateful for the odd texts we exchanged and the video calls.

I made daily evening visits to the hospital for updates from the ICU doctor attending to her. She was the most fearless person I’ve known, a force of nature, a 71-year-old who could inspire awe and arouse envy in a 17-year-old with her fiery spirit, verve and sense of service. The sheer helplessness, as I saw her fighting the disease with everything she had (she didn’t know otherwise), is indescribable. I bottled up my tears. Stoic was the default mode, no emotion or vulnerability on display (I had to stay strong…I think I had idealised that image).

We lost her in the second week of June. I returned to Delhi, and work, and found myself facing a whole new beast. I had to cope with the loss of both my parents (my father passed away in 2019), and the many fears and insecurities it brought with it. I have two siblings, cousins who are friends, and then, a few good friends – a support system. The grief/loss, though, is always personal and I had to navigate through it on my own.

I saw warning signs from my mind and body – sleepless nights for days on end and anxiety pangs through the day. It showed and was taking a toll. Self-care was the urgent need of the hour. The remedy didn’t just lay in the convention – meeting friends, working out, getting back to doing things I love. It was much more than that. It was to get my mind to a safer place – to nurse it back to better mental health.

I’m thankful I didn’t rush to put on the quintessential tough woman armour and seek comfort/refuge in the ubiquitous “time heals” adage (time does heal), while sweeping the problem under the carpet. I had to make changes.

– I requested for and worked fewer hours.

– I was ok in telling people that I wasn’t; vulnerability is a sign of strength.

– I reached out to people whenever I needed to talk about my feelings (No suffering in silence alone. Those who love and care will listen, be available as much as they can, and will stay. I’m grateful for them.)

– I’m learning to set boundaries and remove myself from any place/situation that threatens my mental well-being. To that end, saying “No” is necessary. 

– I sought therapy.

It’s a process. Building and preserving mental health should be a part of daily life, a way of life.

So, it’s Mental Health Day every day.

(Mala Das is Senior Editor, NDTV Convergence.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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