I am new to book review though writing both for publishing and not for publishing has long been my vocation. Also this is the first book review on the “akhilvaani” platform devoted to “Opening-Up, Owning-Up and Talking Mental Illness in India”.
And when the promise of akhilvaani is to “Give Hope, Love and Pride to Mentally Ill” the object of first book review could not have been better than- “The D-Word : A Survivors Guide to Depression” written by Shubhrata Prakash
Let me begin on a personal note.
In the November of the year 2009, when the story of my life battle suffering from Bipolar Disorder was chronicled by the News Paper Mint (A Hindustan Times Publication), my mother in law, a doctor by profession and retired Professor of Medical College herself, had asked me a blunt question-
“Do you think, you can alone change the World and stamp out stigma around Mental Illness deep rooted in Indian society” ?
I did not have the answer then.
But as I review the D-Word, I have found the answer that is so well paraphrased by famous social anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said once famously-
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have”.
Before I enter the sanctum-sanctorium of the book, let me postulate, some books unleash the soul force that brings fundamental changes in society. Twenty thousand word “Purna Swaraj” written by Mahatma Gandhi on a ship from England to South Africa was one such book, that propelled Indian Nation to seek Independence from British using non-violent means.
To akhilvaani, “The D-Word” is one such book, that unleashes the powerful soul force to stamp out deep rooted stigma around Mental Illness in the country. The book in simple yet powerful voice, gives the central message –
“Depression or for that matter any type of Mental Illness is a secular illness that attacks all -caste, class or religion without any distinction”.
The book has relevance for those suffering from Mental illness, those who are care givers of Mentally ill and those who do not understand what Mental illness means because neither they nor their near and dear ones have been afflicted with the scourge yet.
So captivating was the book that i could have read it in one sitting it I but decided to read bit by bit over a fortnight, because of comprehensive nature, engrossing knowledge treasure and lucid narrative of the book.
A book review is very much like trailer of a movie. But a trailer rarely leaves lasting impact. The role of a trailer is simply to draw onlookers to the theater. This review has broader agenda – one to do justice to the central theme of the book, to explain how the D-Word is stigma buster and finally to exhort millions of Indians to read the same.
Here are few passages of the book specially selected by “akhilvaani” for the powerful central messages in-built in them-
Acceptance is the first step towards getting better. You have, for what ever reasons, developed major depression. Accept it. No amount of denial is going to help. No amount of trying to figure out what happened, how it happened and precipitated it etc., is going to help either. You can keep cursing the genes you were born with. You can keep cursing the environment in which your stress and illness got precipitated. You can curse the people who wreaked havoc in your life at every state, adding to your stress. None of it is going to make you any better…..
..…Acceptance of your illness makes you ready for the next step which is to seek help, and the next, which is to use that help. …Acceptance is also liberating. It frees the mind from the shackles of years of social conditioning. You begin to see mental illness in a new way. You begin to see it for just what it is: an illness like any other. It opens the mind to new ways of thinking
“Suicidal ideation is the worst possible outcome of depression. The most deceitful lie that depression tells is that life is not worth living. Please do not ever, ever, believe this. Life is beautiful. All you have to do is t wait for the time the dark-colored glasses come off. Remember, what you are going through is temporary. ..If you have nothing to live for tomorrow.Every thing ends. Life itself ends So too will depression end. Until then, do not let the Pied Piper of depression lure you away with its suicide tune. Even in the split second of intense insanity, find something, any thing to hold on… if you see nothing, hold on to your breath…just hold on to your life”
Depression has been harsh on me- but i feel it has been harsher on my husband, my young children and my elderly parents. At some point, they have all cried with me when I have cried….they have all held me close, even my kids, at different points in this journey. They have all put their lives on hold for long stretches of time because of me. Sometimes, when i was overcome with the pain of depression, and full of guilt at what it was doing to my family, I would wonder if they would not be better off without me in their lives. The pain of living was too much for me and i was living mostly for them. All such times I would look into their faces, and then life would suddenly feel rewarding. I could not bear to think I would not see them again. And if not for myself, at least for the sake of these people who loved me so dearly, I wished to become whole again….
The biggest positive outcome of depression for me has been translation of a life long passion into some thing professional that is writing….writing has given me a lot of creative satisfaction. It has given me highs which no antidepressant could. It has won me back a lot of self-worth and self-confidence that depression had eroded away. Writing this book itself has been very therapeutic for me. At many places, I found I was counselling myself, as I was writing to people like myself, who are fighting the dreaded -D
And finally, the parting shot of the book-
“..The most important thing at this point of my life is that I have HOPE. I feel I am much better already. And I have the undiminished hope that all I have to do is to keep consolidating on my gain. I have gone through hell and back, and I am the stronger for it. I cannot be sure there will not be another day. I have experienced so many crests and through by now. I have had so many false starts. But what I am sure about is that I am better prepared to handle another trough….”
I have selected paragraphs of the book with proper due diligence. Following are the central messages of the excerpts
- Acceptance: Acceptance of Mental Illness is half the battle own. It makes one see the illness for what it is-just an illness to be fixed. Once some one suffering from a mental illness or his/her caregivers accept this axiomatic truth other actions follow in logical step. It is important to note that in the case of author, the acceptance led to seeking treatment however elusive it was for her drug-resistant Depression
- Suicide is not the Answer: Today India tops the world suicide table. Approximately 15% of Global Suicides happen in India (as per National Crime Data Records) and WHO numbers put Indian suicides at 20% of Global Suicides. Five to six times more make unsuccessful suicide attempts and millions suffer from suicidal ideation. If one analyses the suicide data one finds that most vulnerable group is our youth in 18-28 years age bracket. Depression is increasingly a cause behind the increasing suicide and attempts. The book gives a powerful message- even in the split second moment of insanity.. hold on to your breath.. Hold on to life. It is a powerful message debunking suicide as salvation from the pain of mental illness how ever intense the pain is.
- Role of Family: The book speaks loudly, Depression or any severe mental illness brings in calculable misery not only on the sufferer, but on the whole family. And it is the support of family and other care givers that helps the sufferer of Mental Illness to see value in holding on to life. One can not and should not forget, that when Shubhrata was finding the battle of Depression not worth living, it was the love of her family that saw her through in the difficult time.
- Resilience: Let me be candid mental illness mostly comes as unmitigated disaster. And stigma surrounding it makes it difficult. But as the common thread of the book D-Word says, once you accept it is just an illness, seek treatment, make life style changes, continue to hold on in the worst of circumstances, the worst ultimately goes away. Depression is not permanent. If you handle it resolutely it makes you resilient, much more resilient than what a normal person is. This resilience helped Shubhrata to turn writer with her blog and it is this resilience which has helped her turn an author with the “The D-Word)
- HOPE: The book could not have ended with a more apt message. Stigma denies Mentally Ill of something they need most in life-that is HOPE. By giving a powerful message of hope, the author walks the talk, rather talks the talk- “Yes You Can Win”. Your Mental Illness does not define you. It is just an illness. You are what you are. You are not what your illness make you. Have HOPE if you are suffering from Mental Illness. Give Hope and Love to Mentally ill if you are a care giver
- Power of Owning-Up, Opening-Up and Talking Mental Illness: Author admits the very process of writing the book was therapeutic. At many stages in the book she found she was counseling herself. Indian culture is a closed culture. We do not open up easily. And definitely not about Mental Illness, the D-Word, the taboo stigmatized word. And definitely you do not open because your spouse, your career, your life and future of the children could get jeopardized. But author Shubhrata Prakash is made of different metal. She knows it is time for Indians to speak. She is aware of adverse life consequences of her Glasnost. But she also is painfully aware India needs the D-Word and needs it now. She knows personal sacrifices are worth the benefits that will accrue to society.
akhilvaani has tried to en-capsule key messages of the book through picking up random excerpts. Let me be candid and as honest i can be- this easy read book is unstoppable. Every sentence is a pearl of wisdom. Many such books have been written in West. But no Indian in past has dared to write such a book- it is not only the story of the journey of Depression of the Author but it shows a path, a path of deliverance to others
I wish every adult above 18 years old must read the book even if hundreds of thousands only purchase the book. It is not a book about Depression. It is also not a book about Mental Illness. It is a book about existential issues human life encounters. It is about the power of resilience and Hope. It is about opening a tiny window , when all doors are shut and life is teetering on the brink of disaster. The strongest part of the book is Naked Truth of Life narrated powerfully in a simple language.
Way to Go Shubhrata Prakash