In 'It's All in Your Head, M,' Manjiri Indurkar crafts a piercingly honest narrative about her struggle with mental illness
Diving into the trauma she suffered as a survivor of child sexual abuse and more so the rage and grief that stemmed from the silence of those around her who knew the truth, Indurkar writes a sharply honest story, weighing her losses against her more qualitative wins in the pages of this book.
Author and journalist Manjiri Indurkar confronts the challenges of accepting and coping with anxiety and depression in her memoir It's All in Your Head, M, bringing to readers a slice of her battle with mental illness. Diving into the trauma she suffered as a survivor of child sexual abuse and more so the rage and grief that stemmed from the silence of those around her who knew the truth, she writes a piercingly honest story, turning away from her significant losses and towards the more qualitative wins, through the pages of this book.
From her head, the anxiety and discomfort of a person with mental illness transpose into a flowing narrative, almost like pages from her personal diary; her story demands not simply to be read but also analysed and understood. Of her love for books and cinema she writes aplenty, blending it with the poetry she would compose to express her suppressed feelings. Building upon the PTSD that sustained well into her adulthood, Indurkar's book showcases how one's sense of self can be degraded when mental health is stigmatised or ignored.
In a conversation with Firstpost, the author discusses her biggest influences – her aai and Toni Morrison – her experiences of speaking publicly about mental health, and how keeping a journal acted as a vent for her deepest emotions. Edited excerpts from the interview below:
In the Preface to your memoir, you have written about Toni Morrison and your aai, as becoming one voice guiding you. Why has the writer played such a significant role in your life and how do you reconcile the identity of your aai and Morrison in your mind?
The first book I ever read of Morrison’s was The Bluest Eye. I was young; I hadn’t developed consciousness on issues of race, caste, class, anything. Like Pecola I too was a victim of child sexual abuse. And like Pecola I too found myself ugly. I immediately related to her character, and I cried buckets full of tears while reading the book. I think it was Morrison’s simple yet complex writing style that made me return to her books. But it was also her life, her politics, her sense of justice and the will to fight for it that drew me to her. And the warmth her writing, her face, and the way she, in general, exuded a motherly kind of warmth. She taught me things no one else would and therefore became a motherly figure the way Judy Blume has been for many. Morrison has taught me a lot about the politics I follow in life. She has made me see the complexities of motherhood, a subject I am deeply interested in. And she says things that my Aai has, or would have if she had similar dexterity with language, which is why I replace Morrison with Aai.
You have written about some of the most disturbing incidents that happened to you in excruciating detail. What was going through your mind then? Were there times when you felt you were giving away too much?
After you have kept yourself hidden from the world for years and years, when you finally open up, a dam bursts. I have been spinning a bit out of control for the past few years. I don’t feel the need to hide myself, or the things that I have lived through. I don’t know if it was courage, or just the sheer necessity I felt to put these stories out that made me write all the gory details of my life. To be honest, I am not ashamed of any of the things I went through, things that happened to me, and things that I did to myself. But yes, there have been moments when I had to tell myself to stop. 'Your entire life is not content, M,' a friend had once said to me, and it’s a voice that has stayed with me. Anyway, we are always writing fragments of our lives. It’s a constant negotiation.
What has been the effect of addressing your battle with anxiety and depression publicly?
I first time I 'spoke' about a mental health condition was when I wrote an essay on Trichotillomania which was published by Skin Stories. Thereafter, a lot of people wrote to me telling me their stories, stories of their friends, siblings, and the first feeling I had was of disbelief. 'How is that there are so many people who are doing what I am doing, people I have known for a while, and still had no wind of these lives they lived when I wasn’t looking?' Disbelief then turned into a warm feeling of not being alone in my struggles. But the first time the responsibility of being vocal about invisible disabilities hit me was in 2018, when I was at a literature festival in Mumbai. I was supposed to read a few poems, and talk about my journey with depression and I suddenly, out of nowhere, started talking about the origins of my depression—my child sexual abuse past. And I just kept talking.
What challenges have marked the process of healing and coping with anxiety for you?
Healing is an on-going process, and I am not sure if I have entirely healed or overcome anything; there is acceptance and kindness and learning to love yourself and being your own ally. But healing feels more like an elusive dream of something whole and concrete that we're all after, a complete recovery from your past — I am not sure such a thing is possible. What I think exists is the very real ability to be able to say 'I have been burnt by life but it doesn’t define me. It’s not my entire story. I won’t let it become that either.'
According to you, how has the outlook towards mental illness changed through the years, especially now, during the coronavirus crisis?
I think we are more open about it. I have seen my mother recommend therapy to her friends — a word that was never uttered in our house before. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed us to each other fully, warts and all. I was able to have some very difficult conversations with my parents about my past because we had all this time with each other.
But I hear about cases of abuses increasing, relationships crumbling and loneliness eating people alive, and I wonder if things have changed at all? All I can hold on to is the fact that people are taking interest in the subject, and slowly trying to find their voice. Slow and steady, I suppose.
In your memoir, you have consistently written about your journals and how you would write poems to express your feelings. Could you elaborate the importance of journaling in recognising our deepest thoughts?
I got into journaling mostly because I was so ashamed of myself and the things that were happening to me that I needed a place to vent. But there was also the fear of the journal being read by someone, mostly my younger brother. So initially I filled it with silly things like the fights I’d have with friends, and sometimes I’d write about the crushes I had like Ayesha Jhulka did in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander. But what I was really doing was archiving the redundant. Journaling really helped me keep a record of my life and more than the ‘sad’ stuff, it was the good things I filled my journals with — feelings of love, silly fights, teen rage, happiness and sorrow of having failed an exam. These are the things I return to when I read my old journals because they are a record of a good, 'normal' life that I have lived, as real as the one running parallel to it.
Now that you have recalled and come to terms with the traumas of your childhood, do you find yourself developing relationships in ways different to when you were oblivious to those suppressed emotions?
My relationships are more transparent now. It helps because I only let the “right” people in. I am also a more assertive person and I am able to stand up for myself much more now. I don’t suffer fools gladly, and that is a big change. Now I am funny, sometimes loud, and clear about what I want. My 20-year-old self would have killed me for saying this, but I am also an optimist now. All of this impacts my friendships in both big and small ways, and I don’t ever want to turn my back on the person I have become.
Manjiri Indurkar's It's All in Your Head, M has been published by Tranquebar, an imprint of Westland Publications.
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