This article was first published on Apurba Bandyopadhya’s Medium profile.
‘Therapy ’and ‘Vasooli’ are unlikely contenders to spot in the same sentence. As Indians, ‘Vasooli’ is a part of our DNA. Our social conditioning demands that we get the maximum bang for every buck spent. We cannot stop harping upon the importance of ‘Vasooli’ in our lives. Mental health, on the other hand, gets no attention. Was mental health ever a dining table conversation? No. At least, not for my generation. It has always been convenient to relegate mental health as a disease for the rich. “I don’t have time for mental health”. “It’s all in your head”. “Every time you feel bad about your life situation, remember there’s someone in a situation worse than you”. These statements sound familiar isn’t it? The result – High suicide rates and a country with some really unhappy people.
Somehow, while we’ve managed to progress in every other area and even managed to reach Mars we stay woefully behind when it comes to the mental health conversation.
I have to say I have been a part of the ‘who needs mental health’ brigade. I always felt that a trip to the therapist’s office should only be warranted if you’re clinically depressed or suicidal, never fully realizing that mental health is more than clinical depression. I found myself walking into a therapist’s office after having spent two years being in abject misery. No one on the outside could tell. I continued to meet friends, be my funny, positive self while worrying when I might start feeling sad…or explode in anger. Constantly.
It was my inability to see the positive in my life, and I promise you that despite the odds I do have a good life, when I ended up ‘on the couch’.
From diagnosis to ‘Vasooli’
My first conversation with my therapist went something like this: “I don’t even know why I am here. I just want to know if I am wallowing in some convoluted form of self-pity or am I reading too much into things, but I seem to be flying off the handle without control”. I also added, “This is so embarrassing”.
Thankfully, therapists know how your mind works…or at least, how it’s supposed to work. That day I walked out of the therapist’s office knowing that I have something called “high functional anxiety”. For me, it was a relief. At least it was not in my head… Or well, it was… I was just relieved to know the name of the problem that was leading me to become a miserable wife, a miserable mother and a miserable person.
But then the Indian in me kicked in. Therapy is not cheap…surprisingly we don’t think so much when we head out each weekend and shell out a couple of thousands for a couple of beers. But when it comes to investing in your own mental health, it becomes a big deal. So like a true Indian, I wanted to make sure that I get the ‘maximum bang for my buck.’ So how did I manage the Vasooli aspect?
Vasooli lesson No — 1 : Your therapist is your friend — but she/he’s not scared of losing your friendship
Most people I know go to their friends or family members when they’re ‘losing it’. The friend or family member dishes out some gyan based on their life experience. More often than not, this opinion is never unbiased…invariably the opinion will be skewed in your favor.
Your friend will think for a while before he/she dishes out the dirt to you because they have something to loose. Your friendship is valuable.
Your therapist on the other hand has nothing to lose and everything to give. They will tell you what you ‘need’ to hear and not what you ‘want’ to hear. This could be a deal breaker in any other relationship.
If my friend told me half the things I’ve been told by my therapist, I’d probably slap them. I’m also sure I’d not have been able to give my friends the complete truth and nothing but the truth…something that I could to my therapist.
This knowledge made it insanely easier to spill out my guts and give her a complete lowdown of how things went on in my life…and in my head.
Vasooli lesson No — 2 : The truth shall set you free
Your therapist will see right inside you….if you’re honest, that is. They’re skilled human beings not aliens with radars on their head catching brain signals.
Only when you’re honest and truthful, if you tell things the way they are and how you perceive them clearly without any additional color, can your therapist can spend time helping you assess how to resolve your issues and challenges.
Let me say this, you are not fodder for gossip for the next cocktail party your therapist goes to. You, personally, are of no consequence to their life. Also, they are professional and their professional commitment demands that they maintain your privacy. Get all this clear in the very beginning of your sessions. You need to be able to trust your therapist with your life. If you can’t feel that, then no matter how highly recommended the therapist comes, you’re not going down the Vasooli road.
Now if you do get a therapist who you can trust, then go ahead and spill out all the beans. Your therapist will lead the way in the absence of direction and make sure you’re spilling beans and it’s not a violent purge. And once that’s out of the way, the path to healing and action begins.
Vasooli lesson No — 3: The place for your ego is outside the door
Life has a funny way of making us see ourselves the way we want …both good and bad, isn’t it?
In my sessions I was also shown the mirror multiple times where I felt that I was the ‘victim’ only to be told off and then be made to realize how I could have coped with a situation differently.
My therapist also gave me assignments and not all of them massaged my ego. One very hard one for me was to not criticize for a week. When I was walking out of her office I felt that she’d been quite unfair. I felt she probably didn’t realize how hard I had to work to make everyone around me work. When I did put the assignment to practice I realized how hard it was for me to not be critical! And that also made me see how hard it is to live and love a person so hell bent on pointing out what’s wrong! I had to accept that for whatever reason I had become a critical person and then we took remedial steps to assuage that.
Vasooli happened because I could leave my ego out of the door every single time I entered her office. If you carry your ego in with you, the journey to healing will be much longer. Because for a long, long time your therapist and you will only be working on your ego — not you.
I managed to leave my therapist, Barkha Bajaj’s office six months after I had first set foot through her door, on the 24th of December, 2019 after our final session. These few months were excruciating, exhausting, exhilarating and ultimately, incredibly freeing.
I can’t say that I’m all cool. I still have those horrid days. My thoughts still get the better of me at time. I still sometimes have trouble controlling rage. But in all of these times, in all of these situations, I can hear my inner voice (which strangely has started sounding like my therapist’s) telling me what I should be doing and how I should be responding.
By the end of my sessions I realized ‘vasooli’ in this case didn’t really matter. I had not ‘spent’ on myself. I had ‘invested’ in myself. However to assuage the Indian genes, it also helped to know that in all the journey’s that I have gone through, I have to say, the vasooli that I’ve managed to get from this one, I’ve not managed from any other.