It will just go. Everything I'm feeling, the emotion, nobody understanding what I'm going through. It will just go away and all of this will just end
Ridhima is an investment banking associate and the founder of ‘Just Another Illness’ - a voluntary organization providing mental health resources and advocacy.
Mark: Take me back to your diagnoses of depression and PTSD in 2019. What led you to go and seek help? Was it a particular moment?
Ridhima: In 2018 one of my very close friends was unwell. When he fell ill, I didn't know that he had a mental health condition as well. We had been friends for a very long time.
When I saw him in that situation with his psychosis and hallucinations, I was really heart broken. I couldn't accept that I could not help and I had no experience of mental health.
Back then, I thought mental health was just feeling sad and then just going out, going for a party, going for a drink and feeling better. That was what mental health meant for me. And when I saw my friend going through what he was going through and really suffering that really broke my heart.
I just thought “I want you to feel better. What can I do?”.
I became really obsessed with his recovery and really obsessed about the fact that I want him to feel okay
When he started feeling better, I wasn't. I was just constantly focused on how is he doing? How is he feeling? When I was with him I would be constantly making sure that he was okay. That he wasn't struggling with anything or hiding his emotions.
I became really obsessed with his recovery and really obsessed about the fact that I want him to feel okay.
Around that time, I went to India. My nephew was just six months old and I began to notice I was very irritable about little things. I wasn't ready to cuddle him or even be in the same room as him, because I was just constantly worried that I was a very negative person and that I would transfer all of this negativity to him.
I was just crying and breaking down for no reason. All I wanted to do was to sit with my novel and just read and not talk to anyone
I would say that it was not sadness - because sadness goes away when you, I don't know, eat your favourite meal or listen to good music. But music was noise to me at that time. I couldn't listen to music. I used to get irritated very easily.
What was it like returning to work after your trip?
When I came back to the UK for work, I had no confidence in being able to do the things that I do every day. I wanted my colleagues to check over my work. I wasn't confident at all.
I remember this one day, I was standing on the platform waiting for the train. And all I wanted was to get that courage to jump in front of the train and kill myself.
When I had these urges, I would picture my Mother's face crying and she's heartbroken, and that would always stop me from doing something.
Music was noise to me at that time. I couldn't listen to music. I used to get irritated very easily
I remember that day perfectly. The 8th of January 2019. I was so so sad. All I hoped and prayed that day while I was going to work was it will be so good if I just die and all of this pain I'm feeling and holding in my body will just go. Everything I'm feeling, the emotion, nobody understanding what I'm going through. It will just go away and all of this will just end.
And that's when I cried. I cried a lot. I got to work and I was crying. I went to the ladies room, gathered myself and came back again.
I knew I couldn't sit there. I knew my suicidal thoughts were really powerful that day. I went to see one of the doctors at the medical centre at my work. I went to see him and he asked me “Do you have suicidal thoughts?” And I was really worried that he would tell my manager or something. But I’m so grateful that I said “Yes, I do”.
That's when the whole thing kicked off.
He referred me to a psychiatrist. He referred me to the HR person within the firm who told me to go home and take time off work. Then I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and I focused on recovering.
The first time when the doctor said that I have to go on medication - my first thought, and my fiancé’s first thought, was ‘no’. We thought “I think we'll be okay. We don't need medication.”
That’s the first reaction of a lot of people. When we have a fever, we take pain killers without a second thought. But when you are feeling low and suicidal and they ask you to take something which is going to impact your brain chemistry... Why is it so scary? I still don't understand that.
Where did that come from? Why did you feel that way?
I think it has a lot to do with how the media portrays mental health. I had no education, no knowledge about the fact there is a difference between sadness and depression.
The experience that I was having when I saw my friends suffering, a lot of other people did not understand that. My other friends would say “Yeah everyone falls ill. The guy has a mental health condition. So what? Get over it. Don't talk about it because it is going to make it worse for him.”
Nobody allowed me that space to open up or talk about what I was going through. I was just told to be optimistic, be hopeful about the future, pray that your friend gets better.
If I look at it right now, retrospectively, that was what was needed. To bring his issue to the limelight. His family members and friends needed to learn at that time how to support him. So if something like this happens again, we can all be there and, because we understand his condition, we will be able to support him better.
Nobody allowed me that space to open up or talk about what I was going through.
The whole reason my depression and PTSD kicked off was because I wasn't allowed to express what I was going through. There wasn’t a healthy and open discussion happening of “Okay this is an illness and there's no shame in this. We can take medication and feel better. It's okay to take medication for this. It's okay to go to a hospital for this.”
Rather, it was “Let's not talk about it. What are other people going to say? Don't tell anyone and just toughen up. It's fine.”
That’s just not fair.
When those things don't come out, they just bottle up and you feel you've moved on. But you have just put a bandage on a wound that is really deep. Blood is gushing through. But you just put a temporary solution to it. You haven't really addressed what you're going through and how you're feeling.
Addressing the wound is exactly what I did in therapy. I spoke about my experience, how I felt at that time, over and over again. Even now sometimes I talk about it because it still has an impact on me.
I know that when I tell people I have PTSD because of this, they don't understand. They don’t understand that anything like that can be traumatic for someone.
That’s part of the work you're doing with ‘Just Another Illness', right? Spreading awareness, spreading information, helping people learn about mental health disorders?
I wouldn't say we’re an organization, it's a one woman army right now! Or a four woman army - some of my cousins are helping me out!
The idea of ‘Just Another Illness’ is to have sessions very focused on people's journey, focusing on their symptoms, how they got diagnosed, what helps them. So that people can learn from them. Learn about the journey of a person who is in mania, or who is depressed.
Corporate wellbeing is important to us as well. Box ticking – doing yoga or mindfulness – is okay. But you need to openly talk about mental health. You need to talk about what it means to have a mental health condition, not just being sad or stressed at work. Helping people understand that there are people who have bipolar disorder who take a mood stabilizer and come to work.
How can you have a little bit more empathy? What kind of language are you using around them? If people are not aware of all of these things in a corporate setting, how are they going to know how to act?
When I went back to work, people didn't know how to approach and talk to me or ask how I'm doing. It's not because they didn't want to or that they didn't care. It's because they didn't know how to.
If someone is going through chemotherapy for their cancer, you can physically see their changes. It’s unlikely you’ll see anything with mental health. How do you broach that conversation about mental health?
If I can help even one person open up at work through ‘Just Another Illness’ – then that’s a win!