Gayathri Krishna S, Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala
To all those who knew Priyanka Madhav, she was a free willed, fierce and confident girl who spoke up whenever an unjust thing was said or done. She was also an egoist who only smiled at ‘her’ people, those who fit her standards and who were mostly upper middle class and upper class students. Most of the girls wanted to be her friend and join the ‘cool’ gang but ultimately their aim was to be her, to have the entire school praise her and envy her at the same time, to have all the boys desire her and most importantly to have people say the outdated but still most frequently used phrase for her kind; ‘beauty with brains’. She was perfect for some teachers and she was ‘of questionable character’ for others. In short, girls wanted to be her and boys wanted to have her. You would think what can go wrong in such a person’s life. Well, plenty. Before I come to that, let me give you some context. Even though my school is in Kerala, as soon as you enter the premises and meet the students and teachers, it would feel as if you’ve entered an American high school drama series. It’s like another world. It’s basically like Wakanda in Africa (All the marvel fans will get the reference). You have all the stereotypical characters seen in a teen drama. You have the nerds, basically unattractive people with goggles and a calculator trying to fit their newly acquired information which keeps on accumulating in their brains on a daily basis on unnecessary things. Then there are the hunks. These are extremely fit and masculine boys who try to show off and flirt with any girl they lay eyes upon. Then there are the princesses who are extremely pretty with high sense of fashion who flirt back with the hunks. Then there are the ‘others’. Those who don’t fit into any of these categories like the faction less in Divergent. I am one among them and so is Priyanka. She doesn’t fit into any of these stereotypes. Nor do I. That’s why I keep thinking we have a chance.
It wasn’t until a week ago that the whole school realised Ms Perfect didn’t feel so perfect even though others felt like she was. She collapsed in front of the school canteen. Soon the teachers lifted her and took her to the medical room. Our whatsapp and snapchat groups were storming with the raging debate on the latest sensational news of why Ms Perfect collapsed giving Kevin Matthews a break from all the homophobic comments about him that has been going on for days. I did’nt seem to understand what all the fuzz was about. She might’ve been sick so she collapsed. I’m sure she’ll be fine. But then the comments got too A rated. And I started to get worried. Arun even said ‘I think she’s pregnant’. I guess our school wasn’t like another world after all. When it comes to sexism and homophobia, we were just like the world beyond our school, and by the horrible things I’ve read, maybe even worse. But as someone who’s proud of his strong sense of intuition and creative writing skills, I knew this was something way beyond our imagination. She was’nt pregnant nor was she trying to draw attention by faking to collapse on a pretty messy canteen hall. As someone who has had a crush on her since the 3 rd grade, I can assure you. She might be anything but she isn’t fake. And she doesn’t crave for attention. Attention craves for her. Or maybe I’m saying all these because I’m crazy about her.
All of the students eyes were on her as Sara Mam took the class. Slowly, their eyes started shifting from her face one by one. And only one remained. She looked terrible. Not terrible as in unattractive but terrible as in weak and unhealthy. I didn’t realise I was staring for too long until she looked at me and before I could even turn my face back to the white board, she yelled at me. ‘What are you staring at, jerk? Can’t you mind your own business and leave me alone. Then she took my eyes away from me and said, ‘everyone please leave me the hell alone. What have I done to any of you? her voice broke and tears started dripping from her eyes creating moisture on her face just like droplets of rain does to the soil, slow initially but suddenly gaining pace. ‘I have anxiety disorder’ she said. Mam came towards her and tried to calm her down. ‘Anxiety disorder? Honey, we all get nervous too. You just need to relax’ one of the girls of her ‘cool’ gang said. ‘Its not the same, Anjali’ she said ‘I collapsed that day because of a panic attack’. And then she lost it. She started weeping. Mam held her close and slowly walked her out of the room. As soon as she left, the whole class started engaging in the heated debate of what the hell happened right now? Even I had no idea. The next day at assembly was even more interesting. Priyanka was standing next to the Principal and we expected she was there to sing the morning prayer cause she also sings beautifully. But when that didn’t happen and instead of her Neha sang the prayer, we started to get curious. Then the Principal announced, your fellow schoolmate Priyanka would like to say a few words. Then she came up towards the mike and started talking. ‘Hello. I’m Priyanka Madhav. I’m in 12 th grade humanities batch. Today I would like to tell my story and by doing that I hope you will understand and be honest with yourself and with others. I’ve never had any trauma in my life. My parents are fairly understanding parents. I say ‘fairly’ because it did took them a short period to understand what I was going through wasn’t normal. Experts estimate that the mind thinks between 60,000 to 80,000 thoughts a day. That’s an average of 2500-3,300 thoughts per hour. So everybody thinks. Everybody talks to themselves. I’ll explain to you how I’m different from most of you. The minute I enter the school premises, my mind is on a constant hunt to get it right. To act right. To say and do the right thing. But the truth is mind nor I know what is right or wrong. The minute I see a person walking opposite me, my mind is going on a civil war. There are various sides and alliances. All have different views. One part would tell me to look up and smile at the person, the other would tell me to just give eye contact and not smile. Then another side would tell me not to do either and look down on the ground. I would end up doing the second or third. And I become upset thinking of how awkward that was and what that person thought about me. You might think it happens to everyone. But you don’t sweat at that moment. You don’t have trouble breathing. You don’t bring up this stupid and silly incident over and over again in your mind and make you feel depressed. You also don’t think about that time in 5 th grade when you couldn’t answer a simple question Mam asked in class and beat yourself up about it for days when you’re in 12 th grade. You don’t think of a possible negative outcome for an event that has’nt even happened yet and cry about it. and you don’t collapse and go out of breath everytime the stress gets too much. This might all seem silly to you. But telling myself to relax or listen to music is not gonna solve anything.. Its time we accept that mental health is not classy word used in international media nor is it just a foreign phenomena and a subject used in movies to excite us. It’s a harsh reality and it exists here in the soils of Kerala, gods own country. We have to stop stigmatizing mental health and people that suffer from mental illness. According to WHO, about 56 million people in India are suffering from depression and 38 million people are suffering from anxiety disorders. I think its high time we do something about it. Today I am standing infront of the entire school and I’m saying this, I am Priyanka Madhav and I have GAD or generalised anxiety disorder combined with frequent panic attacks and breathing problems’. If you want to stand for this cause, lets start off by admitting it first. So is there anyone that wants to confess?’ The assembly ground was eerily silent and we could hear the sound of Uncle Satish’s doberman’s bark from like a mile away. I didn’t hold myself back.
‘I am Vishal PV and I suffer from depression’ I said it. I finally said it. I felt this heaviness that I’ve been carrying around my back for a long while finally lifting up. Confessing made me feel a sense of relief. And for the first time in my life, she smiled at me. And I smiled at her back. I was right. We do have a lot in common. We also have one more thing in common. She has it a little more but one thing that no child on this whole school has. GUTS.