In a new book, Anna Chandy, who helped Deepika Padukone overcome depression, opens up about battling her own emotional struggles to emerge as counsellor
Deepika Padukone with Anna Chandy at the inauguration of their mental health foundation
In March 2014, Anna Chandy was away in Kerala on a personal visit when, one day, she found a slew of missed calls on her phone. A family friend had been desperately trying to reach her. Her daughter was in deep pain. Two flights later, Chandy found herself in Mumbai, at the residence of her Bengaluru neighbours' daughter, Deepika Padukone. Talking and listening to her through the day, Chandy was certain - the successful Bollywood actress was suffering from clinical depression.
Talking her out of initial reluctance, Chandy convinced Padukone to see a leading psychiatrist in Bengaluru, who set in motion her treatment. Over the next nine months, Chandy - the first certified training and supervising transactional analyst from Asia accredited with the International Transactional Analysis Association - was to be Padukone's therapist. While the treatment continued, she would often have long telephonic chats with Padukone, helping her realise that she couldn't let stress get the better of her.
Once free of depression, Padukone famously opened up to the world about her condition, and set up The Live Love Laugh Foundation in Bengaluru to destigmatise and raise awareness about mental health in India. Chandy chairs the foundation.
Amidst all this, the therapist felt the time was ripe to write about her own experiences with candour. In her recent book, Battles in the Mind (Penguin Random House), Chandy describes her emotional struggles, which introduced her to counselling and shaped her as a professional. "As a counsellor, I wanted people to know counsellors have issues, too. I wanted to normalise mental health concerns," she says. "In the West and elsewhere, it is a requisite for counsellors to undergo personal therapy to be able to effectively help others."
As a child raised in a dysfunctional family, Chandy took on the responsibility of keeping the unit together from a tender age. This, coupled with unfortunate incidents of child abuse, which she could not bring herself to speak about until much later, left her deeply wounded. It altered her personality and she got into a pattern of putting herself last in every situation, making sacrifices at the cost of her physical and mental well-being. Finally, she began to loathe herself. But Chandy's introduction to counselling was not for her own sake. Her brother-in-law was suffering from schizophrenia, and to equip herself with the knowledge to care for him, she joined a counselling centre, where she began her training in 1994.
She soon realised she "was providing for others exactly what I needed for myself," Chandy writes, mentioning how she felt ashamed to seek help initially.
It was during this time that she came across the tool of Transactional Analysis (TA), a psychoanalytic theory and method of therapy, which she explains in the book in detail.
The three basic assumptions of TA, Chandy explains, are: all human beings are fundamentally okay; they all have the capacity to think (unless severely challenged); everyone can decide their own destiny. "What struck me about TA is… it states that every person, no matter how entrenched in trauma and tragedy, has the innate ability to transform himself or herself, and live a happy life," she writes.
Seeking help starts with awareness. In the present urban scenario that leaves busy professionals with little time for themselves, becoming aware - recognising patterns in one's behaviour - requires concerted efforts (see The Healing Questionnaire). "Have you been edgy or reactive of late? Have you become disinterested in something that you always liked doing? Have you been procrastinating? These are some questions one needs to ask," Chandy explains, adding that she comes across body image issues regularly.
If one does overcome the barrier of the stigma associated with seeing a therapist, the success of counselling transcends the individual's effort. "In a collective society like India, it is important that one's family is supportive. So often, an individual is asked why he needs an outsider when an entire family is there for him," she says, pointing out that therapy succeeds due to objectivity.
Chandy's life as a therapist came full circle when, along with helping others, she managed to help herself. She opened up, first to her therapist and then her mother, about the abuse she faced as a child. She confronted the latter about how she was asked to take on a role that was way beyond her age. She shed her identity as the sacrificing daughter, the good, docile wife (much to the joy of her husband) and the perfect homemaker to establish herself as a respected therapist.
"I have been getting hate mail from some of my family members for writing this book, but it had to be written," Chandy admits. "Through this book and the foundation, I need people to know that they are not alone. We all have our stories, and we all need to start living, loving and laughing again."
The Healing Questionnaire
1. What happens to me repeatedly in a relationship?
2. What do I always end up feeling in a relationship?
3. What does sexuality mean?
4. What does love mean?
5. When did I first feel victimised?
6. Has somebody hurt me when I was not in control?
7. Do I still hold myself responsible?
8. Do I have a secret that I find difficult to share?
9. Have I ever felt that I make wrong choices in partnerships?
10. Do I have any addictions (food, sex, gambling, etc. also count)?
11. How do I respond to kindness?
12. How do I respond to forgiveness?
13. When somebody says 'no', how do I feel?
Think about your day and divide it according to how much time you spend doing each of the following activities:
1. Withdrawal This refers to meditation, being by yourself, choosing to isolate yourself from the world and the people around you for the sake of downtime.
2. Activity This comprises work, chores, running errands — all the things we have to do that keep us busy and unable to engage in other things.
3. Games Everyone plays games. We play work games, marital games, friendship games and even short ones at a shop or in a five-minute interaction. At any point, if you are assuming a psychological position because you are not ready to be intimate with someone, you are probably playing a game.
4. Timepass This is exactly what it sounds like; passing the time doing meaningless activities like gossiping, keeping yourself busy or finding ways to keep everything light. Some amount of this is important for everyone.
5. Intimacy Having open, honest transactions with people, and being vulnerable and sharing your need of the moment with others.
Inputs from Battles in the Mind
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