When I was eight, I desperately wanted to grow up. I thought grown ups were superheroes. They would talk about things I couldn’t understand and would keep secrets I wanted to know. But today, at 23, I have realised that perhaps grown ups, and our parents too, also make mistakes. The kind of mistakes that don’t demand or seek forgiveness. This is not to say that it is love that is lacking, but what is often put into the category of the ‘generation gap’ is where the problem starts.
When I was first diagnosed with depression, my parents didn’t want to accept it. They reacted in a way most Indian parents would react. Their ‘star kid’ couldn’t be depressed. After all, they had done everything for me, and I had given them the results that made them proud enough to talk at parties about how their children were going to change their lives for the better.
But soon enough, their own traumas surfaced and they started blaming themselves as they thought the world laughed at them because now their star kid was “depressed” – an illness which Indian society thinks arises out of being loved too much, or happens to someone who is unable to face the harsh facets of life.
They were analysing where they went wrong. It was now an illness that led to many observations and much self doubt.
While my mother kept saying that it was her fault, my father stopped talking altogether. When a child feels that they are not good, it is their parents who tell them otherwise. But where do parents go to seek the same kind of love for their doubts? I have seen my mother cry, saying sorry again and again about my depression – which wasn’t her fault. Yet when my father cried for the first time, I knew my mental health wasn’t just affecting me alone. It had spread its wings over my home and now we were being held captive by the notions and judgment of society which kept us from seeking help together as a family.
As time passed by, I grew frustrated, angry at my parents for not being supportive enough, for saying some of the harshest things to me but what I forgot in my illness was that they too were confused, they too were suffering and they had no idea how to handle something they had never witnessed. It was now my trauma against theirs. Who had it worse? Everyone kept telling me to “ignore” depression. And when I failed to “snap out of it”, the series of advice led my parents to believe that it was somehow a self-created disorder.
After five years of a constant battle, we have reached nowhere. But the realisation that maybe parents aren’t superheroes has helped me forgive them a bit. All I know is that a hungry silence now looms over my house, ready to devour my parents because they still believe that there is no need for the entire family to get involved in seeking help.
Today I firmly believe, that at the age of 60, my father has stopped dreaming about a future. This is not to say that the present is what consumes him; no, it is the regret of not being able to protect his daughter.
Maybe parenthood does start with the thought of being perfect. This preconceived notion that parents are gods and heaven lies at their feet is a false belief. The more we start considering them as only human, the easier it gets to accept that they too are grown-ups with their own trauma; trauma they might not have had the chance to ever talk about.
Gods don’t make mistakes, but parents do. And when that happens, nothing changes except a child who thinks that fault lies in them for seeing them (parents) as anything less than celestial.
Bharti Basal is a 23-year-old poet from Shimla, Himachal Pradesh.