In November 2016, Shaheen, 31, shared on Instagram her decades-long battle with depression that started when she was just 13. Almost three years later, she has unveiled a deeply personal memoir "I've Never Been (Un)Happier". It launched in Mumbai in association with Landmark Stores and Penguin Random House this week.
Coming as a precursor to the book, the post detailed her experiences with depression: "One minute everything's fine and the next it's like someone turned the light off inside my head. I go quiet and it's difficult to get out of bed. Like it always does the world around me loses focus and I struggle to make sense of it."
Edited excerpts from her tell-all interview with life:
1. 'I've Never Been (Un)Happier' is a deeply, deeply moving personal memoir that must have taken a lot of courage to write. How did you decide to pen it all down?
Bhatt: The responses I got to the 2016 Instagram post detailing my experiences with depression, were so incredibly overwhelming. Many people told me it resonated with them. I realised if I were to write a book, it would make so much more of a difference than just writing a post. Penguin approached me to write the book, and I realised it's going to be a fantastic opportunity. I wanted to lead by example.
2. Was the book also a journey into self-discovery as your revisited episodes?
Bhatt: Absolutely, it was a very cathartic experience for me. It was hard to write because I had to relive a lot of experiences I didn't want to relive. At the same time, I came out of the experience armed with so much knowledge about myself at the end of it. It's been a rewarding experience.
3. You have written in the book that on some mornings, you wondered if you were going to make it through the day. In the midst of all the darkness, was there a ray of light somewhere?
Bhatt: Always my family. My family has been the glue that held me together. They are incredibly supportive of me, they give me the space I need. They know when to push me, they know when not to push me. I don't think I would've gone through this half as well, if I didn't have my family.
4. How were your family's reactions to your diagnosis and the treatment thereafter?
Bhatt: Friends and family are absolutely the most important, because your environment is shaped by the people around you. Your mental health is driven by the environment you're in, primarily. My mother and I learnt about depression together, because we didn't know what was happening to me. My whole family was incredibly supportive. In our house, it was not really a big deal in that sense. It was something we learnt to get around and deal with over time.
5. What about your sister Alia, in particular?
Bhatt: My sister cares very deeply about me, as I do about her. It's hard to see a loved one go through something, especially when you don't fully understand what's going on, because you feel helpless. Just like my parents, she has been my rock through this. It's because of their understanding that I feel capable and resilient enough to tackle this on an ongoing basis.
6. After your diagnosis at 18, you seemed to have a name for the faceless monster you battled. Did the knowledge help?
Bhatt: Naming a thing always helps, it makes it less ambiguous, more concrete. You know what are dealing with. Knowledge about what you are facing is always helpful.
7. Depression is a word and a label thrown around a lot loosely. Does that make things difficult for people who are living that reality?
Bhatt: I think we need to be very sensitive about the context in which we use the word depression. I think what's happening is we're living in a time where the idea of mental illness is becoming quite romanticised, but it's a dangerous idea because there's nothing beautiful about having a mental illness. It's a horrible, horrible thing and no one should go through it.
8. You have lived the stigma around mental illness. How do you think we can start a conversation about mental health in India?
Bhatt: We've already started having that conversation. All we need to do it keep that conversation going and not shy away from sharing because as a culture, not just in India, but world over, we're quite averse to talking about negative things that make us look bad. Teach kids that there's nothing wrong in talking about bad feelings.
9. As an advocate of mental health, where do we go wrong in identifying signs and empathizing with children who might need care?
Bhatt: I don't think we have enough mental health awareness at the school level. I was taught about mental health when I was in school. At a school level, we don't identify the signs easily because we're not looking for them. We don't think a child is going to suffer from depression, but statistically, a lot of people who are depressed in their adulthood, start experiencing symptoms at eight years old.
10. In the book, you have written that you have begun to accept yourself and to realign your worldview towards many things.
Bhatt: Depression for me is a chronic thing, it goes up and down. I experience moments where I feel amazing, and moments where I feel terrible. I've realised the biggest thing for me has been acceptance. I allow myself to have a bad day, if I'm not able to push myself out of it. My dad said, 'don't feel bad about feeling bad'. I've accepted that depression for me is like the weather, some days it will be good and some days it will be bad. You can't look up at the sun and scream, why aren't you shining?
11. How are you responding to the reviews of your book?
Bhatt: It's amazing, I'm completely overwhelmed. I feel good about sharing because of the positive reviews.
(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at siddhi.j@.in)
( With inputs from IANS )