‘There is no shame in reading a book about depression’: Author Krithika Chandrasekar

In her book ‘Have You Heard the Sound of Your Own Voice?‘ Krithika Chandrasekar offers an intimate gaze into the mind of a person who has been diagnosed with depression: her own. While around the world people living with mental health issues are still ‘othered’, Krithika wrote a book sharing her own experience, hoping it would help give vocabulary and voice to someone else going through something similar.

In a recent exclusive interaction with indianexpress.com, the author of the self-published book — who is currently working at an acupuncture clinic in Bengaluru — shared that while writing is seen as an cathartic experience, “revisiting traumatic episodes and dwelling on painful memories to pen something meaningful” led to her having “sleepless nights and crying spells”.

Read on to find out more about her writing process, why she feels the need to hand-hold students — who she thinks have been impacted the most in the pandemic — and the urgent myths about depression that she wants to counter.


What prompted you to write this book and why did you choose this subject?

We live in a society where you can be looked down upon for visiting a therapist or taking medication for depression or anxiety. There is no shame in reading a book, though. Every time I read a news report about a student dying by suicide, I felt miserable. I wanted to write a companion book, something that a depressed person could hold close and go back to for comfort. I had suffered from depression when I was in graduate school, so I thought I could narrate the story without hiding the details behind five-syllable words.

You mentioned that you looked for first-person accounts on depression when you were diagnosed with it; why did you think of it as important?

My first thought about this illness when I was diagnosed was that I should beat it. I was hoping to find first-person accounts on depression to understand how to live daily with the randomly-manifesting symptoms. I figured that if someone before me was generous and had chronicled what they did and how they persevered despite being frustrated, I could use their book to feed me with hope on what is a lonely journey.

How long did it take for you to finish writing this book? Did the process feel like catharsis to you?

I completed the first full draft in August 2016. The published version is the eighth draft and took 26 days to write. The difference between the first and final drafts is in the details — I have included every depressive episode. I suspect I was afraid to elaborate on traumatic events in the early days of my recovery. I slowly began to understand that for my writing to be of use, I would have to examine old wounds.

It is widely believed that writing is cathartic. Revisiting traumatic episodes and dwelling on painful memories to pen something meaningful led to sleepless nights and crying spells. I had to remind myself why this project was so important to me (to help a depressed person) to keep going.

mental health, depression, book on mental health, book on depression, author Krithika Chandrasekar, Have You Heard the Sound of Your Own Voice?, indian express news Author Krithika Chandrasekar

What is the story behind naming your book, ‘Have You Heard the Sound of Your Own Voice?

I will run you through a check. You see a friend and ask: “How are you?” What are the possible responses she can give? “I am fine.” “I am good.” Can she say she is desperately lonely? Can she say she cries a lot without reason? What if you judged her for it? She begins with some trepidation: “I…” the voice drowns. Neither she nor you hear what it has to say.

I think we sieve our thoughts and actions with the ‘what will he say about me?’ filter. You don’t wish to be labelled ‘mentally weak’. So, you remain mute. It could be a question of a career change. It could be the ending of a bad marriage. You carry the burdens of mental disquiet with you. Never once do you hear your voice. You think of the dismissive ‘Oh, but this will pass. You are a brave girl’ comment. You end up speaking the language of silence.

In the end, when you have been silent, when your voice — the one wanting to ask for help — has been suppressed for too long, an invisible noose threatens to strangle you. I hope that by reading this book, you will find the courage to listen to what you have to say.

Mental health issues continue to be a taboo everywhere. How can books such as yours help de-stigmatise them?

I have been careful not to thrust my thoughts or opinions on the reader. I have tried to create a space where the reader can explore how they feel. My tone is matter-of-fact when I narrate how I stopped taking medication and when I failed a driving test.

I think all of us want to be considered normal. There is safety and feeling of knowing, which accompanies being normal. My book tries to expand the definition of normal by talking about mental illness openly. Acceptance of a condition can come only with deep understanding. And once you accept that depression is an illness that can affect anybody, the stigma will automatically disappear.

The pandemic has exacerbated and even triggered mental health problems among students. Can you offer some thoughts on it?

Students have been among the worst affected during this pandemic. Not being able to socialise with friends, not having access to the classroom experience, and being expected to perform despite disabling circumstances have led to a decline in their mental health.

mental health, depression, book on mental health, book on depression, author Krithika Chandrasekar, Have You Heard the Sound of Your Own Voice?, indian express news The book cover. (Photo: Krithika Chandrasekar)

The truth is, all of us are lucky to be alive. It’s hard to see when your internship is hanging in the balance or when you cannot focus on your studies because one or more family members have been diagnosed with Covid. I think it’s important to be kinder when you assess yourself and give yourself lots of points for persisting despite studying in unbeknownst times. You have to be your own cheerleader and shout encouragement over the din of every naysayer’s voice around you. Please don’t be afraid to confide in a friend or well-wisher should you feel off-kilter. There is no shame in confessing about your fears or insecurities.

What are some myths surrounding depression that you wish people stopped believing?

I think we have learned so little about this illness that there is more misinformation than knowledge. Here are some myths I wish people stopped believing:

* Depression can be willed away with a ‘positive’ outlook.
* Playing cheerful music, indulging in retail therapy, or treating yourself to a spa day will make the symptoms disappear.
* Depression will not affect someone who appears successful, or has whatever we have collectively defined as the ‘perfect’ life.
* You can predict when your depression will be cured.

Did you always aspire to be a writer? And now that you are one, do you plan to write more books?

Writing is in my blood. I am the granddaughter of veteran journalist TS Srinivasan, who had a career spanning over five decades. I have won writing competitions in school. This book, however, chose me. Yes, I have written rough proposals for two books, one on navigating grief, and the other investigating the role women played in the Indian freedom struggle.

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