In Jessie’s Punjabi household, emotions were not discussed. “The topic of mental health is rarely discussed in South Asian communities. It’s often ignored,” she explains. The cultural stigma around mental health, made it difficult to seek help as Jessie struggled with depression, anxiety and substance abuse for years. Eventually, Jessie found strength and resilience in expressing herself creatively through story-telling, writing and dance, sharing her story to help raise awareness about mental health in the South Asian community.
What does resilience mean to you?
Resilience, to me, is a conscious effort of putting yourself first. It’s recognizing that we will always have ups and downs, but also that we owe it to ourselves to take time to fill ourselves back up every day. This doesn’t have to be an expensive vacation or a bubble bath. It could just be taking some time to sleep early, or saying no to hanging out with your friends so you can have some time for yourself to do the things you love. It could be singing, or dancing or just writing down you thoughts. It’s different for everyone.
Resilience is something that has to be learned and cultivated. It’s not easy to be resilient. It takes time, patience and practice, but it is one of the most important things to learn in life. We all have good days and bad days, but we all can work through it with the right supports.
How did you find help and support, given that mental health is seldom discussed in South Asian communities?
Since mental health is still heavily stigmatized in the South Asian community, I started out small and called a helpline to talk to someone anonymously. After that I went to see my family doctor. I was prescribed medication and referred to therapy. Once I felt more comfortable, I started to see a counsellor at my university.
My friends and family have also always been a huge part of my support system. I found that when I was talking to my mom, she cared for me, but didn’t necessarily understand what I was talking about since she was never taught about mental health either. I learned to put my thoughts into terms that were familiar to her, and once she understood, she was able to be there for me throughout my journey.
Reaching out for help wasn’t easy. It was actually kind of scary, but I’m so glad I did it. The lesson I learned is that it may take time, and what works for someone else may not work for you, but it is worth it. You are worth it.
What are dark days like for you and how do you find strength and resilience in these moments?
I’ve always been a big reader, and I love the Harry Potter series. I think J.K. Rowling described dark days best through the creatures in the series called the Dementors, which have the power to drain humans of happiness and positive feelings.
My dark days make me feel isolated. It feels like your soul is being sucked out and as though you’ll never know what happiness feels like again. It’s hard to find hope in times like this.
For me, it helps to write down all the wonderful things while I’m in a good place and positive frame of mind, and then look back at them when things are difficult. I’ve also always been a creative. I’ll go dance to lift my spirits or listen to a song I connect with and it’ll help bring me out of my dark place.
I also lean on my friends and family a lot for support. Just hearing them say they’re here for me and that they care makes a world of a difference.
What is in your “took-kit”? What are the things that help you find strength and resilience?
My tool kit is a little untraditional. It’s filled with good music, empty papers to write on and a room full of mirrors to dance in. I’ve never been good at being vocal about what was going on in my mind or asking for help, but I found that through my creative outlets, I could get those sentiments across. Dancing has definitely helped me in the past and continues to be an important way for me to stay resilient. It’s a part of my conscious effort to do something I love each and every day, whether that’s dancing in a studio or in front of my bedroom mirror.
How do you feel about the future?
I am so excited for what the future holds, not only for myself, but for the world of mental health. Mental health is on people’s minds. We’re finally talking about it and taking away some of that stigma. Opening up has helped me build resilience. Talking openly about my mental health makes me realize that I have the power to create change in my life and with the right help and support, I can live a mentally healthy life. I’m hoping for a day where we are teaching resilience in school and letting everyone know that it is okay to struggle and that it is even more okay to reach out for help.
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