Gender & Identity, Life

I’m Desi and my community thinks I’m “ungrateful to God” for choosing therapy

At the end of the day, it is up to us to decide for ourselves which choice we want to make.

When I first considered writing this article, I swayed back and forth in regards to whether I should do it.

Is it too bold of an idea? Can the Desi folks I know handle it? I could already hear their criticism telling me, “what was the need for sharing this?—some things should stay private.”

Growing up, my Pakistani upbringing indirectly taught me that a good girl stays quiet and keeps to herself. Naturally, I would rather not have people make assumptions about me based on the fact that I have gone to therapy. But no matter what I do, people will always have something to say, so might as well do what I feel is right.  Besides, why should I care about the opinions of people who judge those who seek help anyway?

It has always baffled me how many times I have seen Desis casually sweep things under the rug, especially when it comes to family issues. For children growing up in this type of environment, it’s very unhealthy. This factor alone leads to many issues which could easily be avoided. If we can prevent so many problems from happening, then why not do so? Out of fear of how we will be perceived to the outside world? I’m sorry, but that is not a good enough reason.

One time, I mentioned that I was going to my therapist, a relative was genuinely confused. She said, “What would you need a therapist for? You should be grateful for what you have and seek help from God alone.” While some of my Desi elders may be used to bottling up their emotions and acting like problems don’t exist, that approach does not work for me. Going to therapy does not mean I am ungrateful for the blessings I have, or that I am considering myself a victim. It is a form of empowering myself. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t trust God’s Plan. It shows that I have faith and want to try my best to do whatever is in my control.

Besides, if I did not have hope, why would I even bother seeking help in the first place?

In the past, I spent way too long trying to please relatives and elders, as that was what I believed was the norm. It was exhausting. Now, I can proudly and openly state that yes, I have sought talk therapy during certain times in my life and I refuse to let the stigma cause me to hide any longer.

What amazes me is how the moment one person “removes their mask,” it breaks the ice for others to do the same.

For instance, while having lunch with a family friend who I hadn’t seen for many years, I casually mentioned something I learned from my therapist. A couple of minutes later, she opened up about how she also meets with a psychologist but didn’t know that I was cool with talking about that kind of stuff. It was a sense of relief for both of us and it made me want to have more open conversations about this.

For me, going to a therapist is like building pieces of a huge, intricate puzzle together.  With each session, I not only discovered more about myself but also learned essential life skills such as conflict management and living in the present moment. I can honestly say that had I not sought therapy, I probably would still be a very anxious, fearful person. I would still be that people-pleaser who wanted to sacrifice my own happiness just to look good for others. Without therapy, I probably would have continued being needy and seeking approval from others.

Therapy isn’t just for people that society deems as “other.”  It’s for those badasses who fall but refuse to stay down. Therapy is for those who face their fears rather than numbing them or running away. For those who, no matter what pain has afflicted them, never stop trying to heal. For those who hit rock bottom but allow the experience to make them stronger when they rise back up.

I was thrilled when I watched the Bollywood movie, Dear Zindagi, in which Shah Rukh Khan was featured as a psychologist. Slowly but surely, there are movements which are trying to destigmatize mental health in the Desi community. We need more education on these topics, as well as some more open and honest conversations.

Research shows that over the past thirty years, depression and suicide have increased, especially among adolescents and young adults. Imagining the people we love so much ending up with symptoms of depression is heartbreaking. We have no choice but to normalize therapy.

To the Desi aunties and uncles around the world, please don’t be ashamed of your loved ones who are courageous enough to consider seeking professional help. Chances are, you may not have what they need, so please loosen your bone and let them go. Give them permission to learn about themselves with a professional who knows what they’re doing–with someone who is trained to be a good listener, act in a nonjudgmental way, and provide a safe space to explore oneself.

Therapy has taught me that it is an act of bravery to take responsibility for your actions, rather than blaming your circumstances. Maybe this is why many have a fear of sitting in the therapist’s office—because they are forced to be real. After all, we can hide from the world, but not from ourselves.

At the end of the day, it is up to us to decide for ourselves which choice we want to make.