I am a happy, independent woman. I have a life that I enjoy in my own way.
But when I look back at the journey that landed me where I am now, it still gives me a sudden jerk. It has not been easy.
I believe my story needs to be told because those who are struggling today need to know that hard times don't last forever.
I was very young when I realised that my family had financial constraints. My father earned some money but it was not enough for my family to lead a very comfortable life. My mother suffered from bipolar disorder as well as other mental disorders, but diagnosis was not easy back then.
I was close to my paternal grandparents, but my grandfather passed away when I had barely entered my teens. I have some fond memories with him. We would eat cheese together and laugh at cartoons in the magazines. His death was a great shock to me.
My mother's eccentricity often frightened me. Bipolar disorder can be terrifying for both the sufferer and those close to them.
There was very little awareness around mental health back then. Anyone going for therapy would be considered crazy.
I remember going to the mental hospital where my mother was admitted and being treated. I remember seeing her head shaved after she received shock therapy. For a child, it was very unsettling.
I could never connect on a very intimate level with anyone in my family -- be it my mother, father or elder sister. My grandmother loved me but she too passed away when I was a young adult.
Growing up, I never knew what pocket money meant. In high school, I earned my own money through tuitions.
I had three friends I could confide in. Alice, Mansi and Sree (names changed) were my safe home.
My sister soon began showing symptoms of mental health issues, and soon enough, she too was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I ensured that my mother and sister got proper treatment for their conditions, but on an emotional level, I did not know how to connect with them. I was young and inexperienced, and found it hard to handle such difficult situations all alone.
Everything around me -- my mother and sister's unnatural behaviour due to their illness, and other issues -- acted as deterrents to my wish to connect to my family, I felt alone.
I completed my schooling in my hometown Kolkata and then studied mathematics in college. Although I enjoyed the subject, by the end of my bachelors, in 1995, I was too drained out due to the pressure to wish to continue higher studies.
Besides, I needed to earn. My father was the only earning member of my family, but did not earn enough. My sister got married but soon separated with her husband and came back home with a child. I had to support my family.
I took up one odd job after another, but nothing seemed to suit me. In one of these workplaces, I met Rohit (name changed). He seemed like this lively, down-to-earth person, and we soon began seeing each other.
Marrying Rohit was one of the worst decisions of my life. Months into my marriage, I realised I wasn't happy. Rohit was a good human being but not a good husband.
The details of what went wrong in my marriage are those that I wish to keep to myself.
I was an introvert and I could not fight back. I was scared of his uncontrollable anger.
He would go and stay abroad for months to set up a business, because he was not earning when we got married.
From abroad, he would not not contact me for months. Durga Puja would pass, Diwali would go by, and I would find myself sitting at home with my two adopted stray dogs, lonely and miserable.
I spent hours on my birthday waiting for his call, but it never came.
I had wanted a life of my own, I had dreamed of a family I could connect to, and the very thought of going back to my father's place was unbearable. But here, I felt disrespected and demeaned.
I learnt what a demon helplessness can be, and what mental damage it can cause. Although I had Alice, Mansi and Sree, as well as a neighbour I could confide in, I was afraid to take the first step. Coming out of the life I had settled for was harder than it sounds. I felt like I had nowhere to go. I did not know what the way out of this maze was.
I went into clinical depression. I told nobody in my family about it. I saw a psychiatrist and was soon on medication.
That is when I decided that I had to be happy. I had to live. If being happy at that moment meant living alone, I would do that.
It took me months to wrap my head around the fact that I wanted a divorce, because I was afraid of the stigma. My sister was separated. If I too went back home, how would people treat my family?
Nonetheless, I got divorced and came back home. Every time I went out, I was troubled by my neighbours' eyes following me. I was troubled by their questions.
During that time, my therapist told me that to pull myself out of the deep abyss, I must do something I love. I realised I wanted to teach.
My mother had passed away by then, so I had to look after my father, sister and her daughter. They were all dependent on me.
I printed leaflets to advertise myself as a math tutor. I went around from shop to shop, asking people to distribute the leaflets. Back then, social media was not as handy as it is today, and I did not use the internet.
At night, in the dark, I would silently go from door to door and slip in those leaflets into people's post boxes, hoping someone would notice it and call me.
One morning, I got a call. A mother wanted to send her daughter to me for tuition.
Today, I feel more confident than ever. I teach a host of students who adore me.
I am financially independent enough to support my family.
Once in a while, I go for a movie all alone. I sit alone and feel the absence of a partner beside me, and it makes me feel unrestrained and unconfined.
I make my own tea and sit at my balcony with the cup in my hand. Instead of loneliness, conviction overwhelms me.
I spend a couple of hours every day feeding stray dogs in my locality. Their bright eyes and wagging tails make me happy.
I do not depend on anyone for my happiness and peace anymore. I am enough for myself.
I talk about mental health openly, and I believe the stigma should be wiped out completely, so that people going through a tough phase do not hesitate to see a mental health expert.
I believe that sticking to a partner and staying in an unhappy marriage because of the fear of society causes massive emotional damage. It eats away at your confidence.
I have made some bad decisions in my life, but I do not falter when people ask me about them anymore. I look them in the eye and tell them that my life was messed up, I was clinically depressed, I was lonely, but today I am happy, because I have myself to pull me up every time I fall.
If you are struggling today, believe in yourself. Have faith. It does get better.
Story: Tapashi Dey