I have had an incredibly long and difficult journey with mental health and neurological issues over the past 42 years. On top of it, I was part of the first generation of Indian American kids raised in the 1980s and 1990s. My parents came to the US from India in the 70s, and we lived in NJ in a time where you would actually say hi to an India family, get excited, and develop friendships. My situation was also exacerbated by the incredible competition and unrealistic expectations that were placed on me by the community. On top of that, add being made fun of and bullied for being Indian in all white towns and school systems. Mix all of this in with bi-cultural issues and confusion, and it was a recipe for mental health disaster.
It all began when I developed depression and anxiety in high school. The following decades to come I was in and out of psychotherapy, psychiatry visits, and meds. Another issue that began to come to light was the social and learning issues that were always there since childhood, but which were thought to be due to cultural confusion. When I took a year off from medical school, a psychiatrist I was working with identified the real issue: I was on the mild end of the Autism Spectrum. Imagine having depression and anxiety and then finding out at the age of 27 you have Asperger’s Syndrome! My situation became even more complex.
In that following decade, it was a barrage again of not just more psychotherapy, but also neuropsychology testing, MRI, CT scans, functional MRIs, and on and on it went. I also barely passed med school and completed an internship year by the skin of my teeth. I decided that I was not fit to be in clinical medicine. I went ahead and tried out a few areas of health care, but due to my social issues and learning issues from the ASD, I could never hold onto a job. By 37, I was burnt out and decided to stay home and figure out my next steps.
Now at 42, I am in a great place. I found a career in the biometric screening industry where I work for such well-known companies as Quest Diagnostics and Lab Corp. These are contract jobs where I work onsite at corporations for a day. No office job or politics! I also do a lot of volunteer work in my community and have a strong yoga and meditation practice. I do not take any medications or have a psychiatrist. I am working with a psychologist to work more on understanding the autism spectrum issues as an adult and learning some CBT techniques The past is the past for me. I live in the now.
I believe my particular story has had a successful outcome for one specific reason. I feel that walking away from the South Asian community for any type of support or understanding was the absolute best decision my family and I ever made. Many South Asians reading my story may find that as being disrespectful towards my own community and roots, but did I have a choice? I refused to suffer in silence and with stigma, and I knew in my heart the mainstream American mental health professionals had the tools and support I needed. I worked with and continue to work with some truly amazing non-South Asian psychiatrists and psychologists who have been culturally sensitive, understanding and open minded. I also have found incredible solidarity and support from non-South Asian communities and individuals of colors who have been more accepting, open minded and non-judgmental.
Most South Asians still look down on me and judge me because I do not fit our community’s definition of success. At this stage, I really couldn’t care less. I, and I alone, am 100% responsible for my overall well-being, choices, and how I live my life. I take ownership of my life and do not blame any person, community, or external circumstances for anything. And the life I am creating for myself is one that I am truly happy with.