Books,  Reviews

I’ve never been (Un)happier: Shaheen Bhatt’s candid story

This is a short book written by 29-year old Shaheen Bhatt, who has spent most of her adult life dealing with clinical depression. Shaheen Bhatt has an enviable pedigree. She is the daughter of celebrity parents: Mahesh Bhatt and Soni Razdan. Her younger sister Alia Bhatt has already made it big in the Hindi film industry as an actress of prowess. Shaheen herself is a screen writer. And one might wonder why a woman who lives in luxury should go through depression. As Shaheen writes: “The assumption is that if you have a happy and comfortable life, you have no cause for, or no right to, the despair you’re feeling.”

I was skeptical as I read the preface of the book. Another celebrity glorifying her story perhaps. But I was wrong. She starts off describing her early childhood and narrates a trigger which is now all over social media. She then goes on to describe ‘The Feelings’ which completely raze her self-esteem. “It taunts and belittles me, obscuring my successes and highlighting my failures, reducing all that I am to a loathsome, insignificant speck.”

Neither she nor her family completely understand her strange patterns of behaviour. Unwilling to interact with others, she prefers to stay locked up in her room. Crying hysterically in the shower cabinet. An overwhelming inexplicable sadness envelops her.

There is almost never an actual reason for this pain, almost never a concrete, upsetting thought that causes my tears. On the occasion I can say there is, I feel a strange sense of gratitude. I feel lucky on days I actually know why I’m sad.

Pain and sadness are often seen as weaknesses. And society teaches you to keep these emotions tucked away from sight. And so she suffers alone, until she reaches the brink.

If you have been depressed or have been with a person who suffers from depression, then in all probability you have either felt or heard the line ‘No one understands how I feel.’ As Shaheen says: “Sadness is such a solitary and isolating emotion. Your pain, like your fingerprints, is unique to you. In other words, you can buy happiness off the rack— but sadness is tailor-made just for you.”

However the narrative which really moved me comes later. Shaheen writes with searing honesty when she narrates her struggles with understanding the reason behind her suffering. ‘Why don’t I know how to be happy?’ she asks her father. ‘And why do you want to be happy?’ he responds. In that one conversation, Shaheen explores the reason why we chase something, and why everything is elusive, beautifully. It is the core of this book.

It takes enormous strength to revisit a dark phase in life and rake up painful memories. Shaheen Bhatt might not be the greatest writer on this planet, but the candour with which she has revealed her vulnerable self shows her mettle. Equally traumatic is the realization that this recovery is perhaps not the last she has seen of it, and this demon in all likelihood will return. What matters is how you acknowledge its existence, and do all in your might to ask for help when you need it. I would recommend this book to get a first-person insight into what a person going through depression feels. Maybe it is the first step to learning to empathize with those who go to hell and come back.

‘I’ve never been (un)happier’, by Shaheen Bhatt, Penguin Petit, 66 pages, Published by Penguin Random House India Private Limited, 2018, Kindle edition, Rs 15.75

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