‘We only have one life, so don’t waste it’

For few weeks, Tehelka’s Humra Quraishi had been viewing Live Facebook posts/videos of the young articulate Seher Hashmi Raza; speaking so very confidently about her own emotional struggles coupled with those low traumatic phases, not even shying away from stating that she was adopted as a baby. Her mother is the well-known activist, Shabnam Hashmi, and her father is the well-known scientist and poet, Gauhar Raza.

The 24 year old New Delhi based Seher is a trained fashion stylist (passed out from NIFT) and a self-taught artist and poet. And above all, she does not hesitate to share her journey, trying to battle depression. But she hastens to add, “I am not a professional. I only share my own experiences with people. I do talk to people suffering from mental health who approach me but its all based on my own leanings…I have been dealing with depression for the past 8 years.”

It is significant to mention Seher’s verse from the invite of her first solo show held last summer ( July 2019),at the New Delhi’s Academy of Fine Arts and Literature.

“Colouring the wounds away/

I paint so that I don’t end up painting my/

Hands with blood/,

That time remember,

The cut I made,

When I was so low,

I cut with a paper cutter,

To punish my body for being a mess,

For feeling the worst,

Without any reason,

For having ups and downs,

And not knowing how to react,

Than harming myself,

So now what I do,

Is just paint colours,

Sometimes bright,

Sometimes dull,

I make sure I take it all out on the paper,

And not myself.”

Also these particular backgrounder- lines from that invite — “Seher used to paint as a small child but when she entered school and was asked to fill colours in different geometrical shapes instead of painting freely she suddenly lost all interest and totally quit painting. It is much later that, dealing with an internal turmoil that was occupying her young mind and heart that Seher started painting again. For a long time it was just a diversion which helped her overcome deep depression but over the last year with determination to fight depression, assisted by psychiatrists, counsellors and her family painting has again become a serious engagement for Seher …Painting has a soothing effect on her nerves and has helped her heal and overcome a difficult phase.”

Edited Excerpts from an interview •

Seher Hashmi Raza I 24
Artist, poet & motivational speaker

Why did you decide to talk and share your own personal experiences with hundreds and thousands of viewers?

I see a lot of people going through depression, and other mental health issues, where the parents, friends or family, are not able to help, or understand the person. And tend to behave in a very insensitive manner. Even the time when I had friends, their parents didn’tunderstand them and behaved as if it’s the child’s fault. Or felt ashamed of their health. Instead of understanding and helping, they also shouted at them. And I’m so glad I haven’t had such parents. So I wanted to speak about my experiences so that I can help other facing similar issues, or even for those parents whose child is suffering and they are unable to help, also because I want the society to understand these issues, and help others, listen to them, make people like us feel better, instead of ignoring and judging.

Was it tough at the initial stage to bare your inner most thoughts and emotions?

Yes of course, because firstly I myself didn’t really understand what was happening, and all these uncontrollable emotions, negative thoughts, were very hard to deal with. That’s why I always wanted to give up and die. Because I found that easier and simpler to do. But then with the help of the doctors, regular medications and my parents, I started feeling better. Talking about it helped me too.

In our society where till date hypocrisy holds sway, how did you pick up the grit to get so candid in the Facebook live posts or talks?

I am someone who never believes in being fake or having a mask over my face. So everything that I have gone through all these years, was very scary and hard for me. So when my mother first gave me the idea of doing these Facebook lives, I wasn’t very sure. I was scared of people, and what they may say, or even if they made a joke out of everything that I wanted to say. But then live after live, the comments, the views and the phone calls that me or mom would get from viewers and her friends, made me more confident, and gave me strength to do these lives often. And I naturally became candid, because I didn’t ever hide what I felt, if I had to cry during my live I would, or also smile with whatever I said.

How much credit would you give to your parents, Shabnam Hashmi and Gauhar Raza, vis-a-vis understanding you and also for being there for you when you were going through those tough phases?

So the credit just doesn’t go to my parents only, it goes to my therapist and psychiatrist too. But yes mostly to my parents and myself, because if they weren’t so helpful and understanding, I wouldn’t have crossed this difficult phase of my life, which I still deal withat times also myself because if I didn’t work on myself, nobody ever could have helped me.And now I’m glad and happy that I’m much better now….If I had to put this in percentage out of 100.

30 per cent- Doctors.

40 per cent-Parents.

Because they believed in me and did everything they could for me to get better.

30 per cent- Myself.

You talk so openly about adoption — about the fact that you were adopted…What is your advice to other children who have been adopted?

Adoption is beautiful, it doesn’t matter who gave you birth, all that matters is that you are in a safe place. A mother is mother, doesn’t matter if she is your biological mother or not, because for a mother, you’re her child, she doesn’t care about anything else, but you. I’m glad I have amazing parents, who always understand me, and help me no matter what. Also try to live in my age so that they understand what I feel, or also what I go through. I never have to be scared of them. I can share anything and everything openly with them. My advice is very simple stop worrying about what others will say. The moment you stopcaring about what people will think or say about you, the life will be much easier to handle.

Looking back, what are the factors that kept you going ahead and overcoming the various challenges?

My parents (being my strength and always gave me confidence that I can do this). My doctors (talked to me and told me how I could feel better). My dogs (never left my side and always made me feel better). The medications (helped me control my inner thoughts and keep me calmer). Because without all this, this wouldn’t have been possible. And the determination of not giving up. Initial years, the determination wasn’t there but as I progressed with medication and therapy I started believing more in myself.

On one hand, we say we are developed yet the numbers of the depressed and emotionally upset is on the rise / going up the graph. Comment.

Depression exists all over the world. It’s an ailment like any other. Like people suffer from cancer or HIV, they suffer from depression too. It’s a mental ailment which needs to be treated with love, care, attention, therapy and medication. India might claim to be developed but we are not, with 70 per cent population living in rural India, deprived of basic necessities of life, with Dalit children being beaten for sitting on the stairs of a temple. What kind of development is this? On top of it, we are a very conservative society and its taboo to talk about mental illness so a large number of people don’t get proper treatment. There are very few psychiatrists. As a result, cases of depression are on the rise. Covid and lockdown have made the situation worse.

Do you think a course in human psychology be introduced right at the school level for all students?

Human psychology is quite essential and it would help.

Please give a simple and basic suggestion or advice to all those going through a tough and challenging phase.

  1. Never give up.
  2. Believe in yourself.
  3. Always share your feelings/thoughts with someone you trust or your parents.
  4. Never give up on medications, because they really help.
  5. Do therapy regularly.
  6. Give time, because it’s a slow recovery.
  7. Ignore the weird people and negativity from the people.
  8. Understand that we only have one life, so don’t waste it.
  9. Be strong.
  10. Always feel free to talk to me.