Lessons learned - Ana Singh

Ana SinghUniversity of California, Berkeley

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Everyone had told me it was going to be hot in Nagpur. “It’s going to be hotter than anything you’ve ever dealt with,” my mother warned. But I was confident and told everyone that I would be fine. After all, I was going there for a good cause – to collaborate on an innovative project aimed at bettering the mental health of India’s population.

Fast forward to two weeks later. It was roughly 110 degrees Fahrenheit, or 44 degrees Celsius, inside Tata Trusts’ office at Nagpur’s Regional Mental Hospital, where I shakily downed my third liter of Bisleri water. It wasn’t just the heat; I felt helpless and alone, trapped in a city where I knew nothing and no one. “I can’t do two months of this,” I kept thinking. Upon reaching my hostel, I cried myself to sleep.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Regional Mental Hospital, it’s resilience and hope in difficulty. Once I began to let go of my fears, misconceptions, and doubts, I was able to appreciate what a unique place NRMH is.

The people here are the bravest I’ve ever seen. Not just the doctors and social workers – who are all incredibly sweet – but also the patients (called service users). They brave the heat, the societal stigma that comes with mental illness, and their own inner turmoil to come to the hospital for treatment. In a way, I wish I could be like them. For most of my life, I have hidden my mental troubles from everyone, most of all my family. But seeing new patients come in with their families has made me realize that mental illness is, at its core, just a medical problem like any other. The bravery of the service users visiting the hospital has taught me something that twenty years in the United States never did.

And, of course, things changed. Rain began and the weather cooled. But most importantly, I was no longer alone. Even though my coworkers tend to speak Marathi around me, as they’re still not used to having a foreigner in their midst, their small gestures of support mean the world to me. From slipping me small pieces of chocolate to teaching me Marathi to driving me to the other side of town for groceries, the people of Tata Trusts have wordlessly told me the one thing I needed to hear: you belong here.