This is what Ms. Malhotra told herself at 12.20am on 17th May, not fully sure if she believed it herself.
Did she need therapy? Only time would tell. However, some would say that time had already told- she had spent the past hour googling the differences between stress and anxiety (of which the Psychology NCERT had never deigned to inform her) and looking for a free online chat with a therapist. At that moment, she was fairly relieved that she had been unsuccessful for the latter. Searching and seeking out was one thing, but actually talking to a therapist would mean having to tell her mom about it and frankly, she did not want to hurt her amazing and brilliant mother like that. She didn’t know how exactly it would happen, but she was sure it would be hurtful.
And why wouldn’t it, she argued. Seeking out a therapist would automatically mean she needed help with things other people did not. After all, there was entire batch of kids with Term Exams around the corner and were they all running off, crying and weeping to a therapist? She suspected not. Her mother had raised her better than to complain and cry and do nothing but avoid her problems. Which was, of course, what she had spent the day doing. Her productivity was abysmal and her chances of passing low- but as any other protagonist of any other story, this was the lowest of the lows that she could only go higher from. She hoped.
But this part of the story isn’t dedicated to deciding whether Ms. Malhotra required professional psychological counselling- perhaps a later part would be. No, this part is dedicated to the antecedent events that led to her sitting on her chair in the middle of the night, sobbing and googling “chat with a therapist online free.” Free, because she wasn’t putting a payment like this on record for which her mother would have an immediate email.
But first, you must understand that Mrs Malhotra was not a hard-ass, strict disciplinarian. In fact, she was quite the opposite, and acutely self aware of it, which was a source of both comfort and annoyance to her only daughter. No, Mrs Malhotra was quite possibly the coolest mother one could have- well, as cool as a mother could be while erring on the side of morally correct. She was a friend to her daughter, her partner in crime, a great audience to both her jokes and her woes and she did it while making sure her daughter was raised well.
Why then, you’d ask, was Ms Malhotra so hesitant to tell her mother about her search history? Surely, her easy going and lovely mother would understand.
The fact of the matter is, that Ms Malhotra did not feel so, and it was because she felt her mother would somehow worry more and be disappointed in her. God forbid, her mother might even take the blame on herself before she would be able to explain to Mrs Malhotra why she felt she was Like This. She could not let that happen. She was protecting her dear mum from a possibility that could well be the product of a sleepless night and a bad day. Really, she was.
So, how did our protagonist end up here?
It all started on a Monday, or a Tuesday- she didn’t remember exactly because she had been sick. Nothing serious of course, just a mild cough with fever and expectoration. She had just finished shifting into her new, notably single room 2-3 days back and she’d spent the whole night with the a.c. on. Sitting in the small room, with no other work than blowing her nose and clearing the back of her throat, she had called her mother, cried on the phone about missing her and being ill. That very Friday, her mother was in town. The visit was notable in many ways, one of which was the amount of work she had got done and the other was her mother meeting her friends and her delightful boyfriend (who was also her friend, thanks very much). That wonderful dinner left her in high spirits, and much to discuss with her mum.
Now that Mrs Malhotra had visited her, she had no excuse to fail, yet she was scared she would. She wasted days and days trying to let the anxiety pass. So many minutes that felt like hours of intrusive thoughts where loved ones either died, or mourned her untimely but slow death. This had been the third day in a row where she, objectively, knew that she had not done as much as she had planned. All because of her worries, her anxiety, her stress- whatever you call it. She had been in her room, watching her new favourite show on Netflix with dinner. As soon as she paused and decided to study, she started getting intrusive thoughts. Later, she would not be able to recall the exact nature of these thoughts immediately, but they did have an impending sense of doom. Towards the end, she knew she was thinking these thoughts, her own brain making up scenarios that she hoped she never had to live through. This time, it was her boyfriend, let’s call him Mr Manoj, who got shot, in front of her. You’d ask why, and the only answer you would get is that she didn’t know. She didn’t know why she punished herself like that, all she knew was that this had to stop.
As her anxious brain spun this story, she felt she needed more air and started breathing heavily, she started crying, completely out of control of herself and ended up calling Mr Manoj. At first he did not pick up, but then he called back and she smiled. This was her boyfriend- she would always suspect he’d slip up and do something wrong, but he didn’t. Not that he never did anything wrong, he just did when she least suspected it. Perhaps that was worse, perhaps it was better. Who knows?
Anyway, when he called back, Ms Malhotra calmed herself down and picked up the phone. They talked about exams, this and that. Of course, he realised she was stressed. She had been relatively silent the whole call, but now she was positively soundless. She was, in reality, crying but hiding it well from her boyfriend. She cut the call in that stretch of silence and cried then. He called her back, but she cut it once more. Then, she texted him “I’m fine now, thanks” which was a complete lie, but she told herself it was for the better. Her boyfriend should not be her therapist.
After this, many thoughts crossed her mind. Thoughts of seeing a therapist, of telling them everything. She had thought about it before, but now it was stronger than ever. Crying because she was doing it finally, and also because of so many other reasons, she googled for chatting with an online therapist. And she’d have done it, too, if they hadn’t asked for money.