Thinky Post: Mental Health, Shahrukh Khan, and Family Influence

A thinky post! What fun for us all! This is mostly Shahrukh, but also a little bit general. So you can talk about Shahrukh, or general mental health thinkies. Whatever is fun for you!

When you are very very young and trying to figure out the world, you define yourself by the people around you. Meaning what your family does is “normal”. So, for instance, I think of myself as “normal” height, bordering on slightly small. I’m 5 feet 9 inches, but two of my cousins and one of my aunts are 5 feet 10 inches (my sister is a miniscule 5 feet 8 inches and 3 quarters, HA!). And every man on my Dad’s side of the family is 6 feet plus. It wasn’t until I started spending a lot of time with friends and referring to them as “short” that I was informed my “normal” isn’t the “normal” for most people. Doesn’t matter of course, they are still short and I am normal height, as I remind them constantly. That’s how I defined my world as long as I can remember and it would take an enormous amount of effort to change it.

When Abhishek Bachchan appreciated Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in public for her  culinary skills | Hindi Movie News - Times of India
The only normal height couple in India

It’s not that big a deal related to height (although my short friends sometimes get irritated with me when I mention their shortness and pat them on their little heads), but it is a very big deal related to mental health. Height is obvious, it’s visible to everyone, it’s clearly measurable. I can read studies that say the the average height for women in America is 5 feet 4 inches. In my head, I read that and think “it’s too bad most women in America aren’t normal height”. But on the other hand, when I see my short 5 feet 6 inches mother, I don’t say “you need to go to the doctor! You are FREAKISHLY TINY!!!” Because I can overcome my instinctive reaction with cold hard facts and know that it’s okay to be little.

But there are no cold hard objective visible facts related to mental health. You see the people closest to you and how they behave, but you never really see anyone else, not that close. And so what your parents are like, what you observe as a small child, imprints on your mind as “normal”. Or at least, not abnormal.

Of course, you can also observe your own mind and decide what is “normal” within yourself. I’m gonna use myself as an example. I grew up observing my parents as being people who never got angry, like the two times in my childhood they actually got angry have imprinted themselves on my brain it was so unusual (only time I saw my mother angry, when Nixon died and the radio started talking about what a great president he was. She even said a swear word!). They also never got really sad. Okay, I remember one time, when the wrong person was elected governor. But that was them being sad, and then kind of laughing at themselves and saying they should forget about it and keep living their lives (also “normal” for me, that your entire emotional life revolves around elections). And I grew up observing my own mind and knowing what was “normal” and what wasn’t. For me, “normal” means a generalized state of happiness. “Happiness” as defined by “laughing and smiling 90% of the day”.

This is my normal level of happiness. Hopefully less irritating than Alia.

So now I am on Prozac. And it’s because my definition of “normal” mental health, as set by my childhood brain and observations, was going away. It went away very slowly, I probably should have started taking medication ages ago, but now that I am on meds and my brain is “normal” again, I am surprised by how little a difference they make, and how big an effect they have. For instance, pre-pills I would have something like a friend not responding right away to a text and I would start spinning out thinking “oh no, she hates me, we’re not friends any more, I should do something to try to repair the gap”. And then I would think “no, that is not a ‘normal’ thought, you should ignore it and resist your instinct and do nothing”. And I would do nothing and there would be no visible to the outside world reaction, and in a couple hours I would stop worrying about it. But the energy it took! To constantly be policing my brain to drag it back to “normal”! Now I don’t have to have those thoughts, and then work hard to correct them, I can just live my life effortlessly “normal”. But what I define as “normal”, if you see what I mean. Maybe other people in the world always worry about if their friends hate them, or second guess their decisions, or sometimes get angry or sad or whatever. But that’s not “normal” for me, for my brain, and for what I have observed from a young age in my parents as “normal”.

Now, let’s talk about Shahrukh Khan! Because he is so very very famous, and because he is so very very willing to talk about personal things, we know a remarkable amount about the mental health of his family. We know his sister has depression to the point of not being able to function in the world, needing care. But what I find interesting is that Shahrukh clearly has a milder form of depression, and I suspect his father did as well. Only, if his father defined “normal” for him as a small child, and his sister defined “abnormal” for him as a young man, than Shahrukh himself would not see his behavior as “abnormal”.

Shahrukh talks about his memories of his father being very very sad every time a business failed. He specifically remembers after the trip to Pakistan when he was a teenager, his father sitting down and crying as they waited to cross the border, saying he has no home. And he believes his father died shortly there after of a broken heart, in his mind somehow the heartsickness of sadness caused his cancer.

theFridayFeature — Meer Taj Mohammed Khan | by Amey Pandit | Meraki | Medium

Shahrukh’s father’s life experience was such that it could easily have caused mental issues, a shift in a developing brain, beyond genetics. He was in college in Delhi when Partition happened, his friends took to sleeping on the floor around his bed at night, so that if the death squads came for him, they would wake up and protect him. That’s a lot. Knowing that there are death squads looking for you, knowing that there are other people who don’t have friends like yours who are dying, and knowing that your friends are risking their lives for you. And then after Partition, he was told he could not go back to his home, Pakistan would not give him a Visa because he had followed the wrong fighter for independence. So here is a very young man, brain still developing, who has survivor’s guilt, PTSD, and the generalized sadness of the immigrant banished from home and family. So of course he would cry sometimes, of course he would have black black moods, of course he would have a series of business failures that wore him down more and more.

Then there’s Shahrukh. He has talked about when a movie fails, he locks himself in a room alone for days because he doesn’t want his family to see him. Okay, he is learning from his childhood, he clearly remembers how hard it was to see his father in a black mood and doesn’t want his own children to see that. But he hasn’t learned that this is not “normal”. That being a man and the head of a family does not automatically come with periods of depression so deep you are afraid to let your children see them. It’s like my thing with height, only without the objective statistics you can use to help you see past your own prejudices.

I just find this really interesting. You get treatment for something when it isn’t “normal”, but “normal” is a moving target for each person. There’s your own experience, there’s your family that imprinted on you, and then there are the general societal messages. With mental health, it is so hard to figure out when you are “normal” or not, because it is different for each person. I would think that a family with severe mental illness in it would lead to people being extra willing to seek treatment. But looking at Shahrukh, it seems like maybe sometimes it is the opposite? His sister is sick enough to need constant care and treatment, but anything short of that is “normal” and requires no treatment.

Pin on Celebrity Couples + Family Pictures

I also wonder what is considered “normal” in Indian society in general? Is a general pessimism and bleakness thought of as okay, as a healthy attitude? Is someone going through periods of depression so great they don’t leave the house thought of as a massive red flag or as not that unusual? All I know is pop culture, but then pop culture has a huge effect on what is seen as “normal”. And in the movies, you have heroes drinking and depressed over a failed romance to the point of destroying their lives, and that’s considered unusual but not “go see a doctor” unusual. Certainly I never see anyone going to therapy (except for Dear Zindagi), and even going to a psychiatrist in a film is something I’ve seen maybe twice (both times of course it was a mistake and the pills did nothing). And mental illness is more along the lines of “crazed delusions” rather than “depression” or “anxiety”.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got! The way that mental health in particular is imprinted as “normal” or “not normal” based on our earliest experiences, the way society influences it, Shahrukh as an example of someone who probably should get treatment but sees himself as “normal”, and a general curiosity about what is seen as “normal” in Indian culture versus American culture, which is what I know. Lots to think about and discuss!

16 thoughts on “Thinky Post: Mental Health, Shahrukh Khan, and Family Influence

  1. I have a dear friend, a South Indian man in his thirties who’s lived here for 4 years. The events we have just lived through are appalling to me. But political, corruption, rioting, crime, color and cultural divisiveness, poverty, etc., don’t bother him at all. They are NORMAL! He doesn’t condone them, but he grew up with them so, what’s the big deal?

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    • Do you think that has an effect on the perception of mental health? Like, for me, the past 4 years lead me to anxiety to a degree that was not “normal” to me for the previous 30 years of my life, and therefore I went to a doctor. But if you grew up in a place of such uncertainty, would a level of depression and anxiety be your mental health normal? Or would your mind adjust so they don’t bother you?

      On Mon, Nov 9, 2020 at 12:50 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. `
    Besides mental illness being a moving target, you also have mental illness treatment being a moving target. Homosexuality in western cultural was a treatable mental illness — until it wasn’t. (not to mention “the vapors,” “hysteria,” “over-sexed,” etc.) I always wonder how many of the mental health treatment “norms” of today will be considered ridiculously unenlightened in the future. (Does anybody get lobotomies anymore?)

    And it’s so weird that where you happen to be geographically located can determine whether you’re mentally healthy or seriously mentally ill. If you have a broken leg, it’s a broken leg whether you are in Japan, Australia, or Mumbai. But if you’re “depressed” or “manic” or even homosexual, it can be considered from widely varying perspectives.

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    • Yes! And the treatments vary as well, what medications require seeing a doctor versus what is over the counter. Maybe the kind of issues that in one country mean you need to go to a doctor to get treatment, in another country you can just diagnosis yourself and quietly take care of it.

      On Mon, Nov 9, 2020 at 12:55 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. I think Shah Rukh’s sister has been far sicker than he has let on. Which of course is his prerogative but I think it does speak to a sense of privacy on that kind of illness just as Dr.Jug describes it in Dear Zindagi. You can give graphic details about gall bladders but not about bipolar disorders . He has spoken publically about how that movie changed his view on mental issue. Not enough I’m afraid for him to treat his depression with something other than caffeine, cigarettes and work.

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    • Something I find fascinating is that Aamir Khan’s brother also has mental illness to the point of needing a guardian. So far as I remember, this is known because he and his father went to court over guardianship. Anyway, like Shahrukh, Aamir lives a very public life but his sibling’s issues are never discussed. It’s not just that they don’t discuss it, the media doesn’t touch it either. You can spread rumors of them having illegitimate children and affairs and all kinds of things, but you don’t touch their family mental illness.

      Agree about his depression treatment! It’s so clear, always working and drinking coffee and smoking. I’ll add also working out and never sleeping, and probably using alcohol occasionally to come down. Think how different his daily life would be if he didn’t have to spend so many hours avoiding his own head!

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  4. I am not sure that locking yourself in your room for a couple of days when a movie fails is not normal. People work so hard on films, the film is their child, I’m not sure it is something that is easy or even possible to separate yourself from. Now I think SRK is or has taken medication for mental health, based solely on his David Letterman response where he said he wasn’t and he was so clearly lying. Also, based on his response, I suspected there was a huge stigma against men needing mental health assistance in his community.

    Now, I have a bone to pick with how I was raised and in a greater sense how I feel Americans or at least Californians view mental health. One of the things I LOVED about living in Berlin was being able to be depressed. I didn’t have to be happy all the time. It was seen as normal to not be happy every single day. I was not depressed when I lived in Berlin, but I was BEFORE I moved there. And I could tell that not having to pretend that I was happy, when I wasn’t, made me happier overall. That goes against everything my father and culture taught me. If you aren’t happy in California then something is wrong with you. If you force yourself to smile then the feelings will come, so I was told.

    Right now I am mostly depressed, but I think I would need mental health assistance if I wasn’t, because life is challenging. My small community is split down the middle with both sides HATING the other, and the polite freindliness that got us through this in the past is now hanging on by a thread. My husband cannot see his ill and maybe, but hopefully not, dying father because my husband works in the schools and is too COVID dangerous, but his father misses him, and doesn’t accept that he can’t see him. It is not a happy time. There are happy moments, beautiful walks with children, fun playing board games, great meals etc, but overall all, not happy. But my culture says I am supposed to pretend, that I am supposed to say everything is fine, that I am supposed to say, well this is sad, but we are so grateful for everything we have. And I am grateful, but I resent that I’m supposed to say it, ALL THE TIME. Americans cannot handle unhappiness. We view it as a deficiency of character. We have the worst and most perfunctory rituals for handling grief. So I reject my culture’s assumptions. And in that sense I think locking yourself in your room for a couple days because your blood sweat and tears was rejected by humanity is a normal reaction. Suicide, no, but some time alone, okay.

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    • Yes to being happy all the time! As far back as you go, when you read stuff written about Americans by non-Americans, they talk about how happy and upbeat we all are all the time. And of course, California is the absolute tops with that. Where it bothers me is that I tend to be the one person people trust with allllllllllllll their darkness. So, like, we are at an event, and everyone is relentlessly upbeat and “this is great, I am having the best time, you are all wonderful folks”. And then I am in the car alone with someone after and they just dump all their “I hate everyone there, I’m fighting with my husband, life sucks” on top of me. There’s no middle ground, it’s like 90% of the time you have to be completely totally “life is perfect”, and then that remaining 10% is saved up and all comes shooting out in an unhealthy burst. There were a couple of groups I was part of where it got really toxic, no matter how I tried to steer the conversation away from war, cancer, death, and other fun things, it just kept going back. Like, somehow this group had become the defined time when all the darkness came out unrelentingly. And these were people who in other situations were always upbeat and happy!

      I know you understand what I mean, because it’s the foundation of my “Happy Place” rules here, and you are so good at following them! I absolutely want people to come to this community and express that they are having a tough time, I want to give them sympathy. That’s good, you shouldn’t feel like you have to put on a smiley face just to be here. But on the other hand, I don’t want this to be the place we come to secretly express our deepest fears and sorrows in this toxic never ending loop of misery, before squeezing them up tight and being happy the rest of the time.

      By the way, I grew up in a community that is probably kind of like yours is right now. Not a small town, but a state capital, so politics was everything. Most people were conservative, my family and our friends were liberals, but you got through the PTA meetings and the neighborhood block parties and all kinds of other stuff by just smiling and not talking about things. That’s where I started to notice this balance I’m talking about. If we had to go to our little liberals only groups and be relentlessly happy all the time, it was exhausting and made you more depressed. But at the same time if we just got together to share stories of the misery of the world, also depressing. You need a healthy balance.

      For Shahrukh, and this is just an impression, but I think what worried me when I heard him describe locking himself up for 4 days was that it wasn’t “I didn’t want to be around people” but more “I didn’t think it was safe for people to be around me”. Which feels very different. Saying “I need to spend a few days getting over this” is totally healthy, but locking yourself away from your wife and children because you don’t feel safe around them is not. Even if only because he needs to accept it is okay to be sad and okay for his kids to see him that way.

      On Tue, Nov 10, 2020 at 4:03 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Fair enough about the SRK opinions. I didn’t see the clip where he said that he locked himself up for 4 days, AND that makes a difference. I can’t tell you why I believe he was lying on the Dave Letterman interview, but I believe he was. Seeing someone’s face makes a difference in how you perceive their words. This is one of the reasons I only read news, rather than watch it. And, as an avid reader of news (A somewhat useless activity, it earns me nothing and takes up so much time), I am just fascinated by your growing up in the capital story. I’ve never thought of your state as particularly conservative. Now I’m inclined to research it’s political history. (Again this will take me a fair amount of time and earn me nothing).

        People tend to tell me their truths in person too. But I’m also somewhat aloof, so they don’t have many options to do so. I suppose my aloofness helps. One of my husband’s best friends has mental health realities (called issues by others but I don’t like the phrase). He and I would sometimes talk about them in snatches during bar parties in our 20s. He is now married to a Sajol of JHMS wonderful woman. That movie speaks truth to me in so many ways… A woman told me about her stillbirth in front of the bathroom at a soccer game. I had interacted with her about five times four years before when I was manager of the bookstore and she ordered stuff for the tribe. I researched grief groups for her, but didn’t have the dedication to follow up and take her to one. I kinda failed. But that failure also kept me sane.

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        • I just have to include that I ALSO didn’t have the still birth woman’s phone number. But it is a small town, I could have gotten it with two or three phone calls.

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          • One of my friends just failed to get COVID tested because every center around me is booked up for days, and the urge to solve the problem is well-nigh unbearable!!!! I need to just let her go and let her take care of it, but I want to do something!

            On Tue, Nov 10, 2020 at 8:47 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • I don’t mind when people tell me their truths, but I do mind when they try to make me part of a kind of orgy of misery. Like, instead of telling the really sad story of their life, they tell me the really sad story they just read in the paper, and then extrapolate out from that a bunch of even sadder hypotheticals, and end with a completely pessimistic prediction for the future. Just stop! Either you are really unhappy and dancing around the reason for it, or you aren’t unhappy and are actually enjoying depressing other people. There was one woman I knew for literally 8 years before learning that she had a severely disabled daughter. But by golly every time I met her there was some new depressing story she’d read in the paper and just had to share. Does that make sense?

          Agree about the way someone says something! And I completely believe your interpretation of Shahrukh’s answer being a lie. I certainly want it to be a lie, if only because of the experiences of his life (losing his parents young, mentally ill sister), a touch of medication would not go amiss it all.

          On Tue, Nov 10, 2020 at 8:39 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • That story of the woman bombarding you with depressing stories, and only after 8 years you learn she has a disabled daughter, hits like a hammer. Yes, it makes sense.

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        • Oh, I never mentioned the growing up in the capital thing. IL is a lot like New York and probably other states. The massive city is filled with extreme liberals. The rich suburbs are filled with extreme conservatives. And then the general more kind of rural zones are moderate conservatives. The capital in particular was under control of moderate Republicans for decades, so the tone of the town was generally moderate Republican. I grew up in an area where gun control, birth control, and prayer in school were issues that my family did not necessarily agree with our neighbors and you learned to just not talk about it. It was a really useful experience, opened my mind about stuff like hunting (not that bad, and hunters are not the stereotype at all), and taught me how to make friends with people by just not talking about a whole bunch of stuff.

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