Book Review: All Those In Pain, There Is Hope

Book: Battles In The Mind
Author: Anna Chandy
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 219

Buy this book here.

She is a superwoman with a thriving career and an enviable family. She throws the best parties in town and her squeaky clean, tastefully designed home is the neighbour’s envy. She is the toast of the party. She hosts house guests for months. Not the image you would associate with a mental health issue, is it? Yet, Anna Chandy, “successful” by all definitions found herself staring at the face of failure in her mirror.

She is not alone. Earlier this year Livemint reported that “over 5 crore people suffer from depression in India” according to WHO in 2015. The same report says that over 3 crore people live with anxiety disorders. We live in a country where a case of jaundice or heart attack in the family is announced with the same aplomb as the birth of a child. But we discuss mental health issues as something that happens to someone else. Maybe in recent social memory AliaShahrukh starrer Dear Zindagi (2016) took a step in the right direction. But Anna Chandy’s Battles in the Mind is a much bolder, tangible step, opening up readers to the stark world of mental illness without the crutches fiction offers.

Anna Chandy, a mentor and counsellor, is also the first certified transactional analyst in Asia. She is also the chairperson of actor Deepika Padukone’s The Live Love Laugh Foundation setup to create mental health awareness in India. At the beginning of the book, we find Anna hunched over her refrigerator, gobbling down cold leftovers in a nightly routine that is her secret shame. While her husband and children sleep, she rises from her bed night after night, “I ate, not out of hunger, but to fill some deep void”, she says.

She delves right into the undercurrents behind her immaculate social facade. Growing up, she lived with her parents in their bad marriage. With heartbreaking honesty, Chandy describes how she as a child learned to manipulate situations as a result of being manipulated by her parents. “Keeping my parent’s marriage together was clearly my responsibility”, believed the little girl who grew up to have a strong sense of responsibility and loyalty.

Once her elder sister married outside their community, her parents always talked about Anna’s future only in terms of how good a wife and mother she would make. In a self-fulfulling prophecy, she becomes a doormat homemaker bending over backwards to make every wish come true before they were even wished for. She also turns into an emotional bully terrorising her subordinates and children. She takes in her husband’s schizophrenic brother and then her ailing father. She takes on more and more responsibility until she finds herself with her refrigerator for company.

As Anna reveals to us more of her life and its obstacles, she begins to unveil how she applies solutions from transactional analysis in her own life. Transactional analysis is a theory of personality that believes that all human beings have the capacity to think and can decide their own destiny. She introduces its concepts and uses her own life experiences to elucidate. Once she figures out a path out of the wilderness of her mind, she still has to make her way across. She tells the readers that it is a difficult journey but it’s not impossible. In her case, she puts herself first and caters to her own needs; she sheds extra weight, culls her social circle and stops being the impeccable homemaker. As she peels off layer after layer of her insecurities, a new Anna emerges.

Growing into her own, leaving behind her fears and inhibitions, she turns her misplaced sense of loyalty and responsibility around to work for her. From the little girl who was “always waiting for emergency to strike”, Anna becomes a strong woman. She is unshaken by the extreme distress of watching her daughter suffer a painful condition and nurses her back to health.

In this book she also shares the stories of some of her clients to give the reader a sense of the other contours of mental health. She includes testimonials from her family, colleagues and friends to substantiate her transformation. She often illustrates complex concepts using diagrams and worksheets giving the feel of ‘reading’ a good lecture on transactional analysis 101.

The expressed purpose of this book is to show that “you can change your script; that all baggage can be left behind”. By all means, this book is a gateway to the world of mental health, giving indications on when to ask for help. Objectively though I know not to underestimate the reader, as a student of psychology, I worry that this book will push readers to self-diagnose, which is not recommended.

Battles in the Mind is dedicated “to all those individuals who experience pain and struggle, there is hope.” I found resonance in many of Chandy’s anecdotes as it filled me with a sense of immense hope and companionship. They stayed with me for days coaxing me to review my emotionality and the reasons for the quirks in my personality.

For those swayed by such things, the foreword to this book is written by Deepika Padukone. She says, “[In] our own journeys of self-discovery, [this book] communicates, energy, resilience and hope for people struggling with various kinds of mental-health issues”. If you suspect that your recent temperament might be beyond just the blues, this book could show you the way. If nothing else, it’s an inspiring read on how a superwoman finds and heals her true self!

Buy this book here.

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