The #MeToo India movement’s wave is taking the country by storm. While this was something we needed, we now have to collectively work together and ensure survivors get a support ecosystem. There are countless survivors who are still living in silence for various many reasons. Although this movement gives them hope too, it can also lead to triggers, anxiety and panic attacks as women speak up. 

Also Read: Stories from India’s #MeToo

SheThePeople.TV spoke with trauma therapist Ruchita Chandrashekar about how survivors, and their immediate family and support structure can deal with reliving trauma, PTSD, anxiety, mental and physical health.

Survivors reliving trauma

We need to remember that #MeToo is growing because more survivors are coming forward and narrating their ordeals. This, while going through the same devastating instances in their head. Ruchita says that most of the individuals who are participating and consuming the news presented by the #MeToo movement are survivors. She explains this scenario:

  • These survivors are reliving their traumatic experiences because they are experiencing triggers. Triggers are psychological stimuli that cause flashbacks associated with memories, feelings or bodily tendencies that the survivor experienced during the traumatic event.
  • I’ve noticed that most of them are struggling to put language to their mental health struggles right now due to the lack of psychoeducation, and this experience can feel extremely confusing and invalidating.
  • They are in pain, even if it looks like it’s coming from an invisible source. The pain is still very real and very debilitating. They’re also exposed to the trolling, invalidation and immense flak that people are being subjected to, which reinforces marginalisation and oppression. That is exhausting and triggering too.

Toll on mental and physical health

While the movement is extremely important, it is also unimaginably hard for survivors, and their families. Coming out after years for the first time, or maybe again another time, can take a serious toll on their mental and physical health. Ruchita urges that these situations need to be dealt with cautiously.

“It can take a serious toll on their mental and physical health. We need to understand that mental and physical health are interconnected. Additionally, sexual trauma leads to symptoms that are connected to the body and the brain because both of them are violated and stripped off of agency when the events occur,” she explains.

“We need to work harder to create safe and brave spaces for all voices to be included

She points out that we all must remember that this wave of #MeToo is pretty upper-caste and heteronormative. “This leaves other communities across caste identities, tribal identities, gender and sexual identities feeling ostracised, silenced and marginalised – that adds an additional layer of trauma,” she reflects. She, however, believes one of the biggest benefits of the #MeToo wave is that it has given survivors a sense of community. “Traumatic experiences and triggers can feel extremely isolating and survivors are trying to come together to help each other and stand up for each other. I would encourage survivors to find their community that is supportive, safe and affirming,” she adds. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

“A therapist is not a paid friend, and I will repeat that consistently. They are trained professionals in a field of science.”

Ruchita suggests therapy when PTSD come into question. She explains its benefits and the ways to go about it. While PTSD can be debilitating, she says, it can also be managed. Here are some crucial points she makes:

  • Therapy can help survivors in processing the internalised shame, guilt, anger, anxiety and fear that stems from post traumatic stress.
  • Knowledge is a powerful tool in achieving agency, and psychoeducation can provide them with valuable information into understanding their symptoms. Behavioural strategies can help them in learning coping skills and tools that will help them manage triggers and symptoms like dissociation and outcomes of symptoms like panic attacks and nightmares.
  • We have some telehealth resources now as well. Help is always a good idea. In places where mental health resources aren’t as accessible or if you don’t feel ready, finding a community of survivors that is validating and supportive can be a good start.

Self-harm is another significant factor every needs to be cautious about. Here are some effective measures we can take.

Ruchita believes “self-harm is actually a method of coping”. She points out how different individuals achieve different types of satisfaction from self-harming behaviours. She explains: “For some, it’s like a release; for some, it creates a sense of calm during a period of extreme mental distress and for some, it’s a way of feeling something when they’ve reached a point of severe numbness. Depending on what purpose the behaviour serves, they can work on a strategy that comes from a harm-reduction model.”

Anxiety is the brain’s way of keeping you safe. It’s actually a good thing and we all need to have a degree of anxiety or we’d jump off cliffs without a care for our lives.

She says it’s important to work with a trained professional when it comes to this. “The harm-reduction principle believes in the gradual minimisation of the possible negative consequences of a behaviour,” she adds. 

Anxiety and symptoms

Mental health is what we experience. There several people amongst us who encounter anxiety and panic attacks.  Despite the discussions and confinements, the severity of it is never completely understood. Ruchika says it’s important to first understand how one’s feeling and then move forward. Interestingly, she categorises anxiety’s functioning and the symptoms. Here are some keys she tells us:

  • Anxiety is the brain’s way of keeping you safe. It’s actually a good thing and we all need to have a degree of anxiety or we’d jump off cliffs without a care for our lives.
  • Contrary to what people believe, feeling responses happen first in the body, so it’s important to pay attention to where a feeling response lives in your body so you can be mindful of when distress begins.
  • For example, anxiety makes my stomach churn. That’s how it will always begin. For someone else, it could be an increase in heart rate that happens first or sweating, even. Panic attacks occur in times of severe distress. They are usually characterised by an increased heart rate, shaking, sweating, confusion, irregular breathing.
  • There is no limitation to the symptoms. Everyone’s body chemistry and triggers vary. The common themes and the integration of mindfulness with their bodies can help them understand the language in which their mental health communicates.

Self-care

#MeToo stories are disturbing when you first read them and then rage, anger and helplessness follows. There are several people having sleepless nights after consuming all day news and accounts of several women. Ruchita suggests us following ways we can keep the mind calm so that we can all strongly come together, face and fight several issues around:

  • There needs to be more discourse about mental health for the exact reason. Not everyone is ready or has access to mental health resources, but they do have access to the media that can be a powerful tool in providing information to people experiencing varying degrees of distress.
  • It’s important to have specific tools that help you in times of distress – is it meditation? is it a breathing exercise? a podcast? journaling? talking to a friend? We have to find a way to process the news we’re consuming and also find ways to maintain self-care.

Not everyone is ready or has access to mental health resources, but they do have access to the media that can be a powerful tool in providing information to people experiencing varying degrees of distress.

  • Make a list and keep that list handy, so you can look at it and chose one or twenty things from that to do. Self-care is extremely important right now, even if it means that you have to disconnect from all media for a while for your own well-being.

We can all do something or the other, in our power, to make survivors, and people around, feel better in these times of distress. All of us, regardless of gender, need to stand in solidarity with each other and remind ourselves that we’re not alone, we’re in this together.

Also Read: #MeToo Is A Complicated Process. It’s Not Black Or White. It’s Grey.

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