"I woke up feeling a dark cloud over me" - Sandeep's story
Trigger warning: diagnosis, suicide
Sandeep tells us about her journey to being diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and how she had tried to take her own life in 2014. Since, Sandeep has become a Lived/Living Experience Mental Health Advocate sharing her story to help others suffering in silence and find hope with their mental health.
I was born into a big Sikh family household, and we are a very close unit. Different generations of the family live together. There are lots of different personalities and every day feels like Christmas – you don’t feel that you can ever feel alone. My family is a big source of support for me.
I have always been severely conscious with the way I looked and what I consumed since the tender age of four years old and it has stuck with me ever since. At the age of 14, I actively started taking up exercise and had become more restricted in my eating. However, in 2012 things started to change. As a family, we moved house for the first time ever – and that’s when my mental health started to deteriorate.
I took up jogging as a hobby at first - running a few times a week. But within months, that hobby was ruling my life. I began keeping food diaries and controlling what I ate, and that’s if I ate anything at all! I weighed myself every day and kept the wrappers of food so I could count calories and see visually what I had consumed, along with a strict daily food diary. I was critical of my appearance and was constantly comparing myself to others – nothing I did was ever good enough. Looking at social media and beauty magazines back then I didn’t see anyone from an ethnic minority background that looked authentic and real - not a single person. The celebrities that were beautiful didn’t look like me. It makes you feel very alone and I wondered “who’s going to fight for me and with me?”.
I was critical of my appearance and was constantly comparing myself to others – nothing I did was ever good enough.
I started to withdraw and didn’t go to family events or weddings. I was also feeling a lot of anger and would have big outbursts. My dad was the one who noticed a change in me, and he staged an intervention together with my mum, sitting me down and letting me know that the whole family was very worried about me. I was shocked - realising that what was happening was having a real and direct impact on my parents. This was the moment my bubble popped.
We booked a doctor's appointment. Until then I didn’t even realise I had a problem nor what mental health was. I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, BDD and OCD and was prescribed antidepressants and referred for six sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The medications made me worry less and the therapy sessions helped challenge my negative thoughts. But to be honest it went by so quickly. I felt like we had only scraped the surface.
In 2014, the therapy stopped and I was put onto the waiting list for the NHS Secondary Psychological Care. I was struggling again with thoughts and behaviours resurfacing again and quickly. I felt lost and a failure. The day before my brother’s birthday, on Friday 29 August 2014, I woke up feeling a dark cloud over me. On the same day, I had to pull myself together for my brother’s sake and got dressed and went to my brother’s pre-birthday family get-together. Looking around me, I thought “Everyone here has a purpose. What is my role?”. I had hit my lowest point and tried to take my own life. My mother called out for me and with tears streaming down my face, we went home as a family and started searching for private therapy and commenced it right away.
Looking around me, I thought “Everyone here has a purpose. What is my role?”. I had hit my lowest point.
My mum, dad and brother have been my rock on my mental health recovery journey. We all know about mental health so much more now. We make time every month to get out of the house and talk about our true feelings. This has helped all of us open up. We call it our ‘trust family circle time’.
After many sessions of therapy, I started to see and feel a real difference in me. I slowly stopped exercising and weighing myself and got to know and respect myself more. By 2016 I had really turned a corner and had stopped medication and now find joy in doing things like dancing, singing, praying at the Gurdwara (a place of worship for Sikhs), keeping a gratitude journal, drawing, driving, walking and listening to music.
Being a British Asian woman, I also direct my mental health work to speaking out and supporting South Asian mental health issues and how we can collectively come together to combat the stigma and discrimination in this realm and really explore intersectionality and our identity. People from Black and Asian minority ethnic backgrounds, worryingly, suffer higher rates of mental health problems than all other groups combined. As a British Indian Sikh Punjabi woman from London, it’s important to speak out and be a beacon of hope for others suffering in silence.
In 2021 I did in fact look into therapy again after 7 years. I had started going back into my old ways of OCD and BDD, during lockdown and a period of being on furlough in my Marketing and Business Development role in a law firm. I was scared and I didn’t want to open up a pandora’s box and go backwards in my life - it was painful. Currently, I am now looking for long-term therapy. I have focused so much in supporting others with their mental health that my own mental health was on the back-burner for a very long time, but with the support of my family I want to take the next step in helping myself and practice what I preach, day in day out.
There is a big diversity and inclusion gap that needs to be addressed. We’ve got to change the narrative and address how we speak about suicide and how it can affect anyone, no matter your race, gender etc
Although therapy has been transformative for me, I have noticed that very few people in the space look like me. The therapists are mostly white and Caucasian. There is a big diversity and inclusion gap that needs to be addressed. We’ve got to change the narrative and address how we speak about suicide and how it can affect anyone, no matter your race, gender etc - mental health does not discriminate. We need to also challenge the language, for example, not saying things like ‘committed suicide’ as it’s judgemental and apportions blame.
Please talk. Do not struggle in silence. Someone is always ready to listen. Never feel you should fight these battles alone.
I am a proud devotee to being a Lived/Living Experience Mental Health Advocate, Philanthropist, Public Speaker and Mental Health First Aider.
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