“When things get hard, I remind myself that even the worst storms pass, and then I remind myself that I survived them all.” This is the last line of Shaheen Bhatt’s book, I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier (Penguin, 2019), and it’s the one mantra that keeps her going, she confesses. Recalling the lines make her tear up, but those are tears of pride, of knowing that she is a survivor. For 20 years, Bhatt has lived with the fear of heading into the dark spiral of depression. But now that she’s thwarted it with positive affirmations she’s truly started to love herself fearlessly.
ELLE: When did you understand the full potential of self–care?
Shaheen Bhatt: Not until about a year ago. I’ve been on this journey with mental health since I was 12, I’ve been in and out of therapy, but strangely, I’ve never thought myself worthy enough of self–care.
ELLE: How has the book changed you?
SB: It basically forced me out of hiding. Because for 20 years I’ve been pretending that I was fine. With the book I stood up to the voice in my head that was constantly telling me that I couldn’t do things. In 2016, I put up a post about my mental health on social media and I realised that there were others who were struggling like me. The book was my way of connecting with them.
ELLE: Was writing the book cathartic for you?
SB: I gained 10 kilos in four months, because I am an emotional eater. I was putting on weight and I was suicidal because I was forcefully re-living stuff that I had put away. But now I know I can survive it. I’ve done it once and I know I can get past the worst.
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This Women’s Day, embrace yourself unconditionally, “flaws” et al. Author and mental health advocate @shaheenb opens up about her journey accepting and loving herself unconditionally, in our latest issue. . On @shaheenb: ‘“Love Fearlessly“ Chuck Taylor All Star’ canvas sneakers, @converse.india, “LoveFearlessly” Chuck 70’ leather sneakers, @converse.india . Photographer: @nehachandrakant Styling: @tejaswinisinha Animation: @rushoutikanade Words: @aneshageorge Hair: @mariyaansari/ @runahsalon Make-up: @sonamdoesmakeup Assisted by: @_sejalgoyal (intern), @abhilashsafai (photography), @makeupbyaayuship (make-up) . #ShaheenBhatt #1❤️ #InMyConverse #MentalHealth #WomensDay
ELLE: So do you think you have finally found your emotional sweet spot?
SB: Emotions aren’t binary. You aren’t happy or sad. The emotional graph is meant to move up and down. I’d say even if you’re feeling a sense of contentment for five minutes a day, you’re in a good enough place to be.
ELLE: How has your sense of style changed over the years, as you got more comfortable with your body?
SB: I’ve gone through several fashion phases—there was one where I only wore black pants and black t-shirts because I didn’t have the energy to dress myself up. If I weren’t the perfect weight that I wanted to be I would punish myself by not wearing nice clothes. I feel I am discovering my true sense of style now. I love the colour yellow and wear it a lot.
ELLE: What does your me-time look like?
SB: Of late, I’m really into skin care. So I get into bed and watch videos or read up about it. It feels like I am looking after myself and I enjoy it.
ELLE: What is your idea of loving yourself?
SB: Loving myself involves embracing my vulnerability. It’s about accepting who I am and loving myself fearlessly. It requires a certain willingness to be hurt if things don’t go as you expect it to.
ELLE: So how did you become self-aware?
SB: The thing is, when you are in therapy you become very good at talking about depression and tend to intellectualise it. But that’s not enough. You need to be self-aware and self-regulatory. Writing my book was a huge move because I never knew I had a story to tell. Now I have a voice.
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Self-soothing can do wonders for your mental health, but not everything that ‘feels good’ might actually be good for you. If you’re unsure of how to tell these two apart, here are a bunch of healthy and positive things you can do to self-soothe! Repost from @positivelypresent . . . . . #anxiety #loveyourself #therapy #happiness
ELLE: Does loving fearlessly also extend to loving others fearlessly as well?
SB: I’ve always said that it’s hard being depressed, but it is harder loving someone who is depressed. Just hang in there and be that someone who they can talk to. Talking changed my life. Sharing my vulnerabilities helped. When people call me brave I say, “No, I’m just honest and we need more people to be honest, not brave.”
Photographs: Neha Chandrakant; Styling: Tejaswini Sinha; Make–up: Sonam Chandna Sagar, Hair: Mariya Ansari at Runah Salon; Assisted by: Sejal Goyal (Intern), Abhilash Safai (Photography), Aayushi Parekh (Make-up); Location: Script – A Godrej Venture, Mumbai