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Opinion

The mental health costs of the coronavirus pandemic

Two months after our leaders declared India had defeated the coronavirus, many of us were frantically calling different sources to arrange medicines and oxygen cylinders for friends, family, and even strangers.

Time had become cyclic, except this time, there were no dalgona coffees and banana breads (for the upper and middle classes, that is; poor castes had suffered much the same) – just hundreds of messages as one after another, those we loved succumbed to the virus.

Shree* from Haryana had managed to live through the first wave and lockdown last year. 

I promised her every day that we would help her get away from her transphobic and abusive family as soon as the virus ends.

Now, she regrets not leaving in December or January, when things were getting normal and she had enough savings, which she had to exhaust on medical bills as the virus hit her.

I have no more promises to make.

I think of the outright violence she has to suffer and the gentle tyranny I go through every day, and I wonder if I have any right to complain.

My parents are ‘good people’, who want me to get better as much as I do. 

They were by my side 24/7, at their own personal risk, when I had contracted the virus. 

Except ‘better’ to them means unqueering myself, for which they cry, scream, threaten, explain, and manipulate.

For me, it just means not having to wake up every morning with an empty chest that also somehow feels so crushingly heavy that I can’t get out of bed.

Last year during lockdown, I was living in Gujarat with a friend, and though my depression had flared up even then, I am only now realising how toxic environments have a way of intensifying this slimy blob of darkness.

Among many other things, I now strongly feel that my friends do not actually love me but are just tolerating me out of the goodness of their hearts. That I am not capable of love and joy but only hurt.

I know that it isn’t true, but try explaining that to the Pennywise of depression that feeds on shame and trauma.

According to research, mental health issues among queer persons may have risen to 75%. 

But no data captures what it actually feels to live through this crisis. What it means to grieve the loss of the woman you love while also maintaining the facade of a good heterosexual monogamous wife, as Saira* is doing.

Queer mental health issues in this crisis don’t quite register as worthy of attention. People ask us #WhySoProud, even as we live separated from those we love.

It is not just our higher risk of contracting the virus and facing discrimination in accessing mental healthcare in these challenging times that are troubling, but also how this virus has shaken the very foundation of our resilience.

While many find solace in their homes with their families, our families mostly exist outside of homes, in spaces we create temporarily.

Now that many of us have been separated from them and holed up in our homes, we find it hard to remember what it was like to share in our momentariness the great joys of friendships that held and loved and healed us.

So for now, we persevere, in hopes of this virus ending, of one day having a place to call our own, of striving for queer liberation and healing, of being together again with people who love us and don’t want to correct us.

If you or someone you know needs support, please refer to our list of Australian community services and resources.

*Not their real names.

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