After a lifetime of feeling like an outsider, with body confidence issues, and an online addiction, Jasraj Singh Hothi dropped out of university and found himself on a path that wasn’t fulfilling. But, in eventually admitting he needed help and discovering various forms of support, he’s finally understood his needs and found some positivity
I wish my mental health story was this perfect narrative with a clear start, middle and end. Unfortunately, mental health doesn’t work like that. So where to begin?
I thought I was a normal kid with a pretty privileged upbringing, and no reason to be unwell. I’d always been sensitive, timid and reserved, but when I came out of my shell, I seemed like any normal, functioning child.
School had largely been a place of comfort for me, where I knew what to expect and who was who. But I struggled with direction as school got “serious”, and I had to make decisions (A-levels and university) that would set me on this seemingly unalterable path. When a number of new students joined in sixth form – new people, new faces who seemed a lot older and cooler than me – I felt like a complete outsider.
I lacked a lot of confidence in myself, my body, and the opposite sex. My familial upbringing (I’m a British-born Indian) an all-boys secondary school probably played a part. I was this short, skinny brown kid who was constantly told how unhealthy I looked, and how I needed to eat more by folks who didn’t mean to be malicious, but whose comments slowly ate away at my already-questionable levels of self-esteem.
One of my uncles dragged me along to the gym and showed me the ropes of weight-training around this time, and so began a period of bulking with one goal in mind: to get bigger.
At one point, I was eating six to eight meals a day to put on weight. Body image in men is an issue for sure, and with the likes of Instagram, men’s health magazines, and celebrity-culture, I feel it is only getting worse.
When I went to university, I felt even more like a fish out of water – lost, alone, and younger than ever. I definitely didn’t find “my people” there like I’d hoped – probably because I hadn’t fully embraced the person I was. I missed the familiar and safe surroundings of home, and I didn’t know why I was doing the courses I’d chosen – full disclosure: I dropped out twice.
I ended up hanging around with a group of people I shared halls with, who I didn’t have much in common with; friends by circumstance. I’d go out, drink more than I needed and wanted to, and spend the next day holed up in my room, unhappy.
During my teens, I developed an online addiction, beginning innocuously with MSN Messenger and chat rooms, seeking the connection and relationships online I had so wanted in real life, but didn’t know how to attain.
This only continued at university. I thought at some point through going out and drinking, stuff with the “opposite sex” would just happen. In short, not a lot did happen. So I’d come home drunk and jump onto the computer, compensating for what I was missing out on in real-life. It became both addictive behaviour, and an avoidance strategy for what was happening in real life.
At the time, I was hardly eating. I was wasting away. It was another way to suppress my feelings. A couple of friends staying in my halls would knock on my door, and I’d just lie there motionless, physically and mentally exhausted. Behind closed doors, I was crumbling and self-destructing.
Having dropped out of university, I found myself working in recruitment. While I loved meeting and connecting with people, the commute and hours were long, and the job became exhausting and unfulfilling.
I handed in my notice the day I received confirmation to study a year-long Masters at the University of East London in 2015, and I also began a career-changers’ course with Escape The City (an online community to inspire people to do the work they love). The trouble was, with lectures only every three weeks, I had a lot of alone time. Oh, and there’s also no single answer to what you’re supposed to do with your life.
On top of everything else, I found myself in this existential angst – what is sometimes referred to as a “quarter-life crisis”. I felt lonely and isolated again, with all sorts of thoughts cropping up and tumbling around inside my head.
After finishing my Masters in late 2016, ironically in positive psychology, I hit another major low-point. It was the first time my family had seen me like this, now under their roof as opposed to in my university halls. I felt very low on energy, and mood.
At Mum’s insistence, I eventually succumbed and went to a psychiatrist in December 2016. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, but it took several months for me to acknowledge and accept this. As far as I was concerned, I hadn’t been suicidal or self-harmed, so I wasn’t unwell. But through therapy, antidepressants, and observing similar personality traits in the patients in group therapy, I eventually accepted it.
I also had individual therapy, and was also exposed to art therapy for the first time. As an outlet for self-expression, I was able to work through some long-stifled emotions, and both anger and tears emerged. It felt like those emotions needed to come out.
Since 2016, I have begun implementing things in my daily life to help manage my mental health. I am pleased to say I am probably in the best place I have been in for many years.
Yoga has helped massively with my body image, amongst other things. I am learning to love, accept, and be kind to myself.
I still get thoughts creeping in – especially when things seem to be “going well” – which my therapist says is my saboteur coming into play. When this happens, instead of avoiding it at all costs, I write it down to get it out in the open, and challenge those thoughts.
The challenge I initially had with my mental health was that I failed to put a finger on exactly what was wrong, and so what I needed to work on. It was a mix of low self-esteem, lack of direction, high sensitivity, and other things linked to my general energy.
Connection and strong social relationships are really important to me – and yet I am also someone who craves downtime to recharge. I am a lot more conscious now about who I give my time to, and have the confidence to do the things I want to do, not just what I feel I’m “expected” to do.
It’s a work-in-progresss but, on the whole, I’m managing well. After a couple of years on-and-off therapy, I’m soon going to be ending this latest course, hopefully for the long-term, though knowing it is always a resource for me to use if I need it.
I have a list of “happy habits”, ranging from getting enough sleep, through to carving out space for down-time which I know, as long as I am leaning into, will keep me in a good place. Whether it’s medication, therapy or changes to my lifestyle/mindset, the important thing is I know I have a wide range of tools at my disposal. And that’s really reassuring.
Perhaps the most important thing is the mindset that I have mental health, and that needs to be looked after and nourished just like my physical health.
You can find out more about Jasraj at jasraj.me
Jasraj’s story highlights that we each have our own unique experience of mental health, and the stereotypes we hear about may not fit with what that. It is good to hear that his recovery has involved a number of different things, and that he now has plenty of options and tools to utilise in order to manage his mental health, and support his wellbeing. Staying mentally healthy is something we all need to dedicate time and energy to – it is not a given, and having flexibility in how you keep yourself well is a great idea.