Tashi Lhaden

“I’ve always loved reading. My mother never hesitated to buy me books and send me to the library. During a weekend library programme when I was in class 6, a BBS group was filming a show there. I met an ashim who invited me to be on the programme. It was my first time being on camera, and I was very excited. The first shows were for the King’s coronation and the King’s birthday. They needed a host for ‘My World’, so I became its weekly host in class 8. It was fun, and I learned a lot working with producers and seeing them design content. My friends would call me when they saw me on TV. People would tease me about it but that’s how I made many new friends. 

That made me want to become a reporter. I wanted to travel to far-flung countries, reporting stories others were too scared to share. I was literary captain and a member of my college media club, but slowly I strayed away from the media world. My last screen time was for a project with YAN (Youth Advocacy Network) and the UN. They sent us to remote parts of Bhutan to document the UN’s projects, but the work put a strain on my already deteriorating mental health. 

I’ve always been surrounded by strongly opinionated people. I thought I was like that too, but I realised that my opinions were formed based on theirs. I slowly felt like an imposter. It was as if someone else was living my life and I was just a spectator. That really put a dent in how I felt. College wasn’t fun either. I always had friends around, but I felt ostracised because of how I spoke. People would cringe when I spoke in English, and that ruined my confidence. I am not one to make others uncomfortable, so I retreated into a shell for my 3 years in college. 

Because of that, I had a lot of time to myself. I used to be very social, but being alone gave me time to ponder, which led to a downward spiral. Things worsened after graduation. I had always wanted to leave Bhutan to explore, and I thought I could explore once I enrolled in university in Australia, but with COVID I got stuck. I tried to console myself with the thought that other people were also struggling, but that honestly didn’t help. It also didn’t help that my friends were passing their RCSEs and getting jobs, especially when comparison has been ingrained in us since our parents always did to us as children. I felt like I was lagging behind and was feeling very despondent.

I already felt empty in college, so this made it worse. My bad coping mechanisms resurfaced, and I started to self-harm again. I knew that it was a nasty habit, but it let my brain completely focus on one thing. My friends were worried. The situation got so bad I eventually went to therapy. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which has to do with the difficulty in regulating emotions.

It felt so good hearing that. It was a real validation that something was genuinely wrong. All those outbursts, all the sadness, it all made sense. Looking it up online felt like I was reading about myself. It made me happy to know that I am not alone. It is a lifelong disorder, but my diagnosis helped me come to terms with it. I don’t normally take medicine, but that little blue pill 180-ed my perspective. For once, I didn’t feel like I had to die. 

I never opened up to my family about it. But when it started getting really bad, I finally told my parents. Their initial responses were that of a typical Bhutanese family, where I had to be grateful for the food on my table and the roof over my head. I understood their point of view because when they were young they didn’t have the resources to process difficult emotions. But it led to me closing up even more. 

After the big incident, I became blunter about my experiences. When I told them about my visit to the psychiatrist they were shocked. They asked me about the disorder, and the association of BPD and childhood trauma did not sit well with them. However, they were considerate enough to minimise their expectations of me, which was a lifesaver when I was already struggling with my own expectations. They eventually made peace with it, and now it’s like an everyday topic. Before, our phone calls consisted of superficial small talk. Now, the first question my father asks is if there is anything that’s making me sad. 

It’s still difficult to regulate my emotions, even a TikTok can trigger my tears. Although I still get triggered, I know what to try to stay away from. Dealing with the triggers can be a hit or miss, but I definitely have a different reaction. It’s been 3 months since I left Thimphu, and I will be doing a master’s in Counselling. Once I am certified and gain experience, I want to go home and help friends who are also struggling. I hope to create a safe space for people that aren’t doing well and to help them understand that it’s ok to be that way. I hope that the topic of mental health becomes more accessible, especially for older generations. And I hope that this course and career can heal me as well.” [1960]

 

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