Gayathri Ramprasad’s story begins a world away from Cedar Mill, Oregon, where she now makes her home. Growing up in Bangalore, everything was different, from her expected role as a young woman in Brahmin society, to – as she would later learn – which way you insert a house key. But depression knows no boundaries, and Ramprasad’s darkness would follow her from India to the U.S.
In her new memoir, Shadows in the Sun, Ramprasad shares her struggle with depression, her survival and recovery, and her emergence as an international advocate for those with mental illness.
From the outside, Ramprasad led a charmed life. Growing up, her father called her “Princess.” Her home was filled with love, and with beautiful, elaborate ritual. Her marriage was arranged, but her husband turned out to be a kind and supportive partner. Her life in America seemed perfect.
But underneath she was plagued by terrifying symptoms. Her parents tried to be helpful, but they only added to her self-blame.
“Don’t give in to your imaginary sickness,” says her father.
“Gayu, if only you prayed with a purer heart, you wouldn’t be depressed the way you are,” her mother writes in a letter.
Ramprasad vividly captures the inner narrative of madness, the overwhelming worries, the constant, irrational but persuasive preoccupation with death. Her descriptions of life in India are elegantly composed and fascinating. But the book is notable among recovery literature in other ways as well.
One is that Ramprasad’s battle with depression was fought as a young mother. This is relatively rare among memoirs of mental illness. One reason may be that many mental health conditions tend to appear in adolescence or young adulthood, before a person has even thought of settling down or having children. Another possible reason is the appalling number of cases where the state, or an ex-spouse, takes the children away, not always due to fitness as a parent, but rather the mere existence of a psychiatric diagnosis.
Ramprasad was lucky enough to keep her children. Her memoir shows her as a conscientious parent, though sometimes it took unimaginable strength. And when she needed help, she sought it out. Even her worst symptoms never diminished her love for her kids, and ultimately, they were her reason to recover.
The second reason the book stands out is that it does not give short shrift to recovery. Many authors recount the minutiae of illness for nearly the whole book, followed by a few pages of afterthought: “Then I recovered. The End.” This leaves the readers who most identify with the author’s story feeling cheated, asking: “But how did you do it – so I can do it too?” Ramprasad tells us exactly what she tried, what helped, and what works for her now. It is even laid out on its own page, step by step, so you don’t have to piece it together from the text.
Depression took Ramprasad through a desperate search for effective treatment, all the way to a hospital seclusion room. But she found her way back, and found her voice in advocacy.
As Ramprasad writes:
“While mental illness can break my mind, and the mental health system can confine my body, there are no walls in the world that can contain my spirit.”
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Ramprasad is founder and president of ASHA International, a non-profit organization promoting mental health recovery and wellness.