How helping others helps me
Trigger Warning: Suicide
‘to move forward you have to go backwards’
I am Sandeep Saib and I am a living experience mental health advocate. I really emphasise the ‘living’ in that title because I am still going through my own mental health journey.
I am a philanthropist, public speaker and professional marketeer too and I am delighted to share my mental health journey.
I am from Ilford in East London and I’m part of a big family. The beauty of our Sikh culture is our commitment to family, and it is a pillar of support for me.
My mental health journey started when my family and I moved house for the first time in July 2012. At the time I was in my early 20’s and moving on to higher education.
I began to ruminate on what physical activity I could do to become fitter, and I started jogging here and there. It quickly became an activity I did every day, 7 days a week. And even that was not enough for me. I started to exercise in my own room too.
Then the controlling behaviour began to emerge. I kept a food and a weight diary, and I used controlling behaviours like eating food only from certain bowls and with certain utensils.
I lost drastic amounts of weight and didn’t eat at all.
I had anger outbursts, and I withdrew from the world. I stopped wanting to see my family. In my culture turning up to family events is very important and shows who you are as an individual.
I felt that I was becoming something that I did not like. I didn’t want to be selfish, but I felt that I was becoming so. And that was my life for two years until my dad noticed something was wrong.
He sat me down with my mum and he said, ‘We are worried about you.’ And he asked, ‘how are you really feeling?’
I think this is the moment my bubble popped. What I mean by that is I realised that what I was doing was having an external impact on my loved ones.
They suggested a doctor’s appointment to me and I went for them. The doctor diagnosed me with anorexia nervosa disorder, body dysmorphic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (which underpins those diagnoses). I was also put on anti-depressants and referred to 6 sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy.
Therapy was the most daunting experience. It is a simple concept but back then I did not know where to start.
I feared being judged or saying the wrong thing; but I began to open up.
Why was I punishing my body? Being so self-critical? Allowing this bully in my life to take over me? I began to peel these core beliefs back like an onion. I came to the general consensus that it was that I felt that I wasn’t normal. I felt that I wasn’t right or perfect or beautiful or thin.
I also realised that it all stemmed back to my childhood. I had these problems since I was 3 or 4 years old but it had only been exacerbated over the years.
I was more relaxed after taking my medication and doing therapy. When therapy stopped, I was mindful that my weight was beginning to creep up.
On August 29th, 2014, it was the day before my brother’s birthday and my family planned to go to the Gurdwara to prepare for the day. I had woken up feeling so depressed and lonely. My mum came to my door and told me to come, if not for myself but for my brother.
I was mentally exhausted, however. I wondered how everyone else had a purpose and I wondered what mine was. I realised that I wanted to remove myself from the world. I had two conflicting voices in my brain: the angel and the devil. One that told me that my family wanted and needed me; and the other telling me that I had become a burden to them.
My mum came to me and called my name; but I was so deep in this thought process that I couldn’t respond. But I heard her voice and it was louder than the devils.
I focussed on it and opened the door to her. There were no words said but she understood.
I started therapy again and it was again fearful and challenging. But to move forward you have to go backwards.
I was adamant in wanting to get better and I started to explore my thought process again.
2016 was my positive turning point in life. And I love talking about this point.
Mental health charity and advocacy became my form of therapy. Helping others, helps me as cliche as that sounds. It is a privilege to use my voice and I think the power of storytelling is unbelievable.
I have been thinking about the struggle to quantify the impact that I’m making. I have come to the conclusion that the way to do that is listening to the feedback I get back.
People reach out to me after I’ve done something like an editorial piece, or an event or a public speech and that’s the only way I know that I am making a difference. That I have helped someone to know and understand more about the world of mental health is priceless to me.
I am coming at these issues from a multifaceted identity. I am a person of colour and so talking about inclusivity, equality and diversity in mental health treatment is paramount.
And so, I do independent advocacy work, but I am also a champion for collaboration and co-production. I sit on the boards for the Samaritans, Mind and Rethink mental health charities.
Right now, I am struggling again but it is advocacy work which is keeping me empowered and motivated.
In terms of my own mental health there are things that I do to make myself feel better. As I have said, family support is the most important. This is because my mental health directly impacts those close to me.
My family and I have a family trust circle which we do every month at the nearest place to home. We do it outside the house so there are no distractions and we go through how we are feeling. It is a great place for open communication and early intervention for me.
Secondly, I’ve taken up dancing. This has replaced the jogging and the running which I realised I did not enjoy anyway. Dancing is something that I am passionate about.
Thirdly, the Gurdwara. My faith is integral for my mindfulness. It helps me get in touch with my five senses and to meditate.
The thing I recommend for other people’s mental health is open discussion. Mental health is everyone’s business, and we need to talk about it.
The most important thing to do for someone struggling with their mental health is to have someone who is open to listen. The person will need space and time at first for them to open up.
Connection is so important and that’s why being able to share your story and hear other people’s stories is great for feeling supported.