Written by Anonymous. (If you would like to write a story, please contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Its mental health awareness week and we would like to highlight something in particular. In many families, in- laws and family related problems can cause anxiety and depression for many people. In this article we are particularly talking about south asian women and the stress in-laws can cause.
In a recent poll on Saas Chat, we asked this question to Saas Chat group members.
‘How many of you, have at some point felt depressed and alone simply because of your in laws?’
It could be moderate or it could be severe, but we were interested to know if in laws was the sole reason for your depression. Perhaps this affected your marriage too. It’s a simple yes/no answer. Symptoms could be panic attacks, loss of confidence and self- esteem, breakdowns, generally feeling unhappy, generally feeling in a low mood,or it could be more severe. 46 women answered this question and 44 out of 46 answered YES. In percentage terms, that’s 95%. I personally believe that there is a high chance that more women would have answered yes but it’s still a taboo and many women may not respond to this poll, and wouldn’t want anyone to know their answer.
The result doesn’t surprise me. Let’s think about this for a second, and lets finally talk about it. In my opinion I think the problem starts from childhood. When we were young girls living with our parents, it was drilled in our heads from a young age that one day we will be married and go to our ‘own’ homes where we shall, no matter what, always be respectful to our in laws and we shall never answer back. Some of us were told that your real mum will be your mother in law. We were told that it’s so important for us to adjust into their family way of life and tolerate, and that our family’s reputation is down to us. This subconsciously, for many girls became-a ‘belief’. I too was told some of this and at the time, I didn’t think much of it, just kind of shrugged every time my mother mentioned this. However, little did I know, that no matter how outspoken and confident I was with my own family, that I would one day become so timid and different with my in laws, and I realise now, that it was because of my subconscious belief.
This is a story by a Saas Chat group member. She wanted to share her experience with us. She was led to depression and she believes it was because of her husband’s side of family. (If you would like to share your experience associated with mental health, please email email@example.com).
‘I am going to treat her just like my own mum’ I thought to my myself on the first day of marriage. I married someone who I dated for two years. I moved in with him and his parents and two younger sisters. We all got on well the first few months. However, it wasn’t long before I started feeling like an outsider. His mum and two sisters were very close with each other,but soon I realised they keep secrets amongst themselves, went on shopping tripsand didn’tget me involved much.
I soon started feeling I wasn’t good enough. This was because of hints and remarks constantly being made to me. I just wanted to be liked and went out of my way to be liked, always there to help in kitchen etc, but on the days I made my own plans and wasn’t there to help, there would be silent treatments, faces pulled at me, and remarks. I would hear comments from my mother in law and father in law like I’m too skinny so I should eat more, I should go gym less, I should stay out of sun as my skin is too dark, I should keep quiet if my husband is in a bad mood. I could go on. Basically I felt nothing I did was right.
The sisters were nice enough but they would never stick up for me. I just felt like I was being controlled. They used to go quiet if me and my husband decided to go out for dinner instead of eat what my mother in law had made, although we still went out, it left me feeling highly uneasy, and feelings of guilt for not eating her food, and generally a horrible atmosphere.
There was nothing substantially horrible that they did to me, I just needed my own space and felt I was always being judged no matter what I did. I didn’t feel free. My inner voice kept telling me I should ignore their remarks and I should never answer back, so I didn’t. This was the start of my anxiety. After a while, all these comments get to you. There were comments being made about my family, like questioning how much they gave for my birthday, anniversary etc, and things like ‘is that all they gave you’? I soon started becoming paranoid about how much my family gave me when they visited and started questioning if it was enough!! Looking back, how stupid was I.
I found myself suffocating. I couldn’t escape his family to have my own space, and I didn’t have the emotional privacy to deal with everything. I felt like I had no control. I was beginning to feel like I’m just another child being told what to do by parents and my role is just to slip into their way of living and just be okay with it. It is like being on a reality TV show called family swap!
I had to act like everything was great when I stepped outside our bedroom and laugh and joke like everything was fine with his family. I was not comfortable showing what I am really feeling around them and I was struggling to have the privacy to talk to my husband about everything openly because I feared they will know something is going on. This was really affecting our marriage. He couldn’t understand why I can’t just try harder to make this place work for me – because we couldn’t financially afford to buy another place and he wouldn’t compromise to rent somewhere. When I first had a few breakdowns, he was understanding, but that soon stopped. He started thinking I was being dramatic. In his eyes his parents and siblings were normal and couldn’t do anything wrong. I was expected to go to all the family functions and weddings and sit with my mother in law. I wasn’t allowed to mix and socialise with people as I was told it didn’t look good if I talked to much. I did this just to keep her happy. If I was out, my mother in law would call me where I am, what I’m doing, if I went to my parents she would still call me to mainly ask when I’m coming back. She never said anything horrible but the mere fact I had to report everything started bothering me. I was an educated girl who had a career before marriage, yet I was too afraid to confront her. I was so depressed. I dreaded coming home, I stayed at work till late on purpose. Pretending like everything is fine is exhausting, I used to cry myself to sleep, I used to miss my family terribly.
Eventually when I plucked the courage to confront her as I wanted to sort things out, she just kept crying and crying and turned everything around on me and made me out to be a complete bitch who has done nothing to fit in. I was in shock as I had done nothing but tried, but that’s the day I realised no matter what, I will never be good enough. My father in law supported her and my husband kept quiet, he didn’t say a thing, he was too scared. Looking back, it was all about control. The effect on my marriage became worse and I eventually left after I realised that my husband would never leave and get our own place. The more this happened, the more I fell out of love with my husband. I started to resent him for not sticking up for me.
That was then and I am writing this in the now. I divorced in the end, which is probably not the ending you were hoping for or expecting. However, it got way too much for me. I am much happier now. I do get judgedby society. I have been told I should have tried harder etc and that girls these days give up too easily. ‘Did theybeat you’, did they not give you food?’ some would say. No, they didn’t beat me, yes, they gave me food, but to me, they affected my mental health and with the lack of support by my husband, I couldn’t take it anymore. I can honestly say if my husband supported me even 5% more than he did and just acknowledged what I was going through – he didn’t even have to agree, but just acknowledge it and hear me out – then the outcome may have been different. But I had to choose the path that gave me most peace, and maybe I wasn’t mentally strong enough to actually block out the negativity and carry on with my life.
Now, I am much stronger. I’m clearer on what I want, I know what I will and will not tolerate and more importantly, I know how to balance and prioritise my own inner harmony with other people’s negativity.
Maybe if the messages I was brought up on as a young girl would have changed my fate by making me stronger from the beginning rather than constantly looking to please. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s just tradition. But I know that if and when I am lucky enough to have kids, and if I am blessed enough to have girls, I know which messages I will be bringing them up with. Starting with ‘focus on you, and what gives you peace’.