Grappling With Grief & Creating Culturally-Sensitive Wellness Resources For South Asians

By Meenakshi (Meeta) Krishna on January 19, 2021

By Meenakshi (Meeta) Krishna

On January 19, 2021

There was a numbing sensation that paralyzed my emotions after papa passed away. In my friend group I was notorious for being the one who would cry, even through movies like Dil Toh Paagal Hai. Yet somehow, not even one tear was shed through the funeral rites. After two years of battling pancreatic cancer together, taking time off from my career and seeking every therapy around the world, I was left devoid of emotion. The grief was stuck in some part of my being.

Three weeks after completing papa’s funeral rites both in the US and in India, I started medical school. In an attempt to seem normal and “be accepted” by my new classmates, I sought out authentic interactions. However, in my desperate attempt for genuine human connection and empathy, I simply came across as overly enthusiastic and friendly. It was quite the challenge. 

Facial expressions and reactions, told me that opening up and being candid about the grief was considered an “overshare.” Trying to suppress the grief and recover from those interactions, I tried to host gatherings or study groups repeatedly. That attempt was considered “trying too hard” or “needy.” But my classmates couldn’t be blamed for this. Empathetic and kind individuals enter medicine, but surviving the dense academic schedule, pressure to care for patients, and elevated expectations of medical competence is a battle itself, leaving few moments to spare for the healing of each other. It is quite ironic that the process of entering a field of healing can be so draining itself, that moments of empathy amongst peers may be rare. 

Being one of the only South Asian students in a medical class of 24 added to the isolation. My father was my best friend and we shared so many experiences rooted in our South Asian heritage: early mornings making chai and listening to Rafi and Manna Dey, going to the movie theater three times to watch 3 Idiots while my mom was away at business conferences, and walking together and singing to each other on the Golden Gate Bridge. Remembering these moments, I had no one to share them with and I craved the community that I had through my undergrad South Asian dance teams.

In grief therapy, I felt the same disconnect with my South Asian roots, struggling to explain the cultural nuances of my experience. Most therapists couldn’t fully fathom what seeing my white coat would have meant to my father. He left the comfort of India, toiling to enable the education and opportunities that brought me to medical school. Getting here was a collective dream for us as immigrants, and it broke me not to have him here. When I expressed feelings of burnout with 8 different professionals, I was told that this was the normal grieving process and discouraged from taking time off, “since my grades were fine.” It never felt like time off was an option anyway. How would I deal with the fact that taking time off is so stigmatized – as soon as I decide to take time off, family members and family friends all start having pangs of fear. How would I respond to, “You’re nothing without your MD,” or, “Why delay it – this will delay having kids, marriage, getting settled?” 

Defeated after trying to find support within therapy, but determined to endure my grief, I searched for the “right” wellness routine. Every morning and night before bed, I was tirelessly journaling what I was grateful for – trying to find a small sliver of light in my darkness. I had downloaded every app, and was doing every free online workout possible. Ferociously dancing for 15 mins every morning and singing out loud during my power walk to school, I was probably responsible for half of the Spotify listens on Baadshah and Neha Kakkar’s pump up hits. But faking it only helped so much. I knew that I was slowly sinking, and my head was almost below water.

The reality is that many South Asians have been in this position. Our suppressed emotions are like empty pails accumulating rain. Without an outlet, a place of understanding, eventually the droplets accumulate and the weight becomes too much to carry alone. We need a place where you can ignore stigmas and the feeling of oversharing. A place where you can cry openly and talk about seeing 3 Idiots with your dad, needing to support your mom, or deviating from the expected timeline for a stable relationship and marriage. Where we can be vulnerable, and people who understand the nuance of our South Asian culture can relate or empathize with our experience.

This struggle, our struggle, led to the idea for My Mantra Wellness. My Mantra is a platform that creates safe spaces for South Asians to express authenticity and work through challenges together. Unlike the mental health resources that I found out during my recovery, My Mantra is an affordable and accessible safe space where individuals can (A) seek community and (B) discuss, with cultural sensitivity, all aspects of emotional personal battles including, but not limited to relationship challenges, career struggles, finding purpose, and grief.

My vision was to create the safe and culturally sensitive space that I longed for while coping and processing grief.  If I can help it, no one should have to fight any wellness battle alone, and this is my mantra. 

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My Mantra Wellness is a platform to provide community during COVID (an isolating time) but also make wellness accessible to all regardless of employment status, stage in life (student/retired), or insurance status, as cost can sometimes be a barrier to accessing support.

In January we are offering free culturally sensitive peer support groups geared towards the South Asian diaspora addressing: dating, coping with grief, beauty standards, LGBTQ challenges & more. We also offer yoga & meditation, dance workshops, and community-based classes. Additionally, for individuals seeking more personalized support, we provide low-cost emotional coaching.

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