Q&A : I chose to write about mental illness because not enough people are – Tazmeen Amna

Writing her debut book on a sensitive issue like mental illness is not an easy decision to make . But writer Tazmeen Amna dares to be different. And she comes out with a critically acclaimed book Goner. The writer takes us inside the restless mind of a protagonist dealing with mental health issues, deftly showing us the world from her distorted yet endearing perspective. The book is inspired by real-life events and addresses the inevitable struggle with mental health and depressive disorders.

In a candid and upfront interview Tazmeeen talks about the issue that is a raging debate, how to deal with it, her future plans and what made her become a writer and much more  . 

Excerpts : 

Q : Why is the title of the book called Goner? Any specific reason

A : We (my editor and I) wanted a title with a dark undercurrent, something that would seem like a rebuke, an accusation; something that could depict what a sheer indomitable mess the protagonist believes she is. In the eyes of society, a protagonist who drinks, smokes, is angry, has opinions, has failed most of her relationships, has a steadily sinking careership and also happens to be a woman would easily be tagged as a ‘gone-case’. On top of that, she is always on the periphery of ‘going’ away because she has suicidal tendencies, and has a pattern of self-sabotage. Hence, the title Goner.

Q : Any reason why you chose for a debut novel a sensitive issue like mental illness ?

A : I chose to write about mental illness because not enough people are. More importantly, I wanted to create a heroine that was chronically depressed and anxious, far from perfect. There is so little visibility for people who suffer from mental illness- they are pushed to the suburbs of modern life and struggle to find acceptance. Hence, I decided to bring mental health front and centre in an attempt to ignite a much-needed conversation around the subject and to de-stigmatize it.

Q :  What is the message you want to put across to the readers with this book ?

A : To get help- if you feel broken or if you feel like something is wrong, then there probably is. There is no shame and no harm in talking to a professional. Depression and anxiety can happen to anyone, and one must own up to it and try to conquer it. People often shy away from medication especially when it comes to mental health- I want my readers to know that medication can be really good for you, can make your life easier and can help you control your mental illness, as opposed to it controlling you in turn.

Q : Did you go through any research while conceiving this book ?

A : Most of my research was primary. Since I have dealt with mental health issues for a long time, I am in touch with several doctors, experts, and a community/support group as well. So I looked at my own experiences and the experiences of others as research.

Q : What was it that prompted you to write on this mental illness issue that is raging debate today ?

A : The fact that the issue is grossly overlooked. There is zero visibility for people who suffer from depression, they are pushed into the shadows. Im sick to my stomach of Bollywood movies focussing on the “perfect” protagonist- happy problem-free picture-perfect women, who don’t exist in real life. Bollywood has failed the mental health community on so many levels. They have failed to represent the cracks in human characters, have failed to recognise that human beings are inherently flawed and have instead created illusions of characters with the perfect all that (yes, I’m talking about Karan Johar). I wanted to create a heroine that was flawed and had several cracks, quirks, and kinds. Someone real and relatable.

Q : How does one overcome this illness? Do you think celebrities speaking out will help the cause like Deepika Padukone did ?

 A : For sure. More and more celebrities need to admit that they have therapists! The need of the hour is to normalise therapy. Suggest therapy to someone who is feeling troubled and the shrink away from it- to my utmost horror. People are really buying into the stigma.

There is only one way to overcome this illness and that is treatment. Medication and therapy. It works wonders. My wish is for people to know that there is a scientific approach to whatever is broken..and that is treatment.

Q : What inspired you to become a writer ?

A : I’ve somehow always wanted to be a writer. I know nothing else but writing. So it was always clear to me since a very young age that this is the path I’d follow.

Q : Any favourite writers you like reading or whose works motivated you to become a writer ?

A : Manto. Arundhati Roy. Enough said!

Q : What next after Goner ? Have you thought about any subject you would like to write on in the future ?

A : Well I’m delighted to be working on crime fiction! I’ve been doing a lot of research on criminal insanity lately. And lots more on what makes a criminal. I’ve also noticed that none of the major serial killers were women. That’s all I can say for now, haha.

Q : Any latest book you read recently and found it interesting ?

A : I’m reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Ms. Roy and everyday I’m questioning myself why I didn’t read this before! She is simply breathtaking. I love how she strips politics bare. I hope I meet her someday. A true queen! And an inspiration!

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