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Never Have I Ever — Your Approach To Feelings, Desires, and Mental Health Matters

What’s the last series you binge-watched? For me, it was “Never Have I Ever”, a coming-of-age comedy drama on Netflix, starring Maitreyi Ramakrishnanan, Poorna Jagannathan, Richa Moorjani, Jaren Lewison, Darren Barnet, Lee Rodriguez, and Ramona Young. It has been well-received and loved by youngsters, and that’s the target audience, say the gen-Z kids, those going to school and early college. Have you watched this one? If so, did you like it? Or is there any other show you enjoyed watching recently? How have these shows impacted you and do they influence your approach to mental health, friendships, and family? Let us know.

What’s this show, “Never Have I Ever” got to do with mental health, you’re wondering? A valid question that is, so allow me to explain. In short, this story, as they say is a coming-of-age drama and they’ve all done a good job on the whole. This series shows us all the feelings we tend to develop in high school, the confusion our thoughts and feelings cause, the fears we face, problems with self-esteem, feeling vulnerable and dealing with vulnerability, family and friendships etc. In some cases, you might have been able to relate, and in some cases, you might have just have found the show amusing but might not have been able to relate. But this did remind me of some of my clients and some people I know personally, too, the struggles they’ve gone through and how it affected them.

Never Have I Ever — Dealing with fiery emotions and desires in Adolescence

Take the lead character of Never Have I Ever, Devi Vishwakumar, played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan for example. She’s an adolescent, a first-generation American from India, a geek in high school who lost her father recently and is living with her widowed mother. While Devi is in therapy because she’s lost her father and had been paralyzed for a short while, she also deals with developing romantic and sexual feelings, feels bullied and/or unnoticed most of the time because she wants to be seen as one of the “cool” kids but she is more of brilliant kid. The story is all about this one character, mostly about her feelings with only an episode or two or scenes here and there to show the feelings of others. The show is mostly about the struggles of this teenage kid as she tries to deal with her mixed feelings and maintain friendships and get herself satisfied at the end of the day. The more she fails at it, all of the attempts to impress others and come across as cool are presented in a comical way, the more she gets frustrated.

This is where I am reminded of social media. While for all of us, we are mostly the center of our own worlds and mostly look at ourselves and others through our worldview, we often fail to think of others’ perspectives, too. And it’s very much important for relationships in family and with friends and in love that we take into account, respectfully so, the opinions of others, too. This is where social media does us wrong, it misguides us heavily, and traps us into developing many wrong ideas. Unfortunately, social media is commonly used and is sort of addictive for many of us, especially the youngsters. Like we see in the show, we all want to be seen as cool on Instagram and Facebook and we give those “likes” a lot more importance than it deserves!

In my opinion, this show is a good example of how one can ruin their own life and peace and also break/destroy relationships if they wouldn’t take into account both their perspectives and others’, too. See, it’s not one person alone who suffers. Almost everyone in the show is fighting their own battles, which is the case with reality, too. All of us have our own complicated lives and fights to be fought daily, whether we like it or not. And any relationship, in personal or professional life, requires that two people be considerate of each other’s feelings and values without either one having to compromise on their values.

Never Have I Ever — Feeling Lonely and Wanting to be Loved

That’s why I abhor social media. Take Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. These apps make sure that you are more self-centered than you would normally be. It puts you in the position of a victim while also making you feel like you are super cool, and that people, is a trap. These apps reward hate and anger towards other communities and justifies any nasty/harmful behavior by making you feel like your wrong can be righted and that you must must hate, cut ties off, and be completely inconsiderate. Tell me the last time you saw a social media post that engaged you on the importance of apology in a friendship or family relationship. Either you’d not see such a post at all or you’d not spend time on it. Tell me the last time you read a hate-filled post? You see these daily. The last time you felt like you were an innocent victim who deserves all the love and compassion and attention and appreciation, that you must be on top of the world, and others don’t deserve one bit of attention or consideration? This is what happens on a daily basis, but you’d mostly not realize. the more self-centered you become, the easier it is for these people to manipulate you, and the more vulnerable you become to brainwashing, the more they are going to benefit.

Out of the blue, pick a post for #narcissist and you will find how awful the “narcissist” is. They might not even be diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, yet this app/person would have convinced you your boss or partner or parent is a narcissistic bitch or jerk. And the blame is always on them, you have to take no responsibility for the wrong you might have done because that’s how they get more likes and followers, and the more ignorant and desperate you are, the more they win.

Lakshmi Prakash, Psychotherapist and Writer

See, in Never Have I Ever, Devi has lost her father and does not want to acknowledge her grief, which is okay, understandable. But the consequences of being self-centered, impulsively acting on one’s own feelings, being completely inconsiderate and disrespectful with others, trying hard to please, and refusing to accept bitter truths? No, not acceptable. I myself have had clients who would appear for therapy for several weeks or even months and still not want to talk about the real, most important problems, and I would also recommend that such clients go see other therapists maybe. Devi misdirects her rage at her widowed parent, friends, crushes, and even her therapist. Yes, adolescence and teenage can be very confusing phases for us, but that does not mean we are the only ones with problems! This is what the show tries to tell us, too.

Dr. Nalini, the mother of Devi is a widowed doctor who has many difficulties, too, at the workplace, in her own personal life, as a woman who is still trying to deal with the loss of her husband, as a parent who find it very hard to raise her difficult, hot-headed daughter. She could go for therapy herself, instead she tries to deal with all this on her own, and is only overwhelmed further. She does not know where to draw the line between being a responsible parent and being a controlling mother. She hates some of her colleagues when she knows little to nothing about them, yet she’s already prejudiced. She is shown as someone who faces prejudice and harsh judgement within the community of Indians in the U.S, though. In her eyes, she is the victim, but can she see where her wrong? In the eyes of her daughter, niece, and herself, other Indian women there are nasty “aunties”. Umm … okay.

The same logic applies to almost all the main characters. If you are an adolescent or teenager, it is completely fine to have romantic and sexual feelings for one or more people. It is fine to expect our love interests to reciprocate, too, but compelling them and trying too very hard to win them? As fun and challenging as that might sound, is it healthy? And if you are the center of your world and you are high on your feelings, desires, and feelings, and that is justifiable, shouldn’t it be okay for all your peers — your friends, enemies, love interests, and other people to be that way, too? If they are wrong when they are rude and inconsiderate, how can your similar behavior be justified? Confusing feelings, powerful desires, energetic, curious, impulsive, and being afraid of what might happen if you goof up? Understandable. Adolescence and teenage are mostly like that, so you are no different. If you need expert guidance on the dos and don’ts, always feel free to talk to a friendly therapist.

Never Have I Ever — When parenting becomes difficult, you miss your own partner, and you want love too!

If you are a parent, just because you are a parent doesn’t mean you know how to deal with an adolescent kid, simply because you have been through adolescence yourself. Irrespective of your age, if you feel lonely and left out, again, judgments can’t be in binary, not like you are the only one who is victimized and others are wrong in avoiding you, or you can’t be arrogant justifying to yourself that others deserve your rudeness, and make relationships worse. It’s okay to want to be left alone; it’s okay to want to be included and appreciated; it’s okay to have desires, it’s okay to not have either romantic or sexual desires; it’s okay to want to smoke and drink; it’s okay to not want what all your peers love.

It’s only when we go out of our way to please others because we want to be connected with someone and then regret it that we punish ourselves, like Fabiola, the queer woman did in this show. Because her love interest was a strong queer rights activist, she joined the community, too, but that community was not at all her kind — she had to sacrifice on her interest in robotics to make time for activities she was not interested in at all. Thankfully, her partner understood that, accepted her for her true nature, and loved her, so she didn’t have to completely give up on her values and ambition.

It is sad that Ben Gross is a wealthy, brilliant kid but hardly gets what he expects from his family — love. It’s perfectly fine and normal to expect to be loved by our family, irrespective of age and gender. His jealousy towards Paxton Hall-Yoshida is understandable, too because Paxton is the cool kid that all girls seem to find sexy, whereas his own girlfriend loves him only for his money. But does this hurt justify his need to push others down to make himself feel great valid? No. This is a good example of bad parenting and this emotional neglect by his parents would affect his personality and relationships much in future.

All of us go through pain; all of have to deal with loss and grief at some point; all of us want to be loved; and rejection sucks. But none of our own problems can ever be used as an excuse to hate on others. So if anger and pain should not be misdirected and we ourselves don’t know what to do with the boiling feelings inside of us that make daily life difficult for us, then what to do? That’s when and why you talk to a therapist. Seeking validation on social media might make you feel great that moment, but that’s not going to help you in the long run. Addressing the real problem and working on it is what’s going to help you lead a peaceful life. As individuals, we are all complicated, and life is not easy, and that should explain why mental health is complicated, too. You don’t have to fight your battles alone.

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Refine Redefine Counselling and Coaching Centre offers mental health services such as psychological counselling, psychoeducational workshops, life skills training, and mental health awareness programmes.

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Lakshmi Prakash

Lakshmi Prakash

A conversation designer and writer interested in technology, mental health, gender equality, behavioral sciences, and more.

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