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Interview with Arjun Gupta

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Q.1 Tell us a little about yourself?
A. Well, I am a Psychology Student and pursuing my UG degree from Delhi University and studying many interesting papers. Before this, I was an MBBS student for two years in different colleges. I was born and raised in Haryana, and hope to get back there for my future ventures.

Q.2 What led you to write Shhh! Don’t Talk About Mental Health?
A. The very roots of this book took hold when I challenged myself to blog 50 times in 50 consecutive days. It was also a time when I was looking into the conceptual basis of mental health and mental illnesses. I mean everyone around me believed mental health was important, but none of them knew what it was. That’s why I started looking into the studies and researches. 

The books that had been written before this, and I was surprised to know that no book actually answers that question. As I dug deeper, I found some very interesting stories tucked away in research papers and journals. I was reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins at the same time, and it ended up being a very heavy influence on my decision to write this book.

The 50 blogs I wrote formed the skeleton of the book, but it was Dawkins' work that ultimately influenced the rest of the body. As I continued to read, I found that there is no popular literature in mental health. Something accessible, and easy to understand. I felt I needed to write this book because it was necessary at the time.

Q.3 Do you read yourself, and if so what is your favorite genre and book?
A. Yes! I read loads of books. While shifting back home I had a whole suitcase only for my books. I love reading non-fiction books. Mostly historical or science-centered. I sometimes dare to dive into the current political books as well to read different perspectives and expand my horizons. It is hard to pick a favorite book. I would have to go with, The God Delusion simply because of how much it influenced me as a writer. Other strong contenders are 1917; a book on how the modern political order of the world was born 100 years ago.

Q.4 Any new projects you’re working on?
A. Currently, I am focusing on my studies. I need to get back into the academic mode and do the hard work since it is the final year of my graduation. There are some thoughts on a new book though. I am still not sure which direction to go in, but I have 3-4 options in my head. When do I start working on them though will be strongly determined by how my latest book does and the time I can dedicate.

Q.5 What are your aspirations or goals for your future in this field?
A. As a writer, I feel that you are only as good as your last work. That is what I have been told to believe, and to an extent, I believe it is true as well. I see writing as a medium to impact the mass and bring some positive changes to our world. If I can change one mind, encourage one person to seek help or give the strength to one person to speak out; I would see myself as a success. Of course, it does not stop there. You have to keep going to reach more and more people, and that is what my aspirations are. To change more lives and change more minds. 

Q.6 If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
A. Ah! That’s a tough one! I have been writing for only 2 years, and if I go any younger than that I will be giving tips to my 16-year-old self, writing articles in school examinations. I guess I will have to skip this one. Maybe I will come back to this question in a few years. 

Q.7 How do you deal with that lingering, creeping thoughts about fear and doubts?
A. That’s the hardest part for me. There are days when I think my book is hot trash that no one would buy. There were so many times when I thought about giving up on this manuscript, but I just kept going. Why? Because I felt that I had to. I felt like the stories I had read needed to be read by others too. I felt that what I had to say was worth listening to. And that is what pushed me on. Of course, my family and my girlfriend encouraged me as well. Every time I felt afraid of failing or hopeless, they reminded me of everything I had come through. How there had been a time when I was convinced I was going to kill myself. I managed to make it through that. A book is a cakewalk after that. 

Q.8 You did a lot of research for your book, so what is your favorite part of that research?
A. Yeah, it did take a lot of review of the literature. I think the part I enjoyed the most was going from one research to the other and reading something completely opposite to what I had believed so far. You read one research that conflicts with your world view. This research leads you to another one that supports your view. Both are supported by data and logic. I think it made me more open to opposing views and criticism. It is what I will carry with myself for the rest of my life.

Q.9 What kind of impact would you like to make by your book?
A. As I said at the very basic level, I want it to change the views of one person, encourage one person to seek help and help one person assist those they know who are struggling with mental distress. On a larger scale, I want it to encourage more dialogue on mental health and mental illnesses. Conversations are what carry a discipline forward. Maybe there will be a day when someone writes a critique of my work. That is the day, I will know I managed to spark a long-term conversation.

Q.10 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
A. Yeah. I read all of them. It's mostly about noticing what the people thought popped out for them. When someone is reading a book they have a lot of thoughts in their mind but it is only when they write a book review that the major themes come out. The good ones tell me what my readers are liking the most, and the bad ones tell me where I can improve. 

Just the other day I got a review that said they found my book a little boring for a common reader, so it gave me something to ponder upon. I then got in touch with other book reviewers who haven’t studied psychology, and if there was something I could do to make the book more interesting.

Another aspect of book reviews is that the ones that come from your target audience mean the most. It is those reviews that ultimately decide whether the book reached its goals.
I don’t like ingenuine reviews though. Sometimes it's very apparent that someone hasn’t read the book, but merely flipped through the pages and written a small review about it. It makes the process of writing and editing I went through seem inconsequential.

Q.11 Does your family support your career as a writer?
A. Oh yes! They are the biggest supporters I have. I feel when I was clinically depressed, my family was taking a lot of the brunt of it as well. They worried about me, had to talk to people about me, tried their best to help and were genuinely fearful of losing me to suicide someday. I feel when a family goes through that then anything that keeps a person happy is good enough for them.

The best thing though is that they never support me blindly regarding my writing. When they don’t like something they say it pretty bluntly that my work isn’t good enough. No beating around the bush, no overthinking the words. It keeps me grounded, and makes me strive to do better.

I have two sisters who love me but are also my harshest critics. When I gave the first manuscript draft to my sister and she liked it, I knew that she was telling the truth and wasn’t saying it to make me happy. It also convinced me that the book is on the right track.

Q.12 What is your greatest strength?
A. That’s a tough one. I would say I can be empathic with others. It helps me understand their point of view and helps me become a better person, professional, student and author as well. There were many times when I asked myself, “What would a person who knows nothing about mental health say?” It was the answers to those questions that helped me write many chapters in the book. It helped me get into the mind of a stranger, and convince them to buy this book. It is what made me who I am today. Whether as a human being or an author.

Q.13 How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
A. I have written two so far. The A-Z of Mental Health and this one; Shhh! Don’t Talk About Mental Health. I think the new one takes the cake for my favorite. It is like my little baby. I have been working on it for a year whereas the previous one was more of an aggregate of blog posts than a flow of thoughts, and ideas like the new one.

Q.14 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
A. I don’t know them myself, but I have been told that I have the annoying habit of deleting a whole sentence if I make one typo in it. Other habits that I have been said to have include zoning out of my surroundings while writing to the point that I once didn’t notice the coffee spilling out from my glass, writing the same sentence multiple times in multiple ways and many more.

Q.15 What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
A. Beating clinical depression. It's right at the top and nothing comes close to it yet. I was in a state where I was convinced I would die by my own hands. Life seemed to have lost all meaning. I was alone, isolated, angry, and empty. I couldn’t wait for the day when I finally stopped breathing and actually thought it dying would be more of euthanasia than a suicide. It was bad. And that is an understatement. I managed to fight with my mind. I worked to save myself. And today, here I am.

Q.16 What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
A. I haven’t come across any unethical practices so far. Maybe that’s because I am just on the surface of the industry right now. A deeper dive always reveals dark secrets.

Q.17 Who edited your book and how did you select him/her?
A. My mom. She was the first one to get the original draft of the book, and she edited it too. The choice wasn’t hard. She was the perfect person for the job. A lecturer in English, she knew everything that had been happening with me at this point first hand. There was no better editor than I could ask for.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
A. There are just so many. There are many historical political figures like Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Voltaire, Jefferson, etc. Dravid and Bergkamp are my sporting idols and Ozil is my favorite footballer right now. 

Richard Dawkins would be a choice too for the impact he had on me, but I think when I go through all the names, I hold three names that had the most impact on my life as a whole. Three famous people who may have saved my life, and they don’t even know it. Henry Cavill, Zack Snyder, and Ben Affleck. The stars of Batman vs Superman. It was the movie that inspired me to keep fighting my battle with depression at a time when I didn’t think I wanted to fight it anymore. They are the reason I started writing. My blog Knight of Steel is named after their characters. Maybe they will never know what they did for me, but it would be a dream come true to meet them someday.

Q.19 What advice do you have for people facing mental illness?
A. Don’t trust your mind. The common theme of every mental illness is that the mind believes in things that aren’t true. So if you are fighting a mental illness, be open to the idea that your mind may be lying. What you believe to be absolutely true may not be so.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
A. Its been a rollercoaster. A very extreme one. I would like some moderation now.

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