Her Instagram handle might suggest winding, romantic-tinged diatribes. But since turning her poetry account, @thatsappywriter, into a forum about mental health, Akanksha Bhatia keeps her words few and potent: “I don’t need your sympathy but I could use some empathy,” “I remember every single one of my panic attacks,” and, in a letter addressed to her anxiety, “I NEED SPACE!”
The 27-year-old writer—who shuttles between New Delhi and Chennai, India—may not mince words, but those she chooses show vulnerability and truth about her anxiety, which she was diagnosed with over a decade ago. In a previous series called “Dear Diary,” Bhatia wrote, “I spent an hour clutching my stomach as my heart raced. Fuck anxiety,” and in another post, “Today my anxiety told me all my friends don’t care.”
Bhatia, who has been featured in the Indian edition of Cosmopolitan and the BBC, offers support to readers who may be feeling the same via mental health checklists, on-the-go products to offset anxiety (a chocolate bar and Plant Therapy Lavender Essential Oil Roll-On, FYI), and sweet statements: “You’re doing the best with what you’ve been given,” she told followers, and “What you said made a difference.”
Here, she gives us a few-more-than-usual words about her IG and mental health journeys.
Q: What made you want to write about mental health on Instagram?
Sappy was originally a place where I shared my poetry. But one evening, after a particularly bad day, I decided that I needed to make other people who, like me, felt alone, feel a little more comfortable. And so I shelved my entire page overnight and turned it into a mental health platform.
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This account changed my life. It helped me come to terms with my own mental health. I got a degree in psychological first aid, because I wanted to be responsible when I spoke to people online. In the process, I have grown and become more aware of the ways in which I was being unkind to myself. Because at the end of the day when I sit down to write my post, I reflect on how I’ve behaved toward myself.
I want people who are struggling with mental health to feel less alone. For them to see me and realize that, this is okay, we are all fighting, and you can win. And it is completely okay to have bad days, they’ll pass.
Q: Tell me about psychological first aid. What should everyone know?
My biggest takeaway from the course was as simple as: Kindness and patience go a long way. It doesn’t take a lot to be good to someone, to wait for them to open up instead of pushing them to do it at your convenience.
Q: You write short letters to your anxiety on IG. Is it a form of coping? In general, ThatSappyWriter works as a journal for me. I’ve done a series before titled “100 Days with Anxiety,” which captured the little things you experience when you live with anxiety on a daily basis. “Letters to My Anxiety” is similar in that aspect. I talk about the little things that often go unnoticed or make us feel horrible about having anxiety. I want to normalize that. And also use it as a way to vent at the end of the day.
Q: There’s one letter that says “on some days you’re the only friend I have.” What does that mean?
I wrote that post on one of my darker days actually. I think it means that at the end of the day, when I get into bed, I’m there with my anxiety, because it is a part of me. And in a poetic sense, we have only each other, on bad days at least. And so maybe I’m learning to love parts of it as it lives on with me. I’m understanding that I can’t hate my anxiety, because that also means I’m hating myself. Does that make sense?
Q: You’ve used the popular IG #postyourpills hashtag. Are you open to sharing what meds you’re on and why?
I was put on medication for my anxiety at 17 and thankfully my parents were very supportive through it all. My panic and anxiety attacks are the reason my anxiety was diagnosed. It’s what lead me to see a doctor in the first place.
However, a lot of “well-wishers” would constantly tell me that medicines are bad cause I’d get addicted. Which is horrible advice to give a teenager who is trying to feel better about themselves and their anxiety. I am a firm believer of seeking the right kind of help for your mental health. And if that includes medication, then no one should stop you. I found medicines that worked for me and helped me deal with my life better.
Over the years my dosage has reduced, and now I just take medication when/if I have a panic attack. My doctor and I made the decision once the physical symptoms of my anxiety—shortness of breath, chest ache, etc.—reduced. And I started feeling more focused and calm in my day-to-day life. We obviously had a lot of back and forth about it, and there was therapy involved.
I’m proud of my journey. But my journey is unique to me. I can just hope that it motivates people to fight pill shaming and the stigma that surrounds medication for mental health.
Q: Have you faced other negative repercussions from telling people you have a mental health issue?
People still are wary about either hiring someone who is open about their mental health or even dating someone with anxiety. I had a freelance gig once where they said they didn’t know if I could meet deadlines because I spoke about my anxiety/bad days so that made me unreliable.
The worst is when you get looks of pity, which are extremely unwelcoming.
Of course, this is rapidly changing. We are growing as a society, which is a bit more open about mental health. Corporations are providing therapy for their workers as a part of the insurance plan, which is a huge step in the right direction.
Q: Beyond medication, how do you manage mental health issues?
Music has helped me a lot through my journey. It helps me stay calm. I like a lot of different kind of music. Anything with good lyrics, because that’s what I redirect my focus on: Anson Seabra, Hozier, The Lumineers, this Thai singer I really like, Jeff Satur.
I have so many songs that I consider my safe zone. Right now I’m listening to “Better with You” by Gentle Bones and “At My Worst” by Pink Sweats. There is also “The Art of Getting By” by Laura Zocca that really captures life in general. I was a very anxious kid—growing up, music and books were my escape. And they’ve stayed all these years. Especially with my social anxiety, plugging my headphones in when I’m in public spaces makes me feel safer.
And, of course, breathing exercises go a long way. Just deep breaths are a game-changer.
Taking up a hobby, anything that genuinely makes you happy, can change your life. My Instagram account is my hobby. It is the one thing that makes me the happiest. Boxing really helped me with my anxiety for a while, but I had to give it up after I got carpal tunnel.
Q: In one of your IG stories, you call coffee “happiness in a cup.” Do you find rituals such as morning coffee comforting?Oh, I love coffee. It is my favorite part of the day. I take my time brewing a cup with care, and it helps me center myself. I think finding happiness in little parts of your day is very important. To me, it is coffee, but it could be something as simple as the five minutes you get to yourself in the elevator to go to work while listening to your favorite song. The little joys of life.
Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to misconceptions of mental health?
That I am any less than others. My mental health may make things difficult for me, but rest assured that I am going to be giving my 100 percent either way.
Q: How would you prefer someone respond when you tell them you have diagnosed anxiety?
Just nod and pretend it’s normal, because it is. Or maybe ask if I’m feeling better today. But anything more than that feels intrusive and uncomfortable.
Q: I see a tattoo on your arm. What does it mean?
I have two tattoos actually. One is a wave with an ellipsis. And another. says “Dreams do come true.”
Q: One follower mentioned that anxiety had made their skin dull, but that yours is glowy. Any product secrets?
Over the years I’ve turned my seven-step Korean skin care routine into a self-care ritual. It helps me take a few minutes to relax after a long day. My favorite product is The Face Shop Rice Ceramide Moisturising Emulsion. It smells like magic and is quite soothing on the skin.
Follow Akanksha Bhatia on Instagram at @thatsappywriter.
Additional reporting by Amy Keller Laird