Sunaina Awasthi at the early age of nineteen published her first book Sanely Insane, an oxymoron encapsulating her period of depression in a psychiatric ward. In the novel she eloquently narrates her experience of depression, and a myriad other accounts of patients admitted beside her, battling their fights. The book becomes a gripping journey, from the narrator’s denial through a roller-coaster of self-acceptance and recovery.

Behind her nerdy glasses, Awasthi boldly shows us the social stigma attached to mental health as well as the pain of mental illness. We are taken through sterile corridors and silent teams of doctors and psychologists ministering to patients, each of them unique.

Excerpts from an interview, and from the opening pages of Sanely Insane:

Why did you write this book for the public?

I wrote the book to overcome depression to be honest. It was a part of my therapy. These are my writings from the ward’s bed. Later I compiled them all, added some drama and a book was ready to be read!

I think Ernest Hemingway said it best: write hard and clear about what hurts.

I shared it with the public in the hope that maybe someday, it would motivate someone lying on the bed losing hope in this battle of depression.

How has the understanding of mental illness changed over time?

I think there’s a lot more awareness now and less judgement. We are still struggling a bit with removing the stigma that’s attached to mental illnesses. But one day people will treat patients who don’t have enough serotonin in their brains and patients who don't have enough insulin in their pancreas, the same.

Is there something you would like to share which is not mentioned in the book?

One of my friends once came to visit me in the hospital and they were lost. So, they asked a random person where the psychiatry ward was situated. The answer came, ‘Oh! That place where crazy people live? You really wanna go there?’ It makes me laugh and saddens me to this date.

Parts of your book are fictionalised - why?

Yes, of course some parts and events in my book are purely my imagination. That’s to send the message across. But most of them are true.

An excerpt from Sanely Insane:

Pain is seeing your loved one not recognize you. It is seeing them forget your name. It is witnessing them longing for you but not identifying you. That is the moment you want to break down and thud like a dead bird falling from the whimsical clouds.

Pain is seeing your love die, day by day. Pain is longing to hold their hand but failing as it is tied up to high tech machinery. Pain is feeling the ache every time they call out your name, for all you can do is look at their curious countenance as you stand there in stupefaction. It is turning into an unknown person as you look into their quiescent eyes.

Pain is seeing them depart, witnessing their last pulse in front of your burning eyes with a carcass soul. It is holding their hand for the one last time and feeling it turn cold. Pain is revolving around them as the saint recites the shlokas and verses, and wearing white, the only colour that doesn’t bring peace in those moments.

Pain is seeing them for the one last time and watching all your life so far turning into ashes as the flames lick the wall. Pain is immersing yourself with them that day. For all of you who wonder what it is, this is pain.

Pain is unexplainable and unequivocal. I was living it every day and I didn’t know if I’d live any more than that.

“So, why do you want to die?” she asked me after a pause.

“Because I don’t see a world without him. I am nothing without him.”

“He had a different life and you have a different life, different goals, and different desires.”

“He was the only cause behind my life and goals.”

“What about the dreams he saw for you two?”

“They died with him,” I replied.

“What about your sister and your mother? You don’t care about them?”


I clenched my fist with this utterance. My sister’s eyes filled with tears.

‘Admission advised; 24 hrs. monitoring’, she wrote on the paper…

I was betwattled knowing I had to spend two weeks there when I couldn’t imagine living there for a day. After all, I knew what I was doing. I had a motive, unlike people here…

As I lay on the bed, I felt trapped and lonely like I have been surrounded by myself. I felt immured there. The hallway was like a drop in the ocean that was the distance I wanted to walk. I wanted to escape, and walk miles. A million miles. I wanted to walk under the sun, in the rains, in the tempests, and I wanted to find my father. I had an obstinate birdie in my mind that told me he was somewhere on this earth and that I should run and find him.

I’ll surely see him. And on that splendiferous, glorious day, that place will be a firmament in the midst of earth. He will gleam like gold and I will disintegrate into the universe out of flying felicity.

Sanely Insane is published by Locksley Hall Publishing, 2019.