Interview with Preeti Shenoy Author of “Life is what You Make It” & “Wake Up, Life is Calling”Frontlist's exclusive interview with Preeti Shenoy, renowned author of 'Life is What You Make It' and 'Wake Up, Life is Calling.'
on Oct 03, 2023
Preeti Shenoy is the bestselling author of Life is What You Make It and eleven other titles. Her books have been translated into several Indian and foreign languages. She is among the highest-selling authors in India. She is also a speaker, columnist, and artist. Preeti has been featured on BBC, Conde Nast, Verve, India Today and all other major media.
Frontlist: Your books "Wake Up, Life Is Calling" and "Life Is What You Make It" have resonated with many readers dealing with mental health challenges. What inspired you to write about these topics?
Preeti: "Life is What You Make It" was my second book, and it was written over fourteen years ago when I was living in the UK. I felt that there was a lot more awareness about mental health in the UK compared to the awareness that existed at that point in time in India. I came across a bipolar artist's exhibition in the UK, and the creativity in their work blew my mind. I started researching more about the condition and became very curious about it. When I traveled to India, I visited NIMHANS in Bengaluru and spoke to mental health care professionals. I also spoke to a psychiatric nurse in the UK and made detailed notes on what caring for people with mental health issues involved.
My research showed me staggering numbers of young people with mental health issues in India who needed care and weren't getting it. In my personal life also, I knew of people who were truly suffering. Their families were hesitant to talk about it. All of this led me to write "Life is What You Make It," but it took a lot out of me as I had to get into the character's head. I made the lead character a young Indian girl in her twenties because I wanted the lead character to be relatable. I set the book in the early nineties as that was the time when I was in college, which made it a bit easier to create that world.
As I wrote the book, I discovered it was tough and draining. To write well, I had to delve into startlingly deep wells of emotion. I also had to balance it with a good dramatic story. Many people are convinced that it is my story (It's totally fictional. Only some of the college experiences are mine), and they write to me asking about which hospital it is and ask me to refer doctors to them. It's an imaginary hospital, and the doctors are imaginary too. But the pain, the factual details, the therapy that is given—all of that part is real (and it's standard in any good psychiatric care facility).
The subject itself is so intense that it took me eight years to write a sequel, "Wake Up Life is Calling." I am delighted that "Life is What You Make It" has sold over a million copies and helped many people. My research notes are so voluminous that I can write ten more books on it! But it will take a few years, as the process of writing a good book on mental health is grueling, excruciating, and all-consuming.
Frontlist: Both of your books underscore the profound influence of choices on one's life. Frequently, when individuals encounter difficult decisions, they grapple with indecision and subsequently experience regret over the path they did not choose. Could you share your perspective and guidance for those who find themselves in such a predicament?
Preeti: No matter what path you choose in life, there are always going to be regrets if you choose to ruminate and wallow in the past. It's a rabbit hole from which you can never emerge. The predicament of choice is real. Even when it is a small inconsequential thing like ordering a pizza, we have to make a decision based on toppings, their special offers, and such. After we order it (and consume it), we might regret it, thinking we ought to have eaten a healthier meal, perhaps we could have got a better deal, or maybe we could have chosen a different topping.
Rather than focusing on what you didn't do or do not have, if we have profound gratitude for what we do have, we can lead more fulfilling lives. In the pizza example, we could choose to be grateful and happy that we have a hot meal in front of us to enjoy and relish, which is something denied to many.
Adopt gratitude, and you will never lament over what you did not choose.
Frontlist: Your books touch on the power of resilience and determination in the face of adversity. How can individuals build and strengthen their resilience to cope with mental health challenges?
Preeti: I am sharing three things that help me, and I hope they help those reading this, too:
Journaling: I have been writing in my daily journals for over 15 years now, and they have helped me manifest the life I am leading. My daily journal is an ordinary, inexpensive diary with dates you can get at any stationery shop. I buy this in December, so I have one at the start of the year. However, you can use any notebook and write the dates if you like. I write in this every night before I go to sleep. I have made a video on what I write in the daily journal.
Exercise: Getting heavy exercise is very important, not only for your physical well-being but also for your mental and emotional well-being. I go to the gym and lift heavy weights (do it only with proper guidance and posture). It's also essential to eat right and get your protein in. I don't eat packaged food and avoid colas and sugar. I generally eat clean.
Meditation: The benefits of meditation are immense. It's not hard to do. You can meditate for even five minutes for it to make an impact on your mind. I have written a detailed chapter on meditation in my non-fiction self-help book, "The Magic Mindset."
Frontlist: The books discuss the role of relationships and support systems in mental health recovery. Can you elaborate on the importance of supportive relationships and how they can be cultivated and nurtured?
Preeti: It's very hard to find a friend who is sincere, straightforward, and has the same mental wavelength as you. Family members might love you unconditionally, but they might struggle to understand you or accept you.
In order to nurture a supportive relationship, we first have to understand what makes the other person tick. We need to understand what their love language is. I highly recommend reading "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. For us to have a loving and supportive relationship, we first have to be loving and supportive to others in a way that matters to them.
I am fortunate to have a few friendships that are over twenty years old. We have grown together, been through the ups and downs of life, had our share of disagreements, and have chosen to embrace the person despite them. I think that's very important – to accept people the way they are.
Frontlist: Many readers have found your books therapeutic. What advice do you have for readers on effectively using literature as a tool for self-help and mental well-being?
Preeti: Books, especially well-written fiction and some self-help books, can impact you significantly as they give you a fresh perspective to look at things and open your mind. They make you understand that no matter what emotion you are going through or what situation you have been in, some people have gone through the same thing. They raise your emotional quotient, create empathy, and help you navigate your way in a very difficult and often cruel world.
A word of caution, though—please don't use books as a substitute for a doctor if you need psychiatric help. Books might be therapeutic, but if you have a psychiatric condition or issue, no book can diagnose you or heal you. It's best to talk to a good therapist or psychiatrist.
Frontlist: As an author who has delved into themes related to suicide, mental illnesses, and various psychological issues, your work may expose you to emotionally challenging content. How do you prioritize and maintain your mental health and well-being while engaging with these often heavy and sensitive topics?
Preeti: I have shared this in question three in detail. I journal daily, I meditate, I lift heavy, and I eat clean. I am also an artist, and I sketch live. Wherever I go, I take my sketchbook with me. Being entirely immersed in the moment helps me focus on the 'here and now,' which is something most of us do not do. Our minds always rush to the next thing, and we rarely slow down. Sketching live on location helps me to hone my focus and observation. I find that drawing and painting relax me completely.
I also do not spend excessive time on social media. I have set a time limit on my apps, and they automatically cut off access after a certain period of time.
I steer clear of people who are out to pull you down. In these connected times, it's easy for anyone to pass a comment on something you've done or achieved. There are plenty of armchair critics and trolls. They wouldn't have achieved anything, but they are ever ready with their put-downs. I ignore them completely and stay focused on what matters to me in my life."
Frontlist: In the context of World Mental Health Day, what initiatives or activities can individuals and communities undertake to promote better mental health awareness and support?
Preeti: Communities are made up of individuals. As individuals, we have to be kinder people. Understand that there are battles that people are fighting that they tell you nothing about (and they don't have to either). Be pleasant. Smile more often. Be aware of the impact your actions and words have on others. Develop a thick armor around yourself so that the cruelty in this world doesn't affect you. Be genuine in your interactions. If everyone did this, the world would be a happier, nicer place.