by MIKE CHAIKEN
A retreat in Houston earlier this year helped ease Nikitha Kikanamada’s ride when she arrived in Tulsa, Okla. for the Miss Teen USA competition in late November.
Kikanamada, who is the current Miss Connecticut Teen USA, said she and the other contestants were gathered by the Miss Teen USA organization earlier this year so they could get to know each other prior to the competition. That gave them an opportunity to make friends, which the South Windsor resident is part of the reason for signing up for the competition. You get to make those connections and you get to feel as if you’re part of a sisterhood, she explained.
And usually, it will take a couple of days to build those bonds during competition week, explained Kikanamada.
“Just because of my story, I’m not someone who is easily able to open up my heart to a lot of people,” said Kikanamada.
That story, the South Windsor resident explained, is “one of the reasons why I won Miss Connecticut’s Teen USA this year.”
“I was very open and vulnerable about my mental health journey.”
“I was always the strong confident girl,” explained Kikanamada when asked to talk about that journey.
In 2019, the now-college sophomore said, “I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.”
“It was weird hearing something like (a diagnosis of) anxiety and depression. It was very difficult (to hear). Not to mention being South Asian, it’s not really a topic that comes up in South Asian households. If it does, you’re not really supported as well as some of my other friends (are),” said Kikanamada.
However, she said, “I’m really fortunate to have the parents that I have. They were really able to see that I needed help and (were able to) see past the stereotypes that they grew up living with and living around.”
To address the anxiety and depression, Kikanamada said, “I had to do a therapy program.”
She said, “It was a cognitive behavioral program where I had chapbooks of work to do and books to read; and notes to write on myself so that I can get back to where I wanted to be, where I always was.”
And that was the strong confident girl she once knew, Kikanamada explained.
“I graduated my therapy program in April 2020,” said the Miss Connecticut Teen USA. “Then obviously that was when the pandemic kind of really hit so I wasn’t able to go in person– nobody was.
But, said Kikanamada, not being able to go to therapy “truly was a blessing in disguise for me because I was able to see myself as I always wanted to be.”
In that COVID-19 induced vacuum, she said, “I started my mental health account on Instagram. It’s called, @_MoreForMyself_ because I feel self-care should be prioritized and not seen as a selfish thing that we do… I feel that if you’re not able to be your best you won’t be able to give your best to someone else who needs it.”
On that social media page, Kikanamada has hosted Instagram live interviews with guests who can offer advice and discuss mental health issues. She also posts inspirational memes for her followers.
“I’ve been doing that for over a year now, “said Kikanamada.
Even though she did not place at Miss Teen USA, she said, “I’ll still continue to advocate despite what happened.”
“This started before I was even Miss South Windsor Teen USA, so it was something I knew I wanted to do,” said Kikanamada, “not just for pageants, but for me.”
“It kept me accountable for all of the work I did in those past 12 months while I was in therapy because you do forget,” said Kikanamada. “You do forget the skills you’ve learned and the rituals you have in your toolbox.”
She said she wanted to “share my knowledge; as well as keep up with the maintenance of all the hard work I had done.”
When Kikanamada, who is studying to be a nurse in college, won the Miss Connecticut Teen USA in June, she became the first Indian American to win the state title.
“It’s brought me a lot of pride (from the Indian American community),” said Kikanamada.
“My best friends from home, I’ve known them since I was 7… (they) are all Indian so obviously I have had all of their support,” said Kikanamada.
“I competed in a couple of ethnic pageants. And it was really nice to see (her fellow contestants there) support (me) as well,” said Kikanamada.
“I’m so proud to be Indian,” she said.
“I grew up around all Indian people,” said Kikanamada, whose family came from a small village that not even many Indians know about.
“Literally, my favorite thing about myself is being Indian American. I love the culture we have. I love the family-oriented lifestyle I get to experience on a daily basis– the food, the color. Everything just everything about being Indian I love,” she said.
“Of course, there are things I hope to change about Indian mentality –and that’s something I work to continue to do– but I ‘m honored and grateful to be their first (Miss Connecticut Teen USA) because I certainly won’t be the last,” said Kikanamada.
Going to Miss Teen USA did help Kikanamada achieve a degree of new self-awareness.
“There were a lot of things I learned about myself,” she said. “I feel that I learned most of all that this is an opportunity that not many people get to have and to make the most of it.”
Even though she didn’t win the title of Miss Teen USA (Breanna Myles won), Kikanamada said, the loss helped her gain the larger perspective “that everything happens for a reason.”
“I’m someone who believes in destiny and fate,” she explained. “But I also believe we have the power to change that for ourselves if we’re not on a path that we see ourselves.”
Asked if she has any plans to compete for Miss Connecticut USA next now that her reign as Miss Connecticut Teen USA is approaching its close, Kikanamada was on the fence. She cited her studies (she is planning to work toward her master’s degree) as one bar to competing right away. But, she said, the possibility isn’t completely off the table.