FIGHTING THE ODDS – TRAUMA & DEPRESSION
This post is a continuation of Facing The Odds – Trauma & Depression .
You may or may not have noticed this, but each one of us has seen or is going through difficult times. We overcome them in our own way. The how is more important than the why? Grief and pain need to be channelized rightly, enabling you to be unyielding in the face of times to come.
I recently watched the film The Art Of Racing In The Rain, based on car racing and narrated by a dog Enzo. I admit, life felt like a car in some kind of race, making lap after lap, until it came to a sudden grinding halt in 2017. And then the world stood still, literally!
Everything around seemed to move on. My best friend was expecting a child and the little sister was preparing to study abroad. Add to this the social media effect – cheerful WhatsApp group conversations, A’s vacation pics, B’s job switch, etc. As per my faux theory of relativity I was at a standstill with everything else whirring around, moving away, being repelled. Of course, that wasn’t the case. I have always had great support. But I just felt that way (shrugs). That loneliness was a conjecture of my mind.
So…In my own way, in whatever way I could, I fought the adversaries – emotions and thoughts, that kept trying to pull me back into the darkness that seemed to be everywhere around.
It was difficult to find the ground again; to regain control. But a few minor changes to my routine helped me make major adjustments in my mind.
I have always been a reader- books, magazines, articles, research papers, etc. Reading is like a magic potion. I may have struggled to find the time, but never stopped reading. At the age of 2, Ira found it delightful to receive books from the library, to lie besides me mumbling jumbling while reading (of course she couldn’t read then), and to browse through the colourful illustrations. We even read together and discussed the story while she ate her food. There were only two things I asked to get me at the hospital – my blanket to sleep in outside the ICU and books. Reading kept me distracted while at the hospital and even at home. And whenever I found nooks of time, I read to push my thoughts way back in my mind. If I didn’t have a book on me, I read Shivya Nath’s blog, hoping that Ira, Tejas and I would travel sometime soon, and articles by other writers like Bryan Hutchinson and Jeff Goins, hoping to improve my writing.
Not many know but I began freelance writing in 2014, when Ira was just 6 months old. This meant managing a full-time job, a 6-month-old super-active baby, writing a blog a day (freelance assignment) and sleepless nights. My brother-in-law once asked me, “what is the need bhabhi?” I replied, “I didn’t want to say no to an opportunity”. And that opportunity would shape my career later on.
I always felt this urge to write; to pen my thoughts. But there was never a structure to them. Despite not having found a niche (as bloggers call it), I registered for the domain www.mindofmine.co.in in December 2016, a year and half before I started writing posts here. Writing about Ira’s journey has not been easy. Every post is like reliving the past, churning the memories and sifting through the pain of loss and joy that Ira was. But it gave me a new-found purpose; to share and to grow. Writing lent a new perspective, because writing requires a depth; rumination on the thoughts, sentences, and structure.
I ran 100 mt., 200 mt., and 400 mt. races (school and college-level) till 2009. I loved every bit about running, especially the fast-moving ground beneath my feet. Post-2009 family responsibilities spilled into the day and running took a backseat, until the May of 2018, when I felt the need to vent.
I missed being outdoors. The body felt deprived of adrenaline. I needed to re-grow.
I assumed I’ll make a friend or two by joining a running group. Instead, I found a big community! How running transcended my healing journey requires a separate post. But, in summary, running helped me tremendously! Tejas once remarked after a run, “This is the happiest I have seen you in the longest time”.
Before running became a meditative exercise it was a venting mechanism. Initially, I pushed my body hard. I could divert the mind from the heart-grief to the soreness in the body.
Every drop of sweat counted as a drop of negativity being released from the body.
I have cried during my runs only to end it with a smile, ready to take on a new day again!
How does talking help, you may ask? But for the first time in 1.5 years, I let my guard down in the counselling room. As I talked, I admitted my helplessness, confronted my anger and anticipated my loss. Counselling is not about being on anti-depressants. I never took any medications. It is about letting others help you accept, guide you through your emotions and beliefs and find ways to overcome the negativity.
Unfortunately, in India counseling is not an important part of the medical system, whereas it should be. Patients, caregivers, and family members requiring emotional and psychological guidance during such times is not uncommon. But this kind of guidance is often deemed unimportant and unasked for.
My sole reason for seeking external help was that I did not want to burden Tejas or any other family member with my negativity. Talking to a stranger made me feel less vulnerable and unvalidated. It created a space in my mind as I got things off my chest.
Towards the end of 2019 I did a pilot-scale survey on volunteers in palliative care. What inspires them? What motivates them to volunteer? Why did they begin volunteering? How do they feel emotionally and mentally as volunteers at a palliative centre? Most said volunteering gave them a purpose. They found satisfaction in helping others. Many started volunteering after a personal loss. I began volunteering some time at Cipla Palliative Center (CPC) in February 2019 with a focus on patient-relative interaction. And I have been privy to some remarkable stories! Patients and relatives spoke freely about struggles, regrets, love and privileges. To some I became a daughter, for others even a granddaughter. CPC gave me in return more love than the time I volunteered!
To say that I went through depression would be an understatement. To say that it is over would be a lie. Like it affected my mind, trauma and grief has had side-effects on my body. I went from being a sleepy head to an insomniac. There were nights when I felt afraid to fall asleep; scared of the nightmares. It increased the PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) by several magnitudes, affecting the cycles and physiology! It made me prone to anxiety and stress.
Reading, writing, running, counselling and volunteering were some of the ways I could channelize my pain and aggression. And although these contributed significantly to my healing process, there is no one way of healing. One may find art or meditation helpful. Irrespective of the means it is important to continue to heal. Also, there isn’t any timestamp. I am myself still in the process of healing, reeling from the aftereffects of sorrow and loss and struggling to overcome negative triggers.
Mark Manson, in one of his newsletters, says what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. We have to learn to grow again- grow from our pain. Grief awakens you deeply in ways that nothing else can, so much that you can feel the air you inhale and exhale. It’s really upto you to how to re-plant your life! So, whether in pain or joy remember to sow the seeds of remembrance, empathy and love. But most importantly, don’t give up on yourself.