For the love of You

I love superheroes. So I am here in a good era, where I can enjoy them through multiple media. I saw the new ‘Spider-Man’ recently. Not one of my favourite superheroes but I happened to see it. While I watched the movie, i had an epiphany. I realised why I liked them! I always thought it was the allure of the super powers. Silly, I agree. 
But as I watched the 15 year old kid, trapped under a rubble, crying for help, reacting like any other kid in a dangerous situation, he has an epiphany. As he struggles through his identity crisis (as all adolescents do), he believes he’s what his super powers are. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s what we believe what we all are, our unique powers, power of healing, power of selling, power of accounting, power of creating and so on. 

The kid looks at himself and realises the only hero here is him, just plain old vanilla him. His super spider suit isn’t functional, no one can hear him for miles. If he wants to save himself, he has to find the strength in him for himself. He had to rummage deep within, find and believe in the strengths, in the character that he, only he, brought to the super spider suit. 

As he found his core strength, I found the centre of my love for superheroes. I realised these characters found their way to strength by making tremendous journey inside of them. When and as they have discovered what they are made of, they bring their gifts to the super powers outside or enhance what they have inside. I would give a lot and more for the ability to fly, yet we all have some powers, mine may be compassion, yours may be listening or creating, or wisdom, or making sense or healing. 

Yet, no matter how many outside approve, benefit, make use of your gifts, you will not believe it till you see yourself without it or you make the journey to know you can have it even when you don’t use it for others. You will not believe in it till you know what is the price to have the strengths that you do. It’s a two sided coin and when we own our strengths, yet retain the ability to stand separate from it, we know who we are and what we can do. 

And when you see that, you will know the love that is for just who you are, not what can you do for another or bring to the table. For its a gift to celebrate you just the way you are, even if you choose not to partake with me what you have or can do. 

And that’s why I love superheroes, they struggle to know who they are, with or without powers. And then what they can do for the world knows no end. I am sure we have all superheroes in our lives, without super suit or the cape. May be we can love them for just who they are and not what they can do. May be we can love ourselves for who we are, not just we can do.


I have a story to tell you. My Story. I had a recent experience that wasn’t important in the scheme of my life, not at all. At the same time, it stayed with me like a sore muscle does and as I wrestled with it, it turned out to be a significant one. 
The story goes like this.. on my free day, one day, I was lounging in my night clothes till mid morning, lost in doing what I do best, research. As the doorbell tinkled, little did I know that the next two minutes would make a mark on my heart and mind, twining itself in my life story. A volunteer from the apartment society was helping the housekeeping staff to help segregate our household waste. A most welcome mandate from the municipality. 

A seemingly innocuous inquiry about which of the garbage bins left outside the homes on the floor belonged to me, seemed to evoke an embarrassed response in me in reference to my attire and presence of 3-4 unknown men outside. I was politely asked to step out and identify the relevant bin. A 10 second walk seemed like a walk of shame to me as I stepped out. In that moment I felt like a school child called to task, puzzling the adult in me. After I identified it, the volunteer appeared to have determined that I wasn’t the culprit who didn’t segregate the waste and turned to speak to the person concerned. I felt dismissed and set up. The volunteer knew which bins weren’t segregated. I closed my door and went back to research, a sinking feeling in my chest. This feeling ebbed as I got involved with other activities but surfaced later in the day. 

What had happened? If you are reading it, I am sure you got the same feeling as I did, it’s not a big deal. It isn’t and yet it left me embarrassed, feeling like a child who was glad she had finished her homework when the teacher had unexpectedly checked it. A child who glad that she wasn’t caught like her neighbour. I wondered what had happened and I wondered where was the adult that always is there. 

Strange isn’t it? A two minute interaction evoked an implicit response from me, a response of a child who had deferred to authority, if my reflective guess is right, in reaction to a non-verbal assertion of authority from the person opposite. My most vulnerable realisation was how easy it was for me to defer, to be subservient. I felt like a child, a child with little power, little control, hence little choice. I know I am not. How words need not be spoken to evoke an automatic response in us and how 80% of human interaction remains non-verbal. How our earlier learned patterns of behaviour make their presence known in the most routine of events. How after realising this vulnerable, fragile, shamed aspect of me, it would have been easy to get angry. Angry at the person who evoked this in me. I have no idea if the person intended to do so or it was their learnt way of behaving too. 

We all have what is called ‘implicit memory’. It’s actually very useful and important part of our lives. it holds along with learnings from early ages – namely womb upto 4-5 years, procedures that aid our daily life. Swimming, brushing teeth, riding a cycle, skills that tend to become a part of muscle memory. Even if you were to suffer from amnesia, these skills will remain with you wether you remember them or not. Likewise, our early interactions, even when we don’t have words are stored in our brains to aid our navigation into the world. They are learnings with conscious choice or thought and yet, for all of us they have the most impact. I believe when I look at the above experience, I think it’s a part of my implicit learning. To have a quick, automatic, unconscious behaviour gives us a clue to where it originates from. The first time I learned of this memory, it scared me to be honest. It appeared that a lot seemed out of my control. Remember being powerless is one of the most sensitive spots for me.  Another implicit learning, seems like? Strangely as years have passed, I have made piece with the unknown. What helped me. We all have this memory to deal with, it’s our common humanity. We all struggle, we all rejoice it too. The smell of baked cookies, the joy of playing on a beach, the calm of our favourite place in the garden are part of our implicit memories. Not all is ineffective, not all is unhealthy, not all makes us vulnerable. 

But knowing that we all share this vulnerability, helps keep my compassion in place. Helps me understand that’s the cost of being human, may be the joy of being human. May be the reason why we can always change, unlearn what doesn’t help and learn new things. That gives me hope and that makes it worth the effort to make conscious what remains under the layers of memory and that’s what it means to reclaim power back. And have choices. 

Yet now I have a choice. Choice of being mindful, mindful of what is inside of me. Of how there may be vulnerabilities inside of me where authority figures are concerned. This is a painful awareness, an awareness if I listen to will help me know what I have learnt, an awareness that will help me unlearn what I had learnt if I deem it ineffective, an awareness if I heal the wound behind the learning then I grow, an awareness that I have choices other than being a child, an awareness that choices give us power, awareness that when I have power of knowing what happens in me, anyone outside ceases to have power to ‘do’ much to me. 

Then I have the power to be me, in the here and now, just me.

The Joy of Wanting 

Making conscious choices is a tough one for me, unless it moves me in the being of my soul. Now for that one needs to be in communication with our gut feelings. For one to be in good talking terms with our gut, one needs to listen to that and trust it. But it has been my experience that gut feelings don’t have much credence, feelings not at all. Many a times they have also led us astray, if we have only looked at feelings. 
Then their is the case of how life sometimes limits our choices. Oh! We more or less have choices in our lives, but sometimes or may be many a times not the ones we would like to make or prefer. When that experience repeats a few times, it’s tough to believe we can get what we want or desire. A sense of passivity pervades our life, without realising we let life happen. You may have heard yourself day or someone say, ‘I have realised what I want comes only after I have struggled a whole lot or comes after my need for it has passed. It’s just too much to work for it.’ 

Yes, at the surface level, you may say we all need to work hard for what we want, noting wrong in that. That’s life. Well, very true. I am a great believer in hard work. At the same time, it’s also true that life is unfair. Sometimes you have little advantage, circumstances that you have no control over, where, how, to whom we are born, the experiences we have, the people we meet, so on. 

Yet, conscious decision making gives us a sense of control and we can exert will to work towards that. It is tough since it’s risk that we consciously take. Where there is risk, there is vulnerability. And a lot of the time, where there is vulnerability, there is shame. And we know shame is when we believe we are bad, loser, a nincompop, useless, worthless, piece of shit.. we all have our own personal demons in those words. 

So it becomes imperative when we plan something with no matter how much fear she trepidation, when it yields results we savour each moment, we celebrate it with joy, we let it warm our hearts where the emptiness of shame exists, for these moments are what we will recall when we feel life is unfair, when our decisions don’t yield the results we worked for, when life presents a disadvantage, when things are just tough.

For its joy and pride that may aid resilience, but it’s the missteps that teach us how to live in the world.

What I do to you, I do to myself 

I am deeply, deeply saddened. And I needed to talk about it. Yesterday I again read two accounts of mob fury in one of the states of India, lynching and shaming and a group of people in all their righteous fury driving it. As I read this account, my heart dropped way into the sinkhole. I couldn’t help but feel this dread of how we are slipping into anarchy, with little self- awareness and control over our impulses. You hurt me or my sentiments, you gotta pay a price. 
Then today morning I get up to a bombing, targeted at children. I remembered the bombing in Syria months ago, again targeted at a hospital and the haunting photos of young children traumatised beyond words. Now I was hurtling towards deep hopelessness and helplessness and then as survival strikes, anger and fury came. I heard the words in my head, “if you keep targeting children, all bets are off now.” 

As I heard that and felt the fury in me, I realised I am possibly heading towards what the mob did yesterday. I also knew that fury and righteous anger feels better to experience than sadness, hopelessness and helplessness. At least you are trying to controlling your environment, or at least you buy into the illusion that you are. 

Then I wrote the words above. I have learnt, seen, heard and experienced that trauma begets trauma. If I act from the place of ‘bets off’, well, I will in my righteous glory just dump my feelings of sadness and powerlessness into the world. I would stay with anger and rage and the softer, vulnerable feelings would find its way in the victims affected by my act. Just like the anger of the righteous mob, just like the perpetrators of terrorism. And we get stuck in this never-ending circle of trauma.

So what does one do, you will ask? For one, I found words for my pain. I have tears in my eyes as I type this. I own my sadness, sense of loss at the terror that seems perpetuating in the world, the notion that there are no guarantees (they never were), my helplessness at not being able to stop it, my powerlessness at not knowing what to do and the pain with no words. As I write about it, wrestle with it, I know what I can do. I will talk about it, I will do what I do, deal with trauma one person at a time, even on the days that it doesn’t seem enough. 

Most of all, I will search deep within me for all that I can feel, that I feel, that I don’t like. I own them. For what I don’t own, I find it in others. What I don’t like and find it in others, evokes anger and disgust in me. And what I find enraging and disgusting, my instinct is to squash it. And whom I squash, becomes the one in the mob. And the mob then inflicts pain that I help squash.

We want to make the world a better place, increase your self awareness. For when you find compassion for all in you, you will find tolerance for most in the world. Even if we aren’t successful everytime, I do believe trying is, at times, good enough. When we struggle with things, feelings, actions, thoughts, we ensure that we are reflecting on them. When we reflect on things, it gives our brain time to connect to more adaptive, knowledge filled memory networks. If those network are available, we can ask for help when we are stuck, we can find support to lean our weary head on, we can look at possibilities that pain obscures. 

When we reflect, wrestle with difficult emotions, we stand a chance to make better choices, we give ourselves a chance at compassion, we give this world a chance to become a better place.

Ghosts of the pasts

A few days ago, I had a nightmare. I dream regularly with no clear memory of it but rarely have nightmares. I woke up during the deepest part of my sleep to a sense that someone was banging on our front door relentlessly. I wasn’t sure I had dreamt it. I waited in my groggy mind to hear it again, nothing came. For some reason I thought someone was waking us up because there was a fire. My Brain painted horrific scenarios. My life would be saved but I would lose everything else. I am not sure why it was that but it was. No idea whatsoever why these ideas popped in my mind. The easiest thing would have been to just get up and check it out. But I didn’t and I kept looking out. And my sleepy body just wanted to go back to sleep, I had woken from a deep slumber. The time till my alarm went off was probably the most fitful sleep I had. I woke up tired, fuzzy and I hate that. 
As I mulled over it, I realised I had been vigilant hence the disturbed sleep. I hadn’t realised I had been terrified. Strange isn’t? My Brain and body seemed to be at odds. I wondered in the safety of the day what seemed so dangerous, what seemed so panic inducing and why hadn’t I felt it as one would feel fear. As I let the calm of the day wash over me, as I breathe in deeply to assure my heart to be steady, I realised fire danger was familiar and the pure terror of life being threatened was also familiar. Two forgotten, but purely terror inducing past events had become alive. Alarmingly. In my sleep induced state. I sat stunned as I recalled the terror of being caught in a fire in the dead of the night and a childhood event that had petrified me within the depths of my life.
My Brain had made the connection to these events, I am not sure why or may be it was time to heal wounds that seemed to have been leftover. I knew then I had to tell this story and as I made more connections in my Brain and made a meaningful story, I could start mourning the terror, pain, hurt, these events evoked. I also realised why I froze, why I wouldn’t get up to check the front door when I perceive myself to be in a life threatening situation, I had learned it long ago when fight or flight or calling out for help wasn’t an option. I went for what would ensure my survival the most, I froze willing myself to be still while the worst would be over. 
As the quote says and as my story says, for whatever the reason we leave some difficult events in our minds, unprocessed, they aren’t gone, just exiled. And when the time is right, when we are stronger, more resourceful, may be then they come back, to be healed, to be Heard, to be given a voice that they were denied long time ago.
I have some healing to do, but now I know what I didn’t and that awareness is half the battle won.

For what you can see, can be dealt with. 

For what is dealt with, leaves you with a learning that often saves your life.

A story of the little girl

As you all know India has two olympics medal wins, both women. So we celebrated women power so to speak. The entire Olympics were a testament to women spokesperson winners & participation. As you can imagine a lot was said in all forms of media & social media about women empowerment & equality, so on & so forth. I decided to stay more or less out of it. 

But as fate would have it, we rarely have a choice when your unconscious or implicit memory decides to join in the fray. I haven’t decided if it were fortunate or unfortunate but my latent mental models about gender roles decided to just jump in! I am trying not to feel betrayed but I am. It unleashed a torrent of emotions, painful ones some of them. I was left with tears, pain, anger & surprise! Honestly it was also a tad inconvenient. I mean I had things to do! Talk about being betrayed by your own brain! As if the external world isn’t enough to to deal with it. If I could use an emoticon , I would use my favourite one. The rolling eyes.  

On a psychological note, something needed to be worked through, processed. It came up as do things, the ones that are protected against. They seem to pop up when the time seems right, when resources seem enough, when it feels safe. So it did, even if not really wanted, it did, even if painful, it did, even if inconvenient, it did & eventually I am glad that it did. What I feel & share in the following lines, therefore is personal, a part of my story, an important part. So I would like you, my readers, to wear your heart on your sleeves & listen with compassionate ears. 

Here is the story. 

Here I was happily pottering through my day, trolling the social media as an entertainment, reading the one too many headlines about women rights or empowerment. The Burkini ban, the Olympic coverage, local news & then came the tipping point. A post written by a lady who isn’t even on my timeline about how women need to dress decently. She used a story & a picture to illustrate her point. In that story she used the iPad as a metaphor for women’s body & the screen guard & cover as clothes. For reasons unknown to me then, this post really really held my heart in a vice like grip. I was very, very upset, to my utter surprise. I shared it with a few close friends, expressed my disappointment. Normally that helps. It didn’t help. I responded to it, it didn’t help. It just stayed, in its vice like grip. 

Now I was a bit taken aback. I know I tend to be passionate about things, especially gender equality but I also know which battles are important. I wouldn’t risk losing the war for the want of a few battles. This certainly wasn’t worth fighting for. The person who wrote it wasn’t significant. It was silly at best. So why the angst? 

I have a particular dislike for feelings that stay lodged in the heart, without its accompanying meaning. Don’t we just all hate it!! So I struggled till my partner came home.  
As I shared my thoughts & whatever sense I could make of my upset, which my rational mind had already termed as an ‘over reaction’ I will let you on a secret “I. Hate. My. Overreactions.” In such situations my feelings meter is skyrocketing & I need to bear a whole lot before I calm down. The situations aren’t really that bad but I respond to things with a temperamentally endowed ability to feel things deeply, like the impossibly deep marina trench. How exhausting & at times unnecessary! 

I digress, my apologies. I kind of proved my own point there. As I shared my feelings, tears started almost as if a dam were broken. Hmmm. I knew by now I had touched upon a very painful part of my life story. Something that had lain dormant for ages had made its presence felt. Being a psychologist sometimes is helpful. This was one of the times. A series of memories flashed, pained emotions found a voice, giving them an opportunity to heal.  

Here’s what came up.

I grew up in a huge family with varied experiences & people. Though it no longer is as patriarchal, it was a fair bit when I was younger. So tiny bits of experiences floated in my mind, dredging up feelings that had been felt at that time but didn’t have anyone to listen to. Kind of disowned bits of feelings & thoughts floating around from my long term memory. 

I remembered being body shamed much through my adolescence. I was a skinny kid, good lord, very skinny. Of course, now it would be fashionable but then it wasn’t. I was told by various respected women that my head was too big for my body, breasts were too small, nose too flat- as a way to help my marital prospects – they helpfully asked me to put a clothes pin on it / the nose to kind of liven it up, I was too short, you get the general idea. I was wanting in most physical aspects. All with the idea that I look physically attractive for Marriage. I begin to hate marriage. No prizes for guessing why. 

Another bunch of helpful lot asked my mother to not just rely on my bright mind: ( I had a pretty good academic record), being married happily apparently required exceptional household management skills. My mother panicked, started training me in earnest. It added fuel for my dislike for marriage & started the pain for being a girl. Again no prizes. 

As training to be a superwoman, I studied, learned to cook, serve, dress demurely, all in the preparation of being married, covertly of course. I had already decided by then that I would marry someone who would be very keen to marry me, may be a tad desperate or would just drop the whole thing! Talk about reaction-formation! 

On a serious note, I can account these small incidents that consistently happened over the years. They didn’t seem important. They hurt but they made me stronger. Ain’t that the motto? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. No, it really doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t kill you but seems like it is killing you, leaves a deep void inside of you, a void, a wound that needs to be healed. But my unconscious had its own journey to make. 

I am a woman who handles home & work today with decent skills, brought up with a privileged upbringing. I really had it much easier than a lot of people I know. So why am I distraught? Because small painful incidents repeatedly, consistently happening, leave a deep impact on the psyche. We call it small ‘t’ trauma. I didn’t just end up disliking the concept of marriage, I ended up disliking me, my body, my mind. A part of me learned to be subservient as a woman & I didn’t even know it. So I worked hard over the years, I peeled off my layers bit by bit to learn to accept myself, like myself. I built a relationship with different parts of me. It was hard work, painful, labouring work & I still manage to slip once in a while. 

Looking at the picture today & the sanctimonious monologue by the ‘iPad-are-like-women’ lady, brought back similarly dolled out advice from the past. It brought back what I hadn’t worked with, the sense of betrayal, anger, disappointment with the people who unwittingly had helped write this part of the story. Most were women, now have grandchildren, daughters, daughters-in-law who are challenging their own notions today. They have changed or may be have had to change or they struggle with what they call ‘generation gap’. I can hazard a guess how tough it must have been for them. 

But I was angry as I narrated these incidents to my spouse. I needed to be angry. I needed to let myself feel the pain, loneliness & mourn the losses for that young child who struggled so badly, so painfully & come to the point to applaud her efforts to still hold on to her dignity. I needed to make that journey, needed to have that story told, heard by healing ears. 

As they say, ‘healing begins when someone bears witness‘. My adult self needed to bear witness to the pain of that young girl, to let it go, to move on. 

Only then could I come to the point of acceptance. Acceptance for what it was & what it is today. Acceptance for what was lost & what can be enjoyed today. 

For these men & women possibly had the same experiences that they unwittingly or may be wittingly passed on to me. Similar pain, angst. May be some revel in it, may be some don’t even know it exists. But it’s the same thread that binds us all. 

What we tolerate, becomes a part of us,

What is a part of us, is passed on as our legacy, as other’s inheritance. 

Received sometimes willingly, sometimes as an unwelcome gift.”

 What makes the most impact, are the subliminal messages we give to ourselves, and to others. They stay out of awareness forming our personality. So the next time, you ask your boy to stop feeling, think. Next time you shut down an idea from your bright little girl, reflect. Next time you talk about ideas of marriage or a relationship, feel. 

May be then we can entertain the thought of a revolution for an accepting world. 

The humaneness of Humanity

I felt compelled to write a post. I have been doling out ‘quotes’ for the past few months. It has been enough for my mind to keep sensing, feeling, processing, learning & adapting with the help of these one or two liners. That is, till today morning. As I prepared for the day ahead, I got some free minutes, a rare feat I may add. As I glanced through the newspapers, I came across three poignant photographs. A child sitting in a bright orange chair of an ambulance clicked in the dead centre of a picture. It would have been a cute or an adorable picture save for the torn, bloodied clothes, the dazed, war-ravaged injured face of his. He, for me, became the epitome of trauma. He wasn’t crying, he was in shock. He seemed too numbed out to even register himself or his surroundings, all the life-saving symptoms of trauma.

I do hope as you read this description, your heart broke into million pieces or at the very least cringed in horror before you thanked your stars that you didn’t see these pictures or may be said a prayer for the little one or offered gratitude to the universe for keeping your family safe. All wonderful coping strategies & possibly all goods signs of a loving, kind human being. As you read this, possibly you sense a streak of anger in my words. I am angry, I am grief-stricken. If I let the veil of anger lift, my eyes immediately fill up with tears. Tears of pain, loss, deep sadness & a sense of helplessness, despair at what trauma is getting inflicted everyday. It is out of these feelings, the helplessness that I am penning these words. 

The little boy is from the Syrian city of Aleppo, which though has been evacuated, had casualties when bombed recently. Syria for me, like many of us, is very far removed from my reality. I, like all kind human beings, say a prayer for them, not condone violence & hope to forget the memory of these grisly details. A normal, adaptive human coping skill. Today it failed, it rarely works as well, but today it failed, with 100% success. I am glad.

As I looked at his little boy, I could see trauma written all over, born of human conflict & creation. He has just learned that the world around him is a dangerous & unsafe place. He also has learned, with absolutely no efforts to imbibe these learnings, that the people currently in this world are also dangerous & will tear him apart for their gains, that no one can be trusted. Lastly, not the least, I say with the heaviest heart that he learned his biggest lesson of all that he is a speck, an insignificant speck on the surface of this earth. He for some time, will jump at every sound, will either sleep too much or not enough, may not feel hungry, may feel very angry all the time or may just feel like not doing anything. Or may be he may just be frolicking in the transit refugee camp as if nothing really had gone wrong, giving us all the impression that he’s such a strong little fella. Well, we would be wrong, dead wrong. If he thinks all is well, he is well, he has successfully disconnected from his horrors.

 Now human brain is a beautiful thing, it always, & I am emphasising, it always works in your best interest. If it believes that you need to disconnect from your difficulties, it is probably the best surviving strategy for you in this moment, right now. 

So now would be a good time to ask me, so what’s got your goat! All the symptoms, thoughts, behaviours I described are the expected, evidenced after effects of trauma. A lot would now depend on what kind of help, after-care would this little boy receive. But can you imagine, how the anger at his home, safety & innocence being snatched away would evoke hatred & despair in him. Would it be a long stretch to imagine how this hatred would keep building latently over years & then one fine day he meets people who share this anger, hence deep pain & grief that has long gone into hiding? 
Would it be a stretch to imagine how these people bound by the pain of their losses, connect & with the aid of resources decide to inflict the same horrors to make themselves feel better? Would it be a stretch to imagine that someone could easily tap into this forgotten pain & take advantage of it, may be promise healing in way of retribution?

 I don’t think this is a long stretch, I believe this is a reality. May be one percent of the affected people respond this way, may be you will put in front of me thousands of fine examples who responded with bravery & turned their life around. I, like you, am rooting for that. I, like you, do believe in the goodness of people, prayers, gratitude, thousands who are extending their hand in help. 

I also do know, it’s take one Adolf Hitler, one Saddam Hussein, one Osama Bin Laden to mobilise the pain of millions & connect them in a way that peace & genuine human bond could never. As long as we have war, we have horrors, innocent bystanders, we have traumas, as long as we traumas, we will have violence, passed on through generations. 

As long as we have violence, we will need more humans who can bare their hearts to tolerate the pain & losses of others with compassion, knowing that we are collectively responsible for what we inflict on each other, morality & ethics remaining of little matter. 

So what am I asking of all of us today? Look at the picture of the little boy for 10 seconds, will yourself, let yourself be awash with pain & grief. Dip into that pain & make a promise that each time you come across so-called dark emotions of humanity, in you, us, you will try to find some compassion for it. After all, we all have our crosses to bear & unique stories to tell, they become easier to bear when humanity opens their humaneness, in all of its healing glory.  

Crossing the Rubicon

What do you do when you start realising that you are no longer the person you were or believed yourself to be. That you are discovering so many different facets to you, that were either denied or hidden. And what you were, is now just a caricature of what you are becoming. It is scary to be.

 It’s a fearful journey where you can’t figure out which of you is real, the before or the after. As you circumvent this crossroad, where you see roads intersect & wonder which persona do you support, which road do you take. Are these the only roads to choose from? You see the road you have travelled, it wasn’t a bad journey, in fact in parts it was wonderful, it brought you to the very place you are in today. It is the road that made you the very person you are today, bringing you to the point to be able to ask the very questions you are asking today. So how can there be such a starkness in you, you wonder.

 As you stand there, trying make sense of the road you have come from, to make sense of the story of life thus lived & the anxious anticipation of the place you are in & where you can see yourself headed, you wonder which is more real. How can two opposing feelings or a thought & feeling both coexist, both need to be present. How do you make sense of these contradictory experiences to make a meaningful whole. After all, man above all is a meaning making machine. How much you would like to disown one & own the other. It feels so scary, so exhilarating, so new yet so old. And you know deep within you both shall remain a part of you. Like the chick who feels the trepidation of breaking out if it’s shell. It’s been a good life but there’s more out there. It’s unknown, it’s scary, it could be an adventure, it could be fun, it could make you feel inadequate & teach things that make life colourful. It’s still a loss to let go of the shell, for all that it gave you, for all that it meant to you. 

So as I stand at the precipice of the new flight, I look back at what I am leaving, feel the loss of what is familiar, grieve for the people I may not see again, mourn for who may not come along, as I feel this pain, I look ahead, I see the rolling hills, the clear blue sky, the verdant valleys, unexplored waters, the mysteries lurking to be known, I know there was never any doubt, that I would fly, fly high, fly far, soar to new lands, new experiences..

Anaïs Nin sums it up well, 

‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’

To be a man or a woman 

“Who are we when we are together with no one but ourselves?”

Hannah Arendt

As I considered the question, I recalled all the struggles that have occupied my mind recently. It hasn’t been a violent struggle, but relatively minor ones yet steady, under the surface, & persistent. I am struggling to find words to express the multitude of perspectives that are warring for space & attention in my mind. As you can see, I have used the word ‘struggle’ in different forms or parts of speech conveying how in this moment I deeply resonate with the word. 

In the same way, this quote has triggered myriad dimensions, dimensions that are difficult to put in words. Also I have realised that I lose the help of my greatest allies, the words when I am on the cusp of important insights, discoveries & realisations, my longest companion, ‘anxiety’ makes its presence felt during this time, driving the words away. 
Now don’t worry, anxiety is my friend now, it’s no longer about being the ‘signal of doom’. It’s got a bad rap for the longest time & we used to play a shoving match. Initially I was the winner, triumphantly shoving it out of sight & my physiological awareness, wiping out any bodily markers it left. I was so so happy & successful. As you can guess & anticipate or some of you can draw from your personal experience, it rarely stays down. After my triumphant struggle, it would rear what I used to think it’s ‘ugly head’ & honestly topple me with its strength. How I hated it!!! 

We had this fight now for years, till I understood better, made peace with my nemesis. Now we know it’s a learned response, it’s actually protective & signals presence of possible dangerous grounds ahead. We have been able to identify that it’s a bit hypersensitive to certain situations, like someone raising their voice, someone being a bit forceful, so we have decided that we need to heed the signal, at the same time may be, just may be, first take a few deep breaths, may be go for a walk & then see if the situation demands a response fitting for danger. We have had a few teething troubles, but we are getting to know each other. 

We still sometimes don’t like each other, have fights but are getting better getting on track & forming a helpful relationship. It’s not entirely fulfilling but we are getting there. Now that we have used words, our ally, anxiety has gone down. Splendid!! As Dr. Daniel Siegel says, “Name it to Tame it” for getting our emotions down to a manageable level. Now that I am calmer, my brain is able to function at its optimum. 

So where was I? 

Yes, the quote. I have been troubled by the jokes & stereotypical depictions of genders, debates, political issues, marriage, refugee crisis, etc all over the social media. Now I know it can be ignored, I can do that. I can ignore that some are surprised that I can roll a shutter easily, I can fix a mechanical device easily, I follow maps very well, technical instructions easily enough, can pick up a fight & argue, tell a man or a woman to assertively or aggressively back off as the situation demands, horseplay with children, so on & so forth. Sounds like a guy right?

In the same breath, I am fiercely loyal, can be kind, compassionate, nurturing, pretty shy, takes time to warm up to new people, can wear make up & dresses, struggle to be demure, cooks decently well… Sounds like a woman right? 
But it doesn’t take a genius to see that I identify with the masculine characteristics, more than feminine. I still prefer pants to dresses, they win hands down. So why am I saying all this? This is my personal struggle, yes it is, has been for the longest time. Most of the time I find a balance.

There are two issues here. One is micro, related to psychological gender identification & a macro one, one that speaks about who you really are when no one is watching. Now the macro one is our beliefs, opinions, values about various issues or the lack of opinions about all the things in this world. I am not sure if you feel it, but I do feel a pressure unspoken of course to conform, to fit. There is also a group that doesn’t conform, there is pressure to conform to the not-conforming group!! It’s exhausting & I don’t think it’s in my head only. I think it’s real. I will leave the macro issue for another day.

Micro issue, let’s turn our attention to that. I read about psychological androgyny, I felt a sense of peace overcome me. It’s the concept that all of us are on a continuum of traits, one end of which is traits full of instrumentality – logical, rational, dominant, aggressive, initiative building, risk taking & the one other end of expressive traits – nurturing, loyal, compassionate, shy.. You guessed right both can be divided into socially etched gender defined traits at the very end of the continuum. 

They say according to research, there are four divisions to this continuum we can identify & none of them have anything to do with a person’s actual gender or sexual orientation. A masculine gender role orientation irrespective of the physical gender, is the one high on masculine traits, the feminine is on high  

feminine traits, the androgynous gender role or orientation has both masculine & feminine to be high & undifferentiated one has both low feminine & masculine traits.  
So what do you do when you have high incidence of both these traits? That you have androgynous role orientation, of may be you are man with high feminine gender role orientation.. 

It goes something like this…

Like a bunch of sweet girls whipped their head towards me sitting in the back row when the professor spoke of how some girls always prefer to wear pants & giggled, whispering amongst themselves. It remains a painful, isolating experience in my mind. So does when a loved teacher comments that even on the last day of college, our farewell, I chose western wear over traditional Indian wear. Painful? Hell yes! Shameful! Much yes! Silly! Hell yes, pants down! 

So when I read about this concept, I could feel a sense of empathy for all of us who fall in different continuums opposing to the gender they belong to, including me. For all those sweet, sensitive boys, to all those ambitious women, all the nurturing men & women, you are ok, you are alright, you are great in whatever you have blessed with & what you are bringing to this world.

As a loved teacher once told me,

“There’s always place for that tiny blade of grass, what makes you think you don’t have your rightful place!”

So for the little girls who like to wear pants, the boys who like dolls, the girls who like pink & the boys who like blue.. We all have a place on the continuum..

We all are alright

P. S 
The anxiety part may seem out of place, yet isn’t. When we struggle with identify formation, anxiety is always an accompaniment. So when you struggle with your roles, this information will go a long way.