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. 

The Sanctimonious Me

I think what I am about to pen down is a good story to close the book on the year 2015 & begin a new one. This year has been eventful for me, ups & downs, more ups than downs, quite a few new beginnings, some closures, some positively petrifying moments, some unfinished businesses so that makes the coming year exciting, new perspectives, struggles with the old ones, I am sure you get it.. It’s been a plate full! 

As I get down to possibly penning down the last post of this year, I can’t help feeling that this will remain the most moving experience of the last 365 days. That’s saying a lot since the year has been full of it! So without further adieu, let me begin. I noticed for the last few days without my conscious awareness I was irked. I like to call it a low-grade annoyed feeling. I didn’t even realise it existed, but it kept impacting my life. I was irked by broken road rules, I was irked by lack of punctuality, I was irked by climate change, I was irked by shoddy repair work, I was irked by well, you guessed it, anything that seemed a bit off. Given by the fact that it’s a part of human existence, I largely was irked. I was to my best knowledge not displacing it actively on to any body, I do hope so. I was making efforts to regulate my emotions. 

I was breathing deeply, exercising, eating well, getting my regular sleep, talking over my irked state when it got too much, largely I thought I was managing well. Possibly I was, hindsight may be not so much.  What I didn’t realise was the sanctimonious, self-righteous self-talk that kept up the irked state. It wasn’t high enough for trouble, but it was low enough to tire me out at the end of the day. All the above mentioned factors & many more kept intruding in my awareness & I kept telling myself, I was ‘right’ in my anger or irked feeling. It wasn’t done, that’s not how things worked, I deserved better, others deserved better. It is an appropriate response, the world is heading to a state that will evoke that, it’s ok, I just need to take better care of my feelings. It’s justified! So life went on. So did my low-grade irked feeling. 

Now my irked state has been fuelled further by the equally self-righteous debates that are raging through various media forms. Before any one gets outraged, I ain’t blaming anyone! But if you do get outraged by what one politician said, what the Indian government did or did not do, whether shah rukh khan was right or is indeed a Pakistani agent.. Step back, take a deep breath, just ask yourself, “what am I feeling?” I am pretty sure the answer would be some on the continuum of anger, mild to highest you ever have been. Now everytime I am on social media, it emerges that someone is offended, some is angry, someone isn’t getting what they are entitled to & something is unfair. Honestly, I am not even sure when I joined the ranks, but I did. Without my express agreement & permission, I joined millions of my fellowmen in being angry & stewed in my self-righteous feelings. I didn’t even have an opinion on most of the media news that I stated, & I still was outraged! I later realised that I was outraged at how outrageous the outrage was!!!! The end result being the outside world had, however reluctantly, become a part of my inner world. 

Now, the beauty of that is, I started looking for the same pattern in my personal life too. Lo, behold! I found it. My sanctimony found its way evaluating people’s behaviours & how they were coming up short. At the best of times, I am driven by my internal locus of control, meaning I will be the hardest on myself. So even if at the outset, anger served a wonderful purpose, my connection with my real feelings was becoming bleaker. All this again without my express permission & conscious awareness. I keep repeating that because I didn’t intend it to happen, I didn’t want it to happen, I didn’t sign up for it. But it did happen & it will happen, because that’s part of the human condition. I would have been awash with Shame in another time, I still am to some extent. Though It isn’t strong enough for me to stop writing this. 

Let’s be honest with ourselves, who likes a sanctimonious, holier-than-thou prick?!? Not me certainly! A few years back, I had been devastated when a close friend stopped all communication with me for being a sanctimonious prick. It had been one of the most painful experiences of my life. I hadn’t much of a prick at that time but I had vowed to be extra careful then on. So you can imagine my internal state when it did dawn upon me that My internal world had become what I had been the most averse to! 

By now you would be wondering what’s the big deal. You have realised it, change it & move on. Now I wish it were as simple. Due to the harsh evaluations, my compassion had taken a backseat. When we aren’t very compassionate towards ourself, we aren’t going to be cutting anyone any slack including yourself! Strange isn’t it? When you look at those morally superior outpourings that seem to be such a part of our environment especially in India now, it’s difficult to imagine that they also have harsh voices in their inner world. It’s tough to believe that. But I will tell you how it hit me right in the face & why I think it is true. 

I am reading Brené Brown’s book, ‘Rising Strong’. It’s been lying on my bedside for about two months & I have been going through it on & off. As I was reading through it, I came across a question, “do you believe people are doing the best that they can?” 

No prizes for guessing, my answer was a resounding ‘NO’. As the ‘NO’ echoed in my head, I knew something was terribly wrong. If I didn’t believe anyone was doing their best, odds are I believed I wasn’t either. As I asked myself that, that was indeed true. It was only at that time I could sense my anger. As I went reading I realised as did the people in the book, that the anger hid fatigue & a persistent feeling of being taken for granted, the feeling of unfairness. As I stayed with the feeling, I started shedding copious amounts of tears. Now, it’s embarrassing to write this, I had no idea why I was crying but I was & I was tired. I cried, perplexed, “what in the world was I crying for?” I mean I realise I am angry at the world, then I realise it reflected how I was angry at myself & how really screwed up the whole thing was & I am crying!! 

As I struggled with the tears, I realised I was feeling sad, really sad. Sad that I hadn’t said a no in million situations that I wanted, sad at the way the world was at times functioning, sad that I hadn’t expressed what I had been feeling to some people that I needed to, sad that I was so unkind to myself & others when I didn’t even want to be! I was tired of the constant efforts to keep calm, tired of the sides that I felt I needed to take, tired of being morally superior, tired of having to work to reach those morals, I was just tired. All this because the kindness had vanished from my inner world. 

It took me better part of the day to fully understand the impact the low-grade irked feeling was saying. Once I had grieved for how painful my internal world had become for the last few days or may be weeks, did I start feeling the relief. That’s when I started considering that even if sometimes, like I was, we all are doing are best with the tools that we have. Sometimes that best may be dangerous, may be even hurtful, but if we knew better we would change. Like I am now. The only thing that makes it easy is kindness & gentleness with oneself. Even before I expect it from any one else, I need to treat myself with it. I give others the permission to treat me the way I treat others. 

I also did realise that I needed to draw some limits with myself & others, again in a kind, gentle way. I also did realise that I have a default setting that I tend to fall back on, something that gets operational as life gets stressful & I don’t take time to touch base with my inner world. But that’s for another day. 

Writing helps me keep in touch with inner world. I realised that I can’t write that off from my schedule. Nature keeps me grounded. These are like my guards against too much of infiltration from the outside world & my harsh little voices. 

What’s yours? What ways do you use to keep in touch with your inner workings? 

As I sign off with good wishes for all of you in the new year,  I am leaving with this, 

Credits for the photo:

Standing Tall 

As I was waiting in the elevator to stop at my floor, I realised I was feeling tall, tall in my stature. There were other people present, taller & as tall, so I didn’t have any facts to support my feelings. Now before you get bewildered & think that I have lost my marbles, I need to tell you that I am, putting it delicately, vertically challenged. So as you can guess, I rarely am surrounded by people who can let me have the blessed experience of seeing the world from a high vantage point. I mostly have my eyes stationed up. I am not so bothered by it, most times I am even not aware of it. You see while I am challenged in this particular manner, I am blessed with a firm voice. I get by well. So I was surprised to be ‘feeling tall’. A feeling it was! 

I am kidding you not, once I paid attention to my bodily feelings, I realised I was standing taller. My shoulders were straight, my chest proud, my back in its natural arc, my legs were supporting by torso rather steadily & thanks to all this, I was looking straight, not down my nose or up towards someone else’s. I was pleasantly surprised & of course, delighted.

I am sure you have a question, why in the world were you feeling tall when you measured the same in inches! Well, I have been paying attention to my physical & mental fitness for a few months now. I started steadily, reacquainting myself with my relegated to second-position physical self. It took time to know one other, not to reject outright, since my body refused to do as easily what it used to do at least five years back. As you know, I have high standards. If I believe something hasn’t stayed that way, it’s easily for my critical, demanding voice to step in to up the game. Not that it is helpful, it is still a neural pathway that though is losing its influence, still rears its head once in a while. I had taken my physical well being for granted, I believed that as long as I gave it my bare minimum, it ought to work the way it did for so many years. 

Now it did work well for a lot of years. I was a child who was physically active, who played a lot, a lot. Today when I see kids in my apartment complex playing, I have this very real visceral urge to join them – dodge ball, cricket, kho-kho, you name it, I would do it. I was a decent athlete, my sprinters’ legs were my pride. I am sure you can hear my wistfulness. So like me, the day i watched those kids, you are wondering what happened, where did I lose the plot. It took some time to figure out what happened. When I did, like I do when I have sorted a puzzle, I was taken a bit aback. Like everything else, you are going to traverse through bits of my life, a bit of the brain & a dollop of reflection, to see if you can take anything away from this story of mine. 

I realised my role model for self care is largely based on “take care of others before you look at yourself”. Yes, you read it correctly, not ‘take care of yourself’, it’s as basic as even to look at yourself! It’s quite conditional isn’t it! Now with beautiful hindsight, it’s always so so wise, we can see that it kind of negates my views about self-compassion. So where did that go? Now there is a concept here that becomes vitally important. Yes you are right! Obviously the brain is involved! Sometimes why there might be a disconnect between the intellectual understanding & the behavioural action. The missing piece tends to be the emotional state of motivation. An internal push to do things that largely may be in our well-being. You get it, I get it intellectually, at the same time becomes a task to follow it through. I know the answer is simple according to popular parlance – you are just plain LAZY! 

Nope, it ain’t that. We weren’t born lazy. You never see a child inactive, unless they are ill or suffering. We weren’t so either when we were young! So what do I think I could be the reason? 

This is what i figure out.. 

 The significant adults in my life are one of most loving & giving people you will meet. So they kept giving, at times at the cost of their needs, sometimes themselves. I learnt covertly without either my knowledge or theirs that ” I take care of others first, before I get to look at myself”. Now most women reading this blog will instantly identify with it, no matter how liberated & actualised we are. I don’t think this is gender based, it’s an attitude. Men, women alike will be following it, may be the operational areas will be different, the core belief remains the same. So, given one of the pillars of my belief system which has been covertly operating below the radar, taking care of myself came a kind of sad last. It’s taken much hard work to recognise the role of my Implicit memory. Here comes the brain concept! 

Remember how we have discussed that broadly & very simply we have two types of memory based on our access to them. Explicit & Implicit. Explicit is what is conscious available or putting in some effort can be made conscious. Like your girlfriend or boyfriend in the tenth grade. Haha! Took you some time but you did recollect it. Now I will ask you to recall how did you exactly learn to brush teeth, may be ride a bicycle, most of you by now do these activities with no conscious recall. That my friends, is Implicit memory. A lot of these skills & most of our mental maps to deal with the world, other people & ourselves has been coded without us realising it. That means they operate without our conscious knowledge, at times possibly without our present permission & state of mind. 

So did my beliefs operate without my conscious permission about how much, in what way & the reasons of taking care of my self. It took much guilt tolerance, will power & much building of compassion for self to change my implicit beliefs. I still yet struggle with it. Some situations are worse to deal with since they may couple with other stealthily operating beliefs- “children should always come first”, “you live for your family”, “your duty is to provide”, “you are the nurturer”. Then we these advertisements that sublimely reinforce these beliefs! Some insurance seem to say that a man can die but needs to provide for his family, then he is the MAN! So keep operating covertly, influencing us in perplexing ways, at times at odds with our intellectual knowledge or understanding. 

So what do we do? We pay attention to our ourselves, our thoughts, our feelings. We become mindful of what goes on within us, just as we do so with the external world. I like to believe & it stands true – we all have good reasons to behave in the way we do, no matter how silly, illogical the behaviour may seem. As a child, putting others first, like my sibling or guests, worked for me. It earned me good will, good feeling inside & most importantly, the affection & approval of my significant adults. That for every child is life-sustaining. It worked then, it can’t work now. It’s no longer effective, it needs to change & I will. Anticipate that breaking neural patterns of decades takes time, it evokes guilt, shame, may be pain. That’s part of the process. That’s expected & normal! But the brain is on our side. Neuroplasticity, what we focus or attend to with deliberation, changes. So it will with hard work, conscious awareness & compassion. Compassion for self, compassion for the ones who taught you that, compassion for the self now who struggles with it. 

Nothing ever works without compassion & acceptance. With it, you Stand Tall. 

As Abraham Hicks said,

“Everything you believe, affects everything that comes to you”

Mental health & more…

 “What we achieve inwardly will change the outward reality” – Plutarch

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively & fruitfully, and is able to make contribution to his or her community (WHO, 2007). 
So, mental health is not the mere absence of illness, it’s about achieving well-being internally, it includes our emotional, psychological & social well-being. It affects the way we feel, think & act. As the definition says it determines how we handle stress – something that is a natural & expected part of human life, relate to others & make choices. If we take this thought process a bit further, we realise that mental health, like physical health forms an integral part of every stage of life, right from our infancy, through our childhood, racing through adolescence & helping us through our adulthood. 
Mental health like its counterpart requires effort to be in tune & functioning well. Like you give 30 minutes of your time walking every day, you will need to tune in, listen to their feelings, and understand what they are saying. Are you angry at your spouse for not doing something? Listen to the anger, disappointment. Anger will tell you to assert yourself, ask for more. Disappointment will help you feel sad & reach out for comfort or soothing. If you listen to them, you will possibly take action & resolve the matter. If you ignore them, they stay, they will grow, and you will forget them consciously but your hurt self will look for more of these incidents & one fine day the dam will burst carrying you & your spouse in the deluge of hurt, pain & loss. Exaggeration may be. Reality enough, certainly! 

As Sigmund Freud aptly said, “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive & later come in uglier ways.”

Mental health requires & deserves daily upkeep. Knowing what we feel, we think, understanding the why & what of it, learning to modify or regulate it (think the fan regulator), is at the core of mental health. You make friends with your emotions, your thoughts, life becomes more a pleasant, fulfilling, healthy a journey.

Summing it, Mental health is about three distinct factors:

• how we feel & think about ourselves

• how we feel & think about others

• how are we able to meet the demands of life 

As the beginning statement entails, the journey for all componentsof mental health begins inwards. It is embedded in our thoughts, our emotions, our bodily sensations & our actions. The beauty of mental health lies in the paradox of its intimate relationship with the external world. Without the world we don’t make sense, without my inner world, life doesn’t make sense.

So how do we know that our mental health isn’t in the beautifulstate of homeostasis? When physically we are unwell, it shows up in a form of a cold, headache, fever, the body sends a signal. Mental health when out of form shows up in the form of illness, not always a mental illness like depression, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, etc., sometimes it shows up in the form of high anxiety, sleepless nights, overeating, excessive anger, feeling down & out, disinterest, road rage, withdrawal, self-doubt, missed deadlines. You may still be able to carry on with your daily life, most times you are yourself, but there are these moments – moments when you are alone with yourself, when you know something’s not quite right. 

You are pulling on but it’s just taking more effort. If you listen to that wise voice inside of you, you will know that your emotional well-being needs some tending to. You will know that time has come to provide more nourishment to bring back that beautiful homeostasis. You need chicken soup for your inner world. 
As they say, “Mental illness or problems are not a choice, but recovery is.”

Mental health difficulties like stress are a natural part of our life. Some are greater than the others. Some can be dealt with talk with a friend, some ‘me time’, some hugs & kisses, a walk in the park, some journaling, some can be worked through by making a pros & con list, some can resolve with some self-love & time. But somewill need another person, a person who is kind, compassionate, genuine, empathic, non-judgemental, unconditional in their regard for you, accepting, educated in human sciences, but alas, a stranger – a therapist, a counsellor.

“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do”

I think that’s the most apt description of counselling/therapy I have found. A pace where one can own the avoided, ignored parts of our story with kindness, self-compassion & meaningfulness is “counselling”. When our emotions & at times, difficult experiences of our story are avoided or ignored, they rarely die. They show up in the form of mental illness or may be just problems. That’s the time when we need that kind stranger, the therapist to listen to us with an open, kind heart & unconditionally accepting mind to help us find the missing pieces of our story, make meaning of it & through this tough process find & love ourselves. Every struggle we have is a part of our story. It is the function of our memory, our brain to learn from the present to increase the chances of survival in the future. The day we can’t do that, the past keeps showing in the present impacting the future, & it shows up in the form of mental health difficulties.

Simply put, counselling or therapy is a process to help an individual become self-sufficient, self-dependent, self-directed & to help adjust oneself effectively to the demands of a meaningful life. It is concerned with bringing about a voluntary change in an individual. It is not simply giving information though that may be given, it is not giving advice, suggestions, and it is not changing one’s values, attitudes, unless one wants to change. 
Counselling occurs in three ways:

• Preventive – it helps to anticipate possible difficulties or life-altering changes & prepare for it. Example: pre-marital counselling, dealing with a family member’s fatal illness, spreading awareness about mental disorders.

• Therapeutic – it helps dealing with actual mental illness in an empathic, structured & evidence-based, confidential environment.

• Developmental – it helps to accelerate the growth of mental health without the presence of a mental illness or problem. Example: promoting a book club with focus on maintaining good mental health as well as aiding resilience, skill-building classes, and stress management skills. 

“Mental health…is not a destination but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you are going”