Non-writer’s Block

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Brindisa, a Spanish Tapas Bar sits at one corner of Borough Market. I sit at the window at one corner of Brindisa, sipping hot chocolate after a long day at work. A wee treat. It’s raining just short of cats and dogs. Umbrellas are out in all their colours and varying degrees of wind-induced angular crookedness. Hoods are up and hair flying off scalps at funky angles. Some walk hunched and shrunk, others wear big smiles, facing the sky. Many pairs of crisp city shoes step off the kerb and dunk straight into puddles. Squelch. Squelch. Squelch.

The last few weeks of writing less traverse my mind. In the first week, that vacant hour seemed contrived – like a designer hole in the evening. I strapped myself in a brace of immobility, letting it pass, pretending I wasn’t watching. On a couple of occasions I was desperate enough to turn to the TV for help. It felt unnatural and abrupt to break the rhythm of writing every day. I had a non-writer’s block. I knew it was coming but it was more unwelcome than I thought it would be. It made me feel like I was being denied the sweets I loved. I felt redundant. I thought of Saagar and missed him more than normal, if that’s possible.

The second week was a week of late nights – emergency surgeries at work, friends visiting from abroad, reading an ‘unputdownable’ book. Sleep and energy deficit was huge. There was no time to think or write. An e-mail came as a reminder that the last of 36 instalments towards the payment for my bike had been made. Yes. I got it in July that year. Saagar helped me with setting the height of the seat, inflating the tyres and oiling the chain. He worried about me cycling on London roads. He was an avid cyclist. Once a female driver of a car nearly hit him because she was on her mobile phone. She apologised to him. He used to answer my phone when I drove. He also used to answer my text messages. He felt strongly about mobile phone use by drivers. He hated that we lived on a hill. The last bit of the bike ride home was hard for him, as it is for me but I am getting used to it. One e-mail and a barrage of memories!

The third week was quiet. Cats. Music. Food. Candles adorning Saagar’s picture. Time to record a podcast with an eminent Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Dele Olajide. Lots of cycling. Sleeping. Si and I pottering around the kitchen. I wash the spinach and he wilts it. He clears up the sink, I put the dishes away. Si boils the kettle, I prepare the mint for the tea. We dance our culinary waltz and Milkshake sits as a spectator on the upper stall of the kitchen island. In the pauses between ‘doings’ we dance. We rejoice, we dance, we create new memories. 

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Day 993

Ruth

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Broken glass

“You are well enough to safely go home now”, said the panel.
“But I can’t! I need one more day to complete my church!”, said Di, who was being treated at Bexley hospital for Postnatal Depression in 1966. She had a brilliant occupational therapist who took them to the swimming pool, organised hair-dressing days and helped patients to make things. Di made a church with bits of shattered wind-screen glass, put together with resin but the spire wasn’t on yet. This beautifully tactile piece of art was named ‘Faith’ by Ruth, her daughter.

Ruth

Ruth was a talented young lawyer. She was an actor and singer. She was kind, generous and gorgeous! She travelled extensively. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in her late 20s. She coped well with the help of health services, her friends and family but tragically lost her battle at the age of 47.

Di is in her second year of missing Ruth terribly. She has created the most beautiful garden in her memory. Some of the plants there are from Ruth’s house. Her mediterranean wall is stunning.

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Being bereaved by suicide is a huge risk factor for suicide. Around 125 youth suicides a year occur soon after the person involved has experienced a bereavement. One in four (25%) of under-20s and 28% of 20 to 24-year-olds had lost a relative, partner, friend or acquaintance around a year or more beforehand. In 11% of suicides among under-20s, the person who those involved had lost had also taken their own life.

In a recent inquiry, bereavement was found to be an important theme in many deaths, said Prof Louis Appleby, the director.

People who have been bereaved need greater support to reduce the risk of them killing themselves. Agencies who are meant to help are not good at recognising this risk and need to improve.

This morning I caught up with Di over a cup of tea. We both believe that if Saagar and Ruth have met each other wherever they are, they must get on famously. The link below is a conversation with Di. She talks about her insights on mental health services over 5 decades. Thanks a lot Di!

Day 975

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Ben 

In conversation with a retired Paediatric surgeon today, the topic of premature babies came up. He said that the commonest type of surgery in new-borns has changed over the years. Unlike a couple of decades ago, the commonest operation now is for dead gut, essentially due to the rise in our ability to provide better care for premature babies. He thought that the incidence of premature births was almost double in London than anywhere else in the UK because of high stress levels.

According to one of the largest reviews of evidence, children born very prematurely are at greater risk of developing mental health and social problems that can persist well into adulthood. Children who weighed less than a kilogram at birth are about four times as likely as those born at term to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and significant emotional problems. This may be due to weakened connections in brain networks linked to attention, communication and the processing of emotions.

These findings are important because mental health issues that occur in childhood are a strong predictor of psychiatric disorders in adulthood. “There is a strong case for assessing, on a regular basis, the mental health status of these children, so that early intervention approaches might be implemented sooner rather than later, with a view to minimising future mental health problems,” said Prof Smith from Glasgow.

Sarah is a Registered General Nurse with 25 years’ experience. She worked as a Neonatal Nurse over the last 17 years prior to moving to The University of Salford where she is now a Neonatal Lecturer within the Midwifery Team.

Sarah became involved with PAPYRUS in 2013 after the loss of her 14-year-old son Ben to suicide. Ben was a premature baby.

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Day 971

Truth will set you free. But before that, it will piss you off. 

If you’ve heard public speaking gurus speak publicly, you will know that not all of them are as fantastic as they think they are.

This is a snatch from a private conversation:

“When I was first married, I was right on time with the biological clock which set the pattern of correctness and timely dutifulness and the predictability of a marriage that lasted 14 years, kids, two of them, of course, divorce, a second marriage which was a disaster because, like everyone who divorces after 14 or 18 or 22 years, you’re crazy as a loon and you don’t know it and you think you’ve learnt so much and now you know what you really want and then this man shows up who tells you that you’re the one he’s been looking for forever and your body wakes up and you feel attractive and valued and excited about life again and so what if he’s a lot younger than you and even though all your friends and all the books and articles warn you that it’s too soon, that you need at least a year or two to figure things out, what’s the rush etc etc, you’re so caught up in the look in his eyes and, besides, he seems to know what he’s doing and it just feels so good to be in love and lust again that you go ahead and marry him and then it takes a week or two, maybe a month to figure out that you blew it. All your friends and books and articles were right. I mean he doesn’t even know the words to your favourite songs but then it takes a year or two to finally give up and get out and then you finally meet someone right for you. You marry him and you don’t see it coming. One morning two weeks before Christmas when you’re reading the newspaper over a cup of coffee and you are in your nice home with your nice husband and you are suddenly terrified that your life will continue exactly as it is until the day you die and you realise you better put your seat belt on because lunacy is sitting in the corner behind the Christmas tree, and it just irritates the hell out of me that all this is part of the schedule, you know, all that midlife crisis stuff, and I’m right on time as usual. I am a compulsive punctual, having a nervous breakthrough.”

That’s a stump speech. Showing up to yourself.
Write one for yourself. I will too. Answer four questions:

Where am I going?
Why am I going there?
Who’s going with me?
How will I get there?

Day 958

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An excerpt from the Eulogy by Saagar’s uncle (my brother), Chetan:

“Two things about him come up over and over again.
The first is how much fun he was to be around. His ability to laugh. To make people laugh. And his astonishing ability to laugh at himself.
The other was how helpful he was. How he would do things he did not have to, to help other people out.
But clearly Saagar was so much more. He was so many things to so many people. And it is very difficult to capture in words the essence of what a person is. In the angst of his loss, his aunt wrote a short poem, which captures him more beautifully than I ever could, so I would like to read out now.
You..
You were more…
More than the dreams you dreamed
More than the laughs you shared
The beats you kept of the music you played
The words you learned of the tongues you spoke
The love you sought and the hearts you won
More…
More than the questions we ask, and the tears we shed
And more, much more than the demons you faced
And the battle you lost.
Hope you found your peace, and some day we find meaning…

When I think of his having moved on, I am in despair. But when I think about Saagar himself, what comes to mind is a series of memories. Knowing Saagar, they are all a lot of fun.
I fIrst met Saagar Naresh on a warm day in the summer of 1994 in Delhi. A baby was brought before me, probably 30 minutes after birth. I had no idea a human could be like that tiny, that fragile. The honour bestowed upon me was to be the very first person on this planet – after his mother, of course –  to provide him nourishment. I touched a spoon with honey briefly to his lips. That was my first meeting with Saagar Naresh.
Saagar has been a constant source of joy and pleasure ever since. The odd way in which he slept in bed as an infant.  The 2nd birthday where the birthday boy vanished, only to be found in the balcony with the new puppy, sharing a bowl of yoghurt, one spoon at a time.
I remember the 8 year old who never tired of practicing his bowling. The child who found the courage to get into a fixed wing glider for a joyride. He came out badly shaken,  but proud that that he had done it.
And the 14 year old who – once when he was visiting us – decided it would be fun to have my pet Doberman, Cleo, lick his head.  So he poured coconut oil all over his head. And Cleo was more than happy to oblige by licking it all off.
I remember the naughty 18 year old bodybuilder who put a post on his sister’s facebook page when she wasn’t looking, which said “My brothers triceps could dam a river”. And, of course, Saagar and Hugo’s mimicry of the English spoken by Indian tour guides would always have us in splits.
Saagar was great fun. I can bet that wherever he is right now, those around him are happy that he is there. Just like we have been for the past 20 years. Of course, there is regret that I will not see him soon. But there is gratitude for the time that I did have with him.
Saagar was gifted with a natural skill for languages, and along with that comes the desire to travel, which he did extensively. And because of him being far away and traveling often, there were always extended periods when we would not see each other.
Saagar has set off on another such trip now. And I think it is just a matter of time before we run into each other again. Honestly, I can’t wait for that day.
We miss you Saagar. Have a great trip.”

Day 957

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At 26, she finally sought help. She is bright, has received fabulous education, is brought up in a stable, happy household and has travelled extensively. After graduation she got a great job in the city of London but came to realise it was not right for her.

After a tempestuous patch, she has landed on her feet. Great wisdom has come to her in abundance. She has discovered that her family is her strength. She can trust them. Her mother walks right beside her, growing with her, every step of the way. She now appreciates her dog more than ever before. A drive to the coast and a stroll by the sea with a loved one is not something she takes for granted anymore. Yoga is now a part of her daily routine. Gardening brings her peace. She spends her time colouring picture books and drawing sketches.

Her creativity is finding expression. Zaynah lives with Borderline Personality Disorder and writes a blog – Not a simple mind. Her life is not easy but it is a hundred percent authentic. She shares it generously. She is determined to help others. While Facebook constantly incites her to compare her life with that of others, she knows better. She can tell real from fake. She understands she is in recovery. It’s a zig-zag road but it’s good. Yes. All this learning at 26!

“Recovery isn’t about getting back to how you were before, it’s about building something new.” – Anonymous.

In the recording below, Zaynah talks to me about her diagnosis, her recovery and the changes in her life:

 

Day 954

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Recovery Room is also known as POCU – Post Operative Care Unit. While most patients have a smooth emergence from anaesthesia, others may feel disorientated or confused. They might feel mild pain, nausea or experience other side effects of surgery and anaesthesia.  The calm and caring presence of Recovery nurses helps them smooth over all these turbulences and come back to themselves before being sent to the ward.

K is one such nurse. Her sweet voice and soft Australian accent is unmissable. She smiles all the time. She listens and asks intelligent and relevant questions. She is full of kindness and clever ideas to get around problems. She respects other people’s priorities and time. She is an old soul.

Last Saturday, after work she went out to a pub with friends. She heard some troublesome noises on the street and went out to help. I can picture her excusing herself, ”I’ll just nip out and be back in a sec.” Little did she or her friends know that that would be her last act of kindness. She was killed in the incident near London Bridge that night.

How is it that some people can go out of their way to be vicious and others can show extraordinary kindness at a huge cost to themselves? We all belong to the same race. We all cry the same salty tears and bleed the same red blood. We all feel the same insane love for our kids and the same burning pangs of hunger. Ultimately we all want to be free, to be loved and understood for who we are. Why this deep divide?

Can I imagine K not offering to help? No. That is just the kind of person she was – true to herself till the very end. Bless you K. We love you and miss you. Recovery Room is not the same without you and this world is a better place because of you.

Love and blessings from London to all broken lives and hearts, everywhere.