Help? Me?

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“Call for help” is the first step in Basic Life Support. At the hospital, I encourage Junior doctors to recognise early when a patient is too complex or too sick and ask for help at an early, rather than late stage.

It took six sessions of counselling to wake me up with a jolt to the fact that I needed to ask for help. Yes. I was a strong and independent woman. Yes. Very self-sufficient. Omnipotent, in my view. I offered help generously but hesitated to ask. Saagar was ill. I was looking after him the best I could while working full time. All our family was in India.  Saagar’s dad stepped in as much as he could. He worked full time too. We had no back-up. No support net-work. No community. We were muddling along till it dawned on me after 6 weekly Talking Therapy sessions of one hour each, that I could and should ask my family for help even though they were thousands of miles away.

I didn’t know it then, but it would seem I didn’t like asking for help. It made me feel weak, vulnerable and inadequate. Exposed. I don’t know why but it seemed like an admission of failure to manage my affairs. But now, Saagar was ill and we needed help.

On the night of the last session of therapy, I wrote an e-mail to all the adults on my side of the family, explaining our situation and finally, asking them for help.

One of my brothers responded. He applied for his UK Visa at once. A few days later he was told there weren’t enough blank pages in his Passport for the Visa to be stamped. He took the document back to the Passport office to get more blank pages added on. That took a few days. He then re-applied for his UK visa and finally got it a further few days later. By now 2 more weeks had passed.

In the mean time I arranged with one of my young friends, Jan to come to stay with us. Jan and his mum attended meditation lessons with me. Jan was a compassionate and enthusiastic young man who had recently lost his job and was looking for something meaningful to do. I offered him our guest room and invited him to stay with us, explaining the situation. He was excited about it. I asked Saagar how he felt about this temporary arrangement.

“It’s okay Mamma. I’ll wait for Uncle to come.”

I listened. I understood. I was tempted to push it. But I wanted to respect Saagar’s wishes. I didn’t want to take away the little control over his life that he had left.

A few days later, the visa arrived. Just in time for Saagar’s uncle to attend his funeral.

Moral of the story: Ask for help openly and EARLY.
Reminder: It takes a village …

Song: Lean on me:

https: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTVEIOOBD6Q

My name is Saagar.

S A A G A R.

In Delhi, it was simple and sweet. In Belfast, it had to be spoken out slowly and spelt out clearly. Still, it was utterred in all kinds of ways- Segaar, Sags, Sagsy-Wagsy, Saga, Cigar etc. It is, after all, a proper noun. I would think forgivingly, “As long as you speak his name with love, you can say it any which way you like.”

At about 7 years of age, Saagar came home from school one day and casually, asked “Can’t I be called Aran or something?” I felt for him but laughed. What else could I do? I asked him if anyone had commented on his name at school that day. “I have to tell them at least twice and then spell it out and they still get it wrong.”

I told him the story of his name. I was 24 when I got married. My in-laws lived In Chennai. We visited them a few months later and one evening we all went to a place called Besant Nagar beach. That was the first time I saw the ocean. The vision of a dark blue shimmer below meeting a pale blue glow above in a clean, delicate, straight line made everything else disappear. Its calm, its rhythm, its enormity, its subtle dance, its grace and openness pulled me in. All people and conversation faded away and there I was, completely soaked in the bliss of the ocean. My soul soothed. My body relaxed. My eyes quenched. I was in love. In that moment, I knew that if I ever had a son, he would be called, ‘Ocean’ ie. Saagar.  I told him he was named Saagar because his heart was as large and as beautiful as the ocean. He smiled and hugged me tight.

Saagar and I needed more stories. They could give us a sense of connection with the characters and each other. Feel their excitement and face their challenges.  Make us less alone. Create pictures we could step into as characters. They could show us a map of how to get from here to there. Of how to live in this world. They could make us more human, creating boundaries and arenas within which we could shine. They could make things seem less endless and random. They could take us places we didn’t know we wanted to go. We needed more shared stories.

 

No more; no less.

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It occurred to Pooh 🐻 and Piglet 🐷 that they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats 🎩 and coats 🧥 and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood🌲 to Eeyore’s stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore.

“Hello Eeyore,” said Pooh.

“Hello Pooh. 🐻 Hello Piglet 🐷” said Eeyore, in a Glum Sounding Voice

“We just thought we’d check in on you,” said Piglet, “because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.”

Eeyore was silent for a moment. “Am I okay?” he asked, eventually. “Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That’s what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All.

Which is why I haven’t bothered you. Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All, would you now.”

Pooh looked and Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.

Eeyore looked at them in surprise. “What are you doing?”

“We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, “because we are your friends. And true friends don’t care if someone is feeling Sad, or Alone, or Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are.” 💜💚

“Oh,” said Eeyore. “Oh.” And the three of them sat there in silence, and while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better. 🥰

Because Pooh and Piglet were There.
No more; no less.

A.A.Milne
E.H.Shepard

Andy’s dilemma. Errm … decision.

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On Friday, the first thing I heard on radio was Andy in tears. It was also the last thing on TV before going to bed. A proud Scotsman, 31 years of age, Andy announces his retirement after a scintillating career in tennis and a long fight with an injury to his right hip. Tall and athletic, in a deep blue t-shirt, seated in front of a dark grey screen covered in contrasting logos, he faced the press. Eyes lowered. Head bent. His left hand trying to cover his face in the guise of adjusting the brim of his baseball cap.
“Ermm. Not great.” (Nods, looks sideways, down and to his right. Nods twice to himself. Big sigh.)
“Ermm…”(Comes close to breaking down and leaves his seat. Walks off with head steeply bent forward.)
Comes back. Sits down. Starts again.
“Sorry.” (Small cough)
“Ermm. Yeah. So, not … not feeling good.
Obviously been struggling, been struggling for a long time.
I can still play to a level. Not a level I’m happy playing at. But also, it’s not just that the pain is … too much really. I don’t want to keep playing that way. You know, I spoke to my team and I told them that, you know, I can’t … I can’t keep doing this and I needed to have an endpoint. I told my team that I needed to get through this till Wimbledon. That’s where … where I’d like to stop.
Ermm … stop playing. (Visibly steels himself as he says this).
Ermm … but also not certain I’m able to do that. (Shakes his head and bends it further forward)
Ya. Ya. I think there’s a chance of that for sure. (Rubs his right eye. Purses his lips.)
Ermm. Ya. There’s … sure, because like I said I am not sure … not sure I’m able to … to play through the pain you know. For another 4-5 months. Ermm. I have an option to, you know, have another operation which you know is … you know a little bit more … more kind of severe than what I’ve had before and having my hip resurfaced will allow me to have a better quality of life and be out of pain and that’s something I’m seriously considering right now. There’s obviously no guarantees. The reason for having an operation like that is not to return to professional sport. It’s just for a better quality of life. Yeah. For myself mainly. (Pulls the brim of his hat forward). There’s lots of little things. I mean, you guys see me running around the tennis court and walking around in between points and it obviously doesn’t look good and doesn’t look comfortable but you know there’s little things like day to day, that are also a struggle, and ya, it’d be nice to be able to do them without any pain. Putting your shoes on, socks on – things like that. Having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training or any of the stuff that (shrugs) I love about tennis.
Nothing helps. You’re in lots and lots of pain. You can’t do what you want to do, what you love doing. I can do it but it’s not fun. I’m not enjoying doing it. So … I mean. That’s what I’ve done. Tried to deal with it, talk about it. Ermm. But none of that makes my hip feel better unfortunately. I wish it did, cause if it did, I’d be feeling brilliant just now but it doesn’t. So…” (Gets up and leaves.)

His deep sense of loss, confusion, pain and vulnerability came across clearly. It’s probably one of the hardest decisions of his life. I visualise a society, our society, creating space for such expression, not just for physical but also emotional pain. It’s going to be a tricky transition. I am sure he has the required support network in place. Good luck Andy!

Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/jan/13/andy-murray-tennis-retirement

 

The Cats

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(Merry Christmas from Milkshake)

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the City Hospital was a circus. A different clown (read Consultant) was in-charge everyday. What was right on a Monday was completely wrong on a Tuesday. The same action would be pronounced as ‘perfect’ by one clown and ‘abhorrent’ by another. To make things better, they didn’t talk to each other. The flunkies (read junior doctors) were the in-betweeners that got lammed from both sides as their shifts crossed over time-territories. They were the pawns on the frontline that took over the running of the unit from one clown at the beginning of a shift and handed over to the other at the end. They were the ones dodging the arrows of conflict over phones, in hospital corridors and at handovers. They were the ones that stayed up all night working hard, only to be abused and criticised the next morning. They were the buckets into which bile was poured, the bile of bitterness that the clowns didn’t have the guts to express to each other.

In 2004, I was one of those flunkies. After about 8 months of this non-sense, I was done. I was loosing my sense of self, my confidence in making decisions and most importantly,  pride in my job. It was time to stop and take stock. After a nasty night shift, I was handing over the patients to the day team. I am sure at one point I heard the Consultant taking over suggest to me ‘you need your head examined’.  That did it for me. Bleary-eyed and broken, I couldn’t bear to go home only to come back to this toxic work environment yet again that night. I planted myself in Psychiatry Outpatient Department and demanded to be seen by someone. Dr Ingram was a handsome, young psychiatrist with kind eyes and a small beer belly, well couched in his grey suit. He understood. I was given 6 weeks of work-related-stress leave and started on Fluoxetine. I was also seen by an occupational therapist once every fortnight. She suggested getting a cat.

At the local Animal rescue home, we found an enchanting black and white, one year old feline. It was her eyes that got me – talking and smiling eyes. We were told it was a girl. We decided to call her Bella. We were advised to keep her strictly indoors for at least 6 weeks, till she got used to the smells in the house. She found her way to the strangest of places –  on top of kitchen cabinets and radiator covers, squeezed behind and underneath beds, chairs and sofas, inside shoes and boxes. The only place she didn’t like was her soft furry blanketed bed.

On our first trip to the vet for a basic check-up and vaccinations, we found out that the she-cat was in fact a he-cat. After much consultation, he was christened ‘Mr Bronx’, the old faithful. He soon became a source of great joy, comfort and hilarity for the family. We had him go crazy playing with balls of wool, soft toys with tiny in-built bells and laser beams. He was pure entertainment from a distance at the beginning but slowly he allowed us to stroke and cuddle him. Within a month we were having full-fledged conversations with him.

The Fluoxetine made me feel frozen. Hollow. No joy. No pain. No love. It was dehumanising and unbearable at times. It was proof that pills alone cannot make you happy. After 6 weeks, it was time to go back to work. I did. A cunning plan was put into place so that I didn’t spend too much time at the ICU. It worked.

9 years later, Saagar was home from University and I got a phone call from him at work. He said he’d found a cat on ‘Gumtree’ and he would love to get it. That evening we went over to a tiny flat in Sydenham occupied by a family of 4 – mum and 3 kids. On a window sill lounged another family of 4, a grey mother-cat with her three grey kittens, 6 weeks old. One of the malnourished kids was about 3. He handled the kittens like rags. He didn’t care if he lifted them by their ears or tails or bellies. He let them go from various heights above the floor, cornered and held them with a lot of force. He told us all about what the cats ate. We picked the cutest little kitten who resembled a mini-punk, got it properly accessorised and brought “Milkshake” home. He was Saagar’s baby that summer.

Not once did it occur to me that there might be a connection between the circumstances under which we got the first cat and the second.

Ref: https://www.cats.org.uk/news/purring-the-blues-away

Do I need another pair of socks?

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It would be a blessing to have all the time that I would otherwise waste on creating space in the house for more stuff and making room in the bin for more packaging and plastic. I would prefer to sit by the fire and read a book instead.

My clothes, like the arms of a giant octopus, have found their way underneath beds, in and on wardrobes, stuffed inside chests of drawers, wrapped around banisters and hanging off hooks behind every door. Cycling clothes, work attire, casual wear, Indian outfits, semi-formals, super-stuffy, long dresses, jackets, tunics, thermals, water-proofs, tights and … some never worn more than once a year.

There’s hardly a square foot of flat surface left bare on any table or shelf. The pile of unread books is growing taller every day, shooting accusatory looks at me. Unworn hats, unused gloves, unopened soaps, unlit candles, unadorned jewellery, unsent cards, unrevealed fragrances, lotions and potions … never wanted, never missed.

At the risk of being utterly boring, I am giving myself the gift of non-judgement this Christmas.  I am highlighting all adjectives and striking them off. Good, bad, lovely, pleasant, sad, merry, funny, empty, gorgeous, happy, beautiful, desolate, right, wrong etc are eradicated. All is just the way it is, without the need for appreciation, qualification or categorization. The turkey, the table settings, the cake, the tree, the gifts … just are.

I am uncluttering. Softening. Yielding. Opening. About time too. Nothing is absolute. Even when I’m unsure of myself, I can still make a difference. Feeling lonely doesn’t mean I am alone. Broken hearts too can give and receive love.

Inventory of Loss

Just like old trinkets, losses sit about in our being for years, forming layers upon layers, rusting us on the inside. Most of the world walks around with a thin film of red rust of unresolved grief just under their skin. A long list of losses dressed up as something else hides behind this film.

When Russell was 6, he went for a basketball game with his dad one Saturday. He lost his little blue jacket there. His dad gave him a good hiding for that. For Russell, it meant loss of safety. Did anyone recognise this as a loss? Nope.

When Saagar moved from India to Northern Ireland, he didn’t know English very well. He was one of three coloured kids in his Primary school. Something as fundamental as his name was alien to all around him. One day he came home from school and asked, “Can we change my name to Alan or something?” For him, this move meant loss of a sense of place and a sense of self. Was it acknowledged as such? Nope.

When the Tsunami washed away thousands of villages on 2004, Saagar was stunned. Until then he had faith in God but after watching the devastation caused by it on TV, it was all over for him. He said, “If there was a God, He would not allow such a horrible  thing to happen.” It meant a profound loss of faith for him. Did we know how to deal with it? Nope.

When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I was 42. It mainly affected the small joints in both my hands. I worried about my ability to work in the future. With correct diagnosis and medication, I was back to normal in a short time, but for a while I lost my confidence, my sense of security. Was it expressed and addressed? Nope.

Yes. We accumulate losses without knowing it and our inventories continue to add on more items when we’re not looking.

I am learning to look at and validate all my losses. I am learning to be complete with them.  As Christmas is approaching, I am aware that that empty chair at my dinner table will hurt. But I am grateful that Saagar once sat there. I am already grateful for all those who will be in their chairs that day. I am also determined to make them feel special and wonderful, loved and cherished, like I would Saagar, if he were here.

PS: In Jan/Feb 2019 I hope to start a series of 8 weekly Grief Recovery workshops, 2 hours each. Up to 9 participants can be accommodated. It will most likely be on Tuesday evenings in South London. If you think you would like to work with me and take small actions towards healing, please do let me know. Thank you.