Three years of nothing

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One morning as I set off to work on my bike, my neighbour bundled up her chatty 6 years old son in her car and drove him to school. In the evening when I got back home, huffing and puffing, she was there again, putting the bins out with her son. I unlocked our front door and walked in with the biggest lump in my throat.

A few months ago, a notice arrived from the Council saying that the rubbish collection day would change from Tuesdays to Fridays. My first thought was, “Must let Saagar know.” It’s not the fancy things, but silly, mundane, ordinary, everyday things that make up the essential fabric of life.

Yesterday was three years since we spent a whole day together, going to the GP, then to the green-grocer and bank, then for a walk and then for an afternoon nap. When he was upstairs in his room, I phoned my brother in India and shared my sadness and helplessness about Saagar’s illness. He said he would come over as soon as his Visa came through, most likely within the next couple of days. I felt re-assured. I cooked a nice meal. We ate and watched TV together. We kissed good-night and went to bed.

3 years ago, today was the last time I drove him to the gym and back. He didn’t spend much time there. I noticed but didn’t make much of it. I asked him if he met any of his friends in the gym. He said no. He did his best to carry on. Today was the last time I gave him a cuddle and kissed him good night.

Last week I happened to walk past the GP surgery where Saagar was treated (or not). It has closed. The GP has retired. A barrage of mixed feelings emerged out of nowhere. It felt good to read that sign. Yet, it marked the end of a career, a vocation. God knows how many people found help and comfort there. God knows how many got lost. God knows how many such practices still exist where GPs work single-handedly and in isolation, hiring locums on occasion.

Walking along the Thames a few days ago, a stream of bubbles glided across my field of vision with the majestic, unshakable St Paul’s cathedral standing solidly in the background. The bubbles captured all the colours of the rainbow hidden in the autumn sun. The breeze sculpted subtle shifts in the shapes of the bubbles as they floated along the river. They danced and smiled as they moved with the wind. They added immense beauty to the world even though they lasted less than a few seconds.

Billions of people have lived and died before Saagar and I. Hopefully, billions will live and die after us. We are like bubbles in the ocean of life, capturing all the colourful emotions and being the best we can for as long as we are here, however long or short.

Saagar’s best friend Hugo shares his thoughts and memories. He also sings a beautiful song for Saagar. We love you and miss you darling Saagar. May peace be upon you!

 

 

 

 

A life sentence.

The best part of being human is to be able to feel stuff. All kinds of stuff. The world seems to be forever in pursuit of happiness in more money, more holidays, more clothes, more children and so on. The elusive ‘happiness’ is put on hold until the ‘more’ arrives, soon to be followed by more ‘more’.

In a week, it will be 3 years since Saagar died. For days I have been feeling this day approaching like a huge oil tanker which is going to squash my dinky little boat. This inauspicious day that should be removed from all calendars everywhere for all the years ahead. It should be obliterated, erased, deleted and destroyed.

I think back on this time three years ago, trying to understand how Saagar must have felt. I try to find words for the thoughts and feeling that he could not verbalise. I lament the fact that no one could read his body language. I admire him for coping with his state of mind with patience and dignity. I look at his face-book post from this night. It was a full moon. He said ‘big ass moooooon innit”. I marvel at his ability to appreciate beauty. I remember how funny he was. I get a smile on my face. I promise myself never to take one moment of those 20 years for granted. Each of them was a blessing. Yes. It’s true that this feels like a life-sentence sometimes. Yet, I know I am blessed.

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“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
― David Foster Wallace

 

If all the world’s a stage…it has props.

downloadIn the background stands a majestic Palladian structure in brick red. It’s nearly 400 years old. The artistic roof displays beautiful finials, turrets and cupolas. It’s easy to imagine the large atria and sweeping staircases on the inside. It appears as if this building emerges from an expansive lush green sea.

The cricket nets are placed to the right of this building. Many hours have been spent here, laughing, picnicking, practising, talking, spectating and playing. Multiple recordings of his bowling action have been made here, each scrutinised to the nth degree by him. Each one distinct to his discerning eyes but all identical, to my lay ones.

In the fore-ground sits a TV screen with ‘Friends’ playing. He likes Rachel. I think she plays the role of who she is in real life. Not much acting ability required for that. He doesn’t understand that. He thinks I don’t like her. I like Phoebe. We both love ‘Smelly cat’. He watches it when he is down. I see why. However feeble, it always brings a smile to his face as it does to mine now. However predictable, it doesn’t fail to amuse, to lighten the heart. The impression of a head is clearly formed on the red velvet cushion resting at the corner of a black leather sofa.

At centre-stage, a pink and silver drum-kit sits atop a hand woven black and white Moroccan rug.  2 goblet drums wait in the wings – a Djembe and a Darbuka. A set of initialled drum-sticks read ‘SN’. Big round black bags lean against the wall. They weigh half a tonne. They encase special cymbals – presently silent but given half a chance, fully capable to raising the roof of not just our house but also that of the neighbours.

A fake snake coils on the study table with its tail realistically hanging off the edge. It has been used successfully to blow the living day-lights out of people of all ages, shapes and forms, on many occasions. It took me 2 years to immunise myself against it.

An unwieldy ragged cricket bag with wheels at one end lazes against the wall. One entire shelf in the cup-board is dedicated to cricket gloves, balls and other paraphernalia.

The sun streams in from 2 big sky-lights and the space is lit like a sanctuary. A silver Apple Mac laptop lies gaping on the study table with funny cat-videos playing. It’s connected to the dome of Harman Kardon speakers which hide under the table.  An assortment of coins, head-phones and keys splash across the dark wood table top. A few coffee mugs are scattered around the room with various shades and degrees of dry brown coffee lining the insides.

Behind the door is an overflowing willow laundry basket. A pair of union-jack boxer shorts shine through. The space smells of an unkempt temple with a male caretaker –  hints of incense, musk and testosterone. From the door hook hangs a towelled maroon dressing gown.

All the props are here, tell-tale signs of a life. Where’s the main man? At a subtle level, his absence is only physical. His essence is present.

It’s in all the props, in the air around them, in the luminosity of the room, in everyone he touched, made jokes with, played music with, was kind to and loved. In the glow in my eyes, the light in my heart. In me.

His essence is here. I only need to close my eyes. This must be immortality.

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”                              – Terry Pratchett

(Ref: A fully referenced, peer reviewed article published in an educational, medical  journal for GPs; a case study of a young man called SN to demonstrate the importance of Suicide prevention training and the role of human factors in patient safety: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1755738017724183.)

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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I am not my diagnosis.

While I continue to struggle to figure out Twitter, forget how to update my website, get confused while recording podcasts, consistently get my innumerable passwords mixed up, stay oblivious about Instagram and Snapchat, the digital world gallops ahead.

Digital Interventions in mental health Conference 2017 was recently held in London. It explored topics across psychiatry, technology and culture to identify innovative ways of addressing mental health needs.

Dr Becky Inkster is a Neuroscientist, passionate about digital interventions in mental health, social media data analysis, genomics, molecular biology, and neuroimaging. She co-founded Hip-Hop Psych as she is passionate about working with hard-to-reach, disadvantaged groups and youth culture.

‘Views from the street’, ‘Prison transition tools’, ‘Beyond the bullets’ and ‘The Digital Psychiatrist’ are some of the workshops that were conducted at the above conference. The range of topics was rather fantastic. It was aimed at improving our understanding of how social media is helping to create and facilitate new spaces for mental health practices and support, exploring the benefits of social media and social networking to improve a sense of identity, self-expression, community building and emotional support through examining a few popular international examples. Participants and facilitators engaged in interactive sessions to understand how new tools for self-expression via pictures, videos, captions and short personal narratives can help break down the stigma surrounding mental health and perhaps even lead to more people seeking help. They explored how to empower young people to use social networks in a way that promotes their mental health and wellbeing, how to harness the power of social media to nurture mental health innovations that the future holds.

Impressive stuff. I carry on doing what I do. I write another article for the Huffington post – Darkness to light. I talk about my darling Saagar and emphasise the importance of us, the people, educating and empowering ourselves so that we can help ourselves and each other through the light of knowledge and empathy. I continue to speak with ordinary people living extra-ordinary lives. Here is a conversation with Sara Muzira, mother of the beautiful Simba. Both, mum and son are artists. She talks about the state of inpatient mental health services in her experience and things that can be made better for patients and their families. Thank you Sara.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It takes a whole village to raise a child.

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When I was 9, a music teacher came home every Tuesday evening to teach me singing and Kathak dance. That was my favourite time of the week. One week I waited and waited for what seemed like a very long time but he did not come. That evening I had a very high fever and had to be taken to the doctor.  Last week I have been having a high temperature, a cough and a cold. Withdrawal?

Growing up in the UK’, a report published by the BMA in 2013 found that we fail many children and young people every year. 2.6 million children in the UK live in absolute poverty. Children are at higher risk of living in both relative and absolute low income than the overall UK population. 14% of the most severely materially deprived kids from 30 EU countries live in the UK – same percentage as Romania. The severe economic hardship from the 2008 financial crisis in the UK and consequent spending cuts have been disproportionately detrimental to children, young people and low income families, particularly those who were already at a disadvantage such as migrant children and lone parent families.

‘We like to think of ourselves as a child-friendly society, but the facts do not support that comfortable, complacent assumption’  – James Appleyard, treasurer of the BMA.

Nelson Mandela said: ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’

According to the World Happiness Report 2013, Dutch kids are some of the happiest in the world. Here are a few possible reasons. Dutch parents are the happiest people. Dutch Mums have found the perfect work-life balance with 68% of them working part time, 25 hours per week or less. They don’t care so much about being charming or about how they look. Dutch dads are more hands on and play a large role in child care. Many of them also work part time. Dutch kids feel no pressure to excel at school. They have no homework before the age of 10. There is no competitive university application process. They can simply attend school for learning rather than competing in academic performance.

The Dutch breakfast mostly consists of a slice of white bread with butter and chocolate sprinkles on top. The United Nations called it healthy. What makes it ‘healthy’ is that breakfast is taken as a family every morning. The kids have a right to express their opinions as they are meant to not just be seen but also heard. Grandmothers have an active role in bringing up the grandkids and that has a huge positive impact on the kid’s self-esteem. The Dutch government gives money to families to help with expenses. People, including kids safely cycle everywhere. A huge emphasis is placed on ‘gezellighied’, a concept of pleasant togetherness that is more bracing than coziness and more exciting than contentment. ‘Gezellighied’ is an untranslatable Dutch word. Its closest meanings are convivial, sociable, fun, nice atmosphere resulting from general togetherness of people giving rise to a strong sense of belonging and a warm feeling. People work hard to bring this into their everyday family lives.

Why do we fail so many kids in our country?

Politicians make blunders because they surround themselves with like-minded people who are completely disconnected from the general populace. There is a failure in advocacy for children. As a society we need to examine and change our attitudes towards the importance of children. Mentally and socially some people manifest a bunker and silo attitude leading to isolation and exclusion. We need to create nurturing communities locally which could be based around the arts, music, exercise, spirituality, sports, play groups and after-school clubs.

Families, government and education policies and practices need to emphasise the importance of creating nurturing environments for kids.

 

Day 997

Moving home

The experts on the gardening programme  on the radio said that repotting is traumatic for plants. I had never thought about that before. Should it be any different for children and families moving house?

By virtue of my dad’s job, we moved more or less every 2 years. Some of the places we lived in are not easy to find on the map of India. I completed 12 years of schooling in 8 different schools in India. It was normal to be the new girl in class. We went to schools that catered to families that moved frequently. So, often there would be other new kids in class too. It was heart-breaking to leave friends just when our friendships were deepening. As time went on, it became a part of life and although it was sad, I could handle it much better. That was partially because I altered the quality of my relationships. I didn’t allow them to get too deep. I protected myself by holding back a bit of me for myself. That bit would always be safe. I didn’t know I was doing it then but I see it now.

The cycle repeated itself with Saagar. The difference was that he travelled outside India to places where he would be the only coloured kid in class, where they spoke a different language in a peculiar accent, where he had no close friends or extended family, where it was normal for people to live all their lives in one place and be buried in the cemetery two streets away from their primary school.

Grief can come in intangible forms – loss of trust, loss of innocence, loss of safety, loss of childhood, loss of control and loss of faith.  A 2010 study of 7,000 American adults found that the more times a person had moved house in childhood, the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and well-being, irrespective of their age, gender and education.

Reasons, timing and location matter. The good news is that something can be done about it.