“If you had a carpet bag and an umbrella you could be mistaken for Mary Poppins” one of my colleagues commented as he stopped his car right next to me at a red signal while I waited there on my bike. I often wear a tunic dress with leather shoes to work. I enjoy watching other cyclists in their multi-coloured and multi-logoed breathable jerseys, elasticated and padded cycling shorts, grippy mitts, electric yellow socks, clickity-clop shoes, snazzy sporty eye-wear and fancy headgear. Most of them are very serious.
My cycle belongs to the category of ‘hybrid’. It’s black and silver. It’s heavy compared to some of the feather-weights on the road. The special thing about it is that it is wholly unremarkable. Saagar used to call it ‘old lady bike’. Its first name is Strawberry and second name, Hill.
Space on roads is negotiated between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Cyclists move in packs and sometimes have disagreements amongst themselves. It’s clear from the behaviour of a cyclist if he/she has ever been behind a wheel. Likewise, it is easy to say if a driver is cyclist-aware. Pedestrians are a law unto themselves.
Within 3 turns of my wheels as I start off from a red signal, at least 10 bikes go past me. It’s another matter that a hundred yards hence we find ourselves waiting at the next set of lights. Some attempt to squeeze through the narrowest crevice in the traffic. Being stuck behind a bus is a special treat in terms of the quality of air. Smoking is mandatory.
The morning ride to work is a dream – fresh air, fresh me, very few people out and about, the wind behind me and the way mostly flat or downhill. In the evening – smoky air, tired me, lots and lots of people, riding into the breeze on a steady uphill road. Both, leisure times. Excuses to be a child again. As my quads toil hard to get me home inch by inch, I visualise the tub of Green and Black’s Dark Chocolate ice-cream waiting for me in the freezer. It helps with the speed and puts a song in my heart.
It’s well known that lack of sunlight has an adverse effect on our brains. It might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus from working properly:
Production of melatonin – Melatonin is a hormone that makes us feel sleepy. The hypothalamus may produce it in higher than normal levels.
Production of serotonin – Serotonin is a hormone that affects our mood, appetite and sleep. Lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression.
Body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) – Our body uses sunlight to time various important functions such as the time we wake up. So, lower light levels may disrupt our body clock, mood and alertness.
A recent study by Klaus Martiny of the Psychiatric Centre in Copenhagen shows that people being treated for severe depression were discharged almost twice as quickly if their rooms faced south-west in comparison to those whose rooms had a north-west orientation. Depending on time of the year, the intensity of daylight in the south-west rooms was 17-20 times brighter. The results support findings in previous studies of the importance of architectural orientation providing natural daylight as a factor for improvement. “We don’t know the precise mechanism, but I think it’s to do with exposure to the morning light, which advances and stabilises their sleep-wake cycle,” says Martiny.
Light acts as a powerful reset switch, keeping the clocks in our brain synced with the outside world. This clock can weaken as part of ageing, Parkinson’s disease, strokes and depression. To tackle this problem several hospitals are installing dynamic ‘solid state’ lighting which changes like daylight over the course of the day : whitish-blue in the morning, growing warmer and dimmer through the day and turning orange or switching off at night.
Couldn’t believe that Saagar was gone on Day 1 or Day 10 or Day 100 … and soon it will be Day 1000. Still, life goes on. Still struggle with it. A lot!
Everything has changed – the world, me, my relationship with the world. I have been walking, sometimes crawling, up a steep learning mountain. Still am. Sometimes flattened by it. Many of you have been walking with me, keeping me fun, encouraging and comforting company. We have spent a lot of time together and there is so much more to do, share and learn.
This blog has been the hook on which I have hung my days. It has kept me from irretrievably crashing on the floor and getting decimated. It had held me together. It has been an ever-present friend, always willing to listen and receive, the stage on which I have shown Saagar off and poured my love for him, a rubbish bin into which I have chucked my pain, anger and regrets.
Coming up to Day 1000, I am filled with anticipation as I know it is time to loosen my grip, to place a little more faith in life and ride my bike with ‘no-hands’ for a bit. I feel the time is right. It is with trepidation that I make this proposal to myself that after Day 1000 I shall post a blog every Thursday. Or will it be Day 1001?
“You who walk, your footprintsare the road and nothing else There is no road, Walker. You made the road by walking. By walking you made the road And when you look backward you seethe path that you will never step on again. Walker, there is no road, Only wind-trails in the sea.”
In the mid 80s, Dr Vincent Felitti ran an Obesity clinic in America. Many people enrolled and hundreds of pounds were shed by them. But he found that the drop-out rate from his programme was as high as 50% despite good results. He did not understand this and went back to look closely at patient notes.
“I had assumed that people who were 400, 500, 600 pounds would be getting heavier and heavier year after year. In two thousand people, I did not see it once. When they gained weight, it was abrupt and then they stabilized. If they lost weight, they regained all of it or more over a very short time.”
The turning point in Felitti’s quest came by accident. He was running through yet another series of questions with yet another obesity program. How much did you weigh when you were born…when you were in first grade…when you were in high school…when you first became sexually active…
One female patient replied – “Forty pounds” and broke down in floods of tears, “I was four years old.” He found similar common themes emerging from various stories and went on researching this subject for the next 25 years.
The obese people that Felitti was interviewing were 100, 200, 300, 400 overweight, but they didn’t see their weight as a problem. To them, eating was a fix, a solution like IV drug user calls a dose a “fix”.
Eating made them feel better. Eating soothed their anxiety, fear, anger or depression – it worked like alcohol or tobacco or methamphetamines. Not eating increased their anxiety, depression, and fear to levels that were intolerable. For many people, just being obese solved a problem. In the case of the woman who’d been raped, she felt as if she were invisible to men.
Felitti went on to further explore the impact of childhood trauma on people and coined the term – ACE, Adverse Chilhood Experience. He found a strong co-relation between the number of ACEs and early death.
Eighteenth birthday! Yay! No more a child. You are mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physiologically an adult. That’s it. Over to Adult services now. Easy. The number ‘18’ is completely arbitrary. It is designed for the convenience of the service providers, not in the best interest of children. There is a strong case being made now for raising the ‘transition’ age to 25 and rightly so. The recent publication “State of Child Health 2017” has recognised that the transition from Paediatric to Adult services is poorly organised and unsafe for mental and physical health conditions.
This is how one of the parents felt: “In my experience the teams did not work together. They each did their separate thing. When Rebecca left school, she was left with without regular support or advice. When she turned 18 we just stopped receiving information. Emails and phone calls didn’t get answered.”
Chronic conditions such as Epilepsy, Asthma, Diabetes, Juvenile Arthritis and Childhood Obesity are often associated with significant mental health problems. The budget for kids was 6% of the Adult MH services until recently. The government promised an increase and guess what! It has gone up to 7% now. Hurrah! Considering that mental illness most often begins in adolescence and early intervention is of paramount importance, the allocation of funds is highly disproportionate.
‘There was a lot of talk at the CAMHS congress about the Green Paper, but in my view the only green thing that matters here are dollar bills (in this case pounds). Without sound financial and genuine political commitment, structural changes are not to happen.’
The Papyrus AGM this morning brought together many people with the same vision – to keep every young person safe and happy. The numerous hurdles on ground made my heart sink. This is too big a task. It’s too much for me or anyone else. But, I am not alone and they are not alone. We are together. Most of us in the room had been touched by suicide and were carrying our pain boldly around, hoping to use this massive emotional energy to reduce further pain in this world. Bit by bit we will keep planting seeds of hope. One person at a time, we will keep smashing the stigma. We will keep taking small steps and keep walking without looking fearfully into the distance.
Wake up lovers, it is time to start the journey! We have seen enough of this world, it is time to see another. Though these two gardens may be beautiful, let us pass beyond them and go to the Gardener, let us go prostrating like a torrent to the ocean. Let us journey from the vale of tears to the wedding feast, and bring the colour of blossom to our pale cheeks. Let us journey home, our hearts trembling like autumn leaves about to fall; in this world of dust there is no avoiding pain or feeling exiled. This path is full of trials, we need companions let us join their caravan and let love be our guide. We have stayed home, scared like mice but we are lion cubs, let us roar like lions. Let our soul turn into a mirror, that passionately wants to reflect Beauty. Let us begin the journey home.
Ever since I was little, I loved to twirl round and round with my arms stretched out. When I was overjoyed, when it rained after a long spell of sweltering heat, when Punjabi and Rajasthani folk music played fast and loud, when I felt absolutely free I twirled at one spot for as long as I could without hurling myself to the ground. It happened automatically and made me feel like I was on top of the world.
Whirling dervishes from the Sufi tradition have intrigued me for years. Sufism is a way of reaching God, which involves rigorous meditation and prayer, emphasis on inner self rather than external rituals, continuous service of humanity and renunciation of worldly pleasures. When they turn, their right palm artistically faces upwards to receive from the Universe and their left palm faces downwards in a spout, to symbolise giving of what is received. The head is tilted gracefully to the right as though they are looking at their hearts. They revolve as if powered by cosmic energy. It is mesmerising to be in the same space.
This evening after work, Si and I attended a ‘Mukabele’ at The Study Society in West London. It was a soulful and joyous ceremony. It was about experiencing inner stillness and opening of the heart. It represented mankind’s inner journey back to the realisation of his essential oneness with God and the unity of all creation. ‘Mukabele’ means ‘coming face to face’. The practice is based on these fundamental beliefs: God is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward. Wherever you tum, there is the Face of God.
This practice was originally developed by followers of the 13th century Persian mystic Jalalu’ddin Rumi, whose writings are some of the most enlightening.
“There is a life force
within your soul
Seek that life
There is a gem
In the mountain
Of your body
Seek that mine.