The basic human right to be offended

A patient attending hospital to get help with conceiving a baby complained that one of the staff members was visibly pregnant. It was offensive to her as she was unable to fall pregnant naturally. By that measure, no one should walk in the presence of people in wheel-chairs as they might be offended. How far are we willing to take our right to be offended?

Wonder where this extreme unhappiness comes from? My guess is that it stems from feeling like a ‘victim’, having a huge sense of entitlement and feeling bitter because what is rightfully our’s is being denied to us.

I often get asked if it hurts to see Saagar’s friends graduate, get jobs and girl-friends, go travelling etc? The answer is that I am happy for them. I do miss Saagar like crazy. I do wonder what his life would be like but I don’t resent his friends living a full life. I still haven’t found the most appropriate way of answering the question, “How many children do you have?” but I am not afraid of it anymore. I take my time answering it.  The answer often depends on the person asking the question and the context in which it is asked. I have the power to choose to answer or not.

The only things we can give to others are the things we have. If we are brimming with anger, sadness and disappointment, that is what spills over. If we live with peace, that is what we present. Do we have a choice? I don’t know. But we can be aware of what’s in our bowl and how it may come across to others.

My bowl has been empty for a while. I have not actively replenishing it for myself. When I am on zero, I have nothing to offer to the world. Of late I have been seeing my therapist regularly, taking time to meditate, going for walks, listening to music and spending time with friends. Now, I feel the difference. I feel good and I can take better care of others. Historically we attach great moral value to ‘selfless’ service, especially to the role of mothers. These values are misplaced. We all need to nourish our spirit for that goodness to flow out.

What are you going to do for yourself today?

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Opposite of speed

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Breathing with awareness, walking with mindfulness, meditating with heart-fullness and intense silence with loving-kindness.

As if life switched from super-fast to ultraslow. Placing the right bare foot gently on wet grass. Bristly softness tingles. First the heel, then the outer edge of the foot. Some green tips manage to tickle the arch. Then the toes grasp hold of the ground. I am aware of tiny bits of the sole between toes and foot which never come in contact with anything. So cool! The entire sole buzzes like a guitar.

An aeroplane whirrs in the sky. Ears catch the Doppler effect. Fluffy shapes in white, blue and grey traipse the space above. Birds make jest. The wind continues to waltz with trees. Eyes watch life sprouting in seemingly dead places. The Being notices the breath.

The left foot lifts off the ground, preparing itself for the excitement of landing. Toes go first. They rub noses with the green tips before plunging in. The ball of the foot descends and the rest of the foot follows. It feels different. The heel hits the grass abruptly. The ground is uneven, not warm, not cold. It oozes the love of Mother Earth. Dew-drops cushion the impact. The green of the grass is a conglomeration. At least 6 different types of tiny foliage lining the ground, masquerading as one. Yellow flowers standing up on tender green stems dot the lush carpet. Some of them are being visited by bees. This luxurious texture invites the right foot back. It’s moving in slow-motion mid-air, presently at the top of an imaginary semi-circle. I put the breaks on and halt its progress as much as I can without falling over. It follows through the curve and makes contact with the earth one milli-meter at a time.

Flowing eastern movements of ‘Swimming dragons’, ‘Cloud hands’ and ‘Lions playing with a ball’ (Qigong) bring into balance the Yin and Yang. The more I slow down, the deeper I immerse in the ‘Now’. I actively deflect all adjectives. I don’t want to call it good or bad or silly or slow. It’s just walking. The rustle of leaves is just falling into my ears, the cool breeze is just brushing across my face, a few yellowed leaves are just falling off trees like twinkling stars descending from the skies. Everything just is.

Never before have I experienced walking in this way. To think that I have been walking all my life! I feel I could walk all around the world for the rest of my life.

Three years ago, at this time of year Saagar was really ill. For many years before that, autumn was my favourite season. Then it was my least favourite. Now it’s just early autumn. Another roll of the dice of time.

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Noble Silence

Would it be best if I took myself to a mountain top where I didn’t have to say anything, hear anything, understand anything, process anything or feel anything? Is there somewhere I could be free of the wrath of time? Where my heartstrings wouldn’t constantly tug at me. Where I could find the much-conceptualised ‘perfect balance’. Where I could wash off those parts me that ache non-stop. Where I could find an oasis beyond ‘I like’, ‘I don’t like’. Where none of the facts of life would hold any power over me.

My 51st birthday is the 3rd one without Saagar. That’s how it is – two significances attached to one day. Aren’t years supposed to bring wisdom and clarity with them? Do they? Possibly in unnoticeably miniscule doses in my case. I could take myself to a mountain-top but the snag is that the source of the restlessness and pain will come with me – my mind.

Looking for peace and respite from my mind I made my way to the serenity of a Buddist Monastry just outside London for a 5-day Silence Retreat. The first few verses we chant are Buddha’s words on Loving-kindness.

“Be one who is skilled in goodness
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.

Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and clam, and wise and skilful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove,
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.

Whatever living beings there may be,
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small.
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to be born,
May all beings be at ease.

Let none deceive another
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another.

Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings,
Radiating kindness over the entire world:

Spreading upwards to the skies
And downwards to the depths,
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.

Whether standing or walking, seated,
Or lying down – free from drowsiness –
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.

By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense-desires,
Is not born again into this world.”

If there is just one thing I can take from these wise words, it is –
“Be at ease.”
“Relax.”
As Saagar would say in his notoriously funny south-Indian accent,
“Mamma. Chhillax.”
I think that’s a good place to start.

What am I doing here?

Like a fusspot, I brought my tea-bags with me. I packed 6 in a flimsy little plastic square box, enough for three days. The nail on my right middle finger shouts out its fragility again. The file is tired of the rate at which the 20 possible keratinous beds declare their inability to cope. The mirror shows a lot of pale scalp shining through sparse, dyed, once thick curly hair.

I woke up in South Wales this morning, in a hillside country house, my window overlooking a valley. Meandering hedges partition the fields semi-geometrically, up and down the slopes. A scaly river shines at the bottom. Not too far, white lines on a newly washed country road glisten too. A few white houses with dark sloping roofs sit on ten shades of green at safe distances, like meditating sages. The panoramic horizon is a multi-coloured squiggly line, cutting right across my window. 6 wind- turbines merrily dance on the west-end of it. The long shadows give away the corner of the sun.

On the balcony a squirrel scrounges under hanging bird-feeders. This morning the birds seem more interested in conversation than food. An errant motor superimposes the chatter periodically. A few streaky feathers lie here and there. One of the twin kittens strolls across the keyboard of my laptop from left to right, following the direction of my sentences.

My mattress on the floor lies 3 feet away from a snazzy red and silver drum-kit and a Djembe. Percussion instruments trail behind me all over the world. I see them wherever I go.

Why am I here his weekend?
I am here to see a ‘medium’.
Never thought I’d hear myself utter those words. 

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.