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

 

Where the sky and the sea merge

 

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Woke up without an alarm at 8. Looked out of the window into the silence. The light was soft but well established. Went back to bed thinking I’d give myself another 5 minutes. The next I knew of my existence was at 10.41.

The day lay like a blank canvas in front of us and all I wanted was for it to stay that way. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Our holiday rental on a sea-facing hillside near Salobrena was made for it. The loungers by the pool, the cool breeze balancing the warmth of the sun, the Mediterranean air, the laid-back ambience was the perfect backdrop against which nothing happens. This province of Andalusia was made for it. In fact, the Iberian peninsula was made for it.

Granada gets its name from the Spanish word for pomegranate which grows in abundance here. Yesterday’s trip to the Al-Hambra replayed on the LCD of my mind. It started with a young enthusiastic car-parking assistant in dark glasses inviting, guiding and gesticulating in every way possible with exaggerated dance-like body movements to make himself understood and to gain our custom. Not knowing Spanish makes for a very interesting guessing game.  As we entered the ornate gardens, the first thing that the audio-guide mentioned was ‘Generalife’. The American voice in the head phones spoke everything including Spanish names in American, all without an “h”!  It was most out of place on ears tuned to Europe, like an Englishman in New York. I wasn’t sure if the word referred to the ‘general leafiness’ or ‘general life’ or something else. Many similar queries arose in my head as the day went on but I didn’t seek clarifications. There were too many question-marks to chase. I enjoyed the Arabic calligraphy and the grandeur of the Moorish architecture.

At the centre of the massive circular Palacio de Carlos V was a spot where people were taking turns to stand and speak or sing. It turned out to be a magical spot, for a song sung at that spot resonated with extraordinary depth for the singer but was for a listener a mere foot away. I stood at that spot and sang one line of a prayer softly and found myself soaked in the vibrations that came back to flood me. Never before had such rich resonance fallen on my ear-drums. My prayer was being answered as it was being sung.

The drive home coincided with the sun going down. The sky was decorated with other-worldly pinks and yellows. A deep masculine stirring Turkish voice saturated the car and converted it into a temple. At once I was one with all creation. The unborn and the dead, the manifest and the non-manifest, all collapsed into that one moment. I had tears in my eyes and all was good.

Like a sandcastle, all is temporary.

Build it, tend it, enjoy it.

And when the time comes

let it go.

– Anon.

 

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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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.

I carry your heart in my heart.

It’s a luminous room on the first floor of a Victorian building. The sun pours in from the big window facing the street. The delicate palm leaves throw artistic, dancing shadows on the carpet. I feel the tension in my muscles, the knot in my stomach and the tightness in my chest. Two comfortable black arm-chairs sit facing each other.  I am gently welcomed and ushered to the chair facing the window by a lady with a soft Irish voice and a sweet smile.

We sit down. I am relieved to catch sight of a box of tissues from the corner of my eye. I look at her and say my name. She says hers.  We hold the same belief – the soul is eternal. I ease into the chair and take a deep breath. I am open to this, whatever it brings. For now, I put my anxiety and scepticism aside. I tell her that I am here to find out if my son is at peace. He died by suicide at the age of 20, two years and 10 months ago.

She is sorry for my heartbreak. She shifts in her chair, turning and looking in the direction of the door. Her smile widens. I can only remember a fraction of what she said -“He’s so bright. So lovely.
Your relationship is sweet … special.
Does he play music?
West African drums?
He is not just a good drummer. He is extra-ordinary.
He has an eclectic taste in music. Super-creative!
He’s very proud of his musical heritage.
He’s wearing a long shirt, like a kurta.
He says he enjoys Celtic music too.
Recently a memorial concert was held for him?
He says he was there.
Is there a London connection?
He is showing me a cat sitting on his shoulder.”
She changes the direction of her body and aligns it to  me.
“You … are a writer. A healer.
He loves your writing.
He says it comes from the same field of energy as his creativity. It entwines your souls.
Your nutrition is very good but you suffer with severe stomach cramps. Your distress affects your digestion. You need to take lemon juice on an empty stomach every morning.”

She shifts again.

“The last year of his life was difficult. In his last few weeks the medications messed up his head real bad. He couldn’t think straight.
I see a strong army connection.
Your mother’s mother is there with Saagar. She tells me that your father is a man with great integrity. He has a big moustache. You have had a disciplined upbringing.

Saagar is surrounded by love. He wants you to know that you did your best. He wants to thank you for encouraging him to pursue his passion for languages and music and for not pushing him to do other things. He thanks Si for his patience and his friendship. He is impressed to see the commitment that Si has shown towards you. He is happy for you both.

He is offering me some rose petals.
Does that make any sense to you?”
Not sure, I say with an uncertain smile.
“Is someone’s birthday coming?”
Yes. Mine. In 10 days.
“He is also offering me a small bronze statue of Lord Ganesha. Does that mean something to you?”
Yes. I smile with tears of recognition.
“Would you like to ask any questions?”
Is he at peace?
“Not only is he at peace but he is joyful.”
Can you tell him I am sorry for not spending enough time with him and for not understanding the extent of his suffering?
“He feels nothing but love for you. Can you feel his presence?”
Yes.
“I know you have felt it for short periods of time, here and there in the past. I hope that with time you will begin to feel him around you a lot more.”

I can remember bits of that interaction but can’t comprehend the accuracy. How can a complete stranger know the intimate details of 3 overlapping lives? May be there is no such thing as death. Maybe we all exist together in a big pool of consciousness where different energies manifest in varying realms, like magnetic waves and gravity are invisible but they exist. Infrared and ultraviolet radiations are invisible to the naked eye but they manifest themselves in other ways. Maybe there is no such thing as death.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1000

Living on the blurred line between reality and illusion.
Tasting the bitter-sweetness of all things.
Moving from the world of words to no words.
Letting the silence listen and speak.
Pure experience. It’s like this. This is how it is.
All existence in one realm. One love.
Death, the great leveller, swallowing all pride.
‘Forever’ sitting within the fold of Now.

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Mystic Love

When I seek peace, he is
The kindly intercessor,
And when I go to war,
The dagger, that is he;
And when I come to meetings,
He is the wine and sweetmeat.
And when I come to gardens,
The fragrance, that is he.
When I go to the mines, deep,
He is the ruby there,
When I delve in the ocean,
The precious pearl is he.
When I come to the desert,
He is the garden there.
When I go to the heaven,
The brilliant star is he…
And when I write a letter
To my beloved friends,
The paper and the inkwell,
The ink, the pen is he.
And when I write a poem
and seek a rhyming word-
the one who spreads the rhymes out
within my thought is he!
– Rumi.