Little red seeds

I got back from India about three weeks ago. I was there for twelve days. I traveled to five cities. I met so many people. People from as young as eight months to people in their eighties. These are people with whom my paths have crossed at some point in my life. People I have not seen in twenty two years, twenty years, eight years, six years. I smiled, I laughed, I cried, most importantly I felt loved, every moment I was there. These are my people, they have all played a part in where I am today.

It is common knowledge that when an Indian born living outside India, goes back to where they reside, depression sets in for a few weeks. I had heard of this, but this is the first time I experienced it. I went into depression, the real stuff, where I don’t have an appetite, I am sad, but not really sure why, I don’t have the drive to do anything. All I want to do is lay somewhere and look at something mindlessly. I tried to wake up from this slumber, but I just couldn’t shake it off. During this time Grey’s Anatomy came to my rescue. 18 seasons on Netflix, that’s what you call a treat. I was glued. Three days of winter storm, at the end of it, by lower back started hurting, because I was on the couch for hours, escaping my depression.

This morning when I woke up, I decided that I will not watch another episode, until I empty out the suitcase I brought back from India. It has been lying in my living room, open, with undergarments, unused sanitary pads exposed. I simply did not bother. I walked by that suitcase everyday, many times a day, yet it was like this thing, that if I went close to, would burst some bubble and I would gasp for air. Today, as I was talking to my mental health clock (she keeps me in check, almost everyday), I picked up some hangars from my closet and started pulling out the dresses one by one. Each one had a memory. I remembered when I wore them, with whom I was, the happiness I felt. It was draining. I found the photographs, that I had taken out of an album I found in my father’s house. The ones that didn’t have any meaning, my friend held on to those, the rest I found, today. I got that old plastic bag with the heap of one, two rupee notes, that I found in my father’s steel almirah, of forty something years. That almirah is like a person who lived with us, since when I remember. I finally ransacked his secret compartment while looking for property documents. He never let us open that compartment, because his valuables were stored there, lenses, cameras, his salary. I found so many old lens filters and gave them away to his friend. A very long time ago, when he came back from one of his official trips, he’d brought me a purple glitter pencil, where you remove the used lead and push it back at the top of the pencil, so a new lead emerges out at the writing tip. He never gave it to me. I found that pencil and took it. I found old coins, 1 paise, 2 paise, 3 paise, collector’s stuff…

As I took them out one by one from the suitcase, I found the kolhapuri sandals, that my friend and I bought on Commercial street, bargaining, a skill neither she nor I like or know anything about. We went into those shops, looking for oxidized jewelry, I found those as well. One by one, they all came out. Lying around the suitcase in hangars, piles, organized by where they will go, in my closet. At the bottom was a red Tommy Hilfiger pouch I received as a gift eighteen years ago. When my kiddo was one, when life was simple, when everything was happy. I opened the pouch and found those old coins, the oxidized jewelry, the fancy stuff I took from here, but never wore, and among them scattered were the little red seeds I had packed in a tissue.

My besties and I went to a resort for a day. A day where it was just three of us in some tiny corner of the world, talking about everything and anything. As we walked on the grounds of that resort, we saw a little red seed on the ground. I got excited. My friend looked up and said it was a tree of the little red seeds. She and I picked the seeds, one by one, like little children. She gave me a handful which I tuck away in my pocket.

It wasn’t the clothes that I was pulling out of that suitcase, it was the memories. The friend and her family who opened her house and her arms to me, my father’s friends from even before I was born, who made me feel that he lives on in our thoughts, the eight month infant, who looked at me with her big round eyes, like she knew me from another life, the aunt, who couldn’t say a word, but in the end, took my hand and kissed it, my little buddy whom I taught ‘see you later alligator, in a while crocodile’, my friend who tears up every time she seems me or lets me go an epitome of what affection is, the family, the love, the happiness, the warmth. I was pulling out each one of this from the suitcase.

As I always say, depression is real, depression is hard. There is no way around it, but through it. As my therapist says, one foot in front of the other, baby steps. The light will seep in through the crevices. It always has, it always will.

This moment

“The way to suffer well and be happy is to stay in touch with what is actually going on; in doing so, you will gain liberating insights into the true nature of suffering and of joy.” No Mind No Lotus – Thich Nhat Hanh

I started reading the book No mind No Lotus at the recommendation of a friend. When I ordered the book I did not notice the words in the center of the front cover. When I opened the amazon package I saw it ‘the art of transforming suffering’. Interesting, was my first thought. I started reading the book and am only a few pages into it. This is a book I want to read slowly, savor the lines, because this is what I need to learn, the art of transforming suffering.

In the few pages I have read, I realize the zen Buddhist teacher wants us to realize how important it is to live in the moment. I am anxious to unfurl the rest of his wisdom in the book. A few weeks ago my mind was clouded, I was stressed, I was depressed. If I was reading something, it flew past me. I could not register a single word. There was a dense fog clouding my mind, with zero visibility. My therapist kept reminding me that I have been here before and the fog has cleared before. I did not, rather could not believe a word she said. It felt like forever. I was living with ghosts from the past in my head. I thought I needed a higher dose of my depression meds. The news of my son’s college admission did little to clear the fog. A few hours of happiness and I was back as an ass with the heavy load.

It is difficult to explain depression, it is not like fracturing a toe that one can see in an x-ray. It is not possible to see the moment, let alone live it. It is like a web of your past, your anxiousness of the future, woven so intricately, that you cannot seem to find the edge. The more you try to get out, the more you are entangled. With a bone fracture, you can get a cast to set it right. With depression, you can get meds, but you alone have to make small changes, take baby steps to come out of it. My baby step as pointed out by my therapist was to make a list of the things clogging my mind. Separate them out as those that I can control and those I cannot. It is an extremely simple thing to do, but put the serenity prayer into action.

Coming out of trauma is not a small ordeal. It takes time, you need to give yourself time. The longer you have been in trauma, the longer the road to rediscovering yourself. It takes effort, sometimes it feels like every ounce of you is at work. It is hard, extremely hard at times, but that small voice inside you somewhere, the superpower hidden beneath the layers, kicks your gut, pushing you, every moment, every day. There are different categorizations of people, but emotionally there are only two. The ones who have been abused and the ones who have not. It is that simple. The world shapes up based on this.

People who have not been abused have a strong sense of self. They know what they want, they know how they will react in a certain situation. Their highs and lows are closer to the normal. They don’t get too excited or too sad instantly because their center of emotional gravity is deep rooted.

The abused are the utterly confused strata of society. They have absolutely no fucking clue, of self worth. You cannot blame them, because their reality has been so masterly altered by the abusers that it’s all a haze. Their level of expectation of happiness is so low that anything small makes them euphoric. If they are lucky they go through years of therapy to find some normalcy. But do they ever become whole again? I wonder.. one’s life is so caught up in looking for red flags that they forget to experience the happiness laid right in front of their eyes. It’s always a question, “Can I trust this?”. It’s atrocious how our souls are battered, by another mere mortal. How someone could think that we are a toy to be pulled and pushed and reshaped the way they choose.

It is very difficult for a person who has not experienced abuse to understand. There is so much to unlearn and rediscover, not something that’s out there in the world, but yourself. A whole lifetime wasted on this unlearning and being able to trust again. I wonder how many years of therapy it will take to be whole again.

I write so much about trauma and abuse and healing and depression, I wonder if people who are reading this are bored. But then I feel the awareness is not there, and it is very sad. In this age and time where information is at our fingertips (overused phrase, I know), millions of people who don’t have the avenue to get out abusive relationships and get access to a good therapist who will help them move forward. Through therapy I have relived the suffering to be able to heal from it. At the other end of this reliving is joy, a release of the pain, my version of it, a person listening to it who has my emotional wellbeing in front and center.

If you are thinking, she is so broken, yes I am. And this is unashamedly, me. Healing is more difficult than the suffering. You are a constant work in progress to calm the waters, settle the waves down to reach that state of serenity where water is one with nature. People will come and throw a stone, because they don’t like anything still. There will be ripples, which will disrupt the stillness, but healing is knowing that the ripples will eventually die and the water will be still again. The stone deep inside cannot be moved, it will lie there and in the end we gather many stones, moving from stillness to ripples and back to stillness again..

Grief

My father passed on Sep 3rd. The same day my US Passport was issued. It has been tradition that my life progresses when he visits me in the US. The first time he came, I bought my first house and got my green card. The second time he came, I bought my second home, a dream home. The third time he was here, I got my citizenship, and got divorced. The last page was getting my passport and that happened right before he passed. Thinking back, it is strange that my passport was issued on a Saturday.

3 Saturdays later I sit here on my couch watching an SPB concert on YouTube. My younger kiddo is playing on his PC upstairs. A Saturday I have longed for this entire year. There is nowhere I have to be, there is nothing I have to get done today. Even if I do nothing today, its okay. I don’t like roller coasters, I am shit scared, yet this year has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. A job change, my elder son graduation high school, researched and visited colleges for him, got divorced, cared for my younger son through his wisdom teeth extraction, sold my house, moved to another house, convinced my dad to come to the US for the third time, vacationed with my boys at Mexico, got COVID, appeared for my citizenship interview, saw off my son to college in another state, nursed my father during his last two weeks of life, held his hand as he passed, cremated him. And I am here on the other side, strong enough to tell the story.

The week my father fell ill and the week after his passing were the worst. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would google ‘signs of death’ for my father. But I read each one of them and recollected what my aunts or uncles or mom had mentioned when others in the family passed. It all started on Aug 27th when he started throwing up only to discover on Aug 28th that the endoleak from his aneurysm repair had caused an aneurysm rupture. Almost lost him on Aug 27th and Aug 29th but I guess he was not ready. He woke up like nothing had happened. Nursing him for the one week before he finally passed on Sep 3rd is what I consider as one of my biggest blessings. The last few days of a parent is the absolute last ask they have of their children. There is nothing after that. Absolutely nothing.

I have had some really strong eye openers these past 3 weeks. After he passed, the funeral home tied him in a white sheet, transferred him onto a gurney, strapped him and covered him with a fitted blanket. They loaded him onto the back of a minivan and took him away. Everything one does in a lifetime ends in the back of a minivan. How much we emote, stress our asses off, hold grudges, push and pull in relationships, things we want to buy, positions we want to achieve, the egos we manifest, everything seemed so meaningless in that moment.
I am a believer of the concept, where the soul lives on and the body is merely a cloth that the soul sheds when someone passes. I also believe in signs. Three days after he passed, I saw the brightest light, lighting up my garage as I opened the door in the morning to drop my son to school. I knew he was going. I have never seen that light before or after. The funeral home director placed the bag with his box of ashes in the front seat and fastened the seat belt around the bag. It appeared like he was sitting right there, I spoke him on the ride home. When I got home, there were 4 birds, I have never seen them before waiting on the trees around my driveway. Like they were there to welcome him home. That first night, deers from the neighborhood sat vigil next to the wall where I kept his ashes. So many signs he has shown me, strengthening my belief in the soul.

I have been perusing a lot these last two weeks after his passing, and I realized that two roles of my life that I had been playing for years, ended in a matter of months, that of a wife of 19 years and of a daughter for 43 years. I may be a wife again, but I will never have to be a daughter again. And that has been the strangest feeling. We get so used to the multiple roles we play, that of a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, and we think these roles stay until the end. They do, but the realization that we stop being them is strange.

Suddenly I am not so sure what I should grieve for. My son leaving the nest or my father passing or my divorce. Walking into my son’s room and trying to organize his room is the most painful thing. I cannot bring myself to moving his clothes or looking for something in his closet. It is easier to hold my father’s phone or see his shoes outside the door or his glasses on the coffee table. Bringing a life to this world, giving that little human everything you have, taking every chance because there is no rule book and then letting them go is by far the most unfair transaction in this world. In the end parents are just bridges for the first 18 years of their life. When I left him in his dorm room briefly and walked out, I felt something leaving my body, maybe the umbilical cord? Weird.

Then seeing your parents pass and doing everything for their physical being, is just so unfair. And you go through that twice. It takes years to overcome (if you ever overcome) to push the sadness of one, that the other one goes and creates another layer of sadness that you have to push through one day at a time.

All said and done, I am not quite sure what I should grieve for or just let it be. As my therapist says put one foot in front of the other and take one day at a time.

Prepping

Like my friend put it, it is a ‘weird feeling’, sending off your kid to college. There are a few moms I know who are going through this weirdness this month. For some moms it is the first child, like me. For some it’s their second or third child and they have no more at home. For me, this is my first one, the one who has taught me most of the firsts of parenting from caring for a newborn, to teenage years, to everything a young boy goes through in their first 17 years of life. He made me better prepared for the second one.

What is prepping for college? I don’t know. I guess it is savoring every moment you have with the not-so-little-one before they walk out the door. It is not like you will never see them again, but what bites is that you will not spend years with them under the same roof, like there is no end. They will come for breaks and summer, but all those are finite times, a few weeks and they have to go. After college, they will decide where they want to live, work, and start chalking out their paths. So this is when the umbilical cord really slivers down to a bare minimum. Oh it never is cut completely, that I am sure of. You loosen the reign little by little, but you never ever let go.

I have not hit rock bottom yet, or had that crying like someone is ripping your heart out, but it will hit, sometime in the next few weeks. I am not quite sure what I am going to miss most. Most likely its the calling out ‘Ma’, a thousand times a day. It is always Ma, this or Ma, that or something else. Even if I am sitting next to him, his conversation always starts with ‘Ma’. Or the hug, or the bragging about muscles, protein, gym etc. I guess what I will miss the most is the singing. I don’t know. The feeling is of standing at the shore, waiting for that huge wave to come and drench you.

I don’t know how our parents did it. Let us go in a time without cell phones, just handwritten postal letters or a PCO booth, dinging at every minute. It is a strange feeling, because you have fed, nurtured, been with them through their emotions, held their hand, given them a hug every time they felt low, told them right from wrong, watched their every step.. Now you are letting them walk out the door into the wild, on their own. All you can do is sit back and wait and hope that you did well.

I know you may be thinking, what is the big deal, it may not be, but I know fear for their child is something almost every mom carries in their heart for their child. Fear of being safe, of eating good food, of taking care of their bodies, of being respectful and being respected, its a transition where we switch from being sure to hope. Hope that wherever our children may be they are healthy and happy.

Like I have said before, my children are the best thing that happened to me. My older one says to make me feel better, ‘but you’ve got the younger one’. It is just not the same. It is like 2 pieces of a puzzle, one cannot replace the other. A void is a void. So like everything else, this is the next phase in parenting. The most challenging one so far. Everything until now was easy peasy, compared to this. And now I fully well understand why they call it empty-nest. Whether you have a partial empty nest or a full empty one, hang in there Mama and believe that ‘you did well’.

How do you decide?

It’s quite a known fact now that I am getting a divorce. I have been thinking of writing about this for a few months now. Never knew when the time was right. Be assured, I am not going to reveal the details of my divorce, I don’t believe the reasons for a divorce is public material. Since I am in the middle of one, I think I can get into the minds of others who have crossed this path before me. One thing I know for sure is many (if not most) women think of getting a divorce at some point in their marriage. Maybe men too. And many of these many women find a reason to stay or justify to themselves why they should stay. It is usually because as nurturers it is woven into our fabric to put the happiness of others in front of ours. We (read as most women born in the 70s and prior), will prioritize to sacrifice our happiness for the sake of our parents, or children or security or money or whatever reasons. Note that I don’t mention the spouse, yeah of course, that’s why I am writing this and you are reading this.

Like how water fills up the dam, we build our resentment at our circumstance one drop at a time. When it is too overwhelming we release some water in the form of tears, or anger, or lashing out or any which way. Gives some solace and then the cycle starts again. This goes on and on till one fine day, something snaps. Looking back, I don’t think anyone can pinpoint what actually broke the camel’s back. All the pent up water, comes gushing out as energy or some force to get yourself out of the situation. At this moment, nothing matters, all the lies you told yourself, all the reasons you formed in your head to stay, all the people you thought would matter, nothing, absolutely nothing. You spread your wings and decide to soar. For the first time, in a long time, you decide to listen to your inner voice that has been screaming in your head to set yourself free. You flap and flap and flap. Is it scary? OH HELL IT IS!! The longer you’ve been in the marriage the scarier it is. Will you get stuck in a thunderstorm, what if there is lightning, what if you hit a plane, what if your wings get tired.. Now that you have taken that step, all these what-ifs start circling around your head.

It is confusing. All your justification devils popup like moles asking you, was it necessary? Then your soaring self tells the justification devil, you remember this, you remember that? Isn’t this more peaceful? At the end of the day, are you at peace. The soaring self wins. You go to bed.

Once you find that tiny strength to overcome the devils in your head, or that last bone snaps, that strength builds onto itself. Each day, it builds a new skin. Over the days, weeks and months, you are surrounded by a shell built entirely of your strength. It is not easy! It takes time. It takes patience, with yourself. The new mental health lingo is – be kind to yourself. It is exactly that. Through the little kindness you show yourself day after day after day, the strength builds. I don’t know if the justification devils ever die, I know they phase out. Like another saying, time heals everything, which I strongly believe in after my mother passed, I think the devils in my mind will die too.

The first day you find yourself alone is euphoric. It almost unreal. The surroundings – did they really change, yourself – did I really do it, devils – why are you happy? Sometimes, actually most times, it feels like a dream. Like somebody could wave a wand and reverse your strength, cut through the layers you’ve built so painstakingly, shushing the devils. Even after months it feels unreal. I guess this is also directly proportional to the longevity of the marriage.

Then there are the nightmares. Gosh those devils. They creep into your mind in the darkness, and they flip the switch on you, what the devils tell you during the day, becomes real at night. You wake up, scared; only to realize that it was a dream. It is hard. I don’t think anyone has said divorce was easy.

I don’t know how many stages there is to this thing. I think I am somewhere in between. After initial stages of bitterness, why me, how could i, why did i, and all those sanity check questions, you get into the path of accepting the reality. Another mental health jargon – owning your journey. You tell yourself, yes this happened, what did I gain out of it? Maybe there are too many losses, but there are some good things, there is always something good, even if a miniscule. You start owning your journey. Accepting where you stand, looking into the horizon and thinking now what? The answers start coming to you, not of the past, but of the future. You start asking the right questions, where do you want to go from here? There is a lot of help available on the internet, in the form of facebook groups, support groups, videos. One such interesting video tells you to set boundaries. That is essentially the first step. Not just with that one person, but with everyone. Because now you want to guard yourself and not be vulnerable. Again, I have no clue what stage I am in, but this just seems right. You want to be sure of yourself, the justification devils have played in your mind for way too long. So it is about time, you set yourself right, by realigning your beliefs, your priorities, your soaring self.

At the end of the day, you grieve, I don’t know for how long. Yes, it is hurtful, it is sad. The best thing I have read so far is, what you grieve, is the image of the life you thought you would have had. In this grief, you learn to let go. Of the past.. of the bitterness.. of the whys..

There is no recipe, life doesn’t come with a book of instructions, and the least of all for a divorce. It is unexpected. It is sad, yet happy, it is confusing, yet brings clarity, it is a bold step, and takes so much of your strength. But then..life.. it goes on.. one day at a time. The happiness at the end of the day is worth it.

Family

We are taught, right from the day we have some understanding of our surroundings, that family is your parents and your siblings. Then you have an extended family which is your aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins. For many years I believed this. Family to me was always father, mother, children. It was an etched-in-stone kind of definition.

The world as we know it as moved away from this definition. There are many women who choose to be single mothers, there are many men who choose to be single fathers. Then there is the gay community, where family is either father, father and children or mother, mother and children. Families now come in all shapes and sizes. Not every family fits into the age-old definition of father, mother and children.

I grew up in a middle class nuclear family. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, grandparents were people we interacted with during the summer vacation. My core was my father, mother, brother and paternal uncle who lived with us. This was my space in the universe. In this space, I was allowed to feel, I was allowed to talk, I was allowed to be me. If I said something out of disrespect, I was corrected. If I said something out of anger, I was given the space to calm down. If I did something wrong, I was told why it was wrong and I was given the opportunity to apologize. My family had a lot of friends and we called them family friends. These were people who lent a hand financially when my parents were struggling to pay my school fees or were short handed at the end of the month. They were there with us emotionally, by encouraging us to push a little higher and have some success in the print world. We participated whole heartedly in each others family events, marriages, death, birth, etc. I have seen more of my parents friends come to our house, have a meal of simple chapathi and curry or whatever was there, than my aunts and uncles.

My concept of family developed through these people. They were family to me, not just family friends, because they were there for us. They didn’t tell my parents that they were trying to do something impossible by trying to set up a print shop. They didn’t judge my parents and say why are you sending your children to the best and most expensive school when you know you cannot afford it. They didn’t comment on the clothes we wore, or the humble living quarters. They sat cross legged on the floor and ate what my mother served. Without asking they brought money and handed it over to my parents. I owe these people a lot and remember them fondly. Many of them have passed, but they were placed in our lives for a reason.

I am a movie buff. A few movies have left a lasting impact on me. One such movie is English Vinglish. After learning English, at the end of the movie, the protagonist defines what a family is, and those words have stuck with me. She says, ‘a family is not judgmental’. That’s precisely how I was raised. My family and everyone around my family, our support systems, never judged us. So that is my definition of a family. A group of people who do not judge you and with whom you can be you.

As I go through my divorce, I have been re-drafting my age-old family definition of father, mother, children. Now my family is mother and children. And that is okay, because for single moms, mom and children is family. My son recently asked me what is family. I told him from my experience this is what I have learnt – a group of people who don’t judge you and let you be you. He said, you took the words out of my mouth. I am glad, rather proud, that my child is not stuck to age old family definitions. That he understands, family is not judgmental.