My deepest sorrow

I am writing this blog post as part of the Chennai Bloggers Club’s March contest titled “I suffered but overcame”.

As a middle-aged person, I had my pick of struggles from my life to choose for this post. Financial crisis, health problems, relationship problems, career stumbles, educational challenges, emotional struggles, crisis of faith – I could probably come up with a post on each of these topics. I took some time to think about what I wanted to pick to write about for this. Almost immediately something stood out. The one experience that went deeper than rock bottom. As soon as it came to my mind, I dismissed it. It was too personal and after my last post, I was not ready to make myself feel vulnerable on social media just yet. Besides, how could I reduce that experience to just a post for a contest? But the thought wouldn’t leave my mind and as I thought more about it, I came up with some convincing reasons to write about it. Firstly, the spirit of this contest: Its not about winning a contest, it is about getting to know one another in our bloggers club, to appreciate each person’s struggles, and hopefully write something that might inspire or as in my case- heal. Secondly, I process my emotions by writing and I know writing this will be incredibly cathartic. Finally, I considered the cost vs benefits of writing it and decided that if it brought comfort to even one single person out there it was worth it. So, here I go.

I have heard that little girls dream about the day they get married and plan it down to the last detail. I never did that. But I always dreamed about the day I would be a mother. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to have three children. So, April 22, 2004 was one of the happiest days of my life. I found out that I was pregnant for the first time. I had taken three pregnancy tests (all positive) while I impatiently waited for the doctor’s office to confirm the news. I wanted to call India and tell my parents that they were going to be grandparents before they went to bed. The doctor called me on at lunch and I left my sandwich uneaten (and my dog stole it off the table) as I called my mother with much excitement. Some weeks later, on June 18, 2004, my husband and I went to our second prenatal appointment. I was down with a horrible cold and almost cancelled the appointment. At the appointment, the doctor used a Doppler device to listen to the heartbeat of the baby. But there was no heartbeat. Shortly afterwards, an ultrasound confirmed our worst fear. My new baby had passed away in-utero. I’ felt absolutely helpless. I wanted to scream at the doctor to do something, to somehow save my baby. But, nothing could be done. My husband and I exited the clinic in shock. I called and cancelled the lunch that I was supposed to have with my adviser and lab-mates to celebrate my upcoming Master’s graduation and went home. Do you know that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a miscarriage? I was 9 weeks pregnant when I miscarried.

Once home, I sat on the stairs and called my parents. When I heard my father’s voice, I broke down and told him the news. To this day, my father won’t answer a phone call from me if he can help it because of that call. He always hopes and waits for someone else to answer it. The following week was a blur. On June 25th, 2004, I underwent a D&C surgery to remove my baby because my uterus was showing no signs of letting it go. Over the next three months, I struggled through every day. Everyone knows that the worst thing in anyone’s life is losing a child. But the worst thing about miscarriage is that no one ever acknowledges this loss – simply because the baby wasn’t born. My baby wasn’t even a fetus (a zygote is considered to be a fetus only after the gestational age of 10 weeks). It didn’t matter that in the few weeks that I knew of my baby’s existence, I had dreamed a whole life for her. It didn’t matter that I had felt the changes my body was going through to prepare for her. It didn’t matter that I had seen her heart beat on the ultrasound at my first prenatal appointment. I had no child to hold or cremate/bury and so no one could understand that my grief was a real thing.

Here are a list of things that you should NEVER say to someone who has lost a child in-utero (even if some of the things may be true):

  1. It’s all God’s plan.
  2. It is probably for the better, there was something obviously wrong with the baby and you were spared later suffering.
  3. It would have been worse if you had been further along in your pregnancy, at least it was first-trimester loss.
  4. You can have other children.
  5. You shouldn’t have announced your pregnancy so soon.
  6. It’s not really like losing a child.
  7. It is so common, it’s happened to so many people I know. They are all fine and you will be too.
  8. Once you have an other child, you will forget all about this.
  9. Time will heal.
  10. Practically everyone has experienced it; 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Yes, people actually told me all the things on this list! When I went back to my OB-GYN for a post-D&C check up, I asked her why this happened and what can be done to prevent this in the future. She replied, “if this happens a few more times, we will worry about it”. Needless to say, I never went back to her.

What you can say instead:

  1. I can’t imagine what you are going through.
  2. I am here for you.
  3. If you need to talk, I will just listen.
  4. If you need to cry, I will just hold you.
  5. I am so sorry this happened to you.
  6. If you have personally experienced this loss, share your story without talking about how time will heal it all.

For it is true; unless you have experienced it, you cannot imagine what it feels like. This also goes for the pain people feel when they experience infertility or stillbirth or have a child who is sick or has special needs or have lost a child – no matter at what age. The pain felt in all these situations are all deep and different. It is simply wrong to compare one to an another and try to rank them in order of magnitude. Parents simply do not expect to outlive their children; that is not natural and no one is prepared for it.

Over the next few months, there were endless nights when I sneaked into another room at night so that my sobs would not wake my husband. So many nights I just clutched a pillow tight to somehow fill the emptiness in my heart and body. Like many women in this situation, I wondered if I had caused it somehow – had I done something wrong? or not done something right? was I too active? had I not eaten right? The hardest thing for me was to try and visualize this child. I needed to do that but I couldn’t. My husband is Caucasian with straight brown hair and green eyes and I am Asian Indian with brown skin, dark curly hair and dark eyes. I wondered how this child would have looked. I remember cutting out a picture of a mixed-race child (with curly hair like mine) from a magazine and putting it next to the one ultrasound picture that we had of the baby. Some weeks after my D&C the lab called to tell me that they had confirmed the “products of conception” (meaning my baby). They told me that my child was a girl and had a chromosomal disorder that was a fairly common but random occurrence. It gave me some closure; we were able to give her a name.

My fragile mind struggled with my faith in God. I was so angry at God. I could not figure out what I had done to deserve this. Then I remembered that several years ago, I had helped my Chinese roommate by accompanying her to have an abortion because she wasn’t comfortable in English and wanted someone to act as a translator. I was convinced that my participation in that event was why this had happened to me. My views changed from pro-choice to pro-life.  During this time, my sister-in-law gave birth to a beautiful girl. Jealousy knifed my heart. It took everything for me not to break down when I met the baby. But all in all, I was blessed. I conceived again in three months. I always wonder what would have happened to my sanity if I had not. Maybe God really does not give us things that we cannot handle. I could not have made it through that time without the support I had from my husband, my in-laws, and my parents.

My new pregnancy did not wipe everything away. Instead, the innocent excitement that I had felt with my first pregnancy was all gone. I was filled with terror; every prenatal appointment was a huge emotional trial. I could barely look at my husband’s face when we went in for the Doppler appointment. He was just as traumatized as me. I lived that pregnancy one day at a time. It was considered a high-risk pregnancy due to my earlier miscarriage and my insulin-resistance. I faithfully checked my blood sugar 9 times every day. I ate every 2 hours making sure to consume at least 1 egg or 2 egg-whites a day (even though I hate eggs). I could not understand women who complained about not being able to drink/smoke/eat what they want during their pregnancy. I envied those women who were blissfully and happily pregnant, because I could never relax. I could never take it for granted. After 33 weeks, I counted my child’s movement twice a day and in my 36th week I called the doctor in panic when she hadn’t moved 20 times in an hour. He had me admitted right away and after 19 hours of labor, I gave birth to my daughter (my second daughter) three weeks before her due date . She was only 4 lbs 10 oz – that’s less than 2 kgs! She had to pass a car seat test before we could take her home. She developed jaundice on the day of my discharge and the doctors suggested that I leave her in the hospital to be cared for while I was discharged (because my insurance will not pay to extend my stay). I refused; I told them I am not leaving a hospital again without my baby. We would pay what it cost for home care. When we put her in the car seat and drove home, she slept so soundly that I was afraid that she wasn’t breathing. Only when she was about 3 months old, I started relaxing and that was when the healing finally began.

I was a lot more relaxed for my third pregnancy. Today my daughter is ten and my son is seven. They both know about their elder sister who died in my womb. We talk about her often and they ask lots of questions about her. Time fills the void, but the scars remain. Since this experience I end every day with prayer; prayer for a safe pregnancy for anyone that I know is pregnant, prayer for success for anyone who is trying to get pregnant, and prayer for strength for anyone who has an ill child.

A few years ago, I was working as a public relations manager at a firm. Over the course of my time there, some HR duties were added to my job description. I was asked to talk to and discipline a young woman whose performance had fallen. I was surprised when I had a look at her file, which showed her as a hard worker whose work had deteriorated suddenly. I asked her to a private meeting and went with my instincts. I asked her if something was going on in her life that was affecting her work. I told her to think of me as a friend and talk to me. After much hesitation, she confided that she had just suffered her second miscarriage. That was all it took to bring it all back. I let her cry and told her that I understood and narrated my story. I advised her to take time out for herself and to ignore the pressure from her family. I told her that I will pray for her and made her promise me that she would let me know when she finally gave birth. I haven’t heard good news from her yet, and I haven’t stopped praying for her either.

So, this is the tale of my deepest sorrow. I struggled and I don’t know if I overcame, but I did survive. I allow myself to think of my first daughter on April 22nd, June 18th and December 31st (her due date) of each year. I hope this post brings comfort to those who have had a similar experience, sensitivity and understanding to those who haven’t, and hope to those who (unfortunately) might experience it in the future. I ended up having three children like I wanted; two of them live with me in this life. They share the space in my heart where the other one lives forever.

-AB

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s time to do away with belittling Tam-Brahms

A response to Ms. Sharanya Mannivannan’s article in the Indian Express titled It’s Time to Do Away With ‘Tam-Brahm’”.

In the Indian Express article titled “It’s Time to Do Away With ‘Tam-Brahm”, the author Ms. Sharanya Manivannan, rants about an incident from her mid-twenties when an inebriated person in a night-club asked her if she was a “Tam-Brahm”. She uses this incident to launch into a tirade about the audacity of Tamil Brahmins to refer to themselves as “Tam-Brahm”. In short she asks, how dare Tamil Brahmins use a term that reminds people that we have not been stamped out of existence? Especially, when people in Tamilnadu have worked so hard to do just that?

It is important to note that when this inebriated woman asked the author if she was Tam-Brahm, she did not follow it up with any words that implied that she was disappointed that the author was not Tam-Brahm. There is no indication that this question rose because the woman thought Tamil Brahmins are “upper-caste” or superior in any way.

Now let us imagine a similar scenario. An intoxicated Christian asks someone with a name like “Akila” if she is a Christian. Before Akila responds, someone else says, “No, her name is Akila Malik, Christians do not use names like Malik”. Such an incident would have been forgotten and never thought of again. Akila would not be outraged and would not construe the innocent question to be “a subtle act of aggression”. That’s because admitting that you belong to a group whose identity is Christian is alright and you are even allowed to be proud of it. But God forbid someone admits to an identity of being Brahmin! So many people believe that Brahmins do not even have that right. We Brahmins are secondary citizens because of the sins of our fathers. Our ancestors did bad things and so we should quietly subject to being belittled, degraded and ripped of our identity for all eternity.

As a Tam-Brahm, I and many like me have been treated with this contemptuous attitude all of our lives. We have been ridiculed and bullied all through our lives because we were born in a Brahmin family. Like the author mentions, I did nothing to earn being called a Brahmin, just like she did nothing to earn her surname. Yet, it is fine for her to use her surname to identify herself, but she self-righteously condemns my use of my identity as a Tam-Brahm.

She says that she was struck that “a young person in a casual, urban social setting, that too in a state of intoxication, had maintained such a sound grip on how to peg people quickly”. I think the key word here is “intoxication” and the implication is that Brahmins shouldn’t even admit to their identity in a state of intoxication. Can you imagine the outrage if the person wasn’t intoxicated?

Personally, I have noticed that many of the young people (in urban social settings) who riot that Brahmins should be eternally ashamed of their heritage are those who did not grow up in Tamilnadu during the last 50 years. They were raised abroad and are lucky to have been brought up “caste-oblivious”. Brahmins like me who grew up in Tamilnadu in the last 50 years never had that luxury. We were constantly reminded that we belonged to the caste-that-should-not-be-named; the caste that is constantly picked-on; the caste that is freely made fun of in movies, songs, and dramas. This is because we are the caste that doesn’t retaliate and, we are the caste that does not have the right to retaliate. We were forced to grow up feeling ashamed of our heritage and downright scared to reveal our identity as a Brahmin. I grew up hating my first name because it revealed that I am a Brahmin, as if just being born a Brahmin was an unforgivable sin. It took me years to become comfortable in my identity as a Brahmin and stop worrying about my name. I wrote a blog post about that more than a year ago.

Tam-Brahms are derogatorily called “thayir sadam, namam, pattai, parpan, pappathi, mamis” and so on. If we were ever to use such word for a person based on their caste, we could face criminal procedures. I recall an incident from my early teen years where a stranger threatened to report my father to the police for calling him “lower-caste” when all my father did was to tell him not to touch me. So, I would like to know who really keeps casteism alive?

The author says that it is not incidental that “the artsy, alternative, more affluent circles” that she moves in is dominated by Brahmins. She does not know how many Brahmins are poor because she has not moved in those circles. It is also not incidental that she moves in circles dominated by Brahmins if she grew up abroad. That’s because most of us have been chased out of our homeland to earn a living just because we are Brahmins. I have heard it said that only those who have sinned have to leave their homeland and seek a living in other lands. So, this is another way by which we continue to pay for the sins of our ancestors. But, when does this debt end? Never, apparently. Most of us that leave the blessed shores of Tamilnadu for other countries end up staying abroad. Why? because in other countries we are not constantly judged by our names or our caste or our diet or our dialect or our other day-to-day practices and religious beliefs.

So, the next time you hear the term “Tam-Brahm”, please realize that we do not use it to subtly aggravate or make history more palatable. We do not use it to clarify our rank in a hierarchy of your imagination or to defend the caste system. We certainly do not say it to negate centuries of bigotry or embrace the same. Instead, we use it to feel solidarity in our oppression. We ask about it to find out if we can feel comfortable and safe in a group. We use to tell each other that we understand and to know that we have some things in common. We even use it to make fun ourselves. (Please feel free to peruse some of the Tam-Brahm communities on Facebook. You will find that the predominant theme is making fun of ourselves.) So, please stop attributing malice where there is none. We all use terms like Indians, Tamils, Chennaites and many such other names to identify ourselves in various circumstances and Tam-Brahm is just one other way.

We are so much more than what our ancestors did to others. That is exactly why it’s time to stop deriding us. Usually, all we ask is to live and let live. But this time, instead of choosing to remain invisible, I shall step up and say no. I am done paying the debt of my ancestors. I refuse to be stomped on for sins that I did not commit. I am Tam-Brahm and I am proud of it, because what the term means to me is not what it meant to my ancestors. So, start getting used to it; we Tam-Brahms are here to stay.

-Ambuja Bharadwaj

PS: Those who know me know that I am not one to air my personal views on controversial topics in public. But I did so this time, because the original article in the Indian Express upset me greatly. Thanks for all your support, friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The importance of respect

Raising your children in a different culture is a challenge in so many ways. As Indian immigrants living in the US, many of us struggle to teach our kids to speak our language, learn about religious practices and cultural values. For me, this challenge is amplified because my kids were not only born in the US, but they are also biologically half-American. As my husband is American (of European descent), Indian culture is only half their heritage. In some ways, it makes it easier for my kids because my husband and I understand that their identity is half-Indian, half-American. First-generation Indian Americans probably have a tougher time convincing their fully Indian parents that the American culture is also their heritage because they were born here.

Of all the things that we teach our kids in India, the one that is close to my heart is Respect. Growing up in India, I was taught to respect so many things around me. Firstly, to respect our parents for all that they do for us. Hinduism equates parents with God itself. Then to respect those elder to us, because wisdom comes with age. Yes, even those only a year or two older in India are addressed with respect. Everyone calls older people anna or akka (elder brother or sister) or auntie or uncle. No one older to you is ever addressed by their first name. We are also taught that special respect is due to teachers who go beyond their call of duty to teach us everything. Gurus or teachers are placed even higher than parents. Besides these, we were also taught to respect inanimate things like food, books, gadgets, the environment and pretty much everything around us for its contribution to our life. We are not allowed to waste food, touch our books with our feet, and once a year we worship during Auydha pooja – we worship all the inanimate objects (from cars to computers) that help us in our every day life.

The differences stemming from the collectivist philosophies of the East and the more individualistic ones of the West means that the emphasis for respect in the US is the individual. Here, children are taught to respect individuals no matter how big or small. Although completely commendable, this practice seems to have diluted to mean respecting just oneself. In the quest to teach children to respect everyone equally, the special respects due to a person because of their age, education, or experience is lost.  Of course, inanimate things are never considered deserving of respect in this culture.

When I was a graduate student here, I had to work with a physiotherapist to help ease my heel pain. The young man grabbed a couple of tall books (maybe they were phone books like the yellow pages) and asked me to stand on top of it. I was appalled! To me books, paper etc = knowledge = God. You do not touch them with your feet, let alone step on it! When I hesitated, the physiotherapist was confused. He had no idea what my problem was and I had to launch into a long explanation about it.

Today, I struggle to teach these concepts of respect to my American children. Living in India for a few years made a big difference because I had societal support in India. Everywhere they went in India, they were expected to address elders with respect. Everyone told them not to waste food and to respect their books and other things.  But, now that we are back here, I am alone in my efforts again and I worry that my children will forget those ways.

The hardest of these to teach American children is to not waste food. America is filled with an excess of food. Processed food is cheap and plentiful.  Kids in America do not think twice about wasting food. A few months ago, I saw a family get out of their car and throw half-eaten fast food into the trash nearby. There was a little boy, about 10 years old, who opened a bottle of “Simply Orange” orange juice, took a sip, replaced the cap and then threw it in the trash. One sip was all he took of the nearly 20 oz bottle! No matter how much I teach them otherwise, my children are constantly exposed to this culture of waste. Most American kids cannot wrap their heads around the fact that there are people in developing countries who do not get three square meals a day. Wasting food really upsets me because I myself have experienced what it feels like to not be able to afford food.

In the end, all I can do is to keep telling my kids about these things and hope that it will seep into their minds over time. My husband tells me that things were not so bad when he was young and that these values were also a part of the American culture some time ago. I believe that is true because of the compliments that I get from other American parents on the respectful behavior of my kids. Every time I go to a parent-teacher conference, the teachers never forget to tell me that both my kids are extremely respectful. It gives me hope and makes me proud. I guess we (my husband and I) must be doing something right after all.

“Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character but as a reflection of yours.” – Dave Willis

-AB

 

 

How my Kindle saved my mind

I promised myself six moths ago that once I had settled down in the US, I would try to wean myself off my sleeping pill… again. Six years ago, I was prescribed a popular sleeping pill when I was suffering from acute carpel tunnel syndrome. Soon after I fell asleep, my hands would cramp, hurt like hell, and invariably disrupt my sleep. After several medical interventions the carpel tunnel was solved by surgery. I had carpel tunnel release surgery in both hands and it was the only thing that finally fixed it. The pain stopped on the day of the surgery six years ago and never returned. Unfortunately, the sleeping pill stuck with me. Having been an insomniac all my life, prescribing a notoriously addictive sleeping pill to me was like writing a prescription for alcohol and handing it to an alcoholic. Since then I have tried to wean myself off the medicine twice. The first time, I almost succeeded and then got pulled back, probably because I wanted just “one” more night of good sleep. The second attempt was so half-hearted that it is not even worth mentioning. So, I was hoping the third time will be a charm. When I set myself this goal half a year ago, I only wanted to do it because I was ashamed to be addicted to sleeping pills. This is such vague motivation that I doubt I would have gone very far with it . Now I have developed some real motivation to stop taking it. I started having some real troubling side-effects from it.

I realized that I have trouble remembering events that happen after I take the sleeping pill for the night. Initially it was off and on, but now it occurs all the time. The first indication that something was off was when I would sit down to watch an episode of a show on TV and the DVR would tell me that I had already watched it. I would watch it again and still not recall having watched it previously. I brushed it aside thinking maybe my husband watched it and that’s why it was marked “watched”.

Then my husband started telling me I was repeating myself – that I had already told him something the night before. But to me it was the first time I was saying it. I had such a hard time believing this because I have a really good memory. So much so, that I always thought of my good memory as more of a curse than as a gift. I always remember all the times I was hurt, what people said to hurt me, word by word. Its hard to forgive when you genuinely cannot forget! To top it off, it is a generally accepted fact in my family that my memory is better than my husband’s and it was simply ridiculous to me that he remembered things that I had forgotten (ah! pride does goeth before a fall!).

Even with these signs, I never really believed it. It is amazing how our mind conspires to fool us when we we don’t want to believe something. What finally convinced me was my Kindle. I always read before bed and lately I have been doing it less and less.  I knew I was reading less but I never questioned why. Last month, I got Stephen King’s “Bazaar of Bad Dreams” on my Kindle. A King book, and that too a short story collection! I would have had it finished in days. And yet, I still have about 40% to go. The reason finally dawned on me. It was because I was reading the same story over and over again! I would read before bed and stop halfway into the story. The next day, I would pick it up and have no memory of reading it. So I would go back and start reading it again. I would finish it and remember if I read it during the day. But if it was at bedtime, the same thing happened again and again. If this had been a real book, I would have never realized it as I almost never use a bookmark. I usually memorize the page number and come back to it. But this was my Kindle, and it opened to where I left off. Still, I initially dismissed it thinking my son had been fooling around with the Kindle and had turned the pages! But too much evidence was piling up and I finally had to face the fact that this was really happening.

I must have been subconsciously aware of it, because when I scrutinize some of my behaviors I realize that I stopped doing some things after dinner (like watching some shows or reading or anything that required me to remember it the next day) . When I finally faced up to it, it scared the bejesus out of me. There is a reason why  Alzheimer’s is my worst nightmare! Now, I have some real motivation to get off that drug! Over the past couple of weeks I reduced my dosage from 10 mg to 8 mg. Its been a hard couple of weeks and I know its only going to get worse before it gets better. But I do know one thing for sure. This time, I will get successfully get of it because now I have something that scares me worse than a bad night’s sleep.

On a side note, I think it is interesting that both the first thing that alerted me and the final thing that convinced me of my problem were both modern technological inventions (the DVR and the Kindle). So, there is something to be said for modern technology after all.

-AB

 

Keep calm and live life

Nearly a year ago, I downloaded a meditation app on my phone called “Calm”. I used the free version off and on for most of last year. It had nature sounds, scenes, and a series of guided meditation sessions called “7 days of calm”. The sessions introduced different practices of mindfulness meditation; from body scans to progressive relaxation for sleep. Around that time, I also downloaded several other meditation and relaxation apps mainly with the goal of controlling stress and helping me sleep better. But I eventually deleted all of them except Calm. A big plus point with Calm is the voice of the narrator who guides the meditation. The woman has an incredibly calm voice that is instantly relaxing and has done a great job narrating the guided sessions at a slow and even pace. I have deleted some of the other apps just because I couldn’t stand the voice that was used! The narration is also very intuitive and provides just enough instruction so you know what to do.

In January of this year, I decided that meditating regularly was going to be my resolution for this year. One afternoon on a whim I paid the subscription for the full app for the whole year ($40). It is more than I would have liked to spend but because it is a subscription, new content is added every month.

Now a month later, I feel that the $40 per year investment for my mental health was totally worth it. The daily sessions last between 10-12 minutes and that’s all it takes to significantly lower my stress levels. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure that it was helping me. Then I noted an increase in stress, irritation, and anger on the days I didn’t meditate. It became worse if I missed sessions for a couple of days in a row. I believe that a person can change only when they decide that they are going to change. For change to occur you need a trigger. If I didn’t benefit by the meditation, I wouldn’t have started to consciously make time for it. Initially, I would remember to meditate only after the kids get home from school (my guess is that’s when I need that extra patience and calm). But I found it so much harder to meditate for even 10 minutes when the kids are at home. Even if I told them that I was going to meditate and would like not to be disturbed for 10 minutes, they would decide that something was too urgent to wait 8 more minutes and would always interrupt me. So it took me a few days to realize that I needed to move my meditation time to earlier in the day – before the kids came home.

Nowadays, meditation is the first thing I do after the kids leave for school. Today, I celebrate 10 continuous days of meditation! So far, its biggest impact on me has been from the sessions that focus on “non-reactivity”. Increasingly, I find myself capable of realizing it when something upsets me and stepping away from it. I am learning to not react to such situations and instead, take the time to think about it and realize its not such a big deal after all. I am willing to wager that my cortisol levels are lower than they used to be. I can just feel calmness flood over me whenever I am able to do that.

There has been a wonderful side affect to this app. Back when I was meditating at the end of the day, I would sit and do it with my kids lying nearby reading. Soon, they became drawn to it and started meditating with me. I noticed that sometimes my son would be listening to it and fall asleep much faster than usual. My daughter says that it helps her to shut down at the end of the day and fall asleep. So, now I share my app with her. She takes it to bed with her (there are special sessions that guide you to sleep) and falls asleep listening to it.

If you are interested in really getting into meditation, I highly recommend “Calm”. Their website features also some freebies that are worth checking out. So, keep calm and live life.

-AB

 

Born again Love

 

My Dearest,

I don’t remember the moment I fell in love with you. But, in love I fell and now there is no turning back – forever. I fell in love with you only a few years ago, although, I have known you for most of my life. I heard about you even as a child, interesting tales about the things that you did, but they never affected me the way they affect me now. When I was a teenager, I went through a phase where I even disliked you! I felt you weren’t as perfect as everyone claimed. I could not understand your actions. I felt you were partial, unfair, and dare I say it? Yes, I thought you were unethical! I compared you with other men and found you wanting. You did not seem deserving of my love or devotion. I saw your mischievous smile as the arrogant smirk of a know-it-all.

In my twenties and most of my thirties, I was indifferent to you. I never really thought about you much. It was like my life had nothing to do with you. I thought that we completely lost touch. Now, I know that wasn’t true. I had pulled away from you, but you never gave up on me. You always had your eyes on me. You didn’t push, you didn’t force, but you stayed there, waiting, knowing, completely confident, that I will eventually realize that I can’t live without you. You waited all the while, smiling your know-it-all smirk. Only now I realize that if you had abandoned me, I would have never survived.

Then a few years ago, you decided that it was time. You reached out to me in an almost passive way. I don’t know how you did it, but you slowly wormed your way into my heart. You made me see you clearly for the first time and you lit a spark in me. A hunger to know you and find out everything about you. I turned to every resource I had, I spoke to people who knew you and I sought out those interesting tales from your childhood. Finally, I was able to see your actions in a whole new light. What I had seen as partial, unfair, and unethical finally made sense to me. Viewing it with older and wiser eyes, I understood the reasons behind your behavior; that they were driven by a pure sense of ethics, unmeasurable love, and amazing grace. That spark that you lit in me is now a raging bonfire that can never be put out. It keeps me warm on the coldest nights and makes my whole world brighter every day.

These days, I find myself day dreaming about you. My heart sings whenever I recall your mischievous smile. It no longer seems like an arrogant smirk to me. For now, I understand the language that you speak with your eyes and that smile. I imagine running my fingers through your dark curly hair, gazing into your kind eyes, and resting my head on your broad majestic shoulders.  But most of all, I come running to you when my heart is heavy; I lie on your lap, pour out my grievances and tears, and wait for you to tell me what to do. How many times have I fallen asleep like that? And you have just sat there, while I slept on your lap, watching over me, even though you had a million other things to do. You stroked my hair and my troubles dispersed away with every stroke.

Now, I can’t imagine my life without you and all that matters is that I want to spend the rest of eternity with you. I have a picture of you in almost every room of my house. Wherever I spend significant time, I want my eyes to fall on you. I have a photo of you on my bedside as well, so that your face is the last thing I see before I fall asleep and the first thing I see upon waking. Even right here, next to me, on my desk I have a picture of you. One from your childhood, of that time you were dancing, on top of Kaliya, imprinting your lotus feet on his head and subduing him to save the people you love.

I am never alone, now that you live in my heart. Thank you for saving me. I love you.

-AB

This post was written for the “Write a Love Letter” campaign for The Chennai Bloggers Club

 

 

 

The to-do list: a small piece of paper that weighs a ton

It has been a long break since my last post. I have fallen victim to the fast-paced American lifestyle. Of the three countries that I have lived in during my lifetime (India, Australia, and USA), America has the fastest pace. It is one of the things I don’t like about living here. When I am here, twenty-four hours is never enough in a day. There is always something to be done. The laundry, the dishes, cleaning, outside errands to the grocery store, the post office, doctor’s/dentist/vet appointments, homework, cooking and it goes on and on. My life is a never ending list of things to do. Honestly, I don’t know how mothers that work outside the home do it. I can barely hold it all together while working from home.

I am always multitasking, even though I know that multitasking doesn’t really get help in getting anything accomplished faster. A couple of days ago, when I sat down to help the kids with their homework, I quickly looked around to see what else I can do while helping them. It made me realize what a chronic multitasker I have become. I never watch TV just to watch TV. If I am not folding laundry or chopping vegetables while I am watching TV, I feel like I am wasting time. Sometimes I combine watching TV with my meditative coloring, as if that will help me wind down more in half the time! Lately I have been pulling out some kind of work to do while waiting at places (doctor’s offices and such) instead of my kindle to just read. In fact, I haven’t read a book since the start of the year and that made me realize that I really need to do something to slow down the hectic pace of my life.

It has been six months since I moved to the US and things have finally settled down enough for me to bring some order into my life with a proper routine. So I sat down yesterday to break down my day-to-day work into easier chunks. After assigning the first half of the day to writing work and the second half to household chores, I found that the hardest thing for me to schedule was “me” time. I need 90 minutes of me time everyday for my physical and mental health: 40 minutes for exercise, 20 minutes for meditation and 30 minutes for winding down. I wish I could set aside another 30 minutes everyday to read but unfortunately, I have to alternate reading, watching TV, and art during my winding down time.

Even as I write this, I feel the weight of the dozen other things that I have to do today. But, I have decided to challenge myself by trying to write 500 words everyday and I shall start that today, here.

Sample to-do list:

  1. Exercise
  2. Meditation
  3. Writing
  4. Cooking
  5. Studying & reading with the kids
  6. Household chores
  7. Outside errands
  8. Winding down

This is the bare-bones list. It gets heavier but never really lighter unless I don’t have outside errands. But at the end of the day there is no greater feeling of accomplishment than a fully crossed out to-do list!

-AB

 

 

 

A post for Carl Jung

Just before I woke up this morning, I had a vivid dream. I was on a beach with my mom and I was asking her help with a problem that was bothering me. She gave me the perfect advice that solved the problem and I woke up. My head was turned to the side where she would have been sitting and my hand was reaching out to her. I was surprised that she wasn’t actually there, (she is still in India) and I realized that I had a solution for a problem that I hadn’t even be consciously analyzing. So it got me thinking about how my dreams help with my mental housekeeping all the time.

This isn’t the first time that I have found solutions to my real-life problems in my dreams. Many a times I have woken up with solutions to problems that I have been actively working on and to those that I wasn’t really thinking about. The ones that always fascinate me is when I wake up KNOWING the exact place where a lost item that I had been searching for was hiding. I recall a dream from a year or so ago.In this dream, I was wondering where something was and thinking about the possible places it might be. I considered each possibility and eliminated them one by one until only one remained. I woke up and went and looked at that place and found it was exactly there as I had dreamed. The item was something I had been searching for days. It was eerie and though it had an air of the paranormal, I knew it was just my mind harnessing bits of information from different parts of my memory and putting two and two together to come up with the logical solution.

My husband always complains that he doesn’t have enough dreams or that he doesn’t remember them on waking. I dream every night and remember most of them upon waking. It is such a routine occurrence that most days I don’t give it a second thought. However, a majority of my dreams are borderline nightmares. Pleasant dreams are very rare. I am not talking about intense nightmares that cause night terrors, but more like ones that mainly deal with my fear of something and many a times I am just glad to wake up. My husband often tells me to “take charge” in these dreams and realize that I am dreaming and “direct” my dreams the way I want. I have tried to do that and I have gotten as far as realizing that I am dreaming but I have never been able to direct the course of the dream. Sometimes the fear goes away on the realization, other times I just feel like I have to wait it out.

I have patterns/themes to these dreams that manifest in recurring nightmares. When I was an adolescent, I frequently had nightmares of standing atop something high and being on the verge of falling. Another common nightmare is one in which my chemistry teacher from high school derides me (teachers really need to consider that they can  traumatize adolescents with their words, the effects are very far-reaching). Many of my nightmares have an educational theme to them; I attribute it to my academic struggles in high school. Although I was a straight-A student in college, I was pretty much at the bottom of the class in high school. I often have a nightmare in which I am told that I have to go back to high school to redo my last two years in order for my Master’s degrees to be valid!  Another educational-themed nightmare which really scares me (during the dream) is having to take an exam for a class I never attended. Almost always this dream involves a language class in Tamil. Recently I had this version of  dream with a math class (I blame common core math). Obviously, I have a huge fear of failure in the academic realm.

A few months before I left India, I had a recurring nightmare in which I had come to the US and had lost touch with all my friends in India. In this dream, I had friends in India who think I don’t care for them anymore, that I have forgotten them. Interestingly, after coming here I don’t get that dream anymore. My husband, when he remembers his dreams, talks about crashing his car. I might have had that kind of dream once or twice but it is not a predominant pattern.

My real nightmares, the ones that leave me feeling upset for hours after waking are the so-called pleasant dreams. In those dreams, I am living the perfect life, the one in which I never faced the turning points in life that took me in a direction I hadn’t planned. In these dreams, I am loving my life and I wake up and feel incredibly disappointed that it was just a dream and it wasn’t real. Then I feel upset about the disappointment, because it means that somewhere deep in my mind I  have regrets. Yet another type of dream is one that leaves me frustrated. These are ones in which I have brilliant insights that I don’t recall in the morning. Sometimes I think of amazing story plots that disappear like early morning fog. I have tried to remedy these in two ways. I have tried keeping a notepad next to my bed and writing down stuff either in the middle of the night or immediately upon waking. This has never helped for I cannot make any sense of my notes when I look at them at in the morning. Sometimes, I realize that I am dreaming and I instruct myself to hold on to that brilliant idea. This has a better rate of success. I sometimes remember bits and pieces. I do wonder if the reason I don’t remember these dreams is because I am not supposed to.

I think I will finish up this post with the best dream I have ever had. It was roughly two years ago. In this dream I was lying down listening to music from Lord Krishna’s flute. Someone came up to me and told me to wake up. I replied that I would not wake up, not until Lord Krishna himself came and told me to do so. Next thing I know, HE was next to me addressing me by my name and whispering in my ear to wake up. I woke up and my eyes fell on the picture that hangs in my bedroom in India depicting Lord Krishna playing his flute. I believe that there was something truly supernatural about this dream. Even now I draw strength from it.

What do you dream of?

-AB

The pissing evil

Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with insulin resistance. Two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with diabetes.

The word “diabetes” has always struck terror in my heart. When I was growing up, my mother would always talk about how her grandfather died of it. To her, it was always a big demon. When I was 20, my mother was diagnosed with it. She was 42. Although, she always thought of it as a horrible disease, she didn’t really foresee that she would get it. Both her parents didn’t have it. For her it was a total shock, it just came out of the blue and knocked her off her feet. It took her more than a year to come to terms with the diagnosis. Witnessing her struggle with the diagnosis, it became this huge enemy in my mind. Since then I started to read and learn everything about the disease- knowledge is power after all.

Even with good control, my mother became insulin-dependent after several years. Ten years ago, at the age of 60, my dad became a diabetic. He took his diagnosis in stride, with his never die attitude. Still, as years marched on, the disease wore down his body as well as his optimism and sometimes overpowered him. He is not insulin-dependent, although he had to take insulin for a couple of months when some medication had the side effect of high blood sugar. Currently, both my parents have their blood sugars under control and continue to battle this demon.

When I was pregnant with my first child, the doctors worried that I would get gestational diabetes because I was already insulin resistant. I followed a very strict diet and checked my sugars seven times a day. I managed to deliver my daughter without succumbing to gestational diabetes.  When I became pregnant with my son, I went on a similar diet. In the last trimester, even with the strict diet, I saw the sugars climb up. It got to a point where I just couldn’t eat any differently to get it under control. I had to take insulin injections during the last three weeks of my pregnancy. Research shows that those who get gestational diabetes almost always develop type II diabetes within five years of the pregnancy. I was determined that I would not become part of that statistic. I lasted six and a half years.

The trouble with such research statistics is that numbers are black and white, while biology isn’t. Those numbers are not hard facts; they are just estimates. Like the estimate that if both your parents are diabetic, you have a one in two chance of becoming one yourself. But when they say a one in two chance, it isn’t like a flip of a coin. It is not mean that if my parents had eight kids, four of them will become diabetic. In reality all eight kids probably get various amounts of susceptibility, some more than others. With the decks stacked against me genetically, I could only exercise control over my lifestyle to delay the inevitable onset.

Every other Indian is diabetic these days. Chennai is the diabetic capital of the world. With all this background, there must have been some part of me that KNEW that I too will be a diabetic some day. I just hoped it will be after 60 like my dad. It is incredibly upsetting to me that even with monitoring my health for so many years, the demon caught up to be even before he caught my mother. I never expected to be diagnosed at 39. My mother’s parents were both diagnosed last year. My grandmother is 78 and my grandfather was 84. I am the youngest in my family to be diagnosed with this disease.

Coming to terms with a diagnosis that changes your lifestyle completely is very much like grief. I grieve for the life I lived before when I didn’t have to worry overly about what I ate and when. That life is now gone. The five stages of grief are denial/isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. My mother went through a lot of denial because she was had no inkling of her health status. I thought that I didn’t waste much time in denial, but it must have been there because I did not want to admit to anyone that I was now diabetic. I was overwhelmed with isolation and depression. It didn’t help that I already felt isolated because of my move to the US. But mostly I felt guilty. So much guilt that I had let this happen. So much shame and anger, mostly directed inward. Then I wallowed in self-pity. One night, I was overwhelmed with fear; fear of eating. I felt panicky that no matter what I ate, I would not be able to control this. I wanted to release my emotions by writing a post about it, but I was not ready then. I did not want anyone to know my failure to prevent this. At this stage, I started reading more about emotional responses to the diagnosis. Website after website told me to let go of the guilt and the fear. I prayed for help to do just that.

Yesterday, I forgot to put my protein bar in my purse on my way out. When I started feeling hypoglycemic and searched for the bar, it wasn’t there. I know the dangers of hypoglycemia. Besides, the danger, it leaves me tired, makes me binge eat and sometimes leaves behind a headache. Thankfully, I had emergency glucose tablets. I have never had those before but they did an incredible job of rescuing me. I then bought a box of peanuts and couldn’t stop myself from eating three servings instead of one. Later, when I was waiting to pick up my kids at the bus stop, I admitted to a new friend that I am a diabetic. I didn’t plan on it. It just happened. I guess I was starting to come to terms with it.

Today, something happened that pushed me over the line into acceptance. I found out that my daughter’s new best friend, a fellow fifth-grader, is a type I diabetic. It shocked me when the child chose a single slice of brown bread as an after-school snack because “it was the only thing in the house that was below 5 carbs.” Now I feel ashamed again, but this time for all the drama, the self-pity and the depression. How incredibly blessed I am that I got to live till 39 years without this disease! That child is only ten.

I know that this epiphany does not mean that the struggle is over or that I will always be fine with it. I have seen how my parents still have days when they just want to surrender to it all. I know I will have my down days. But for now, I have made my peace with it. And I write this to remind me on those black days to count my blessings and be grateful.

By the way if you are wondering about the title of this post, it refers to the etymology of the word “diabetes”. It is an old common name for diabetes, derived from the symptom of excessive urination.

-AB

Life = Change

I haven’t blogged in about six weeks. In those six weeks, I relocated from India to northwest USA.

I unboxed more than a dozen boxes and nine suitcases of items and put them away. During this process I tidied up and re-tidied up every room in my apartment at least 3 times, maybe more. I built up an entire kitchen from a couple of pans and plates to a fully stocked one with a toaster, a rice cooker, a mixer, an electric kettle, several pots and pans, cutlery, Tupperware, a cutting board, and knives. I bought a dozen jars and filled them with dhals, rice, nuts, and spices and turned it into a workable Indian kitchen. Also, I bought several pieces of furniture on craigslist and at Ikea and furnished our apartment.

I made appointments with doctors and got my children up-to-date on their vaccinations. I had them enrolled in school. I shopped for all their school supplies. I searched and found the perfect owl backpack that my daughter wanted and convinced my son to go with a dinosaur backpack instead of a puppy one that wasn’t available. I bought them warmer clothes, socks and shoes. I went through aisles of clothing to find a jacket for my daughter that wasn’t pink. Along with my husband, we got the children on a schedule of chores and laid down rules about screen-free Mondays and Wednesdays. We took the kids to the playground, the pool, and the library. As promised, we bought a hand-tamed parakeet for my daughter and a puppy for my son.

About two weeks after my move, I organized and conducted a Seemantham (religious ceremony akin to a baby shower) for my sister-in-law and my brother. It was a pain to shop for, even though my mother had bought most of the items and packed them for me. I cooked about six dishes for it and still have leftovers from it! I once again experienced the pain of separation as my brother and his wife left for the east coast.

I had my immigration physical and spent an hour with my doctor discussing my health. He mentioned that I seemed to have a lot on my plate. No kidding! I had five vials of blood drawn for various tests. I had a chest x-ray taken to prove that I don’t have tuberculosis.

I reacquainted myself with driving on the right side of the road. I got into the habit of checking the weather forecast before choosing what to wear for the day. I started wearing socks all the time while at home. I am re-training myself to shop for a whole week of groceries without forgetting something, to go to the correct side of the car, and to walk on the right side of corridors and pavements. It will take me more time to guess the time of the evening without a watch (the sun sets around 6 pm in India and only at 9 pm here).

I did all this under a cloud of jet lag, insomnia, and depression. The jet lag was gone within a week. The depression just got worse. Sometimes I miss India so much that it feels like a physical ache in my heart. I hate shopping and the overdose of shopping has not helped with my mood. I am now slowly working my way out of that depression back to my normal self by telling myself that I will accept life as Lord Krishna gives it to me.

My home office is finally set up. I have a large, sturdy desk in front of a window, with a nice view of the street outside and a comfortable chair. Now, I can get back to writing.

-AB