Trigger warning: Death, Grief, Trauma
I’ve been meaning to put my thoughts down for a couple of days now… 6 days to be exact, actually.
I’ve been filling every waking moment of my life lately with distractions. From the moment I wake up, to the moment I sleep, my thoughts are borrowed; borrowed from the countless conversations I listen to on this new app that’s taking our isolated worlds by fire. I don’t always register what they’re talking about – I let the voices simmer in the backdrop while I go about my real life on autopilot. Every now and then, my brain would hook my attention to a statement or two, giving me the illusion of actually learning something new. But a distracted brain rarely ever retains a new piece of information.
So how come I am here? I became conscious of what I have been doing with my self. I don’t regret it at all. How life is supposed to be lived is a notion I happily discarded almost a year ago when every living thing’s life was turned upside down in this pandemic.
As of today (and for as far back as I can remember), life seems like a thing to be put up with. I know, I know – I’m not supposed to say this. With everybody becoming intimately familiar with grief and loss, I know I am supposed to express gratitude for being alive. But I do not feel grateful. On the surface, sure, everything is as it should be. I’m home, with family, I have not had to make material sacrifices. My physical existence, for all practical purposes, has retained its shape.
My life inside my head, however, is a whole other story. But that’s not something we are unfamiliar with. That is not what brings me here.
As I sit at my work-from-home desk, I have multiple thoughts I can write about.
I can write about how when people tell you, “You’re so lucky! This worked out so well for you,” they erase all the labor you put in with one polite sweep. That you mustered up the courage to take that step forward, put in your time and hard work, riddled yourself with self-doubt during the exercise, almost gave up and then persuaded yourself to keep at it against all odds, continued to remind yourself why you want it in the face of conflicting cues from your surroundings – poof! Why? Because you’re very lucky.
I can write about the extremely strange, confusing, frustrating, heart-breaking, violent situation we find ourselves in. The lives we are expected to lead as if everything is happening as it should, as if there’s a higher being avenging our foolish conduct over the years. The lives that have lost all meaning and purpose. The lives of those who are lost. The lives that were. And are not.
But I choose to write about community. About togetherness, and how much we need it right now. But wait, don’t mistake this to be a sermon on love and friendships. I don’t think I have it in me to pen anything of that sort right now. One, it will be hypocritical of me to lecture you on those things when I myself am consciously withdrawing from society. And two, you know what you need to do best.
When I say I want to write about community, I believe I want to talk about how much we have normalized the absence of one.
A couple of weeks ago, somebody I know had written about how we are a people extremely familiar with the idea of violence and chaos. In our homes, we have enough and more examples of how interpersonal tensions can manifest themselves – with arguments unfolding in all their unmasked, unmitigated, deafening glory. And this, against the backdrop of expressions of love, connection and support made but in secret, away from the curious gazes of children dutifully picking up behavioral cues from said elders.
They wrote about how a lot of movies and TV shows in India (at least) are very explicit in their portrayal of violence of all kinds, whereas are extremely stingy or fictitious in their portrayal of love. While assault and abuse are plastered on our screens in all their red and agonizing entirety, moments of intimacy are minimized – if not omitted altogether – behind closed doors and musical cues, or are amplified beyond belief with grand gestures and larger-than-life do-or-die expressions. In some cases, the existence of trust, love and support in a relationship is simply taken for granted, thereby denying any possibility of a discourse around the kind of active work that goes into creating and maintaining it.
This saddens, even angers, me.
Today, at the age of 25 years, I realize how I was stripped of my chance to learn to love. I do not know what a safe space feels like, nor do I know what love feels like. I do not know if that shapeless, fluid, viscous feeling is only my body’s way of feeling excited, or if it is a feeling laden with innocent, true emotion.
I do not know what I should do in conflict situations.
But Meghna, you just noted how you were exposed to conflicts as a child. How then do you not at least know how to manage those?
— Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond just started playing —
Well. When you’re a child, still trying to make sense of what people around you call the gift of life, you don’t take to your caretakers arguing too well. That to you feels like the world as you know it, falling apart – or rather, being torn down with bare, intentional hands. You are filled with dread and fear of losing the people you are wired to love. Losing them to hate and turmoil. That is not a time where you’re learning ways of managing conflict. In fact, the exact opposite is happening. You feel overcome with an averseness to conflict. You dislike it from your very core. You blame it for causing you irrevocable stress at a time when you did not know better. And it makes you develop defense mechanisms that take root as you grow older. You rely on them and trust them with all your being. You follow them blindly, without realizing how suddenly at the age of 25, you’ll learn about all the damage they caused to you.
Yes, those defense mechanisms protected you. But at what cost? I did not – could not – choose then. And turns out, I cannot choose even today. I had to put in the work then to protect myself from dread and aggression, and I have to put in the work today to untie those knots one at a time so that I can trust and love other people fully, so that I can stand up for myself in the face of conflict, instead of backing away and escaping like I am used to doing.
I am tired. Writing about this has made my vision hazy, and it feels like somebody injected peppermint in my veins. Anxiety.
Trauma from your childhood catching up with you on the night of June 8, 2021. Trauma catching up with you in a time already saturated with trauma.
I am lucky, you say?
Everyone – and I know there are so many like me – who have lived a time such as this, lucky are they?
The burden of knowing why your caretakers did not know better, or couldn’t do a better job, is a burden no one should need to carry. Not if it comes at the expense of denying one’s own feelings of hurt and injustice indefinitely. This is what I am currently working on. Standing up for myself, doing better for myself, being kinder to myself and to those who caused harm unintentionally in the face of all realizations rising to the surface, gasping for breath.
I do not hold this against anyone. There’s no use of it. I am now aware of my story. I am content with that. Almost grateful even to have been heard and seen by another human being who helped me along.
Do you know how to build one? Do you find yourself capable of reaching out to people in times of their distress to soothe them, and accompany them in their preoccupied silence? I hope to learn from you and those like you.
For those of us who thought, no, well, I see you, like I see myself.
I lose the ability to form words when someone confides in me. And I constantly chide myself for not being able to offer comfort, and then I chide myself some more for chiding myself in a moment which was not mine to claim; in a moment where someone expected me to show up for them authentically. And then I think about how I failed someone yet again.
But I am proud of myself for doing the work. I am going to give myself due credit for realizing it, articulating it, expressing it. Owning my narrative.
It is not easy, don’t be fooled. It is not easy for a second.
But I guess when you’re already overwhelmed by the assault that is happening on your senses all at once, you don’t have a lot of room to dwell upon the injustice of it all. The lack of agency in what you inherited. It should be infuriating. I should be wanting to break something right now. Instead, I am just heavy-headed and extremely thirsty.
I’ll take my cue to stop.
Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun-
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky-
Shine on you crazy diamond.