Counting those days – One shot | Fiction

I’ve written so much fiction and posted it across so many portals over the years; I don’t even remember all my stories. Which is a shame because it seems like I had much more clarity of thought back then. I wrote this about 6 years ago 😮 (I know, I’m equally shocked) when I had the emotional range of a teaspoon and had major rose colored glasses on. I should really hunt down all my stories and upload them here. For a perspective check, if nothing else. Look at me, trying to be all mature at the age of 17 about things like love. Pfft. (I’m no better now btw)
Anyway, here it goes.
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2 months, 28 days, 7 hours and 20 minutes since he walked away, and I’m still counting.

I get into my car and start the engine, something that I do everyday. My body has coped with the fast pace of my life, and it has become more of a machine, that responds to orders quicker than emotions. Start the engine. Get the car into gear. Go back home. Eat. Sleep. Back to the hospital. Simple routine.

I don’t want to feel the rush of emotions in my heart, because it gives way to vulnerability,always. Vulnerability is one of my top 10 fears of all time. It gives others the power to control some or the other aspect of your life. A mechanical life maybe difficult to get used to, but in the long run, it’s better than feeling pain.

Then why am I still counting ? I don’t know, probably because it’s just another custom I follow in my daily routine. Probably because maths is my passion. Probably because I’ve lost my mental balance. My brain keeps giving me all sorts of reasons, but my heart always gives me one reason – I haven’t let go. I refuse to believe it.

2 months 28 days, 7 hours and 25 minutes.

It’s raining outside. It fails to stirr any emotions within me, haven’t I mentioned that I’m a robot ? Well, I am, and accepting this fact doesn’t stirr any emotion either.

I don’t blame him, he had to go, but back then when I was human, I did feel angry at him, at my fate. I did feel shattered, I did feel deperate to cling onto him as long as possible, but over the time, all those feelings have evaporated, and have left behind a fully functional robot.

“God Neeta, you look like hell. You need a break dude” said one of her colleagues and friend, Rohan Khanna.

She smiled, “No Rohan, I’m fine. Besides, Hospital hours don’t allo-“

“Let go Neeta..” he cut her off, staring at her intently.

She stared at him for a long moment and then lowered her gaze, “I’ve moved on, Rohan..I have”

Rohan slightly shook his head, “Don’t expect me to believe that. For how long will you be in denial ? Face it Neeta, running away from this fact is not courage”

He paused for a long moment, and then said, “Please Neeta, free yourself from this misery”. He patted her arm, warmly nodded at her and walked away.

My best friend Rohan thinks I’m in denial. I don’t understand why. I’m absolutely ok, and it’s high time he accepted that. I don’t need a break, hospital is the only place that helps me retain my sanity.

2 months, 28 days, 7 hours and 51 minutes.

I’ve reached my house, it’s still raining. Darn, I forgot my umbrella at the hospital. I jump out of my car and quickly lock it. Not long after I start walking towards my house, I see him.

He’s completely drenched, from head to toe, but he’s standing at my doorstep, waiting for me to come back. I’m standing in my place, transfixed. All the nuerons in my brain seem to stop functioning at once. All the rational commands stop overpowering my heart, I’m standing here like a statue, unable to move an inch.

He turns to look at me, and even though it’s raining, I could make out that he’s been crying. Involuntarily, my feet start taking me towards him. I don’t know whether I want to slap him or hug him, whether I’m esctatic or angry. I had said I don’t want to feel the rush of emotions, but right now, a huge tide of emotions is sweeping through every part of my body, overwhelming me to an extent that the heavy downpour seems non-existent.

We’re standing close now. He’s saying something, I’m not listening. All I can see is his face, and slowly, the walls that I had built around me start crumbling. I don’t want them to, but it’s as if a strong force is destroying them and my brain is too numb to do anything. The last wall cracks, and tears form in my eyes.

I manage to hear his last line, “Neeta..I-I’m sorry..I’m-“

I cut him off, trying hard to fight my tears, I say, “Shekhar, Can we talk..please ?”

He looks at me and nods. All the pent up emotions can wait. Although all I want to do at that moment is bury myself in his arms and allow myself to succumb to my feelings, but all that can wait. There are questions, and there are answers, there are misunderstandings, and there are solutions, and they need to be cleared before we can make space for emotions between us. Before I give in again, I need to talk with the man standing before me, and I know he understands.

We’re finally aware of the rain, and walk towards my house. I finally allow myself to be happy to see him.

Deep down, I’m hoping that I’ll get my happy ending, and that he’s back forever, because I’ve finally stopped counting, and the robot in me just stopped functioning.

Crash & Burn

“I swear to god; I will kill myself!” she cried whilst holding a sharp knife to her wrist.

“Mom, please! Don’t behave like this! Sambhalo apne aap ko!” screamed Vikas frantically. He couldn’t believe how quickly things had spiralled out of his control. At the outset, he had been so sure that he would be able to handle this well. He had been so sure that he would be able to get through to his mother. Little did he know that he hardly knew his own mother and how inaccessible she had become, surrounded thickly by her own grief and sorrow.

“Don’t you dare tell me what to do! You have betrayed me all along! I trusted you so much, I thought you would listen to me!”

Hair unkempt, dupatta having slipped down onto the floor, tears streaming endlessly down her face, the frail and tiny woman shivered as she screamed each word. It did not seem as though her son had confessed that there was a girl he was in love with and wanted to marry, it seemed as though he had proposed to disown her. To her, perhaps, there was simply no difference between the two.

“Mom, please calm down! You’re really scaring me! At least try to understand what I’m saying. I’m your son!” Vikas screamed the last three words in a desperate attempt to make his mother understand.

She let the knife linger at her wrist a for a few more seconds before her knees gave in and she fell down on the floor, the knife slipping away from her hand with a loud clunk. She immediately started sobbing like a baby and held her head between her palms. Vikas slowly walked towards her and sat down next to her. He grasped her hand and said, “I’m sorry mom, I know I have hurt you. I know a lot of things have come as a shock to you. I lied and that is hurting you the most. But you must understand why I did it. I did it because I knew this is how you would take it. I cannot see you like this”

“T-t-hen wh-why dd-id you-u d-do it a-at all?” she asked in between sobs.

Vikas sighed, “I’m in love, mom. I don’t think that’s a crime. I do have the right to choose my life partner, don’t I?”

Although tears continued to stream down her face, she took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself down and said, “You’re doing your masters right now. Don’t you realize how much pain your parents have taken to be able to provide you with such excellent education? How much money we have invested in it, so that you can make a good life? How can you even think of marriage right now? All these things are a distraction!”

“Whose talking about marriage mom? All her family is suggesting is an engagement so that the commitment is final from both sides. We can get married whenever we want. I will focus on my career and so will she. This will validate the relationship, that’s all. Besides, I’m not a baby. I’m 25 years old. You do realize that we both have already committed to each other, don’t you?”

At this point, her temper rose and she said in a raised voice, “So is that my fault? Did you ask me before committing? Why should I bear the punishment and pain of something that I didn’t decide?!”

“That is not the point!” said Vikas in a slightly irritated voice, “I just told you that I have the right to choose my life partner. We fell in love. We didn’t decide to, it just happened. That does not mean that it will ruin my career or I will not be able to make a good life. We lived together when we were in US, mom. I think that speaks a lot for itself”

“You should be ashamed of yourself. How could you do that? How could you take such a step without thinking twice?” she asked as she suddenly got up, “Is that what I have taught you? Didn’t you think about the family’s respect? About us?”

“I know that it sounds wrong to you, but what I’m trying to say is that we were able to take that step because we are so sure about our future. There is no doubt in our minds that we will marry each other one day. It was not a casual deal; it was a mark of our commitment. Please try to understand that”

Once again, she shook her head and said in any icy tone, “No, I don’t want to know. This engagement is not possible. We didn’t send you abroad to do all this. How can you get engaged to someone without even getting a job? Without standing on your own legs? I cannot allow you to make a commitment like that without having a financial backbone!”

“What does my financial backbone have to do with this? I’m not being asked to financially support her or spend money on her in anyway. Honestly, she wouldn’t ask for that even when we’re married! The commitment is already there and has been there for the past one year! That’s what I’m trying to tell you! Her family got to know that we lived together in US, they know that both of us have to go back again, so if we went as an engaged couple it will simply make them feel reassured. Come to think of it, it should be reassuring to you as well! Would you want me to lie to you again?”

Vikas was feeling drained. Their conversation was simply going in circles. She was looking at what had happened in the past and what he proposed should happen in future as two disconnected events that were both crimes in her head. She simply wasn’t trying to understand that the natural progression of any relationship is to take a step forward, especially when the two involved are on the same page. He had hoped that she would at least understand, if not respect, his decision. But he had not even been able to get past the ‘acceptance’ stage.

Living together under one roof is an accepted norm overseas. In India, however, it’s a blasphemous idea, enough to make the immediate society shudder. So naturally when their parents found out, all hell broke loose. Her parents, however, came to the conclusion that if they had to be living together then might as well make the commitment official. “Let us feel safe and not unsure all the time”, was their argument.

Vikas had been apprehensive when that happened. He knew his mom would not take it well, but he also knew that he wanted to spend his life with that woman because she made him happy. She made him feel content. He had given her his word and he would keep it. It was the thought of her that gave him strength in difficult situations.

“My decision is final Vikas. If you want to be with that girl, you leave my house. I will never see your face again. You can do whatever you wish to with your life. I am already dead inside, so what’s the difference? How does it matter to you, whether I live or die?”

Tears started streaming down her face again as she continued to mumble to herself. Vikas realized that there was no point in trying to talk to her right now, he would have to try again later when she was saner and more mature. He took a deep breath and said, “We’ll talk about this later mom. Why don’t you have dinner and sleep?”

“I don’t want to eat anything. I won’t eat until you give up on this crazy idea!”

And with that, she got up and went inside her room, banging the door behind her.

Vikas sat there staring after his mom, trying to blink away some of the tears that were threatening to roll down his face. He was caught in a situation where he had no idea what to do. He wished his mother would stop reacting in such a childish way and using threats to manipulate him. He felt stuck and helpless. If he were honest to himself, deep down in his heart he knew what the permanent solution was. But he also knew that it would take a lot of courage to put it on the table. At that moment, his phone rang. He wiped a lone tear off his cheek and picked it up, “Hi Dad”

“Hi beta, is everything okay?”

Vikas let out a sigh, “No Dad. Nothing is okay. When are you back?”

“In about 10 minutes”

“Okay dad. I need to talk to you about something”

Vikas kept the phone down and tried to arrange his scattered thoughts. If he could convince his father, then he would be one step closer. It would be tough, but doing the right thing was never easy.

15 minutes later, when his father had arrived and had had his customary cup of coffee, Vikas sat across from him at the dining table and said, “Papa, we need to discuss Mom’s state of mind”

His father let out a defeated sigh and said, “Beta you know how she is. I have tried to channel her thoughts in the positive direction time and again, but she simply doesn’t want to. She is mentally very weak”

“Papa you can’t find a solution unless you identify the problem. The way she is right now is not something that has happened overnight. It’s the accumulated effect of all the years she has spent feeling wronged and cheated by everyone around her. She has started looking at herself like a victim in every situation Papa. Can’t you see what is happening here? It’s gotten to a point where she has started to threaten suicide!”

Vikas was trembling as he spoke. They had become so used to his mother whining and complaining all the time that they had accepted it as a part of who she was. “That’s just how she is”, was their usual refrain. They either tried to avoid triggering her or architected their behaviour to suit her wishes. They never really tried to tackle the root of the problem. This situation, however, was one too many for him to handle. It was neither avoidable nor designable. They would have to look at it for what it was and take a small step towards finding a permanent solution instead of band-aid ones.

“I know why you are suddenly saying all this. It’s because you don’t want to lose that girl”

Vikas shook his head lightly and said, “That’s a part of the reason, Papa. But mom’s behaviour has been raising red flags for a while and you know it. Do you think she has a problem with the engagement? No! she thinks that she will lose me in some way if that happens. She’s insecure and that’s why she’s lashing out. This is her fear talking, not her. She is trying to keep me clutched to her chest in whatever way possible. She will behave like a child, threaten suicide, will stop eating – anything to avoid facing that fear. And I can assure you that her passive-aggressive side will come out tomorrow in the form of depression and silent treatment”

His father processed what he said for a while and said, “So what are you suggesting?”

Vikas continued, “Look this situation seems to be the problem now, but it’s not. Today it’s the woman I love and tomorrow it will be my career choice, later my decision to buy a house or how to raise my kid. No matter what it is, she will react in the same manner. Except that it’s getting increasingly worse. She has no faith in either of us. She thinks if I don’t walk the path the way she wants me to, I won’t be successful in life. If you don’t comply with her wishes, her old age is doomed. She needs professional help. She needs someone who can make her face the fact that the real problem is inside her and so is the solution. She needs to stop expecting other people to fill the voids in her life”

“Are you suggesting that we put her in a mental hospital?” asked his father curtly.

“No, papa. And I’m not suggesting that she’s ‘mental’ either. All I’m saying is that her behaviour is alarming and scary, and we should get her some professional help. We can start with counselling sessions in either group or personal. Trust me, finding identification is a huge step in the healing process. Later, if it works, we can try suggesting something she can get involved in and commit her time and space to”

“You know she will never agree”

“I know, which is why we need to give her a dose of her own medicine and show her the mirror. We will suggest this idea to her and get it done the way she would get it done if it was her idea. Refuse to eat. Refuse to talk. Refuse to go to work. Keep complaining about everything. Tell her how dead you feel inside, how people in your life have used you. Be passive-aggressive. I will do the same. At some point, maybe a day, a week or a month later, she will realize what we are trying to put across. She will realize why we are suggesting this. She will accept it herself, Papa” said Vikas earnestly.

His father drummed his fingers lightly on the table and said, “Are you sure this will work?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that we need to do something drastic to get her to see what she is doing to herself and this family”

His father let out a sigh and said, “Okay then. Let’s do this. I am with you”

Vikas smiled and said, “Thanks Papa. We need to do this as a team”

His father smiled and nodded, “Yes we do. And what about this situation? Will you go ahead with the engagement?”

“Yes I will. If we want to find a permanent solution, we need to stop enabling her by giving in to her blackmail. There are healthy boundaries in every relationship, and its high time I defined them. If we do this together, I’m sure we can get through to her”

“Okay, beta. I trust you” his father said with a smile before patting his shoulder twice. Vikas smiled back and let out a sigh of relief. That’s one level down, he thought to himself. He picked up his phone and messaged her:

Baby, we will get engaged. I am happy this happened, because I could finally find the courage to do something I should have done long ago. I love you : )

 

 

 

She got up with a jerk and wildly looked around. She was in her bed, in her room, in her house. She quickly checked her phone for any messages. It reflected nothing but the time: 9:30. She opened her whatsapp contact list and scrolled down to V. She was still blocked by Vikas. It had been 7 days since they split because his mother threatened suicide and he couldn’t take a stand against her. She spent each day dreaming the same dream and waking up expecting the message she so badly wanted to read. But reality offered her nothing but the same disappointment every day.

She sank her head back into her pillow and let a tear roll down the side of her face. They were happy and content. If only he had done the right thing instead of the easy one. If only he had tried to fight the problem instead of giving into manipulation. If only he didn’t let her go so easily. If only.

All she had now, were her dreams that crashed and burned every single morning, taking a piece of her with them in the flames.

The Key

Guy De Maupassant and Roal Dahl are my inspirations for short stories. Hope you like this. Feedback is appreciated.

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“What do you want to eat for dinner?” asked Sunita, as per her routine.

“I don’t know, whatever you want” replied Madhav distractedly, his eyes still on the television.

“You’re just going to complain about how I keep making the same thing!”

Madhav sighed irritably, “Fine, just make Paneer!”

Sunita shook her head and went back to work. This was a standard conversation in their house. Every day at 6 in the evening she would ask her husband what he wanted to eat for dinner, and he, wanting to get the conversation over with quickly, would reply with anything that came to his mind first. But it seemed as though Sunita could never really please everyone in the family, which included Madhav, their son Rajat and her father-in-law. If Madhav craved Paneer, Rajat always wanted to have chinese and her father-in-law, whom she called Bauji, always wanted something simple like Daal. It seemed like deciding what to cook for dinner had become her life’s existential question.

She thought that it was just one of the pitfalls of being a housewife in a middle class home. She had got used to the cycle, and it was her comfort zone. She was content.

Their son, Rajat, was 12 years of age and like all boys of his age, loved smart phones, hated ghar ka khaana and was obsessed with his PlayStation, something that his father had consistently refused to buy until very recently. He was not very academic, but was extremely inquisitive. Everyone in the house was exasperated with his never-ending questions. A normal conversation with Rajat went something like this:

“Mumma, what are you watching?”

“I’m watching Balika Vadhu, beta”

“Why is everyone so dressed up all the time?”

“Because it’ fiction, and that’s how they make it appealing”

“Why are they replaying everyone’s reactions again and again?”

“To make an impact”

“Why are they talking to themselves? We never talk to ourselves”

“Rajat, enough! Go do your homework”

Her father in law, Vikramlal Singh, was a patient of diabetes. He was extremely prone to a heart attack at any time because of the condition. Although they made sure that he got his treatment regularly, the doctors said that some part of the risk would never be eliminated. Deep down, Sunita knew that his time was drawing to a close, and that nothing they did could stop that from happening. But despite that, she put in all her effort into making his last days as comfortable as possible.

Her relationship with him had always been earnest. He never treated her like an outsider. Yes, he had his demands but he never tried to enforce them with anger or manipulation. He had given her time to settle down in the family and get used to the environment. She had got to see his vulnerable side when her mother in law died. He was shattered. It was then she realized that he had lost the only support system he had – the person he had spent more than fifty years of his life with. She must have been such a seemingly permanent figure in his life, that her absence was now more real than anything else. Strangely enough it was her who comforted him more during that phase than Madhav. He was more engaged in fulfilling his duties as a son, and had neither the energy nor the time to be emotionally available. Or perhaps it was simply because a man couldn’t be seen being vulnerable in their culture. It somehow subtracted from his manliness.

 

As was her daily ritual, she climbed up the stairs to Vikramlal’s room to give him his medicines. Her body clock had now adjusted itself to the demands of each hour. She didn’t need to look at the clock to know the time anymore. She considered it to be an exceptional skill, and often dreamed about conducting time management workshops for corporate professionals simply because she had a natural flair for it.

Bauji, it’s time for your medicine, you need to sit up”, she said vaguely as she walked directly towards the medicine cabinet.

He was lying on one side and didn’t stir as she pulled out the drawer and picked out the medicines. She walked over to his bed and shook her head in slight exasperation – he always did this when he had to take his medicines.

Bauji, you need to stop this drama right now, it’s not going to fool me”, she said in a knowing voice. He didn’t respond. She walked forward and lightly shook him. When he didn’t respond then either, a flicker of panic ran through her body. She shook him harder, and he simply turned and fell on his back. Realization crashed over her like a strong wave and she reacted instinctively.

“MADHAV!”, she yelled out of blind fear as she fumbled around to find the cordless phone.

“MADHAV! Come here right now!”, she yelled again.

Finally managing to find the phone, she dialled the nearest hospital’s emergency number with trembling fingers. In the meantime, Madhav and Rajat came rushing in to see what had happened.

“What happened?!”, cried Madhav as he rushed forward to check his father’s pulse.

“I think he’s had a stroke!”, she replied in a quivering voice, while waiting for the emergency line to respond, “C’mon, pick up! this is supposed to be an emergency number!”. Finally, after the phone had rung 10 times, someone picked it up.

“Hello, Fortis Hospital. Emergency. What can I do for you?”, replied a cool female voice.

“Hello? Yes, I need an ambulance immediately at 64, Sector A, Vasant Kunj! My father in law has had a stroke!”

“Please hold mam. Let me check the availability”

“But-”

The call had already been put on hold. She paced around in anger and panic with the phone against her ear. She chanced a glimpse at Rajat who was rooted to his spot, shell shocked. His brain could not comprehend the situation. He was standing at the foot of the bed, staring at his immobile grandfather.

Madhav suddenly got up and said, “Forget it, let’s drive him to the hospital. There’s no point waiting for an ambulance”

At that moment the lady on the phone got back and said, “Mam, I’m sorry, but there are no ambulances available as of now. But there might be one available within half an hour, would you like me to send it?”

“WHAT?! We can’t wait for half an hour!” cried Sunita. In the background, Madhav repeated, “Listen to me Sunita, forget it! Let’s take the car and go!”

“I’m sorry mam, there is nothing we can do here. If you tell me right now, I can make the booking for you or else -”

Madhav snatched the phone from her hands and cut the call, “We’re going. Where are the car keys?”

“Must be in the key basket” replied Sunita as she made to dash out of the room.

“Wait! Help me carry him downstairs first” said Madhav.

With a lot of difficulty, they both carried him downstairs and placed him on his wheelchair. Sunita then went to check for the car keys in the key basket. They weren’t there.

“The keys aren’t here!”

“What? But I kept them there when I walked in..where could they have gone?” replied Madhav

“I don’t know..Rajat, did you pick up Dad’s car keys?”

Rajat meekly shook his head and said, “No mumma, I haven’t seen them”. Perhaps he realized the gravity of the situation, because for once he wasn’t letting his inquisitive nature get the better of him.

“Damn it!” cursed Sunita. Tears had now begun to form in her eyes as she paced around helplessly. Madhav went into a frenzy as he looked for the keys in the room, wrecking everything in his path. He pulled out drawers, threw out papers, smashed vases in a hurry and even pricked himself on the edge of a table.  Rajat, too, had begun to weep. It’s uncommon for children to see their parents crying; they consider parents to be infallible. Perhaps the stench of desperation and helplessness had affected him too.

“Maybe we should just ask Chopra ji to take us!” said Sunita. Mr. Chopra was their friendly neighbour who lived right next to him. He had always been cordial with them.

“Okay, yes, let’s do that” replied Madhav when his search came up empty.

 

***

Thankfully for them, Mr. Chopra agreed immediately and pulled out his car. The ride to the hospital was in agony. Every moment wasted was a moment closer to death, and Sunita didn’t think she could deal with another upheaval so soon. Tears were flowing down her face endlessly, and she wasn’t even aware of Madhav’s arm around herWhen they reached the hospital, they yelled until someone came rushing and carried Vikramlal to the nearest ICU. Everything after that was a blur. The on-call doctor was paged, who came running in. They spent an hour trying to revive him – everything from CPR to Defibrillation to atropine injections, but nothing worked. He was declared brought dead.

The days soon after were a series of compulsory rituals. The official cause of death, as declared by the doctors was Hypoxia. The fact that he had diabetes acted as a catalyst. He had been having problems in breathing moments before his cardiac arrest. He could have been saved had they been a few minutes early. Sunita felt as though she was reliving the old phase again, except that this time the pain was much worse. The same old people, the same old condolences, the same old superficial crying. All she wanted was some solace to deal with her grief, not people swarming around her, least of all those who did not really care at all.

They didn’t really leave the house for 4 days except for the funeral. Mr. Chopra drove them. In fact, he had really stepped up to help them, because they weren’t really in any state to do any marketing. The kriyakaram was done. The ashes had been safely kept in a kalash in the mandir. A big photo had been mounted on the wall, with a flowery garland adorning it. Some relatives were still buzzing around the house, talking about Vikramlal’s glorious life. Some of his friends were still trying to console Madhav, explaining to him that he was now the man of the house in every sense.

In order to feel a sense of normalcy, Sunita excused herself from the sitting room and went into her room. She wanted to do something that was a part of her routine, she wanted to feel distracted. So she gathered all the dirty clothes from the room and carried them to the bathroom. She was going to wash them until fatigue overpowered her grief. But as she was about to wash Madhav’s jeans, a pair of keys fell out of his right pocket. She picked them up and almost dropped them again out of shock. They were their car keys. He was wearing the same jeans the day Vikramlal died. Her brain seemed to have gone numb, she didn’t know what to think.

At that very moment, Madhav knocked on the door and said, “Sunita? Please come downstairs! Everyone is asking for you”

And she just sat there, staring at the door for an eternity.

 

Emotional Self-Defense: Tougher than it sounds

We all like to think that we’re strong, that we’re not susceptible to the mind tricks, manipulation and blackmail that are so often employed by prospective sellers, relatives and love interests around us. But the truth is that not even the best of us are completely immune to an emotional attack.

What exactly is an emotional breach? Firstly, we all strive to live with an emotional equilibrium – a state where we want, but not need another person for emotional stability. A state where our decisions and opinions are relatively objective and unbiased, where our selves are in an ideal divide of a 1:1 ratio between social acceptance and individuality. An emotional breach happens, no matter how small, when our opinions and decisions are influenced by someone else’s opinions and decisions, when we start to seek validation for our own actions from someone else, and when our emotional stability starts to depend on someone else.

In today’s world of unlimited options, everyone is trying to sell you something. It may be something as mundane as Colgate toothpaste, to something as complex as emotional security. How does someone sell you something? Not through complex marketing models and intricate advertising plans. That comes later. They simply appeal to the very basic demands of human nature. Take the case of Colgate toothpaste. The very basic demand? The need for dental hygiene. Why? Because the consequences are dire otherwise (as depicted through the rotting teeth animations throughout). Next step – Why colgate? This is where Robert Cialdani’s principles of “Social proof” and “Authority” come in. Social proof says that if something is being pursued by a large number of people, it gains validation (notice the “Bhaarat ki 90% janta ne maana Colgate ka kamaal!”) and Authority says (I’m deriving) that if someone in a position of perceived authority claims something, it must be true (“Bharat ke top dentists ke dwara verified!“)

Selling emotional security offers a far greater challenge. Maslow placed it right in the middle of his pyramid because it’s what we need right after our instinctive needs are satisfied. Our parents and immediate family offer us that security until a certain point of time. We are brought up to believe that parents are going to be a permanent part of our lives until they die, hence it is unfathomable for us to perceive and comprehend the concept of “branching out”. For us, parents and family symbolize safety, security and comfort. But that, in our social context, is an ideal situation. “Perfect parenting” is an utopian concept. There is always some form of dysfunction that exists in every family. It can be abuse (sexual, physical, emotional), addiction, dishonesty, financial co-dependency and unavailability. This dysfunction affects kids in more ways than we can see. What is also does, is create a void, which demands for someone else to come and fill it.

This is where a prospective partner comes in, promises to fill that void and offers the emotional security that was absent previously. When you form a bond with someone not because you want it, but because you need it, it becomes a ‘toxic relationship’. This dependency can then be manipulated by the other person to get you to do what he wants, or lead to abuse in all it’s forms. This is probably what the typical ‘playboys’ or ‘Casanovas’ pry upon – a woman’s need to feel ‘loved’ and ‘special’. They use principles like “liking”, “scarcity”, “reciprocity” and “commitment” to manipulate. At the outset is the ‘charm’ factor which acts as the ice breaker. It attracts you to him, holds your attention. He seems to be smart, handsome and respectful. At first you’re only attracted, but as you let him ease his way into your life, you also provide him the power to affect your decisions. Once you’re hooked, he knows you will do anything to keep him in your life. Because that’s how he’s manipulated your need. That’s how he’s customized his behaviour to fit the vacuum perfectly.

“Scarcity”, as a principle, is used by businessmen to create a sense of urgency among their buyers to buy their product. They send out a message of the product not being available in higher quantities or for too long, which makes the buy invest in it regardless of it’s utility at that time. It is also used by people in an unfair power equation to wield control over the other person. Say, a very popular girl, loved and sought by a lot of guys, gets together with an average looking boy, who isn’t too popular. She can use the “I chose you, even though I could have chosen so many other better looking boys over you. I can just leave right now” card with him to get her way. This makes him feel as though she is a prize he ought to cherish more than anything, or else he will lose her. She’s not ‘available’ for him to be with her when he wants.

This situation can also be viewed from the perspective of the “reciprocity” principle. When a person manipulates you by making you feel like you ‘owe’ them something, it’s known as reciprocity. People in toxic relationships often fall victim to this tactic. In the above mentioned case, the girl is also making the boy feel as though he ‘owes’ her something because she sacrificed other prospective choices for him. This is also most commonly seen in our society in general, especially during weddings. If someone gifts you something expensive at a wedding, you automatically feel ‘indebted’ to return the favour the moment you get a chance.

‘Money’ is a major parameter used to judge others in our society, especially North India. It plays a major role in defining someone’s opinion of you, in deciding the power equation between two people and consequently their behaviours. If someone lends you a large amount of money, you automatically become indebted to that person, not just financially, but in every way possible. The word ‘No’ is pushed out of the relationship. The dowry system is a prominent example of reciprocity. Ours being a patriarchal society, getting the daughter married is much more important than getting the son married. Hence the girl’s family feels indebted to the boy’s family for being so generous to them. The dowry system worked for as long as it did simply because of the unbalanced social (and power) equation. Not to mention that it still does not flourish, but under other names like “gifts” and “help”.

This is how emotional breaches happen. Every single time a decision you take is even slightly influenced, you have lost your emotional equilibrium. The key step to defending yourself against such breaches, is recognizing the manipulation from the word go. If someone is constantly harping on about how much he does for you, he is manipulating you. The technique of PROI (Prediction, recognition, observation and Intuition) is extremely helpful in strengthening emotional self-defence. Your insight and judgement needs to be strong enough for you to predict X’s behaviour, recognize the harmful and manipulative elements, observe the behavioural patterns and pay attention to your instincts. One of the major mistakes people make while either buying a product or buying someone’s offer of ‘love’ is ignore instincts. If you feel, in your gut, that something isn’t right – it probably isn’t.

At the end, I would like to reiterate that everyone is trying to sell you something. It’s up to you to recognize whether you want it or not.

Chasing Life – Part 2

He asked me as if he knew what must have conspired between the two of us. He knew, I thought. There was no point in lying.

“Well, she uh..told me that her family had conspired to put her here. To get a share in her father’s property. She told me she didn’t really belong here”

He was quiet for a while. Then he said, “Dr. Neeti, All I can tell you is to be careful of what you believe of what comes out of these patients’ mouths. They’re smarter than you think”

I wondered for a moment if he was implicitly telling me that Smita was lying. Did he know more than he was letting on?

“Sir, you must have read her file. Is she lying to me?” I asked before I could stop myself.

He contemplated my question for a while before answering, “I can’t share the details unless the family approves. But I can tell you this – the events are true, per se. But what she said about her family’s intentions and her own..well, those are as clear to me as they are to you”

I felt even more confused than before. I wanted more details, and it seemed as though he understood my longing to know more, because he said, “I can understand how baffling this might be for you. But this is how it is. Intentions are the toughest to understand. Take it from someone who has been there, done that”

My brain was in overdrive and I heard his advice only distantly. I nodded vaguely and eventually said, “I want to have a look at her file. Let me know when her family approves”

He nodded and said, “I’ll let you know as soon as possible”

With that, I took his leave and walked out of his office. I have 6 more days to go, I thought, maybe I’ll be able to figure it out by then.

There was no answer from her family over the next two days, but I still spent a lot of time with her and other patients in the wing. Smita, as it soon transpired, was a smart girl who loved reading literature and watching movies. She was in her second year of B.Com when she dropped out and decided to pursue her passion for writing full time. She showed a lot of her stories and articles that she had worked on after being admitted. I had to admit, she was quite talented. It was obvious that she was extremely passionate about what she did, because she went on talking about it for hours.

I met a few others patients who had rooms close by. Almost all of them parroted the belief that they didn’t belong here. Each one had a story to tell. But none of them convinced me as strongly as Smita had. It was not about what they said, in fact, 2 days later Smita’s story was still the most implausible one that I had heard; it was the vibe of hopelessness and misery that they carried around themselves that gave them away. Their eyes had the sort of blank look of being lost in limbo – of not knowing which path they would take if they were to start walking again. They smiled, but it was as mechanical as their routines.

Their routine included a daily hobby class where they were allowed to pursue a hobby of their choice from the list of given activities. It included chess, carom, painting, reading and a few outdoor sports like basketball and badminton. Everything happened under supervision. Everyone was thoroughly checked for any object that they might use to harm themselves at both the entry and exit. Reading, ofcourse, was Smita’s hobby of choice. But she soon became bored because there were more books about the economic development of India and biographies of politicians than literature. Another one of her favourite hobbies, she said, was playing cards.

“Each year at Diwali, I loved playing cards with Papa”, she said with a smile, “We invited a few good friends over and played all night”

I smiled back and said, “My family does that too. Except I’ve never played any card game before”

“Are you serious?” she said with a chuckle, “You haven’t played either Rummy, 3-2-5 or bluff ever?”

“I think I played bluff once, a few years ago. But I was pretty bad at it”

“Oh in that case I would love to play with you, it would give my ego a boost!” she said and we both started laughing.

“So they don’t have cards here?” I asked when the laughter had died down.

“No. I wish they did though, I would literally play all day!”

“With whom? Are there other people here who like to play?”

“I don’t know, but I’m sure there are”

At this point my phone buzzed and I excused myself to see what it was. It was Dr. Mohan’s message – ‘Please come to my office. Smita’s bua is here’

I wondered why she wanted to meet me. I had only requested to see her file, not meet her family personally.

“Hey Smita, I have to go to Dr. Mohan’s office. He says it’s important”, I said to Smita as I turned to face her.

“Okay, when am I seeing you next?”

“Tomorrow” I said with a smile.

As I walked towards Dr. Mohan’s office, I thought about why I had decided against telling Smita that I was going to meet her Bua. It was an instinctive decision and it had felt right. Maybe I just didn’t want to make it so obvious that I was on her side. Maybe because I had doubts about it myself.

I entered his office and found a lady dressed in a simple Salwaar Kameez sitting in a chair. She seemed to be in her mid-40’s and looked very collected. She smiled as she saw me and stuck out her hand, “Hello, you must be Ms. Neeti, the intern Dr. Mohan was telling me about”

I shook her hand and said, “Yes. Nice to meet you”

“I’m Archana, Smita’s bua”

I had not forgotten about the allegations that Smita had laid down against her family. I kept reminding myself to be objective and not let my friendship with her cloud my judgement, but try as I might, my preconceived notions kept poking me again and again as I sat down with her.

“So Dr. Mohan tells me you want to see her file?” she asked.

“Yes, she has told me a few things that I would like to corroborate”

“I have had a word about this with Dr. Mohan, and unfortunately, I can’t let you have a look at her file”, she said gently.

That came as a blow. I wasn’t expecting this. In fact, I had never doubted the outcome of my request and was looking forward to finally getting a look at that file. She seemed to surmise as much from my look of disbelief and said, “I’m sorry, but this is a very sensitive matter for us and we only let very few people in on it. But I can answer all your questions. That’s why I’m here”

Which would mean that everything will be told from your point of view, I thought as I looked at her. Why would she not let me at least have a look at it? Even as the question formed in my mind, I began to doubt her intentions. My subconscious started telling me, once again, that Smita was right. There was something fishy here. I looked into her face, which was lined with age and sculpted by experience. To someone who was not privy to Smita’s story, Archana’s explanation might have been good enough. But I could not ignore all these signs that only pointed towards one thing.

I finally opened my mouth and said, “I only wanted to see it for academic purposes”

“I understand, but even then, I cannot allow this. I’m sorry”

I was silent for another few moments and then said, “She told me that her father had left her a lot of property, and the only reason she is here is because you put her here” I decided it was best to be blunt right now.

She sighed and said, “You believe her?”

I considered the question for a moment, “So far, yes”

“It is true that her father left her a lot of property. But none of us are vying for it. We might be a joint family, but we have never eyed my brother’s property in that way. The only reason Smita is here is because of her own suicidal tendencies”, she replied slowly.

“You make it sound like she’s attempted suicide plenty of times, but there was only this time that she had ingested pills, mistaking them for headache ones-”

Archana cut me off at that point and said, “Which is not true. She knew what she was taking. They were benzodiazepines for her depression. She had it all planned”

I shook my head, “Even if what you’re saying is true, how is one attempt enough to put someone in a suicidal wing for a month? Wouldn’t outpatient counselling have been enough?”

“Would you rather we wait for her to have 10 attempts under her belt before admitting her?” she asked in a pained voice.

I didn’t know what to say. It was Archana’s word against Smita’s. The file must have had everything (or lack thereof) – history of Smita’s alleged depression, attempted suicide and every other evidence of mental illness, but Archana wouldn’t let me see it. I was beginning to feel extremely frustrated at this point. It was like being lost in the middle of a maze without the support of a compass.

Eventually, I simply nodded and said, “I didn’t mean to intrude. I’m sorry if you felt that way”

“That’s alright. I can understand why you must be curious” she replied.

At that point I took my leave and left. Instead of making anything clear, this conversation had only made things murkier for me. If anything, I had begun to trust my gut about Smita even more. Archana’s outright refusal to let me have a look at her file was odd for sure. It seemed as though Dr. Mohan believed her as well. He didn’t utter a single word during our conversation. On my way out, I waved at Smita in farewell. She smiled at me and waved back. I’m right, I thought to myself.

Next day (which was also my last day), I bought a new pack of playing cards for Smita on my way to the institute. I remembered how happy she had looked at the prospect of playing with a pathetic player like me, and I decided that if I couldn’t help her get out, I could make her happy for a while at least. I walked into her room and gave her the box. She squealed with happiness and said, “You read my mind, sister!”

“Well, now you can get your game on and show everyone what a player you are” I replied with a smile.

“Absolutely. I think we should start with bluff first. It’s for noobs like you”

I mock-frowned at her, “Sure. Let’s start”

“Hey we don’t play bluff with two people. We need at least four”

“Okay..so who do you suggest we call?”

“Well, I think Jyoti and Nandu might be interested. They seemed happier than everyone else, at least”

“Okay, you go fetch them. I’ll wait here”

“I can’t. Their rooms are on the first floor and I can’t go wandering off alone to any floor that I want. It’s against the rules.”

“I see. Okay, no problem. Tell me their room numbers, I’ll go and call them”

She smiled, “Great. Go to room 204 for Jyoti and 201 for Nandu”

“Right. Be back in a minute”, I said as I got up and walked out.

I took the stairs and reached Room 204. It was open. A nurse was ticking off points off a list and a girl who I presumed to be Jyoti was sitting on the bed.

I cleared my throat and said, “Jyoti?”

She looked up and replied, “Yes?”

“Hi, I’m Dr. Neeti. Do you know Smita?”

“Oh yes, I talk to her sometimes. She’s a nice girl”

“Yeah. I’m a visiting intern for this week. I’ve been interacting with Smita for 6 days and she tells me you might be interested in playing cards with her”

Suddenly, the nurse looked up and said in alarm, “What cards?”

“Well I bought her a new pack of cards today. She said she wanted to play bluff but it needs at least four people so I…”, suddenly my eyes slid out of focus as my brain put two and two together. The nurse was already rushing past me when reality struck me hard and I turned on my heels and followed her lead.

We thundered down the stairs, scaring a few nurses and patients lumbering around their floor. We skidded to a halt in front of Smita’s room. The sight of blood greeted me as everything around me faded into a blur. I was vaguely aware of two more nurses and Dr. Mohan rushing into the room to tie a cloth around her bleeding wrist. All I could see was her white face and immobile body. The card that she had used to slash her wrist was lying menacingly next to her.

Someone was yelling, “Code red!” repeatedly. I felt someone pulling me back as they dragged a stretcher inside the room. As they carried Smita out of the room, I heard her feebly mutter her last word, “Thank you”

And I was left standing with the burden of that word for an eternity.

_______________________________________________________

So here it is. I decided to conclude it in 2 parts instead of stretching it on further. I hope you liked it! Feedback will be appreciated.

Chasing life – Short story I Part 1

As a psychology student, some themes have always fascinated me. Suicide happens to be one of them. What fascinates me more than the deed itself is that how difficult it is to understand how someone is feeling internally by his/her outward behavior. Sometimes it’s almost as if our inner and outer self are two different personalities.

This is going to be a 3 part story at best, depending on how the second part shapes up. Please leave feedback, it’s highly valued.
Part 1

The campus was very impressive. In a society full of stigmas and notions about mental disorders, this institution was a sign of rebellion and belief. Most people would say that it was unwise for someone to invest so much money in a place that would cure diseases that half the country didn’t even believe existed. There were so many more pressing problems – cancer, for one. Malaria, AIDS, TB and endless other deadly diseases. Then there was the lack of emergency units, even in the metropolitan cities. But despite this, someone had decided that Major depressive disorder was just as alarming a problem as suicide itself.

It had a different wing for every major disorder (or umbrella of disorders) – Depression, Panic and anxiety, Personality disorders, Mood disorders and Psychotic and dissociative disorders. Then there was a suicide and addiction wing. Probably more crowded that every other wing put together. The addiction wing was also the only one that was partly funded by the government, so it wasn’t as expensive as everything else.

I was one of the interns who was offered the opportunity to come here every day for a week and interact with patients from a wing of my choice. We were a group of 8 interns. Our hospital felt that our work and insight was a little better than the others. So here we were.

Although I had planned on selecting the Psychotic dissociative disorders wing, mainly because I had a lot of interest in Dissociative Identity Disorder, I decided on going for the suicide wing at the last moment. I don’t know why I did that, I had been planning on interacting with a DID patient ever since I had been told I’d be coming here. Maybe it was because I saw an extremely cheerful patient as soon as I entered and wondered whether she was being discharged, only to later see her being escorted into the suicide wing by two nurses. I had always imagined suicidal people to be depressed, dismal and miserable. Like they couldn’t wait for a chance to step over the line and end it. It seems like no one, not even the students of psychology, are free from the clutches of stereotyping.

As I walked into the wing, I saw all sorts of people going about their daily routine. Some were there truly to get rid of their suicidal tendencies and get better. Usually suicidal tendencies stem from somewhere, mostly from depression but there can be other causes too. Not everyone who commits suicide (or attempts it) is depressed. Some with bipolar disorder may attempt suicide during one of their manic stages believing it to be an act of extreme grandeur. Thanks to ancient literature, suicide has a certain amount of heroic romanticism attached to it. Some others may just be in a terrible mess and can’t find the resources to cope with it. Some may just have attempted it in the heat of the moment. However, once the root cause presents itself, most of these patients are reassigned to the respective wings or prescribed outpatient counselling.

Some patients were also admitted by their families, who had been witness to so many false alarms that they simply could not leave it to fate anymore. Some of those families were there, and their worried faces had only one thing to say – “We don’t know what to do anymore”.

Those patients didn’t want to be here. They just wanted out, and wanted to exit this life. They would probably be the most ardent advocates of euthanasia that you would ever come across. But having been admitted without any choice, they did everything they could to either 1) commit suicide within these walls or 2) find a way to escape. The second part included behaving either too well or too bad. The doctors however, were far too experienced to let their act fool them.

As I walked further on, I saw that girl once again. She was sitting in her room reading her book. On the outset, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with her. She seemed so normal, for the lack of a better word. Her room, luckily, was right in front of the central garden, so she was free to go out for a walk anytime she wanted. Her room looked pretty organized as well, at least, her side of the room did. I really wanted to talk to her, to know how she had landed up here. But first I needed to go meet the wing head, Dr. Mohan Raathi.

He was a renowned psychologist in the city. I had heard from a lot of people that he his method of therapy wasn’t just limited to deep breathing and yoga, but an actual in depth analysis of each patient’s problems and history. I walked into his office to find him scribbling something in a notebook. I knocked lightly at his office door. He looked up and nodded.

“Ah yes, you’re an intern from the hospital aren’t you? Yes, the dean told me some of you would be coming”

I smiled and nodded, “Yes, I’m Neeti. I would like to interact with some of your patients here. Get some practical experience..a reality check..”

He smiled back, “If only our education system could look beyond the books, right?”

“Right”

“You just need to fill out this form, my assistant will manage the rest. Then you can go ahead and meet the patients”

“Alright, sure”

After finishing up the form, I thanked him and exited his office. At once, I walked back to that girl’s room and knocked. She looked up at me and to my surprise, smiled.

“Yes?”

“Hi, I’m Neeti. I’m a psychology intern. I’m here to interact with you, understand your story”

She kept smiling at me and said, “Okay. But there is nothing to understand, really. I don’t belong here. I’m not suicidal at all”

That’s what I had thought too, the first time I saw her. She had looked reasonably happy and positive – definitely not the type of person who was suicidal. But then, how did she end up here?

She seemed to read my mind, and said, “I have been put here by my family. As filmy as it may sound, but the truth is that my dad died and left me all his property. My mother left us when I was a kid. I don’t know where she is now. My relatives were expecting something too, but he didn’t leave a dime to their name. The only way they can get all the property to themselves is by proving my insanity. Well, that didn’t happen as all the psychiatrists gave a positive report on all accounts. So their last option was to prove me suicidal. I’m just waiting for the compulsory 30 days to end before this drama stops and I can go back home”

She ended her story there and there was silence. It did sound extremely filmy, and normally I would have disregarded it as just another attempt to fool the authorities to let her out, but I simply couldn’t ignore my gut that said that this one was actually true. Some part of me kept telling me she didn’t belong here. Maybe it was the same instinct that had always made me stand out.

I finally decided to end the silence, “So..you’re saying you’ve never attempted suicide in your life?”

No, I haven’t”

“But you need to present some proof to the authorities before they can admit you. They can’t just admit you on someone’s word”

“Well.., this one day I was at home and everyone was out. I was having a terrible headache. It was almost blinding. I went to my bua’s room and rummaged around for some OTC pills. I found a container that said ‘For headache’ and took 2 pills. But those were not headache pills. She used to keep her anti-psychotic medication in that container. Apparently it was very strong. Although it wasn’t lethal enough to harm me in any way, it gave them an excuse to admit me here”

I stared at her, looking for any tells. But there weren’t any. She stared resolutely back at me, almost like daring me to find any sign that she was lying. I didn’t know what to think. I had walked in here expecting to hear an extra-ordinary tale of some serious disorder like Bipolar or borderline, and had come across a possibly healthy person who her family had conspired against.

“When were you admitted in this wing?”, I asked

“It’s been 10 days. I haven’t seen a more depressing place in my life. I wish I could help these people in some way”

At this point I suddenly realized that I had not even asked her name. I was so engrossed in figuring out the puzzle that I didn’t even realize that she wasn’t an experiment. I mentally frowned at myself and immediately said, “Sorry, I didn’t even ask what your name was..”

She gave a bittersweet smile and said, “It’s okay. I’m Smita”

“It’s nice to meet you, Smita. I can’t say if I believe you completely, but I don’t think you’re lying either”

She nodded, “It’s nice to hear that. I haven’t heard that a lot”

“Well, I should get going. But I’ll come meet you again tomorrow, if that’s okay with you”

“Sure. I’m sick of people looking at me like I’m some sort of a weakling. It would be nice to have a normal conversation for once”

I smiled at her, “I know what that feels like. I’ve had people look at me like a retard half my life”

She laughed lightly as I got up. I said bye to her and exited her room. I don’t understand. Her story sounds far fetched but it didn’t seem like she was lying at all. There was so much plight in her voice. With these thoughts swirling in my head, I walked back towards Dr. Mohan’s office. I had to see her file. I knocked for the second time at his door. He looked up and beckoned me in.

“Doctor, I’ve just visited a patient named Smita. Would it be possible for you to show me her file?”

He sighed, “I’ll have to ask her family. If they’re okay with it, I’ll give it to you. But..” he paused, “Dr. Neeti, what has she been telling you?”

Reasons why Carrie Mathison kicks ass!

You all know who Carrie Mathison is right? The awesomesauce lead character of Homeland? If you don’t, then please go inject yourself with some world awareness while I go watch another episode.

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1) She’s fearless. She doesn’t give a rat’s fart about the magnitude of the problem that stands in the way of her path. She ploughs on with unequivocal relentlessness and doesn’t let a 10 ton bulldozer stop her even in it’s full throttle.

2) She’s a believer. Carrie is someone who acts on instinct, and boy, does she have some instinct. She’s almost always right about things and sticks to her beliefs like a plague. With a middle finger perpetually stationed in front of power houses like David Estes and Senator Lockhart, she goes and does what she wants with conviction.

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3) She’s fiercely loyal. Her unwavering trust in Brody at the end of Season 2, despite damning evidence against him, her faith in Saul in season 3, when she willingly put herself through hell on his orders and her unflinching trust in her source (whom she hadn’t met in 5 years) in Beirut, proves how fiercely loyal she is to people she loves and trusts. When Carrie Mathison says she is with you, she is with you until the very end.

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4) Her work is her religion, literally. Carrie Mathison, in her own words, is “always working”. She take her work seriously, and I doubt would let a trivial thing such as a death threat stand in the way of it. Despite being humiliated and ousted by the CIA, she couldn’t resist the urge to get back at what what she does best – being a spy. Some people are just born to be spies.

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5)  She doesn’t take bullshit from anyone. Carrie is someone who hates being shoved aside after being fed with spoonfuls of bullshit. She doesn’t let anyone treat her like a doormat and gives it back (in double) to whoever tries to mess her around. There might be consequences, but this one has never given a damn.

 

 

6) Despite all of that, she’s still human. Believe it or not, despite being kickass, she’s still very much human and craves love and support just as much as any of us. In fact due to her Bipolar condition, her emotions are probably much more intense than others. She is sadly aware of how lonely she is and could be for the rest of her life.

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7) She’s crazy! I know, bipolar is not a glorious condition and can make life hard for anyone going through it. But Carrie’s crazy levels of crazy are both frightening and impressive. Her reckless abandon during her manic stages gives me goosebumps.

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8) Her relationship with Saul. To me, it’s one of the best aspects of the show. Their relationship is what holds it together. I love the premise of them – no matter what happens, they’ll stand by each other. They have each other’s backs.

 

 

Well, if you haven’t already realized, I’m a big Homeland fangirl. I think the show is awesome, despite the slightly blotched up season 3. I think it’s one of the most intense TV shows out there, and one of the most addictive ones too. I have not loved a female lead character as much as Carrie Mathison in a very long time. Can’t wait for season 4 to see her kick some more ass.

All gifs are from here and here.

 

Eating disorders as a response to Rape/Abuse

We all have our set of defense mechanisms that we use to cope with our problems. Some of these defense mechanisms are built consciously, piece by piece. Others are put up by the sub conscience. In the face of a traumatic event, for instance a metro/train accident, a person consciously might make extreme behavioral changes to avoid the triggers that set off memories of the accident. He/she might avoid taking the train altogether and opt for a longer, more tedious route instead, might avoid people who were directly or indirectly associated with the incident, might not even travel for a very long time. These are also known as ‘coping strategies’.

Sub conscience defense mechanisms come into play without the individual realizing it. In the above mentioned scenario, one of the first mechanisms to get activated would be denial. Denial enables to the person to reject the entire incident. One is able to convince himself that it couldn’t have happened to him. The aftermath and the avalanche of emotional upheaval  becomes much easier to deal with. Denial is a fairly common defense mechanism that helps people to deal with small issues like failing in class to big ones like alcoholism/drug abuse. Escapism may/can be considered a consequence of denial. Other mechanisms that might get activated at a later stage are repression, dissociation, compartmentalization etc.

But recently, I came across someone who developed an eating disorder as a response to the abuse she had experienced as a child. She developed anorexia in response to the hatred that she felt towards her own body as a consequence of rape/abuse. It left me wondering how the emotions one goes through during abuse, manifest themselves in so many different ways at a later stage. She seemed to be focusing all her energies on getting rid of anorexia, because it was interfering with her day to day life, but I realized that the root was the abuse. If she could resolve the repressed feelings related to her abuse, she could resolve her anorexia.

While this is a really disturbing example of how rape and physical abuse can wreck an individual’s life, it’s also fascinating to know the different ways in which our mind protects us from psychological damage. Because she could not channelize her anger towards her abuser, she redirected it towards herself, blaming herself for letting something heinous happen to her. In case of rape and abuse, it’s not just the body of the victim that is abused, far greater damage is inflicted upon the mind. An individual’s self-esteem,  dignity and most importantly the sense of ownership is ripped apart brutally. Every inch of your personal space, that no one but you has a claim upon, is accessed and abused. An incident like this, is bound to leave the victim feeling less than human. In the example mentioned, the victim must have felt like she was stuck in a foreign body. After having that personal claim snatched away from her, she could not love it the way she loved it before.

I always thought of anorexia as a developmental response to body image and social pressure. After having watched endless movies portraying dancers and gymnasts adopting anorexia as a ‘lifestyle’, I had pretty much come to the conclusion that only a niche category of people could develop anorexia. It’s true that people who are required to be thin are probably more prone to it, but it’s not exclusive to them. Believe it or not, overweight people can be anorexic or bulimic too. The struggle is very real.

For more information: http://www.aftersilence.org/eating-disorders.php

Why some people need to make others feel guilty to feel better themselves

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(That’s my work of art^) Ugly. I know.

We all have different ways of and responses to handling stress. Some of us shout, scream and throw tantrums, others like to recede quietly into their shell and cut themselves off everyone, some start hyperventilating, some blame themselves and/or others. There are different defense mechanisms all of us adopt to adapt to stressful situations (You may recall Frued’s unconscious defense mechanisms at this point) The key aspect of these defense mechanisms is that they’re unconscious reactions to stress and anxiety. An individual does not plan these reactions. They occur based on the individual’s past experiences, environment and upbringing.

One of the personality types that I find highly interesting is the one that I like to call the ‘guilty me-guilty you’ personality type. This is someone who needs to shoulder responsibility in order to feel worthwhile or validated and feels guilty about not doing or contributing anything. But when things get overwhelming and extremely stressful, tends to make someone else feel guilty for not doing as much as he/she is. Their response to stress is transferring the guilt, because they can justify blaming someone else for the stress by telling themselves that they shoulder too much responsibility. It makes them feel both a victim and superior to everyone else. “What is my life about?”, “Why me?”, “My whole life is about handling responsibility. I have no life” and “He/She doesn’t do as much as I do. They are selfish and greedy. I’m the one getting ground in the machine here” It escalates pretty quickly. The fact that the individual had chosen to take up responsibility themselves is lost somewhere in the process of constructing a defense for the ego.

In family structures, this might happen with the breadwinner. It can be the father, mother or their children who work. Families who manage their finances on a monthly basis and pretty much anticipate a heart attack on the 1st of every month are sure to have a member who behaves this way.

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The fact that they have devoted their lives to taking care of their families validates all sorts of behaviors for them. This is most commonly seen in patriarchal Indian families where the father justifies his absence from household matters and disinterest in his children’s lives by dangling the paycheck in front of his wife’s eyes, and that if he were to become more homely they would lose all the comforts that his money has bought. His typical reaction to stress would be to make his wife feel guilty for watching a television serial or taking a nap in the afternoon because after all he cannot afford those luxuries. This sort of emotional abuse can cause a lot of harm, which the abuser may not realize.

This guilt tripping can cause a major dent in the self-esteem of the abused (in this case the wife) They constantly keep trying to please the abuser in order to assuage their own guilt. They try to make their abuser happy by attempting to help out wherever they can or making themselves better in any which way. They ignore their own lives and focus only on making their abuser’s better. They are led to believe that somehow, they can make things better. Their emotional state depends on the emotional state of the abuser. If the abuser is happy, they are happy. This applies to all emotions. But the truth is they cannot help, no one can. This is a never ending road that leads to nowhere except a deeper pool of guilt.

What does one lose in this journey? Self esteem, self worth, confidence and courage.

On the other hand, if the husband were to suddenly find himself devoid of any responsibility, he may start feeling guilty himself for not doing anything, and start looking for excessive responsibility. Basically, people like him thrive on stress and burden. They need it to survive and feel worthwhile, but at the same time project their guilt upon others when things get out of hand. It’s a never ending cycle that is harmful towards all the people involved. An interesting by-product of this personality type is that such people feel they are entitled to whatever they wish to have. Perhaps this response stems from the belief that “I work my ass off and take care of so many people. I go through so much stress everyday. How could I be wrong for demanding this?” In the example mentioned above, the husband might feel that he is entitled to his wife’s attention and time even when she’s busy, because he’s the “important” one in the equation, or that he is entitled to enforce his opinion on his children because he has “experienced so much more”.

Maybe the root cause of this behavior is to feel a sense of entitlement or a sense of worthiness, or maybe both – the end result is destructive for everyone involved. It’s not being pleasant on either side of equation and causes distress and dysfunction at every level.

I personally believe that such people need appropriate therapy so that they and their family members can lead a healthier life. Or just shove a couple of SSRIs or Benzos down their throat to make life even simpler. Works for me.

Hog’s head: Siphoning off thoughts to make my head a bit emptier – I

I observe a lot, which ensures that my brain is always overpopulated with thoughts. Most of these thoughts are disconnected and transient – they evaporate or flicker away pretty soon. But nevertheless, they exist, even if it is for a fraction of a second. So I decided to make an attempt at constructing a train of cohesive thoughts – organization out of chaos, basically. Over the past few days, owning to the experiences in my life, I have made a few observations about people who can be functional only when they believe that the world is lined up against them, or when they play the victims.

Lets address the first aspect first – people who believe that everyone is against them in a discriminatory and prejudicial way. To them, every situation is unfair, every individual biased. Believing that people hate them or are against them helps them make the difficult situations a little bit easier. For example, a person experiencing this syndrome (Also known as ‘persecutory delusion’) will categorically believe that the only reason he/she was asked to stay back late for work is because the boss harbors a personal grudge against him/her, or if someone else was chosen over them for a job then it was probably because the management is jealous or afraid of their capability or intelligence. Like I said, these delusional beliefs assuage the feelings of hurt or humiliation that arise out of these situations.

The second aspect – the “victim syndrome” is a complex bit of thought process which leads the person to always consider him/herself as the victim in every situation. They like to believe that they were wronged unjustly in situations that they had no control over. Classic example of people suffering from victim syndrome are domestic abuse survivors. While I have a lot of respect for them to have come out of abusive arrangements, I have to say that they are the prime example of a group of people breeding and perpetuating the victim syndrome. Because they were subjected to abuse for such a long time, and because they for a long time they could not do anything about it – they attribute all the problems in their life to this one particular experience. Lack of independence, excessive crying, not shouldering responsibility of their kids or loved ones, emotionally isolating their kids, emotionally and sometimes physically abusing their kids etc are all symptoms of this syndrome. As someone from the Indian subcontinent, I have come across such women far too many times in life.

People who play the victim love getting sympathy from people. They love it when people mollycoddle them and join them in justifying their actions (as a direct result of the injustice suffered by them) They find it hard to digest that there may have been another solution to the same problem that could have yielded better results. They usually consider themselves to be “helpless” and “without any choice” . Another important characteristic of a chronic victim is the tendency to play the ‘blame game’. Whenever something goes wrong, the victim needs someone to be their scapegoat. When they don’t find someone to blame, they turn into victimizers and victimize other people by unloading or venting on them, They channel all their frustration and anger on someone else whose connection to the problem at hand was probably remote. This is because the idea that they could have done something wrong is just too much for them to assess. Blaming or unloading helps them feel better and less guilty about their mistake.

Another trait that I have observed, while it is not widely published, is that people suffering from victim syndrome usually have anger issues and have trouble letting go of things. Their anger is like a silent volcano that erupts when the inner self can no longer contain it. When something wrong happens with the victim, instead of processing it objectively in their minds and rationally attributing guilt, they keep the incident raw and unprocessed in their mind, automatically blaming someone else or their past experiences. They convince themselves to not think about it. But when such problems keeps occurring over and over again, their resentment gets too much too handle and they burst out in violent ways.

They also have trouble forgiving others and letting grudges go. If you come across someone suffering from victim syndrome and ask him/her to recite some of their worst experiences, they will probably be able to give you a long lecture with rich detail.

Finally, if you know someone who struggles with persecutory delusions or victim syndrome – I know that living with them can be extremely difficult and frustrating, but know that they’re your loved ones and need help. Self victimization is learned process and can be unlearned through a systematic process. But it needs patience and time.

But if you still can’t deal with it, just leave them to their ranting and whining and go watch something awesome like The Amazing Spiderman, or any of the Marvel movies really.