First and foremost, I must thank you all for your overwhelming response to my last post – Grandma’s wisdom. For any writer, especially a novice like me, the highest praise possible is for their writing to resonate with the person reading their work. Your comments about your experiences and memories have encouraged me to share more of my own thoughts and experiences. My only request is that more of you start writing in so that the discussion can become more diverse and vibrant. I firmly believe that the more we engage, the better we support each other.
The second thing that I must do today is to issue a clarification. I believe I gave the impression in my last post that there was no one for me to reach out to when I was in my deep, dark funk. That really is very very VERY far from the truth. I actually have the proverbial ‘village’ to support me. I have parents to whom I’m very close, a very supportive sister and brother-in-law who are more like friends and a huge extended family of cousins and aunts and uncles who love me dearly. I have friends who almost always give me a patient hearing even when I’m being an emotional monster, but also don’t hesitate from telling it like it is when needed. I have a dog who loves me unconditionally in spite of my moods and thinks I’m the best person to walk on earth. And finally I have Nikhil, who is the type of partner that everyone deserves. He’ll give you space when you ask for it, even when you are being stupid, but will also swoop in ready to help when you need it. And he doesn’t even say “I told you so”. So the reason for not reaching out was not lack of people but rather that after years of practice I have learnt a few tricks to manage on my own. But that is not to say that when I feel that the situation is getting out of hand – and it sometimes does – I don’t ask for help. I do, I always ask for it and I always get it.
The final thing that I have to address today relates to an email I received from someone after they had read my post. I will let that someone remain anonymous. They asked me a very simple question – what were the coping mechanisms that I had developed to help me get through my funks? As I have said before I’m not a psychologist so my response to this question comes from personal experience. Some of things I’ll tell you are very much common knowledge. In spite of that I’m repeating them because the conscious practice of these techniques has helped me a lot. And if they have worked for me, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t work for you.
Quieten the inner chatter
The first thing I do is to try to quieten the inner chatter which gets heightened whenever I feel anxious or stressed. Inner chatter is nothing more than your thoughts going in all sorts of directions when you are anxious, causing your emotions to go into a downward spiral, making you feel low. A lot of people are able to quieten the chatter through meditation, yoga, exercise, therapy etc. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. So I just drown it out for sometime. I sleep, binge watch Netflix, listen to audio books, do anything to distract myself just to stop myself from endlessly ruminating over things. You will hear people say that you can’t hide from your problems and that you can’t bury your head in the sand like an ostrich. Well I agree with it but only partially. I know that what I’m suggesting is not a long term solution, but I also feel that there is a time to face your demons and a time to sit back and watch. Just like a physical injury cannot heal if you keep scratching it, a troubled mind cannot heal if you do not give it a break from the emotional roller coaster of your uncontrollable thoughts.
My suggestion, therefore, is that you distract yourself from your thoughts for sometime, take time to heal and then face your problems when your mind is less exhausted and overwrought. You are more likely to succeed in fixing your problems this way. And it is not like whatever was causing you stress would not be there after a few days of calm and quiet, so nothing would’ve been lost in the meantime but a lot would’ve been gained.
Exit the pity party
This is a trap that I know better than to fall in but can’t seem to escape. I have a tendency to extrapolate things, make them bigger than they actually are, which means that I take 2 and make it 200. But, with practice, I have learnt to identify when I’m doing that. Let me tell you how. Now when I’m having a bad day or a bad week and a pity party starts in my head about how sad my life is and how it would never change, I forcefully apply my mental brakes. I tell myself that a bad day doesn’t mean I’ll have a bad life or that I have done anything to deserve it. And it definitely doesn’t mean that I am a bad person. The only thing it means is that I’m having a bad day and all I can do is to wait till it gets over. Because that’s what happens, bad times pass and always will. It maybe a cliche but there is possibly not a truer cliche – “This too shall pass”. I hold these words very close to my heart and keep repeating them whenever disturbing (extrapolated!) thoughts come to my mind. I also feel that if I say these words enough number of times, they are likely to come true.
You can do the same. Say the words out loud to yourself whenever you can, leave notes around the house with the words or put them up on a big poster on your wall so that that is your last thought when you sleep and the first one when you wake up. In my case, I’m thinking I need something permanent as a reminder. Maybe, a tattoo?
Sadness is not unique
Where ever I was sitting when I realised this, is my Bodhi Tree. This is the single greatest truth I have learnt in my life – simply that no matter how special or different you maybe, when it comes to sadness, you are just one of many. Your sad story is just one of the many sad stories that are unfolding at the same time in this world. What happens to you and when it happens to you is completely random and different from the person sitting next to you, and yet, they maybe suffering just as much as you are. Maybe they look better or their lives look better because they are better than you at hiding their sadness.
In a similar vein, people whose lives you are envious of are not unique in their happiness. You have your own share of happiness. The only thing is that you are either too busy to see it or you think it is not significant enough to be acknowledged. Which is why, I recommend practicing the Discipline of Gratitude – a term I first read in a book by Hilary Clinton – a practice which is fascinating both in its simplicity and effectiveness. The discipline of gratitude is nothing more than counting your blessings, not just once in a while but every single day or at least as often as you can. It is giving thanks for all the small and big things that you have in your life that make it special. No one can accuse me of being very disciplined, so I won’t say that I give my thanks everyday. But when I go through a low phase, I keep a gratitude journal on my phone. I save it so that I can read it later whenever I need a dose of positivity. This practice may seem like something straight out of a self help book, but believe me, it works like a charm.
There are many, many more tricks up my sleeve which I use when needed, but the three I have mentioned here are the main ones I have. I am sure some of you have developed tricks of your own to deal with difficult times. Do share them with us. Maybe you are onto something that can change all our lives.
Finally, I leave you with a prayer. I am not a believer but this is the only prayer that makes sense to me and always brings me peace so I use it sometimes when I feel low
P.S. In case anyone would like to to read further on the healing power of gratitude, you may refer to these articles in the Harvard Medical School magazine, the Greater Good magazine published by UC Berkeley and the Psychology Today magazine.