Have you been Feeling Low lately? Don’t Ignore.

I am asking this because for some time now, I have not been in a great place myself. Those who know me personally or have been following my blogs would know that I have had a tough two years. A difficult twin pregnancy followed by premature birth, discovery of one twin having special needs and more recently my father’s passing. Before having had time to recover from one shock, I was handed another! Add to that multiple changes at the workplace, and the cocktail becomes lethal, with no safe haven remaining – neither work nor home.

At some level, I think I became used to a constant low feeling, sadness, anxiety, clenched insides and suppressed grief. But more recently, I also started becoming chronically fatigued, irritable, getting sick very often and basically unable to do much. That’s when the alarm bells rang –  I quickly searched signs of depression and was startled to note that I checked almost all the boxes! I finally realised it is high time I acted.

But why am I sharing all this here? For two reasons – 1. By admitting to my situation in writing, I am committing myself to taking action, but more importantly, 2. To reach out to those in a boat similar to mine and urge them to deal with this too.

While I was mulling about writing this blog a few weeks ago, some recent incidents really jolted me. I read the news of a young man, who was denied entry to the UPSC exam because he was 5 minutes late for it. He went back home and hung himself. I cannot begin to even fathom the state of mind he must have been in all those days before this final straw made him take his own life. Was there no one who he could have reached out to, in those moments of loneliness, fear, despair….? What led him to this extreme step? And this was followed by two celebrity suicides – Designer Kate Spade and Chef Anthony Bourdain. These were people who were envied by people like us. What happened? Clearly success is not correlated to happiness. But what is? In today’s times, stress seems a more easily available commodity than happiness. And constant, unrelenting stress can easily give way to depression. In the complex lives we live, how do we then ensure that stress does not take over our lives? Let’s look at some ways to do so:

Understand the enemy: A recent article in The Speaking Tree says that depression can be caused even by a very small trigger – so small that it may go unnoticed. But once it has been triggered the first time, the brain changes, and then in the future it takes smaller and smaller triggers to enter depression, until finally almost none is needed. This understanding is key. To me it means, that while we might not be able to control the triggers – we can and must control our responses. Because that’s what our brain learns. 

Recognise the symptoms: Check if your answer is positive to many of the symptoms below.

  • Feeling sad or low for long periods – lasting weeks or months.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities.
  • Poor concentration, slow thinking
  • Recurring unpleasant thoughts, feelings of guilt, being unworthy
  • Thoughts that you would be better off dead or of harming yourself in some way.
  • Loss of energy, appetite, sleep
  • Exhaustion, fatigue

Get your tests done: Did that sound funny? Actually, it isn’t. Physical and mental health are closely related.  Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can not only affect mental health but may even cause of depression, anxiety disorders and low mood in some people. Vitamin B, D, iron, magnesium etc are vital for good mental health as well. I got my tests done, and not surprisingly ended up deficient on many of these. Hormonal disorders can also be a big cause of depression – especially in women. So please go and get your annual health check done immediately. 

There is nothing to feel ashamed about: Depression is common. One in three people will experience a major depressive episode at some stage in their lives. While most cases of depression are mild, about one person in ten will have a moderate or severe episode. Negative feelings are a part of life. We have all felt low, lonely, sad, depressed, stressed at many points in our life. It is normal and it is not being weak. It sounds perfectly logical – but I am also guilty of undermining my negative emotions – it is hard to admit them to myself, even harder to admit to others. But if you don’t admit to it, you won’t be able to reach out. Negative feelings bottled inside us cause more harm than goodtaking a toll both mentally and physically.

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Reach out to your close ones: I am totally guilty of this one and trying to get better at it. But remember you are loved – there is always someone out there who you can reach out to. (If there is noone else – write to me, I am happy to listen) If you are not able to open up to an individual – open up in other ways. Try to express yourself through writing, music or dance or whatever may appeal to you. Believe me when I say how helpful blog writing has been for me.

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Do things you like, make yourself look good: Go out for a movie or a performance, sit by the sea, dance alone or with someone, eat your favourite food, play Monopoly or Scrabbles – do what you enjoy doing, even if you don’t feel like it right now. Push yourself. Find your stress buster – mine is a book, my husband’s is movies. Make yourself look good. Get a haircut (or a shave), put on some make up, wear your best clothes, change your appearance. I used to do this quite often – wear a bindi or kajal – so that at least the face staring back at me from the mirror looked pleasant! These are small things – but can go a long way in triggering a happy little feeling in your brain. If nothing else – find someone you can help. There is nothing better for our self worth than in being useful to someone else. (kisi rote huye bachche ko hansaya jaye – Nida Fazli/ Jagjit Singh)

Nourish your body: Remember the point above on the link between mental and physical health? A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Eat healthy meals (DO NOT skip any)  and drink a lot of water. Get some sunshine – apart from making you feel happy, sunshine gives you the all important Vitamin D. It is sad but true that most of us urban dwellers are deficient in Vitamin D. Exercise – do whatever works for you – I am thinking yoga – maybe a home instructor.

Nourish your mind – Think Positive: keep away ALL kinds of negative thoughts. Figure out the cause of your sadness/ depression and try to think good things around it. I started to read up all the hopeful stories about special needs children for example. I try to focus on my baby’s little achievements, rather than focusing on his delays. When work related stress gears its ugly head, I try to ward off the insecurities or uncertainties and try to focus on the work at hand. Challenge every negative thought, question it and resolve it. Focus on the happy things around you. when having self doubt, think of your achievements. NOTHING can be so bad it cannot be resolved. A friend of mine discovered she had cancer, soon after delivering her second baby. I can’t imagine many  situations that can be worse than that. What did she do? Succumb to her reality? No. She took it by the horns and fought it. Instead of despairing on why me, she found a gift – The Gift of cancer. Read her blog to see how she dealt so bravely with her situation.

Do not shy away from getting professional help: If you continue to feel depressed and for very long times, do not worry. There is lots of good, professional help available. Please reach out. If you feel you have been having suicidal thoughts, there are many helplines you can call into. Just remember – YOU ARE LOVED and HELP IS NOT FAR. You owe it to yourself to be happy.

Finally I mentioned above that at least 1 out of every three people would have experienced depression – so what about those other 2? I hope to follow up this post with another one on how to help someone who you feel may be in depression. Till then stay happy and keep others happy. And share your thoughts on how you countered depression.

 

The women who shaped me…my personal influencers

One of the most fascinating aspects of being a parent is to see your children shape up. How a baby starts to develop a character of her own as she grows up. As she starts interacting with the world, different facets of her personality start emerging. There is a very interesting interplay of her innate disposition, her upbringing at home and finally the social influences that ultimately shape her into the individual she becomes.

I grew up the same way. One of the stronger influences all through my life has been the women around me. Luckily for me, I was surrounded by strong women, by women of character. As a young girl, I looked up to them and knowingly or unknowingly absorbed their qualities. And the process of learning is still on – I continue to observe and emulate. Today as I navigate a tough world, trying to maintain a healthy work life balance between bringing up three boys, being a wife, running a household and managing a demanding job, these learnings stand me in good stead.

I believe that our foundation stones are laid at least two generations before – how our grandparents or maybe even their parents lived their lives trickles down to the kind of persons we become. I had grandmothers who were ahead of their times. My nani, a woman of grit, published her own magazine called Arsi back in the 50s and 60s. Unfazed by her husband’s untimely death, she took a strong decision to bring up her children on her own, not depending on anyone. My dadi, married to a renowned professor of political science, had a PhD to her credit as well as a number of collections of short stories and novellas. She was also the person who sowed the seeds of a lot of principles I stand by today. Her elder sister was the first girl in her district to give the matric exam. She was also the first woman in her family to take up a job – as a journalist with the weekly “Saptahic Hindustan”. My nani’s sisters – all highly educated, professors, doctors, etc. One of them was the first lady doctor in Rewari, which in the 50s was no better than a village in terms of facilities and worse than a slum with people waiting in long lines for water, garbage piled high. In those conditions, she delivered babies in their homes with lanterns as the only source of light, took women in labour to her clinic on thelas or whatever else was available– the list of stories is endless. Along with her husband, she went on to establish a full fledged hospital in Rewari. Her journey is nothing short of inspirational. These women, my grandmothers teach me to not be afraid, to blaze my own trail, and that once I decide to take a path, I will also know how to navigate the roadblocks.

We all know what a big influence a mother is. Not surprisingly, so was mine. I saw her, I listened to her, I observed her and kept imbibing from her. She emphasized the importance of prioritizing and taking the right decisions. She believes that everything has a time – and acting belatedly is like not acting at all.  She constantly reminded me about the importance of relations and taking everyone along with oneself. I also learnt from her how to survive under pressure and stress.

But more than learning from her lectures (as she likes to call them – and still hasn’t stopped giving them!), I learnt from seeing her in action. She is a textile designer and an entrepreneur. When I was 5 years old, she established The Institute of Design in Jaipur, out of our home. The institute grew and so did her reputation. (our neighbours once got a letter which just said – opposite Institute of Design!! – when I told a friend where I lived, he said excitedly – oh you live in Purnima Varma ki galli – and I dryly responded, yes, since I am her daughter!!). The Institute shaped my personality like nothing else. I learnt all my management lessons there, I learnt relationship management skills, I learnt about handling conflicts, I learnt about event management and much more. I can write a full blog on this, and maybe I will, but let me limit myself here.

It is hard to believe, but even irritating little sisters, can have an influence on you. Mine did. As my husband says, she provides me the foundation on which I stand. Despite being a good three years younger, she sensed my innate weakness – the need to be liked or loved. While that might have left me with a pleasant, open personality, it also left me vulnerable to hurt. I don’t think I realized that till much later, but she did. As I got ready to go to college, she showered me with advice on learning how to say no and how to put myself first. She kind of grew in my shadow – the quiet younger sister and the more bubbly elder sister. However, she has a resilient personality that I envy. Things, people or situations that can tear me apart have only made her stronger. As she likes to say, “things that don’t kill you, only make you stronger.”

Talking of sisters, an older sister is often a role model for little girls. I had one too. Unknown to her, my older cousin was someone I really admired and subconsciously tried to follow. A vibrant personality, winner of extempore debates (that was a huge deal for me), a confident, outgoing person, a lovely smile. When I started shortlisting colleges for graduation, I found that I had kept with me a copy of the LSR prospectus she must have got for herself – and while she didn’t join LSR, I did. I ended up going to the same postgrad college as her. And finally when she married a good friend – I wished fervently for such a friendship based relationship. Ended up following in her footsteps even there!

The lesson on overcoming obstacles through sheer will and grit is best taught by my mother in law. A teacher by profession, she almost single handedly brought up her two sons, since her husband worked away from home. I mean literally single handedly. Her right hand is deformed from birth. But that has not stopped her from doing anything – and unless you see her hand, you will never guess that she does everything with her left hand – and mind you, faster than most people. Drive a car? Make a roti? Peel vegetables? Tie a saree? Carry a baby? Maybe two? She can do all that and more. Her persona exudes I can and no one will ever doubt that. And today, when I sometimes fear for Anvay’s future, I am reminded that all I need to do is keep my will and grit and teach him the same – and good results will surely follow.

Professionally, I have also learnt a lot from two of my past bosses. Both represent a very strong work ethic, amazing attention to detail and exacting expectation of excellence from their team. Multitasking and always being on call, and carrying the team together, are some of the other things I have learnt from them. Both are non – Indians (one British and the other American) but took to India like their own country. My first boss is married to an Indian and they have together established one of the best firms in my sector. And, just a tip here,  when next to her, please do not try speaking in Hindi, assuming she won’t understand – I have seen many make that mistake and the shock on their faces after realizing she is as fluent in hindi as they are!!

The list does not end here. My chachi from Chandigarh, a gold medallist in bio technology, seems to have struck the perfect balance between her work and home life. A mausi, an ex IAS officer has continued to write and publish many books after her retirement – it tells me to make sure to keep at least one passion other than work alive. My bua, an excellent dancer in her younger years, teaches me to continue to spread love – her handwritten cards always reached us before time and her regular phone calls remind me to never forget loved ones. And while continuing as a homemaker, she took up study of dyslexia and published her work on it. Another bua, a cool dude, well into her sixties continues to direct and present her plays with a never say die attitude. My mami, a homemaker, an excellent example of keeping the family together. Thanks to her I know even her side of the family as well as mine. Also, almost a second mother to me in Delhi, she has cooked my favourite dishes, taken care of me while sick. My other mami, an entrepreneur, an outspoken person, never afraid to air her views, encourages me to do the same. And finally my taiji, who maintains an impeccable house, with extreme attention to detail, a teacher who brought history classes alive. Along with my tauji she has supported my family through thick and thin, making sure I remember the importance of relations and value them.

So while today people talk about social influencers, I prefer swearing by my personal influencers – the women who have shaped me.

photocredits: @photosynthesisbyaditi

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