The Days Go Slowly, The Years Fly By – yes, 2019 is already here

A very close friend used to say this. The days go slowly and the years fly by. So true. It is amazing how every single year, as we approach December, we start to wonder how quickly that year passed, exactly like the ones before this one. Even my eight year old seems to have now become mindful of the passage of time – this time he exclaimed how short 2018 seemed to be. It is one of the blessings of very early childhood when we have no sense of time. After that, life just seems to rush by.

A new year is a time to reflect on the past and look forward to the future. To be honest though – I wasn’t really into much reflecting, till a year or so ago. Either it is old age catching up or just that these last few years have been so densely packed with incidents and emotions that reflection comes naturally.

I had welcomed 2018 with a hope. Having had two difficult years, I was hoping 2018 would be better. But if only wishes were horses…. No sooner had we stepped into 2018, I lost my dad. My being succumbed to the depth of its emotions, and even I was taken by surprise at the extent of my grief. However, I am slowly healing, we all are.

This year can perhaps best be described as my painstaking journey from the depths of despondency to tentative optimism. While I am yet to fully emerge in the sunlight, I can see the first specks of light beyond the dark tunnel I found myself in. A huge help in finding the way has been my writing. I started to blog at the beginning of 2018.

This was a huge step since I am a very private person – and sometimes even find it difficult to acknowledge my own feelings. The decision to blog, and to continue doing that was a significant U turn. So I wasn’t surprised when my sister said somewhat complainingly that I was more comfortable sharing my feelings with the world than her! (But sweetheart you know how much I love you!) Or when a new colleague told me that she didn’t know much about me, except of course my deepest feelings! I guess I have always been better at writing my feelings instead of saying them!

Blogging helped me in more ways than I had imagined. I had started my blog to share our experiences raising Anvay – to give hope and strength to some and in turn hear back from others in a similar situation. However, I soon realized I had much more to share, and how much I loved writing. In a way writing grounded me, provided me with an anchor that I held in the darkest of my moments.

It also introduced me to a different world – of writers. I met new people, attended some writing workshops, made new friends. I am a novice in this field – and it really made a refreshing difference to meet such talented people from a world very different from my own.

Along this road I also discovered Momspresso – a platform that allowed me to share my blogs with many more people. I was able to reach lakhs of readers and the momspresso editorial team was very kind in choosing me as one of their top bloggers of the year and giving me an opportunity to read my blog live to their members. The love and encouragement I received was truly motivating.

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And all of you, every single one of you have been important for this journey. There are so many of you who have read each of my blogs, took the time to comment or share. This encouragement matters the world to me. I have been humbled when some of what I felt rang true for you too – several people responded to my blogs about my father – how they shared my pain of losing a parent. A lot of you responded to my blogs on Anvay – some of you shared similar stories – stories of hope, many of you sent prayers. Just knowing that so many of you are with us and care for us was more than enough to give me the energy to continue moving.

While in writing I found an anchor, my work has always been my mainstay, my foundation. Towards the second half of this year, I got the opportunity to work in Central Asian countries. While it was an exciting opportunity, it also meant significant amount of travel. We thought over it and decided that we will manage. Armed with extra support from my mum and spouse and 2 full time helps, the family took the significant decision to take up this challenge. And before I could realise, I was travelling 10-12 days a month. The experience was exhilarating and very very enriching. (more about it in future blogs) It also meant that I did not have much time to dwell on anything besides managing work and family and played a huge role in stabilizing my emotions.

On the whole, 2018 has been a harbinger of change. There have been big shifts and small changes; a big loss and a certain level of triumph over emotions. My blogs perhaps tell the story of the entire year very well and it is only fitting to try and summarise the year through them. The twins are two now and Abeer has reached the next level of brattiness (don’t think that’s a real word – but fits)! Anvay is progressing well and his naughty little personality has started to shine through! His smile makes our day and now we are hoping that he starts to at least stand by the end of 2019! I am more or less at peace with his condition and understanding life much better through this lens. We continue our experiments with our first born – and this year Arnav seems to have become more mature and quite a geek – likes to read anything to do with geography or science – including biology and quantum physics! (he has informed us that the male body’s main purpose is fertilization – though he is still not sure how fertilization actually occurs.). Time to plan his 9th birthday – likely theme is science, no surprises there.

My pregnant tummy hasn’t gone anywhere (obviously, since I have done absolutely nothing about it) – and I am wondering maybe tummy tuck is my redemption? My soulmate however happily lives through the THICK and thin – and maybe secretly happier that I am more like his shape now!! Well that aside, the maid situation has improved and just before I started to travel, I managed to get two good domestic helps – and the sense of peace that brings is more than perhaps meditation could!

 

2018 has been a kaleidoscope of events and my biggest take away probably is that when you have your family and friends rooting for you, supporting you, you can overcome anything. I have an immensely supportive family starting with my husband and mum (and dad), always standing rock solid behind me. As also are my mother and father in law – ready to step in whenever required and a very loving extended family – both from Kapil’s and my sides. A supportive workplace and colleagues are my added blessings. And with all of you added to my family now – world is a happier place! Love and hugs to all of you. So a happy me welcomes 2019 and looks forward to it! 

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The Multitasking Woman – You call her Durga …. But is that what she wants…?

… Maybe not. Maybe she will thank you for the appreciation, but chances are that she would prefer you give her a hand, and help free some of hers.

Who is she? She is the ‘modern’ woman, aka multitasker, superwoman, supermom etc. etc. While all these tags appreciate her abilities, she needs more than that. Today’s woman has shown the ability to manage both her house and her work very well (even just managing the house requires multitasking). We have all been reading about how these superwomen are able to multitask – that’s great, but really is that the place the woman wants be in? Is it really that easy? I for one, come under a lot of pressure reading about this super efficient woman – it is almost as if we (the women) are born with this “multitasker program” which can get switched on as and when required. And that it is almost expected for us to juggle everything.

But what about the men? It seems they have begged off this ability to multitask and majority of the dual workload of home and office falls on women. There are articles about how women are better at multitasking than men, who are able to do better when focusing on one thing. Men seem to have been very conveniently let off the hook! Frankly I don’t care if they are good or not. They might as well try and I am sure they will get there! As we all know – practice makes a man perfect!

Men across the world seem to be afflicted by this ‘inability to multitask’, along with the social conditioning that housework is a woman’s job. It is so common in India, to see a woman come back from work and start cooking for everyone, while the husband is more likely to come home and relax. She will also be getting up early to probably cook lunch and breakfast for everyone and likely get the kids ready too. And I have even heard cases where, while the woman wants to hire house help, the in laws or husband would not want an outsider to do these chores! But this is not just in India. In the U.S. a woman laments that since her husband lost her job two years ago, she has been working double shifts to support the house. However, he insists that the baby be put in daycare (which is very expensive), refusing to take care of her at home. In a Central Asian household, a woman returns from work, only to find the house in a mess. When she asks her retired husband, why he couldn’t have cleaned the house, he retorts saying that it is her job. These examples could go on. And across the globe.

I know that more and more men are trying to come up to speed. Many men are taking part in child rearing and helping with chores around the house. But I am not sure if the number of those men is enough, neither am I sure that the amount of work they are putting in is enough. Many men that I know would say that they ‘help’ around the house. The key word is ‘help’. You ‘help’ when it is someone else’s work – implying that the man still believes that it is his wife’s job and he is being a good Samaritan by ‘helping’ her. Perhaps it is fine when the wife is stay and home and takes on primary responsibility of the house – however, when both are working, it is essential that men come out of the ‘helping mode’ and start taking ownership.

Let me dwell a little bit on the help vs ownership model. Think of a project team – there is a manager/ team lead and there are team members. It is the ‘responsibility’ of the manager to plan for the project, divide roles and responsibilities and get the team to execute the project. The team members are ‘supporting or helping’ the manager in that sense. The manager’s primary role is to coordinate and will be doing fewer or probably none of the tasks. What happens with women is that they end up becoming the manager as well as the prime executor with minimal or no outside support. Those of you who would have led a project would appreciate the difficulty of both managing and executing a project. The woman is taking both the mental and physical load of managing the household.

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Mental load is best described by a French comic artist Emma. She has brilliantly illustrated this in the comic “You should have asked“. I recommend everyone reads it. When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he is viewing her as the manager of their household chores.

A little quiz below to see where you/ your husband figure in sharing the household work:

  • Who cooks? Who decides what is to be cooked? Who buys the groceries and vegetables and who makes the list? Who manages household help? Who gets heart attacks when the household help takes unannounced leave for 3 days?
  • Baby is crying. Who picks her up? Who cleans the baby and changes soiled diapers? Who makes sure there are enough diapers and wipes at home? Who washes the nappies? Who hangs them and folds them and ensures there is a supply of dry nappies at home at all times?
  • Who drops the kid to school/ bus stand? Who picks him up? Who makes sure the uniform is washed and ironed? Who checks his classwork and ensures that homework is done? Who helps with corrections? Who helps with class projects and crafts? Who remembers the date of submission of these class projects? Who is part of the parent WhatsApp group? Who writes diary notes to the teachers and who attends the parent teacher meeting especially if it is on a working day?
  • Who arranges play dates/ summer holiday classes? Who buys birthday presents for kid’s friends? Who picks out party clothes? Who buys clothes for kids?
  • Who makes sure that the medicine cabinet is well stocked? Who makes sure everyone is taking their daily medications? Who is managing the vaccination chart of babies? Who takes them to the doctor? Who knows what is to be given for cold vs cough vs fever? Who takes leave when the kids are sick?
  • Who cleans the refrigerator/ the washing machine/ the dish washer? Who knows when the soap/ shampoo/ toothpaste are finishing? Who gets the dry cleaning done?

If the answers show an unbalanced picture, better to do something now than later. Perhaps the best thing would be to sit down and divide not only chores but areas of responsibility. For example, “I take care of the kids’ homework and you make sure all extra curriculars are taken care of.” “I ensure that plants are watered and you make sure that the ceiling fans are regularly cleaned” etc etc. And then once the work is divided, DO NOT SUPERVISE what is not your responsibility. Women need to let go. Some couples have tried it and here are some examples and here as well.

It is not so difficult if we really put our minds to it. (I hope so!)

So dear men, please start being a part of your household. If you are a lounger, please start with being a helper and then slowly rise up the ranks (like you did in your organisation) to become a co manager. The end result will make you happier than your year end bonus does.

 

 

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.