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A Long Pause

Akela Sarathy (akela.sarathy@gmail.com) is a writer currently based in the United States.

The process of healing from anxiety is a long, cathartic journey that requires one to feel warmth, love, and hope.

You want to run away. You have spent the entirety of your childhood and early adulthood in Chennai. You are free-spirited, of course, and try to get away as much as you can to faraway lands in order to breathe. But, why are you feeling suffocated in the first place?

You begin by feeling sad. People tell you it is a phase, even when you lose interest in your job and refuse to pick up calls or meet people. And, you believe them. You grow sadder, and the weight on your shoulders has grown so heavy that you constantly experience fatigue pains in your neck and lower back. You seek medical help and are told that your muscles are tight. A small fortune is spent on physiotherapy,X-rays, MRIs and the lot, but nothing cures the pain. You stress over the pain and spend days lying on your cotton mattress, wondering if it will ever go away. That pain, over time, turns into a burning anxiety that you can feel in the pit of your stomach. Your heart races and you suddenly cannot breathe. Maybe you should take a deep breath. Phew.

You close your eyes in your office bathroom, exhaling loudly and taking in sharp breaths. It has been roughly a year since you enjoyed your job. It isn’t challenging you anymore, but you are afraid to let go. Deep breaths again. Phew.

The anxiety doesn’t go away for four days and it is beginning to scare you. Your father is still talking about marriage and your family is worried it will never happen. Your friend, you realise, has been abusing you emotionally. You take another deep breath. You exhale and the world begins to spin.

“Yes, there is some depression,” the kind doctor says, looking at you from behind his glasses, which had slipped to the bridge of his nose. “You will be okay in three months. Don’t worry. Take these pills.”

The doctor was wrong, of course. It hasn’t gone away in three months and your world is not the same. You withdraw from your circle of friends and begin to think about yourself, for the first time. You close the door on the abusive friend and watch him fume, fret, threaten and, then, slowly melt away from your life. You reach out to family, who are very supportive for the first five days. Three months later, they ask, “Are you still not okay?” You lean on your father for emotional support, also for the first time, and realise that you have only infected him with your anxiety.

So, you do what you think is best. After a lifetime of being afraid, you pack your bags and walk out of your past. You move cities and study. You pass, but not with flying colours. For now, passing is enough. You earn the degree with a significant sense of apathy and do something you never thought you would. You pack your bags again and fly away to another country, marrying the boy you have been dating for a year.

You want to rediscover life and hope. The warm light that once lit your soul has now diminished to a flicker. You tell yourself you don’t need a job to be happy, you don’t need a life driven by an agenda. So, you spend your days walking around in departmental stores, reading magazines and online articles, and swaying to music, while your significant other sweats under the stress of running a single-income family.

You struggle with loneliness from time to time and bring home a puppy to fill your soul. It helps for a while, but you realise that you need something more. You spiral again, despite a great doctor and therapist. They work on your past, but they are unable to reach out to you and change the present. You feel hopeless, worthless, and alone.

Your husband tries his best to support you. But, mental illness isn’t something he is able to deal with, apart from handling his job and the finances. He is afraid to confront it as much as you are. So, he sits around during your panic attacks and depressive episodes, never really understanding what he can do. He walks on eggshells when he asks you, wanting to know, but afraid of it at the same time. You are frustrated that he isn’t making an effort. You begin to have fights about it. You want to talk about it, but to whom?

You try to make friends, but by now your confidence is so low that you feel like you aren’t worth having any. You wander about your apartment, cleaning obsessively and arranging the frames on the wall so that they are straight. You make the bed so well that there are no creases on the quilt. It looks like the bed was never slept in. Maybe it wasn’t. You don’t remember the last time you enjoyed sleeping.

You are barely in touch with your friends, because you were never the type to keep in touch anyway. Your father calls once a week and you are afraid to tell him about your mental health. He is only worried about the medicines. “Are you still taking those psychiatric drugs?” “Yes, appa.” “When will you stop?” Your in-laws, who were introduced to your mental health issues by accident, have similar doubts. “But how will you have a child when you are on these pills?” your mother-in-law enquires. “Well, if I do get pregnant, the doctor will find a way,” you say. “But it’s toxic for the baby. You come back here and stay with us. Then you won’t need these pills. All you need is family.”

The pressure to be off the pills becomes greater than getting better. So, you tell your doctor you need to stop and she tapers off your anxiety medicine. Now you are anxious and the band-aid is off. More deep breaths.

As if trying to make a life in a new country wasn’t hard enough, you have to deal with depression, anxiety, chronic lower back pain, and asthma. It becomes overwhelming and you just want everything to end.

But, then, the next day comes and the feeling isn’t so intense anymore. You move away from people and crawl into your healing cave, spending the next few months finding ways to deal with your fears. In the end, you realise that your strength does not lie in disconnecting from the world, but finding new ways to connect with it. Even for a recluse like you, connection is important.

And, so, in a country far, far away, you learn to pick yourself up. It takes months of agony, tears, frustration, and yearning, but you learn to pick up the phone and call your friends. You call your uncles, one of whom bursts into tears because he has missed you. You call your cousins and it’s
almost like you were never gone. You don’t feel left out and your best friend is back, calling you almost every day. You mostly rant about each other’s problems, but who cares?

It’s not always okay. You still have days when things seem worthless. Negative thoughts swirl around and, just as you slip into that abyss, you remember what it feels like to lose all hope, to feel lost in your own life with no map to boot. You remember those days where all you needed to lift that dark cloak was a kind word. And, then, you turn your arm and look at that tattoo, of a semicolon shaped like a tiny paw and a curly tail. You remember that even if there is a long pause, the story will continue. It isn’t the end.

You feel like a plant that is beginning to grow roots once again. And, just like a plant, with some warmth and love, you find that the flicker of hope is holding steady. That flame isn’t going to die out anytime soon.

Finally, you exhale.

 

Updated On : 12th Mar, 2019

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