Friday, November 01, 2013

Yours emotionally

Vartanama, Nov '13
By Pawan Dhall

October 10 was World Mental Health Day, and also the first of the five big days of this year’s Durga Puja festival, the biggest in Bengal and celebrated with verve in other parts of India as well. Quite a happy coincidence, for what emotional well-being is to mental health, Durga Puja is to the social health of Bengal. A sense of sharing, feasting, colour and warmth presides in a part of India that is constantly battling an image of social, educational, health and economic gloom.

The cynics may say that the times are not what they used to be and that people have turned self-centred – inherent in the ostentatious display of corporate-sponsored glitz in the Puja pandals (temporary fabricated structures) or in the showing off of new designer clothes every day of the Puja. But all said and done, good cheer imbues the autumn air as it just about begins to lose its load of humidity that Gangetic Bengal is infamous for. It is a time to fall in love, and to rise in spite of despair.

Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

One story of despair unfolded just 10 days before the launch of Varta blog in August, when this writer landed in hospital with a blood pressure-blood sugar tango of fall and rise. There were many provocations, but what seemed the strongest catalyst was an intense feeling of having touched a personal and professional low – worsened by an unhealthy dose of relaxants taken in pursuit of an elusive, restful sleep. No, this was not a suicide attempt, but it was a desperate effort to shut out the madding world. The world did shut out, only after I reached the hospital bed. Relief and sleep followed, though for so short a while.

The mental graph must have touched the lowest point when I woke up in a darkened hospital room, with an assortment of saline and other tubes poking my body. The first thought, with tears welling up, was where or what had I landed myself into? Was this to be the result of years of struggle? Why had people I had committed myself to turned against me? Where was the companion I had hoped would be with me at such a time? Did such a person even exist? What did I do to deserve this?

My tears caught the attention of John (actual name forgotten), an attendant, who consoled me with sweet words: “Don’t cry, don’t be sad. We are here, your friends are here. If you cry, you’ll hurt yourself more.” The words were magic, and the graph must have started rising that moment onwards. I stopped crying, not the least because the tubes pricking my throat via my nostrils were not very sob-friendly. Also because I realized that companion or no companion, my colleagues, friends and family members were taking good care of me.

Later the same night, when a policeman dropped by to record my statement on why I had taken the relaxants, I was a trifle scared but also couldn’t help notice how fit and smart he was. Anyway, it felt pointless to name any agent provocateurs, and I explained that nobody had forced me to take the pills and that I had only wanted to relax, not kill myself. I wasn’t going to forget or forgive anyone in a hurry, but if I was going to rise again, it would be without the crutches of hitting back with petty revenge.

Abhishek Dhar's light-hearted take on the author's brief to
illustrate the article

I was out of hospital in five days, rejoined work in another week and thereafter the mental graph slipped a number of times, only to rise again. I sought counselling and psychiatric treatment to deal with anxiety and depression, which worked wonders. I talked out differences at work with colleagues and that helped me to pinpoint what my expectations were and what my future commitments would be.

Parallel to all this, for quite some time, sleep eluded me again. It is scary what the mind can do. One night I dreamt my first full-fledged crush in school morphed into a current sweetheart and got into bed to console me. Another night, it was a colleague driving a truck down a Kolkata thoroughfare with me seated next to him – we were on our way to pick up the rest of the office team and zoom off on a holiday trip, but for the world of me I couldn’t figure out why we planned to carry all the office furniture with us!

On a more chilling note, I also experienced a double bill of night terror. At first, I woke up in cold sweat when I dreamt that my lower body was levitating. I drifted back to a deep sleep only to ‘realize’ that somebody had just dropped into bed and was sleeping next to me.

Eventually, the dreams and nightmares stopped. But by then I had become courageous enough to go see that horror beauty of a film, The Conjuring, all alone. The film actually helped me contemplate further, to prioritize people I valued the most and things that strengthened me. Among them was Varta for sure. When we worked out ‘empowering the reader and the writer’ as one of Varta’s objectives, little did we know in what fashion it would come true for me.

I am happy that I remembered to thank Goddess Durga and all avatars of God, not that I don’t every year and through the year (more on how I perceive God another time). I am glad also that I did not neglect my mental health treatment and not just because I should practice what I preach to others through my work. This issue of Varta, too, tries to underline the importance of mental health and emotional care in times of distress and otherwise (Dr. Tirthankar Guha Thakurta in Doctor Brain’s Laboratory). Even as it questions what development India is possibly making in either health or any other field if goddesses are revered but women are not respected as human beings (Shompa Dutta in A State of No Progress).

Pawan Dhall aspires to be a rainbow journalist and believes in taking a stand, even if it’s on the fence – the view is better from there!

Abhishek Dhar is fun loving and mischievous, but honest and caring. He takes pride in being who he is. He enjoys travel, music, eating out, being with friends, and being in love.

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