Around now, I begin to suspect the frequent changes to my medication.
My psychiatrist told me that my anxiety is a result of all my other illnesses. In that sense, it’s pretty organic and not a result of anything emotional. Having autoimmune disorders makes one more prone to anxiety. And it’s not the other way around. I am shocked. But once I am out of my consultation, I realise that this is typical doctor speak.
No doctor ever holds their disease responsible for anything.
Being on immunosuppresants to deal with her Rheumatoid Arthritis is what led my mother to have cancer. But my rheumatologist will say one has nothing to do with the other. My gynecologist says that I can have a baby even if I use condoms, even though I have hypothyroidism and PCOD. No sweat. The only issue I might face in conceiving a baby is because of the medication I take for rheumatoid arthritis. And my endocrinologist says that my weight issues are not because of hypothyroidism but PCOD and the fact that I don’t consume only 10 calories a day.
They never want to see it all holistically. And they never want to take any responsibility even if they are the best doctors you can find. I don’t care for alternative healing so I am stuck with allopathy. That’s why people like me have no other option but to become quacks ourselves.
I know my body and my mind and so I start seeing changes in how I am feeling about people and work. The irritation is mostly gone. I find that I am genuinely interested in another’s point of view. I grow inordinately fond (given current head space) of my BWW batch. I handle my corporate assignments with little stress.
But I need to sleep in the mornings for a good four hours or so after breakfast. I work my schedule so I can accommodate this new quirk.
I get invited to IIT Delhi to give a talk on creative writing. I determine that I want to make it a hands-on session with very definite takeaways for the participants. My head whirls with what I will say and how I will say it. It’s not my first time to Delhi, perhaps my sixth or seventh, but I have never really seen the sights. This time I will. It will be a great break. I decide to stay with a BWW student who has been inviting me ever since she moved there. I am excited about getting to know her better as a friend. This trip seems godsent.
I am prepared two days before I am due to leave. I have organised my life and work to perfection – like in the good old days. I feel little strain. My only niggling concern is the new prescription for a drug used only for depression. I am not depressed. My friend and I decide that I must get a second opinion after I am back from Delhi.
The day to leave arrives and I realise that I actually don’t want a holiday. My corporate assignments need my attention. There’s so much I have put off so I can work when I am better and the to-do lists make me guilty. I swallow the guilt and reach the airport fairly early.
The panic swirls inside me on just entering the airport. I am trying to walk tall like one should. It’s easy with the heels. And I immediately miss my best friend who has been in communicado for a few months now. He won’t talk to me or even attempt to resolve our issues or even give me closure. I feel pathetically stuck. We don’t put it behind us and move forward, nor do we truly fight it out. I am incapable of going on normally without him even when I am going on normally without him. At the airport, I am reminded of him a little too potently. It’s worse that we had idly talked about seeing the sights of Delhi together once.
My heart has started its crazy rhythm. I join the check-in queue which is ridiculously long for Air India and tell myself to breathe and not stress myself thinking of heartaches now. Unnecessary.
But that’s when this man comes up behind me in the queue and starts talking on the phone. He talks to a friend in Sydney about how he has discovered himself after quitting his job, how they were mostly clowns and now it strikes him, now that he’s no longer there and having to dance and suck up to the goras. His voice is annoying, a little whiny, a little desperately seeking reassurance, and listening to him, the hysteria bubbles in me.
Everything is so visceral. I can feel the arch of my legs from my heels, the way my breasts rise and fall as I am trying to breathe, and the tears at the corner of my eyes threatening to overpower me. His voice surrounds me everywhere, magnifies. I feel incredibly alone standing amidst so many people in the Bangalore airport. I feel like I am an open, bubbling wound. The tears drip down my cheeks in panic.
I call a friend who answers but puts me on speaker in a car filled with people I don’t know too well. I am hurt and desperate but I can’t subject myself to the indignity of breaking down in front of mere acquaintances. I hang up.
I feel as if I have no one else to call. My mother will freak out. It’s not fair to worry my parents. My friends in the US who know and understand my attacks would be sleeping. I can’t think of a single person to call. I can’t think at all. I feel dizzy, helpless, angry.
I have forgotten my headphones at home. I curse myself. The man drones on and on in his loud and whiny voice about life, the world, and Facebook. Can I scratch him and throw away his phone? Will they arrest me then? What will happen? Just then he says, ‘deewaron ke bhi kaan hote hain’ meaning even walls have ears and how you never know who is listening. I want to snap a ‘honey, the whole fucking queue, that’s who.’ He brags about the new softwares he’s using. This time I see that even others in the queue are annoyed by him. It’s not just me, I reassure myself. My fury is normal, if a little disproportionate.
The queue stays put. We aren’t moving. I imagine conversing with my estranged man. We would bitch about the inefficient Air India ground staff. It calms me. I am sure that I will miss my flight. That also calms me because if I miss my flight IIT Delhi will just cancel the event. I dream of sitting somewhere at the airport after buying a coffee and smoking and bawling my eyes out. Then I will go home. Then I can sleep, eat food, watch insipid TV. Look sorry when someone talks about this missed opportunity. But I will be happy. Burnout? Or anxiety? Or is it depression now? But they call for the Delhi flight. By now, I am crying into my hair. In spite of everything, I check-in easily. I walk to the security tall and bouncing and I can feel the stares. I ignore all people coldly. Even security gets done. My friend has called and left many messages by now. I ignore her. I dream of ignoring her through the entire trip because I feel irrationally betrayed.
I catch myself marching and hear my friend’s voice. ‘You have checked-in. They have to wait for you.’ So I go buy water. I am parched.
I finally reach my gate and call my friend. I tell her about my panic and how I am mad at her. The tears are furiously rushing down my face, into my T-shirt. I hang up telling her I don’t want to talk now. A few people notice. I try to look like something fell in my eye. I don’t think I convince anyone.
I look away and try to breathe. I just keep breathing till the tears stop. People are openly staring at me. I hold my head high and walk into the restroom. In the mirror, my eyes look swollen and intense.
When I get out after ineffectually splashing water, they are about to start boarding. The tears start again. I swallow them. I head to the queue, board the flight swallowing lumps in my throat. Maybe if I cried it out, it will be fine. If my seat is a window seat, I might be able to cry. But the flight is terribly crowded and I don’t have the window seat. I am in the middle of two men speaking Bengali and I know one of them wants to desperately get to know me because he is friendly like that. I try friendly but aloof and close my eyes, but the tears well up. So I decide to write. It helps. But the man finally interrupts, ‘Madam, you are continuously writing, I am sure you are a writer.’ Someone is playing the Vishnusahasranama by MS. I wonder if my suffering or grief is richly deserved. What god wilfully creates suffering?
The seats are comfortable but the men spread. I spread right away too. I don’t care that they touch me. They can touch me. No one will ever touch me.
After maybe an hour, I am fine. Raw. Torn. Bleeding on the inside. But outside no one would ever know what I have just been through. I see how my relationships become an excuse to wreck me.
Delhi is sweltering and muggy. My ambition to look like a hardass Punjabi woman melts in the heat and I look like a wet Mallu porn star as I wait for my pick-up at the airport. Once I settle in to my room, I allow myself to bawl and completely fall apart talking to my friend on the phone. I lie awake till 4 am, writing, crying, and even praying. I know then that I can’t stay in Delhi and do a holiday.
I conduct my session the next day at noon. It’s a success. My friend books me on a flight back to Bangalore. I am in Delhi for just one more night. I am happy to get out of that miserable city.
At my friend’s place, we eat, catch-up, share stories, and meditate. The meditation puts me in a happy zone.
I reach the Delhi airport the next day at 4.15 pm for a 6.50 pm flight. It helps. I am at ease. Neither the noise nor the crowd bothers me this time. I pat myself for braving a crowd so soon.
I decide then that I must share these experiences with people. The intent is awareness. This too can happen. This is how it plays out. This is how you can attempt to deal with it. My posts get me a little sympathy (Thank you, but no thanks) but mostly it’s as if there’s an epidemic. People dealing with panic attacks, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts… They share and instead of annoyance, my heart bleeds with them. We talk doctors and medications. We exchange stories. I feel purposeful. I am happy that I can write and that my words can bring people to open up. It’s humbling.
Students from IIT Delhi add me on Facebook and share stories about their journeys. I am not irritated by the intrusion at all. A distraught boy talks to me about his painful break-up. It tells me unequivocally that even when I was worse than a train wreck, I was able to do justice to my passion. For once, I am proud of my ability to work and write when my world is falling apart.
I should not do crowds and I need to stay away from anything that could make me feel even a little stuck. But even so, the next attack is probably around the corner.
Life ahead will be filled with more experimentation of illnesses and drugs, I am sure. But for now, I have found my purpose and passion again. I have been able to take charge of my situation and control the experience so my anxiety and panic attacks have become empowering.
For now, and for all of us who deal with chronic suffering, it’s enough.