Two months of unbearable, unbelievable pain. The sort where you cannot get up from the bed. Where every single moment causes anguish, and opening doors becomes an adventure, and holding a glass of water an ordeal.
I still missed the man. But it was more in passing than with any real emotion. One of our common friends tried to bring us back together. Vikram did everything he could. And then he told me, ‘He will meet us tomorrow, but his mom must not know. So we have to meet in another area.’ That sounded so pathetic. We met. We had a normal conversation. And then Vikram joined us and we brain-stormed about a business idea. The magic came back. Along with it were million doubts. Was I the only one seeing it, feeling it? But you’d have to be blind to not notice the connection. We were still completing each other’s thoughts and ideas. And I was like, ‘Oh, but what use, my friend!’ The business never happened. I was relieved. It was too much re-visiting the past for me. I also learned around this time that he had apparently promised his parents he would never speak to me. And he believed that my own parents had extracted a similar promise from me. I was like, ‘What rubbish is that! We aren’t in kindergarten for fuck’s sake.’ And in my case, it wouldn’t even have worked if I were in kindergarten. Really, who was this man I had loved with every fibre of my being?
And on Friendship Day, I called him – hoping we could put it behind and be civilized and friendly. I could hear the panic in his voice that I had called. And that he was at home. He couldn’t talk. And he spoke to me with an accent – a pitiful American accent. A thing I know he did only when he was terribly nervous. He said he was very happy, he had a new girlfriend. I knew he was lying. And I didn’t really care.
Can we at least be friends?
Can’t you at least wish something good for me? Say that you wish me happiness…
Listen, I got to go now. I have errands to run for my mom.
All those years of being together had been reduced to a conversation where he spoke to me in a fake accent. Even the little I felt for him vanished.
I think that’s when the hate began – not an active all-consuming hate – more an indifferent dislike.
I finally asked the doctor if it was possible that I had arthritis. He thought I was too young to have rheumatoid arthritis. By then I’d become a quack myself by reading medical journals and websites and any information I could find. So finally I saw a rheumatologist who confirmed that I did have rheumatoid arthritis.
Around this time I was in Calicut with some of my closest friends attending a wedding and then we’d planned a trip to Wayanad. But I barely lasted the two days in Calicut. I couldn’t trust anyone. I felt everyone was deliberately being insensitive and hurtful. This, even when no one gave me cause to. I knew I wasn’t in the best frame of mind for a trip. I didn’t believe in myself. I couldn’t. I was no longer the person I used to be. I just wanted to return home and sleep. And maybe not wake up ever.
But if you are lucky like I am, then you will have friends who won’t let you indulge in your foolishness for long. They were patient with my illness, with my problems, and did all they could to restore my self-confidence. If I didn’t have my men around me then, I don’t know if I’d even be alive today. Just the pain was enough to make me want to die. But they wouldn’t. They kept planning things for me to do, outings I wasn’t allowed to say no to. Sleep-ins I couldn’t refuse. They drenched me in love. And I had no choice but to go with the flow.
My mom insisted I meet her doctor. It seemed a good idea because the other doctor wanted to put me on steroids. And as my then insensitive clod of a boss told me -‘Steroids on you?! Imagine how Bhumika will look after taking steroids!’ Indeed. So we started the treatment. It took time. It took over a year to get better, to get to normal.
But life had changed for me completely. I could no longer be busy over week-ends. I had to plan and conserve all my energy if I were going out to meet my friends. I had to brace myself for tiring days at work. People rarely understood. If I wore lipstick and did my eyes with kohl, I didn’t look ill at all. I just looked like a fat slob who was too lazy to attend work. For an inherent workaholic like me, this period was torture.
It was not just the love-affair gone wrong. I had severe problems at home as well. I have always been my dad’s pet. According to my dad, the world began and ended with me. If anyone did me wrong he was there defending me. Or defending me to my mom when I went and fought the world because won’t you know it, I rarely let others fight for me. But suddenly he was just not there. I couldn’t trust him to do a simple task like going to the bank, forget fighting for me. He saw how distraught I was, he saw I was crying buckets at home, and I was in pain. But he never reacted.
After I came back from Calicut I got my first herpes infection. And then my left hand began to twitch maniacally and painfully. It was really strange. I finally consulted a neurologist. He asked me if I was stressed. He coerced me into telling him about my dad, about my frustrations at work, about the stupid break-up. He said I didn’t need counselling. But he did want to see my dad. And he diagnosed a brain tumour and said that we had to operate immediately. After admitting my dad in the hospital, my heart started to hurt. My friends told me it was just heartburn and made me drink lots of cold milk (which doesn’t ease heartburn by the way). But it wouldn’t go. It finally went the day we got him home.
But my second attack of herpes happened then. And it was bad.
And then it was time for my best-friend and Husband C (God, how he hates being called husband, lol) to leave the country. The chest pain started again. I saw a cardiologist who ran tons of tests and concluded I had severe anxiety and mild depression and he put me on mood medication that would also help me with my insomnia.
I got slightly better and joined French class. But the herpes attacked again. My dreams of learning French came to a stand-still. It was much worse than the last two times.
With physiotherapy and constant medication the RA came slightly under control.
The mood medication helped me de-stress and PCOD became a thing of the past. But I was still on thyroid medication and the pills for RA.
And when I got laid-off, it was really the best thing that could have happened to me. I no longer needed to pretend to keep it all together. I took the time off and helped myself heal. I did.
But when I joined a new organization, the herpes attacked again. So my rheumatologist took me off the medicines. My skin had also begun to darken because of the medication. My skin specialist said it was best if I didn’t take it. I put on weight in spite of hardly eating.
Immunity is a curious thing. If my immunity is strengthened and normalized, then my arthritis acts up because my body believes that my joints are aliens that need to be destroyed. So the trick is to suppress my immunity. But were we to do that, then the herpes will come right back because my system will just not have the immunity to fight the herpes virus.
I was in despair. So the rheumatologist suggested I try yoga therapy. I spoke to a doctor who patiently heard my entire story and counselled me for over two hours and told me the one thing I wanted to hear: You have been terribly wronged.
And I could see he meant it. I think just hearing that made me feel good about my life.
He added, ‘But I like the way you are handling things. And I’ve never met a more open person than you. And I don’t know too many people with problems like yours who are aware of exactly what’s causing them.’
And then he put me in touch with a therapist whom I’ve only seen for four sessions because the pain is back. But I can now breathe and meditate. I can on occasion even fall asleep with my sleeping pills all through the night. So yoga, thumbs up.
Being sick with an old woman’s condition in a tropical country and working with enthusiastic gamers at the work-place is very stressful. Not too many people know much about rheumatoid arthritis. And mostly they don’t care. And like I’ve said before unless you have joint pain you cannot understand how joints can pain. It’s almost like saying my skin is hurting. My own mum had it and I never understood it till I began to hurt.
And now without the medication the frequency and intensity of the RA flare-ups has increased. Once again I’m back to working from home. The insomnia has also returned. But if I step out of the house, dressed and dolled up, no one can tell a thing.
The only person who saw that I was in pain was a doctor friend of mine. Only a trained eye can notice the pain and strain I’m under.
And I don’t like explaining things too much.
When people ask me ‘how are you now?’ I find it easier to just say ‘good.’
When I’ve tried explaining about my health, I see glazed expressions and a wish to get out of earshot. Knowing I’d probably behave the same way doesn’t help. And then there is a lot of guilt about not going to the office, not being regular for therapy, not sleeping enough, not being able to commit to plans with friends.
It’s a very difficult life. I’m learning to prioritize my stressors. But I know I’m responsible for most of it. It’s very important to know just whom to love and whom to give of yourself to. It’s even more important to believe in yourself and fight to keep your sense of self. Even if it might be a silly thing like wearing clothes that show off your cleavage because you like it that way. Thanks to my family that includes my men and women, I’m now more optimistic about life. I no longer feel suicidal. I hurt like hell still, but I am strong. Now I know just how strong I am. And I also know that nothing and no one will really bring me down. And that I will always have people who will stand by me and do right by me. And when they don’t, it’s best to forget them and move on because I simply cannot afford to have any more stress.
And I have stopped sweating the small stuff. If my appraisals are good, that’s enough for now. There will be a time when it will go back to the way it was, where I will have the energy to be passionate about such things.
I still can’t forgive a few people. Because I still have panic attacks about whether I will have a child. I desperately wish that someday I will. My doctors see no connection with my illnesses and my ability to have a child. And yet, I can’t rid his voice telling me that I won’t be a mother. I blame nearly all the stress and its result on him and what he did. So he and what he did to me will always be an integral part of my life. I have not forgotten, I probably never will. I have never forgiven him and I know I never will. I’ve made my peace with that.
But first, it’s time for me to heal.
And right now that’s all that’s needed.
And while you must listen to the original Piaf, I quite like this too.