What they don’t tell about workaholics is that the pleasure and purpose of working changes to rage and resentment. Insidiously.
So much so that I can’t remember when it began. Just that slight annoyance at someone else’s badly done work suddenly balloons into something large and unforgivable. Empathy, so essential in a writer and a teacher, flies out of the window. There’s no desire to understand the other side. There’s no will to be excited by new people and their newer stories. Only a new, hitherto unheard voice – nasty in thought – starts to speak. This is the snide voice that is discomfiting and distressing at once.
‘Look at him, can’t spell correctly but wants to talk about literature.’
‘She does not know the difference between its and it’s and her book is coming out, it seems. Everyone is a writer these days.’
I fight the voice. Early on, I separate the voice from the real me. I recognize that it’s not me who is really that awful. It’s something else. There’s a war inside me everyday.
Social media is a hostile maze.
The hostility is both inward and outward.
I hate seeing happy pictures by others. Earlier, when some of my students had spoken about how they hate social media because people only post happy things, I was aghast. I am the sort of person who is happy when others are happy. But now…
And the debates on social media! I never suffered fools gladly, but suddenly everyone and everything is a fool.
The voice is constantly and meanly shouting ‘shut up’ or ‘go away’ at everyone and everything.
Everything is tiresome and no one is more tiresome than me.
The rage is always controlled, choked backwards so I feel as if I am constantly lit up on the inside. Like a traditional Diwali lantern.
So, I can’t sleep.
In my wakefulness, the voice mutters more hate. This time, it’s directed towards me.
Caught up in the battle between the real me and the nasty me, fighting the self-hate, my heart feels like it’s constantly pounding and that breathing has to be a concentrated activity.
Soon, easy tasks become labourious. Mails pile on. Work is discarded. People and phone calls are ignored. Guilt piles on quicker and thicker than the drafts by my enthusiastic amateur writers. I find myself unable to do anything remotely resembling work.
I can’t even do entertainment – books hurt too much if they are good and I can’t do bad now, movies bore, only TV series help because I can throw myself into that world; I can binge watch. And when I do surface into the real world it’s more odious, overbearing, and overwhelming than before.
A fog envelopes me. I swallow anti-anxiety medication and wait for sleep to consume me.
Everyday, I wake up thinking today the fog will be lifted, that I will not feel my heart beat like a techno club in Berlin, that I will think about the mails I have to answer without dread. They are just mails! I have never taken time over mails!
But the fog doesn’t lift.
The heart beats a strange rhythm on waking. It feels heavy in my chest, heavier than my breasts, and my head throbs light but incessant. Even surrounded by white walls, flowers, and trees, I can’t breathe.
I not only have to breathe, but I also have to live and get through another day without coming apart too much, without unravelling in front of others in either rage or this crippling, inexplicable grief. There’s no sense needlessly worrying or antagonising family, friends, and students.
The fight to contain it all inside leaves me exhausted and distressed.
But really, why am I so anguished in life?
There is no reason. Nothing is so crippling that it cannot be managed.
Work is good. I am surrounded by people who love and respect me. I do what I love and can deliver the best at. I have this one niggling heartache, an important relationship in a state of crisis, but nothing untoward has happened. Everyone lives and are, in their own places, healthy and happy. I tell myself that it’s just the fog greying everything around me.
I see me trotting in sunlit perfection like someone in a Wodehousian book but weighed down by this invisible dense cloud around me that turns everything into a commentary by this nasty voice that has never been me. Suddenly, I am Hamlet and I am also the ghost.
There is no joy to life. That is not the same as saying life is joyless. No.
Life is joyous but the voice tells me that life has passed me by. The voice convinces me that it’s only downhill from now on.
I have rarely doubted myself. The voice slyly reminds me of failures.
My real self caves at the assault.
I give in hoping now that the fight has ended, there will be peace. But there’s only emptiness. While there was rage and resentment, now, there’s only resignation.
My heart squeezes at the sight of a contrail, at the rhythm of familiar music, even happy laughter in memory of lost love. No tears come. Only my breath thickens.
I am stuck.
<To be continued…>