Take Aim

For the past few months, I’ve been predominantly in the concave downwards parabola of my life, wondering where exactly did I go wrong.

Luck, fortune, opportunity, everything seemed to slip away from me. I kept telling myself that things will be better, they did become so, but the dragon of despair soon destroyed any vestiges of my floaty happiness.

Reduced to a monotonous life of assignments and tests with rather unfair outcomes, my soul became troubled. The pressure mounted so much, all types mind you, parental, peer and college. And yet, I refused to become depressed. After the Great Depression of 2008 (more on that in a separate post), I refused to trouble my body with stress, forced myself to sleep well. In spite of that, this semester has made me push myself to the limits.

Letting my mind fight it all alone, because my pride wouldn’t let me confide further to anyone, I became a bit moody, bit more self-pitying, bit more sarcastic and a teensy bit defensive. I became addicted to Facebook and messaging and TV but wasn’t enjoying it at all. That was so because I would only relax when I couldn’t do work anymore and my mind would still be on it. Or worse, it wouldn’t be and I would go on a guilt trip.

Today, at the fag end of the semester, I received news that my previous semester grades have been reviewed and moved up.

The clouds just seemed to disappear all of a sudden, it seemed like a good omen. In retrospect, I looked extremely silly in my head. Yes, the pressures were immense but that was simply the struggle of the caterpillar. Now almost freed from class labs, I finally have time for myself, to delve into my Pensieve.

And that is exactly what I have done. Somehow, writing gives me a clarity like nothing else.

I suddenly saw the light at the end of my tunnel and I’ve decided to be the butterfly chasing the sunbeam and it has taken aim.

-Sowmya. S

Note: This post was initially published on the personal blog of the author (http://thegreatindianstoryteller.blogspot.in) and has been reproduced with permission

-Photo Credits: blogtraitim.info

STATE OF MIND: THE NEED TO UNDERSTAND YOURSELF

There has come a time in most of our lives when we have looked back and wondered “Did I really say those words?” or “Did I really behave in that manner?” Filled with remorse and regret of our actions, we vow never to repeat it again.

We follow this consciously for a few days but end up inadvertently reverting back to the usual by doing the said unusual things again. This results in a rinse-repeat cycle that has only become all too familiar to me.

            Over the years, as I began to search for an end to this, it has become obvious to me that this is a rather widely suffered problem. People who you seem to ‘know’ are not really who you thought they were as they were probably in a phase where they acted and behaved different from their normal selves. And so, it leads to the question, how can this rather vague thing be defined first and then how can this be overcome? I was fortunate enough to stumble across the following sloka in Bhagavad Gita, which went “Chanchalam hi manah krishna pramathi balavad dradham I Tasyaham nigraham manye vayor iva suduskaram II . This may be translated as “The restless nature of the mind means that it being collected in equanimity is not possible. The wavy ocean of the mind cannot be made free of waves”. In this sloka, Arjun concisely defines the problem that we have all faced – the restless, wavy and fickle nature of the human mind which refuses to stop alternating all the time between the good, the bad and the ugly.

            So now that we have defined the problem itself – the unpredictability of our actions and reactions to events, if we could exhibit some sort of control over this state of mind, we could truly better our lives. The world’s second best tennis player Andy Murray is often considered slightly more naturally talented than the world’s best – Novak Djokovic. It is however, the mental strength of the Serb to execute his plans and react well when his mood sours, that sets him apart. Murray often goes into fits of rage where he ‘loses it’ and does basic things, like missing an open court winner, wrong. Remember that this is one of the greatest champions of our times and it takes immense talent and dedication to get to where he is in life. Even he is not immune to his mind wavering around. The problem may seem simple initially but even the world’s top sports psychologists offer contrasting views with respect to the solution. One school of thought is that Murray should freeze the big moments. Play with precision and calmness and take a deep breath and give it 110% in those moments. The other school of thought varies highly and state that he should treat the big moments just like any other moment. Trying to freeze it will only increase anxiety and his immensely well-tuned muscle memory of hitting the tennis ball would be disrupted. Thus, there is no one fixed way to control the wavering mind. It is a highly personal choice. It happens to every one of us be it Andy Murray or the addict down the street trying not to kill himself from regret.

            From a personal stand point, while I have figured out no fixed method to end the madness, I have figured out one thing – identifying when I’m not ‘normal’. Just how does one do this? For starters, think of some of the things that you love doing most of the time – playing your guitar, talking to a particular person, watching your favourite TV series – could be anything really. If, even that thing, feels rather tedious to think about, there is one of your indicators that you aren’t in a right state of mind. Another indicator is, as cited in the Murray example, when your body can’t do things which have been trained by years and years of muscle memory, properly. That is, when your fingers don’t flow particularly well on the fret board, when you are awkwardly silent when talking o that person or when the series feels a bit too long. The first step in settling an unrest is, as obvious as it may seem, identifying that the unrest exists.

The biggest action you need to take, is ironically, inaction.

            One of the most important things to do when you are not in a good state of mind is to never take definitive and drastic actions. Don’t break up a relationship, don’t sell your guitar, don’t delete the TV Series. To quote the popular band The Fray –

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Having a good support system may help as well. Don’t be too bothered about letting all the steam out. If you don’t feel like talking about it to anyone, just drift away, ‘zone out’ and wait for it to pass. This not about optimism or pessimism. This is almost a fight for (mental) survival of your persona. So, naturally just endure it and wait for it to pass.

Unrest can be settled in two ways – the easy way is to lash out .but the tougher and in my opinion, the correct way, is to not react and accept whatever comes and endure it.

Normal order of things is never too far no matter how bleak things may seem.

Clique management for Dummies

Remember that scene from Kung Fu Panda where Po struggles to make friends with the Furious Five and receive reactions ranging from awkwardness to hostility? Like:

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Does this seem to be relatable to you? Seem to strike a chord somewhere? Remember when you are about to express yourself on some topic amongst your friends only to receive dismissive comments, change of topic or weird silence ( especially in whatsapp groups) almost every time?(Disclaimer: I mean the seemingly mundane topics). Or you feel emotionally drained out when hanging out with them, conforming to some unspoken rules which you secretly hate but don’t disclose for fear of being judged? Or find yourself pandering to the wishes of the queen bee(in simple words, the most dominating person in the group)?  Welcome to the clique phenomenon.

Due to the need to be approved, liked or to avoid being lonely, people unwittingly join such groups.

While this word seems to be lifted off from an American high school sitcom, the phenomenon exists everywhere, across all age groups. People in the age group of 12-20( in some cases, younger) are adversely affected by this, which saps their confidence and self-esteem resulting in anxiety. Due to the need to be approved, liked or to avoid being lonely, people unwittingly join such groups. Though it may be fun at first, if the person happens to have any of the qualities that intimidate the queen bee’s position, then that person becomes the target. While guy’s cliques aren’t that overt with targets, girls or mixed cliques overtly ignore them during planning, subtly criticize whatever the target does and ensure that the target isn’t really  the person they once were. And unlike Po’s case where he eventually becomes a part of the Furious Five( hey, they weren’t bad people..) you can’t expect wonders to happen.

Read a brutally honest post here on how it feels to be excluded and treated like a third wheel:   Story of my Life

Cliques, are especially detrimental during school and college life. When you need to be enjoying and building your career , you seem to be perennially stuck in abyss instead, not able to do the things you love. Isn’t that terrible? With increasing peer pressure, it isn’t really surprising that many adolescents and college goers suffer from crippling anxiety which can spiral into something worse, like losing your individuality.

Though it isn’t easy (or desirable) to leave a clique abruptly, especially if you have some good friends who are stuck like you, here are some steps to help you deal with cliques:

  • Engage yourself in some activity that you love. Join clubs and get yourself engrossed in the activities. Joining multiple clubs does involve a lot of time management. If you’re not that okay with balancing a lot of activities, especially when you have a lot of academic workload, it’s absolutely okay to restrict yourself to a couple of clubs. When you get to do something that you love, you’ll be so engrossed in it that you wouldn’t be bothered about the outing that the clique has specifically excluded you from. Also, chances are high that you’d find your best buddies in the club. When you do an activity you love with other people who also love it, isn’t that the best thing you can afford to have?
  • Also, if you find yourself being mocked by the members for some specific characteristic of yours, muster all the will-power you have, give them a grin and shrug your shoulders. Don’t ever change yourself. For example, when the queen bee taunts you for submitting your assignment early, chances are high that the person would’ve submitted the assignment much before you would’ve (no jokes). Repeat the grin and shrug every time, the clique will get tired of you( Disclaimer: This point is not applicable to well-meaning advice)
  • Learn to say ‘NO’. That’s the toughest thing to do but you should learn to refuse and disagree on some issues assertively(aggression never works). You’ll receive a lot of emotional blackmail into doing something you’ve never liked but listen to your conscience and trust you gut. They’ll never fail you.
  • If you’re still feeling the brunt , talk it out with a person you trust. It could be a parent or an older sibling or an older cousin. Only when you open up, will you realize that there are people who actually care for you.

Friendships enable you to grow, not cliques.

While these steps cannot show results in a short period of time ,with patience and persistence, you’ll surely grow out of it. So, instead of focusing on what the clique was thinking/will think of you, remember Master Ogway’s words:

 

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-Pooja C

Image credits: Google

Story of my Life

I’m tired of standing on the outside
Watching everyone smile around me
Their casual conversations and laughter
Draw me in as I stare longingly
Leaning on that impenetrable transparent barrier
Wishing I could fall in place too.

I’m sick of being a fucking third wheel
Unnecessary, uncalled for, useless
I know I shouldn’t impose but
Sometimes I can’t help myself for
Even the most solitary of us need some human interaction
And so I try to be a part of it
But I always end awkward in a corner
Listening but unheard; present but unnoticed.

I hate it when I’m pushed away
Especially by the ones I consider my friends;
I’ve been betrayed and frozen out in the past as well
And each time I overcome and trust again
I am set aside once more
Leaving me harder and wound up tighter than before.

I promise myself that I will not bow or bend
That I will be as strong as stone
But that which does not bend
Will be brittle, and who knows
Whether the next hammer blow
Will break me, leaving me in shards.

I am only human after all
But maybe I act too well.
When I say I’m fine despite being a mess
No one understands; or simply, no one cares.

I should learn how to cauterize these open slashes.
I need to know how to be satisfied alone
I have to prevent trust or love from growing in me
Because all that gives me is a vulnerability
One which I cannot afford
For more of this will leave me a shattered wreck.

I close my eyes, shut my ears.
Curled up under a blanket in the dark
My trembling unknown, my tears unseen
As I put myself together as best as I can.

Then I pick up my carefully taped together heart
And hand it to you so you can destroy me again
Because I’m just a lonely idiot who keeps hoping
That one day you won’t.

-Kaavya Karthikeyan

Photo Credits: Quotesgram

Fighting Dementors: Producing your own Patronus

“The Patronus is a kind of positive force, a projection of the very things that the dementors feed upon – hope, happiness, the desire to survive – but it cannot feel despair as real humans can, so the dementors can’t hurt it. ”

Many a time in my life, I had wished I could conjure a patronus to help me drive away the despair and the dejection I have felt. As I begin to write this article, I was asking myself how I would define depression. Where does it start? How does it even begin?  I wrack my brains to come up with something that is accurate and exact. But, I guess there isn’t any. How do you define depression? Is it that feeling of emptiness where you think you stand for nothing, you would amount to nothing and will never get what you want? Is it that despair you feel when you’ve just had your dreams crushed, when you have lost hope and your life becomes meaningless? Is it that guilt you feel when you try to analyze what you’ve done wrong over and over, and try to assign what you feel as just punishment to your crimes?

Depression is like an all-pervading layer of grime that you have got on your body after you’ve just walked past that dusty lane. You don’t know how, when and where it began. You crave for acceptance, you look to the universe for answers, almost always drawing a blank.

Depression is like an all-pervading layer of grime that you have got on your body after you’ve just walked past that dusty lane. You don’t know how, when and where it began. All you notice is, in a matter of time, you feel dejected, lonely, enervated and start thinking that your dreams will be crushed and that carrying on with life serves no purpose. You never know how your day turned from being a normal, casual walk on the lane to an endless pit of horror and torture. You wind back up wherever you are – doing nothing, tears almost on the edge of eyes, loneliness killing you. You crave for acceptance, you look to the universe for answers, almost always drawing a blank.

So, how did I fight/ how am I fighting/ how will I fight the dementors, our own mind monsters? What is my secret to producing my patronus? How do you feel all-right when you’re feeling exactly the opposite? I have heard a lot of people say, “Happiness is a choice. Choose to be happy”. I don’t agree. Choosing happiness honestly does not make any kind of sense to me. How can you choose to be happy when every inch of your cerebral power is telling you you’ll never be okay again? How do you lie to yourselves saying “Things are going to be okay” when you’ve just had a catastrophe?

A lot of people recommend doing what you like very much. Yes, watching your favorite TV series, eating chocolate, listening to your favorite music (I have seen a lot of people suggest “Fix you”), all these help, but I consider them postponements, not solutions. They help you merely move your state – a state that you have no words to describe – not solve it. Yes, I’ve indulged in the aforementioned things, they just helped me get away momentarily, never completely solving the problem.

Ignore your dejection which is staring at you like a big, black monster and carry on with your tasks. It is going to be arduous, but don’t give up hope.

I don’t claim to have solved my problems yet, but my method to conjure up my patronus is holding productivity to be my goal. Productivity helps in getting things done. I get it when you say, “What are you talking about? All I want to do is curl up like a ball and sleep or just stare blankly at nothing”. I’ve had the same feelings. I evolved through a heartbreak and am currently in the pursuit of happiness, so I know what’s going on in your head. Yes, it’s going to be excruciatingly painful to even try and do something that is seemingly mundane, but try by all means. Try to talk to people. Sometimes, loneliness just increases hopelessness and talking to the right person might help. But, I can understand if you don’t want to do that. That works only when the philosophy of the person whom you’re talking to is aligned with yours.

Select a goal. Go for small wins. Try to take simple steps. In my case, something as simple as getting out to buy groceries and making myself a simple lunch, gave me a huge morale boost. Break down your next simple task into a number of its constituents. If you want to get out, break it down as getting up from your chair, checking to see if your house is okay to be locked up, opening and locking the door, climbing down the stairs and reaching your destination. Concentrate on the most immediate task. I know, ignoring your dejection which is staring at you like a big, black monster and carrying on with your tasks is going to be arduous, but don’t give up hope and concentrate.

This is the one way I know to conjure up a patronus to beat dementors. It generally works and in due course, you’ll have a discovered a lot more about yourselves. If you feel it’s chronic, or ever feel suicidal, do not hesitate to take professional help. The light at the end of the tunnel is not too far away, all it takes is some more effort to reach. It’s again going to be hard when it feels you’ve given everything you can and every task will seem Himalayan, but don’t stop.

I dream of a day when mental illness will be treated as common as a flu or a headache. As Elizabeth Wurtzel says in Prozac Nation, “That is all I ever want, all this pain to seem purposeful.

The dementors can be fought, so despair not. Gather all your hope together, wave your wands and say with me, “Expecto Patronum.”

-Nandha Kishore

The Light in the Woods

A battle is not without losses but a battle with yourself is always winnable, the only loss you suffer is the loss of all the drapery you hid your true self with.

It is hard to decide what to say or talk about in a blog like this. A lone pack is in its very essence as I understand it – a congregation of the lonely by choice and not. Perhaps the biggest victory will be to admit to yourself who you really are and take that understanding for everything that it is and everything that it brings along with it. This is the victory we all strive for after all, but most of us fail to achieve; we fail to achieve this for a variety of reasons only a few of which are true for each person. It is this victory that we all fight for and it is this fight that is the cause for most of our woe. A blog like this is supposed to resonate with everyone who feels like this and yet this subject is something so personal that it becomes hard to go beyond the specifics of my own life or for any other writer to go beyond their own experiences. Perhaps it is best to explain (again only in my own understanding) this fight we are all a part of. It is to do with identity and with acceptance of that identity. Who you see yourself as and who you project yourself to be. More often than not the latter is more important than the former, failure to give society and its views of you, due respect and consideration will yield catastrophic results, yes? But even if you were to do so and were golden in society’s eyes you would still not be content. Quite the opposite in fact – the little voice of self in the background that kept screaming in the background? Well now it ’s a cornered animal. You have ignored it long enough and it is going to take a bite out of you when you try to bury it.

And then, even after all that, even if you have magically survived burying your own identity to fit in with society’s cookie-cutter view of how a person should be, what happens next?

You feel empty. You have nothing that is intrinsically you. You cannot identify as anything or anyone beyond a cog to keep society moving. You live and you succeed, maybe even enjoy yourself, but you will always be empty and wonder ‘what if’. What if you had listened and fought for yourself. Now you will lose your balance because that line of questioning never ends well unless you are willing to undergo the pain and fight for it all over again. But this time fighting both for your identity and your own respect for yourself. But all this is only if the bite I talked about earlier was not fatal which more often than not it is.

‘What if’ is a rabbit hole that all of us enter at one point or another. You try to project your value based on something else to escape this darkness but that is what the darkness wants. Sooner or later you will realize how shallow your measurement is and by that time the darkness is even stronger. It will hurt you and it can kill you. You will go sleepless and you will be terrified but when you realize that the darkness is only a part of yourself that is starved for attention and recognition there is some hope. A battle is not without losses but a battle with yourself is always winnable, the only loss you suffer is the loss of all the drapery you hid your true self with. But then people might ask how you win a battle with a part of yourself that you have alienated for so long. I do not know, how could I ever understand what your circumstances are and even more importantly the perspective you possess of your own circumstances? But it is wrong to assume here that I cannot help you, that the people here cannot help you. When I write this I begin to form my own perspective of what lone pack might be. While I cannot give you the answers I will be able to guide you with my own experiences and show you things you did not know.

So lone pack then becomes a light; a light to shine things on and to show you what you could not see before, but it is not a map – your journey is still your own.

-November