An year ago, on 27th of June, I experienced a life incident that I believe has changed me permanently as a person (pray to God and hope that it has changed me to become a better human :P). It has significantly impacted how I view, understand and experience life as a woman, higher education professional and as a person advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities in India.
While the incident in itself is not positive enough to be narrated on my blog, it is important for you all to know that I persisted and I made it through that day and many days after that day.
During the last 365 days of my life, I have for a number of hours experienced a plethora of emotions and struggles just to be able to stick to the plans I and others have made for me to succeed personally and professionally. And there was one day a few months later (after June 2017) when I could turn the tide over things to gather some control on my situation.
I was sitting in the middle seat of a long flight and on my left side sat a middle aged American woman. She was impeccably dressed. I had cried for over two hours by then and by the time the flight began to take off, she had already given me her handkerchief and was trying to find a way to calm me as I sat and cried uncontrollably. My tears and nasal secretions were all over her hands as she held my left hand in a clasp and didn’t let go (And let me tell you, in the US it is a huge beeping deal for someone to actually be ‘that’ human. For example, when you sneeze twice and people around you will already be almost thinking of masks to protect themselves – it is that bad in some places. On a funny side, there are people like us Indians who are like ahh! I don’t care). Let me tell you by then she didn’t know my name or my problem. Initially I sat in my seat, wore my eye mask and was crying quietly. After I could stop crying she continued holding my hand and said, “What ever is running in your mind right now or your brain is telling you right now, trust me it will not feel desirable tomorrow. The pain gets lesser as more days pass between the incident and your present!” Then she continued to narrate to me about her own situation that led her to walk away from something that she was associated with for 17 productive years! But in telling me her story, she shared two precious lessons with me.
It is okay to walk away from something even if it turns all odds against you if you have to preserve yourself!
Not often times in life ‘walking away’ is presented as an option. But when you look at an excruciating situation in life, sometimes, not fighting and bowing out is an excellent option. By closing one door through which you are trying to survive a painful experience, you may be preserving yourself to walk through another door that needs to be held open for others to follow you. This is not spoken of as a practical and relevant skill. Especially in the Indian context, walking away from anything is like you are hanging out your family’s pride out to dry and die in scorching heat (yes, I also understand at times, walking away is not an option for some people and my heart goes out for them!). I was privileged to have parents whose arms I could run into and say, “Take me home, I cannot do this anymore!” I have come to identify that as a person of many privileges compared to my peers, I have to utilise my privilege as a power to stay put in a situation that pushes me towards failing.
No matter what the external help sources are, there is a point of time when you have to push yourself the hardest to get out of a quicksand or quagmire that you are stuck in.
While she was telling me her story, she told me what helped her. And she asked me to try it for myself. She said, “I want you to get up every morning and say to yourself loudly, – I am taking away from you the power of affecting me any more as I recognise that you hurt me with your actions and behaviours! You say this sentence everyday like every other ritual you do. Say it loudly and watch yourself say it” – Being the person that I am, despite the grief I was feeling, I still found it in my heart to think it was a very lame sounding suggestion. I nodded my head blankly but the lines stayed in my mind.
A couple of weeks later, after yet another triggering incident, I was angry and looked at myself in my car’s mirror and said the lines out loud (without a pause of thought and of course in Telugu!) and suddenly felt a sense of relief crawl through the back of my neck muscles (which I had been trying to release through yoga, manual therapy and you name what!). The woman’s words were imprinted in my mind and I wasn’t even conscious of them until another wave of hurt and pain came over me and I was sitting my car thinking, “What next?” And suddenly I felt capable to make a plan B.
Did the lines solve the problem I was facing? No
They solved nothing except that they helped me hear my own voice saying that I was not to continue blaming myself for everything that was happening. Most of the situations of discord that we experience in our life come from situations when one/one group of the humans in that interaction are rendered fully powerless. Her lines gave me a voice. In a powerless situation where I felt muted, her lines made me realise that I still had my voice to talk to myself and push myself ahead towards success.
When any human being succeeds personally or professionally, we must remember to look beyond them and see who are the people nudging these humans forward. In respect for every person who nudged me forward every time I took a back-step in fear or failure, I want to tell you about TheVillage that raised me. TheVillage that lives beyond country borders where I lived and continue to live.
TheVillage that stays put to propagate human values which continue to diminish within our communities because we are all in a blind race towards success.
And my first TheVillage story starts with this anonymous lady who was brave to share her life story with me and tell me that, “We live to fight another day!”
P.S: Many well-wishers from India continue to tell me that I should not write about life lessons so openly as it may affect my future in many ways (Multiple words: first word starts with J and last word ends with E! *Facepalm*).
My response: The first problem with current human societies is the illusion of aspiring to live an error and shortcoming free human life to achieve success. And I’m not a subscriber to that style of life. While I was not raised in an environment where there was supreme emphasis on being the ‘perfect kid’ who was always the over achiever ( I have many Indian friends who are victims of such parenting), I was in a learning environment where being less than perfect was not welcome. Yet here I am today doing what I can do. While I understand the advise to not speak about my weaknesses or challenges comes from a good place, I cannot accept to follow it. In writing openly about the ‘imperfections’ that are woven into my being, I am able to accept my failures more positively than ever before. And I owe this lesson to that woman who spend two hours of her life talking sense into my hurt mind that day in 2017.
My Uber driver today (from the hotel to airport) was a former professional boxer who proudly told me he was a first-generation immigrant and he loves coaching young kids. There are times in life when you start talking to strangers (in buses and airports) and realize you agree with some of their opinions about life. J is one of those people from my life. J kept talking and I suddenly felt an incomplete circle of thoughts in my brain complete itself.
Today it is 31 years since I was blessed to be born into this beautiful world. As I sit and type these words out thousands of feet from above the earth, I remember J and another conversation from earlier today that pushed me out of my slumber as a NIDIA. Also here I want to tell you why this post is very important for me to write. For several weeks now, battling through a personal crisis, I have stayed away from talking to every good friend I had (like literally. If you know me, and then I tell you I have become a silent person, that can tell you volumes I guess). I showed up for family events because family is one thing that grounds me and gives me the hope to keep moving ahead in life. Sometimes it is blood related, sometimes it is not. And it is hard to stay sad for a really long time when you have a family that will not quit until they see you laugh a lot. You take advantage of that blessing and hang in there so that you can preserve that humane side in you to pay it forward. It has now come to a point where I am overwhelmed by the concerned messages I receive from people everywhere and all that I do is flip through them not knowing what to say. So this communication is very important for me to tell you all that I am okay and am recovering.
Several weeks back, at work, I was assigned the task to read a book that one of the professors I work for had authored. I was to help create supporting imagery for a research project presentation. Click here if you wonder what I do at work. I remember that week of the assignment. I had walked into my work supervisor’s room several times that week expressing my disbelief on how much that book’s content was making me uncomfortable and unhappy. What no one knew was that assignment made me sick in my stomach. It was hard to be reading the book and not connecting with it multiple times. What no on knows is that I cried multiple times that week because of everything I read in it. You may be wondering, “Well wait, you call yourself a non-immigrant Padmini, this book is on immigrants! Not adding up?!”
When you live thousands of miles away from the home in a place where every day, apart from studying, working, staying healthy, a considerable amount of effort also goes into ‘fitting in’, you have to be careful. Careful to not let the process get to your nerves. Careful to not let someone tell you that you are not good enough to be among them. Reading Dr. Stewart’s book made me realize that no matter how much I want to deny it, I have lived some parts of those lives described in that book. I have struggled through some of those challenges. I have undergone similar micro-traumas like those immigrant students did in their lives. And over the time, they have only accumulated onto my mind. And my struggle was to keep going no matter what – to not let the dream die. There are some people in my life currently who are championing for me to gather my strength and nerves to move forward in my life. But mental health is complicated. In a common man’s language, broken spirit is hard to heal. No matter how best it can be restored, will a broken porcelain dish pieced together by the best expert in the world be the same as the one that has never been broken? Or as some may argue, will the viewer’s perspective decide if the patches make the mended one even more beautiful? Regardless of the point of view whatsoever, the key questions to ask for me are:
Do we have those best technicians available to us for mental health?
What is the best glue to piece a broken spirit together?
C, I know you told this to me before. But today, when I heard the same analogy from another woman, I felt a sense of calm in my heart.
Would just one average intensity poke on someone’s shoulder hurt the same as hundreds of pokes at the same spot on the shoulder for a really long period of time? If a person with Spinal Cord Injury came to you, what would you say to them? Would you talk to them the way you are talking to yourself? Think about it, would you be so unkind to them as you are being to yourself? Oh, or is it because their pain is visible and yours is not visible to the eye?
As someone told me earlier this week, “Sri, you do you first!” Seldom will we have an opportunity to sit across the table from leaders who will look you in the eye and say that to you. You take care of yourself first and then worry about the rest. I remember them also telling me this. “Sri, if you take all the inner dialogue that you have and make it into a person and let them stand beside you, you wouldn’t be able to stand that person for one moment. We need to teach ourselves when to not hear to it.” This is the most profound sentence I have heard in the last sixty days of my life. This birthday, yet another blessed day when I got to be with my family, I made a decision to be kind and compassionate to myself first. And that also I will seek help as much as I need and won’t shame myself for asking help. I wrote this post for many reasons. Some of them are:
I am okay and I am keeping to myself. One of these days, I hope to find the glue that will fix the broken porcelain that I am today.
I have talked to many of my friends over the years who discussed with me the shaming that surrounds taking time to heal (I know everyone doesn’t have that option but for ones who have the privilege, don’t disregard it. Use it and help someone because it makes you stronger). Especially when you are on track to achieve a ‘goal’. I want to let everyone reading this to know that we cannot shame/silence the help seekers. Nor can we say that seeking the help of a psychologist is a sign of weakness. It is a science and like any profession, there are greatly knowledgeable people working in the field and then there are the others. So educating ourselves about it before shaming someone seeking help is important.
We cannot normalize a person’s suffering as a process of toughening them up for life. If I have a rupee every time I heard this sentence in my 8-full time years as a student, I would not have needed a humongous education loan from SBI.
We cannot negate or devalue a person’s human experience because they have put up a brave and dignified presence always. I write this point particularly because in the last sixty days I had people say to me things like, “Oh! You are so successful, you are so capable. You are such an achiever!” Some of them may have some truth to it. The fact is, I am not. Keeping in line with my desire to share only positive stories or life lessons on this blog, I never wrote about the experiences that have severely challenged me as a non-immigrant in this country. The experiences that made me feel very low and worthless. Disregarding the pain of being treated like that is what led me where I am today. Also I wrote this post because my mom says if in her younger days she had a way to express her views like this, she would have shared her life lessons with more people around her. She says when I can write my thoughts down, I should put them to good use.
Thousand miles away from where I call home, I found comfort in the questions that two women asked me about who I am ( I guess that is why I am drawn to qualitative research and interviews. The beauty of this form of research is: within its principles, every voice counts, every story matters). While there are many loved ones that care for me, pray for me and have positive thoughts for me everyday, meeting these champions made me realize that I lack compassion for myself. So as I turn 31 and am trying to bounce back from this crisis, I want to request all of you who read this to:
Be respectful of any pain you face in life. Don’t tell yourself it is okay to get a ‘little’ hurt in the process. No hurt/pain is little. It only keeps layering more pain onto itself. That is the complexity that surrounds our human minds.
No goal/desire in life should take you to the point of choosing between loved ones that care for you and success that may kill your inner joy (that success becomes pointless if you become a mean person in that process).
It is okay not to be able to fit in everywhere we go.
You do not know what great hope and joy meeting you brought to my life C & K! To keeping the promises and making every day count with self-care and compassion for myself. Thank you for the laughs and sharing your stories.
Note: To all the junglees of my life who will text me jokes about the porcelain dish comparisons, I will personally come to beat y’all up 🙂 Please don’t! Is emotional post pe kachra math karo kameeno *hugs*
Over the years, I have faced a lot of backlash for my thoughts and ideas that take me forward in life. From the day I could see how surgeons can revive a dying patient on an operating table to the day I saw a child with severe spastic cerebral palsy take ten steps during gait training without a break: one thing became clear to me. Individuals with disabilities and challenges that concern their everyday health have always been redefining how we relatively look at success and failure. Across all domains. They have forever now been challenging societal stereotypes about succeeding in a task or failing to succeed in a task. History is the witness to who were observing, listening or cheering.
Watching beautiful stories, countless of them from the sidelines, sometimes being a minute part of these efforts, it is a job satisfaction that can never be described in words.
My last physical therapy case as a physiotherapist was a young stroke victim (38 years old) with right side hemiplegia. He was originally from Rayalaseema. He was also undergoing other treatments during the same time. I particularly state this here because I want many of my non-rehabilitation profession friends and family to know a fact.
Recovering from an illness, rehabilitation after accidents, re-training to handle a sudden disability: all these processes are complex and need so much help. It is never just one service provider.
One of the very common things you will see happen in countries like India is, rehabilitation services that families strive to provide for their loved ones often times include a spiritual component. And he was a believer in the help his parents were bringing to him from a spiritual perspective. And I think that is why working with him has left an indelible impression of my mind. How he was motivated to heal and was willing to stay involved. Often times it is so much dependent on the individual.
In about 10 days I think:
He progressed from not being able to hold the pen to being able to hold the pen.
From not remembering me to remembering every morning that I was his PT and that my name started with either P or B (even though he couldn’t yet write them down).
From needing full support to take a few independent steps to being able to stand up from a chair independently.
From tearing up every time I helped him hold a spoon to laughing out loud every time he dropped it down and I had to collect the glass beads back.
For someone like me who was trying very hard to heal from a terrible time in that college, working with him was the best thing to have happened to me then. I will never say he inspired me. I hate to apply that term to his situation or any other rehabilitation scenarios. His effort and the pain he battled everyday to make it through each session, they are indescribable. Nothing is inspiring when you see a person struggling every breath to take a step or to lift a small wooden block. For people who are really involved in their work as rehabilitation specialists, those are what I call the gut punch moments. The real moments when you are constantly reminded to not do a lousy job (because you had an annoying drive to work and for reasons like that) because someone’s ability to eat independently or self-care without dependence in future is solely relying on the chance that your care and training will be helpful to them.
Today I went through one of those evenings where you sit in open cold and you cry your heart out! You cry because that is the best thing you can do for yourself and that is only thing in your control. 15 minutes into the crying, face in my hands, palms wet with tears, I see his face when we last time said bye byes. I remember so well. He held my hands in both his hands and kept patting them while talking. He said to me, “You don’t know how much these few days will always mean for me in my life. You have the ability to be patient with people like me. You should continue to do the good work that you have learnt after all these years in college. Your problems will vanish someday. So choosing to leave the profession because of what people did to you because of politics is a wrong decision. And anytime you want to give up, remember my face and tell yourself that he will not appreciate it”
Why I wrote this today:
Social media was thrust upon our lives with no advance notice. It has now become a big part of our lives. For someone like me, I very carefully choose what I post on my social media (primarily because I don’t want to pain people with the challenges I have to face like everyone else). There have been several days like this in my #GradLife so far. When I have felt completely alone as the only Indian women ever to be here doing what I have done so far. So don’t ever assume that what I am trying to learn here has been easy so far. It is not as rosy as it looks on the social media. In extreme situations when possibilities for success look bleak, I remember his therapy days and ask myself.
Is it harder than the therapy days he persisted through for progress?
The obvious answer I hear my mind give me is NO.
The amount of kicking and screaming I have done to life every time I faced a challenge will blow everyone’s minds. Over the years the way I have been defining success and failure in my life have changed. The seeds for those thoughts though, were sowed during those therapy days when I worked with that young man from Rayalaseema.
He complimented me about living in a nice part of the metroplex and said I made a good choice to go to school in Denton.
SB: “I came to the US eleven years ago. Went to school here and graduated from high school. Are you from India miss?”
I uttered a how did you recognise me to be from India while laughing my heart out [It is not hard for people. I wear a bottu always]
He smiled and asked me “Don’t we all from outside the US look a lot same like people from one country miss?” He continued talking. “I was raised as one of the many children for my parents in Liberia miss. So, what do you go to school for? Nursing? Lots of Indians are doctors and nurses. Do you know that hospital on Independence, Presbyterian something? They have a lot of doctors from India there miss”
I am in Adapted Sports…[pausing a second to say] like Paralympic sports..Do you know about it?
SB: “Oh yeah! you guys do that sports thing with peoples who have disabilities right? That is such a blessed work. So nice so nice miss!”
I paused a bit before I continued talking because I didn’t know his name and I am so used to conversing with people by using their names where ever possible. “So, have you seen any adapted games in live?”
SB: “No, but we know. They are everywhere these days. You see ads and all and then you see so many friends sharing these videos on Facebook always. It is amazing that people who don’t have hands and legs can do so much!”
Does Super Shuttle treat you well?
SB: “Oh yeah! I work 5 day/week. They are very fair and nice people at work.
That is good! Its good to know they treat you well! So you help your family back home? You send them money?
SB: “Yeah, I send $100 and that is about 8500 money back home. Helps a lot to send even $100…So… You get scholarships? A lot of Indians I pick up every week. All of them in colleges. Every Indian takes college seriously. Always working hard in college. No fooling around. So many rich Indians in Plano and Frisco. So nice to know hard work pays someday.”
[By now I was smiling and imagining the multiple factors that contribute to the ‘high’ number of Indians in Plano and Frisco. And coming to many Indians in colleges, I can’t but wonder how many even know where they are headed.]
I break my thoughts and say, “Yeah, studying beyond high school is important and for some people it works. They have help. Turning back looking at me with a smile in his eyes, he nodded affirmative.
SB: “Yeah, my brothers and sisters are old enough to come and work here now. I am processing the papers and they should come here soon. I want to save enough for myself also because I want to go to college too. Someday.. Now if they come and can earn too, we can all go to school. So, do you get a scholarship miss?”
I am on a student loan for tuition and an on campus job pays my bills.
SB: “Oh, that is good! Very good!”
You can sometimes qualify for some university programs that will help you pay for college but that will put you out of work because you should go to school full time then.
SB: “Yeah, that is nice but I can’t do that now. But once my brothers and sisters come here, I will definitely try to apply for such programs. Thank you for telling me. I never thought of such options.”
Do you know that some of my most favourite songs are by a Jamaican band called Boney M?
[I cannot believe to how many people of African heritage that I have introduced Boney M. It is like I am born many years after they stopped singing but I am still stuck in their peak years of music]
I played the song on Youtube for him on loud volume and he was all tearing up listening to that song. I quickly scribbled the song’s name for him on a piece of paper as we pulled into the airport.
SB: “In my country, there are so many languages. Don’t know what language this is but the music reminds me of home..my country.. I haven’t gone home on 11 years. Next year I want to go home.. [He broke down and kept wiping his eyes with his collar]
So you are finally going to meet your family?
SB: “My parents are long gone. When we were kids. I just miss my country and my home. I will go next year if I am lucky”
I got down the shuttle, gave him a ten dollar bill and told him, “this is not a lot but I want you to continue and believe that your siblings will come here. You will all be family again. I want you to go to college some day and feel proud of what ever you want to pursue as a career. I want you to help more Liberians study and do well.”
For many of us, we get to eat a meal we crave for, buy what ever we desire and watch a movie we want to. Our family ( or parents) are a call away. Or even sometimes, hardly a plane ride away. But unfortunately how often I see that these exact blessings are so invisible to us. We don’t realise how irreplaceable these people are and how invaluable their presence in our life is. We are lost in our own perceptions and pains leading everyone around us into a vicious cycle. I wonder how would the same perceptions and pains take shape if one is made to face the decision of their life with life and death on either sides of one single choice one has to make: Like leaving one’s country for almost forever to find a safe job to work in and send money home.
I was on my way to a vacation last Thanksgiving and this conversation happened. I got on the flight with a lump in my throat and cried out (while writing this in my journal) till I could almost forget the look I saw in Sangray Bangalee’s eyes. It is a curse sometimes when you can be sensitive to other person’s suffering. Everyday when I pray, I wonder if his siblings are here and if they are all one happy family living together. Sangray’s case is not alone. We cannot solve all the world’s problems. But we can at least regard what blessings we have. We can share our blessings with others. That is all that we can do as mere humans. Otherwise, we will, as a human race continue to grow in numbers but be of the worst possible quality.
Where: Shenoy Nursing Home,Secunderabad
When: 1986, October 29th
Who: This is me. Yes, Jussri. Since I’ve always posted pics of others here I thought, this article would be the best only if I put in my pic.
I post a lot of pictures of random people and scenes on my website. I like to spread goodness around me. These days I meet a lot of people who often ask me if I am a photographer. Well my answer would be a yes-no. I have forever used photography as a medium to attract people to read my scribbles. Alongside in life I developed a love to capture other people smiling. That is how I ended up taking assignments. But if you ask me who am I?
I am a qualified Physical Therapist working towards contributing back to the field in my little way. Photography and writing help me spread the good things that I was brought up with.In two days from now, my parents celebrate their birthdays which are on May 9th and 10th :)[Yeah yeah, both are Taurus(eans) 🙂 ]. This post would be the only best gift I can give to them. Having talked about the ‘ Why’ part of this write up, I will now move to the ‘what’ part of it.
Every time we rushed home to complain that the teacher caned us bad,my mother’s standard question round was the first wall to hit. I swear to God I have never hated anyone more than my mother all those years. At times I felt she enjoyed making us feel bad.She would start her conversation like this.
“Nuvvem chesaavo cheppu” ( First tell me what did you do)
Well, it was difficult to hide facts from her.
“Memedho arusthonte kopam lo kottindhi sister( Yeah, yeah we were yelling and sister caned us[I studied in a catholic convent and we called our teachers Sisters(nuns)]
Then she would start her reverse engineered explanation for the entire situation. You are three kids for me at home to take care. I still find it difficult to manage you. How can sister make 60 students quite in 45 minutes?
I think it is justified she caned you guys!
Justification for the caning done!
No more arguments your honour.
And we disperse. This was the order of our life all through out our schooling.
Everytime there was a complaint from us, my mom went back to the root of the issue. Looking for the cause.
Fast forward many many years and I am in my General Medicine lecture. Day 1. Dr Joshi. A veteran general medicine specialist from our hospital was taking our first class.
Two things he spoke that day have remained in my mind forever.
1. Developing an inquisitive mind.
2. Believing that every problem/obstacle had a cause for it at a grass root level.
20 years of listening to those two lines and a professor telling you the same point in a medical school!
I really needed a break from listening to the same stuff every where i went. Looks like every one has same mothers like mine. But having been through medical school, surfacing out of a hell hole with minimal scarring, fighting my way through tough situations in life, I can never thank my mother enough for teaching me my basics right.
In these days of arm chair activists and anti-arm chair activists, I want to send out a plea.
Look with in yourself. Are you doing absolutely the best thing right now?
Are you able to show the strength of your character in testing times?(by not giving into temptations and short cut ways to success and wealth)
Can you say a No to yourself and strike a balance in the temper times?
Well, when I was tested, I asked myself these questions.More precisely,I was taught to ask myself these questions.I have always been this, ‘ drops of water make an ocean’ kind of activist for social causes. For all of you who are bugged by the over motivational videos and shows that keep cropping up around you every once in a while:
Stop watching television
Pick a hobby
Make a to-do list
Appreciate little things
Spend time with the elders in your family , let them tell you stories from their life
Count numbers when you are angry.
I never liked growing up under the iron hand rule of my parents. Today I absolutely cherish those moments. Today I am glad I grew under their parenting.
For all the challenges I faced,I surfaced unscathed because I was taught one best thing right.
Problems are mere situations and the solutions are right within them if you look at the roots, routes and causes.
Here’s thanking my parents for giving me an excellent up bringing. I thank God for letting me be your daughter folks 🙂 Have an awesome year ahead.
I am a qualified Physical Therapist working towards contributing back to the field in my little way. Photography and writing help me spread the good things that I was brought up with.In two days from now, my parents celebrate their birthdays which are on May 9th and 10th :)[Yeah yeah, both are Taurus(eans) 🙂 ]. This post would be the only best thing gift I can give to them. Having talked about the ‘ Why’ part of this write up, I will now move to the ‘what’ part of it.
Every time we rushed home to complain that the teacher caned us bad,my mother’s standard question round was the first wall to hit. I swear to God I have never hated anyone more than my mother all those years. At times I felt she enjoyed making us feel bad.She would start her conversation like this.