The Start

They say that some things and memories you pick up as a child shape you and your personalities mostly in very unknowing ways. My childhood was no different in this aspect. One major part of my childhood was Food – good, healthy and nutritious food. Both my mom and dad made sure that the habit of eating healthy was a fun thing to do. We also occasionally indulged in fast food, but we knew early on that these are occasional treats and you don’t necessarily have them everyday. 

The other fact that was very common to us was that you can make anything at home and enjoy it too. My mom and dad were and still are big patrons of creating everything from scratch at home. Both of them put in time and effort to make exotic things at home. Being vegetarians, these experiments included dishes such as Pav Bhaji, Pani Puri, Chole Bhature, Ice Cream and many more. All of this was happening in an era where there wasn’t access to the internet.  Now that I think of it, I realize that the process of getting the recipes would have been such a challenge. The only sources were either word of mouth or the Sunday newspaper. 

I grew up believing that I could also make and create things for scratch. Thus my interest and love for creating and experimenting with food started very early on. It was truly fascinating!

So what is my relationship with Food? When I sat down to write this, I realized that they are just way too many memories, hence I have decided to break them down in shorter pieces.

Food and Stories

The best part about evenings in my childhood was my dinner time. My sister and I looked forward to it eagerly. We would sit down on the steps outside my house and would gaze into the sky and wait for it. My mom would feed us mostly at around 7 PM. The routine was to gaze at the stars and listen to different stories which she always had. ALWAYS! The dinner itself would consist of rice with a combination of a vegetable curry, rasam and curd. She would make these different kinds of chutneys at least once a week. I would be so fascinated by its color. I would like them the most and still love them to date. She would take turns to feed us and my sister and I would very peculiarly fight for the last bite. I don’t know why! 

The full moon days were our favorite. On this day, the stories would usually be around the moon and the moon god. My sister and I were just so fascinated and curious by any new information we heard. Perhaps a clear sky, the starts and the moon still fascinates me to this day.

This routine of ours lasted for many many years but was only over too soon, I guess! 

Fancy Memory

My mom was a big time baker when we were young. She baked cookies, cakes, biscuits and bread. I vaguely remember that once she had baked a birthday cake on my sister’s birthday. That wait to eat that cake was just so long!

One memory that has been etched in my mind is that my mom was beautifully dressed and was bringing the cake finally out of the kitchen. It was so exciting. I weirdly don’t have the memory of actually eating it though. Strange what your mind holds on to and what it doesn’t. 

This is a fancy memory for me as I believe that the joy to understand and comprehend that “THE CAKE” was made by my mom gave me immense joy. Up until then, maybe I always believed that it was something that was supposed to be bought and not necessarily could be made. But when my mom made it at home, I was really overwhelmed with joy and as a result the thing that I previously thought required me to visit a fancy bakery but now was being made at home, made me compartmentalize this an earliest fancy memory, indeed. 

Moon Light Dinner Memory

My first moonlight dinner was when I was 7 years old. It is a really fun memory, though, that it makes me laugh out loud even today. So brace yourself for some laughs. 

I grew up in a very diverse community and hence the outcome of it was that I was introduced to a lot of different regional foods of India. Be Gujarati, Punjabi, Rajasthan, Tamilian and Keralian to name a few. I am sure there were more. Added to this, my parents themselves are from two different States –  My dad is from Andhra and my mom is from Karnataka. So there was naturally the dishes from these places as well.

So now coming to the moon light dinner itself. It so happened that all the aunties in my apartment had decided to do a potluck on a full moon day. So many evenings were spent meeting and deciding who is making what and how much. There were multiple iterations and demands put forth by each other until they finally narrowed the list down. 

THE DAY had come. As you rightly guessed, my sister and I were so excited. My mom had was entrusted with the task of making “Bisi bele bhath” a famous dish comparing of vegetables, lentils and rice. Oh by the way my mom loves cooking for people, she just loves it. She also likes making everything from scratch. For this particular dish she had to make the masala, which sure takes time. And then there is cleaning and cutting the vegetables. On the other hand, my sister and I continued being excited as the time was nearing. We took the liberty of checking on each and every aunties progress from time to time to see if they were on track and reporting it back my mother, diligently and asking her to pick up speed. And then it was 7 PM, finally. 

The food was prepared, the kids were ready to gorge and everyone met at the spot which was decided. But, only to see that the moon was NOT visible. It was HIDDEN behind the clouds. My sister and I were still hopeful, wishing and praying that the clouds clear out.

Well, after a long wait, everyone decided to change the location. The decision was made to sit outside my house in the porch area with our lights ON! This was just so unexpected!! The moon was barely visible and naturally the excitement was only as much as it was for my daily dinner. I still can feel how I felt then, the only difference is I laugh about it now. 

All in all, these were some really exciting times. I had the opportunity to truly develop a taste for good and healthy nutritious food early on. It has only helped me immensely as I got older and moved to different places. I always used to cook not only for myself but also for and with different people I lived and worked with.

And most definitely my relationship with food has only evolved and I am immensely grateful for this to my parents.

*Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

This or That?

Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com

Life comes with some knows and mostly unknowns,

Only that the unknowns last longer than desired,

It makes you laugh, It makes you cry, It rewards you, It challenges you,

Only to prepare you, for the many many more unknowns to come !

Life is supposed to be easy and fair, Life is also supposed to be unfair and uneasy,

Don’t you ask why?

There isn’t a straight answer to this twisted question,

But, In the process, helps you in becoming the person you are meant to be !

Life, after all doesn’t owe you a damn thing,

The sooner you realize this, the better it is,

After all this isn’t really a contract you have signed, 

But there is belief and hope, The stronger you hold on to it the longer you will thrive!

As always, On the other side, there is that other choice,

As Life will surprise you will empathy and kindness, Seize it, be it whenever you can,

Without expectations, without any assumptions,

Take it all in and reciprocate, especially during hard times!

Life will give you enough and more, for you to thrive,

Recognize, respect and share it while you can,

As the only constant is change,

There is always a choice you have in Life, 

It all depends on what you choose to see, 

Such is Life, all the time !

The Uninvited Guest

 I wake up with this sinking feeling, a lump in my throat, dryness in my mouth- as if I am choking on something, as if someone is strangling me! 

No, this doesn’t happen everyday – it is mostly like an uninvited guest, which is all the more hard to deal with. Sometimes it is more regular than I would want it to be! Let me give you the name, perhaps which you would identify with – “Anxiety”. You may ask,  anxiety for what?? And now that’s the hard part. Most of the time there is not reason!

Now that I think of it, I may have had these sorts of feelings earlier also but my memory can’t  date back to the exact time period and I wonder why? Upon further introspection,  I realise that I never really had the stillness that was required to process these thoughts and feelings.  In the past, I  always had things to do – all the time, with an exception of taking out “me-time” to introspect or the mindspace to really understand these feelings.

But I guess, with LOCKDOWN my routine began to change and I guess that’s what acted as the trigger point somehow to bring out all the anxieties I have been loading on myself for a really long time.

So now you can imagine if I didn’t have the time to really understand these feelings, how would I even think of addressing them? And this just makes me another person who is supposedly “well aware” of Mental Health issues in theory but just doesn’t know how to address them in reality. For the longest I remember, I have been aware of the different mental health issues. But I NEVER thought I could be having them. This is the start of being insensitive to one’s own self. 

This only makes you want to believe it can never happen to YOU. 

Like many expectations in life, you tend to have from yourself, this adds to that long list. In retrospect, I realize that this was a standard so high that I had set that it was bound to come crashing down.

As I write on a saturday morning, I feel a sense of calm, as I have finally accepted myself for whatever it is worth.  After a lot of research and speaking with some people, I am only more optimistic as there is definitely a way to deal with this. This definitely didn’t happen overnight, it took a lot out of me to be able to do that.

 The more I talk  to people about my experience, the more I realize that there are not too many people sharing their experiences openly because of the stigma attached. There is always a lingering thought of “what will people think about me?”. Well I think “people” really don’t think about “you” so much as much as you think about yourself. The people who matter are already by your side checking in on you. So really IGNORE the rest, it doesn’t really matter what they think.

Hence I have decided to share my experience with hope that it may help someone.  But believe you me that everyone is different and doesn’t mean what has worked for me will work for you. Hence these are not prescriptive but just certain things which have worked for me. In a ballpark, it really is a work in progress and consciously taking out time to nourish yourself and your mind is just so important. 

  1. Talk to your Family

 It is very important that people closer to you, especially who you live with understand what you are going through. You may not necessarily want solutions from them but an understanding that some days are just more tougher than the other days, which is really helpful.

For me, this honest understanding was particularly helpful on days where I just wanted to let out my  emotions and  have someone to hold on to without being judged or cheering me up but just let me be!

  1. Talk to a Therapist

Family can do their part by being there and letting you be, but they cannot solve this for you. You need to seek help and that is OKAY. Really! With the stigma attached it makes it really hard, which is understandable, but all you need to do is take that step in your head first. In my case, I began talking about it to more people and I was  really overwhelmed when I saw that they were so responsive and only more supportive of the idea of seeking professional help. Some of them were  also kind  to guide me through this process and I am only more grateful. 

After talking to my therapist, I understood that the same problems can be viewed in different ways and that’s exactly what you need to be able to do to stop feeling that way to do. The change in perceptions is so important I realise. My therapist did have me a range of perspectives on the issues I am dealing with which I didn’t think of for the longest time. Some of the feelings and thoughts in the present were actually manifestations of the past and I never could have made that link all of myself, ever. 

Basically, all I want you to understand is that your mental health issues are not necessarily a manifestation of your present situations. It may have triggered in a small way a long time ago but wasn’t big enough for you to pay attention to. Hence, it makes it doubly important to seek professional help who can decode and deconstruct this and bring a more realistic perspective back. 

  1. Breath – Breath – Breath

Like many things in life,  we underestimate the power of breathing. While this is so important for us to live, it is yet a territory which is unexplored. It acts as a magic wand only if you remember to use the wand in the most anxious situations. The more you consciously breathe, the more oxygen your brain gets and you will have more power to control your emotions. Some primitive parts of our brain are always trying to protect us from any possible dangers by sending out Flight or Fight Signals. Therefore, remembering to breathe your way out of your situation is extremely powerful. I have Post-its at my work desk which just says “Breathe Deeply” and has definitely helped me. 

  1. Mindfulness

Seems so simple but yet so hard in practice. I knew the importance and most importantly the benefits of mindfulness but have failed miserably to keep up with it. Taking time out for mindfulness practices, to be with yourself and to  follow it diligently requires a lot of self discipline and regulation. One pattern that has worked for me is to do it at the same time everyday. But, the day I skipped it my brain started sending me signals it was okay to skip the next day and the next day and so on. Try different things until you can stick to one until it becomes second nature to you. 

  1. Journaling 

In all honesty, this is very new to me. I have hardly used a pen to write anything for the longest time. But the point was that I had to start somewhere, somehow! I will agree that it really did feel alien to be in the beginning.  But with time I only could see how I really started to feel more secure and protected with this daily practice.  The point here is that the mind is filled with so many mixed emotions, thoughts and feelings all the time and we just do not have the time to process it.  Forget understanding the trigger of these powerful emotions. 

But with journaling, I had my safe space, I could really write about anything and go back to it only if I ever felt the need. All I knew that my thoughts were safe in there. This process also helped me to realize the emotions causing stress and help me realign my thoughts and feelings. Journaling for me has been about the journey and not so much about the final destination.

6.Disengage:

This could be with things, people or your own emotions. It is really important to do this from time to time. 

Things: In my case, I always wanted to be on the top of things such as replying to that message, mail or call all the time. But, with this in mind, I started to have a cut off time for doing this. It is really hard and on some days  I again go back the old ways of doing things. But having a self regulation is a good start I realize. 

People: Invest your time and energy very very selectively.  This can cause more harm to you than you can imagine. An important trick here is to accept that some people will give you all the energy in the world to make you grow and fly and some won’t. Understand and accept that instead of trying to seek validation. Trust me once you reach this point, it is just so liberating!

Emotions: This really is a tricky one! You think that they are in your control but not really in most cases. There are so many times I am thinking either about the past or the future. Here it is important to again understand that your mind is always trying to protect you. 

In a recent book I read – The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma, he further goes on to explain it really well. 

“ One of the fascinating traits of our ancient brain is its negative bias. To keep us safe, it’s far less interested in what’s positive in our environment and significantly more invested in letting us know what’s bad.”

Hence, this is a daily practice/struggle in a way to be able to think beyond what you are actually thinking. And as a result, ignoring and surpassing emotions and doing what is really required of you to do.

Finally, I started sharing my experience with everyone around me – my family, my friends and coworkers etc. It is overwhelming to see the support and most importantly the need for more such personal stories, even though there is so much information.  I write this with an intention to help people deal with their mental health issues without brushing it any further but most importantly to challenge myself and IGNORE my minds protective signals and go past it.

After all, there is so much more to life than one can imagine so give it all you have got to  not just live but to thrive!