Embrace Your Illness, The Greatest Teacher
A moment that taught me life I never knew. It transformed me.
The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong. Now I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions. Facing the blind deaf stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head — Oscar Wilde, Into the Wild
21st April, 2017 was like any other day until it happened! This day was going to be very special in my life on 2 counts: One, it was my work anniversary at Infosys, a leading IT company in my country, India, completing 14 years of my work life in a wonderful organization. Two, it was the day I started writing lyrics for my songs back in 1999.
It was a Friday and the day promised to be very busy with a host of exciting activities lined up — both professional and personal, something that was a norm after my debut music album “Think Void” launched late last year. I had arranged to meet up with my college lecturers as a part of certain sound-and-light projects that the engineering students could help me with, to promote my album. I had to meet an acquaintance from Mumbai who had come to Bangalore. These meetings were going to happen in two different corners of Bangalore, — a city where distance is measured in time, thanks to dense traffic conditions. I would have to cover close to 57km in the afternoon, a distance that would take me close to 2.5 hours to cover, and return back by the evening! A challenge for sure, that beckoned me!
Would I win over this challenge? Turned out that there was a bigger challenge at the end of this “challenge” — which taught me a lot about illness and us, our being, our families, our relationships! Here are some key learnings for me from this momentous time that I will refer to as ‘my day of awakening’ henceforth!
Learning # 1: Believe in yourself, but believe your inner voice more, always
Remember a time when “something” told you not to step out in the evening and a disaster struck right then? Or an instance where that same “thing” told you not to eat a piece of cake because “something is not right”? As vague as it may seem, this indeed is your inner voice. The least you can do is listen and act as it says. Nothing more. Nothing less. It’s something that I have been following all my life but on that day, I was resolute. I said “No. I will go, come what may” and ended up on a path that required dire consequences, taking close to 2 months for a complete recovery restoring me to normalcy.
Inward is the best way forward. Pay full attention to the voice & reclaim that beautiful, inner child — Self
Learning #2: Don’t be judgmental — People and events in your Universe are there for a reason
The single anathema tearing apart the modern human society is this very word “Judgmental”. Look around and you end up judging pretty much anything in sight and in the process get judged by the same “anything in sight”. The modern world is full of stories of lunacy, heresy, business conspiracies, murders and the works. You judge a piece of music after listening to 10–20 seconds of it. Bam! The hard work and the passion put into that work lives in isolation to the harsh realities of our “fast life”. Businesses are no better, if not worse. Business establishments that have grown over decades invariably get judged either for their work ethics or for their products. I, personally do not enjoy products from certain large conglomerates for their ever-popular money-spinning products that promote unhealthy lifestyles.
On ‘my day of awakening’, I was in a cab feeling debilitated lack of strength, clueless as to what’s happening to me. I could barely focus, while crossing the road. I reached a mall, enquiring the security about how I can get water quickly, to help me feel better. I was directed to a water cooler, but to my surprise, there was no water there! Eventually, I went into a store run by one of these conglomerates, and asked for a glass of water. That water, is what led to my revival at that moment! When I look back at the turn of events that night, here I was at a mall (very unusual for me) at a store that I would not step into otherwise (something totally out of the ordinary) asking for water for my health, from a place I believe promotes unhealthy living, and I, the detester, got it with no questions asked! It truly transformed the way I think about such “world” stories now, being more in acceptance of my universe and its constituents — people, animals, concepts and entities.
Learning #3: Be Appreciative you are Alive! Nothing else matters
In your worst situation, you are far better off in life, you being one of probably 3% of the human population. My wife would say this to me, every time I felt weak, strained or lacking in energy. And it was true! Here I was, physically abled, in a well-to-do job, pursuing my passion in music, with a home studio and having a loving family — what can possibly go wrong here?
This, at a time, when the centre of the world is engaged in daily wars, children accustomed to the sound of bombs rather than the sound of music.
This, at a time, when most of the human world is struggling to make ends meet. Being alive is the greatest gift! When you wake up every morning from your cozy bed, be appreciative you can breathe and live another day — so full of promises, dreams and desires! You have another day to fulfil some of those, work towards those and make them yours.
Be appreciative you are gifted with an abled body capable of handling challenges that will come your way while fulfilling your desires. Be appreciative you have a loving, caring family that’s always there to support you, even at times when you tend to forget them, or overlook them!
Be Appreciative, Be Alive! Nothing Else Matters!
This is what I ended up telling my team at work when there was an impending news of performance-based people-reduction.
To me, it has never been about surviving a job or an ordeal. It’s always been — Live this life by being appreciative and everything will just be OK!
Learning #4: Pay heed to your physical body
The cause attributable to my physical condition on ‘my day of awakening’ was diagnosed as Dehydration. I must confess I have been guilty of not drinking enough water, ever. I was hospitalised for a couple of days and the road to recovery ended up being the longest in my life. In the beginning, I could barely sit upright for more than 1 hour. This happened for a good fortnight — a time filled with timed dietary intake, mostly supplied by my mother or wife, something that became routine and cause of monotony — for example, every day at 3PM I knew I would get watermelon — how boring! In all of this, I realised how much I had abused this body for my desires — be it travelling distances, meeting people or at work, foregoing breakfast or lunch for meetings. You know the deal! I came to appreciate the high wastage of energy we all subject our bodies to!
I would spend a whole lot of time in masticating food, with all energies focused on just this one activity — no talking, no tapping feet or hands, no watching TV or listening to others! And this would be a L-O-T of time! When your physical body is weak and debilitated, that’s exactly what it is. It needs your attention, your focus to make it better. Every ounce of energy that is created from what you eat or drink goes a long way in keeping this physical body alive and healthy. You know such talks as “you are made for a higher purpose” — those are the kind of thoughts that have resonated with me through my life, and not the survival pitches or Abraham Maslow’s lower rungs in his pyramids. But here it was, my reality that I had to come to terms with, and how!
Respect your physical self. It’s all you have got, to realise what you need to, in this short little journey on planet earth, called Life! Pay attention to it — do not abuse it!
Every ounce of energy within you needs to be savoured and nurtured. That’s pretty much what you have, at the end of the day. MOST IMPORTANTLY, that’s what YOU are! — Self
Learning #5: Express yourself however you can
During my period of recovery, I had repeated occurrences which would not only weaken my body and take it back to square one, but would weaken my willpower too, the latter doing the bigger damage. After 3–4 weeks of recovery, it was still the same routine, monotonous and boring. I had no creative ideas or thoughts that came through my mind. I had become averse to TV. I somehow could not look at the visuals. For someone who has been across news from all over the world, the associated conspiracy theories and someone who loved to connect dots and formulate his theories, if this was bad, there was worse. I, a passionate musician, had turned averse to music! Buying a guitar didn’t excite me anymore! I did end up going to a guitar store to try out a guitar, played some tunes, weak still, and bought it too. I could not play it for more than 10 min a day. And while at it, I didn’t connect with it, the way I have been connecting with music, all my life.
My family knew I would get better and kept egging me to push myself, all the time. Usually, I have expressed myself either vocally (talks, debates, arguments) or musically (emotional anguish and excitement, all in the game). This time around, neither of these were aiding in communication. How do you express yourself when you are unaware of what’s happening to you? I found a way to express myself in a manner that my family understood! It could be different for you. But, remember — You got to express what you are going through. And such of you who are blessed with loving families, immediate and extended, they want to hear you and they are there for you. Go ahead, express your biggest fears and experience the catharsis within — It’s good to be vulnerable, because that opens up a new dimension of underlying strength! Had I not expressed myself that day, I would have failed at expressing myself any better, I think. And that moment, to me, was the beginning of my catharsis — my return to normalcy.
Learning #6: Be open to new experiences and cherish every moment!
Within 3 weeks from ‘my moment of awakening’, I would take small evening walks with my mother and listen to some music for 30 min every day. This was the time the whole family would sit around me, listen to music and be with me — a feeling of bonding, a time of togetherness. If you are fortunate to have such a family, my friend, you have with you, the best healer! This worked wonders as did the music. With time, I started watching TV, not for too long though — 10 min maybe. I watched sports. It was the time of French Open Tennis and my favourite, Nadal was at it! I started following it religiously, giving me a fresh experience and at the same time, altering my schedule. I would eat regular meals, during the normal course of the day, not every 1 hour as was the case in the beginning. French Open got me back to enjoy the game, the stars, the sport and the excitement of results!
And yes, I knew in the women’s semi-finals that Ostapenko would be the champ — she reminded me of Boris Becker when he won the 1985 Wimbledon and my dad was supporting him like no one else! Sports aside, I was open to newer therapies or “alternate therapies” as they call it. I found them extremely helpful and I recommend them, if only you are open to them. A month-and-a-half later, normalcy was returning. My colleagues from office visited me one day — I was delighted to see them and interact with them. It was wonderful to meet them and my relatives thereafter.
So, there you are. From my transformational experience earlier this year, these 6 lessons of life will forever guide me as I continue to enjoy my life, making music, with a regular job and a treasure trove called family!
I really hope they would be of guidance to you in your life’s journey! Savour every moment, every experience with an open mind — newness brings in freshness brings in zeal — a new energy in life! Have a great life, live it up!