The Invisible Thread of Survivors
How I’m healing in a country that teaches us not to talk about our feelings.
In India, there is very little conversation that happens around mental health. Most times I am told to “just give it some more time”.
But I know that no matter how much time passes by, I will not stop seeing my husband’s handsome face, smiling at me in my sleep. Nor will I ever stop hearing his deep laughter, which had a ripple effect and sent everyone around him into peals of laughter.
Time doesn’t heal anything. Time leaves you with no choice. You learn to live with the pain, with the memories and with what you have lost forever.
There have been so many nights that I have spent devouring book after book, trying to block his memories out. Trying to save myself from being dragged into that dark abyss.
There have been so many nights where I’ve watched the sunrise from my bedroom window, having not slept at all or woken up way too early. When my husband was in the hospital, fighting for his life, I was given counselling for PTSD because I could hear ambulance sirens and the screaming of patients in my sleep. Yet, no one ever prepared me for what I would feel, once he finally passed away.
Suddenly, the world has left me to deal with this on my own.
The screen of my phone lit up with a message that read, “How was your day today?”
It was a close friend checking up on me as usual, after a long day. I looked at the text and then looked out of the cab’s window. The sun was setting and there was a slight chill in the air. I closed my eyes for merely two seconds, escaping from the world as I felt the wind in my hair.
I replied, “Hey! I’m exhausted :)”
This had been our evening conversation every day for the last seven months. I was perpetually exhausted. I felt that one day for me was a lot more than just 24 hours. I had become a robot, powering through the day, accomplishing multiple goals, yet feeling empty at the end of a highly productive day.
But even robots need to be charged, right? But not me.
Sleep had evaded me like a woman being denied her rights time and again.
I could not remember even one night when I had slept soundly in the last seven months, without waking up after a horrific dream after losing my husband to a road accident.
Ever since then, my nights had been tormented by dreams of him. During the initial days after the accident, doctors had prescribed sleeping pills for me because I had become a living zombie. My reliance on them had reached an alarming level and I had to stop.
In the last seven months, every night before going to bed, I have asked for a dreamless night. I know that I am at the last stage of grief, which is acceptance. Yet, no one prepared me for the sheer flood of memories that would come back to me in bits and pieces.
Every day, the reality of his death hits me at least once. And it hits hard.
To combat the growing emptiness in my life, I have thrown myself into work like a crazy woman on a mission. After work, I have ten minutes to change into my slacks and bodysuit before I fling myself into dance class. After 2 hours of dancing my heart out and bruising my elbows and knees, I come home. I then shut myself in my room and lose myself in more work, in the form of writing or reading or studying for a second Master’s course I’ve taken up.
The only time when I feel some amount of comfort is when I talk to someone who has experienced a similar loss in their lives, be it a spouse like me, or a parent or anyone who has seen death for real.
I feel all the people who have lost a loved one to something as permanent as death are tied to each other by an invisible thread.
In India, this thread is almost impossible to find because we are never taught to talk about our feelings. Most people walk on eggshells around me, not knowing what will hurt me. There are hardly any support groups for young people like me who are dealing with PTSD or other mental health issues.
There is so much dialogue happening in the world on suicide prevention, the benefits of therapy, embracing mental health realities. Yet, all of this is still very hush-hush in the society I’ve grown up in.
Why do we lament and mourn when we talk about the dead?
Why can’t we celebrate the life they lived, instead of pitying the people who have been left behind?
Whenever I step out, I attract sighs of pity. Most people write to me saying, “Please take care of yourself.” But how do I do that? No one tells me!
I wish people had more time in this world to listen, to share, to help each other. I wish that the culture around me was more open to people suffering from serious issues like PTSD and anxiety, instead of brushing them under the carpet and turning a blind eye toward them. I wish there were support groups in India, where people could meet and share their stories.
I know what a deep impact I leave on the people who read and get inspired by my writing. But I wish that even for resilient people like me, more support was available. PTSD and anxiety, recurring dreams and permanent exhaustion cannot be battled alone.
I am screaming inside, even though I’m smiling on the outside. I wish the world saw that.