A decade of ‘recovery’

2010-2019 gets over in a few hours now. An eventful decade, full of recoveries, adventures, love, friends in all parts of the world, flowers, homes, family, books, research and more. Phew! woof! what a decade it has been. Not easy to capture in a blog post, so it would be foolish to attempt it. Instead I will focus on the word ‘recovery’- silly though it may seem.
But then this was a decade which began with my ‘recovery’ – a non-drug dependent recovery from bipolar, in 2010. I did not know then when it all started that I would someday be studying my own recovery, through the lens of a researcher. So this was the decade in which I was slowly morphing from a psychiatric patient, overwhelmed by her bipolar diagnosis, to a self-trained researcher. The testimonies of that started coming in the previous decade when I had peer- reviewed publications, though I had not yet turned the researcher’s lens on my personal story.  Moving out of psychiatric medication also brought about that change. And then came those early attempts at documenting the ‘recovery’ from how I understood it then- three journal publications in 2011, 2014, 2015.

2014 was another year of adventure when I moved with the four dogs I had to live in a village in Goa, and meeting with the Goan countryside was an experience I will remember for long, perhaps until the end of my life. I often think of my landlord Hyginus as the only person in Goa who was really fond of me from the bottom of my heart. Little did I know how attached he became to me and my dogs, and so emotionally dependent upon us that once I left his house after a year of being there, within two months he passed away. Not that I was in any way responsible for it, but his loneliness and sense of abandonment was so acute that it ate into his very soul and killed him. A simple man constantly misunderstood and rejected his whole life, a single child of parents who were extremely poor, who by dint of his labour and traveling on ships for a living gathered a lot of wealth, building four houses for himself and his family- all throughout rejected by his wife and sons, due to his deep dark complexion.

2014 304.JPG

My Raga stands in Hyginus’s side of the house and on the inner side of the gate was where I lived myself, while he lived on the other> The gate was put here to confine the dogs to my side of the house.

Life can be unfair. Seeing Hyginus and his heart, or how people treated him or how they perceived him, how he struggled to keep up his dignity, living in a small part of the house he had created and letting out the bigger one to one tenant after another got him an income and possibly some company, though not all tenants were like me. There had been an American lady who perhaps stayed there six years and another English couple whose length of stay I cannot recall.

There were many others I met and befriended in Goa, but there was no substitute for Hyginus. However another person who is a dear friend until now is Mina- who interestingly I met at a vegetable vendor’s, in Fatorda, Margao. So we are the best of WhatsApp friends nowadays as I have kept busy with research and writing, keeping away from all friends, for want of my ability to manage time. I remember seeing a very exquisite part of Goa once with Mina, we both drove down in my car, though I forget the name of the place now. Having a car with me in Goa was a great blessing for it gave me tremendous mobility and freedom, without of course the ability to figure out where to go! Google maps were not such a rage then, as they now are and that curtailed me somewhat. Not that I knew anyone anywhere to go visiting them anyways. The Goan adventure was just over two years, which enriched me yet brought me to a place of peril- which became a turning point for me to return back the same 2000 kms I had gone. It was a heartbreak to return and build all broken fences/bridges.

But it was also facilitated by the fact that I had gained entry into a doctoral research, by a sheer dint of fortune (how else to justify it). So at least this was the time when my acumen as a researcher got established as a certainty and I entered university with nearly eight peer-reviewed publications in tow, perhaps the highest a researcher entering into a doctoral program would be having in most parts of the world.

May be there is a time when a person needs to morph from being a producer of research articles to a producer of books :). With the completion of the PhD research I hope to complete that part of the journey of my life. This (doctoral) research has been a very interesting, yet difficult journey of research, replete with spinal issues and another attempt at recovery – of my bone health this time, recovering my lost self from the abysmal darkness of mental ‘illness’ and then diving down at the deep edge to understand recovery more fully, thoroughly and minutely. A few days back I wound up my first draft thesis and sent it to the supervisor, who has finally shown some interest in my work and has understood that I am doing something quite interesting. Otherwise all this while half the time she did not even respond to my emails. Until now we have only had a brief ten minute phone talk once in 2018 I think- which was so useless that I decided never to talk to her again until I reached the very end. Having finished the first draft of course meant that now the time had come to get back to her and share the work I had done.

Coming back to Faridabad has also meant recovering my life from all the lost years, nay decades of life, rebuilding the life of a musician by first setting up the music school (that I intend growing in the new year), and then starting out my counseling practice, from both of which I have so much experience now that it merits another scholarly endeavour of writing!

And this decade has also meant losing Raga, Nikki and Dash and welcoming Rhythm and Floe into our lives. I do not know now whether it is fair or ethical to mourn the ones who are gone, which also includes my grandmother in 2013 or celebrate the new arrivals (which means all the children of my brother and sister as well)  but in keeping with the infinite flow of life we can only bow to the passage of life, and accept the inevitability of this motion. What is here today will be gone tomorrow and the circle will go on unceasing. It is comforting yet not when you lose someone you love. I still ache in my heart about my dogs.

Making friends with wonderful people all around the world has been another enriching experience and I have begun to value the nature of these friendships which bring people together for ideas, rather than other selfish needs or fear of loneliness. And the range of people is big- from scholars, academics, to artists and therapists, students and whatnot. Students have a special pride of place in my heart- not only because of the bond of a teacher-student  but how we enrich one another on a fairly regular basis. It continues thusly.

Andre keeps busy and his & my lives are interwoven in a deep, yet distant manner- My Phd years have been tough on him and us- for I have not had the mental space to accommodate him/us, overwhelmed and forever tired as I largely have remained, for most parts. So this is where things have brought me at the end of the year or decade. Steeped in work I do, passionate about the work, in deep meaningful connections around the world, full of ideas, musical compositions and ideas, always on the move with research and doing all the latter without any financial support from other than family resources. It has been quite a venture really- but well worth it I suppose.

And with this goldmine of knowledge I move into a new decade, whose numbers also look so musical, especially because I am born on the 20th of a month. There is rhythm in this year ahead and there is Rhythm in my home…and dogs go on with their doggy lives, chasing rodents and up with their playful barking as researchers like me turn grey in their locks.

DSC00808

Rhythm the dachshund

A decade of recovering my lost self, gaining myself back from the suffering of mental illness and a decade which brings me to my emancipatory road of taking this knowledge into the wider world around, with this doctoral research as I now begin to wind off. I hope this earnest labour of years spent alone racking my brains, interspersed with the doggy lives, and music classes will be well worth in the year ahead.

And I hope that anyone who drops by to read this post will also be enriched in their lives further and possibly this post will bring a sliver of hope to some that they can also overcome their suffering no matter how daunting it appears at the moment. It is still meant to be overcome for this is the destiny we are all born with. So here comes a decade of taking the knowledge of recovery wider and catalyzing more people’s recoveries via the counseling work I do.

Thank you friends for reading and for your interest. I wish you a beautiful time ahead and hope that the change of the calendar will weed out the useless and bring in the goodness. May it be so- may there be flowers in your gardens and may all your earnest hard work bring you all the blossoms you have earned.

DSC01365

A full bed of chrysanthemums  in December 2019, and the dogs and birds on the far side of the photo

A special year, ending…

Yesterday was a special day, or may be this whole week is. I am tired, relieved, at rest, trying to be at rest and in general very relieved. Naturally enough, a long stint comes a full circle. But I think this illustration says it even more succinctly…

 

Ha…but say whatever one can, finishing the dissertation is a big deal for everyone. And that is where I am today, since yesterday. So officially the full dissertation was sent to the supervisor yesterday, 23rd Dec. Three years, five months is what it has taken to get to this point. Oh yes, I must admit the trajectory was something like this

But that is how life is always, yes? So why expect anything different from the Ph.D process. But anyways, the less one talks about it the better it is.

I am so relaxed and deeply tired that I am not even able to savour these moments!! Oh no, nothing of the sort 🙂. Paradoxically I am not tired at all- I was wondering what the matter is. And then I remembered how seamlessly I have woven the idea of peace and joy into daily living, notwithstanding physical troubles, whatever anyone can have with reduced physical activity. In this blog post I intend looking back at 2019, and to the gains I made, the people I met, the work I accomplished, the writing I managed and the plans I now have. No I am not putting the plans down in the post, but in a general sort of a way, just laying a little road map down for me.

DSC01331

A new unusual lily flowered this year after over two years of just having leaves. This grows in my backyard

All through the thesis writing process I have been itching to write scores of journal articles and quickly get down to working on a book about the work I have done in the Ph.D., document the counseling successes I have been having in these years, the musical ideas that are constantly churning in my heart. It has been a very torturous yet extremely, extremely enriching experience. And the biggest enrichment is the fact that I have done this work sitting at home, surrounding by my loving/taxing family- principally animals, birds, my students of music coming in/out of my home/life, my counseling clients likewise and my family, my partner, and the changing contours of my dog-pack. The dachshunds are extremely young and active, vivacious and full of beans.

The publications that appeared

This year started with a first publication in the EPW. It was an impromptu piece, written as a reaction to something that had garnered a lot of eyeballs then. There is an Indian politician calling another politician unfit to be in politics due to her past of mental illness. Both are well known, and it raked up unnecessary controversy, the way the gentleman Subramanian Swamy is accustomed to! I have shared a copy of the same. It was a piece I wrote in the shortest time in my life, about a few hours. It took a couple of weeks to publish as I had first sent it to The Hindu newspaper, but perhaps I did not send it to a proper email!

Then the editor of EPW invited me to write an article on the occasion of the general elections in India, and I grabbed the opportunity, which was around the 15th of March, and I had a deadline of a fortnight. I managed to meet the same. But just in this March (on the 2nd in fact) my Ph.D. supervisor told me to submit the thesis by November-December. Technically my time with the university is till 28th July 2021, and I was hoping to submit by Feb 2020. But her words made me focus on it like looking at an arrowhead (without looking left or right). But one of the key reasons I bit the bullet (about writing the article above) was that it was an opportunity to question the goal of psychiatric treatment- and talk about ‘recovery’ as a concept, in short advocacy. Anyways by the end of the dissertation I now know how contentious the idea is and why my friends from the West are so appalled at the idea of recovery in psychiatric literature. I have come up with a new sort of formulation, though it is not new at all. It is an extension , or rather mirrors the evidence that began appearing in the US in 1970’s.

The third article was in fact a first I had submitted to the EPW- it was sent in October 2018, though getting to see the light of day in June 2019. I questioned the co-option of peer workers by psychiatry, in some new ‘innovative’ work they are doing in Gujarat! Sadly June was the month when I unexpectedly lost Dash my baby. He would have been 15 this month, but nay his life was suddenly cut short. In a way one could be happy that he did not suffer the way he could have, had he an illness, yet the suddenness does not let me reconcile even till now!

DSC00241

Here is Dash, another winter, by the spinach and lettuce beds in the backyard

And then came the last, the first in fact, a journal article which first brought me in touch with Canadian academics. An exacting and thorough process that also,surprisingly, gave me a lot of clarity about my whole research, or at least the methodology part of my work. This article had begun in 2017, the usual life of a peer reviewed article. In fact it was April 2017 that I proposed an abstract for it, which was accepted and I had to submit a first draft by August 2017. So finally that article published in July 2019, a true blue journal article after all 🙂

Dash’s loss has been a big one, and Ginger continues to decline steadily. In June she also turned 13. Right now her hind legs are giving way. She was the first pup I brought home and she is with me longest- it is amazing.DSC01275

She is old, fragile, frail and quite dependent- even to pick up her rotis. Flow the little rascal has figured he can steal her food as she cannot run after him and he does manage it if I am not watching sometimes. In other words, I not only have to cordon her off after giving her a roti, but also make sure he is not locked in with her! The baby/dog gates I have around the house are very useful for these little adjustments, especially when you have little rascals doing all sort of thieving around! If you see in this picture I have to keep her hair very short, due to the severe skin condition she suffers from. And naturally she cannot be covered with any clothing. But since she is so senior, she remains in her bed mostly and I on my part make sure she remains covered with one or more blanket or whatever else is required. I have also had to muzzle her at times for otherwise she ends up nibbling on her body a lot. We are also working with her using CBD oil which the younger sibling is ‘supplying’ nowadays. Of course her innovations are going great guns and we are also benefiting in diverse ways. Of late she has also embraced the Chinese Chi-practice and god knows when she would soon be a Zen master as well 🙂

There have been many experiments in the garden and newer adjustments, giving the frugal budget I have had as a researcher, but things are quite interesting. I do not have pictures at the moment but I am growing many new vegetables for me this winter. Currently there is radish, spring onions and garlic growing for the first time, along with the regulars- spinach, lettuce, coriander, and tomatoes. But here I am going to put a gallery of all that grew in the summer and what grows as of today, Christmas eve in the front lawn (not every corner of the house). The creeper that I had grown on the main entrance has also nearly covered the breadth of the gate. The latest changes will show on the next blog, if I write about the winter flowers again or about life in general as it takes off in 2020. So here is a gallery with garden images from around the home until today.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of the nicer experiences of 2019 has been getting to know like-minded academics from all around. And I am certain I have written about Jasna Russo elsewhere whose work I absolutely admire and love. She recently got her Ph.D from Brunnel University and has taken up a teaching assignment in some German University. But there was another person whose work has been very influential for my work, and that is Canadian sociologist Heidi Rimke. In fact upon reading her and Bruce Cohen from New Zealand I figured that sociology ought to have been my parent discipline. But at the time I was studying I did not know about it and by the time came to know any better I was out of the ‘system’ as an outcast, ‘invalid’ (if I may say so about myself). I find the greatest resonance in Sociology of all the disciplines though I have not worked much in it, or just seen some ideas from a distance and tried incorporating some in my writing. That is why I was even toying with doing a post-doc in sociology of mental health. But I think so much academics will keep me away from working with people directly, something I do not wish to postpone any further- even though consolidating ideas is always interesting to a chronic or, may I say, congenital researcher like me!

I am putting in two more sets of photos, one is of the weaver bird that made a nest in my garden and Andre happened to spot it when he was here and we steered clear of it. I pray to god the babies survived, even though I could not see them. But today when I uploaded the camera photos I realized they were hiding in the nest which was well tucked away from the eyes, woven into the leaves of the chlorodendron creeper.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

One set is of the bird family and in another set I am sharing the animals and birds around this little home of mine.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So this is a bird’s eye view of all that went around and goes around, leaving little time for boredom and fatigue. When tired I just drop dead like the dogs and then get up to work another cycle of this nutty cycle. There is so much going on in disparate dimensions that one side keeps offsetting another constantly- nothing accumulates, nothing tires me and I hardly ever get bored! And as far as the world is concerned- there is the phone for those close enough as of course the car, and the social media for those who are separated by one degree or several, depending upon the degrees. On the whole it is interesting, colourful, a lot of responsibility and enjoyable.

And even though I have shared a picture of these flowers above, I still insert it once more for this is the latest one from today and even tomorrow morning when I wake up I will see these flowers in my garden. I also wish to share what an email from a friend just said to me. It was such a beautiful message that I want to put it down here, before it is lost in the pile of emails. In response to me sharing that I had finished the first draft of my dissertation she said,

Congratulations, Preeti! This is such wonderful Christmas news. It is symbolic of you as a gift to the world, generously sharing your lived and learned knowledge in this colossal milestone. The first draft is the hardest part, and I look forward to cheering you on as you move to the finish line!
Well done!!

So sweet and kind 🙂 Thank you my dear friend, it is friends like you who have been instrumental in me taking heart to carry onward. for instance had it not been for Ramakant-ji, I would have quit long ago! ON that note I wish everyone a beautiful season filled with love, kindness and sharing. May there be peace and joy to the world.

DSC01366

Dogs go on with their doggy lives as the cockateils bask in their enclosure, and we all enjoy the sun for whatever it brings to us on a cold winter Christmas eve, while the winter annuals continue their growth in the baskets readying their colorful hues for the soon to come spring.

Meanwhile this is the grim reality of Ph.D life and I cannot say I have been an exception to it-

Image result for phd jokes images"

Must leave with this beautiful, utterly beautiful piece of music

Peace as daily practice (for me)

In a world filled with millions of reasons for dejection, anger, helplessness, loss, suffering and other such oddments the practice of peace cannot but be a mindful endeavour. We cannot just say ‘peace’ and not engage with it at a behavioural or action level. Only words are mere rhetoric- they mean nothing because they change as the day changes. But cultivating a practice is a difficult task, which requires us to watch each of our actions on a constant, non-judgemental, detached manner, and also change it whether it is out of sync with an inner compass of peace.

I accidentally stumbled upon the fact that today is the World Peace Day. And of course we all associate the dove with peace outwardly.  But how to cultivate such kindness and non-violence is a challenge we have to constantly remind ourselves of. It was good that I learnt of the day early in the morning and I chose to remain aware of my actions for the whole day. This was a practice of wakefulness by itself.

flying-white-doves-isolated-on-blue

I happened to have a mixed day- there was a new client for counseling and an old one that I wanted to review things with. There were students of music and there was the big water issue on the domestic front that I have been struggling with for a few days now- which necessitated me to buy water for the first time yesterday and keep calling plumbers every single day- paying money everytime not knowing whether the issue is resolved or not! It is a pain to deal with so much domestic stuff, especially when it jeopardizes the work one is engaged with at the moment.  This is the last phase of my doctoral dissertation- yeah, this time also had to dawn finally. There is considerable work done and more planned ahead. I kept thinking of the idea of peace and whether everyone is really working towards that in their life, or whether it can be achieved in un-awareness.

And these are the thoughts I thought about my actions, of late. The academic work I do is towards searching for a solution in mental illness. In a world full of mental suffering perhaps the way ahead is to help people deal with their suffering and enable them to look at suffering in a different manner, or assist with changing the frame of perception. Well, that is what one can do in cousenling, but in the doctoral research my goals are somewhat different. And I think considering the violence I have faced from my university, the fact that I could still cultivate reasonably good habits, and not plunge into any depression was itself the outcome of a deep inner calmness that I have identified and learned to engage with or recede into frequently. And of course, also to recognize my triggers for anything- whether anger or hurt or pain or whatever else. I cannot say these emotions have not visited me in the three years and more I have been doing this work now. As a matter of fact, they have been frequent and regular companions…yet never could they overwhelm me or derail me to any significant measure.

Peace is not a thought for me any longer, or an aspiration– but a daily habit which needs to be practiced at every level. I cannot shove disturbance in a corner and think about attending to it when I have the time. This produces stress, and a majority of people do that- push the uncomfortable stuff out of sight so that it does not bother them for the moment. Actually it only recedes from sight, but not the mind- creating stress and pressures slowly on the mind and then body.

This is what leads to all health issues as we grow older- the violence we create for ourselves in our day-to-day life, the lies and the deceptions. And people do not even know they are deceiving themselves, at least not on the face of it. Deep down there may be an awareness- in the depth of their heart. But then, most do not listen to their heart at all! So naturally they are tuned out of themselves and their actions tuned out of any sense of propriety, peace, decency and morality.

How to cultivate peace

I cannot say that I have an answer to it already, but certainly it is a quest, how to deal with the daily violence of living in a world full of self-promoting, self-serving and self-loving individuals and not become one like them, at least all the time? Perhaps the only answer lies in awareness. The greater the awareness about every single action we perform, the greater is the likelihood that the action will be performed in awareness that it should not violate anything- neither in thought, speech or action. The greater then is the likelihood of being non-violent. But non-violence should not be confused with inaction- not performing any action, for that is sloth then!

Equally important is the way we spend our time. If we spend our time in killing time (watching TV for instance) and not producing something worthwhile for the world, which contributes in making the world more peaceful and beautiful we are shirking our responsibility. For instance as a researcher if I do not love what I do and I do it because it gives me a degree (which a majority of people in India do research for), and not the absolute love for knowledge, or making a worthwhile contribution to society- then the only love I have is for MYSELF- because I want to embellish myself with the most I can. And since my values are attached to a certain respectability that a degree gets … every act, even of research, is only self loving and not knowledge loving, not love for society or anyone else either. It is only to secure a job or get a promotion or ensure continuity in the job- and that makes the work laboured and insipid!

I feel grateful to my parents who inculcated in us a value for knowledge. At that time they did not know how deep the roots of that love were being sown. Today I feel a deep sense of inquiry and a wish to look at myriad problems with a view to finding ways out, also a great deal via research, or sharing my findings via research in the three areas I work in.

Gardening and peace

Gardening is the closest we can be in nature close to urban living, without considerable effort, and I think gardening is really an activity that  connects us to ourselves, to mother earth and to life in its enormity. Seeing the birth of plants and the completion of their life cycles season after season also tends to impart a certain acceptance of the inevitability of life and death, which makes it appear like a continuum and an endless cycle of rejuvenation, which is not such a calamity after all. Of course, the role played by my little animals is completely without parallel in this domain.

Earlier today, while talking to the new client, he happened to share with me the death of a certain person in his younger years and how it affected him. I remembered how my aunt’s death affected me at 18, and how it slowly built into a huge depression and spiralled into becoming bipolar by the time I was 20. Today I am five months over 47, and there is so much water under the bridge- and such a change of perspective, vision and philosophy. Without philosophy we are doomed, that is clear to me now.

Gardening is definitely a philosophical practice, for in an ethical, sensitive and respectful engagement with plants and what all they attract- birds, squirrels, butterflies, bettles, insects and so forth, we increase our scope to observe and meditate on the motions of life, birth/death, childhood & ageing. I remember suddenly now, how I used to sit on my porch in the village home I lived in, in Goa, and be in reverie and the feeling I had was I was watching enternity .

DSC01102

birds flocked on many sides too

And I would just listen to the sounds of the birds. It was serene, green and tranquil- a sudden chirp, twitter or crackle would disturb the silence and then go silent again. Sitting amid greenery and nature one sees the eternity of life, like a witness and then we realize that these things were always there- from primordial times, from the time the earth was born and life on it appeared. Only we came much later and our awareness of it came even more late. So now cultivating that awareness towards the eternal and the ephemeral makes us see how limited our time and therefore how gently, how peacefully, how carefully we ought to spend it.

It is Mother Nature which is eternal and the Earth, we are ephemeral and our time limited. So making the most of that time means bringing into awareness our actions, our efforts and our engagements with other people, and forms of life. Am I in any act of mine wounding another or showing my power over them- in speech thought or action? It could be someone who works around my home, a student I teach, a person I meet on the street, a client I engage with in counseling, a member of my family, and even the animals around my home. The choices to be violent and nasty are present at every juncture, hundred times a day. It is only by awareness of another’s humanity and our own, remaining humble not arrogant no matter what knowledge, what money or what power comes to us can we remain peaceful.

Without being at peace within we cannot spread peace around. In that case peace is only a rhetoric which is not followed by ethical practice, best epitomized by politicians (in India) whose every act is steeped in stupidity, rhetoric and self-love, so tuned out of themselves they cannot see how they violate life, civilization and the progress made by millions of humans until now.

Peace is not for  those who are ignorant, because the ignorant cannot reflect on their own actions, filled as they are with deep narcissism. To reflect on ourselves we need to cultivate peace, an aware peace in which we dare to question all our actions, without needing the scrutiny of another. That is what makes an ethical individual, an ethical researcher, an ethical human and a just society. To create a just society is the effort every reasonable, conscientious person would venture into. The rest can go on in pursuits of their little appetites, creating their mental messes that all    else have to deal with! Yet in spite of that we need to remember that even the ignorant seek peace, no matter how erroneous their ways, how short-sighted or self serving. To truly cultivate peace we have to embrace the entire world (vasudhaiva kutumbakam consciousness) and recognize each being’s quest for peace- and that is the quest that unites us with everything in the universe. As the Dalai Lama wisely says that each being wants to be free from suffering, and that is what unites us all. And that is another way to say the same thing. A beautiful reminder of our cosmic connectedness with everyone we choose to embrace in our quest for peace.

(Perharaceps had it not been for this topic I would not have been able to write a blog post at this juncture. So the next time I write another one, it would perhaps be after the completion of my dissertation- insha’allah)

Dash departs

When a beloved companion suddenly departs, it only has one effect- a stunning blow one doesn’t know how to respond to. A day of not eating, a day of listless breathing which I attributed to flatulence or anything (not that he ever suffered from that) does not really prepare anyone, until all the signs do not become a writing on the wall. But that one day gave me all the warning and prepared me- to the extent I was ready for it, for all the signs were slowly appearing. Towards the evening I even got a big hole dug in the garden, for I knew it would be anytime now!

senior citizen

Dash: 19th Dec 2004- 28th June 2019

 

When you love and live through so much together, your companions more so the canine ones, become such an invisible yet constant part of life one does not even look at them. What am I saying?! Of course this is not true. I looked out for him every single moment, more him than anyone else– because I could see his growing vulnerability, especially with the young dachshunds around growing stronger and bolder. I would ensure he was in the room with me wherever I went, especially with the heat now so intolerable. He would wait outside the door for fear of the younger dogs and I would just get up every time or usher him in before closing the door (i never fully close my doors even with the airconditioning). But this was only in the last year, and progressed as the youngsters grew older.

How long we go back

Dash had a long history with me. There are many dogs I adopted in life but having adopted a dachshund earlier, when I had an opportunity to get another home I did not think a moment about it, and promptly got him home. I still remember the long drive from Gurgaon to Faridabad; where I got him from a family who wanted to give him up due to some of their problems for that time. He was born in that home- his both parents were there too. On the day I went to get him he barked at me initially and I shook for a second thinking how would I take him back if he were to show an attitude? But he had a weakness for drives, and he promptly jumped into my car when I held his leash. And we drove away.

After awhile I think he figured that the drive got too long; it was almost 35 kms. And once he did and seeing a stranger at the wheel, he started howling! Now this was a lonely road and not much happening around, except for random people in their cars and bikes. But I felt embarrased seeing the people looking at the dog howling in the car. And this continued for at least ten kms, until we reached home. Once we reached home, the other three girls- Ginger, Nikki and Raga were waiting for me. They heard my car and started barking excitedly. Now Mr. Dash forgot all about his past life and decided that he had to deal with the adversaries at hand. All the howling stopped and here we were…starting a new life. I brought a small male dog into a home with three adult females- golden retriver, labrador and german shephard. He was four years old and by far the oldest for all my girls were younger to him.

img_20170121_080939588_hdr

All the dogs in one shot

It was a short process of befriending the retrievers and a little longer with Raga- but in time we all became a happy family. But happy families have to do things, manage stuff and when the family is dominated by canine members, then the human usually ends up doing a lot of stuff!

And so i did- managing a home with four dogs taught me everything about life, everything that I needed to know about humans, relationships, discipline, the value of timeliness, routine and so much more- remaining organized, remaining unwavering, not questioning the work that needs to be done, not making too much noise when suffering, because I saw how placidly animals accepted their suffering, whatever it be.

A Goan adventure

But happy families with an adventurous human also treat life like an adventure- which it is meant to be! And we all experienced the crazy adventure of the Goan holiday where we lived in a village and a city- one year each, soaked ourselves in the Goan country and then happily returned home. But not before we captured some of our experiences on this blog, which of course is now defunct, but which still holds in place some of our fondest memories from Goa. And in this one you can see how Dash would strategically place himself and seek Nikki’s comforting companionship.

nov canine stories (20)

Tolerating Dash, as he seeks the comfort of her company (Faridabad)

One can see the silent exchanges Nikki and Dash were having- they were quite a pair really.

Raga was the first of my girls to go, even though she was the youngest. That was in October 2017, then it was Nikki’s turn on 8th June 2018. And now it was Dash- 28th June 2019. In three consecutive years three of my babies have departed. Dash has shaken me just like Nikki, for there was no illness, no warning- perhaps another sagely demise like Nikki. One day of not eating, not showing much response – a certain delirium, and gone the next morning.

He was having some hiccups and coughing and everytime he did, he expelled either from his mouth or his bowels/bladdar. I kept him clean till the end, made sure his sheets were changed, bed was clean, the towel under his head, to prop him up to ease his breath, was clean too. That was the most I could do at this stage I felt.  My heart was very disturbed and I even postponed one of my music classes to the next morning, of the three I had, because I did not want to be away from him that long. I taught the other two classes because by then my sister was here, and she was by his side while I taught. By the time I came up from the music classes, she told me this was the final countdown.

Living in surrender

Between us we have seen so many dogs, from our earliest years that we can tell. I called someone and got ready for the next stage of life. It is a strange eerie thing that while someone you love still lives, you get ready for their burial. But I now think that this is the greatest acceptance of the inevitability of the circle of life’s circularity, that what is…will pass out of being, into non-being. If we were to only accept this wisdom and live in awareness of our short time, no matter how long it appears today, perhaps we would develop some insight into what we do, how we think, how we worry/fret/suffer or whatever else it be.

So these were the dogs because of who I chose to not go to the US for my PhD, and I am so glad I chose not to. The exact feeling in my heart was that my dogs were ageing and at a time when they were ageing and needing my tending to, could I just leave them with anyone and hand over my responsibility to another? Would I not suffer to remember them at a time when they would be ill and they would be dying? As though prophetic, this is exactly what happened. While the PhD still goes on, the dogs passed away- one in each year, as I mentioned earlier. In July this year, 2019, I complete three years of PhD research and three of my dogs have departed. It was them, my greatest companions because of who I am doing this PhD…and I think at least today I have the comfort that I kept my vows to them. If they have been faithful and loving to me, so have I tried, in learning from them the greatest of my life lessons, imbibing the values of dedication, commitment and contentment, regardless of what/who you have, or do not.

Now here is a collage of photos with Dash in each of them, the rest may or may not be there. I am unlikely to be there in most as I would be the one behind the camera, capturing vignettes of my life, my loved ones, my adventures.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But I do not write this note in despair…neither should anyone who reads it construe it thus. It is meant in honor, in love and in gratitude for lives shared and loved deeply, for companions who endure every season of life and for the circle that continues as younger dogs live on a reminder that even when we will go there will be others holding fort…so let us do the best we can, while we can.

DSC00789

Why gardening heals and other reflections at the end of first quarter, 2019

This year is super- busy, and despite wanting to I have not been able to take time out to write a single blog post on this blog. But foreseeing the months ahead, and in all likelihood I would not be able to come back here again I want to wind off the winter, and welcome the year ahead with reflections, rounding off open loops and coming into the zone where a lot of work is getting nicely aligned, in a serene manner. I cannot hasten anything, because it is all seamlessly connected- whether the manner an article is written, dogs’ food is cooked, thesis takes a step further or a child learns a new bandish.

The whole winter, starting Nov 2018, almost till mid-March 2019, there has been a lot of gardening activity. For someone like me, who has no time to step out of my home, partially because I am so invested in what I do, and partly because the whole world comes to me right here- via the internet, the metro and whatnot, gardening is really the thing that brings me back into a zone of deep serenity. Add to it the gentle, loving presence of dogs- the world becomes loving and capable of sending echoes back. But of course it all asks for tremendous efforts– animals, gardens or anything else. Equally as much as effort, one requires resilience- else when plants will die, wither away, perish, not sprout or get infested, one will lose heart and give up. Mother Nature does not relent- there is no mercy in nature. Something is weak, it will be killed- it is as brutal as that. So either you protect the weak or you discard the weak- no point breaking your heart over something you have no control over.

So first of all this bit about the gardening, which took in a lot of investment this year, and I thought it was important for my soul, for my inner equilibrium to step out on all sides of my home and be surrounded by greenery, bird songs, sight of birds, flowers, trees and everything I can create in the arid dryness of this really harsh place, a dusty industrial uppity town, where people ooze attitude and arrogance- starting right from my neighbourhood. Fortunately it has happened, and will continue with the effort we have put in- me and Ram Rattan.

It is not just the financial effort from me, but also the ideas, the arrangements, the planning, the failures and the bouncing back. So many of my seeds did not sprout at all, I told Ram to simply go and buy the plants as saplings after bearing the losses and seeing the failures. the losses were of Larkspurs, poppies, nasturtium (due to hailstorm a full standing bed was finished), dog flowers and possibly more. So it was a matter of tightening my belts and instead of weeping over the loss, plan the next move before the end of the season. So these are the outcomes of that double effort. Like they say, there is more to it than meets the eye- and this is the full picture now- the huge efforts must be shared, and the spirit of those involved, so that one can see that every little thing carries a whole trail of stories behind it, it is not as simple as it looks.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

I have kept busy with my dissertation, research papers, singing classes, counseling and managing this little house-  a lot of balancing for certain, and being on my toes constantly- fairly tired at times. But this much work is only possible if one builds in certain elements of  discipline. But thanks to the sheer volume of the work, that has also happened.

DSC00962

I have also managed to start walking the dogs regularly now- it is a great relief personally and better for everyone; though i really want to train them as well, knowing how sweet and responsive they are, as well as intelligent in general. Rhythm is sitting in this picture with papa watching her. I sometimes tether her, because she straightaway jumps into the flower beds and starts digging quickly, true to her breed instinct. This is the only time papa visited this entire season. I think he was very happy to see the garden and the profusion of flowers around.

And now in this collage ahead, i share the vegetables I grew this year- which is certainly a lot more than last year and hopefully I will do more of the same in the months ahead

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

A bit about the dogs- Ginger is really suffering with her skin issues, but I have done everything possible under the sun for her and she is eating fine, sleeping a lot more naturally due to her age, and always by my side. Dash is older than her, but fortunately a little better than her, possibly because he did not start as a weak pup, like she did. The deepest lessons come from my animals and the plants around- just because my beautiful girl Ginger is so frail, and in poor health, I can only love her more, respond to her barks for demanding food whenever she does and make sure she is comfortable, her ears (which ooze pus out, due to blockage of ear canals) cleaned regularly, and her hair also kept trim (bought a trimmer for that recently). This is the best I can do, in addition to all the omega three oils, food, vit.B (to both seniors) and whatever else is possible in their food, including curd, milk – for whoever wants whatever.

senior citizen

Dash, the senior most among the dogs, now into his 15th year

If a dog’s love doesn’t diminish for me when s/he is old, how can mine? Similarly my parents, similarly all the other people in my life- seasons change, but that does not change how you feel about the ones you love. This is the eternal flow of life and we are all crisscrossing across time and leaving one another richer for the experiences, if we choose to see it that way. Else we all have the freedom to feel cheated, feel betrayed, wronged, or whatever…there is no end. The river of life goes on, regardless of our response to it, for this is a great cosmic game, and we are so little- we can only bow in wonderment, wipe our tears of joy, of sadness- gather ourselves and smile back to the universe in gratitude. Thank you Mother Earth for all this love

DSC00909

Ginger, March 2019. I don’t have a chain around her, this was only because I bathed her that moment and let her dry for a few minutes in the sun

15022012014

Ginger in 2012, while Dash passes by

As 2018 slips away into eternity

Yeah right! Eternity. No matter what, we will never be able to return back to it- unless of course we choose to return to the experiences, the people encountered along the way, the knowledge gathered and the friendships forged.

Couple of days ago I wrote a little blog post about my research and writing in 2018- it has been a year of gaining tremendous clarity about many many issues, in and around mental health mostly. And then in the same vein I could say that my networks expanded in mental health in almost a 360-degree way. From social scientists doing fantastic work in Sociology, to therapists doing phenomenal work in recovery in mental illness and of course the work done by people who have lived through mental illness and now work in the scholarly/activist domains- these become three sets of practically unconnected people, though there are minor overlaps there. What I am saying is that I got to know people, in person all over the globe in these three domains- social sciences, therapy and the survivor/emancipatory network. 

louis-k-755561-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Louis. K on Unsplash 

Now I think about it, its a BOOM moment, when suddenly sparks flew in all directions and lit them up- illuminating pathways which must have been there all along, but suddenly became visible. All in mental ‘health’. It is amazing that so many people are working in mental health in such contrasting and different ways- it is a miracle I got to see and experience so many sides of it. I have to thank my Phd work in a small way, though these things are not really linked to my research. It is all in the wider field of mental ‘illness’; a great expansion of perspective/s! In that sense, it’s been a great year.

Perhaps in most other ways, another year, like the rest of them. Some losses, the most significant being Nikki, my labrador- there won’t be another like her. My utter-est sweetheart!

Dec 2010, Delhi-Goa 064

Wondering what to do

I am quite thrilled about the forthcoming publications and the progresses I am making in the dissertation. I am not thrilled about the dissertation necessarily, but the fact that it is moving at all 😦

And since this year has been a very introverted year, with limited mobility outside of home, most work has happened within the four walls only, except for the visit to Greece. I am not writing any further for now, but I hope to in the new year, for this year is already over and what has to be done in the next one, should be spelled out or chronicled then. Adieu 2018.

another clear one

Each of these people is working in mental health, except the Finnish, young woman in front of me- who was finishing off her Phd in Education. This is a predominantly Finnish group, barring one lady each from Paraguay, and Australia, and another young person, whose face is hidden who is Greek. As of course me- Indian!

11 years today

On 15th October, 2007 when I was 35 years and a half, I moved to this home in Faridabad, near Delhi the capital of India. It was (and still is) the prime of life and as a single woman I had chosen to live alone with my three girls- Ginger, Nikki and Raga (GnR- yes, guns and roses). It was a sea of uncertainty that I dived into and today that many years later when I look back, I can only see how much I have become the person I wanted to. I even have the confidence to put my website in place which is in my own name, and not any organization’s.

It is not easy to bring everything out in a little piece of writing that can befittingly encapsulate the turning of destiny’s clock for me- yet the change is there for anyone to see, especially someone who has seen me over a span of time. Today, of my initial companions it is Ginger who stands by ; a weak little thing, over 12 years of age and the light in her considerably diminished. But she is a beautiful dog nevertheless and even when I see her weakening form, I cannot but tend to her and love her deeply- remembering all the phases of her life. Right now she is sleeping peacefully, after her meal and walk. Her body is deeply affected by a mange which has become too chronic for treatment I keep up whatever

IMG_20181008_144645

support is feasible. This means I give her an oil soak, with four oils combined into one and leave her in the sun and then bathe her. Andre also gave her an epsom salts dip. For years I have been treating her for this mange, but somewhere it could not be eradicated. Then her ears too became infected and the tubes inside fused, so that the ear canals are closed! They are always very vulnerable for pus formation and then the flies come and lay eggs! In the last few months she has had at least two-three episodes of that- maggots and all the rest. Painful to say the least and painful to see her thus- and then taking to the vet and getting the treatments. Ageing dogs break your heart yet give you immense courage for the stoic acceptance of how they handle their suffering. I realize that more than any human being, I am learning from these little beings around me- a peaceful surrender to whatever life brings and lying around gently, eating, sleeping and then moving to the next thing that needs to be done.

This is the time of change of seasons and it also happening in the home -refurbishing and consolidating many existing structures. Today a painter is painting the new fence as well. In this picture one can see  the welders welding and putting it in place.

IMG_20181013_113953

The garden is all empty now for this is the interim of planning the winter plants and we are all getting ready in so many dimensions

11 years is a long time and a short time- depending upon who is seeing it, but in this one odd decade everything I completely changed in every conceivable dimension of my life. It is a satisfactory change indeed, but perhaps the wistfulness comes most from the people left behind in the process- who could not remain a part of my life- for what they meant once and what they mean today are again, two polar opposites. And this is especially true for ‘friends’. In a manner of speaking, there is a lot less presence of people posing as friends and in a way there is a relief, because everyone’s size became visible in this span of time and the ones who had to drop off, just did (the well-fed ticks). There is no more time to write this post now, as the writing that I need to work on is calling me to hasten and wind off this little note. IMG_20181012_201209

I do- with a bow to the hands of time that gave me this beautiful house, all thanks to my parents, and the scope, imagination and resources to create a new life for myself. The last picture I share here is the living room – the lights in this picture are a bit weird, which is really not the real lighting here, but it captures the elements- the fish in the aquarium, the cockateils, the dining table, the seating- to imagine that I had an empty house when I came here- bringing this idea of a home into fruition has been a great adventure. And that brings me to the closure of one and the beginning of another adventure. I mean the adventure of having a home for myself in which I could do everything I wanted to has been accomplished. And now from here I begin the building of my dreams, which will unfold further ahead from here.

I came here, an ill, bipolar woman- ridden with anxieties and an uncertain life. 11 years down the road, I am a therapist, a doctoral researcher, a musician, and an entrepreneur- what more could it be?