Posted in Diversity, Inclusion, Inclusive, learning, Pride, QuillSe, writing

Be Proud in Your Pride

I am somebody. I am ME.

And I don’t need anybody to make me somebody.

-Louis L’Amour

Who am I?

The search for identity wasn’t only Buddha’s pursuit. 

Each person’s own sexual and gender identity is core to this search. Am I a man or a woman? Who and what decides it? Whom am I truly and deeply attracted to? Should I conform to a norm that a majority or a community prescribes? What is making me want to fit in? There are so many questions carpet bombing my mind. 

Pride month is celebrated all over the world. There are arguments or views on why the world suddenly awakens just one month in a year. It hasn’t been easy to convince organisational leadership to invite them to learn more and promote understanding for all.

In the organisation I work for, it has been an amazing journey over the past two years. To go from thinking “deviants” may be one or two to taking baby steps with five people identifying last year as a part of the spectrum to this year with over forty-eight people identifying themselves.

Gathering vocabulary that provides clarity on sexuality, being able to distinguish gender identity, body types, sexual orientation, and much more has been a powerful journey for me. 

Human beings are more than the binary understanding we have been conditioned to.

To begin with sex is assigned at birth. That’s not just the factor that defines our sexuality. Our sexuality has more dimensions than the sex assigned at birth. Gender and sex are not the same thing.Fit is based on the genitals but may not be based on what the child may grow up and identify as. Gender is largely how you feel about yourself. It is what you believe about yourself and identify with. Gender is a social construct. 

Let’s take another step forward. What’s your sexual orientation? Somewhere along the way, we begin to find ourselves attracted to or attracting potential suitors to procreate. Humans (and dolphins) are the only beings capable of engaging sexually in both recreational and romantic contexts.Here comes our attraction, which may be inconsistent or consistent with our identity by assigned sex or programmed or resonating gender. When did you first realise you were “straight” or “heterosexual”?If the answer is “I just knew”, then that is the case for others as well. Very naturally.

Lastly, there are expressions: how we choose to express our identity and the way we show up and interact with the world around us. The clothes we choose, the makeup we wear, and the roles we play in our intimate interactions. 

The world of ourselves offers a window to find out more for those who are curious, open-minded, and non-judgmental about what is around us. The rules of that world include “don’t yuck my yum” and being “accepting” of other people by telling them “Come as you are.”

Posted in Mental Health, QuillSe, Solo Travel, Therapy, writing

Birthday Bane – Mushroom Boon

“Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go,

Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth

Mama, oooh

I don’t want to die,

I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all”

Freddie Mercury

For many years now, I have found my birthday week a very difficult time to process. I am anxious, cranky, oversensitive, and want to hide and disappear. People who are close to me know I don’t want to be wished on this day. I have almost always wished I was never born. In a world where there are rules and there is a need to tame the wilderness inside of us, I find myself a misfit. The fearless state of being vulnerable, expressing, and experiencing is often determined by how others outside of you will feel.

Last week, at a gathering, someone offered to go trippy on mushrooms. I was advised to receive the mushrooms in a spiritual, natural, and ceremonial way. With my birthday around the corner, this seemed like the perfect gift to mark the completion of my 42nd year and welcome the gift of life for another.

On Ceremonial D-Day

A dear friend facilitated the much anticipated ceremony. After a gentle spiritual cleansing, we consumed the magic potion of carefully weighed shrooms and reflected through a meditation exercise. A soft melody began to play. My stomach was churning a bit.

Tripping the trip

As the day was ending, twilight was alive, and soon the colours around me became enchantingly enhanced. The stars in the sky, moonlight through the clouds, layers of red in the bonfire, flying sparks of fire and the vibrance of people around me were all intensified. It was better than an 8K HDR surround experience.

Another level of the journey began after putting on a blindfold. I transcended into an extraordinary world of rule-less formations and colours I had never seen before. With the sense of space, time, dimension, and direction lost, it was a free flow. I wanted to further explore that alternative virtual space. The closest comparison I can think of is an extrapolated version of the dancing screen on an iPod when playing music. 

My Kind of Celebration

Laughter came easily, even with a difficult stomach. The palms of my hands and my feet had separate identities. I felt disintegrated into the ground with no sense of the rest of my body. “Now I get it” and “Now I know” ran through my mind a few times. It reinforced my belief that godliness is inside of us.

I recall reaching out to my grandmother.I saw her younger self in a very abstract form, her struggles with birthing and raising my father. There was a moment where I was questioning the human idea of wanting to capture Mars, and if the life of music and art are formations.

The visuals I saw with the blinds on and off were very different and both worth it in their own right.

Birthday Party

My sense of gratitude for allowing myself to experience this, under the gentle facilitation of my friend, was soul-fulfilling.

It was great to wake up with no hangover or side effects and to be able to remember most of what I experienced. I celebrated my birthday with a grand party in my head. A party that was just mine, thrown by me for me.

The humble mushroom helped me celebrate the day of my existence to its fullest worth without shame or guilt for who I am.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Posted in learning, Mental Health, QuillSe, Therapy, writing

Navigating Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The theme for 2022 is “Together for Mental Health.” It prompted me to revisit my path and publish this blog, which I had written some time ago but had since updated with some new learning.

In 2000, the number of death by suicide was 1,08,000. In 2020, this number increased to 1,53,000. NCRB data for 2020 says India has about 45.7 million people suffering from depression.

As I recount my journey, I want to highlight that I am not a “Baba” or a “know-it-all.” But I’ve been there and done that, and it is humbling if my path and experiences might benefit someone else.

My Journey

Over the past few years, friends, family, and acquaintances have reached out to me asking how I survived depression and made my way back “successfully” from the low. Our discussions hovered around some common thoughts that cross our minds in times of crisis. Our judgment of ourselves is paramount. We hold on to the misery without giving ourselves a chance to get out of it.

Along with losing my head, I had lost all faith in my abilities. I failed to believe I was good at anything. Neither as a son, a husband, an employee, an entrepreneur nor as a dreamer. I was not good enough to make anything work successfully. These thoughts had been weighing on me for a fairly long time (let’s say 6 years or so) and the triggers only got stronger after a toxic conversation in my family. That invalidated me for being who I was.

Over the next 6 months, I wrestled with myself until the day I choked on it. I couldn’t rise from where I sat; broke down for no apparent reason; was breathless; felt I was sinking.

The pain was unbearable when I was at my lowest point. Panic attacks, breathlessness, weight in the chest, regular headaches, inconsolable sobbing, lack of food, inability to sleep, focus, or remember, acute blazing wrath, insecurity of desertion, and dread of loss were all common occurrences in my life.

I was then nudged by my wife to pursue the long-pending item on my listto seek help.

From then to now, it has been about four years. The ride has not been an easy one. Nevertheless, seeking help and staying on the path was the best thing I ever did for myself and for the gift of life I have.

The good news is that if you get out of your comfort zone and want a way out of the discomfort you are in, then seek help. You and your soul WILL make it out alive.

My Two Cents on Seeking Help

There is so much taboo around addressing mental health that I wanted to share a transparent point of view and set realistic expectations.

  1. Seeing the therapist is the first step. Find one who has learned psychology (the art) or psychiatry (medical science) from an institution of repute and is recognized and licensed by the RCI (Rehabilitation Council of India). NIMHANS, AIIMS, and PGI are some of the institutions of repute.
  1. Spiritualism is not an alternative for those who need therapy. Vipassana, Baba business, Yoga, and visiting coaches or religious institutions will not fix the problem. A dispassionate approach to making you strong enough to solve your issues is the need of the hour.

Choosing a Therapist

  1. Please take help while picking a therapistReferences do matter. Your therapist should be capable of handling your situation. It is non-negotiable that they are RCI registered and licensed. Ask for their accreditation license.
  1. Therapists are not one-size-fits-all.
    • Once you kick-start the process, do not go “therapist” shopping. It will damage you. You will have to re-live your low moments every time you meet a new therapist.
    • Pick one and stick with that person for good. A therapist is someone you want to be as sure of as your partner. They have to deal with your mess in the head and fix you up. Trust them to do their job.
  1. You are NOT going to a therapist to get advice. If you are, then you are wasting your time and money.
    • It is critical to understand that you are the solution to your problems.Therapists know how to get you to solve problems, so long as you are committed to solving them.
    • If anyone is advising you with solutions, trust me, they have no idea or patience to do what their job expects them to do. Avoid therapists who act as advisors.
  1. Likewise, if your therapist starts you on medication without really making you push your mental limits of confronting your uncomfortable truths, run from them too. Find another therapist.
    • Medication is NOT the first step. My intent is not to create resistance to a medication when you need it, but rather to emphasize that refrain from taking an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant drug to feel better.
  1. Your therapist has a life. Therapists are not grocers or traders, please do not ask for discounts. That is their bread, let alone the butter.
    • The average session will cost you about Rs. 2500 an hour in the metro/cosmopolitan cities. With an average of 1 session a week, you will be spending about Rs. 10,000 a month.
    • If you take stock of the money you spend every month on other incidentals, the therapist fee will still be less than that.
  1. Go to a psychologist first, and you will be recommended appropriately to a psychiatrist if necessary. They are two different roles in the area of mental health. Only a psychiatrist can prescribe medication as they are qualified medical doctors.

During Therapy

It takes about 4-6 sessions before you are likely to build rapport with the therapist. You are likely to have some difficulty confronting your innermost trauma-causing moments. Be patient. Bear through the pain; it will pass in its time. When you are ready, let it go.

  1. Some people find themselves feeling good after 3–4 sessions and decide to stop going to see the therapist. Do not stop until the therapist tells you that you can stop. Behavioural changes take time. Let the therapist decide for you.
  1. You will have healed greatly throughout and after the therapy, but it does not imply you will not experience lows. When triggered, you’re likely to have a meltdown, but you’ll be able to handle them far better now.
  1. Do not come home and tell your loved ones and friends what you shared with the therapist. As much as they love you, they are not equipped or trained to handle the issues you are going through. Your sharing with them could trigger them. Let this be the dark matter that only your therapist can handle.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • It took me 12 months before I decided to take charge of my life and do the right thing. The first step takes time. It is less for some and longer for others. Trust the process. You will come out healed with some bruises and holes. But you will live to tell the story and help another person.
  • If you think someone needs help, let that person come to terms with that fact. Otherwise, it can backfire. You can take the horse to the water, but you can not make it drink. Therefore, do not force it.
  • At times the triggers are the closest blood relatives in the inner circle. The trigger could be your parents, siblings, spouse, or children. It might require cutting the source of the trigger to be able to heal completely.
  • Lastly, going to a psychologist is like going to any other doctor. You are not mad or schizophrenic because you are not able to handle your emotions. Professional support makes it easier to get through those. It is simply the right thing to do.

Mental health claim lives

We can see a decline in the suicide figures if we treat mental health without being ashamed of it and don’t condemn those who are going through a difficult time.

Let us make a commitment to stand together for mental health.

Posted in Inclusion, Inclusive, learning, QuillSe, writing

The Silver Lining

Eda, how do we know what app to look for on the phone? asked my 78-year-old father after observing me doing something on my smartphone. While growing up, I saw him pride himself on being hands-on with technology. 

Times gone by

In the 70s and 80s, a person with tech acumen was able to operate, repair, and improve the experience of electrical equipment like TVs, amplifiers, ovens, lights, and pipes in the house. We prided him on being able to comprehend, apply his intelligence, and make things functional. He was electric and electronic savvy, so to speak.

Ever since he saw the first computer being installed in the company he worked for, something the size of a monstrous generator, he flipped. He was scared and cautious about interacting with a personal computer. The language and terms were tough to comprehend for him those were big reasons for his unwillingness to learn. He was operating from a space of fear and insecurity and hence couldn’t take this learning journey at the pace that was needed at that time.

The present

With the entry of smartphones into our lives, this learning gap has widened further. There are two generations handling this very differently. One whose lives almost depend on it and another who can’t seem to understand how anyone can do almost everything on the phone.

I spent the entire last month with my parents, and it was a very insightful time for me. I observed them keenly, their rituals, thoughts, outlook, insecurities, survival techniques, and much more.

The future

It made me think about the kinds of challenges that lie ahead for our generation and beyond as we transition through our age timeline.

What is it like now for an average person to interact and transact on the Metaverse, Blockchain, or other newer concepts? What more evolved technologies and innovations will enter our sphere, making life simpler for some and more complex for others?

Soon, silver will shine in our generation. Time is moving faster than we can comprehend. Remaining relevant and productive will become more challenging by the day.

Grow together

I wonder if there is something we can build as communities. Focus on enabling the middle-aged generation as they interface with the technology and lifestyles of the future.

What can be done proactively for the multi-generational workforce so that they are purposeful and fitting in times to come? How can we leverage the collective power of the present to prepare for the future and stay productive and grow together?

It’s about time we started building muscles and preparing as a society. This opportunity definitely has a silver lining. There is immense scope to learn and grow together.

Posted in Backpacking, learning, poetry, QuillSe, workshop, writing

The Searing

I recently attended a workshop called “Jokering Justice” by Sambhaavnaa, something which was on my to-do list for a while. This experience turned out to be a deep reflection of self and what it’s to be like in the shoes of the oppressed. Penning a few lines on my journey with the Theatre Of The Oppressed.

Tiny fluttering desire
Fleeting thought to aspire

Searching for something 
An unknown in the world of known

Looking at the wide blue sky
Deep longing to be free and fly 

With enough on body and belly
Soul still trying to find meaning

What about those who despair
Live with out gratitude, unaware

Finally, I found the way to ride 
Make a journey to the other side

An experience insurmountable
Thoughts, actions, words all on table

Learned the every path is not linear
Grateful for all that made me sear