The art of letting people in

In a previous life, I had a secret baking blog on WordPress. It was called Thoughts and Cakes.  I was young and full of hope of making a life selling cakes and used books. There were silly posts like ‘how to make Mascerpone cheese in an Indian kitchen’ and recipes for Armenian Nazook (I no longer remember what that is) and Nutmeg cake. The blog was doing okay, then after about three years of lurking around I shared it on my social media. People could not’ve been kinder, they said incredibly kind things and shared it with their friends and family and the blog grew overnight. There was only one problem, I simply couldn’t write anymore.

This is what happened. I couldn’t believe the nice things people told me, I was convinced that I was getting away with something and if that blog had continued to live people were going to  figure out that I was a fraud and a fake. So I left it at that point where the people still liked me. Maybe that is a feeling all of us have at some point in our lives to varying degrees.

That was about five years ago, a lot of things have changed in this time, now I have the luxury of walking into a grocery store and buying a tub of Mascerpone but I no longer bake, my beloved camera died and I am much more cynical but it turns out the imposter syndrome still remains the same.

The last few posts have been the ones most close to my heart but it seems like the more honest I get with my writing the lesser and lesser engagement the posts get. Some of you have openly expressed your dislike about the last posts and I am incredibly grateful for that, that is exactly how it should be.  I don’t want you to have my back no matter what. But there is also that part of me that wants to be liked and keep all of you around.

The solution in this case of course was starting another blog and another secret internet life which I have been doing since Feb but that is also going to have the same fate, its just a matter of time. So here I am trying to keep this going. Trying to get a thicker skin and trying to believe there would be a few people around even when I let the guard down. Let’s see how far it goes.

Love,

Jo

PS: Some people who are reading this blog are absolutely not allowed to hate me, you know who you are!

Mental health over every damn thing

Do you know that ideal image of a ‘self made person’ ? How about we stop celebrating that?

We talk a lot about mental health stigma these days, but isn’t an important piece missing in those discussions? The stigma inside our heads? The voice that keeps us from reaching out for help? The voice that tells us constantly to be an adult and get over it? To try a bit harder?

One of the hardest challenges I have faced in the past seven months of organizing a support group is convincing people that it is okay to get some help. No one, not one person who showed up believed that they deserved  help. The discussions always went in the direction of ‘there are so many people in the world that have it worse, maybe I should stop complaining’. This involved a girl who wanted to die at the age of seven because her alcoholic parents threw her out of her home, not that you need such a reason to feel bad, just so you get an idea of how far the stigma goes!

mental-health
Found here

May be you are right, things aren’t so bad for you now. But does that mean you should wait until it gets worse?  If you were having a flu would you feel guilty for taking a day off?  Would you feel guilty going to a doctor if the flu doesn’t get better after a few days? Imagine that you mind had a small flu if it helps.

May be it is not that you are not trying hard enough, may be you are not getting the right kind of help.

Let me tell you a story, there was a time when self harm was my answer to pain. I found refuge in that. I didn’t know it was something other people also did. I felt ashamed, and  told myself a million times not to do it, it didn’t work, people told me not to do it, it didn’t work. Then I went to the clinic and there they asked me to try holding an ice pack, or to try drawing on my body with a red pen, or to put a cream on my skin that gives a burning sensation but doesn’t do any  real damage, and some of those things worked and they still help me when I get that urge again.Do you see what I am trying to say? There are a lot of resources out there that you might not know of.

Don’t get me wrong, we all have strengths within us to do every fucking thing, but does that mean we always have to do things alone?

I cannot think of many things that are important than your health and that involves your mental health as well. Please put it above every damn thing!

Love ,

Jo

 

 

Maybe it is okay not to be grateful all the time.

It could be worse.

There are people who go to bed hungry every night.

You are lucky, look at all the things you have.

All of the above statements are so very true. Almost all the problems pale in comparison to someone having to live day-in-day-out in hunger. Perhaps, if we were to make a priority list of all the problems humanity has to solve, eradicating hunger should be on the top of the list. Let us say we manage to provide a person living in perpetual hunger with a life where they will never have to be poor or hungry again, would gratefulness be the only thing they then feel their whole life?  Would they be able to get through all the heartbreaking instances of life with that one thought of at least I am not poor anymore? I am grateful that I never had to experience poverty, more grateful than I could ever express through writing. But am I then allowed to be discontented about certain other things?  Racism? Homophobia? Rampant mental health stigma? Sexism?

For me, when I am one hundred percent grateful about something it’s because I like the way the thing or situation is, in other words, I would not want it to change. But there are many things about me that I would like to change and it usually makes me very guilty that I am not always grateful about life.

I got an opportunity to live and study abroad about four years ago, all of my friends and family were very happy for me. A lot of people sent me messages saying they were proud of my achievements. After I finished the master’s program I was offered a PhD position in a national space agency, but then nobody was happy nor proud of me. Because I was 27 years old and marriage should have been the next logical step in my life. The messages I received told me something along the lines of, think of all the girls who did not get an opportunity to go to school at all, here you got the opportunity to study in a foreign country, now that is enough, get married. Yes, I was thankful to have had an amazing opportunity to study at one of the world’s best engineering institutions but was I then wrong to have been discontented about being forced to make a decision I did not want to?

atleastitisntworse
Found here

You know what, I was not.

This argument of always be grateful is usually made in mental health related discussions quite a lot, wherein depression is said as a lack of gratitude. Most of the times it comes from a well-meaning place. The intention might be to make someone aware that everything isn’t as bad as they think it is and there is still hope. But that one phrase dismisses a person’s right to feel bad, and nobody should have to earn their right to feel bad. Now I know how privileged I was to have had an insurance that paid my stay at a psychiatric ward and to have a group of friends who took care of me like family in a foreign country- my mental health is stable enough to appreciate those facts now but it didn’t help to hear it back then.

When someone is going through pain might not be the best time to remind them to be grateful. There is a time to do it when they are better able to appreciate the whole picture, when they have gotten some space from their pain, when they are able to be rational and logical about it, when they can grab a yellow legal pad and make a pro and con list.

Gratitude and discontent can exist hand in hand. We can be thankful about something and discontented about something else. Maybe the magic is finding that balance and it is something we can learn and practice. It always helps to appreciate the big picture and sometimes even to write down all the things that are good in our lives so that we don’t forget them but it is okay not to be like that all the time. Last time I checked we haven’t yet turned to robots, and as long as we have a beating heart we are going to be not grateful from time to time and that is OKAY!

I will leave you with a quote that I absolutely love

gaiman-discontent

Hugs

Jo

Footnote: Madelyn left a comment and I thought it is important to share it here.

YES! “Gratitude and discontent can exist hand in hand.” Important point and great post.

Those “positivity purveyors” have missed the point of gratitude entirely, IMHO. It’s not designed to be denial’s handmaiden. It’s a technique for helping us weather our storms by encouraging us to focus on what we *can* be grateful for – *after* we’ve acknowledged the fact that sometimes things just suck (without measuring it by degrees in comparison to anyone else challenges and sorrows).

AND, it is not kind in the slightest to attempt to drag somebody over the positivity line when what s/he needs is a loving ear to listen while she pours her heart out. It’s not THEIR job to remind you to be grateful – you’ll get to that all by yourself when the time is right – if they’d only commiserate or be silent.

Would they overstep a mother’s grief after the death of a child, encouraging her to be grateful for the ones she has left because some people aren’t even able to conceive? SAME THING.
xx,
mgh
(Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
– ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
“It takes a village to educate a world!”

Is there such a thing as a blogger’s block?

writers-block

Writer’s block, that I know, been there, have set up a tent and have spent whole summers there. But this is not that. I can write easily in my journal but I simply cannot write on this blog! Saturdays nights around 3am is when I make stupid life decisions, like painting my black hair purple or counting the number of followers on this blog. It is 150, in case you were wondering and that number has been haunting me since. Probably on this blogosphere, it is a minuscule non-number, but you must know I eat lunch alone in the storage unit of our office to avoid talking to a group of people and hence 150 seems like a big-ass number

I tried going to the core of the problem  because that is what I do now and came up with the following

  • When I started blogging under a made-up name I was trying to outsmart the ‘fear of rejection’. If no one knows me, it wouldn’t matter if my writing was good or bad, right? It was going very well in the beginning primarily because literally, no one was reading hence there was no way of receiving virtual rotten eggs back. Then people started liking and following and my writing changed quite a lot. I picked up some good habits, like proofreading and using Grammarly to correct errors but it also got me worried. Instead of writing what I wanted to write, I started writing what might get more likes and traffic and views. It was writing things only when I was sure of it being received well. It is like showing only photoshopped and touched up pictures of my life on social media.
  • Also, some of the readers started having names and faces and now I have people to disappoint in this virtual world. Would so and so like my post? made me hit delete on a lot of the drafts. Whenever a post did not receive any attention, I tried staring the notification button into blinking…BLINK DAMMIT BLINK.
  • This blog started as a place to chronicle my PhD journey one day at a time and now I write about anything but that. A lot of things interest me, sketching, books, fiction, feminism, and most importantly mental health. And sometimes it feels like the blog is getting too chaotic just like my head.
  • Whenever I come across a well-written post on some other blog, I want to come back and cover my blog with a tarpaulin so no one can see it.
  • Every time I publish a post I feel as if that was the very last post idea I would ever have, a fear of running out of ideas.
  • The feeling that I am faking all this. Imposter syndrome
  • And I sound like somebody else in writing

So the intense need to please  people and a fear of running out of ideas are giving me a severe blogger’s block.

Do you know the phrase, Dance like nobody is watching? A few years ago I used to dance with a group, we did shows in many German cities. The choreographer said to me after a show, “your moves are okay but you have to express more on your face and smile”. The mantra dance like nobody is watching worked well when dancing in front of a mirror but when people were watching me for real, it was hard imagining they weren’t there. So he gave me a piece of advice that seemed counterintuitive then, What if you imagine that people are watching you even when you rehearse alone and try to smile as well? So while rehearsing I started imagining an audience. It was terrifying at first, but doing it over and over made that situation less foreign when I went on stage.

So maybe that is all I need, sharing fake sounding pieces until I have the guts to sound like myself even when somebody else is reading.

Have you ever had a blogger’s block?

How do you deal with it?

Love

Jo

A sketch of my favorite bookshop

readery

I have mentioned this bookstore and its co-owner L in many  of my previous posts. She is publishing her first book in December and to celebrate that fact I did a sketch. It was just supposed to be the store, but as overcomplicating things have become sort of second nature to me, it ended up looking like that!!

Tell me what you think?

Have a good Thursday y’all

Love

Jo

4 years of life abroad

*also the fourth year of fake laughing at the Rajesh koothrapally references

“I knew you would get away from here the first chance you got”, said my mom. She was trying really hard to push in a bag of dried grated coconut into my already full baggage.

I looked at her as if asking why?

“You know you always had this distant look in your eyes, I noticed it the moment I laid eyes on you. And with all the time you spend watching the rain and day dreaming it was kind of obvious that you were not so happy here”, she replied

She was absolutely right. If somebody were to write my biography one day, it would go something like this, between the ages of ten and twenty this girl was very proficient in endlessly watching TV and daydreaming. I was just unhappy, perhaps discontented is a better wordIt was not that life was bad, circumstances were actually pretty good, my family was closely knit, we always had enough money and I was never bullied, ever.  But it always was as if I was waiting for something to happen, you know, like I have to get somewhere far away for my life to actually begin.  Whatever was happening until then was only a prologue before the actual story began. So four years ago when an opportunity to study abroad turned up I was READY.

In retrospect, I can see why I was unhappy. I was a liberal caught in a conservative society, also the closely knit communal ways of life in our society was too much for my BPD and social phobia to handle. Mental  illness was an invention of the West and it had no place in our household.

Simply put, I couldn’t be myself without being made to feel guilty about it.

Last four years were probably the most challenging time of my life so far, but also the best. This city is where I broke down but this is also where I learned to stand up on my own again. After years of looking afar and dreaming, I have found a corner on this planet that I call home ❤

foggy_munich_01-940x626
Munich at night ❤

Yesterday night I was going through my old journals and found what I wrote on my first day here. The situation was too good to be true that I was certain something bad was going to happen on the way.


01.10.2012

I was waiting for the man with the clipboard to walk in on me any minute then. For the long twelve hours of flight, I was sitting on the edge of the seat clutching my passport as tightly as I could. I was certain that a stewardess would come midflight and tell me  that I won’t be allowed to enter the country because something was obviously wrong with my visa.

But nothing happened, there was nothing wrong with the ‘philanges’ even. The flight landed on time.

I was afraid to look outside. If they were going to deport me, it was better if I didn’t know what the city looked like, it might be harder to go back then.

I managed to get through the pleasantries at the passport control with my broken German.

I see you are from India. What are you going to study here? asked the officer

“Space sciences” I replied

“Cool, just like Rajesh Kutrapally! Welcome to Germany. Alles Gute” he stamped my passport and extended it to me

I lingered around half clutching the passport.  Is that it? Isn’t there something wrong with my documents? or perhaps a misplaced y or i somewhere in my passport? I wanted to ask, but obviously, I didn’t ask any of that, just stood there staring at him with a quizzical look.

“Nächste bitte “, the officer yelled at the person standing behind me. It was my cue to get the hell away from the counter.

So the impossible has finally happened. I am in my dream city now.

What now?

Fuck!

The art of finishing a story (Part 2 )

This is the second post in the series of tips on facing the blank page posts. Most of the tricks here are useful only for people like me who struggle with extreme perfectionism and a very loud inner critic (virtual hugs to my fellow AVPD buddies). In the first post, we discussed some tips that can help start writing, which you can read here. Today, we will discuss some tricks that can help you keep the momentum going and to finish things.

 

neil
Credits: Will Wheaton

 

Start with what you know: Now that you have decided on a starting point we can start doing the actual writing. It might help to trust your first instinct. You know how a smell can invoke dormant memories from years gone by in a flip second? Writing prompts can have the same effect, so if for example the word ‘disagreements’ quickly reminds you of a disagreement that happened with someone you love, start writing about that no matter how trivial it might appear to you.

Practice free fall writing: After starting to write, the next challenge is to keep the momentum going. There is a very high chance that we abandon the writing at this stage. The two main hurdles that I have come across are : First, waiting for that ‘perfect word’ or ‘perfect sentence’ to appear and when I fail to reproduce how beautiful it appeared in my imagination to words I  freeze and stop- the workaround that has helped in this case is to practice free-fall writing, just keep getting things down as they come. Treat the first draft as the rehearsal that nobody is invited to, so mistakes and goofs are allowed and encouraged even. Second , getting lost in different plot building possibilities, it is like arriving at a junction and not being sure  which path will efficiently lead you to where you want to reach. Here it might help to just give one of the options a try and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work we can always come back and take another route.

Try making things up: This might seem counterintuitive to the first suggestion. But once you manage to get the flow going it might be good to take some liberty with the plot. One of my favourite authors Elif Shafak has said, ” that it might not be always good to stick to the write-what-you-know policy”. As long as we are not writing a factual document a writer has the freedom to let the writing stroll freely in the meadows of imagination. If the real event that inspired you to start writing seems dull after a certain point, then just pepper it with interesting tidbits or humour. There is no limit here

Try from a different perspective: This is one advice that has helped a beginner like me a lot. Once, I wanted to write a story where an old lady finds a frog and thinks it is her dead husband reincarnated. But I was getting stuck and the prose ended up being very dull, so my friend L asked me, “Why don’t you try writing it from the perspective of the frog?”It seemed like a ludicrous idea. Until then I had only written in my first person perspective, so this helped me get out that routine and try something new. I ended up writing a children’s story of a talking frog.

Try a different genre: This is an extension of the previous suggestion. Sometimes we put limits to our writing with labels like poets, memoir writers etc. While it is totally okay being a genre writer it also good to remember that a  poet can also write killer short stories. Challenge yourself to write in a different genre. Even if you end up settling back to the genre of your comfort, the sojourns to other fields might help stretch the limits we set to our imagination.

See it through: It is a great practice to always try to finish the pieces you start. This was and still is the hardest struggle I face. Usually, midway through writing, I have this epiphany that what I am writing is horse poop and then I rip the paper apart and stuck it down the trash shoot (or click the delete button violently). It is easier to finish a 100-word story than a novel, so it might be helpful to start writing shorter pieces and then working the way up. Finishing things can do great wonders to our confidence as a writer.

What are some things that have helped you in keeping the writing momentum going?

Next post will be the last one in the series where we will discuss some general practices that can help improve our writing.

Happy writing

-Jo