How I Learnt to Live Now!

If I ever find myself stuck in a rut, I ask myself: “what is special and unique about where you are in life right now?”. It always seemed impossible to live in the moment, to breathe in the now and just be. Having suffered with depression and later anxiety, it was just so hard.

Depression and anxiety is a cruel combination. Depression casts a dark cloud as you wallow in the past, anxiety leaves you paralysed and petrified by the future. This leaves little room for the present. My life was held prisoner between Depression and Anxiety, while lines formed around my eyes due to fatigue, dehydration and the passage of un-savoured time.

A huge burst of bravery and determination to be with the one I love catapulted me out of my comfort zone when I moved to India, initially making my mental health worse. My old habits didn’t fit in with this new way of life. My concept of personal space and etiquette didn’t translate, I had to face my fears and anxieties. I no longer had a choice, I couldn’t hide behind familiarity.

Here I was, with the man of my dreams, but the perfect partner isn’t a cure-all. I discovered, despite popular belief, that only I could cultivate my happiness and health. 

Every time I found myself outside my comfort zone, doing something I felt scared to do, I shed a little piece of anxiety. This started with small and simple things, such as smiling at the people I didn’t know during social situations I didn’t understand.

I didn’t want to be a prisoner anymore.

As I was a world away from my normal, I realised how much time I had wasted not doing the things I could no longer do. I should have spent more time with the people I love, I should have enjoyed wearing fluffy slippers during cosy winter nights, I should have watched the ocean more often when it was only a five minute walk away (I now live 500 miles away from the coast in the geographical centre of India).

I began to make lists of the things I wish I had done more of before I moved to India.

Then, I had an epiphany…

In England I couldn’t get up at dawn and watch flocks of parrots fly overhead, I couldn’t wear flowers in my hair everyday, I couldn’t sit in the tranquillity of a temple a short walk from home, I couldn’t celebrate colourful festivals or be immersed in a new fascinating culture.

That’s when I started to try to appreciate what was special and unique about where I was. I started smiling at the colours of rangoli, the way saree pleats moved and the smell of monsoon rains. I found comfort and courage in learning and trying to understanding the differences between the culture I grew up with and the culture I plan to grow old with.

The lists of regrets came in useful though. I have been working my way though them during my visits to England, with more happiness and confidence. 

We’ll never be able to live this stage of our lives again, we should appreciate and celebrate what is special and unique about our now. Some days are harder than others. If you are struggling to live in the now, start small, take a deep breath and smile at something you find beautiful.

It helped me so much.

Seize the day, as the say.

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Dussehra: Fighting my own Demons

On Friday, it was Dussehra. This festival marks the end of Navratri, it was time for Goddess Durga to be immersed and I was sad to see her go. Dussehra is also the day that Lord Rama defeated the demon Ravana, with the help of Goddess Durga herself. Here Nagpur, the festival has a third significance…

Dussehra also marks the day when Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, and it happened right here in Nagpur. Who was Dr. Ambedkar? Dr. Ambedkar was a Hindu born of “low caste”, even though he was a great freedom fighter (during the fight for independence from the British), still Brahmins didn’t let him in their temples because of his caste. This prejudice infuriated him, so he converted to Buddhism and it is estimated that three million low-caste Hindus followed him and converted too. These days temples in Nagpur are open to every caste, but sadly many people still hold prejudice against lower caste people.

So, during Dussehra thousands of Buddhists, who would otherwise be low-caste Hindus, come to Deekshaboomi in Nagpur for a pilgrimage, a sacred Buddhist monument designed by Dr. Ambedkar.. People come from miles around in the back of trucks, on foot, in buses and trains to visit the monument on this special day. When I first moved to Nagpur, the Dalai Lama came to visit Deekshaboomi, sadly I didn’t know anything about it until the next day, I would have loved to get a glimpse of him!

Nagpur Buddhism

Deekshabhoomi. Photo credit: My Hindi Heart (click here to read about Crystal’s Nagpur experience when she came to my wedding!)

Back at my house, we have several Dussehra traditions but I was not feeling good. On the day that Lord Rama killed his demon, I was fighting mine. Mine doesn’t have ten heads like Ravana. my demon is a black mist that falls like a blanket over everything, he’s called depression.

Depression can hit you when you least expect it, especially when he has visited so many times before (I guess he knows the way by now). I have had an absolutely fabulous couple of months. I have started to get involved with festivals, my volunteer work and my relationship with my mother-in-law has drastically improved. My anxiety disorder has practically gone as I have been facing my fears (India has a way of forcing you to do that!). My regular visits to my local Goddess Durga temple during the last couple of months has helped me connect with my spirituality and feel contentment.

During the day of Dussehra, there are flowers everywhere! Heaps and heaps of them, especially orange marigolds, my absolutely favourite. Nagpur; covered in flowers, parades taking Goddess Durga to be immersed, music and pilgrims. Things I love to see, but I felt a disconnect, as if I were seeing it all in black and white. The sudden onset of depression is scary, especially when you cannot account for it. The dull sadness which swallows up everything, which makes you just want to scream.

ravana

The Demon, Ravana! Picture credit: wikipedia

After Lord Rama defeated his demon, he went straight to a Goddess Durga temple to thank her for her guidance and strength. In the evening my husband and his father went to the Goddess Durga temple, just as Lord Rama did. My mother-in-law and I waited at home to welcome them when they returned, just as Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, did. My husband wore a traditional Marathi hat, which looked completely ridiculous on top of his curly hair, to receive my welcome. The small ceremony involved me putting turmeric, kumkum and rice on his forehead and a rotating a silver tray, carrying auspicious items and a flame, around him. Seeing his face and that ridiculous hat brought the day’s first genuine smile to my face.

Depression is an ugly and very misunderstood demon. This time though, depression was accompanied by a guest, someone he doesn’t usually associate himself with. Very small but as bright as the flame I greeted my husband with, Hope. I know that this will pass and I will be okay again soon. It’s just as if my happiness took a little holiday, leaving behind only a note saying ‘I will be back, had to take a break, I’ve been around far too much recently!’. I feel that slowly but surely, I will vanquish this demon completely, he is getting weaker each time we meet.

Now Navratri is over, Goddess Durga has returned to her heavenly abode but just like my happiness, she’ll be back again soon! Here are some photos I took during the nine nights of Navratri, Goddess Durga defeating her demon:

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How my relationship with the maids has changed

I found it really difficult to live in a house with maids, it felt so strange. When I first moved to India, I will be honest, I was scared of them! Even though both of the maids who work here are extremely friendly, I felt intimidated. I would creep around them, worried I would be getting in their way. I would always wait for them to leave the house before I left my room, my daily routine revolved around their work schedule. I hid from them and did everything in my power to avoid them, I even stopped eating because they spent so much time in the kitchen.

Why? I was still suffering from my anxiety disorder and quite honestly most things were scary, but having maids was just way out of my comfort zone. When I came to live in India, I was not the same person I was when I came to visit only six months previous. During my time back in England I had fallen into depression and developed an anxiety disorder and I have worked on recovering from those two demons ever since.

I wanted to hide away from people and the maids would always be around. If I would leave my room and they were still there, I would feel terrified, my heart would race and my palms become sweaty. Why? I don’t know. I guess, anxiety disorder is irrational by nature and they became the focus of my panic.

Over time  I have become accustomed to having maids around and my anxiety levels have decreased, this means that I am not scared of them anymore. Now, I enjoy their company. When my husband is at work, I feel so comfortable with the maids. We have a great time, usually laughing at Alfonso’s antics!  I still insist on cleaning my room myself and cook for my husband and I, I still want my privacy and so glad they don’t just walk into my room uninvited anymore.

We have an understanding even though we lack a common spoken language, instead we use laughter and hand signals to communicate. They are both very lovely and kind-hearted women, and I feel foolish for being scared of them, but it just shows how debilitating misplaced and irrational anxiety is. I will miss both of the maids when we move to another place, I am sure Alfonso will miss them too! I am not sure if we will get a maid in our new place though, it took me a while to trust these two and I will want to bask in the privacy I am craving so much for a while.