Of mental turbulence : February

A little late to document what went down last month. Oh, well.

The title says its all. If January was kind to me, February chose to be the opposite.

I begin the month with an overwhelming yet familiar feeling of unease. But the one thing that keeps me grounded is indoor bouldering. I focus on training with Alex who offers to coach me professionally at an affordable rate. I begin to look forward to these sessions and I notice that I climb way better under her supervision.

Meanwhile, I sense my anxiety shooting up in anticipation of the official announcement regarding phased border reopening. Fortunately, the news brings me relief as it appears that eligible student visa holders can indeed travel internationally from April onwards. While I’m glad to have the choice to visit home and return, I’m extremely anxious about international travel. Though the idea of visiting home sounds great theoretically, it appears to be quite daunting in real. I am plagued with doubts and questions. Do I want to visit home? Or do I want to stay here until my PhD gets done? I know my fears are well founded but acknowledging them only helps to an extent.

I schedule sessions with my therapist to sort out my head. I describe my emotions, that are a potpourri of guilt, intense anxiety and homesickness. Guilt for being the only one out of H and I, who gets to visit home after two years. Anxiety about traveling, of being overwhelmed by familiarity – family and friends, my old haunts, the streets, the dogs, the food, you name it – and then the crushing sadness of once again leaving all that and returning to Auckland. My therapist says my defenses have kicked in – they form a shield around me so much so that the idea of visiting home doesn’t make me ecstatic. This shield doesn’t want me to expose my vulnerabilities. It doesn’t want me to acknowledge that I’ve stayed away from home for over two years and that I will have to face change. A part of me believes that I have gotten used to being independent and living alone, and that I don’t want to be reminded of the version of myself I left behind. Add to this a real possibility of being stranded in India due to some new variant popping up and having to do my PhD at home. Hell, no.

As if this mental conflict weren’t enough, I end up in a bad space with my partner. Though things seem okay on the surface, I find my pent up frustration spraying through the cracks of this facade. We have our arguments and debates, which get partially resolved through therapy (from my end) and long conversations. We realize that distance is draining us of our optimism. This is compounded by the kind of loneliness that arises when you are deprived of romantic intimacy. One night, I have a soul crushing realization: I can’t think of a single person from my old circle who would actually want to hear me out when I needed to talk. I find myself getting overtly nostalgic – going through old pictures of my friends, digging into my Facebook timeline – the only tangible proof of these memories I keep replaying in my head. There seems to be no end to this bout of depression.

By the time I wade half way through this month, I realize that it has been progressing identically to February of 2021. I am burnt out emotionally, thanks to extreme PMS. My research work hits a slump, I second-guess my methodology and get immensely frustrated. However, there is a silver lining – call it telepathy – I have a close friend reach out to me when I seem to have hit rock bottom. He hears me out without offering solutions which is exactly what I need. I am grateful for his concern and feel my spirits rise. Soon after, I have a few other friends who call and check up on me. I am pleasantly surprised to receive a call from my maternal uncle who is extremely comforting as he reassures me that things would get better. To top this, I notice my partner making an effort to self-reflect and course correct. We communicate better and I am solaced by our conversations.

On the lighter side, I watch a mediocre Bollywood film that has recently released with my sister and H. We have a good time trashing it. My biggest takeaway from this film is that I just don’t understand how Bollywood assumes that being a struggling author or a yoga instructor will let you run a decent house in BOMBAY of all places.

Despite my mental turbulence, I manage to read two books – Side Effects of Living: An Anthology of Voices on Mental Health and Sapiens A Graphic History, Volume 1. The first one doesn’t impact me as much as I expected it to despite its intent. I find some essays and stories to be searing whilst some fail by virtue of being too abstract, or due to poor writing, vocabulary etc. The second book, on the other hand, makes for an insightful and visually pleasant read – a good successor to the original novel.

On a positive note, things start moving in a good, definite direction for H. There’s tons of paperwork involved, but she finally gets a new masters project and a lovely supervisor. Somehow, seeing her busy makes me happy. We also find ourselves giving into food cravings and ordering takeaways frequently. It is easier for me to be a little indulgent as I am financially more stable given a rise in my pay. Moreover, we finally visit A and his wife who has bought a new place at Hillsborough. Overall we have a good time despite a tropical cyclone raging in the background!

As the month draws to a close, I begin to seriously consider my phone habits that aggravate my existing mental health issues. The tips I picked up from Newport’s self-help book seem to be unrealistic and vague. I spend a day chronicling my motivation behind using the gram and other social media platforms. I note that the primary aim of developing healthy phone habits is to regain control over my attention and time. Setting smart boundaries to gradually decrease social media usage would triumph over blanket bans. I also make a note of my emotional triggers that make me engage in endless scrolling loops. The main point, I realize, is to bring my intention – to use a particular app – into awareness. Finally, I chalk a reasonable fifteen-day goal to bring down my usage of Instagram.

I feel no regret in bidding farewell to February. If anything, I am happy to let go off my bad days.

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