The mirror gawked at me as though I am an undesirable being; everyone did, I was often made fun of for my appearance and inefficiency. I regularly felt so lost and stupid, and spent time depressed and isolated. Being the only child is not easy and worse when they expect so much from you. Blamed and scolded for every single mistake, I became kind of detached towards others, yelling back at them, convincing myself that I am good for nothing. My mood swings were so mercurial that I could not believe myself to be normal. Yes, I grew up to believe that I am abnormal and so different from others. I took medications for years which made me feel dizzy and sluggish; they had diagnosed me with disorders varying from depression and bipolar to borderline personality.
My therapist was a young man, but I came to have faith in him. I was just few years older to him but he represented wisdom beyond his age and I respected his ability to understand and be real in his expressions. I was grateful to him that he was not prejudicial of me and did not give me a clinical title to wear. He did not call me bipolar or crazy like many others did. I feel so happy to be treated as a normal person.
His words skimmed through years and I remembered my childhood, the very number of times I was insulted, bullied and discriminated. I could see myself being so defensive, screaming at everybody why they accuse me when I am not good for anything. Every single time they gave me a responsibility, I could not rise to their expectations, and as I failed each time, tears clouded my judgement. They were too thick; year after year the opaque moisture filled my eyes, blinding me.
My therapist once compared self to an image on a mirror of life, seeing what we want to see and obviously leaving things out when they are unwelcome. I was getting familiarized to his style then. He uses a lot of metaphors, and now I easily identify with the simple images he recreates, and the parables he told refreshed me to look into myself with ease.
I was guided through different feelings and the way I respond in different situations. Yes, it is true that I always become very defensive when others are so critical of me, and it makes me sad that I am left alone in my misery. I developed an insatiable need for attention for which I always crave.
Sometimes I feel so happy with simple things in life, just to be thrown back to the abyss of sadness the very next moment. The medications I took made life unreal or so I thought. I so want to feel alive with ample joy to make life seem better.
The therapist’s voice closed my eyes and relaxed my body and mind. I was left in a peaceful state, momentarily disturbed by the fear that I eventually will have to open my eyes.
“Roopa, there are two chairs in front of you, one you sit on when you are defensive to others criticisms, and the other one which you might not have used so far, representing constructive reactions to your critics.”
The answer for the question followed was easy for me, the chair of defence was of red and the constructive chair I wished to sit on was blue in colour. The red chair made me tensed having no allies to support me, not even myself who thought I was worthless and unreliable. The blue chair seemed to be far away glowing with a glory I could just wish for.
Yes, I really want to stand up; I think the red chair was my alibi, and to get up and leave it behind me seems tough. My therapist understood me very well and I was glad he knew what I was feeling. He was patient for me to get ready.
I gathered all my courage and slowly stood up. I was shaking slightly, felt like slithering into a new space, unfamiliar and cold. No wonder, I preferred the warmer chair, but this time I decided to stand up and take the first step. He promised that it takes only three steps to reach the blue chair. I was unsure but decided to trust him. All the sessions so far made me conclude that he can help me and could be trusted.
As he suggested, I lifted my left leg to make the first step. I never thought my leg left was strong enough make a first step but he reminded me that it was the same leg I use when I hop. As the leg was in air, it felt numb and weak, just as my father appeared from nowhere shouting as always at me for being lousy and stupid (I came to know later that he loved me a lot).
The therapist asked me listen to what exactly he is saying. I always missed the last few sentences, and this time I could hear him comforting me with some solutions. I accepted I could do that and he smiled. My feet touched the ground; it was just like the marble floor of my parents’ home, cold but warm. My right leg joined the left one to celebrate the achievement soon, and I felt at ease.
Before I prepare myself for the next step, I could hear my mum talking. She telling me how I am supposed to act matured and grown up in the in-laws’ house. Really, her ramble never prepared me to be better at being an adult let alone be a good homemaker. The therapist sensed my self-doubt and suggested that I remember all the good times I had with my mother when she was kind and said things lovingly. Surprisingly those were more often than I imagined and listening to her was not that hard. I felt better but not courageous enough to take the second of the three steps.
I was not fully prepared to be married, but consoled myself that there are very few Indian girls who are actually ready when they get married. The custom demanded it, the family arranged it, and the wedding was a social phenomenon blessed by caste and community. I pray for the brave young ones who elope the certainty of arranged marriages.
I did like Rohit when we met for the first time, and I made my decision to marry him within an hour. Soon I came to love him and we do love each other a lot, even though my mood swings cause trouble often. He tries to understand me but it upsets me that he is not very expressive. Well, not many men are!
My in-laws gave me time to get adjusted to the new environment and the roles. I did not know cooking; didn’t really grow up to be a good-enough homemaker. When I put effort it turns out bad, “Yes I know practice makes perfect”. You should realize that I resign to being ‘myself’ when others have expectations of me; I know I am going to fail.
My therapist asked me to look at my right side to see my husband holding my hand firmly. He was smiling with a tired but encouraging smile. Poor thing, he goes through a lot because of me. I turned my head left to see my in-laws holding my hand. My mother-in-law was just behind me slightly towards the left as if giving a support I needed the most. My father-in-law’s grip was firmer than I thought possible from him and he was just beside me.
They were with me and I felt an overwhelming comfort filling me; my legs felt much lighter and the step I took was easy for a second one. They let my hands free and I grasped the floor with my feet behind joining the one which made the advance. I was trembling with a realization as they let my hands go – they believed that I could make it alone! Oh, they were always trying to help me! If only I really did try to listen what exactly they were trying to convey! I was too immersed in the feeling that everybody blames me for everything. My eyes became moist but it made me feel good, this time it was clearer.
The therapist was aware of the sudden emotionality and he let me soothe myself with the new realization. I knew he was preparing me for the third step; I had to take it alone. I felt much better. It is good to know at least once in your life that things were not as bad as you thought.
My past was behind me, and I left it there. The next step looks promising and I feel hopeful. For once I feel prepared to take that step…
The third step was the best of them all, firmer and stronger; I stood in front of the blue chair. It was pleasing to look at; somehow it looked so simple and authentic. I am not an easy person; complex to understand and deal with. How would I fit on this chair, to be constructive in life? No wonder the mirror gawked at me always with a helpless expression; the image I carried was neither really pleasant nor truly real to bear.
I knew that I had some self-esteem issues and even though the red chair was much behind me now I felt unprepared to sit on the elegant blue chair. For a second I wondered how my therapist would help me this time.
“This time you may be wondering whether you can really sit on that chair, if so, for how long? What can help you to make that chair a better seating?”
I myself had to do something before I could sit down.
The learning I had, the realizations I derived, the wisdom I gathered through my life; I made a cushion out of it and my therapist suggested putting that on the chair. I was a little apprehensive, “Can I really put it down, what if I lose the courage to sit on it once I put the cushion down?”
I had to take a chance this time; I had to believe that it will turn out fine, and trust myself being optimistic. It is easy to be optimistic when we are innocent children, but with growth develops pessimism. Well, the world in a metropolitan city is not that nurturing for a healthy growth.
Finally, I took the chance and put the cushion down. Now I can sit but should turn my back to the chair to sit.
I turned around and for a moment expected to see the red chair and the people who loved me standing behind. I was surprised to see they were not there. I saw a world of opportunity, things I always wanted to achieve and never could bring myself to attempt for. I sat down on the chair and felt the comfort of being constructive in life. I want to sit on this chair all my life.
The next suggestion by my therapist startled me.
“I see that you are enjoying the new chair and I am happy to see that you are content with it, but will you be able to achieve all those things you are seeing around if you are still sitting?”
Whoa! What was all that about if this chair was not to sit on? Once more I heard him asking if could stand up. I asked him – “Literally?”
He was pleasantly surprised and said yes. I stood up from the blue chair as well as the sofa in the therapy room on which I was sitting with my eyes closed. My legs were wobbly as if I was taking my baby steps again. I took some time to gather myself and slowly found my balance. I came to see that I could fit in this world once I am standing right up on my feet.
The therapist asked me to get ready to open my eyes and the moments of hesitation went by. When my eyes opened, it was real and I felt unique, and I moved around with an ease which I never felt before. I do not want to compare myself again with others because I am not just different from them; I am a unique human being. I felt really good about myself and I thanked my therapist for that. He was modest in saying that I brought it out of him to help me.
In the end, I had to rush back to the room after I left. I was feeling so light that I forgot my bag there!
When I gave my therapist the permission to write about this experience (there are deliberate changes in some of the details, but I forgive him for that), I was hoping that if someone is out there like me, he/she may feel better realizing that they are not alone and that they could be helped to become better. I am really glad if you gained something reading this. Thank you, for your patience. People always thought that I am boring, but now I am changing my beliefs, hoping to be better at living a life – at my own best!