Little Joys of Traveling by Train

  1. I can keep the tray table down from the moment I board right down to the final minute of de-boarding.
  2. I can get a plate of oily, greasy, yummy samosas for a mere ₹20/-. And I can promise you that it will satisfy your traveller’s soul absolutely.
  3. No motion sickness!
  4. The wide, LCD TV sized windows. And the view outside- it can be anything, from an accidental mooning by someone pooping by the tracks to bright green fields, tantalisingly inviting lakes and trees of every possible shape, size and imagination. Constantly changing, rarely disappointing.
  5. A ticket collector who doesn’t intimidate you with his efficiency or make you feel bad for not smiling when you’re sleep-deprived and coffee-less.
  6. A little peak into every place you pass on your way- through the station-sold delicacies, the overheard conversations, and the shameless staring that’s somehow acceptable when it’s through the windows of a train.
  7. The time that it gives me to finish that book I’ve been reading for the last one month…stealing a few pages in between the interruptions of work and life.
  8. I can carry as much as I want. Whatever I want. I could bring on a llama and the railways will find a place for it ( before reporting me for smuggling exotic animals).
  9. That game which my mum used to keep us occupied with: take newspaper, tear into long strips and hold them out through the window until the wind rips it out your hand. The one who hold on to it the longest wins! Though now that I think about it, what we were doing was basically littering… bad mommy!
  10. Speaking of games- card games! Remembered ones, forgotten ones, made-up ones. They used to make time fly so fast… Also, dumb charades! Sigh…this makes me lose myself in college memories.
  11. Some of the weirdest people you meet…and some of the nicest friends you make…that you’ll never meet again in your life (probably).
  12. It’s an experience- every single time. No matter how many times you’ve done it.
  13. It’s also nostalgia- for a time when packets of lemon rice and yogurt with pickled mango wrapped in dried banana leaves and newspapers heralded train journeysand vacations and grandparents and family friends and holiday trips; for a time when summers were looked forward to and we bought a book in every station we boarded from. So many trains…so many memories…

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Social Me (3)

One of the more common advices I’ve come across for people with stage fright or social anxiety is the one where they tell you to imagine your audience naked. That’s supposed to make your anxiety go away.

Well, let me tell you, it doesn’t. Not in my case.

Taking your clothes off, getting naked is a beautiful form of liberation. It implies a degree of comfort, a level of trust that has already been established and it is a show of admirable amounts of confidence. Now, if my audience is naked, that means that they’re liberated, comfortable and confident. And what does that make me?

A pile of a slobbering mess.

So, no. my audience can never be naked. My audience is instead on the toilet. Pants down and depending on my mood, maybe with a newspaper in hand.

Think about it. In a day, when is it when you’re most vulnerable? Is it when you’re changing; when the strangulation of the tie is taken out of the equation, when the breeze is finally cooling between your legs, when there’s nothing restricting you from breathing deeply and sufficiently enough to let your belly stick out? Or is it in the middle of passing your poop, stink in the air and pants around your ankles?

If you’re not sure of the answer, I’d suggest that you try running with your pants around your ankles. (The subsequent knock to your head might help too.)

You see, I need my audience at a disadvantage; which would calm me because then, I’d have more time to get away if they start hurling eggs at me. A scenario that’s completely in my head, I realize, nevertheless, a scenario that’s responsible for the pigeon-sized butterflies in my suddenly-capacious belly.

So, anytime I need help, when my knees refuse to stop shaking, when my breakfast threatens to go the wrong way up, I imagine everybody around me on the shit-pot. Your pants around your ankles become my bastions of support. And even if my over-zealous brain conjures up a spot of stink in the air to give the moment its authenticity, well, it doesn’t make much of a difference. Because, it’s only replacing the stink of rotten eggs (plastered in my hair) that was in the air just about a moment ago.

 

*END*

02:01 PM, Feeling Guilty

One of the things no one tells you about being a doctor is that a major part of medicine is feeling helpless.

I’ve got a couple of patients in my ward who’ve been suffering for a while now and who will be suffering for a while longer and I have no idea how long that “while” might be.

So, when they ask me questions like

“Will I get better with this?”

I say, “Most people do.”

And when they ask, “How much longer will I have to be on medication?”

I reply, “For the next six months…at least.”

And when they question, “Can you treat me?”

I reply, fingers crossed under the table and sending silent prayers over the table, “I’ll do my best.”

It’s a fine line doctors have to straddle between white lies and reality. And the balance over that line is so much more delicate when you’re dealing patients of psychiatry.

There are so many things to consider.

Will this patient stop using the medication if I tell him that there’s only a 50% cure rate? Will this patient give up if I let him into the secret that despite treatment, 50% will relapse? Will this patient lose faith in medicine, in me if I truthfully admit that I don’t really know if he’ll ever get better?

Like I said, the line is thin and the balance is delicate. Handling it with the care it deserves takes more out of you than you imagine. It’ll leave you with sleepless nights where you’re battling guilt over giving those reassurances. There’ll be times when you try to avoid a patient because there’s nothing new that you can tell them and you’ve run all out of the stock sentences. Then, there’ll be mornings when the patient will thank you for your stock reply and you’ll feel like the biggest heel on the planet.

But, at the end of it all, you’re always surprised; surprised by their desire to believe your lies, surprised by their willingness to swallow your bullshit. After all, the only other option they have is to give up. So, they’ll surprise you again and over and again with their hope for their futures, their optimistic questions and their constant reach for reassurance. From you.

See, one of the other things they don’t tell you about being a doctor is that a major part of medicine is feeling helpless and hiding it from your patient.

*END*

Social Me (2)

In the club I was a part of in college, I was a speaker. Which meant that I had to speak into a mic, on a stage, in front of an audience. I should confess: I loved it.

People who know that about me usually don’t believe me when I say I have social anxiety. They can’t comprehend how a person with no stage fright can be scared of talking to people.

Well, today, let me explain how that is very much possible.

 

A stage is a very impersonal forum. The audience is usually a non-participant. I’m not talking to the audience as much at them. Now, every good public speaker will tell you that these are all signs of a very bad speaker. And in a way, that’s true.

See, that’s the difference between speaking and giving a speech. When you speak, like an orator does, you’re drawing the audience in with your words, involving them even without their assistance. A normal public speaker however, or a “performance” speaker if you will (like me), goes on stage, vomits out what they’ve got to say- a pre-prepared and practiced jumble of words and gets the hell out of there. The audience listens, maybe because they like your voice or because you’ve effused enough drama into your performance that it’s kept them awake; but, they’re not involved. And all the while, you get to pretend that you have your shit perfectly together.

This privacy to pretend, which is amply available when you’re at a distance from the people and on an elevated level to boot goes out of the window when it’s a small group and the audience can touch you if they stretch out their hands. Did I ever tell you how that very thought flushes out a fresh bout of sweat down my back?

So, in a small group, without the clever lighting and rather an intimate atmosphere, the anxiety kicks in. Because here, it’s not going to be a speech. It’s going to be, whether you like it or not, a talk. And it’s going to feel interactive just because you’re all so close together.

The same thing happens in a conversational setting. But, worse. Because here, the gate definitely opens both ways. It’s not just a feeling of interactiveness you’re dealing with, the situation is actually interactive. It’s a question-answer, statement-rejoinder equation. So, the teeniest weeniest iota of privacy that you’ve have jealously guarded during that group session, that’s gone. Way gone. Out-of-your-hands-and-under-the-wheels-of-a-bus gone.

Well, you can imagine what happens next. There’s sweat involved and tachycardia. A little bit of cortisol, a lot of adrenaline and a lot lot-er of anxiety.

What I do in such cases is, I adhere to the buddy system. I only go to places where I have a friend along. If I have to go to a social setting alone, I don’t go. Books are great in that aspect. They make for great buddies.

The other thing I do is keep my antenna out for someone who reads. Then, I latch on them like lint. We talk about the books we read, books we are reading, books we want to read. Somehow, that’s one topic which soothes me. So, I suggest you find an interest that you can talk about and then, hope that a person who wants to talk about it will find you.

But, many times, none of these options are available. In such a situation, all I can say is take a deep breath, let it out…now paste that smile on to your face and pretend like everything’s hunky-dory. The thing is, I believe that if I tell myself enough times that I’ll be OK, that I can push through, then it will be OK and I will push through.

Until I can run away at least.

 

**

Social Me (1)

Today I want to tell you something about how my brain works during social interactions.

 

If I’m having a conversation with you, my brain is usually in an overdrive; trying to come up with the appropriate responses, selecting and rejecting answers to your questions, trying to think  of questions I must ask next to keep the conversation going and avoid the awkward silences. There is a whole different shebang going on in my head related to our conversation, but entirely separate from our conversation. What it does is cause interference. So, sometimes I might completely miss out what you’re saying and I apologize for that.

There are very few people with whom I can have a conversation without my brain falling over itself. A very few people. I could probably count them on the fingers of one hand. As for the rest of you, every time I get a phone call and it’s one of your numbers on the screen, there’s a twinge of anxiety that pulls at me. Sometimes, when I’m having a particularly bad time, I give in to that twinge of anxiety and let your call go unanswered. I apologize for that.

The thing is: my brain doesn’t seem to comprehend the workings of small talk. I do not know what to ask after how are you. I can’t think of one single topic that would be common to the both of us when faced with a social situation. I can’t come up with a funny anecdote that would be relatable. My brain goes blank. So, if I’m staring at you like a deer caught in headlights before I go back to my phone, it’s because I literally have nothing to say to you. And if that made you uncomfortable, maybe you can take solace in the fact that however uncomfortable you were, I was at least 10 times more. But, I apologize for that.

Recently when I lost my phone, I panicked once when I realised the amount of my personal information on it. The second time I panicked was the next morning, when I realised that I’d have to go to the mess without the refuge that my phone offers. I couldn’t imagine sitting by myself at the table in the mess, with all those other people around me, eating, with all those people around me, having nothing to look at except all those people around me. I couldn’t do it. That day, my breakfast companion was a book and that’s how Midnight’s Children ended up in my bag.

The thought of talking to those people around me was never once entertained by my brain. Because it’s a thought that causes so much anxiety in me that I’d rather starve than act upon it. So, if I appear especially unfriendly during mealtimes, it’s just self-preservation. But, I do apologize for that.

reality vs social anxietyI remember telling my sister once how this one guy and I texted the entire day. She said, why don’t you guys just call and talk to each other. I shuddered. My reply was, I don’t want to do that; that would be weird. My sister’s reply was, you’re weird. I slowly came to realise there was truth to those words. The amount of preparation and trepidation I go through before putting through one call even if it’s just to order food is weird. I literally write out a script in my head before I even pick up the phone. And even before that, I find out if the required job can be done without any human interaction at all. Internet, I love you from the bottom of my heart. And all those people who run services that are not available on the internet, I’m not capable of using you. I apologize for that.

There are so many more situations like this every day, where my brain goes into overdrive, where my sweat pores become over-active, where my heart rate spikes up for no reason at all. In my profession, human interaction is the cornerstone of everything- interactions with my peers, colleagues, with my seniors and professors, with my patients- all of these are preceded by a spike of anxiety and followed by a sense of relief. When put into words, that sounds quite rude though. I apologize for that.

But, for all of the above explanations, I’m actually lucky. My distress is not so severe that it completely impedes my every day functionality. My cortisol levels might be raised for most of the day and my brain might feel overworked quite frequently, yet, I’m in a place right now where I can motivate myself to work through it. And I’m in a place where help will be readily given if I ask for it.

So yes, I’m quite lucky. And I thank you for that.

 

**

Dear Best Friend…

Dear Best Friend,

It’s amazing to see you; to meet you; to hug you again. It feels like it’s been ages since I held your hand in mine. Was it really only 3 months ago? Well, 3 months is a long time to be away from your best friend, isn’t it?

Anyway, just because we’ve been away from each other doesn’t mean I’m not keeping track of you. I periodically check your profile pictures, I follow your every status update. I read everything you write and analyse every picture you post. I don’t mean to be creepy. But, when I’m putting words to my actions, it does seem so, doesn’t it?

I love the pictures where it’s just you. Or maybe, I should say I prefer the pictures where it’s just you. Because when I see you with other people, laughing, goofing off, my heart clenches and my throat chokes. It’s a peculiar feeling. I don’t like it. But, I don’t control it either.

When I visit you, you take me around your workplace, you introduce me to your friends. I smile, I say hello, I even have conversations. But, you know what? I don’t like any of them. It’s not because they’re not great. They might be. But, I don’t like them because they’re your friends.

I don’t mean for you to be a loner. Or to depend only on me. That won’t work for us at all. The pressure of it would drive me up the wall and you to tears. I know that very well. Yet, when I see you enjoying, making memories with someone else, I’m jealous.

In the few days I get to spend with you, I want to use the time well. Even if it means entertaining your every friend. It’s not that bad. They’re usually easy to get along with, keep the conversation flowing; they’re even funny. But, I just want you to know that it’s difficult.

I’m wary the entire time- looking for signs that they’ve gotten to know you better than me, seeing if they can predict your reaction a wee bit before I do, keeping an eye on them to make sure you’re not paying them more attention than I know you to pay to a friend. After all, they are all just your friends. But, I’m your best friend.

I also want you to know that I don’t like these feelings. I don’t enjoy carrying them around. But, I might be addicted to them. Because every validation I get from you feels especially wonderful after a bout of such nonsensical shit. Like when I see that I still get the majority of your attention, or when you call me to share a secret or vent your frustration and you don’t give a damn what time it is. It feels like I’m free falling, but at the last moment I realise I was only bungee jumping. The rope is still securely attached to me and I’m safe. We’re safe.

I feel like such a parasite writing this. I want to make it clear that I want you to have a lot of friends. I never want you to experience loneliness. I want you make lovely memories wherever you go, but, I also want to make sure that I’m your best friend and no one else, because I don’t like the idea of sharing you. Or our friendship.

 

Yours with love and creepiness

XOXO