Coping, Bracing, Figuring

I’m feeling the call to write, and I’m not even clear on what the topic is or should be. All I know is that I have an urge to express, faster than my fingers can write on paper. That’s why I’m here today.

Lately, I’ve been..feeling a lot of feelings. And I now realise, there’s also a lot of feelings that I am not letting myself feel. Even right now, as I clicked in through to Google Docs to write this draft out on a fresh document, I felt a wave of anxiety rising, and my heartbeat quickening. Why? I’m not sure. I think what triggered it is seeing the parent folder titled ‘Transition 2020’, indicating that I expected to be done with this limbo phase last year. And now, it’s been more than a year. And the pandemic rages on. And I still am not clear as to when I’ll have more certainty in life. There, a slight twinge of pain in the chest at that thought. These are the kinds of feelings I’m not letting myself feel in my body. And so they circle and circle, like trapped birds, in the boundaried-off corner of my brain where they are forced to live. Maybe if I just let them loose, they’d find their way out. But it’s too painful. I’m not sure I can handle it.

That’s just it. I feel like I’m running out of that resilience. Do trampolines ever weaken? Can they be strengthened back if they do? I don’t know. I feel like a weak trampoline now. But I did not last year. Last year I was able to take so much in my stride. Now I feel like it’s been a lot and it’s been enough and I’m weary. From what I’ve learnt and read, this is normal for our brains. But somehow it is still difficult to digest because I cannot share this with others for fear of judgement or contempt. After all, as my inner guilt tells me, I have all the resources. I have the time. Where is my motivation? Why can’t I get myself to do the right things?

Because I attach meaning and stories to all of these tasks and behaviours. If I work out, I’m driven and focused and productive. If I miss the planned workout, I’m lazy and useless and will-never-get-up-to-anything. When in reality, it’s just a missed workout. Or it’s just one evening of exercise. Everything is going to happen tomorrow, it feels like. And once tomorrow becomes today, then the goal is still tomorrow. Something’s going to break open soon. I can feel it. That little ball of swirling bluish white light is picking up speed inside my chest – still trapped, still zooming in circles, but getting faster, more urgent. It’s going to break open soon enough. I can feel my shoulders braced for it. 

I think I should continue to honour my wish to speak to almost no one. I still want to be connected to my close people – the ones I consider close. The others – it’s ok to disconnect. I don’t need to add to the turmoil. Until my cup is fuller. (What if my cup is always going to be running low like this?) I also need to approach my scared self from a place of love and compassion. (What if I’m not capable of true compassion?) If I believe that all people deserve love and compassion, and we all need to be ok with each other’s imperfections, then I should be able to forgive myself for my own flaws. And chill the fuck out. But the “critical voice” is the loudest, and my inner voice is taking a nap for a bit. 

The big difference last year was that – I was able to start building these habits of self-compassion that allowed me to shut out the “Other” voices and find my own balance. Find my own ways to bring meaning to my days. And build a practice of presence within myself. It allowed me to build some distance between stimuli and my responses to them. And that made all the difference. I also responded to situations with a balanced mind, not out of emotional reactivity. I was gentle with myself, and so with others.

I guess I will get some respite from bringing back that self of mine. Rather, hugging her back to awakeness after sleep. I am not the sum of my moods and personality traits. I am so much more than that. I am the vastness of the ocean, not the waves that dance and storm its surface. And it will benefit me well to remember this. My potential, our potential as humans, is only capped by our fears and beliefs. May I find the courage to breathe in/breathe out to the depth of my infinite capacity to love, and endless potential to give. 

Sharing for anyone who may recognise themselves in this. Whenever afraid, and shrinking from the next step – I hope I am able to remember, I am one breath away from growth. I am, and so are you.


~M xx

A Reluctant Admission

I know I said I would write more frequently than once a month. I remember laughing to myself in September at the thought of taking a whole month to post again. After all, I love writing. I would never post-pone doing more of it again.

And yet I did just that, again. I have been having this squirmy feeling in my belly this whole time, this discomfort that rises up into my chest. Because I know I have been putting off doing what I love. And until recently, I felt too much guilt to even look this avoidance in the eye.

I feel like I’ve been standing on a diving board. Looking down at the rippling blue water. Knees bent, all wound up like a coiled spring but not ready to jump. Not ready to jump. Holding that pose. Mind dashing back and forth between intent to act, and the comfort of waiting – because the jump cannot be taken back. It’s the same feeling I had when I was learning to swim at age seven – my swim instructor wanted me to jump into the deep end. And I just couldn’t. It was as if my feet were glued onto the wet edge of the pool. I could not get my feet off. I could not get myself to plop into the murky green pool. Why? Because I couldn’t imagine what that jump would feel like. I could only imagine jumping in and not being able to feel the surety of sturdy ground under my feet, I could imagine flailing and drowning. I couldn’t be sure that I would be able to surface and swim. I could only anticipate that primal fear, and was too scared to lean into the grey area between fear and knowing.

Today, two decades on, I am trying to (over)analyse a similar reluctance to commit to something that I love doing. It’s not obviously terrifying like a deep, opaque swimming pool would be to a child who can barely swim. However, it is terrifying in a deeper, more subtle way: writing has been the dream to me, full of potential, beyond that fear of plunging in. I’ve always told myself, in quiet whispers (lest they be overheard), that I think I can write expressively, engagingly. (Ugh, my ears are warm just from writing that sentence) That thought, rarely tried or tested, has been like a warm blanket to me, comforting me after a long day’s work, after a long season’s work, every time I’ve felt weary of my day job, my nondescript life. There’s been this naïve, hopeful thought – that in an alternate version of life, I could be a writer who can connect to the hearts of people through her words. That I could help another soul feel more seen, less alone on their journey. Not trying, not testing that theory – because what if it isn’t true?

What if I jump in only to prove myself wrong, and lose this mental safety blanket? This secret hope that was a salve when my less-exciting “real life” dealt blunt blows to the spirit? I can’t take the jump back. And I’d potentially be left with a void where this reassuring, blind dream used to be. Reluctantly, shamefully, I admit – I am unwittingly choosing to be comfortable not knowing. < pauses to feel pretty shit >

< takes a deep breath >

On that wet afternoon, aged seven, I didn’t jump. I kept crouching, wound up to jump, feet glued to the edge of the pool..until my instructor shoved me in anyway. I was terrified, but I surfaced. I swam. The salty pool-water mixed with the salty tears on my face, but I swam. And things turned out okay. Except that I was too terrified to go back to that swim class. That was my last swimming lesson for the next five years. It was probably also the beginning of my tendency to stop, to quit, at fear.

The last seven months have been a wonderful, painful, quiet, subtle journey to stop resisting fear and walk towards it. That has been an overarching goal of this time away from Real Life. Every single time I have leaned into the discomfort – be it big or small, visible or invisible – I have come out glad for it. So this time should not be any different. I have been blessed with one life as me, might as well live the most colourful version of it. Even disappointment, helplessness, disillusionment adds brush-strokes of colour – deep and bold – to the canvas of life.

So this time, this girl vouches to jump – even if it takes some time hanging out, all wound up, toes curled, on the edge of a metaphorical diving board. I can’t take this jump back, but I’ll see it through.


S1E01: “What Have You Been Doing Now That You Can’t Do Anything?” – 1/2

Pink tulip with three drooping petals, and two strong petals

That is a direct quote from one of the several curious well-wishers who reached out in the weeks after I left my job. In the midst of a global pandemic, and more specifically – in the midst of international lockdown.

Sidenote: My first official day of freedom was a week before official lockdown in the U.K. Talk about serendipity. I’ll be honest – this isn’t exactly the setting I thought I would encounter it. I thought it would come as a surprise, in a way I least expected it, but I secretly also wished for some romance. And a happy ending, like in the movie. It did come as a surprise and there’s been no romance so far, but this story also doesn’t have an ending yet – so I will dare to say, there is still hope.

Even previously, I had been intentionally vague in my answers when people asked what I planned to do. I would say that I wanted to travel in the UK through the two months I’d be allowed to stay there, and then I’d see. No set plans yet. Turns out that uninteresting, directionless response was not what they were looking for but hey, I’m not here to entertain.

Regardless of what I said to inquisitive acquaintances, privately, I had options outlined to be set into a plan. And yes, most of those options involved being abroad. Or being exposed to art. Or having new experiences. And the one directive during the worst months of the pandemic was: stay put. Stay home, stay safe. The experiences I wanted to have were no longer happening. Museums were closed. Forget going abroad, getting on public transport was a scary thought. Travel of any sort, even the kind on foot, turned into a risky activity. Banned, even. Non-essential, they said. What could I do when I couldn’t do anything?

I didn’t have an answer to that, to be honest. After all, I had the same question. And this had just happened to me, as it had to everyone else. I’d barely had time to react. So I did what any person with professional crisis management experience would do: I maintained composure, pretended everything was under control, and calmly told enquirers that I didn’t know, but that I was figuring it out. Transparent, clear, calm communication.

And then I turned off WhatsApp notifications. I stopped answering the phone. Tried to make sense of what was happening through journalling. And hid under blankets. And retreated from humanity.

I was overwhelmed.

I didn’t know what I could do. But I knew what I could not afford to do – I could not afford to stay overwhelmed. I could not collapse under the anxiety of several layers of uncertainty. I could not let the constant incoming bad news about this “novel coronavirus” send me into a dark spiral. I couldn’t fall back into binge eating my way through this new source of stress.

Because I was my own safety net.

The only way out was through. So I spent a lot of my time cultivating practices, habits that would keep me healthy and sane. Started with the basics. As I get closer to the six month mark since leaving work, I thought to share some of the foundational lessons I learnt / stumbled upon through these last strange five-ish months:

1 // Chasing productivity can be counter-productive

One of the reasons I wanted to take some time off is that my brain felt fried. I felt exhausted all the time, like I didn’t have enough energy to get through normal days. I definitely felt too deflated to deal with any new changes, or come up with new ideas. I wanted to re-energise, although I wasn’t sure what that meant. All I knew is that the intended outcome was to have an energy surplus.

After decades of having been conditioned to feel like time well-spent had to be time being busy – I didn’t know what to do with the 50-60 hours that were suddenly available at my discretion. For the first two weeks, I gave myself full freedom to go with the flow, and listen to my heart. It took me a week to learn to sleep well at night again, despite grappling with the implications of COVID-19 during the day.

Two weeks in, I felt the old urge to be productive, keep myself busy. I figured that would give me something to tell my curious friends and acquaintances. I signed up for two courses – both in line with a new direction I was exploring. I wondered if I should be doing more. I threw in learning a new language too, gave myself a timetable to follow.

While the courses were interesting, and I was learning something new after a long time – I realised I found myself dragging my feet. There were books I wanted to read, documentaries I came across and wanted to watch – but I couldn’t because my timetable said I was to be doing something else. This break was supposed to be re-fuelling time, so why was it feeling like the opposite?

So, two months in – I decided to park this need to be productive. I learnt to be comfortable with not ticking all the boxes on my “ideal routine”, if one day I wanted to spend the day reading in a park. I walked for hours around an empty London, seeing the city as if for the first time, without the people and the commotion. I read, and wrote, and slept, and doodled, and roamed. I was happy.

It was three months into my downtime that I felt like my mental battery was up from reserve to 80%. I felt new ideas coming to me, and my mind moving from “survival mode” to “engage mode”. Looking back, I know for sure that I would not have experienced that reset in the middle of the pandemic had I not let go of that need to chase productivity. Doing is not a replacement for being.

2 // Fear is the lighthouse at the end of my comfort zone

In previous years, I have confessed in those rare conversations where one shares truths held close: “I live with a lot of fear”. People imagine that to mean “big” fears like – fear of heights, fear of speeding, fear of death etc. Yes to all of those – but I am more inhibited by the “micro” fears. The ones that hold me back in little ways on a day-to-day basis – and snowball into a limited state of being. For example, I talk myself out of sending a cold email to someone interesting on LinkedIn for fear that I may ask the wrong question or sound stupid. I hesitate to try anything that I have never done before, big or small, fearing that I would be bad at it. Being bad at something means that I would have failed. (lies, I know – but this is how my brain works)

Fear of failure is hardly a novel concept. However, it really sunk in after I read ‘Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself‘, by Dr. Joe Dispenza. Our brains are wired to guide us away from unknowns to keep us safe. Our brains are literally keeping that fear of the unknown going, because ‘known experiences’ are safe, and safe is good. Do you see what I mean? Your brain would rather have you continue to sit in a pool of self-sabotage or anxiety or addiction if that’s what is familiar to you. Because it is known territory and so trumps daring to venture out into healing.

* two minute silence for internalising that *

I then realised that whenever I find myself faced with some form of fear at the thought of something, it is really because I am faced with new territory. Big or small. My brain is trying to put the spotlight on everything that can go wrong in order to scare me into staying put within known territory. Which means…….I am on the edge of my comfort zone. And beyond that fear lies growth: the discomfort of stretching into new experiences.

My mind lit up the day I realised I could use fear as a metaphorical lighthouse, to keep me directed towards growth and experimentation. I am still learning to venture beyond that fear into the newness beyond, but I am glad to be standing at the edge to start with. Time will bring progress, I am certain. Can you see how this could change the way you go about your life? Like wow, I am still mind-blown.

3 // Gratitude is grounding, and being grounded is pivotal in times of uncertainty

One month into my break, I had started having good days and not-so-great days. I had gotten over the frustration of having my once-in-a-lifetime plans overthrown, and had adapted. However, I was faced with several levels of uncertainty, especially being on a visa tied to my previous employer. The uncertainty drove up anxiety. Some of the questions on my mind included:

“when do I absolutely need to leave England? If I need to leave, what if India’s borders are still closed – where can I go?

“Are my family going to be okay back in India? Will mum be able to manage taking care of the family without help?”

“Will I be able to see my friends one last time before I have to leave the country?”

You see what I mean? Levels of uncertainty. Enter: bullet journalling. I thank the lovely Sadia from Pick Up Limes for sharing her structure. Inspired by her, I built in daily gratitudes as part of my otherwise-minimalist bullet journal structure – and it has been a GAME-CHANGER. Every morning, I write down one thing I am grateful for. Just one. (Why? Because even on your worst days – you would be able to think of atleast one gratitude) By the end of a month, I find that I have a page with thirty unique, real, personal gratitudes. It is just not possible to feel resentment at the universe, or stay bitter for long when I re-read that list and am instantly reminded that I have so much to be grateful for. Yes, there’s a lot that is uncertain – but being aware of everything to be thankful for creates a beautiful positive mindset.

This one, two-minute daily habit is probably the single reason why I have gotten through the tight lockdown months with my head on and heart open. I have had my days of anxiety and low mood – but I have not been bitter. Because whatever has happened, however my days could have been better, they could have been so, so much worse – so I am thankful. Interestingly, it also quickly shifted my outlook to be more focused on the positive, even amidst the COVID-19 shitstorm. We could all do with more of that (positivity, not shitstorming), no?

I’ll give these ideas some time (or a month, given my pace – ha) to softly dance around, barefoot, in your minds. Don’t hesitate to reach out with your thoughts / experiences / rants.

I’ll follow up with the second part – sooner than a month, I promise.

(links shared in the post are not affiliated or sponsored, only sharing what helped me in case you find it interesting too)

xx ~M.

Pilot: Why Are We Here?

Off to a profound start. This was one of many questions that were swimming in my mind in the years leading up to this supposedly-life changing break. What break?, you ask. Fair, I jumped in with no preamble.

After much deliberation, I decided to get off the treadmill that was my life as I knew it, for a few months, in the hope to rest, re-energise, change my worn-out shoes for a new pair, hydrate and get back on. For those of you not as keen on metaphors – I mean I decided to leave my job and uproot my life to take a long-ish break and change some things. Why? Because, I realised that somewhere along the way, my job and my life had taken a direction that didn’t sit right with me. I felt like I had fallen out of sync with my life, had more big questions than big answers in my mind, and felt exhausted on so many levels that I wasn’t really living. I had to change that if I didn’t want to live half a life anymore. And I did not.

I noodled on that thought for six months, and finally actually made the decision on February 10, 2020, per noodling. Gave notice at work as a Valentine’s Day present to myself, and left work a month later. Wait, isn’t that exactly when coronavirus put the world on pause?

Ah yes, you noticed. Yes, I thought I was working perfectly to a plan – but turns out I missed syncing schedules with the Universe’s plan. Rookie mistake. Turns out my Big Career Break coincided almost too perfectly with the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe and the UK. And basically everywhere. Lovely.

(I promise I’m not trying to make the pandemic about me, but it is relevant with regards to this blog’s existence. So bear with me, please.)

My goals for this time off were:

  • Re-energise and recover creative energy
  • Learn, have new experiences and broaden perspective
  • Improve physical, mental, spiritual health
  • Enjoy and really feel alive
  • Make progress on uncovering answers to life’s biggest questions

(Can you tell there is a somewhat morbid backstory? Yes there is, but that’s for another time.)

I had a wishlist of things I wanted to do during this time. Without going into details, they involved some travel, some new experiences, some family time, lots of time in museums and exhibitions, yoga courses and spiritual workshops. Almost all of which had to be struck off the list because of The Pandemic (yes, it deserves capitalisation). And the lockdown that followed. And so it felt like this journey was called off before the train even left the station. (I like metaphors okay, you’ll get used to it)

But I decided not to call it off. It only changed shape and form. I decided to keep going – the stars had aligned, my intuition told me it was the right thing to do even if I had no clarity on the immediate future even, there was never going to be a better time even if this timing was shit. I had kicked something off with a lot of resolve, and I had to see it through, no matter how it ended.

As crazy as it seems, that was over four months ago. 

And so – four months on, I’ve finally decided to stop giving in to all the nagging, whining emotions in my head (parent: fear) and instead make way for my slightly brighter compulsion to share (parent: curiosity). I’ve been feeling an itch to write and share, to provide solidarity to those in a similar boat, and feed the curiosity of those who aren’t. This is a story with a beginning, a long middle, an out-of-order prologue, and a yet-to-be-known end. At best, it’ll be funny and inspiring. At worst, it’ll be uncomfortable. Realistically, it’ll probably elicit a few chuckles and maybe a surprised “ah” and some contemplative “hmm”s. 

Follow along for those chuckles, “ah”s and “hmm”s. It’ll be fun. Maybe.

(Next Up – S1E01: “What Have You Been Doing Now That You Can’t Do Anything?”)