Chennai: Never just a city

I’m that girl that crossed oceans to sustain myself. I live a few hours away but it’s been a while since I’ve been home.

I hear about a possible third wave. I read about carelessness. A city unmasked and unafraid. It scares me all the time – I have parents and in-laws that are old enough for me to be worried. Two dogs I haven’t cuddled my weekend away with in a really long time. A flight to Chennai is almost impossible. And that small chance of maybe? I can’t take it because it all sounds so scary from where I see.

But in the chaos of the news that feels like my worst nightmare, I miss a lot more than just loved ones.

I miss home.

I’ve been talking to my sister about it – What makes us so special? Us adults from Chennai. It’s this tie that we can’t break. In a foreign country, when everything seems different, “Chennai-ah?” is all the connection you need to be best friends.

I miss that home.

That feeling of stepping out of the flight and getting into my mom’s car. The ever-familiar road that leads you away from the airport, “Wow. So much has changed. Traffic alone doesn – epdi poraan paaru.”

You know you’re home when travel is a musical experience – radio or roadside dialogue, to each their own.

The incredible food. Gangotree pani puri, Saravana Bhavan ghee dosa, Ratna Cafe sambar idli, New Woodlands full meals. I’ve never visited without a list. I’ve never left unsatisfied. Street corner akka or Shree Mithai aunty, I miss the friendly banter with total strangers. The extra mile they always go to ensure you enjoy your meal. I often wonder how the aunty and uncle with the delicious channa samosa stall opposite SIET are doing. I wonder if they had enough saved for a rainy day – or year. The bajji akka outside Giri Traders in Mylapore. The chikoo seller outside Ratna Stores in Pondy Bazaar. So many more like them.

The helpers who walk to multiple houses. The tiny arguments our moms always have with them. “Paavam-di ava,” is how the day ends. Have they remained employed? Do you still pay them through the lockdown? There’s so much uncertainty from where I see things.

But one thing remains.

This feeling. If you’re from Chennai, you know what I mean. This particular emotion that makes you play cheesy Madras songs on a cozy Sunday evening. You’re not sad, no. You’re wishful. Longing to be back in those streets. Amongst the colours, the energy, the people.

Unmasked, maybe, but unafraid we are. The news terrifies me, I won’t lie. But I’m hopeful. I’ve seen the Chennai I can’t stop thinking of. The one that saw trouble and didn’t wait for help. The Chennai that wasn’t afraid of flooding water, rising waves or an Earth that shook. The Chennai that rose to the challenge, together. The Chennai that risked themselves to save their neighbours. The Chennai that is proud, brave and resilient.

The Chennai my husband is tired of hearing stories about.

A Chennai we won’t get to be in until – for a change – we distance ourselves and stay indoors.

A Chennai I miss, every day of my life.

I’m that girl that crossed oceans to sustain myself. Years may pass, lives may change and roots may form, but Chennai will always be home.

And the music, the movies and the million keepsakes I can’t throw away will keep me wrapped in warm memories, until I return…

When you know…

“When you know, you know.”

How many times have we heard this phrase? I’ve never believed it. I thought people were lying.
“You can’t know. You can’t just feel content about someone without knowing anything. You cannot just know.
Relationships that last a lifetime have to be formed, created, built. From sharing stories, aspirations, dreams – love that lasts a lifetime takes a lifetime to develop. Nobody just knows.”

And then I knew. Deep within my soul. He smiled and I saw us – greyed and old, kids moved away, with a cup of coffee in our hands – content.

If you’ve been here a while, you know how I struggle with anxiety. How making a decision that affects me for any period of time crumbles my soul. But I didn’t blink before I said yes. Truth is, I didn’t even say yes. Nobody asked. We just knew. We looked at each other and we felt it. We talked about ‘when’, not ‘if’. We told our families, didn’t ask for permission.

It was like watching the perfect set of dominoes, except it wasn’t falling apart.

Our story still surprises me because… I believed in fairytales for a really long time. Girl meets boy, she knows, he knows, they’re married. It all sounded so romantic. But the real world tends to attack that part of you as you grow up. I think the saying goes, “Wake up. Shit like that doesn’t happen.”

So I believed those voices. I told myself my parents will find me a wonderful man that I will spend the rest of my life growing fond of, never knowing the love that the movies and books I’d spent so much time obsessing over had told me was possible. I made myself 5 plans for life – none of them included a partner.

Two weeks into 2020, on a lazy Monday night, I began texting him. It wasn’t supposed to go anywhere. We spent the next 4 days trying to find something we didn’t agree on. I remember our first phone call. My dinner sat on its plate for three hours as we talked about family, friends, school, university, culture, movies… It was like a teenage dream – the adult version.

I kept it a secret. I wasn’t ashamed, I was afraid. It was so perfect, I wouldn’t dare ruin it. Wouldn’t let anyone jinx it. That Friday, I told my best friend and there were tears in my eyes – my anxiety was real. “I’m waiting for the shoe to drop. Nobody is this perfect.”

I met him at 6pm on a Tuesday. I’d dressed to impress but I had never felt more like myself. Seven hours later, on my way home, I knew I’d experienced magic like I’d never known before. I knew.

It took us 21 days to go from strangers to engaged. People thought we were crazy. I was so happy.

The last year has been ridiculous. You’ve been around, you know how it goes. We’ve been through so much – we’ve lost grandparents, gone on lockdown, experienced a pandemic with aging parents in another country, been sick and frustrated – but I’ve never been more in love than I am right now.

We’ve found differences, we’ve found things that annoy the other person, we’ve found common dreams and goals – but beyond everything else, we’ve found each other.

So here I am, one more in the long list of people who’ll tell you words you won’t believe – Someday, you’ll meet someone. They’ll smile at you and your heart won’t melt. It’ll expand. You’ll feel happy and calm and chaotic. You’ll feel in love. You’ll know. And when you know, you know.

I’m Depressed

There. I’ve said it. It’s not the first time. But I don’t want to say it again.

I’m depressed.

Not your milennial kind. Sitting at a cafe, rolling my eyes at the girl I don’t like and complaining about singledom, “Ohmygod! I’m so depressed!” No. Not that kind.

The real one. The emotional kind that people tend to treat lightly because they don’t understand how serious it can possibly be. So, welcome to my world.

I’m not an actress. My life isn’t a Bollywood movie. I’m not sitting by the window, staring into space and nothingness. I don’t have a single tear running down my face as I lose sight of what’s happening around me. I’m not snapped back to reality. A hug isn’t going to heal me. A boyfriend cannot fix me.

This is real.

I’m right beside you. I’m not in hiding. I’m everywhere I need to be. I’m talking to you when you’re talking to me. I sound like I do everyday but I care a lot less. You just can’t tell. I show up to the event, dressed like a dream. You can’t tell it took me effort to put it all on. Not physical. Emotional. To get out of bed and prepare myself to smile with a world I can’t connect to anymore.

I can’t tell you I’d rather be at home. Not listening to you talk about problems that don’t affect me and having to give you comforting advice when I can’t even think. I can’t tell you I’m two seconds away from breaking apart even when I seem to be laughing.

You help me. Sitting across the table, as a best friend. You help me. Knocking on my door for a small conversation. You help me. A distraction for a few seconds. But you can’t take it away.

I want to confide. To tell you how I spiral. To tell you how this is all too much. I think I’ve taken on more than I can chew. My overthinking has taken me by my hand and led me back to my dark place. I was depressed a few years ago. I think it’s back for me. Or maybe it never stopped at all.

I wake up every morning. I walk out the door, that takes a lot of effort. I look through my checklist, ticking off things that pay my bills. I eat my lunch to Netflix. I come back home, turn the lights on, find my corner of the bed and suddenly I’m lost. I switch between streaming platforms. I grab my phone and get on Instagram. There’s nothing to watch. Nobody to see. I don’t care about any of it. But I have to. Because if I’m not watching Mike Ross fight with Harvey Specter or Lorelai and Rory Gilmore fast talk their way through Luke’s coffee, I’d want to slam my head against the wall, crying.

I ask myself everyday. Is it the end of my relationship? Is it the amount of work? Is it the personal woes? The inability to give back to the people who gave me everything? Is it the drowning debt? My answer is the same every time. No.

Someone once asked me what depression feels like. “Is it a state of mind? Can’t you change your state of mind?” I tried to tell her.

It’s like an empty room that hasn’t been lived in for decades. It’s hollow, your voice echoes multifold. So your worries echo multifold. It’s dirty, not the sexy kind. It’s broken windows and rusty doors. It’s haunting without the ghosts. It’s a feeling of sinking. Like something bad is always going to happen. But it’s not. You know it’s not. Yet you feel like it just did. You feel like you’ve lost. Maybe it’s the loss of life in that room. Or the loss of happiness. The loss of light. It’s a dark room. Maybe there’s light. All it takes is the flick of a switch. But you’re stuck. You can’t get up and turn it on.

She asked me why. I didn’t have an answer.

My depression doesn’t need a reason to cling on to. My emotions don’t have to explain themselves for sinking again. I can’t write down why I’m not okay. But it’s the truth. I’m not okay.

How do you ask for help when you don’t know what you need help with? What do I say?

“Hey, I’m depressed. I don’t know why. I don’t know the fix. But help me?”

What do they go on with? What solution do they give to a problem I can’t describe?

So I try what I always have. To smile. Maybe if I smile enough, the happiness will become real. I try to giggle. Perhaps the silliness will help lighten up my heart. I try to create. Art helped me once, so it should again? I try to live. But as I sat there at that boardwalk, staring at fireworks, my sister turned to me, “Are you crying?”

I had to say no because I didn’t want to explain myself. But the truth was… Yes. The fireworks made me cry. I don’t know why. They always make me happy. And I was happy. But something within me made me cry. Because I wasn’t really happy.

How do you explain that?

Things that bring me an abundance of joy cannot lift me out of this dark hole I find myself stuck in over and over again. Maybe we’re all depressed and we just don’t admit it to each other. Maybe as you’re reading this, you’re relating. But you can’t tell anyone either because when they ask, “Your life is amazing. What do you have to be depressed about?” what do you say?

What do I say?

So I shrug my shoulders, look down in guilt and swallow my tears. I look at them, a lump in my throat and softly say,

“I’m not okay.”

 

(4/6) The Firebranders

Patience.

That was the first thing I learnt when I waited half hour for him to show up for my interview.

Patience.

It’s what I saw when he told me to come back to work when I know I should have been fired.

Patience.

It’s what they all embraced while I created havoc.

But never once was I stopped.

In a world where degrees were a necessity, Arvind hired me for my ability. Never once were my squashed dreams a hiccup. It was always what I could do and couldn’t do. And if I couldn’t do something, he was right there, willing to teach.

I walked in on a bunch of guys that acted like a stranger had crashed their secret club. I actually had to complain to the boss that they wouldn’t talk to me. Not even to get work done! I was hoping he would talk to them in private. But you see, that was never Arvind’s style. In he walked, to the middle of our space, and announced out loud, “Shame, you guys. A girl has to complain that you won’t talk to her. What are you all doing?”

I bet sometimes he wished he hadn’t done that. Because that became the beginning of one of the best years of my life.

There weren’t that many of us. It gave us the ability to get to know each other.
The Philosopher (Hey Raj!)
The Married Man (Girish Thaatha)
The Patient Yogi (*coughs*Arun*coughs*)
The Brat (Mannoooj)
The Boss Man (He hates being called that)
The Fun Traveler (She doesn’t mind being called that)
And how can I ever forget… The Intern (Meri Shaaaamil)

Shamil was the only other girl in the gang. She also was the first person to talk to me besides the boss. We’re almost the same age. She laughed at all my jokes. She flicked me every time I swore. We got along brilliantly.

The two of us began to work our way into the secret club. With post-its about smoking, tsk-ing about nothing and laughing over everything, the wall was finally broken and the boys remain friendly until today for which Sham and I take full credit. You’re welcome newbies.

Amidst our achievements I found out that my boss wasn’t actually my boss. Arvind told me she’ll come to office at some point during the week. I expected a stuck-up and bossy human to come dictate my life. The person who walked in was anything but. She is chaotic fun redefined. “Poornima! Nice to meet you! You’ll come to my reception no?” I’d only met her ten seconds ago.

Karishma. She is your dream boss. She is my dream boss. She doesn’t care if you show up at noon. She doesn’t care if you’re working at night and wasting all day. She doesn’t care if you take a trip in the middle of the week. You can be in Antarctica, drinking with Panda bears, she won’t say a thing. “Just get the work done and have the client approve.” It was the best! 

She is downright the most chilled out boss you’ll ever meet. She’ll even be your therapist if you’re struggling with something. Her reception is also where the ice was finally broken and the team became a team

I learnt social media at this company. I learnt how good I am with ppts at this company. I learnt how to get work done at this company. And most importantly, I learnt how not to judge a book by its cover here.

The shared office space meant more people – Bushu, Laaloo and Tanya. All the people I first looked at thinking, “I bet they’re snooty af.” All the people I call with problems and gossip today. I haven’t bought something they don’t have a picture of so far. There’s not much about my life they don’t know. I can’t imagine a world where they’re not on my last ten whatsapped. The number of coffee breaks we’d take just for the heck of it. Their boss hated it so much.

Mine would join us. Both of them. That was the best part about my year. My bosses never acted completely like bosses. I’d get yelled at, obviously. But if we walked out of that meeting, they didn’t carry that fight with them. It was one of the first things Arvind told me at my interview. “We’ll argue. We’ll fight. But that’s not personal. Work is work. You can’t take it against the person in this company.” And that’s how it was. Always. Like a big gang of friends.

When I curled up sobbing about a boy, when I couldn’t finish a particular work because I wasn’t feeling upto it, when I felt sick, when I needed to go on a date, when I needed to vent – Oh my God! The number of times I needed to vent! – when I needed a punching bag, when I acted childish, when I demanded things I couldn’t afford, when I started things others couldn’t be bothered with – Nothing scared them. Nothing made them go, “Absolutely not!” I got them to play Charlie Charlie, a game that invites the demon, and they did!

And when I told them I’m leaving them in a hurry because I get to go back to study and couldn’t do much hand holding to the next guy, they smiled instead of complain. That’s why this place is so amazing.

I still go to the office. More often than most people do. I miss faces like Deepika, Tharini, Ramya Akka, Duggu and Reshma when I walk in. But they’re replaced with faces I got to know towards the end of my time there like Renuga and Vinoth. It always feels comfortable.

I still call my bosses to chit chat. When I find things that make sense to me, I always pass it their way.

I got to keep so much from my time with them. The golisoda bottle, the tiny despicable me character, the secret Santa presents, the insane birthday memories. The best of all? The friends. Sharath, Akku, Manoj, Raj and the entire lot.

The first time I saw High School Musical, I wanted to be Gabriella somewhere. I got to be her at Firebrand Labs. I got to be me at Firebrand Labs.

To finish it off the HSM way,
Once a Firebrander, ALWAYS a Firebrander.

(2/6) The Best Friend

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Shrti.

Oh my God, Shrti.

If it were true that people are a reflection of their best friends…

I remember when she said she was coming to visit. She’d just graduated from the dream I’d lost and my mother asked me, “Are you sure this won’t affect you?” The answer was a reflex – She won’t let it affect me. Just wait till you two meet.

The first time I ever saw her – white shirt, black slacks, high heels and a no-nonsense smile – I thought to myself, Yeah, we’re never going to be friends. But then she said, “Hi” and I couldn’t imagine anything else.

We were as different as two people can be. I was that girl you see in class but don’t really want to be seen with. And she was… She is that person who makes heads turn when she walks into a room. But she sat next to me everyday. I’d fight like a child and she’d take it in stride. She ignored my silent judgements and my open bitching made her laugh. I never understood why.

Then came that fight. The one that showed my ugly side. It brought our friendship to a screeching halt. This is it. This is how it ends. On my way to present, she came running to say, “You’re going to do just fine.” That’s who she was. She fixed things with one line.

She taught me how to socialise, how to ask for things I want, how it’s not your body that pulls of a dress – it’s your mind. She taught me to find comfort with myself and if I couldn’t, she would be there, ready with a hug.

When I moved away, I thought the distance would create a lot of space. But she didn’t let it. Irrelevant of when, didn’t matter what – All I had to do was pick up the phone and call. You see why, when she said she’s coming to visit, I couldn’t stop grinning?!

She found herself an internship and we became roommates. The last time we’d done this, it hadn’t been so bad. But I knew this time would be different. My room was my safe haven. Yet, it was okay. And not because of me.

She would insist we went out. I wasn’t allowed to whine. She’d force me out of bed for those walks that made me better. I could only complain about one thing at a time. Every time I thought I was giving up, she would all but kick my butt until I didn’t know what I was thinking about.

I’m not joking. I’m not exaggerating. I’m not being extra nice. The honest truth is – She saved me from myself.

Three months. That’s how long it took her to pick me up from my state of depression and have me signing up for internships and smiling. She’d get a cab all the way from across town to get lunch with me before we headed back to work.  She didn’t have to. She could have been that person that shrugged her shoulders and muttered, “Get over it.” Nobody
ever insisted she take that effort. But she did. Day after day until she knew I was okay.

And then she moved away. To a different house and then to her home city.

Looking back, I often wonder – maybe she came to live with me at that point just so I wouldn’t drown completely. Maybe she was meant to be my lifeguard and when she was done with it, she had to leave. Like destiny.

I never formally said ‘thank you‘ to her. We never talked about it as something significant. She didn’t do it for gratitude. But that’s what I feel when I think of it all. For the love she continues to give. For her non-judgemental listening. For her motivation. For her care. For her.

If it were true that people are a reflection of their best friends, I’d be the best damned human there ever was and Shrti, you are one of the reasons for it.

Thank you for being you. For loving me the way you do.

And always remember, I love you, too. <3

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(1/6) The Graduate

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You remember that moment? That one moment when you’re laughing, you look around and think to yourself  I’m so happy. I hope this doesn’t go away. Imagine living everyday like that. That was university to me.

I had a ligament tear. The doctor begged me to stay in bed and rest my leg for two days. I was back in class the next morning. I couldn’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be. I was going to be a Creative Director and have Saatchi & Saatchi never let go of me.

I remember my Dad say, “Things might get a little bit bad.” I didn’t listen. I didn’t think anything was going to mess up this life. Fate wouldn’t do that to me.

If only.

It came crashing down on me. That moment when I knew it was over. I’ve been through bad things, I’ve had to handle my emotions more times than one. But nothing prepared me for this. For the moment when you watch everything you planned, every dream you dreamt be taken away from you for no fault of yours.

I… I sank into depression. I’d sit by that window on my side of the bed, watching people park their cars. I’d think to myself, Maybe if I stand there, they’d run me over. Imagine that. And to think, I’m not even suicidal. But at that moment, anything to stop the ache was a welcome present.

It’s difficult to talk about this. It’s easier to talk about my childhood than this particular year. A part of me crashed and I didn’t know how to put it back together. I needed someone to blame because that’s what you do during a heartbreak, right? You pin it on someone. Either on you or the person who was involved in the story that broke you. So I blamed it on my father. I spent hours imagining how I’d run away from it all, my life would get better and then I’d come back. I’ll show them how I had the ability to do incredible things and they almost wrecked it. It would be the perfect revenge.

And as I lived an imaginary life, my sister began university locally. She asked me to go with to pay her fees. It’s my sister, how would I say, “No?” How would I tell her that watching her take those steps into a life that was no longer mine was emotionally destroying me? How would I explain that if I go with her I would spend the rest of my night crying into my blanket, praying to be taken away from this mess? It wasn’t jealousy. It was longing for what she had.

It cost me the three steps I’d forced myself to take forward. I took six steps back. I didn’t hate her for it. I just hated myself. For not moving on. For not finding peace. For not being supportive and positive of her life and the big steps she was taking towards getting where she wanted to be.

I began to lose control over my emotions. Anger and tears were put on hold to come rushing at any moment, in the middle of any conversation. I didn’t notice. I didn’t observe long enough to know that my sanity had been replaced with hurt, with depression, with failure. I didn’t stop long enough to think that I was no longer thinking. Because thinking meant remembering. Remembering meant hurting. Hurting meant anger. And my anger was self harming. So I numbed myself to a part of my life that I wanted to pretend wasn’t real. So much that I stood there stunned when it happened.

I didn’t realise how bad it had gotten. How I no longer controlled the things I said or did. Not until my sister stood there, crying and I couldn’t explain myself because I didn’t know what had happened. I didn’t understand what came over me. Her tears made me realise that my pain had taken over my life. It was clouding every inch of my existence and I no longer existed.

I volunteered to see a therapist. I knew I needed it. It was the best decision I’d ever made for myself. He prescribed medicines and walking. I put that pill in my wallet and told myself, “I’ll walk first.” Nature calmed me down. The silence of 5p.m. helped me breathe. Life began to seep itself into me and my best friend said words I needed to hear – “Get off your ass. Go find an internship.” So I did. I began a blog. I published articles in a newspaper. I was suddenly not dying in a hellhole.

I got a job offer I didn’t want to take. But I took it. I met people that would make life liveable again. I found comfort and for the first time in two years, I found a future. I would do this. I would live here. In this country that I was born in. This city that will always be my home. I will remain here, forever. And it’ll be okay. I was finally.. okay.

My father walked into my room – “I’m going to send you back again. It’s happening.” I didn’t believe it. Because.. What if it happens? Even worse, what if it doesn’t? I refused to let myself buy into that dream again.

But he was right. It happened. I made that call that would let me continue a dream I’d once lost. I enrolled back into university. I might not have my best friends beside me. It might not be the exact same life I lost. But I’m studying again! Or at least, I was.

You see, I graduated.

Six years after it all began, it finally ended. After our ceremony, back in my room, I picked up my wallet. Buried deep within the last pocket was the pill I was prescribed when I thought I’d lost it all. I never took it. But I kept it with me. As a reminder of where I’ve been. Of how far I’ve come. Of my grandfather’s words – This too shall pass. It made me cry. Because if it were upto me, I wouldn’t have survived.

And so you’ll see in the posts over the next few weeks. The people who kept me alive. The reason I have my dream. Because they deserve more than just a part of this story. They deserve a spotlight of their own.

Until then..

 

When I Gave Up.. It Rained Glitter!

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Can you believe I have six versions of this blog post? Because there are just no words to describe my 2016 to you. It’s been a year of throwing my hands in the air with both frustration and excitement.

I started this year with something that was emotionally important to me.

I began focusing more on what I was doing. This life that had been forced upon me didn’t seem so bad anymore. I made friends I cared about. I met people who seemed out of my world. I identified ways that would make me better at work. I still wished I could have had the life I’d wanted. But I no longer felt like a failure.  So I gave up hope.

My new work and my plan B didn’t give me enough mental energy to blog though. My writing style began to change. I neither had the time nor the ability to write. I considered pulling down my blog. I thought it’s time to give up writing.

The idea only grew stronger with every draft I couldn’t finish, with every thought I couldn’t put into words. I remember that night. I was sitting by the window, staring at my computer. I didn’t want to hit Publish. The article was so cheesy, so romantic and so girly. It seemed like the worst thing I had ever written. Maybe I need to edit it a little, I thought to myself. Maybe I should just delete this article and this blog and admit I can no longer write! After an hour of arguing with myself, I finally published “To The Girl In Her Mid-20’s.”

You know what they say about taking chances? Letting that article stay was the best chance I ever took because “It went viral” is an understatement of what happened to me that week. It wasn’t the platforms that shared it, it wasn’t the BuzzFeed feature. It was that email. The one that gave me goosebumps because I had done this to someone’s life. This…

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That blog wasn’t representative of what I normally write. But it reminded me why I do. The emails, messages, comments and love that poured in were each a reminder of why I started this blog. And I know for a fact that I’ll never forget again.

It was almost the happiest week of my life. Almost.

I was at work, just another day of life, when my phone rang. I knew what was coming. But sometimes, it’s better to not let your heart believe until it happens. And so the moment it came, I broke. With joy I’d never known before. One that made me run to the closest room and sob like a child. Because, so many people in this world continue to live life without one shot at chasing their dreams and I’d just gotten my second.

The moment my dad said, “It’s done. You’re going back.”

I could live to be 100 and never forget how grateful I’d felt in that moment. Grateful for the opportunity. Grateful for another chance. Grateful for a father that never gave up. Because I did. And if he had too, I wouldn’t have the ability to now tell you – After having to quit university half way, struggling through depression, battling suicidal thoughts, watching everyone I’d grown up with graduate, trying to be okay when my sister got closer to her degree – I AM BACK AT UNIVERSITY, FINISHING WHAT I BEGAN.

I am crying when I write this because nothing I ever say will do justice to the feeling that rises within me when I think about it. And I’ll say it a thousand times over – It wouldn’t have been possible without my father. And if we didn’t live in a very dysfunctional family, I’d probably hug him ‘thank you’ everyday of my life.

My classmates, unlike my last ones during degree year, are not rude. They are very nice people. We have fun. We all like cute cat pictures. And besides when criticising my apparently unreadable handwriting (jokes), there is never a dull moment.  But going back and absorbing so much information after a long break is quite difficult. I’m no longer a straight A student. But that’s okay. I know I’ll get there.

And to think, I’d given up on everything that had come back to me, better and happier.

I’ve gotten to know who I am this past year. I’ve had the ability to choose and I’ve made choices that were both logical and also, at times, emotional. Some of the choices were right and some weren’t quite. And I know the consequences of it all will come back to me next year. When every choice I make will define everything my future will be. Work, location, love. But I feel good about it. Because I’m waking up on the 1st day of 2017, exactly as who I am. No hiding, no pretending. Just me. With a smile on my face.

And I’m hoping it’s on yours too…

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Dear 15-year-old Me

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Dear 15-year-old Me,

Don’t do it.

Don’t trust that boy in a broke-down car. The words he utters are not to melt your heart. It is to melt your pants.

Remember, his friends aren’t your friends. His friends are his friends. They will always be his friends. Don’t tell them secrets he doesn’t know. He will know.

I know your adrenaline’s pumping, but don’t sneak out that door at 2am. It’s not worth the trouble. Enjoy that beauty sleep while you still can. Adult life has a lot of sleepless nights in store for you.

If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Don’t give yourself an excuse. Blaming your parents for your actions does not make them any better. You’ll wish you’d listened to yourself in five years’ time.

And even though it feels like it, you’re not in love. You’re seeing stars where there’s glitter. Love doesn’t come in crappy forward texts. It doesn’t bloom the moment his hands are where they shouldn’t be. Love isn’t an excuse to make out. He may tell you otherwise. Don’t let your infatuation cloud your mind.

Your parents aren’t your enemies. They don’t know how to handle this version of you but they’re still right. They’re not ruining your “life experiences.” Don’t alienate them. You’ll kick yourself for it later.

School is important. College matters. Don’t skip classes. If not for the lessons, at least for the memories. When your friends reminisce about them at 20, you’ll feel left out.

Don’t pick a date over dinner with your family. He’s not looking for a relationship. And it’s okay. He marries someone ugly and goes bald in seven years. You’ll be happier this way.

Pick your friends wisely. Don’t forget, the ones who love you will be honest about that skirt being a little too short in the back and his hands being a little too low around your shoulder. Learn the difference.

Your aunts aren’t the greatest. Your extended family isn’t royalty. But, on a bad day with no money, they’ll still be there for you. Don’t show off your unreasonable arrogance to them. They might forgive you. You won’t.

So you’re single. Don’t get a boyfriend because she has one. Having a boyfriend is not a definition of your beauty or desirability. It is not a matter of social status. It is personal. It is emotional. Let it happen in its own time.

Allow yourself a little “loserdom.” It’s okay if your hair isn’t amazing. It’s okay if your grades aren’t the best. It’s okay if you don’t have a squad. So what if she’s the most popular kid in class? It ends. You grow up. You get your own lives. Don’t get caught up in your high school labels. They don’t last very long.

That kid you thought was an asshole? He works for your country. He’s kind and giving. That girl who dated your crush and was the hottest girl in town? She gets pushed into a life she doesn’t like. She’d give anything to have your freedom of choice. Don’t let yourself get swayed by who people are right now. They change.

You will change too.

You’ll be better. You’ll be kinder. You’ll develop a better sense of fashion. (Thank goodness!) You’ll chase your dreams without being afraid. You’ll fall in love. You’ll get your heart broken. And you know what the best part is? You’ll be strong enough to keep going. You won’t stop.

You’ll find friends who love you for you. You’ll date men who treat you well.

There is so much of life that’s waiting to be lived. And don’t scowl or make a sarcastic remark at that. You think you know it all. But you don’t. You don’t know the beautiful views you’ll fall asleep to. Or the books you’ll read. The words you’ll write. The moments you’ll live.

And on your worst day, you will find yourself. You will find all that you are. It will be chaos.

But you’ll know how to accept that.

This life you’re living, it’s nothing like the one you’ll live. Or the one you want.

So stop the crazy. Enjoy your moments. And let yourself be 15. You only have the rest of your life to be an adult.

Be a teenager today.

And listen to your heart when it says, “Don’t do it.”

With all my love and life lessons,

23-year-old You.

 

To The Ones Who Are Afraid

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I wanted to be a writer when I wrote the lamest poem I’ve ever known and held it up with pride. I wanted to be a writer when writing a letter I’ll never send to him brought me peace. I wanted to be a writer when I started a blog to shed light on my darkness. I wanted to be a writer before I even knew what it meant. I wanted to be a writer.

It was a late night phone call. He silently sobbed. “I hate my job you know? I can’t sit there anymore. But I have no choice.” It broke my heart.

“Why can’t you quit? Why can’t you go do what you want?”

“It’s not as easy as you believe it to be.”

How many times have you heard that? How many times have you said that? Chasing your dreams is not an easy task. Sometimes, it’s impossible. In my world, it’s exactly what it’s called – A dream.

I find myself laughing at such statements.

Tell me, what is easy?

Learning alphabets wasn’t easy. Learning multiplication wasn’t easy. Passing high school wasn’t easy. University wasn’t easy. Finding a job wasn’t easy. Dealing with your nightmare of a boss wasn’t easy. Marriage. Children. Grandchildren. Old age. Sickness. What is easy?

I’ve woken up in the morning unsure if we’d have something to eat. That wasn’t easy. I’ve studied for an exam while dealing with family drama. That wasn’t easy. I’ve limped my way to classes after my first foot injury. That definitely wasn’t easy.

Nothing in this world that is constantly at each other’s necks is ever easy.

But if there was something that could make those days better, worthier, would you do it?

Because I’ve been where you are. In that moment where it’s all about a choice. There is the road that’s been taken and proven. And then that road nobody knows of. The one you hear stories about. “Her daughter’s friend took the road not taken. She is now a drug addict on seventh street,” or “His son is now homeless at central station because that’s where the road not taken leaves you.”

It is everything your heart desires. It is everything they don’t want for you.

It is everything I hope you’ll choose.

I have to warn you, it’s not all bed of roses. The roads your heart leads you to are filled with thorns. Ones that hurt. Ones that make you bleed. Ones that will make you want to give up.

So is the path he took.

Because nothing in this complicated universe is ever easy. Every path you take has darkness in it. It has chaos. It has drama.

No, it won’t be easy at all.

But that moment when you wake up, knowing in your heart, that in a day filled with things that are meant to drag you down, you are about to go chase the dream they all told you you couldn’t – it will be worth it.

 

quotes-talent-courage-erica-jong-480x480Yes, they’ll tell you differently. “Not everyone who tries makes it. What if you spend the rest of your life living on granola bars and four roommates?”

Tell them, with your head held high and a look of pride, “At least I’ll wake up happy.”

I woke up in the morning, smiling. A sense of satisfaction with no achievements. It wasn’t the world they’d dreamt for me. It wasn’t a world they wanted for me. But it is mine. It was what I chose. It was a dark path that brought me here. But it is mine.

I live with my parents still. No time for a love life. No money for a social one.

But I wanted to be a writer. And so I am. Happily.

 

 

#IStandUp

 

This is a problem. One that needs to be addressed.

I have an unshakeable memory of a moment in my life. A moment when my ObGyn suggested I see a therapist because she thought I might be depressed. The therapist was a woman in her late 50’s. And I’ll live a million years and never forget the way she looked at me as she spoke the words no emotional healer should dare utter to someone that might be on the verge of depression – “Imagine being at an interview. You and another girl are the last two contenders. You’re both equally talented. There’s only one difference. She’s thin and glamorous. You’re.. Well, you. Who do you think they’ll choose, sweetheart?”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve wondered if that was true. I’ve wondered if I’d lose my dream job because of the way I look. I developed an inner fear towards interviews because of her. And you know what the problem is?

She’s just one of the many, many people in this world who, everyday of their lives, continue to make girls feel this way. Like they’re not enough. Like their physical characteristics are flaws that will haunt the dreams they’re building in their minds.

Why does a size 0 swimsuit model still feel fat? Why does Queen Bee feel the need to photoshop her thigh gap? Why does the covergirl on a magazine claim to be make-up free when every inch of her skin is carefully airbrushed?

Have you ever been so uncomfortable in your own skin that you’d pay a man thousands of dollars to alter it? To look in the mirror and want features that aren’t yours. Her nose. Her hair. Her cheekbones. For what?!

The 70’s boasted women who are now considered too fat to have a life. Bigger women were considered beautiful then. A new mother’s pregnancy fat is considered a disgrace now.

But why?

I was having a conversation today and suddenly, something struck me as ridiculously abnormal. When taking a picture with a friend, it is no longer important that only you look good. The person with you has to look that good as well. A human being no longer makes a friend based on emotional attitudes. They’re solely formed on the physical characteristics. He looks decent. He’ll make it look like I have decent friends. She looks hot. She’ll make me look so cool. If I take pictures with them, I’ll get more Instagram followers. This narcissism fuels the concept of “Look Good, Feel Good.”

Fifteen pictures later, there’s always that one person who comments, “Who’s your friend? She’s hot!” And just like that, out of nowhere, your insecurity appears. You stare at your mirror and you see flaws. The girl with a happy-go-lucky smile finds that nonexistent flab and picks at it. Workouts. Fitbits. Walk more. Eat less. Smoothen your hair. Get side bangs. Curl it in the bottom. A Brazillian wax. Inch after inch, your body is carved to the world’s concept of perfection when it is anything but. Only, it’s no longer called an obsession. It’s called “Being Healthy.”

Have you ever stopped long enough to wonder why the men, who’ve always spoken about a “thinner” woman, are suddenly asking for more meat in their women?

It was a few days after the floods hit my city. We were finally out of our houses and in a safer, more drier part of the city. My mother looked at me and said, “I realize now that maybe it’s okay for you to be fat. Some people are meant to be the way they are. You’ve really helped at a moment of crisis. I think you should stay as you are. You’re a nice person.”

I smiled. Not because I’d received a compliment. But because my mother had finally understood something the world is teaching girls to forget.

It does not matter how you look. Nobody cares if you’ve got a thigh gap. Kylie Jenner’s lips are NOT real or natural. Who you are to the world is not about promoting the beauty you possess on the outside.

It is embracing who you are within. It is feeling like a million dollars on your worst day. It is knowing that you’re worth something because you’re kind. Because you’re caring. Because you think and act with your heart.

I don’t want to raise a daughter in a world where the person she turns to for help is going to teach her what that person believes are her flaws.I don’t want to let my sister live in a world where she feels the need to walk up and down the stairs because she ate a slice of pizza. I don’t want my mother to know that the world she’s leaving us with is polluting our brains with everything we’re not. I don’t want my grandmother to ever hear about how, if she were twenty today, she wouldn’t make the cut. Because her beautiful soul will never make as much sense as the perfect winged eyeliner, the close to nothing stomach and an unhealthy waistline.

Who you are today is everything your daughter will live through tomorrow. Is this really the world you want to create for her? Is this the example you want to set?

Because I’d like to believe that somewhere behind those fake eyelashes are eyes filled with tears at the inability to be who you are. And I’d like to hope that this post is telling you it’s okay. It’s okay to not fit in. It’s okay to have thighs that stick together. It’s okay to not have an hourglass figure. It’s okay if your nose looks weird. It’s okay if your cheeks are chubby. It’s okay if your chin looks doubled.

It’s okay. Because that imaginary standard they’re setting? That will go out of fashion within the next decade and all this energy you’ve spent fitting into that stereotype will become pointless. But a good heart? A kind soul? That will always matter. That will always stay in fashion.

So take a deep breath and wipe that makeup off. It’s time to stand up for who you are.

#IStandUp for You.

Who’re you standing up for?!