There’s one question I have been avoiding.
How are you doing?
‘Okay’ wasn’t the answer.
‘Not okay’ would take longer. And I didn’t know where to begin. Or, if I could tell you.
Can I?

I know all about ‘it’s okay to talk’, but you probably know nothing about how it’s done.

To start with, I didn’t know if I was supposed to feel the way I felt. I was home, safe, had essential supplies, could work from home, had internet access to video call my family, had all the time to read and write… surrounded by plants I love to grow, yet I slipped into this dark space, which I came to dread. I was locked home, alone.

While most people tried to make it in time to get back home to family just before lockdown, my timing to return from home back to Hyderabad couldn’t have been more flawed! But as someone who has always been socially distant, quarantine didn’t really bother me. Initially. My trip to Kolkata was good, and though I felt homesick and all of that, I was finally at my personal space, ready to get back to work. The edition was to be released on the 15th of March. That never happened. It was released on 15th June, after lockdown was relaxed.

Every other post I saw on social media about ‘self-isolation,’ I wondered what was the big deal! I had been doing that anyway. My only task and challenge, in fact, seemed to be cooking! I can’t cook to save my life. The Swiggy’s of the world have flourished because of people like me. But times had changed. I had to cook. I could no longer order in. While this routine settled in after a while, something began to crawl inside of me. Slowly, silently, making its way to stay. I could feel it in my veins and bones; I just didn’t know what it was. It would sleep inside of me, eat the food I ate; wake up before I could, and always ALWAYS act on its own terms. It almost felt like someone was living inside of me – my dangerous self?

My doctor messaged me one day. No, not my shrink. I have only visited a shrink once and couldn’t get myself to see one again. Honestly, it didn’t click. She diagnosed me with anxiety, which I knew I had, she only made it official. Other than that, I didn’t find help. This was much before COVID-19, of course. I am not saying the shrink wasn’t good because I do know she has helped others; all I am saying is: it didn’t work for me. The doctor who messaged me is my dermatologist. She asked me the question I wanted to avoid: how are you doing?

But since I have been able to speak to her about more problems than what troubles my skin, I told her I have bad days and very bad days; and I can’t seem to understand why I feel this way because I have stayed alone for long. She then told me, “while that (staying alone) was your choice, this self-isolation/lockdown is imposed.” I don’t know how much sense it made at that moment, but it stuck with me, so I started using it to tell myself and others that this is what this was.

But was it just that? An imposed lockdown messing up my mind? Probably it was, but it also meant I couldn’t complain. It was for my safety, right? And I was privileged that I could stay home, while thousands of people struggled to get back home. Do you see the dilemma? What troubled me couldn’t really be called a trouble.

The uncertainty of life getting back to normal made me anxious and scared. I felt cut out of the world and left alone. I saw no face except the lady who came every alternate day to clean the terrace garden. But we spoke different languages, hence not much interaction. I woke up every morning and followed the same routine, so that my mind falls into a routine too. But it didn’t. It woke up before me, making me extremely anxious for the day ahead. I reached a point where just about anything could be a trigger. My yoga mat, the ticking of the clock, the large windows, the Mona Lisa painting on the wall, or even a red doll in the room. I felt pushed to the edge while working out, showering, writing… anywhere, anytime… like I just didn’t know what I could do the next moment. If you have ever smoked up, that feeling you get of not knowing where you are? It’s like that, except in this, there is no pleasure, but pure dread, almost like a haunting.

The nights began to get difficult. The swing, the painting, the doll… everything scared me. I have slept with lights on for several days. I have not slept for many days. I found myself crying without a reason. How could I tell anyone how I felt? “It’s all in your head,” I was told when I said “I am sinking,” to someone who asked me, “how are you doing?”

I get it. Appreciate the clear sky, the bright sun on your face, the birds singing into your ears, the rhythm of the rain. I have. I do. But what do I do if you don’t allow me to complain about how I feel despite all of this?

My dermatologist arranged for me to speak to another shrink. I got myself to message him too, after much deliberation. I was to call him at a time given by him. I never did. I hesitated. I didn’t know where to begin. Maybe now I will send him what I just wrote.

It’s almost 2am now, and I am dreading the now scary smile on that Mona Lisa painting.