Thursday, January 31, 2013

Getting your shit together

What? You mean you never had one tragic moment in your life? The one which is sort of "kick in your pants" failure moment. But, how is that even possible? If so, then sorry to say, getting your shit together will get that much more harder. 

It is true. Determination, willpower and all those underdog type abilities emerge when we confront unexpected, massive tragedies in life. I always felt they were like little reminders to make you appreciate your routinely good life a bit more. But you know what is more amazing?  It is that "kick in your pants" feeling. That sort of outrage that builds up in you - that says to you to stop being such a sissy about it and get up and face it. And whatever it is, conquer it.

It is hard to be maddeningly focussed and determined in normal circumstances. Pick any kind of underdog - they have been through rough times, some crazy low point that it kicks them in their pants to do their best. To prove their best.

This phenomenon is called "Getting your shit together". This happens mostly when tragedy strikes (sorry some of you incredibly lucky people who sail through life, this ain't for you.) Yes, getting dumped by your boyfriend/girlfriend is gold (see video). Although I wouldn't, in my wildest dreams, break up with Joseph Gordon-Lewitt, if he were my boyfriend. 

Ok so if you have read so far, let me give you some more unsolicited advice.

All those motivating TED talks and all, they are short-lived, ok? Your brain processes them in and out it goes. Ask the TED speakers if they were driven by watching only TED talks. They will tell you. So instead recollect something tragic that has happened to you and how you came out of it or didn't - what do you want to takeaway from it? No, not about being weak and pain and sadness. I meant take it as an inspiration instead.

If all else fails, just think about your (Indian) parents. That should do. (Yes, they are exasperating at times. Admit it ;-).  Or think about your boss. Or that snobbish friend. These are your best bets.

Meanwhile, if nobody is inspiring you or you need some laughs or you are just plain tired reading this blog post, watch this kid pep talk you for instant energy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Rest is Noise

"Do you really think it will be full?", I ask my friend seated beside me, busy checking on his office mail.

"Ya sure it has been 45 mins now?"

I nod. I was chugging down a liter of bottled mineral water. I was due for an Ultrasound Scan. The first ever in my life. And I was waiting for my bladder to get full.

"Umm can you google search what's the average time for a woman?", I ask my friend. I add, "No I am not joking. Please?", I plead him. Just for the record, that day I waited 3 hours.

That morning when I had arrived I read the big information banner outside the ultrasound room about safety precautions and a pregnant lady's photo beside.

"Umm, remind me why am I doing this? Isn't this for pregnant people?", I ask my friend. Both of us shrug. I was asked to get tested for an acute infection in my body.

The first time I entered the room, the technician was annoyed with me.

"How much did you drink?"

"2 glasses", I said nonchalantly.

She rolled her eyes and pointed the monitor with a little disgust. "Look that is 10 ml. I need atleast 400 ml in your bladder."

"Oh I was told to drink 2 glasses."

"No you come after drinking a liter and only if you feel your bladder is blasting."

Ok I say and come out and drink. I was puking on water beside my friend.

"This is like Ellen Page drinking Sunny D in Juno", I say and both of us laugh.

December 2012 and it was supposed to be the holiday season. The hospital had a tiny christmas tree in the corner but hoards of people sick with illnesses and worry. And this day was my only "light-hearted" day to be for a month from then.

I ran fevers of 104F. I wondered for the first time if 104F was this, then how would a third degree burns patient feel? 

My mom once touched my cheek when the temperature was a little over 104 and she immediately withdrew her hand back. As if she touched a boiling pot on stove.

"It was like touching fire. My fingers didn't lose the heat till about a minute.", she told me later.

Every night, somewhere between crack of the dawn and early morning, I had viral attacks. I would be under two thick blankets and a winter jacket and bouncing up and down the bed. The virus gave me horrific shivering for an hour each night. 

"It was like in the movie exorcist, as if you were possessed.", my dad said the few times he managed to baby step to my bedroom. Dad is chronically sick and cannot move freely.

It was enormous pressure for mom. She sometimes held on to my body to hold me from shivering, but the shaking was so uncontrollable she would get thrown off. "I was scared. I thought if I held you it would stop", she told me later, naively.

After the shivering, I ran temperatures as high as 104 for few hours and then withdrew into sweating profusely - the only time I would remove the blankets and jacket off my body.

The viral attacks (sometimes multiple times a day) left my body in so much pain, that I coudn't even turn to one side of the bed on my own. So going to bathroom was obviously a nightmare. It was an ordeal that lasted atleast 30 minutes. Some days I would drink less so I didn't have to make an extra trip to the toilet.

The antibiotics proved no match to the infection in my body. The doctors couldn't tell what sort of infection it was and where it was in my body. Their medicines only made it worser. They gave me mouth blisters. All kinds in my mouth. In every nook. About half a dozen atleast. 

I stopped eating. I couldn't talk without my mouth paining now.

I was confused, upset and started cussing. I would call the virus all sorts of swear words. I would cry sometimes and yell at God. As if, mysteriously he had conspired against me. 

"Why me?", I shouted every sleepless night as I waited for the viral attacks. I turned phobic.

Weeks went by, but not one doctor could diagnose me. I took a battery of tests. Each time I got the test reports, you would think I would be happy seeing "Negative" results. But I cried. I cried because if I was positive on a test, that meant I am still not diagnosed for this GOD DAMN INFECTION.

My condition worsened every day. Some days my digestion would be upset for no reason. I stopped working. I ate less and barely smiled. I couldn't bear noise - the loud sounds from TV. Music disturbed me. I waited through silent days and nights. For the first time I heard the clock ticking in the room. Each minute was hard to pass by. 24 hours seemed so long to me. 

Each day I lost confidence and weight, both in large measures. In 2 weeks I was down 7 kilos (15 lbs). My parents tried to motivate me. My dad mocked me saying I had no guts to face it all. (He always uses reverse psychology to provoke or motivate me.) I was in pain and I didn't care. I dreamed about taking a hot bath (I hadn't bathed for a month now.)

"Do you think I can get back to shape and run long distance? I've lost all muscle.", I asked my friend. "You just breezed through the half marathon, you can do anything.", he said with a truthful tone to his voice.

Slowly the cussing stopped and I started praying. Praying to God. Begging for mercy. My friend had meanwhile visited temples, held special prayers and prayed hard. My mom prayed. My friend's mom prayed hard. Finally I was put under a clinical trial of drugs without diagnosis of the disease. There was such a thing called Fevers of Unknown Origin in the medical literature. That was me now, experiencing it. 

The doctor said, "You may or may not tolerate these drugs. It depends on how much your body can take. These drugs are very powerful." I didn't care. By this time I had made my mind to get out of this. I popped about 10 drugs a day, 4 of them that were so large I feared I would choke on them. But I didn't say a word. I just prayed and said "God just let the drugs work."

And they worked. Slowly, but steadily. Giving me hope, confidence and fixing my wrong attitude along the way. I made my mom sneak in a pack of Lays Chips and a bottle of thumbs up just because I wanted to taste something salty and sugary (although I am supposed to eat healthy more now than ever). Life felt good for the first time in months.

All my life I felt that I was a self made woman. That I didn't require help. Nobody's help. Not even God. Help was for losers, I thought. Help was for lazy people, I thought. Many moments I took my parents and friends for granted. The only people who became my strong support system through a time that was unimaginable for me.

I didn't understand how this infection in my body was even humanely possible - I worked out few times a week, I ate healthy and I prided myself about never falling sick for 28 years of my life. I despised silently those who fell sick, because I thought it was their own doing. Until I saw my own father falling into depths of chronic sickness. And still I hadn't developed enough empathy for the sick. Now I have a new found admiration for people who fight ill-health EVERY SINGLE DAY of their lives. I cannot imagine what that must be. Because I have had enough for a month and a half - enough to throw my confidence and hope, off-balance.

The thing is there is an important lesson hidden in every experience. But there is something about failures and tragic experiences that bring in a change in you. In those days of sickness, I realized how much I wanted to do in life. That life is too short. That we take our life for granted - our good health, parents, friends & close ones, happy memories, opportunities etc. People with permanent disabilities and far fatal diseases live life with confidence. Then why are we, normal average people, plagued by worries?

The mysterious thing about happiness is it is in our perspective. For ages, people have researched, studied and taken surveys about happiness. But I realized it is in accepting the moment - whatever that is. It is in the way we view things, cherish things and see the positive in everything. The tragic experiences in our life test this faith of ours to be happy, no matter what. 

It is tough to be happy, if you choose to. It is easy to be happy, if you choose to.

Now I pop about 5 drugs per day like candies and joke about the orange color of my urine (a result of the drugs). "It is more like the sunset orange.", I describe to my mom who reacts with disgust to my rather detailed descriptions.

Even now when I think about my illness, I shudder. I am still recovering but it feels like a miracle to get rid of viral attacks. But the miracle happened when I resolved to fight it and get out of it. When I saw people around me give strength it felt foolish to sit in a corner and cry.

Because that one moment when I decided to be positive and have a little faith, I chose happiness. And the rest...the rest was just noise.