Working with anxiety

Often, the best of us find ourselves in a place where nothing feels possible. Sometimes, it happens almost every day – and living life becomes toxic, like a constantly ticking bomb. Just yesterday, I came across this comic by Extra Ordinary Comics which illustrates the feeling just right.

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Someone on Facebook commented on it saying “Anxiety?”, which was the right word for it. Also, it is very important to be able to articulate what you are feeling – that’s half the job done. The comment did exactly that for me. It put into words what I feel almost every day – or on days that I want to accomplish something (which is every day).

I also came across a book review of the book Thin Slices of Anxiety on Brain Pickings. The illustration below gave me a new perspective on anxiety.

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This illustration is a trick that can be used in our day to day lives to deal with anxiety in an effective way. I’ll give you a personal example. Every weekend, I have to travel for 2 hours to get home. Living in two places at one often takes a toll on my mind. Because there are so many things I have to remember to do and to carry that I often find myself worrying about not having some book or a particular pen with me. These things are supposed to make my life easier, and help me write.

Also, this scattered way of living makes me dread the train journeys home – though once I am home, I am happy. But on these dreaded train journeys I’d be worrying about things that I might have forgotten or of the plans I have made that might not work out because the stars won’t align at home. So, the trick that the illustration suggested is to turn your perspective from inside your head to the surroundings around you. Since observing the surroundings around you help with keeping yourself in the present, in the moment. Because you are not stuck thinking about something that happened in the past or some thing that could happen in the future – desirable or undesirable.

It is just like the trick I learned at Vipassana, a form of meditation I find very helpful in dealing with day-to-day living. The Vipassana trick is called Anapana meditation, which is, simply put, being aware of your breath. What being aware of your breath does to me is that it keeps my mind from overthinking – overthinking being one of the things that causes anxiety.

So, while dealing with all this anxiety and resultant stress, getting some actual work done can become almost impossible. But being patient with oneself and not getting disheartened; having some faith in the process and in yourself helps. And though training the mind is a technique that has guaranteed results, sometimes the chaos in our minds tends to get the better of us. There could be numerous reasons for it: being stuck in a difficult work situation, a dislike for the kind of work we’re doing, an inability to focus on the task at hand, distraction caused by social media, or simply a lack of motivation.

So when all else fails, there’s poetry. For more than a year, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s “Chand roz aur, meri jaan” has been a constant source of reassurance. Here is the complete text of the poem:

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चंद रोज़ और मिरी जान

चंद रोज़ और मिरी जान, फ़क़त चंद ही रोज़ |

ज़ुल्म की छाँव में दम लेने पे मजबूर हैं हम,
और कुछ देर सितम सह लें, तड़प लें, रो लें
अपने अज्दाद की मीरास है, माज़ूर हैं हम |

जिस्म पर क़ैद है, जज़्बात पे ज़ंजीरें हैं,
फ़िक्र महबूस है, गुफ़्तार पे ताज़ीरें हैं |

अपनी हिम्मत है कि हम फिर भी जिए जाते हैं
ज़िंदगी क्या किसी मुफ़लिस की क़बा है, जिस में हर घड़ी दर्द के पैवंद लगे जाते हैं?
लेकिन अब ज़ुल्म की मीआद के दिन थोड़े हैं,
इक ज़रा सब्र कि फ़रियाद के दिन थोड़े हैं |

अरसा-ए-दहर की झुलसी हुई वीरानी में
हम को रहना है पे यूँही तो नहीं रहना है

अजनबी हाथों का बे-नाम गिराँ-बार सितम
आज सहना है हमेशा तो नहीं सहना है |

ये तिरे हुस्न से लिपटी हुई आलाम की गर्द,
अपनी दो रोज़ा जवानी की शिकस्तों का शुमार,
चाँदनी रातों का बेकार दहकता हुआ दर्द,
दिल की बे-सूद तड़प, जिस्म की मायूस पुकार,

चंद रोज़ और मिरी जान फ़क़त चंद ही रोज़ |

For a complete word by word translation of the poem go here. It is quite sad that Mustansir Dalvi has not yet translated this.

Anyway, the poem to me is like an older, wiser person telling me patiently to be patient with myself. It almost feels like a parent who is explaining to me the way the world works and is giving me simple and straightforward advice. Of course it is up to me to take the advice or leave it. But even if I take the advice and try being patient with my failures and rejections, not keeping at the work at hand will bring the house down in no time. And anyway, one can’t really fail or get rejected without trying to get something done.

While all these things seem easier said than done, there is only one way to actually get to doing them – doing them. Instead of spending hours thinking about an undesirable thing that has to be done, just getting it done with will be effective and less time-consuming. It all depends on you – which is a very scary and a very liberating thing at the same time.

So here’s to doing things despite the fear and the anxiety of failure and the possibility of adversity!

To writerly aspirations and Maya Angelou

Today, I woke up feeling doubtful and stressed because of the changes happening around me. Then there’s this fear of not being able to fulfill expectations I have of myself. But everyone goes through this, right? And they manage to deal with changes that happen in their own ways. I am told the best ways are to have courage in your daily life and to not be afraid of working hard.

I always liked to think I was never afraid of working hard. I tried to study well, go deep and understand something, be able to contribute in class. But even then, I was a terrible organizer of things and I always operated out of fear and stress.

Here I am again, reacting the same way to the next dilemma I find myself in. And this time, I can’t just make myself believe what I’m doing is ‘working hard’. I can’t go on operating out of fear and stress. The only way I see out of it is to pursue things that scare me, that put me out of my comfort zone. Things that make me question myself more often. But I can’t lose my mind as I try to do this – which is why organisation.

But really, this heavy word *organisation* is simply the following of routine and focusing on the work you have to get done. In my case, using words to express the ideas I manage to catch. It is as simple as that. There is nothing romantic about it, which is why it doesn’t appeal to young people like me.

But romanticizing something is a very useless thing to do. For the longest time I romanticized working hard. But I really thought I was working hard when I was merely sitting in one place worrying about the wrong things. Wrong things like whether this will get me good marks, whether these marks will get me into that college, whether getting into that college will make me one of the cool kids, whether this assignment will please my teacher, whether this story will please my boss and make me go viral.

When instead, I could have made better use of that time by trying to address things like whether I understand something from what I am studying, whether I really want to go to that famous college, whether my assignment is really good, whether I have cracked the story I am presenting to my boss to my satisfaction.

Like I said, I am in a difficult and/or exciting phase in my life – it all depends on the way I choose to see it. There are big changes and big learnings. There is love and there is heartbreak. There is youth and there is growing up. So on this dull, sad and stressed Saturday, it’s Maya Angelou – the knight in shining armour – to the rescue. (no female equivalent for knight? I shall use it as a gender-neutral term then!)

My day is suddenly better. This poem below is the reason why it is necessary for writers to do their unromantic, relentless work: to be able to pass on the struggle to the next generation without letting them focus on the fear part of it.

Am I romanticizing writing this time? Well, circle of life.

So in case you are having a bad day, here’s the poem that turned my day around. And if you aren’t, bookmark it for a rainy day.

Still I rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Tale spun

Spin a yarn and keep alive the art of storytelling urges Katha Kosa’s new challenge.

Remember a time when all you really wanted was to be hushed by an animated “once upon a time…” and a happy lull would settle gently upon the world? British writer, Philip Pullman says it best, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

Stories also have the power to inspire, to engage, to inculcate knowledge and cultures, and to entertain. It’s a sentiment that Dhara Kothari, founder of Katha Kosa that endorses. Katha Kosa, is a year-old organisation dedicated to the art of storytelling, has plans to organise activities, events, and meetings around “storytelling” in a bid to revive the dying art. Their latest initiative, Stories on a Postcard Challenge is a fun enterprise jointly conducted by Katha Kosa, Settle Stories, UK and India Post. The collaboration with Settle Stories is a result of a chance encounter Kothari had with founder Sita Brand. Kothari sought assistance from the good old India Postal Service, who unexpectedly responded positively.

Participating in the challenge is simple: anyone from anywhere in the Indian subcontinent can write a story that physically fits on a postcard and drop it in an old-fashioned red and black post box. In an age, where technology has taken over almost all forms of communication between human beings, the Stories on a Postcard challenge will be a unique experience for folks who’ve probably never seen a postcard.

The story entries could be in any genre- fiction, non-fiction, true experiences, thriller, sci-fi, or romance. They could also be in any form- prose, poetry, illustrations, even. Participants are allowed multiple submissions but the rules dictate that every entry have its postcard. Exhibitions featuring all entries will be held in the month of October during Postal Week in India and at the Storytelling Festival in the UK. There are plans to publish the submissions both in print as well as digital versions.

However enthused Kothari is about the first Stories on Postcard Challenge (which she plans to hold annually), what concerns her is the less than enthusiastic response from media houses, writers, and the lack of expected participation. More than children, it is the adults who need to be motivated to start writing, she feels. More than one person Kothari spoke to has assumed that the initiative was for kids and therefore would cheer her along, never once giving participating themselves a thought. We lamented jointly over this tragedy; people need to be shaken aware, and we assured ourselves with the possibility of a story doing that. Maybe, it will be a story on a postcard.

“The main purpose is to have fun” Kothari said when we met with her. So pick up a pen and start spinning a tale!

Address your postcards to Katha Kosa, c/o Director, Mumbai GPO, Mumbai-400001. The deadline for sending entries is Mon Sept 30. Also, visit kathakosa.com.

A version of this article appeared in Time Out Mumbai.