About a week ago, I got on the phone with an old friend – a close girl friend I hadn’t spoken to in a few months. Writing this sentence feels a little hypocritical – how close could a friend really be if I haven’t spoken to her in months? She and I have both been going through some major life changes, and we weren’t there for each other. We were barely managing to hold ourselves together. I can only imagine what she must’ve gone through but I have good reason to believe our circumstances both felt overwhelming for each of us in our unique ways.
“What do you do for pleasure these days?”, she asked me.
“Pleasure? What’s that?”, I joked. Or did I?
She stayed quiet, waiting for me to answer honestly. I reflected on her question, trying to come up with an answer. Jokes are really a reflection of our reality. I had forgotten what pleasure felt like. My baseline level of happiness had been “I am dead inside”. For months.
It was alarming. Yet it felt important. It felt like something I needed to feel and accept fully before I could understand what it was.
After a trying couple of months of lockdown and many losses, in June this year, I got a new job. I dove in headfirst into what felt like a big break for me. Lucky me, I scored a new job in the middle of the pandemic! A full-time managerial role. Wow. The congratulations poured in. My culture loves salaried positions. There were new skills to acquire and new people to engage with regularly. I had to learn everything fast. I made mistakes. Impostor syndrome reared its ugly head. Did I deserve to get this job? Was I even capable of delivering what was being asked?
I took on all the new responsibilities (and many imaginary self-imposed ones) onto my shoulders and soon enough, I was taking everything personally. The smallest of mistakes felt like complete incompetence. The slightest delays in meeting deadlines felt like I was a failure of a human being. Sure, people around me were often critical of me, but my inner critic became louder and louder.
My coping strategy has always been to be my own worst critic. That way, I remained more powerful and influential on myself than anyone else.
No wonder, being in a more “professional” environment, I became miserable and hopeless. Nothing I did mattered, because I was going to fail anyway. I felt like I was on a nightmarish rollercoaster, with no end in sight, no control of the situation. I screamed and white-knuckled it for a while, but with the G-force cranked up high, I eventually passed out.
This leaked into all other areas of my life. My usual coping techniques – meditation, exercise, journaling, therapy – weren’t helping. The things that once brought me joy – such as dance and music – seemed pointless each time I made a mistake.
Making mistakes paralyzed me, and I would immediately abandon my piano or dance studio. And I would abandon myself.
But here’s the thing: mistakes are an inevitable part of life… and of play and fun!
Spiritual Spring Cleaning
You may already know this – Diwali is the biggest Hindu festival and it’s BIG in India. It falls sometime in October or November, always on a new moon day, signifying the start of a new year. In the weeks and days leading up to Diwali, it’s tradition to declutter our homes, donate a bunch of things, and begin the Hindu New Year with a fresh start. It’s our version of spring cleaning.
I wouldn’t say that I’m religious, but I like traditions.
The idea of millions of people decluttering their homes makes me want to join in on the fun 🙂 And I definitely experienced a spiritual spring cleaning during this time.
In mid-October, I planned a getaway to the city of Jaipur, a 30-minute flight away. It was my first trip outside my home city since January. I gave myself an over-the-top Queen-like experience. I stayed in a 5-star palace-style hotel. I had people bringing me food and cocktails, and taking care of me, while I recalibrated my baseline.
I spent most of that time crying. And that felt like progress – at least I was feeling something.
Getting away from everything – my city, my home, my loved ones, and my work – helped me gain perspective. What am I doing all this for?
And most importantly – why am I looking for validation outside of myself? From my boss, from my colleagues, my work, from men? My entire self-worth was coming from external sources.
In the past few months, I’ve been told a few times, from different people, about different circumstances, that I need to detach myself from the situation. While I agreed with them, I also worked up the courage to ask them: How exactly am I supposed to do that?
They didn’t have an answer for me.
Was there a Detachment App that I was missing in my spiritual software? Did it just come naturally and easy to everyone else and not to me? Was this another thing I’m “failing” at? I later realized it’s one of those things that’s easy to say and advise, but not simple or easy to actually do.
During the Great Diwali Clean Up, I removed more than half of my possessions. It was not easy saying goodbye to things I’ve held on to for decades and to throw them in the trash or give them away. Photos, ticket stubs, boarding passes, and other memorabilia that had traveled the world with me. That particular dress which was falling apart but I had such great memories wearing it. The books that made my library look robust and respectful (to whom?) but I never read them. They felt like such important parts of me, of what I wanted to be and wanted others to see.
I said goodbye to all of it. It felt like a mini-death. But after it was all gone, I felt different. I felt… good.
I remembered something important. That this is exactly what I needed to do. I needed to say goodbye to all the things I had been tying to my worth as a human being. How good of a leader am I? How well can I write? How many men are currently pursuing me? How pretty do I look compared to everyone else? How well can I play the piano and dance?
All of these questions were haunting me and slowly killing me. And perhaps what I needed to do was to let myself die.
Love and Death
I’m still integrating this journey with my reality, but suffice it to say that something had shifted inside me. Everything in my life remains the same, but I feel different. As I go about my day, I still seek external validation, but I catch myself doing it, and it allows me to say to myself: Aww, that’s adorable. You’re doing that again. That’s so sweet. You know, you are loved anyway, even if you made this mistake in that email, even if you couldn’t complete a triple left spin, even if that guy doesn’t text you back. You are so, so loved.
And just like that, play is coming back into my life.
All I needed to do was die.