To the black hole and back: My journey with anxiety and panic attacks

Life's Like That is a column that envelops Suresh Pattali's musings on everyday life



by

Suresh Pattali

Published: Thu 11 Aug 2022, 6:09 PM

This is the second sitting with my doctor, who was all ears, his eyebrows arching intermittently in sceptical disbelief. As if he was trying to pick different shades of grey in my narrative and what my visage and demeanour mirrored.

That’s how a psychiatrist typically reacts. He would dissect every word you utter, analyse the disconnect in your multiple narratives, scan your body language, and X-ray the castle of tales you build up dexterously. He wouldn’t say you are right or the world is wrong and vice versa.

I kept lecturing him and he kept listening, throwing some cryptic queries in between such as “What triggers the attack?” How do I explain it has been a constant companion? It has been shadowing me from my formative years until this moment. From the days I started to read about the universe, about the millions of black holes that inhabit the Milky Way and beyond, and about the cosmic insignificance of humanity on a pale blue dot that we call Earth. From the day the coconut plucker’s teenage son committed suicide in a cashew grove, and how life and time moved on uninterrupted.

“What triggers the attack?” Dr Arun repeated.

“Nothing.” I wanted to tell him to go and lie down on an empty beach on a starry night, peer into the inky sky and count the little stars. Then, when you realise that the beauty you are in awe of is actually a cover-up for the fear it beholds and that you are a tiny grain of sand sitting precariously on the brink of a black hole waiting to devour you, a thick layer of cold sweat would envelop you until you pass out. Teach your soul to never long for a shower of stardust. For you don’t matter in this world.

“I love humanity. I don’t like to hear bad things or news about anyone,” I said, and waited for his reaction.

He ignored my statement, yet his eyes were riveted on me, as if that’s not what he wanted to hear. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I didn’t want Gandhi and Kennedy to die. I didn’t want Benazir Bhutto assassinated. I didn’t want Asifa Bano raped and murdered. Why did we kill them all?

“You need to fight this aggressively. Try not to avoid hostile environs and situations. Talk to friends.”

Friends? Do I have one? Did I ever have one in my lifetime? I began to ponder, traipsing from the clinic to Karama. I don’t telephone anyone; no one calls me except a few colleagues. Sipping a cuppa over some Tamil melodies in a favourite joint, I dug deep in the graveyard of memories to unearth some friendly skeletons until my fingers dropped off. Who is a friend? Who is a bestie? What’s the definition of friendship? I always fell back on my children to open up. Not anymore, not after their marriage.

Back home, in the tranquillity of my acquired solitude, I held a mirror against me. I had not seen my own visage up close for a long while. In the monthly hair ritual, the barber always held a mirror in the back to magnify his mastery. I nodded without looking.

“Hello friend,” I addressed myself as if I was seeing a long-lost classmate. My portrait in the metal mirror melted into a social media DP. It shined like a Christmas Star. If friendship is a longing, a passion, an endless wait for an order of caramel latte, this is where I come to refill. The owner of the handle, herself a writer who would one day tell her stories to the world, has been an inspiration ever since we started to talk a couple of years back.

She typically knocked past 2am after all the scrubbing in the kitchen. A few minutes of chit-chat later, she would return to writing until the crack of dawn. She’s as straight as an arrow. Her observations were as sharp as a razor. Her musical and literary tastes matched mine, almost. She introduced me to new genres of music.

“As much as I’m a supporter of women and their rights and ambitions, I cannot stand their emotions, their gossiping and, worst of all, their judgments,” she argued.

She and I would disappear for weeks and months on. We never sought the ‘whys’. We never chased each other and burdened ourselves with complaints. Silence delineated our friendship.

“I do wish to say a lot. Everybody thinks I am static, a person with no change, who will not change. Things happen to me, too, and perhaps, I’m more comfortable dealing with them on my own. Hence this silence,” she would reason whenever she made a comeback.

We exchanged notes on our protagonists — hers a male and mine a female. She asked when she wanted insights into a male mind.

“Have you ever communicated just by glancing at a person?” she asked recently without any provocation.

“No, let’s give it a try. LOL.”

“Too bad. There’s a lot of power in a single glance.” I knew she was writing and wanted my viewpoints.

“What’s up?” I would knock after a few full moons.

“Reading Jane Austen.” She reads and re-reads Pride and Prejudice. When she was unable to write, she messaged: “You’re that kindred part of me that’s fortunate to write. When I see the colours of your world, I see MY world amplified through you. I think mums have to give up their life in order for others to continue theirs.”

Whenever I fell sick and missed writing, she messaged: “As much as I need your column from week to week, you need to put yourself first.”

We never exchanged our numbers. Neither did we chat on WhatsApp. After my long absence from writing, she wanted to motivate me. “Can I have your number to make a call?” But she never did. I never asked why.

A day later a “Hello” sprang up on WhatsApp.

My heart stopped when she identified herself. For the first time, I got to know how to spell her name. For the first time, I could put a face to a friendship that grew at its own pace. No one nursed. No one watered.

“Finally, we are on WhatsApp!” I tried to cover up my glee.

“I love being random. I wonder if it loses its charm now that we’re on WhatsApp. It’s like a spark faded.”

“Just being curious. You think we would ever meet up?” I asked.

“It’s a remote possibility.”

“How we compromise to keep the ember hot!”

“If we learn to enjoy waiting, we don’t have to wait to enjoy,” she quoted Kazuaki Tanahashi.

It feels great learning and relearning the waiting game of friendship while she reads and rereads Pride and Prejudice.

suresh@khaleejtimes.com


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