Friday, November 11, 2005

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

Well, I suppose if there's any time to get personal on my blog, it's now.

Today is my last day at my current job. I am a lecturer at the Manorama School of Communication in Kerala, where I spend my days futzing around with commas and periods and desperately try to convey to my students the principles of journalism. Most of the time, I've felt like I'm failing. I am not a disciplinarian, which any sane student will occasionally try to take advantage of, and to counterbalance that (and to try and impress my boss) I sometimes lashed out at the well meaning young journalists.

It's been, perhaps, my most difficult job because there are so many conflicts, internal and external. How do I reconcile my Americanness with India? Where does one draw the line between criticizing and denigrating a culture that is not her own? Can I exercise authority over students who are my own age or older? Do my academic and professional experiences sufficiently qualify me for this?

But earlier this week, I realized just how valuable I have been to the school -- and how important the school has been in forcing me to mature. K, one of my students, had a "delusional psychotic episode" (the doctor's terms, not mine), and I had to confront my past.

It's not something I like to talk about much anymore. My close friends know my history, and anyone with access to the internet can find a column describing my travails with mental health. But in India, particularly, it's anathema to admit to people that I take three kinds of medicine to monitor my moods; it is downright unthinkable to tell them that I once was hospitalized for a good deal of time to correct my mental disorders.

Though there is still fallout from my mental health problems, it doesn't factor into my daily life. I take two pills when I wake up, one before bed, so I can sleep. And I get on with my day.

But when I saw K on Wednesday morning, my heart dropped. She was curled in her bed, cowering in a small corner, feebly asking the students and me to leave her alone. K is an unusually bright girl, cheerful and outgoing, always ready with a question. The contrast was shocking. Perhaps more shocking for me was the realization just how alike K and I are.

Because...I've been in that place. I can't say that I've suffered from the same problems she has, but I've suffered panic attacks that would consign me to bed for days. When I was younger, I would hear phones ringing, ringing, always ringing; I would imagine that my father was following me, though I hadn't seen him in years. As she shrunk into herself, shivering and insisting that someone was tryi9ng to harm her and her family, all I wanted to do was take K into my arms and reassure her that everything would be OK.

It wasn't OK that day. After failing in our attempts to bring her out of the spell, U carried K's limp body to a car, which took her to a hospital. The school's librarian, as well as a student, S, spent much of the day with her.

The students, as committed and loving a group of people as I've ever met, visited the hospital to try and cheer her up. And they seemed stunned to see the vibrant girl with a glucose drip in her arm, intermittently raving and passing in and out of consciousness. It was, perhaps, something that they had never seen before -- and as young journalists, something they probably should have been more aware of.

Once some of K's distant relatives arrived, the doctor agreed to treat the girl. After sedation and a cocktail of drugs, she came to the next morning and was able to return to MASCOM for a few minutes to say goodbye.

I don't know whether she heard me recount my past to her as she lay, pale as a sheet and still as the unbroken waters of a lake at early morning. I don't know whether telling my story does any good, or whether people will see me in the same light after making these admissions. But as I held her hand, whispered into her ear the secrets I've kept inside me for years, it felt right.

K will return to school after spending a week at home to sort out some of these issues. She has an incredibly bright future and I hope that this doesn't leave any negative ripples. And if she ever needs any support, I hope she knows that she can speak to me honestly, without worrying that I will judge her or think less of her; I hope she knows that, more than her teacher, I am her friend.

It is interesting that, five years after being released from the hospital where I lay emotionless and blank, I had the opportunity to return the care that so many of my friends and relatives offered to me. It was a powerful week, one that I'll remember for years to come as a turning point. I am no longer someone that must be cared for. I am whole, I am useful, and I can offer compassion from deep inside that I had forgotten existed.

It's funny how most often, we learn these lessons outside of classrooms.


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Anoop said...

hi yesterday i was searchin for blogs related to kottayam. that way i jumped in to ur livejournal blog. found very very interesting. the lol part was when i found ur snap of gandhiji's statue juxtaposed (in ur words) against josco. i've already linked ur blog to all my groups. most of them hail from kottayam only. those photos were realy great. i had never heard abt mascom. and when i found that it is related to MM i felt very sad. i hope u didn't get any wrong impression about the people of kottayam or kerala. hope u've enjoyed ur stay there. how is ur student K doin now. she is very lucky to find someone like u on her side. like ur observation goes people there c every kind of mental disorder through that deadly angle only. happy bloggin.