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.