2016 is over. Like the end of every other year, we toast to the year gone by, mourn the famous and not-so-famous people who died, and make improbable resolutions and childish wishes for the year arriving shortly. Perhaps, if you are a bit cynical like me, you are weary of this cycle, of starting with unbounded hope which is soon tempered by reality and deadlines and accidents and delayed flights. The circle of life goes on and some years are better than others but at the end it is still a year, just another year. This year was a bit unusual for me but probably a regular one by the universe’s standards.
Complicated grief: This was my entire year. My father developed cancer at the beginning of the year, I heard of his diagnosis over the phone, a continent away from my family. This was followed by dangerous surgery, a difficult recovery (he was never able to eat after that and stayed on a feeding tube), the cancer coming back in several places, and eventually he passed away with my mother at his side. He was a skeleton when I met him in November, he was dead when I returned home in December. I never made it back for the cremation, all I did was scatter the ashes and hope he died knowing how much he was loved and admired by many people, despite everything. All of this happened while I slept through the night and missed my mother’s five frantic calls and my sister was in a flight on her way back. I don’t know how to grieve for this, I know that I have been dreaming about my father a lot and I have been dreaming with compassion for the man who was my father but also an alcoholic, also not the parent I needed. He was brave, far braver than I can imagine, during his cancer. He liked to talk about other things and since he could not cook for himself, he cooked for other people. He drove until five days before his death and he loved his SUV. His appearance would scare people who had known him formerly, but his attitude bolstered them. I may never make peace with both his presence and loss but this was the year where I grieved even when I don’t quite know how to grieve.
Self-Love and Care: This does not come easily to the best of us. What is easy is wallowing in pity, indulging ourselves in escapist fantasies. I am not talking about that although the universe knows I have done enough of that. This is definitely the year where I have tried to throw money at problems and shield myself. I have accumulated even more happy, shiny things courtesy subscription boxes. It does not work, it is temporary. But this is also the year I made solid progress in liking myself a little more. I respect myself some more – I am often only able to see the things that are not great about me, a distorted lens on my life – I spend too much money on frivolous things, I lose my temper, I am not a good enough daughter and I get impatient, I don’t have enough focus or foresight, I am not on a clear career path. But this year I reminded myself that I moved (yet again) to a new city in a country not my own and built a life, that I (kind of) had a professional breakthrough based on who I was, that I have friends who love me for who I am. This year I have started to show my body some more love – exercise, some yoga, home-cooked food and more. I have been better with my mind too – I let the negative thoughts float but not settle. I try to counter the bad thoughts: I am not good enough, I am late for my life (by an Indian woman’s life-cycle standards, an old maid, a spinster). On the good days I can see that I am enough, that I am fabulous, on the bad days I ask myself to wait it out.
Competent Compassion: I’ve always known that I have compassion, what I have lacked in is ways to show it while still respecting myself. For a long time I confused compassion with simply doing what someone asked me to do (an abusive/cheating ex asking for another chance, an ungrateful friend asking me to show up somewhere, a nasty relative expecting niceness and politeness). I always lost myself somewhere. What I have now I think is a grip on how I show my compassion: it is not available to everyone and it is affected by how you treat me. This doesn’t mean for me that compassion only applies to people I know personally, it goes beyond that but it comes with a healthy dose of self-preservation.
Personally, 2016 was a difficult year. Until May I did not know if I would still be employed, if I could still live in the city and country where I was, if I could pay off my student loans. I am not great with uncertainty, I don’t always thrive in that space, it makes my anxiety skyrocket and I cycled through it a lot. What I did know until May is that my father was ill, tremendously limited after his surgery and my family was struggling in several ways while I lived across the world. In December, I would lose one parent and see the other one crumble, and as torn by grief as I am, I have to accept that only she can piece it back together – her will to live is now deeply tied into our lives and that is a strange new world. In December, I would scatter the ashes of my father and pay the pundit by a check in the face of demonetisation. In 2016, I would watch my sibling lose her youth and innocence, by being a secondary caregiver to my (terminally) ill father. I would fail my family, but only in my eyes, not in theirs. So 2016 has been a rollercoaster, a rough ride, far more than I could have imagined.
But it has also had a lot of joy: I have friends that have stood with me through the worst, they have sent me texts full of energy and gifts full of sunshine, I started the Mental Health and Wellness section for Feminism in India, more importantly I met Japleen and Adishi and had an afternoon of laughter and fun – the hope the conversations with them gave me carries me on.
Like every single year, 2016 was full of love, death, laughter, failure, success, joy, sex, romance, emotional ruin and physical collapse. So here’s to 2017, mental health and to each day being a bit more and better than the other. Cheers!