Tag Archives: self-care

The Venus Flytrap: Working From Home, Within A Crisis

Standard

I’ve been working from home since late 2016, and I hope I can offer some suggestions on effectively doing so if you’re new to it.

To begin, some practical tips: never work in bed. It’s terrible for your back. If you don’t have a desk, use a dining table or kitchen counter. If you have enough space so that you can set up an “office”, do so, and don’t eat or watch TV there. Demarcating spaces will also help you demarcate time. You may feel you have a lot less or a lot more time than you did before. Keep daily checklists (personal and professional) as well as weekly and monthly planners. It helps to keep your eye on the big picture when the days merge formlessly. If there’s less work, set manageable growth-oriented tasks: updating your CV, making a vision board, etc. Leisure soothes; don’t beat yourself up.

Working from home is an enormous privilege, as evidenced by the thousands of migrant labourers who walked the Indian highways to reach their villages when this lockdown was announced. People who are or provide the supply chain, sanitation services, home deliveries and medical attention can’t work from home either.

This reality doesn’t nullify the fact that “home”, even if there’s a roof above one’s head and Wi-Fi, can be a highly toxic environment. This is truer than not in the Indian context, bound by patriarchy, where every family has a mountain of “dust” swept under a flimsy carpet. Set private boundaries even if others don’t respect them. For instance, commit to not engaging with anyone whose behaviour sets you off. Bite your tongue, keep up self-healing practices if you have the privacy to, and train your eyes on the long-term. If you realise that you don’t want to live like this permanently, accept that it will be months at least before changing your life becomes viable. Focusing on surviving this, then getting out.

No matter your scenario, mental health is a priority at this time. In a state of uncertainty, we are softer targets than ever. With the anxiety-inducing effects of constantly checking the news, paired with the tentacles of inadequacy that brands/influencers still shoot into our lives, it’s best to be careful about social media usage. Take up journalling: empty your worries into it. There are many guided or prompt-based practices online. Be flexible about how you define productivity. It’s hard to concentrate right now, so if you don’t learn a new language or tackle that to-be-read pile, it’s okay!

When you feel overwhelmed, return to this question: Who do you want to be when all of this is over?

The skills you acquire in this time are not only meant for crises. They are all adaptable into the next normal, post-pandemic. Try to see this period as a beautiful opportunity to inculcate practices for the long-term. These include taking up meditation or exercise, budgeting better, building meaningful connections based on communication (not activity), fairer division or more efficient management of household chores, eating more creatively, developing clearer socio-political ideas, achieving a healthy work-life balance, becoming self-disciplined and much more. Lean into growth, not fear.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 2nd 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Wishes For Well-Being

Standard

I write from a place where I manufacture hope for myself – and for the world – out of nothing but with all of me, the way a silkworm spins a cocoon from its body, or the way the sunlight-catching gossamer that a spider weaves from itself becomes at once its home and its art.

May you find in this time of constraint that you have more will and more heart than you usually have recourse to. May you draw from old wells of strength, and may they show you how you have been here before, and how you lived through it. The circumstances may be amplified, but the feelings are familiar. You have felt helpless before. You have known isolation. May you receive this while bolstered by that memory, just as I send it to you from a place of periodic equanimity, gained by experience and with the sense that all the world has slid now to the level of disquiet I always live with. And having lived that way, I can tell you that you can too. If you have the bare minimum to stay alive in this adversity, you can still find or make mirth, romance, creativity, comfort.

I know that somewhere in this city, the boughs of mango trees must be ladening with ripening fruit. The season for them has surely arrived, as seasons do, even out of turn in this time when ecospheres evolve. Soon, the rare jacarandas – you may know where amidst these many streets suddenly empty of our urgencies and our vanities they are rooted – will prosper in purple. Have you noticed how many words in the English language for this colour borrow from the names of flowers that carry it? Lilac, lavender, violet, periwinkle. Jacaranda is not one among them, both tree and tint. How beautiful to think of them all: summer’s bounty – the flowering trees, the fruit-bearing boughs, the weeds, a wild luxuriance. They will loom radiant in their posts whether we can see them, or touch them, or take from them or not. I write from a place with no foliage in my sight, for the first time in over a dozen years. It’s enough for me to know it thrives out there, away from our plucking hands and our polluting vehicles. Remember that nature has its own rhythms, and that you can conjure them up in thought. They susurrate within you. They are you.

May this find you in a place where your water, your electricity, your subsistence and your Wi-Fi are blessedly stocked. May you have enough. May you know that your coffer of courage, your vault of ingenuity, your repository of goodwill, and your larder of intuition are renewable resources. You do not have to fill them as we did before, using the ways we took for granted. There are other ways: gentler, simpler, more generous, more connected from afar. May you know that you are precious, and so is each life. May you know that if you are lucky, it is disgraceful – as in, incognizant of the universe’s grace – if you do not use your survival to make the world a better place.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 26th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Anxiety In Times Of Public Crisis

Standard

Over the weekend, a series of anxieties I’d been having all month came to a head and – clarity dawning on me on what the root cause was – I decided to cocoon myself, digitally and otherwise. I locked my social media accounts, refrained from posting, minimised online consumption and focused on grounding myself. My experience is subjective in that I am a double exile: I belong to a minority that experienced genocide, moved to an apartheid state in childhood, lost that one for speaking the truth, and am an official but not sentimental citizen here. I have a sensitivity to the conditions that lead to violence, the way certain birds know when a storm is coming. But my experience is not unique, either – all over India, news and footage of brutality, coming most recently out of Delhi, have been upsetting, confusing and frightening to people with a conscience. For some, the events triggered the trauma of prior occurrences, but one needn’t have personal or communal memory of persecution to feel affected by them, even from a distance.

A friend thoughtfully shared what someone she looks to for spiritual guidance told her: that one must avoid the tendency to narrativise in these times, managing them in small increments so as to not become overwhelmed. This may seem at first glance to be counter-logical. Should we deny the big picture? Should we ignore what led us here, and what historically has been proven to lead from here? No and no, but we must remember to locate ourselves within this largeness as well. I recalled what a healer told me once on dealing with another kind of PTSD that is also mine: invoke the stars above me, and the earth below me. This is similar to the sensory awareness exercise known as the 54321 method that cognitive behavioural therapists teach, identifying sights, smells, sounds, textures and tastes in one’s immediate surroundings to defuse the state of panic.

An online group counselling session I joined seemed directed at encouraging people to seek individual help – but professional therapy, like all healthcare, is a luxury. It was clear that many people are distressed, and far from apathetic. This was affirming to see, in a way. Still, I found myself unable to schedule an appointment with my own therapist exclusively to discuss the way the socio-political climate was clawing at my past and making me terrified for the future. I soothed myself with wordless children’s books. I freed myself from the tyranny of articulation.

In times of horror, we are repeatedly called to stand up, speak up, hold the line. We are told we are cowards for observing without action, even if fear paralyzes us. We are told we are privileged if we look away even to catch our breath. All these statements are empty ones in the shadow of the horror itself. I have no better statements for you, not today. I hold this mirror up only to show you that you are not alone. And maybe, steadily, we will find ways to help ourselves and one another as we parse what has happened and what is still to come. Breathe. Breathe.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on March 6th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: Self-Care & Capitalism

Standard

I thought The Goop Lab, Gwyneth Paltrow’s new Netflix series, would be the perfect lazy watch to zone out on, and drain out my snarky side (like physical aggression can be gym-ed away, we’d do well to very carefully and privately dispose of our other belligerences). I couldn’t get past the introductory reel, which ends on the weak laughter of her employees before they are subjected to extreme experiences. It only takes a basic familiarity with workplace dynamics to know what would happen to those who didn’t agree to take shrooms, explore their sexuality on camera, share their deepest secrets or anything else the job requires.

Paltrow says that her company is all about “the optimization of the self”, as explained by the question, “how can we milk the shit out of this [life]?” Well, presumably she meant life, but given that Goop is a multi-million dollar company, who knows? Believe me when I say I’m desperately trying to bite back the snark, but the catalogue includes a candle supposedly scented like her own vagina, and a USD15,000 gold-plated sex toy.

Goop is only the pinnacle of a global culture of capitalist appropriation of the radical concept of self-care. Most of the brands whose products we can’t help but succumb to, thanks to attractive keywords like “organic”, “sustainability-conscious” and “authentic”, fall under this umbrella. Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury, as many pretty ads say. Some of what self-care entails may come naturally, while we need to be reminded of other aspects. The concept has been explored by activists, psychologists, medical field researchers and human rights historians in ways that teach us to honour its importance.

Its conflation with capitalism is where we must be wary. Moreover, a substantial portion of what the self-care industry appropriates, repackages and promotes comes directly out of traditional and indigenous wisdom.

The damage done is two-fold. Tangible effects range from patents being slapped on ingredients and practices which take them away from the communities that best understand them, to crises such as the over-harvesting of sage and child labour in crystal-gathering. Secondly, the avarice in all capitalism-driven enterprise leads to cutting corners, exaggerated prices and dishonest promotion. Chasing the bottomline erases the care with which the original methods were intended to be applied.

The products become parodies, and in turn are parodied. This begets disrespect towards therapeutic and beauty methods or instruments which are indeed effective, as well as towards their practitioners (who are rarely ever well-compensated financially) and beneficiaries, who then hesitate to share information on their healing. One of our colonial hangovers is the rejection of native wisdom in favour of allopathy. But the stealing of such wisdom by money-oriented businesses, whether they are pharmaceutical or cosmetic, neither meaningfully imparts nor protects it.

I should be the last person to lecture anyone on consumer habits. So I’ll share only what’s been true for me: it’s been really important that I sieve apart when my desires are about self-care, when they are about addiction (including emotional deflection), and when they are about indulgence. When I don’t deceive myself, the lies of brands can’t hoodwink me as easily.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on January 30th 2020. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.