this is a photo from last year when I stepped out of my apartment for the first time after being bedridden for seven months. Apart from the trips i made to the hospital for tests and appointments, i was completely bedbound due to a massive lower back flare which caused excruciating pain and muscle spasms in my entire lower body. i was also undergoing a treatment for #sibo, following a highly restrictive diet which was helping my physical symptoms and also changing my relationship with food for the first time. With support from my close friends and a couple of family members, i somehow survived those seven months in my own apartment, walking not more than 200 something steps per day. i think i’ve dealt with times worse than that and have come out a little wiser and stronger each time in my entire life. Despite spending countless nights in pain and doubt of whether i’d get out of bed the next day, i’m still here today. Not ‘fixed’ or magically cured. Just doing my best and allowing myself some rest. And so are you. And I promise, if you’ve come this far, you can go even farther.
There’s been a lot on my mind lately and I’ve been thinking all this while whether these things were appropriate to be shared on my blog. These things are somewhat personal and sensitive but I remembered my very purpose of starting this blog in the first place — it was to create a safe space for me to be exactly who I am, share my experiences openly knowing that my account, while helping me make sense of my experiences and live life to the best of my ability, may even help someone else in their journey.
So keeping that in mind, I finally decided that sharing my experiencing and expressing my opinions out here is definitely worth it.
My recent move to India has brought up so many thoughts and emotions for me. For sure, some of it has to do with my childhood and leaving my home of twenty something years. However, a larger part of it has to do with my inability and struggle to make sense of how the system and culture functions out here. I agree that I grew up around lots of Indians and that I didn’t fully lose touch with my roots, but I remember very clearly and from a very young age, feeling very strongly that I don’t fit in.
Let me try and be a little more specific here.
I was seven or eight when I left India. My parents, like many other parents, were highly protective of us. Basically, I have barely any memory whatsoever about the world outside of the comfort of my home in India. Ask me about my pre-Singapore childhood experiences at home and I recollect them as if they happened yesterday. Quite frankly, I remember every painful experience inside of the four walls. Somewhere, as a very young girl, I believed that the world outside was a perfect place. You could say I was rosy-eyed; believing there was peace and love everywhere because somehow that was all I cared about. Naturally, I was naive and didn’t know enough about the actual world out there.
Then, after moving away to Singapore, India became a vacation spot we’d visit once or twice a year.Obviously by then Singapore has started to feel like home. India, to me was this place I’d visit for a limited time, meet limited people and well, say goodbye and return. It was great meeting everyone but a part of me always craved going back. Almost as if I already knew at that age that something about the environment didn’t sit well with me. Or, as I said before, I didn’t fit in.
As I grew older, that feeling got stronger. My views about my homeland started to change drastically, as if blossoming into a young woman brought along a threat I wasn’t quite aware of. While I truly enjoyed my time with family and friends in India, I got more and more uncomfortable about the culture, certain family dynamics and gender roles. As I write, I’m trying very hard to remember at least ONE holiday where something didn’t stand out for me, or that I didn’t feel threatened by some men outside family, or where I actually felt like I could connect or relate with the women I came across. There was just too much out there that made me feel terribly uncomfortable. Being a highly-sensitive child, I didn’t need to fully understand things; the vibe around a situation were good enough.
Today, twenty something years later, I’ve returned to this place again, no longer as a teenager who couldn’t entirely relate to her own culture or who felt threatened as a girl, but as a healthy-looking grown woman, confident in her individuality and her choices AND ALSO as someone suffering from a chronic illness.
For the kind of internal work I have committed myself to for a few years now (I make mistakes but I’m consciously working on myself every single day and seek guidance when needed), I have returned to India knowing very well that the transition isn’t going to be a walk in the park. That said, I find that I am open and willing to embrace this place and all that is in store. I am willing to put some of my most traumatic and painful experiences away and look at this place with a new pair of lenses.
Initially I thought the approach of camouflaging (not fitting-in, that’s different) will get me through circumstances here. You see, you don’t have to fit in, but you could just camouflage your way out, no? Not stand out too much. Watch what you say. Watch what you wear. Watch what you share on your blog. Be nice all the time with everyone. Watch your voice. Don’t react even if people are condescending towards you etc. But as the days went by, I reached a conclusion (for the millionth time) that fortunately or unfortunately, there is absolutely NOTHING camouflageable about me. Not my face, nor my body, not my personality, nor my lifestyle, not my story, nor my parents’ story…etc. etc. and that is just how it is. My life experiences, in general, are nothing less than a cultural shock to most people here. All the work I’ve done to accept myself, set healthy boundaries and evolve as a person is such a waste of time if I focus on camouflaging!
So, I stopped. I don’t want to fit in and nor do I want to camouflage my way through life here. Trying to be anything less or more than who I’ve become makes my days feel less fulfilling. Living on someone elses’ terms or expecting my story to be understood as is, both, eat into my precious energy.
To say the least, it’s been quite a challenge being a young, single, work from home (or not, if health doesn’t allow), chronically ill and pretty woman in a place like India. That whole combination somehow doesn’t seem to help. I’m award that women like me in other parts of the world struggle too but for the sake of this post, or collection of posts, I’ll be writing about my experiences here in India.
It’s been harder than I thought. You know how knowing is one thing and actually experiencing something is another? I’ve not known enough about India (from my personal stories and reading) to make informed decisions but never have I had to experience the culture the way I need to this time. I’m seeing things around me that I don’t quite like (never did) and I’m learning to respond in a way that honours my present self.
If you know me personally, you’d know that writing is extremely healing for me. It helps me process my thoughts and allows my emotions to move through my system (who wants that gunk sticking around inside anyway?) more easily. I usually write for myself, some of which I share and some I don’t.
Over the years I noticed that as I write and put things out there, I also directly and indirectly connect with people around the world. Maybe me sharing my experiences as I manoeuvre my way through this transition and issues like sexism and ableism, could potentially make someone else out there feel heard and less alone.
At the moment, the closest of my relationships consist of men — my brother, my dad, one of my best friends who is a guy and a male cousin. While they can try and understand how I feel, they cannot possibly, even if they wished, fully grasp or wrap their heads around the actual intensity. Of course, they’re around to help but certain sensitive topics require more than just that. They require being put out there. Being spoken about, often publicly too.
My closest girlfriends, on the other hand, share the same opinions as I do too but once again, being chronically ill takes things up a notch. Your environment and how things function in it affects your health to a level not understood by most.
This is going to be a step up in my journey. As I learn to own my story once again (this time in a very unfamiliar setting) show up for myself and become completely okay with not fitting in, I hope to keep my posts on here rather raw and as unedited as possible. Obviously that means if you’re expecting a level of political correctness, my posts are not for you :)
Do wait up for more posts coming in as they come in. I will only be writing if my health permits.
Lots of love,
P.S. I will even be turning off the comments section on some of the stories I share. Please feel free to reach out to me on my e-mail if need be. Should you have anything defensive to say about my stories, please remind yourself that our experiences can very well differ and neither are necessarily invalid.
I recently met someone who told me that I don’t look sick at all.
I said, “I know. I’m happy I don’t I guess.”
It never fails to make me wonder what we expect “sick” people to look like. What we define as “broken”. What we think needs “fixing”. Whether “imperfections” are always visible and whether what we see is all that there is.
There was a phase when I wished people looked at me and believed my words. These days I trust that people who need to know will see it for themselves and trust me, while the rest are free to create a story around it. Believe me, you can’t completely hide chronic/rare illnesses.
You don’t have to look sick to be sick or feel sick.
And you don’t have to prove anything to anyone.
All you have to do is attempt to feel and be as healthy as possible, and always be honest with yourself – that’s all that matters.
Lots of love