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“Doctor, do you think that I am overreacting? Instead of thinking about my children’s well-being, I am thinking of my own miseries only. Am I being selfish?”
“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards” — Søren Kierkegaard
Officials from the district health department and Siliguri Municipal Corporation were putting up barricades around ‘Magnolia’ residential complex to isolate it’s residents. One of it’s residents, Mr. Alokendu Banerjee, had died of Covid-19 in the small hours of that day. But Mrs. Ruchita Banerjee’s mind was too numb to process everything going around her.
It all seemed weird, almost surreal. Alokendu, her husband, who was very much alive just a week before, didn’t exist any more. He had fever, cough and cold with sore throat – the classic Covid symptoms. He was admitted to the district hospital. When his test report came positive, Ruchita became very anxious. But even in her wildest dream, she had never imagined that he would die the very next day.
Ruchita was looking resplendent in the bright red banarasee saree and gold jewelleries. The air was heavy with the fragrance of tuberose flowers. Alokendu was sitting beside her, wearing a dhoti, an impish smile plastered on his face. The priest gesticulated something to him. Taking the cue, he put vermillion in the parting of her hair. Suddenly, a mobile started ringing somewhere. With every passing second, the sound of ringing was growing louder and louder…..
Ruchita woke up with a start from her slumber, a cry throttling in her throat. She was drenched in cold sweat. She felt out of breath. She switched on the bedside lamp and gulped down a glass of water. The nightmares kept on coming every night since Alokendu’s death. On some nights, she dreamed of her wedding night; on others, their honeymoon at Darjeeling. In some other dreams, she and Alokendu were fretting over Megh, their first-born, the subject of their common worry. All these dreams ended with a mobile ringing. Just like the mobile was ringing on that fateful night. And when she received the call, a female voice from the other end said woodenly, “Sorry, Mrs. Banerjee. Mr. Alokendu Banerjee has passed away.”
Since that day, sleep eluded her. Whenever she drifted into a slumber, the nightmares woke her up. So much so that she dreaded going to sleep. Whenever someone called her on her mobile, she got startled by the ringing. Her body reacted whenever she heard the mobile ringing. She felt everything she felt when she heard the news of Alokendu’s death: fear, panic, her heart thumping in her throat.
Ruchita looked beside her. Megh and Bristi were fast asleep. She stealthily came out of the room. Then she tiptoed to the terrace and climbed on the parapet. Just one more step. And the end of all her miseries.
“Ruchi, what are you doing?” Mr. D’Souza’s voice broke her spell. Mr. and Mrs. D’Souza were an elderly couple living in the flat next to her.
Ruchita was a touch embarrassed and she came down from the parapet.
“You know I have chronic insomnia. Moreover, it’s so hot today. I couldn’t sleep a wink. So I came to the terrace to breath in some cool, fresh air. And thank god! I came at the right moment. Don’t ever think of taking such drastic step. At least, think about Megh and Bristi. Who will look after them?”
Suitably chastised, Ruchita quietly returned to her room. She spent the remaining night tossing and turning in the bed.
The first rays of the sun came filtering through the window curtains and touched the sleeping faces of Megh and Bristi. Ruchita looked at her children. They looked innocent, almost cherubic in the early hours of the day. They were too small to understand the full import of their father’s death. God was kind that their test report had come negative. Morning instilled in her the courage to think about living her life again. Mr. D’Souza was right. Megh and Bristi needed their mother. But how she would single-handedly raise her kids? She had never earned a penny in her life. Neither did she possess the qualifications and skills required to get a job at this age. Ruchita felt helpless again. There was something very wrong with her.
Later in the day, when Mrs. D’Souza called her to inform that she had booked an appointment with a psychiatrist on her behalf, she agreed instantly. She was desperately in need of someone to talk to.
All through her student life, Ruchita was an average student. Academics was never her forte. She never dreamt of having a career of her own. Immediately after her graduation, her parents fixed her marriage with Alokendu, the assistant professor of Mathematics working at a college in Siliguri. Ruchita left behind her bustling life in Kolkata and settled in Siliguri. Then came Megh, their son, followed by Bristi, their daughter. The family seemed complete.
Ruchita was a housewife. Just a housewife. She never needed the new-fangled titles like ‘home-maker’ or ‘stay-at-home mom’ to validate her role. She was content looking after her husband and children. She was a great cook, a good wife and a good mother. The flat was always neat and clean, always in perfect order.
As the years went by, living with each other became a habit for both Alokendu and Ruchita. Like all long-married couples, most of their chitter-chatter revolved around grocery shopping, children’s exams and planning vacations. But Alokendu’s untimely death suddenly disrupted the established routine of the household. Most of all, it turned Ruchita’s life topsy-turvy.
Consultant psychiatrist Dr. Sohini Sahasrabhojanee was a woman in her mid-fifties. The silver grey hair near her temples, the round framed spectacles, the mellow wrinkles under a pair of bright eyes gave her countenance an earnest look. She looked elegant in a beige tussar saree.
In a gentle voice, she explained, “All your symptoms like bad dreams, being easily startled, having difficulty sleeping, feeling emotionally numb, point to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The kind of experience that you had, like the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, can cause PTSD.”
“No. Not at all. It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This ‘fight-or-flight’ response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma. Some people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Some take time to recover. That’s it.”
Ruchita felt at ease. Finally she had met someone who understood her without being judgmental and didn’t label her as being weird.
“I can prescribe medication to control the symptoms. But you also need to take care of yourself. Take time for the things you enjoy, accept help from others when needed. I’d advise you to practice meditation. This will train you to focus on your breath and you’ll learn to avoid getting carried away by stressful thoughts. Your homework will be to identify activities that you find pleasurable and try to do at least one of these before we meet again. Meanwhile, continue taking the medicines that I have prescribed. Lets meet next week.”
That week, Ruchita focussed on finishing her homework. After much deliberation, she came to the conclusion that cooking was one activity which she enjoyed most. She had not cooked a proper meal since her husband’s death. So she decided to cook Italian cuisines, something her children loved to eat. She cooked delectable spaghetti with prawns, zucchini and mushrooms in extra virgin olive oil and chicken with red and yellow bell peppers. For dessert, she made chocolate truffle with almonds. After a long time, she relished the meal alongwith her children. She realised that when she was active, her mood improved, and this encouraged her to plan more activities.
“Good afternoon, Ruchita.”, Dr. Sahasrabhojanee warmly welcomed her when she visited her clinic next week.
“I want to hear about how you’re feeling and how your week went.”, said the doctor. The casual chit-chat put her at ease.
“Now close your eyes and recall the moment when you received the call on that dreaded night. Recall what went through your mind.”
A lone teardrop rolled down her cheeks as she tried to relive the bitter incident.
“Now think about the times you have received calls in your mobile since your husband’s death. Did you receive any bad news?”
“Then why do you still fear when the mobile rings? It doesn’t necessarily bring bad news always. Slowly try to push the trauma out of your mind.”
Dr. Sahasrabhojanee identified three goals for her.
“The first goal is to feel happy, which would mean that you will engage in activities that you find pleasurable. The second goal is to reduce your nightmares so you could sleep through the night and no longer woke up in a cold sweat. The third goal is to think about your husband’s death without getting upset.”
Ruchita started to meditate and started yoga every morning. She started trying new recipes, something she had always enjoyed. She was slowly getting back to her former self.
Ruchita was taking a stroll with Mrs. D’Souza in the lawn inside their complex one evening.
“Ruchi, do you know Shyam Sharma? He lives in our complex. Poor fellow! He doesn’t know how to cook. So he mostly orders food from restaurants. Those unhealthy food has started to take a toll on his health. He was asking me whether I know someone who’ll be able to provide him home-cooked meals. Ruchi, why don’t you supply him meals? You are such a good cook. That way, you’ll also earn a few bucks.”
Ruchita mulled over Mrs. D’Souza’s idea. This was the only way to earn some money by putting her culinary skills to good use. She tried to give it a shot and agreed to Mrs. D’Souza’s proposal. A lot of bachelors and students lived in ‘Magnolia’. She posted on the Whatsapp group of ‘Magnolia Residents Association’ that she’d be happy to supply meals. Soon orders started to pour in. Initially, she couldn’t even handle the number of orders coming in. She quickly figured out packing and designed quite an extensive menu. Many people who would eat lunch in their office canteens in normal times preferred home chefs during pandemic. Soon Ruchita made a flourishing business out of her culinary skills.
Dr. Sahasrabhojanee gifted Ruchita a poetry book on their last meeting. When Ruchita started reading the book, she noticed that Dr. Sahasrabhojanee had underlined few lines of a poem written by Edgar Guest. Whenever she felt afraid at night, she remembered those lines and reminded herself that she would find her courage again:
“When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must — but don’t you quit.”
Author’s note: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder comes from some type of traumatic event or disturbing event that overwhelms our capacity to cope. According to American Psychological Association, “Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD, experience a longer duration of post-traumatic symptoms and display more sensitivity to stimuli that remind them of the trauma.” Sadly, PTSD in women is often unnoticed and undiagnosed. Many women who are victims of PTSD do not realize that they have the disorder. Read more about PTSD here and here.
If you or anyone you know is feeling depressed or suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call.
Aasra, Mumbai: 022-27546669
Sneha, Chennai: 044-2464 0050
Lifeline, Kolkata: 033-2474 4704
Sahai, Bangalore: 080–25497777
Roshni, Hyderabad: 040-66202000, 040-66202001
Image source: arvndvisual at Pixabay
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