When I was a kid, my elders always compared me to my cousins. There was an unsaid competition to be better than the others. Most of my childhood friends and cousins would remember me as a quiet, frightened girl who couldn’t keep up with the comparison.
I was always afraid of being admonished by the elders for being too skinny, less smart or too adamant.
Today, anyone who knows me will refuse to believe that I was the same quiet, frightened girl. I’ve earned the title of a rebel who is brave and fiercely independent. I hate being told that I am strong; it makes everyone think I don’t need any support, but the fact is that I do.
The truth is that I am still that scared little girl who is trying to keep up with the competition.
Though on the outside, I appear to be a strong woman who can take on the whole world. Truth be told, my childhood was fairly safe and happy in comparison to the jeopardies of my adult life. I was unprepared for the realities of life in the “big bad world” outside of the peaceful city I grew up in.
In the past five years, I’ve seen more injustice than I can imagine. I’ve fought and survived and realized that even my best friends cannot relate to me. I’ve changed a lot, especially in the past year, and made choices that have been suitable for my life but seemed wrong to them. While their well-meaning advice seemed wrong to me.
It only struck me when someone recently said, “I understand why you won’t be able to understand”. It seemed like an apt phrase for me to tell everybody.
They don’t know what it is like being a single woman who is living alone in India. They cannot get it.
Constant fear has become my second nature and I don’t attribute it entirely to my strict childhood upbringing. A psychiatrist once told me, I had little “acceptance” as a child and subsequently by my friends and boyfriends. Everyone dictated terms and pointed out how I should have been better. To make things worse, I haven’t particularly excelled in my career.
I had to leave my friends and family just to live in a place where I could be “accepted”.
But living all alone wasn’t easy. Like all other single women in the city, I had my fair share of wrong friendships and relationships that wouldn’t have happened had I lived at home. I still made the best of my freedom and enjoyed it, ignoring the loneliness.
I suffered from post-traumatic stress, which I first experienced when I unexpectedly lost a parent overnight. Nothing pushes me to impulsive behavior more than the fear of losing someone.
This fear forces me to do everything I can to prevent something bad happening.
My pattern making mindset was present even at the age of 18 when a friend suggested that I read Nicolas Taleb’s ‘The Black Swan’. There have been several black swan events in my life and I have analyzed how they could have been avoided or prevented in the first place.
A year ago, an unexpected black swan event struck me and it shocked me in the same manner as my father’s death. My wedding was abruptly called off and the groom and his family vanished off the scene after we’d had a courtship of nearly eight months! We had made all the wedding arrangements and spent nearly 12 lakhs. I never got to know why he left.
Everyone stood by me and just for their sake, I smiled and pushed myself to move on in life.
However, every small thing would remind me of my broken dream of becoming a “bride”, from movie scenes to my friends’ weddings or even a mehendi artist on the street. I would tear up and burst out crying. I was extremely depressed and should have sought therapy.
I began to think that all men would eventually abandon me.
I suffered weight-loss and had my periods throughout the month. Since I had spent a lot on the wedding, I decided to press legal charges against them to recover the money. But I didn’t have the support of my friends or extended family and was left alone in my first legal battle. I feared that the guy’s family would physically attack me and I recall sleeping with God idols around me.
I trusted no one, lived in constant fear and felt ashamed of myself because good girls are not supposed to fight.
My workplace soon became my safe zone though I was still wary and insecure. Around the same time, a younger guy in the office expressed an interest in me. I brushed it off as an infatuation because I was older than him by three years.
He always said that I should see the brighter side of life as I was independent and had the freedom of living alone.
He hated his lack of freedom since he lived with his family who controlled his life. Not surprisingly, he had a secret life unknown to his family. In the office, everyone called him the “rich guy with political connections”. I couldn’t trust him and thought that he was a criminal whose family could pull him out of any crime. While that was my wild fear, he turned out to be a really kind-hearted guy. With time, we became good friends.
However, I despised men after my broken engagement and I was not able to get close to him. He was patient and slowly, I began to confide in him.
There was no one who understood me as well as he did and in many ways, he seemed a lot like my younger self.
I wish we had remained friends but he wanted more than friendship. After a few months, we began dating but it didn’t feel right. Once, he went all the way to Hyderabad for a friend’s wedding just to get a chance to meet his ex-girlfriend. There he got drunk and hit her! He had assaulted her in the past too.
She looked a lot like me and I felt that I was just a rebound that was convenient because I had my own apartment. Though we had intimacy, friendship, and chemistry, we didn’t share any common interests.
He ignored my repeated questions about our future and I learned it the hard way that if a man leaves a problem unaddressed for a long time, it would most likely be the reason for the end.
I knew the end was inevitable and I was going to be abandoned again. Soon, he began to see it too. The depression of the canceled wedding and this failing relationship began to kick in.
At first, he gave excuses that he was busy at work and needed to attend to his family business. So I offered to demand less of his time. Then he said that was not planning to settle down for a few years, which was okay with me. Soon after, he began to say that his family would never agree to this match and that we could go abroad to be together.
I refused this outright because I wanted acceptance and I was willing to wait for it.
After a while, he began taking me for granted. His temper and rudeness hurt me a lot. I had never been that depressed or abused in my entire life. I constantly cried and he would get irritated with my hypersensitivity (which was not my usual nature). He was my happiness and I was afraid of losing him every minute. But for him, I was just a burden whom he used whenever he wanted.
He made me feel like a poor imitation of his ex-girlfriend. I felt worthless and fearing the end, I went downhill and began to drink. I wasn’t much of drinker earlier except for cocktails on rare occasions. But his behaviour drove me to the edge. I couldn’t sleep, and staying alone had become a nightmare. I went to a psychiatrist who put me on sedatives.
I began to misuse the medication by combining sleeping pills with alcohol to numb my pain.
Soon, I started getting knocked out for days and began forgetting weeks altogether. He took good care of me when I’d pass out but I knew that I was killing myself slowly. It was both good and bad because I was going to end the relationship myself and not be “abandoned”. I told him often that he didn’t have to worry about me since I would go away soon. He was young and needed the freedom to do what he liked without the burden of a relationship.
It seemed that his presence was killing me more than his absence could.
After we broke up, we were still colleagues and friends. However, something kept telling me that he had lied to me. I had seen a text he sent to his friend where he mentioned that he was “stuck” and didn’t know how to get rid of me. He also said that he didn’t “sign up for this depressed person”.
When I confronted him, he said they were mere words that he’d said in anger and they didn’t mean anything. Though he had taken care of me whenever I needed him, I felt ashamed and hated.
But the truth was that only he knew what could happen to me when I was having a bout of anxiety and fear and I held on to him for dear life.
In the end, he did turn out to be the “rich guy with political connections”. He had his sister, friends, parents and lawyer (who was some kind of a goon) try to get rid of me, once physically outside his residence and also by telling my colleagues and boss that I was “harassing him”. Despite everyone knowing about this incident, my only fear was losing him. I suffered a mild seizure and would constantly shiver, mostly in the mornings, when I woke up feeling empty without him.
I didn’t want anything from him; I just wanted us to stay friends.
In this time of need, I reached out to his friends requesting them to help me get in touch with him but by then, he had told them to avoid me. Somehow, I managed to speak to his ex-girlfriend. We began reluctantly at first but eventually; we ended up talking the whole day. While I was glad that I was not in her place, it became evident that he never loved me.
Blaming my depression and lack of trust was just an excuse to leave me.
There was another woman with whom he was close to. She was around 40-years-old and was senior to me in the office. I was never comfortable with their so-called “friendship”, which the ex-girlfriend mentioned too.
I was tired of the lies and was sick of abusing myself, and being with someone who didn’t like me at all.
I hope that he’s relieved now and also free, to be honest with his family. I didn’t want to be his dirty little secret. After it was over, I didn’t feel the need to drink excessively. I did have painful memories but I wasn’t crying every minute. I felt let down, once again, by my friends and family who left me to fight for myself. I quit my job and offered no details to anyone. I knew my way forward.
I went back to the therapist. The first time I had seen a therapist for anxiety was long ago, before the loss of my parent. I was going through a phase but everyone including my parents misunderstood it. After all these years, I’ve faced far more hardships than the mere admonishments that caused my childhood miseries.
I understand that I can’t be accepted as I am and it’s not easy for me to change.
When the doctor told me that a chemical imbalance in my head causes such issues, I told myself not to wallow in self-pity but accept that I have a problem. Just like accepting impotency, infertility or diabetes, this was another illness that needs to be treated.
Now, it’s my responsibility to find a job, partner, and friends who are temperamentally a better fit for me than the ones I already have.
Without him, I didn’t feel the need to abuse alcohol or cry. My doctor prescribed no medicines and advised therapy instead. Slowly, I began to sleep well, I started exercising and also began playing the piano to help stop the shivering.
I do need to go for therapy to forget the horrific events of the past years; the loss of my parent, moving to the city, the first experience of being groped on the road, being left at the altar, running around the police and lawyers, and the horrific night outside his house, the details of which I am not able to share with the therapist or even write in my own journal.
I vaguely remember him being pulled away and that was the last time I saw him.
He was the only one who knew everything about my fragility and me. I had often, while in his arms, told him in a broken voice that he would soon be relieved of my mental illness and me and that I would find the strength to go away soon. And I did. Slowly, I've started forgetting him and now, I'm focusing only on myself.