So what is this? This sickening but rhythmic pounding of my heart that seems to happen at the drop of a hat. That keeps me awake in the wee, small hours of the morning for no reason at all. That is...when I do get to sleep. Is it panic? Anxiety? It's new, this creeping stalking thing.
Work has been overwhelming. Frustrating. Exhausting. Impossible. No days off. Barely any money. No end in sight.
My body tells me I'm panicking. Adrenaline pumps. I sit alone in front of my laptop, answering work emails. One may come in, say it's particularly frustrating, and the physical symptoms pump through my body with every heart beat. I feel rage. My chest literally tightens. Fight or flight kicks in. It's as though I'm over-caffeinated, even when I haven't had any coffee. I love my job, so much. The people I work with. For.
But it's the extra things that go along with it. The having to repeat myself constantly. The extra work that isn't really my responsibility, but if I don't do it, it doesn't get done. I redraw my borders weekly. Here is my boundary. Don't cross it. But I keep moving the line back and back and back and back....it's starting to form the shape of a downward spiral.
Take a break to sort through the mail. Stop sorting, just throw it into a big pile. An unpaid bill is an unpaid bill is an unpaid bill. What does it matter if it's in a nice neat pile anymore? Turn to the fridge. Open it. Search. Nothing. No real food. No produce. Pour a glass of water. Take two migraine pills. Pace the apartment. Adjust the thermostat.
Stop. Stop the work. Stop the room spinning. Stop it all for a second. Set the PS3 to that incredible whirring sound it makes when you press the magic start button. Click the cool plastic circle that turns on the TV. Go to Netflix. Find a Bollywood flick. Kal Ho Naa Ho, not on there. Shoot.
How about Aaja Nachle, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, or What's Your Raashee? All there. And dozens more. Put them in your Instant Queue. Breathe in deep. Press play on one. Any one. Check out. Mentally. For at least two hours.
"What's wrong with us?" you ask in all earnestness. You work so hard. Your mother works so hard. Harder than anyone you've ever known. She has three jobs. She gives and gives. She's the patron saint of stray animals. She invites the poor, the tired and the potentially crazy into her home every Thanksgiving. How can it be that someone with such a huge heart can be so overworked and underpaid?
"We're nice. You're being too nice. You have to be tough." she asserts. There's comfort dripping from her every word. She is soothing. She was angry at not getting a returned call fast enough, now she hears it in your voice. The distress. Parents pick up on true urgency, like sharks getting vibrations from wounded fish.
"I feel like I'm going to have a breakdown, a heart attack." You rub your chest over and over again. It's your new nervous tick. You feel like Bill Murray in "What About Bob". You're starting to look like Bill Murray from "What About Bob". Doughy. Sallow. Agitated. Grimacing. No fun to be around. Whiny.
"Well, break down then. Just do it in the closet so it won't scare the cats." she chuckles. It's the first time you laugh through tears.
"I just broke down yesterday. It doesn't seem to be helping."
You can't believe you're having a conversation about mental help. You were supposed to type mental "health". Your fingers are Freudian slipping.
When I was a child, my mother would get overwhelmed. On those days, she would sit on the living room floor and watch "The Pink Panther Returns". It made everything better.
I've started fantasizing about learning how to cook curry and dal. About pregnancy. About purity and honor and long flowing hair and nose rings. Henna on my hands. Bright aqua walls. Simplicity. Family. Music and life. A romantic domesticity. Not the horror show it's made out to be on American reality television.
I light candles. Prayer candles and scented candles. I turn on the battery-powered luminary I bought at the home improvement store. I try to soften the light. Flick on the fan. Crack the window. Move the air. Breathe in deep. Forget it all and watch the movie.
I had a roommate, Sarah, back in the year 2003. In my college years. Sarah was a saint. Kind and forgiving. Mature. Calm. The kind of christian that makes you wonder how anyone could turn the faith into something offensive. She went to India for four months on a mission trip to work with girls rescued from brothels. She returned glowing. With a suitcase full of Saris and ribbons. She left with a short bob and returned with a flowing wavy style. She said she had something special to show us. A DVD called "Kal Ho Naa Ho". A movie she had seen in theaters while there. We have no equivalent to the size and reach of Bollywood here in America. Nothing so universally loved and accepted.
We sat on the floor together and watched the whole thing on a warm summer afternoon, myself and my three roommates. All three hours and six minutes of it. We laughed at the humor, we marveled at the elaborate dance numbers. Together when it was over, we all stood together and tried to learn as many of the dance moves as we could. We giggled like children when the landscapers working on the yard next door saw us baring our bellies and jumping to foreign rhythms.
We all adopted the movie, inherited it from Sarah the genuinely saintly. The soundtrack. The styles. The dangling earrings. Eyeliner thick as coal. Scarves. Colors. Ribbons. It was a new kind of exuberant life.
On the couch, taking a break from the laptop, the colors and sounds connect me to that life again. Away from the clicks of a keyboard. Flashing before my eyes is the culmination of an art form, a goal achieved. It took a writer, a director and a team of professionals to bring this vision to life. And they're finished. And the result is stunningly positive, lacking the cynicism of American film. Bollywood movies are every genre. Never just a drama or a comedy, they have love and cheesy humor, tragedy and redemption. Every single one is a musical. It's why they are often so long. Because they expect that if people are going to pay for a ticket, that they will want to see it all. So they spare nothing. Not expense, not emotion, not splendor or spectacle.
I'm never finished. My work churns like water on a wheel. That's life in the news industry, even if my kind of news is a lot more fun. But reporting it is reporting it. And scheduling people is scheduling people. And worrying about paying my back taxes, and sorting through dozens of daily texts that rattle the table with each arrival, and saying goodbye to my husband the second he returns home to bury myself back in the digital world is what it is. Even when I'm done with my work, I never feel finished. It always could've been better. Funnier. Higher quality. If only I had more time.
I am lucky to be working. I should be grateful when so many people don't have jobs. What kind of a whiner am I? Everyone has to pay their dues. Nobody really sleeps anymore anyway. You'd be crazy to quit a job that gets you the perks you get. Why can't you just get it together? So what if you are one person doing the job of four? Get over it and push through. It's the American dream, the American way. Get it together. Be nice. Make it through.
As an obsessive geek, I can measure my life in phases according to what entertainment I'm obsessed with at the moment. They're cyclical. Action flicks starring women. Harry Potter. Star Trek: The Next Generation. British Comedy. Episodes of Poirot. Fred and Ginger movies. On and on. It's a combination of that OCD personality, not being able to afford cable and the beautiful invention that is Netflix, which makes obsessive watching of one thing possible. It's kind of pathetic, but it's true. This Bollywood phase has been going for roughly two weeks. I don't want to watch anything else. Even if it means I watch five minutes here or there, while brushing my teeth or cleaning the kitchen.
So imagine my surprise last weekend when I went to a birthday party at a restaurant called the Bombay Cafe. My husband and I arrived only to discover that it was in a strip mall filled with Indian stores. An Indian video rental place, Indian wedding supply and Indian grocery store. Playing on overhead TVs in the hallway was a loop of Bollywood musical numbers.
My eyes welled up with joy. It was a gift. A sign.
Well, no. It was dinner. But it felt like comfort incarnate. Heaven in a strip mall.
This is just one of the joys of living in a brand new city. The discovery of culture. Authentic culture. The first time I had been out of the house for non-work related reasons in over a week and THIS is where I had landed. In the loving embrace of the Indian culture I have been retreating to in my daydreams.
Back in your apartment. Take another break through sore wrists and swollen fingers from typing all day. Write another blog. Try to make it about pop culture. Notice that it becomes about mental health anyway. Despite your best efforts to write another top ten list. Is it a bad sign or a good one that joy only comes in Indian strip malls and Bollywood movies lately? Does it matter? Take it where you can get it and move on.
The English translation of the movie title "Kal Ho Naa Ho" is "Tomorrow May Never Come".