Category Archives: Thoughts on things

Part ii: How do I know this therapist is right for me?

The first part of this series is “Do I need a therapist?”

Finding the right therapist is of immense importance, if you’ve decided to opt for therapy. You’ll find you don’t know who to go for, in the beginning. Should I see a psychiatrist or a psychologist or just a counsellor? This is an easy one actually. Personally, I prefer going to a psychologist first, mostly because I want to avoid medication as much as I can. Unfortunately, I have seen the difference between a non-medicated me and a medicated me and I have to say, it really helps to have my focus in order and my moods under control. So, while I struggle with medication, I also see why I need it. But I digress.

First to tell the different kind of professionals apart.

  1. A psychiatrist is a person who went to medical school and has a medical degree in psychiatry. This enables him to prevent, diagnose, treat and understand mental illness by prescribing medication and course of treatment or therapy. She will also monitor how you react to medication short term and long term, so expect blood work and the like to be part of your interaction with her.
  2. A psychologist is someone who has an academic or doctoral degree in psychology, not a medical one. This person can is qualified to do counselling and psychotherapy, perform psychological testing, and provide treatment for mental disorders. A psychologist cannot and must not prescribe medication to you, or perform medical procedures.
  3. A counsellor is someone who doesn’t have a PhD but a Masters in psychology. In order to practice, a counsellor must have trained at an organisation for a few years before obtaining a license. Unlike a psychologist, a counsellor may not be authorised to diagnose an illness but is effective in treating one with the aid of therapy.

Now that that’s out of the way, how can you tell if this therapist is working for you? Most people will tell you go with your gut. But I am going to say ignore that advice. Here’s why. Consider that you are at a therapist because you are not feeling your very best. Consider that when you aren’t at your best, it is very likely that your ability to listen to your gut, to distinguish the voice of your gut is highly impaired. What you mistake for gut reaction could be fear of vulnerability or of having revealed so much to a practical stranger. Consider that when you are emotionally or mentally disturbed, your gut might not be your best friend. Therefore, don’t go with your gut right in the beginning. Because if you do, you’re bound to come up short almost always. The first time you go to a therapist and your gut is always going to tell you to run and never come back.

These are the things I have found useful in understanding whether a certain therapist is right for me.

 

  1. Be prepared for never knowing that this is the right person for you in the first session. In my exp, it takes at least 3 visits to figure out if it’s your gut feeling, or if you’re second guessing yourself, or if you are just getting comfortable.
  2. Do they glance at phone/clock/out the window often enough to register on you and distract you?
  3. Do they display any emotion or judgement at anything you’ve said so far? If yes, and it makes you uncomfortable, stop seeing them. You should be seeing someone who makes you feel like you are working together; and not someone who hands you only instructions on what to do. There will be instructions in the course of your treatment but that will be with your willingness.
  4. Do they talk more than you do and make you feel like you  haven’t been heard? If yes, stop seeing them. Your sessions shouldn’t be a fight to be heard.
  5. Write down notes about what you liked and what you didn’t like about the session afterwards. When/if you switch therapists, the notes you take will show you what you need.
  6. If you have a diagnosis, ask clear questions about the treatment plan and what their stand on medication is. A treatment plan should include your consent and your ideas. Don’t go to someone who doesn’t include you.
  7. Understand what your own stand on medication is, should you need it.

In short, I suggest you give it two to four visits before you decide this is the wrong person for you. Of course, there are those who immediately know whether this person is working for them or not but in case you’re wondering how to determine whether a therapist is working, these above tips help.

Good luck!

 

 

Part i: Do I need a therapist?

(This is Part 1 of a four-part series on how to get help if you think you have a mental illness.)

For months after I wrote this, I received emails that said all kinds of things. Many were warm and confiding, many were heart-breaking and, yet others were full of questions. The few years since I’ve written this, the one question that keeps repeating itself from various sources, time and again, is “I am sad/unhappy/out of control. How do I know I need help?” The emails always make me sad and somewhat heartened. Sad that so many  people go through life with such pain that it stops them from being who they want to be. I am equally heartened because this many people are paying attention to their emotional states, listening to the voice of their hearts and considering that they might need help.

Before I start trying to answer the question that is the headline of this post, I’ll state at the outset that I am no expert. Everything that I list here is entirely my own experience and any suggestions I offer are drawn from how I have gone about getting help, and getting things to be a little better in my life. So with that out of the way, I’ll get on with it 🙂

I’ll go back to many summers ago when I was distraught and it felt like I was being overcome by something I cannot describe. It was the feeling of watching a gigantic, and I mean really fucking enormous, wave rise in front of you, bearings its dipping fangs and threatening to completely obliterate you the minute it loses its battle with gravity. And you? You’re rooted to the spot, like you’ve been many times in a dream, unable to move and save yourself. This feeling attacked me often and intensely when I was a teenager. I have still not learnt to identify it or name it. Overwhelmed? Panic attack? Anxiety? I don’t know and, honestly, now I don’t bother with labels. I just know I am unwell and I (almost always) do my best to take care of myself. This feeling never really went away until therapy started kicking in but I got better and better at hiding it, or worse, escaping from it. And at my worst moments, I’d tell those around me, “Help me, there’s something wrong with me. I need help.” People around me knew just as little as I did, and therefore there would only be helpless hugs, or empty consolations or brushing away of things.

It was when things broke down completely — including me — that I realised I needed some level of help. A very personal incident finally pushed me over the edge and I went to a doctor to get diagnosed. The story of my diagnosis is for another post, one I want to pay particular attention to because it was not something I’d wish on anyone at all.

In the meantime, however, here’s how you can decide that you need to go to a therapist.

  1. When your life falls apart: Simply put, if your heart or your hands or your legs weren’t performing the functions that they were meant to, you’d see a doctor. Similarly, when your mind doesn’t do what it needs to do, you need to get help. What does that mean? Because the mind is tricky and it’s always working; and while it’s working, you think you’re doing the right things, behaving the right way, making the right decisions. And yet, outside of you is chaos. You don’t eat on time (or at all), you probably don’t sleep well (or at all), you’re short tempered, unable to meet even daily goals, you probably overspeed, have accidents, bad relationships. You probably are never able to make decisions when they need to be made because that action paralyses you, and then, suddenly you’re at a point in time when you need to make that decision. So you make that decision last minute, under compulsion, with no more time to consider the matter carefully. You probably miss deadlines, flake on a lot of plans, lose your temper really easily. Needless to say you’re unhappy a lot. The above list is for high-functioning individuals who, despite keeping their jobs and relationships, still find themselves fighting with or being drowned by dark thoughts, for want of a better phrase. When nothing in your life is working, and you find yourself justifying all your fuck-ups (because face it, not being able to perform with a steady mind is going to fuck things up even if it wasn’t intentional), blaming everything else for your circumstances and unhappiness, it might be time for you to consider getting help .
  2. If you’re not high functioning, then this is simple. You’ve probably been sitting in bed for days, have barely eaten or washed this week, you’ve disconnected possibly every phone call that’s come in and have lived your life entirely online. You’ve cried incessantly, you’ve opened up to perfect strangers because the pain inside you felt akin to strangulation. If you’ve done this for over a month, you definitely need help. There may be no diagnosis, there may be no medication (thankfully) and it might be a really mild depressive phase, but catching it in time and fixing it is key. Even better, your treatment might only include a therapist talking to you to get you back on even keel for a bit, asking you to exercise, pick up a hobby.
  3. A third way to consider getting help is when a trusted and trustworthy friend or family member gently suggests (not when you’re having fireworks burn up the room “You’re crazy! Get your head checked”) that you might want to consider getting help for the sake of your own peace of mind.

For me, it all comes down to functioning. People say the point of therapy is that it should open up the pathways to happiness. I call BS on that. The point of therapy is to help you get on track and function fully, individually, to be able to help you achieve your goals and above all, treat your mind and your self with respect. If happiness, as we define it, is the byproduct of that then, yay.

I’d like to once more stress on the functionality bit. It’s not just doing your daily chores and completing your work responsibilities. It’s  being able to function in all areas of life without wanting to slash your wrists or overdose yourself every second day. What areas of life would I say these are? Being a productive, contributing individual: be that at work or home. Being a person capable of love, empathy and kindness: towards strangers, friends, family, oneself, and other living beings you might be fond of.  Being a person who takes joy in their talents, passions and hobbies: to function in this area is to be able to give yourself time that is exclusively yours. This is essential to feeling fulfilled.

I went to therapy because I didn’t love myself (my therapist would argue I still don’t). I went to therapy because the thought of death was blissful (it still is, many times). I went to therapy because I had two little children and I knew needed to be there for them, in spite of believing that anyone else would do a better job of raising them than I would. I went to therapy because every day was a real struggle. It was morning too early and day light felt like scalding water being poured on me relentlessly. I went to therapy because, finally, after all is said and done, our spirits genuinely subsist on hope.

 

 

Lovely bones

A red post box growing out of a yellow wall, a blue pipe — an opiate connection to the sky — ran all the way up. Or maybe it just led to the floor above where a woman leaned out her window, watching the rare quietness of the street below. There wasn’t much to say, leave alone anyone to say it to and yet her mouth moved. From the street below, if anyone was there and if anyone bothered to look up, they’d see her mouth moving rhythmically, as if she was singing a chorus. It was the same movement over and over again.
In one dusty corner of the street, as far as my eyes would go, was a plastic bag swirling in the wind; some mad dance set to music that only the light of body and transparent of mind could hear. Even cats and dogs that usually hung around on quiet, heavy afternoons seemed to have deserted this street. Khoday Steel Industries said the board right across my window. A small grey, two-storied house that had defeated-looking people go in and out of it at all times. Imagining their lives was a great hobby of mine as I sat in my chair, or in my bed — when I was too tired of the chair — looking out the window.
I have been at home for two years now and this has given me much time to think about things that I don’t usually think about. Like the joining of the wall and ceiling, and how it is a metaphor for all of life. But that’s not what I want to write about today. Today, it is so quiet that my body is speaking to me. My ankles are crossed and I see the bones sticking out of them; in a body that is not used to bones making themselves visible, the bones on the inside of my ankles stick out like sails on a murky sea. I shift them a little — my ankles, not my bones — and the bones stick into my calf, reminding me of my calf, and of my bones. And how my bones have borne me into my thirties. Through the first time I fell in love and the time I graduated, my bones dissolved and I was all heart. I didn’t even remember I had bones. The first time I had a baby and my bones expanded like lungs breathing when you’ve been underwater too long. The first time I felt the sickly punch of a man’s big fist in my stomach, a kick, a slap across my cheek, a hard whack across my back, my bones stood still and leapt, enmeshed with my blood, to strike back in defence. The same bones folded up and covered my head believing the bones of my skull may not be as strong as those on my hands.
The first time I hit a man across his face for breaking my heart and how everything within me stood still after that contact was made, my bones developed the memory of betrayal. My hand still stings from it. My bones still remember. My bones saw me fly across continents and countries, holding my fears and my presence together; bones that struggle to be seen through the soft flesh of my body. Bones that are covered in fat and muscle and skin that are hated and accepted in turns, bones that stoically stay with me and don’t move. Bones that don’t let me down. Uncracked bones, misaligned bones. Bones of friendships and bones of pain. Bones of disdain and beauty, bones that soak in everything and feed the marrow. Bones that I do not love because I do not know how to love things that hold me up.

On the process of removal

There’s a very systematic process with which people remove you from their lives. Especially those who couldn’t wait to connect with you as each day begun. Friends who updated you on their day religiously; lovers who couldn’t wait to bask in your warmth every day. That process starts with them denying that they are removing you from their lives.

You, who are being removed, see it right at the beginning of this process. You, who are being removed, watch quietly knowing the inevitable end. You, who are being removed, feel the cleaving and say nothing because there is no real thing to talk about. You, who are being removed, are a victim of your own pride.

It all starts out with an insistence that they, who are doing the removal, are being themselves. They, who are doing the removal, hold you within them and isn’t that enough. They, who are doing the removal, have no problems with you — if you dare swallow your pride and ask. It’s them, not you, say they, who are doing the removal. And maybe it is. And yet, it is not.

You, who are being removed, are now inconvenient. You, who are being removed, are now not needed. You might be wanted, and sometimes even welcome, but you are now being removed. You, who are being removed, are someone that can be done away with because more meaningful things in life need the space you occupy. You, who are being removed, occupy too much space. You, who are being removed, my dear, are *in* the way of things that are more meaningful. So not only do you need to vacate the room because you occupy too much space, you are also slap bang messy splatter obstacle high slippery dark in the path of the things that more meaningful for them who are doing the removal.

They, who are doing the removal, have not yet opened their eyes and seen that you, who are being removed, can see this. Like when you are asleep and hear the sounds of a quiet morning around you, groggy, needy for more sleep, the comfort of forgetting, and you wonder if it’s just some movement in the night of your mind or is it morning yet. Can it please not be morning? They, who are doing the removal, that is how they remove you. By closing their eyes and chipping at bonds, they, who are doing the removal, start in their dreams. The truth of their promises, their declarations of love, the promises that they expected to keep when they pressed your hand and looked into your eyes: they, who are doing the removal, cannot take the truth of that. For who are they without the promises that they deeply believed in, even if it was just for that minute when you made it real with your trust?

And you, who are being removed, have new spaces for things. Crevices, shelves, rooms you drift in and out of, hell, entire galaxies to fill up with the things that aren’t there now that you are being removed. You, who are being removed, cling, cry, fight because having galaxies to fill means you are lost again. Unmoored, and unnecessary. You, who are being removed, plot and plan pathetically to see in what ways you can tell yourself that you are needed. You, who are being removed, find ways to creep back in. All of them tight spaces, entries so narrow you can’t breathe. You, who are being removed, unleash all your smallness on them, who are doing the removal. Where there was a gentle eddy, you, who are being removed, have managed to suck things into a whirlpool. Poor them, who are doing the removal. Poor you, removed.

On being on your own

Loneliness is a very big theme in my life. I had written about it a few years ago  and since then, I’ve worked hard on not letting the feeling increase and consume me. I have told myself repeatedly that I am not lonely. And it helps, sometimes. Mostly, I have gone back to the person in my 20s that I used to be, one who enjoyed her own company and did all the things she wanted to, and had to, all on her own.

There is no space to be on your own, these days. Not unless you force things. Unless you put down rules for yourself, like you’re a helpless little addict who needs to find ways to control herself. You could go out for a drink by yourself but how is it going out by yourself if you’re looking into the phone, opening your mind, your moment and your minutiae to a timeline that couldn’t care less? How is it going out on your own if you’re focusing on a game or an online conversation and scarfing down what’s laid in front of you? Where’s the reverence for the food that sustains you? Where is the space and willingness to live the experience of sitting in a nice restaurant, being served and experiencing all the different sensations a plate of good food, or a great drink can bring to you?

There’s a lot to be said for enjoying your own company, doing things by yourself, and being content knowing that you are enough. But sometimes, just sometimes, that contentment doubles up on itself and starts to insidiously suffocate you, to slowly crawl up the slow growing of your evolution, a growth that looks almost like stagnation because of how slow it is. Your sharing self starts to atrophy. Your bed, your fan, your cupboard, the temperature of the room, your lunch, your bed time, your TV shows, your bath, everything stops in time. Like a jet of water in sub-zero temperatures that freezes mid air. Sharing space with someone you love makes things fluid. Things are this way, or that. They always have room to move, rearrange, jostle about, find a comfortable sameness, till the next round of movement. But when you’re alone, when you live alone. There’s a sameness, a cold autocracy that, one day, might prevent you from being capable of sharing space with anyone.

Today, while I went through my Facebook feed, I saw many of friends post pictures of themselves with their significant others. Now, I am old enough to know that what I see online isn’t always true. And I am wise enough to not care either way. For me, these two people took a picture, by all available evidence, smiled genuinely for it, posted it and said a few words of love. Why do they want to announce their love? I don’t know and I don’t care. I am welcome to get them off my timeline if I don’t like it. But when I see a picture like that, all I choose to see is two people who have found love and togetherness. And for now, that is enough. These are pictures of hope,  pictures of warmth and memory, these are pictures of vanity. They are pictures of people making the best of what they have, whether it’s everything or nothing at all. And I like to see them. They are pictures of defence against the fractures we live with. And I am genuinely happy to see people make do with what they have — love, friendship, tolerance, dependence — whatever it is that keeps them together and makes them smile a genuine smile.

But today, seeing a warm picture of a woman leaning into the comfort of a man she married, or the bent of a smiling head of my friend as he looked down to his wife gripped my heart in a bit of a vice. And a little pity party started. It was really nice to see these pictures; they looked loving and warm. But fuck, it made me lonely.

Even before therapy began, I’ve been trying to relearn the art of being content  by myself. The vulnerability of motherhood had taken that away from me. And then the sand slipped very quickly beneath my feet, so quick that I couldn’t quite catch on. And so, I had to  learn again, to be happy by myself. As I used to be. And I have. I do things on my own — always have. But how much to be with myself, how much to do things by myself? I rarely tire of my own company, but sometimes, it’s deeply comforting to be with someone who fits right in with my oddness. All these things I read about being content with oneself: I am more then content. Heck, my content is spilling over on some days. But on days like today, when the sun warmed my feet, and the rain came down quietly like a jewel, when I forget how supremely annoying it is to regularly find a wet towel on the bed, or to wake up because someone turned the speed of the fan too low, or to get kicked in one’s shin while asleep, I long for a hug from a grown up. From someone you share that unique, sparkling thread of connection that sets them apart from the other people you love. A hug of great affection — because these days, I dare not ask for love — a hug from impulse. I long to have someone look at me and know something is wrong and fold me into them so I can cry even though I have no tears left these days. I long to have someone sense the gloom and say, “You don’t look so good, babe. Come here.” I long for someone to love me so perfectly that when the words are too many, and everything has shut down, he says, “Let’s get an ice cream. Or read a book. Or take a walk.”

I know for a fact that none of these things will cure anything. But it’s nice to speak and have another voice talk back at you. A voice that has a body, a glow and a heart with a steady, reassuring beat that you hear when you are pulled into that hug.

On Sleep

A dear friend recently mentioned she had been blogging 10 years. I checked my own blog and there it was: 2006, two posts. Ten years of writing whatever it is that I wanted to and find kind people to read it. This year, then, I feel should be the year I revive my blog. What better way to battle this sleepless night I am having, currently.

Speaking of, sleep and I have had a very contentious relationship for years. I’ve considered a sleep complete waste of time (as opposed to spending time on Twitter or whatsapp) and sleep has considered me unworthy of bestowing the restorative blessing that she seems to grant many others with. I have struggled with sleep since I can remember, which is about nine years old. Gloomy, terrifying sunny afternoons where the household would be asleep and I would dread being the only one in the house who couldn’t claim a break in time like that.

As I grew older, nights became a complete waste of time because there was so much to be done, so much time spent reading, writing, thinking of boyfriends; just so much to be done and night had a way of putting an end to those plans. Most my 20s were sleepless, unless I was so exhausted that nothing could keep me away. Phone conversations till late in the night, books I couldn’t put down, friends who stayed over. I rejected sleep.

It’s payback time. I barely get four hours of sleep every night. Which is better than one hour of sleep that I used to get about three years ago. I wake up in four hours, do something I like doing and in an hour I am back in bed. It truly isn’t ideal because the next day I am scarcely rested. Upside though, I get to do all the things I wouldn’t have gotten to do if I had normal sleeping patterns. So, if I want to make an entry in my art journal, I can do that. Or write a letter for my #100letters. Or read the books I keep buying endlessly. Or write this blog post, even. So much to do when you can’t sleep.

And yet, that’s exactly the problem. When a bipolar person is in the manic phase, sleep is the first thing to take a hit. (Depressive phase in me induces excessive sleeping but that can differ from person to person.) I’ve been trying to sleep since 10 p.m. tonight. It’s 1.45 a,m now. I’ve had a big day. And it tired me out. And yet, my mind is alive and my body, awake. I thought it was just tonight but I looked back the last four nights and I realised all those nights, I had slept little or very badly.

You’d think I’d be used to this now and would be catching signs of mania early. But I still haven’t. I still think my body will behave, so will my mind. It’s well into mania that I realise I’m there and then the irritability, the immense confidence, the rash driving, the snapping and losing of temper and the general invincibility I feel starts to make sense. And so does the sleep. Waking up every two hours, or not sleeping at all some nights.

Why sleep is important: This might seem like a stupid thing to bring into focus but it’s as necessary for me in terms of reiteration as it is for those who might be seeking personal experience with lack of sleep and bipolar disorder. Lack of sleep makes me moody: You might think it does that to everyone but it’s a challenge to me because I am then governed by my moods for the next few days. I make decisions based on how I feel and not by calm, rational thought.

Lack of sleep  makes me continuously irritable. This is tragic because everyone from a complete nincompoop on the road to my little kids bear the brunt of it. I snap regularly and I snap at complete non-issues.

Lack of sleep also perpetuates a no-sleep cycle where I cannot sleep for a few more days. It starts with one and suddenly, I’ve found so much extra time that the excitement of doing the things I love is so great that I forget to sleep. Suddenly, my mind is abuzz with ideas of all the things I can do if I don’t sleep. This adds to the frenzied activity already in my mind and then I head to a complete collapse, at the end of which I am tired, mildly disoriented, irritable, unable to work or have a fair, pleasant day, and most of all, unable to make decisions: this goes for instant decisions when I drive, more deliberate ones when I am at work and even more important ones when I have to decide for the children.

This really crisp and informative article tells you more about sleep and bipolar. It also tells you why you need to sleep, how to get adequate sleep and how you need to address the problem of bad sleeping. I found it very helpful.

What I do when I am manic and don’t sleep:
I wake up early even if I don’t want to. 
I try and eat little for dinner. 
I listen to music on headphones.
I read Anna Karenina. Or Crime and Punishment. (Sorry Tolstoy, Dostoyevski) 
Some nights, I take evil glee in the extra time and do the things I love doing. 

The last one is a bad idea because while sleep is important to everyone’s well being, it is particularly crucial to those who are bipolar. They are triggers for a very bad manic (or even depressive) episode and if you’ve been there, or know anyone who has, you know you don’t want to go there.

It’s far too late now and I have made one sketch, written two poems and one more blog post from a prompt that I will post tomorrow. For now, sheer exhaustion and sleep are claiming me for themselves, finally. And I go with the disappearing stars of dawn.

Be well. 

On not being the "right" size.

Bedtimes are quiet vulnerable moments, more so if you’re little. The secrets, no longer able to roil in tiny tummies, make themselves heard. Two nights ago, after lullabies and stories were done, Shyama mentions that exercise causes weight loss; I agree, groaning inwardly at the thought of her asking me to lose weight. I ask her what made her think of it. She says she wants to start exercising and lose weight. I ask her again why she’d like to do that. Because the kids in class call me fat, she says.
Now, I never know if I am parenting correctly. There’s almost never a counterpoint to my method and behavior as a parent and I almost always wing it, erasing doubts on the run nice and gentle, quite like an avalanche demolishing pines on a slope. Because there’s no time to consider when you’re parenting little kids, and especially if you’re the only one who parents regularly. They demand and you better show up, or miss the moment and scar them for life. But at this moment, all my anxieties came rushing back and collided pretty hard with my parenting.
Growing up, I was an average-sized kid, not fat, but definitely not skinny.  And much like Shyama, I was surrounded by kids who were the latter. Teenage brought with it some weight, sure. So while I don’t remember being teased by kids around me about being fat (although, in class nine, a teacher burnt me for life by calling me “fatty”. You’d think an adult would know better) I do know that not being the size everyone else was made me feel infinitely less. It didn’t help that people close to me started pointing out that I was fat, even though I think back now and I know I wasn’t.  I grew up thinking I was fat. I think about the girl I was and I think of all the things I stopped myself from doing because I wasn’t the right size, and I wish I had known better. I was excruciatingly shy and felt foolish every time I uttered a word. And I blamed it all on the size I was. Nothing has been more shackling to me than feeling fat.
At 35, I am a lot more comfortable with my body but my anxieties haven’t left me. Sure, I wear whatever I want and am comfortable enough to look at my unclothed body in the mirror without hating it, sometimes I even like it. But I also cover up a lot. When I meet new people, when I want to make a certain kind of joke, when the situation is more intimate and demands a certain physical vulnerability, I freeze up. I am so little of myself. I wonder if I look ugly to the other person and I hope my flaws will be taken care of by my dazzling company. I kid, of course. But, jokes apart, this is one of the two things from my childhood that I haven’t been able to overcome. And to hear Shyama might begin on that hellish, corrosive journey paralyses me. Especially since she isn’t a fat kid. Just like I wasn’t. But I didn’t believe that of myself. And I am hoping she will be different and believe it when I tell her she isn’t fat.
At that moment, with anxiety rioting inside me, distress at the future of this lovely child suffering at the hands of the insanity of an ideal size, I didn’t have any solutions. Anger was foremost. I told her she was just right and shouldn’t listen to teasing. Next I asked her who it was in particular that teased her. “Everyone except K,” she says, mentioning the one girl as tall as her. Shyama and this girl are the tallest kids in class at 4’4”. I am glad she said that because I used that to tell her that maybe the rest just wanted to be tall like her and because K was already tall enough, she didn’t feel the need to tease Shyama. That seemed to satisfy her a bit. I tried not to preach but I did tell her that she was getting *plenty* exercise in school and that she was healthy, happy and running around, and had a bright bright soul; that’s all that mattered. I then told her to go to sleep and that we would talk about this in more detail tomorrow.
As soon as she was asleep, I reached out to two friends, both parents. I had no idea how to deal with this. While it wasn’t bullying and Shyama is no shrinking violet, my concern was negative body image issues. One friend instantly put me at ease by telling me of her own experience. She said something so wonderfully, sweetly vulnerable and true.  All the time, I was cool inside but didn’t feel it outside because I wasn’t the right size, she said. And it rung true. Another friend suggested I tone down the import of it by not giving it too much attention so Shyama gets the message that size isn’t important.
But tomorrow morning came bright and early and before she had brushed her teeth, Shyama said, Amma, you said we’d talk about something in the morning. I hadn’t forgotten, I told her. We bathed, breakfasted and buzzed off to the bus stop. Only this time, I had Shyama sit in the front next to me. I know she felt special; she stuck her tongue out her brother in the back. I asked her again, this time calmer, what her concerns were. She said I feel bad when I am called fat. We went over the ‘you’re not fat, you’re healthy’ routine, once more. Then I asked her if she believed she was fat. “Sometimes. But mostly I have great muscles,” she said. I then told her if she feels the need for a comeback, in a situation that she can’t handle,  she can always be kind and yet be teasing of her friends. “Go give them a shoulder hug and say ‘Hi Shorty!’” She giggled and said, “I’d never do that! It’d make them feel bad, amma.” The next best thing I could come up with took a while because I was too busy clearing the painful lump in my throat. If she wouldn’t turn it on them, I decided to let her risk being a bit haughty and say, “I am not fat, I am perfect.” Nothing gets people’s goat than someone thinking well of themselves. She gives me a big, heart-shatteringly innocent grin and says, “YES! I am perfect.”
I still have no solutions; I hope we will find our way together, she and I. I hope she won’t let this nonsense that kids come up with affect her as searingly as it did me. Speaking of, how are these kids at *seven*  years of age picking this shit up? What kind of conversations happen at home for fat to be an issue when all you should be worried about this spending all your time at play? I will admit to cartoons ALL ganging up on fat people and making them figures of ridicule. But I would think steadying influences at home would teach kids that’s not done. 
There are three things that guide me when I deal with this.
1. I want her to genuinely know size, not just hers, anyone’s doesn’t matter.
2. That there are loads of other things apart from body and size that she can and needs to spend time wondering about.
3. That she is healthy is the most important thing. After my initial confusion cleared, I decided to write her a story that will subtly talk about size without talking down to her. I have no idea what the story is going to be but it is what she loves more than anything else in the world, so maybe it will speak to her. Two friends suggested I show her achievers, just sort of slip it in, who are different in size so that she knows it doesn’t need to hold her back, in case she ever comes to a point where she starts to believe her size needs to stop her. But the best advice came in the form of this: http://idiva.com/opinion-iparenting/dont-call-me-fatty/24222

Shyama came back from school yesterday and told me not many people teased her. And that she thought about it and didn’t want to tell them she was perfect. She wanted to tell them, “I am perfect the way I am and you are also perfect.”
Maybe I don’t have to worry after all.

*****