Brain Dirt

Rupi Kaur once said in an interview with Emma Watson that she needs to write a lot before the good stuff comes out. I really understand that. It’s like washing out a giant container filled with dirt and water with a high powered hose, vigorously attacking it until the dirt and silt and sand and mud has been washed out onto a journal somewhere you might tuck away in a nightstand or a shelf, otherwise gathering dust. The clear water that’s left is the thing of beauty that pours itself gracefully into blogs and books and poetry.

So today, in my usual fashion, I picked up my morning journal where the accumulated dirt is quickly and haphazardly deposited each day to allow for something better. A better mood, a better piece, a better day. Only this time, basking in the pleasure of two full days off, I took all my paraphernalia into our garden from where the early morning sun and birdsong teased me awake. I stepped out with a small table, pen, journal, coffee with a spoonful of honey in it and my E-reader and started my day with the outpouring of brain dirt. A practice I have adopted since late last year which has contributed huge amounts to my mental health which is seeing better days. My pen. My eternal saviour. My rock. My channel to the universe’s wisdom that resides quietly within.

A frenzy of white flowers drips over our garden fence and fills the small, enclosed Eden with a fragrance so dizzying, it renders me heady and activated. An owl makes his wise presence known and all the other winged inhabitants in our small claim of land chat hurriedly between themselves with such aliveness that I can’t help but lift my head from the pages before me where the pen has already begun its outcry. I want to stop and surrender to this. Make me alive, too.

Right there. There. That’s when I feel the resistance.

I want to give myself to the present moment but something intense holds me back. I try to feel peace and happiness but I can’t because the good stuff isn’t ready to come out yet, stodgily blocked by hoardes of brain dirt. Only this time, dumping it all in the usual morning journal isn’t feeling right. So I nip back inside and bring out my laptop. What you’re about to read is neither sophisticated nor blog-worthy. Welcome to the world of brain dirt.

Sometimes I feel like I can’t go on anymore. Quarantine is having her benefits. I don’t have to go out and be triggered by social situations or certain people in my life, thus keeping my anxiety at bay. Not that avoidance is the way forward- obviously. But I’ve done so much work, you know. Therapy and more therapy and a bit more therapy and praying and therapy and journalling and therapy and pretending to meditate when actually focusing on the breath is the last thing I could ever do. I even went to a shamanic healing ceremony in Glastonbury last full moon where I purged all of this shit and yelled and screamed at a fire in a circle surrounded by women ‘holding space’ and my body shook violently and a European woman who was apparently staring at me intently the whole time came up to me later and said she saw grey smoke leaving my body. Fuck knows what that was. Then I go through phases of feeling spiritually upgraded as a result of it and connected to all sorts of energy and phases immediately afterwards where I dismiss it as new age bullshit. All this quarantining brings about an impeccable simplicity there whom I welcome with open arms but then I actually have times where I feel annoyed that social distancing is going to be over at some point and I’m going to have to venture back out into the world and face the fear again. Can’t I reside here a little longer?

Then, equally, quarantine is frustrating the daylights out of me. I want to see my family. My dad was sick with COVID-19 and it was hell not being able to be there for him. I miss my in-laws. I’m dying to cuddle my neighbours’ kids and play ‘Crack the egg’ with them on their new trampoline but I can’t go near them. Instead, they leave little letters on our doorstep and I leave Easter eggs on theirs. They sit at the window and read to me whilst I sit on my drive and listen. We take off the fence panel and they barbecue chicken and put the plate on a little bench in the middle and move a couple of metres away. Then R- walks over, picks up the plate and we sit, eating it. We wash the plate at 60 degrees and back it goes… on the doorstep. So close, yet so far. The definition of bittersweet.

Work is killing me. We are so short staffed on the COVID positive ward that I’m leaving hours late every day. Three people died in my arms in the space of 48 hours. The deaths are so thick and fast that I can’t process one by the time the next one comes. Last night I lay on my sofa and wept into my pillow for a man named Tom, whose oxygen mask I took off, face shielded by goggles and a mask so he couldn’t even see my humanness. I told his family over the phone that he was dying and I took my mobile to his ear (breaking all the rules of infection control) and I stood by his side as he said goodbye to his daughter over the phone. He cried. I cried. The nurse in charge cried. I put the oxygen mask back on and he took my latex-gloved hand and he held it tight, kissing it through the plastic mask. He thanked me. I fetched him a cup of tea and let him drink it through a straw. I asked him if I made a good brew and he nodded even though I burnt his tongue a little. By then, he was so weak, his already overworked lungs were almost entirely consumed by the coronavirus. I hoped he would live until morning because I wanted to see him one more time before he left the physical world but one hour later, probably just as I’d stepped inside my house exhausted and numb, heaven greeted another angel. Why did you thank me, Tom? It angers me. I can’t accept your thanks. Even in my position., I’m helpless and that one word has triggered such enormous guilt that nothing can shake off. I can’t do enough for you or for anyone else. My willingness alone can’t make you better. I can’t even give you a good death. Your wife, who has dementia might not even understand that you’re gone. I told you that your daughter wanted you to know she’s being taken care of and you said “that’s all that matters”. When I asked you if you’d had enough, your entire body sighed in relief. You were just waiting for someone to ask that question,. weren’t you Tom? And that someone had to be me. I’m angry, Tom. I’m angry that I’m carrying your burden. And sad. Sad that you left me, just as you left your family. The thought of you puts my throat in a chokehold and my eyes fill with small waterfalls. I knew you for a mere eight hours but I feel such love for you. I grieve for you like I’ve never grieved for a patient before. Maybe I’ve taken on the role of your daughter or your granddaughter. What do they call that? Countertransference? Maybe the grief I feel is the grief of your family who weren’t able to be by your side, the way I was. Why did I get that privilege? It’s so unfair. So endlessly unfair Tom. Are you hearing this? My angel? Will you stay with me and give me the strength to do it again and again and again until all this is over, for hundreds of other Toms? Tom… I’ll have you know that I wake up every single day not wanting to go to work but if I didn’t, who would? And so I don my black trousers and my green scrub top with ‘Doctor’ sewn on. And the world claps for me on a Thursday night when I’m at the chippy because I’m far too tired to cook. There are fireworks and cheers for the NHS and for me; a local hero and there I am not feeling heroic at all. Like a stupid little slave to a hand that’s bigger than mine and I’m too angry to make peace with it. Save it, Tom. Save your thanks for someone else- your real family, your beautiful wife and daughter. Not for me. I don’t deserve it and I can’t accept it. I hope one day I can, Tom. The day I make peace with the fact that you left me will be the day I take your ‘Thankyou’ and press it against my heart from which flowers will bloom. I long for that day.

Duality. Polarity. Contrast. Some spiritual teachers say that’s why we come to Earth. Sitting in my garden surrounded by so much life when my day-to-day is surrounded by so much death. Tuesday marks the mayalalam celebration of Vishu- the harvest festival of fertility and springtime and new beginnings. Life. I would go to my puja room and adorn a statue of Krishna with velakkus and bright yellow flowers. The table would groan with simple and delicious vegetarian food served on banana leaves. I would dress myself in a white cotton sari and feel all the feelings of newness and freshness and love, surrounded by my family. I’d secretly rejoice at twenty pound notes being stuffed into my closed fist, knowing I should really be above that considering I earn enough to pay a mortgage but it still feels so good that I’d touch my parents feet and pray. All in another world, free of this shitty quarantine. I’m stuck between the feeling of wanting to do all of this, just for me and R- in our home and an overwhelming sense of… yeah but what’s the point? There’s no point is there? Will it even be appreciated? It’s only the two of us. Is there any point if it’s only the two of us? I don’t have any parents or kids of my own to please with such delights. R-… is R-. Sensible and rational and balanced, the yin to my energetic, passionate yang that comes with its lows as well as its highs.

In a fit of corona fuelled madness, I ordered my wedding dress. I don’t even know what’s going to be happening with my wedding and I have friends in similar positions whose weddings are even sooner than my own. I have been so excited planning and preparing and it’s as if my whole life has ground to a halt. I don’t want to let bits of it go. I built up an image in my mind as to what it was all going to be like and it would sadden me to lose that. Even though really, loss is a total illusion in the first place. It’s complicated.

I’m almost out of energy to write about the next one but for the first time yesterday, a racist comment was made to me at work and it deeply affected me. Another doctor, slightly older with children though technically at the same level as me, spoke to one of my patients’ families advising that the bad news “might be better coming from a middle aged white man than a young, pretty doctor like you”. I felt professionally undermined, mortified and attacked all at once. I took some time to process it but shortly he came back and apologised to me. I was so fucking angry. I looked at him, face flushed with hurt and said “That was incredibly hurtful and upsetting. A person’s ability and confidence comes out of their skills, experience and self awareness. The fact that you said you’d do that better because you’re a white man is so upsetting…”, he interrupts “because it’s something you’ll never be” (?! something I never want to be, thanks). I went on “As a young asian woman, I’ve never felt professionally held back by my sex or the colour of my skin. In fact; I’m actually an excellent communicator but your comment really put me off. I’m not going to report you but I need a bit more time to really sit with this”. This has really been the cherry on top of the corona-cake. My dad will tell me to let it go but I can’t and I won’t. I need to sit with it. Be angry a little longer. I still feel violated. Behind closed doors, I came home and cried a little.

I can’t honestly tell if I feel better or worse. Its warm now and a thin film of sweat is clinging to my skin. My hair has taken on the scent of the white flowers. The sound of birds is accompanied by the happy cries of joyful children fuelled by bellies full of chocolate easter eggs. The sun has almost reached his highest point. The first owl is joined by a second. Mysterious little creatures; always speaking. Never seen. Back I arrive at the present moment.

The rest of the day sits endlessly before me. There’s folded clothes to wash, a dishwasher to empty and, no doubt, more feelings to feel.

I take a deep breath and run my fingers through my hair. I feel a pang of hunger. The water hasn’t cleared entirely. A small layer of sediment has settled to the bottom where it will either stagnate for a while or move as I move the energy around a little. Perhaps a long, government sanctioned walk. Throwing myself into cooking. A half read book waiting to be finished. If I’m lucky, by the end of the day, it might even clear up completely.

Until next time,

Gowri x


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