It is an accepted fact that I am slightly crazy – the weird and cute kind. I count tiles when I walk in a mall so I don’t succumb to the temptations of window-dressed mannequins and over-spend, search for lip gloss in my handbag even though I know I did not pack it but hope it materializes if I keep looking, collect paper napkins from restaurants and hoard them till they turn into little crumpled messes, enjoy watching people have arguments because that really is the best way to figure them out. I’m somewhere in the middle of the ‘not normal’ spectrum where people can’t detect too much of the madness and those who love me find abundant entertainment in my quirks and worth sticking around for.
The pandemic, unfortunately, is nudging me further down the rabbit hole with a solid dose of hypochondria. I’m scared to hug people now. If anyone around me sneezes, I hold my breath for as long as possible. Every time my throat itches, I chug some kashayams and chew immunity-enhancing leaves growing in the garden. If I’m still uneasy, in goes the antihistamine.
I am perfectly content sitting at home and the thought of stepping out, pushes my excuse-churning brain into overdrive. The other day my husband picked up a string of jasmine flowers and all I could imagine was Covid germs crawling all over it. I should have either thrown it out the car or let it go but instead I sat and worried for the remaining hour as it hung in the backseat. When it dried up the next day and there was no choice but to dispose of it, my soul did a massive PHEW!
Anxiety does not marry well with my inherent craziness and I am waging a very personal war with this virus.
At first, it was the fear of dying. So I evaluated my most precious belongings – half finished journals for some sorry admirer to trudge through and excavate gems so that the world could marvel at my brilliance posthumously, my favourite books, a bag of letters hoarded for over two decades, a Persian-crafted wooden jewelry box I took from my mother, the onesies that my daughter wore when she was just a week old. Then there was the more practical stuff – vaccination records, passports, and bank user name passwords. I wanted to be considerate towards anyone who’d be picking up the pieces of ‘life must go on’ after they were done grieving for me.
But these things only further reminded me of all the shit I’d planned to get done but never managed to. I began spiraling. What have I been doing? Where am I going? What the fuck happened to all my grand plans of Carpediem-ing and changing the world? I’m a 35-year old writer who tells bad jokes, who is scared to begin working on the book I’ve been writing in my head for the past two years, who browses through websites selling pretty boho dresses without buying any, who has complained about not being able to make chapatis forever. I’m that airplane that keeps taking off and crash landing.
In an effort to halt the self-flagellation of regret, I stopped thinking about dying. “Must keep brain occupied at all times” was the new goal. I cooked and baked with a fervor, watched movies I’d been planning to watch forever (personal fave- Amelie), drank wine and sat in the balcony to hunt for stars through the dust-cloaked sky, drank lots of tea while reading (and listening to) books and envying beautiful authors who had successfully taken words from their heads and put them on paper. Every time the unease crept in, I’d find something to distract me, even if it meant doing what I hated – cleaning up.
My therapist tells me that my paranoia is justified but I must find ways to manage it so I don’t fall off the bandwagon that I’m as it is barely clinging on to. She is proud of the progress I have made under her tutelage over the past year and a half and wants me to continue growing. She tells me to practice what I am the worst at– acceptance.
The first step is to fence the ‘crazy’; bound it neatly so it can co-exist with me while letting me function, tame it, threaten it, and even whack it hard with a steel dosa spatula if necessary.
The thermometer and oximeter are my new buddies. I breathe in and out when waves of fear make me tremble. Before stepping out, I plan as much as I can to minimize contact with strangers. I have a sturdy network of four friends in different cities who keep me afloat and take my meltdowns of not being able to find headphones seriously. Our unfiltered conversations cover topics from the snuffing of freedom of expression by the Indian government to an in-depth analysis of Cardi B’s WAP video. Yes, we are cool and caring citizens of the world.
As much as I hate it, I think about meeting the virus, this gigantic Made-in-China being with taunting eyes. I imagine myself kicking its ass while Prodigy plays ‘Smack my bitch up’. All the while I tell myself – It’s not just you Sangee.
Someday, all of this will be over and these days will land up in children’s history books. They will read about it and marvel at humankind’s capacity to survive amidst uncertainty. The snippets of people banging plates on rooftops or rolling around in cow-dung to create an invisible and sustainable Covid shield or getting huffed up over a jewelry advertisement will slip through the cracks. They’ll never see the shades of insanity that we painted ourselves with. Thank goodness for that.
Meanwhile, all I need to do is light that berry-flavoured candle that’s been gathering dust in my cupboard, stare at the flame till I nod off to sleep, and dream that there’s enough wine to get me through it all.