My story on The Health Collective India: Redefining loneliness and coping during the pandemic.

A safe space for conversations on mental health and mental illness in India http://www.healthcollective.in/

Redefining loneliness and coping with being solitary, as someone involuntarily ‘unmarried’— a widow – over the past 14 months has been difficult. Losing your husband who had been with you through thick and thin, in good times and sorrowful ones, through fits of anger and angst, how may I even begin to count the ways?

Of not reaching for two large mugs and two different types of tea? On the lighter side, elaichi chai vs Earl Grey, 1 tsp of sugar vs 3, deep fried potato chips, deep fried parwal… all that ‘bad cholesterol’ stuff, fades into the shadowy landscape of my mind, as I greet each day at a different time. No, I do not wake up at the crack of dawn if I have been battling shadows in my restless dreams, my eyes have their own REM and I often awake drenched in sweat.

At 65, I can say this out loud. I would not have dared to earlier, when a woman’s fears and anxieties were brushed under the carpet. Who had the time? Wake up, get breakfast ready, pack lunchboxes, cook, clean, iron too’, with or without a helper. Salaries were usually spent by the 20th of the month, forget about a counsellor’s fees.

The first lockdown was announced and began on March 25th, 2020. My mother’s 81st birthday. I could not travel to see her, as I had been doing, over the past decade, even coming in from overseas. Was it fear or anxiety? She has two adult daughters living with her now, one a doctor, so that fact is always so reassuring that she is very well looked after.

The first lockdown lasted 68 days. It was hard not to answer the weekly long doorbell ring, announcing the arrival of my daughter. The warmth of her smile always soothed me, as the memory of it does now, over 14 months later. Come rain, hail, or shine, she would come to see me, and my loneliness would take the back seat, as I soaked in her words. My son is far away and his memories flit into our conversation so naturally. Then she must leave, and I am alone again.

The Health Collective

The isolation is disturbing when images of people, known and unknown, struggling in the pandemic, the pleas and cries for help – hospital beds, blood, oxygen – invade your life. This stays in your mind, long after tears have been shed in bewilderment at the futility of it all, the roll of the dice – what IS this virus that cannot yet be pinned to its origin? As the eerie stillness of the present lockdown surrounds me, I breathe erratically, as I see the shrouds in pictures, the wisps of smoke arising from hurried cremations, or half-burnt bodies being thrown surreptitiously into the rivers, caught on camera on someone’s smartphone. I reach out at night to the space beside me on my bed, where he once lay, but he has been gone for over 4 years now and cannot assuage my fear of the unknown, of what each new day will bring. Sickness or sudden death. I search for his shadow in the lonely darkness.

Dawn breaks now with the realisation that I will not actually ‘see’ anyone the whole day. Phone calls, yes, Video calls, perhaps. I open the door to the one balcony I often stand in and look down on the street below. The greystone multi-storied buildings are as stark and depressive as the present bleak atmosphere of uncertainty. Mid-afternoon the sun shines brightly, as I gasp for air, so grateful for being able to soak it in. Suddenly the image of baby Olive Ridley turtles scampering towards the sea brings a smile to my face.

It is time to clean the flat, answer or return a few phone-calls, cook something. So grateful to the delivery personnel of suppliers of essential groceries. Wash, sanitise, air (the items), sanitise and double mask-up before opening the door. A sigh of relief as I sink into the old sofa, read the headlines on my desktop, search for a binge-worthy serial to while away the afternoon. I must complete reading the three books I began a while ago; I cannot quite recall when. I need to write again – this is my first bit of free writing in over 3 months. I have had to regret participating in a few webinars, due to my wifi buffering, that disturbed my thoughts and the viewers! Endless anxiety! But I am never bored. Worried, yes, but not bored. I am in constant touch with friends and family. We raise each other’s spirits. There is always Hope. And the indomitable human mind. Let me end with an everlasting quote from John Milton (1608-1674).

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven”

John Milton

About the Author: Jayshree Misra Tripathi is a writer and educator. She is the author of Trips and TrialsWhat Not Words, as well as Two Minute Tales in Verse for Children Everywhere and other titles. You can find her on Twitter @JayMTrips

Disclaimer: JMT is related to the founder-editor of The Health Collective. Views expressed are personal.

Published by Jayshree Tripathi

Jayshree Tripathi lived in diverse cultures for over thirty years. Her late husband was a career diplomat in the Indian Civil Service. Jayshree received her Master of Arts Degree in English Literature from Delhi University (1978) and a Post Graduate Diploma in Human Rights Law (2001, Distance Education Programme) from the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. She has been an educator and examiner in English Language and Literature for the International Baccalaureate Organization and their trained Consultant. Jayshree has worked in print media in the late ’70s and ’80s and calls herself an 'arranger of words', of narrative verse and short fiction. She continues in raising awareness about adult literacy in India and ‘women helping women’- #HelpHerWalkForward. Jayshree, as the eldest of five daughters, includes her maiden surname in her writing. On Twitter @JayMTrips. On LinkedIn https://in.linkedin.com/in/jayshreemtripathi

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