Just recently, I lived a few days that looked perfect. More than perfect, if I may. I was on a family trip back home to India for three weeks. A long deserved break from work. The usual explosion of flavors and colors that sate the soul (and the stomach). The mornings and evenings of sitting wrapped in blankets, sipping tea with family.
The trip was also doubling as my first single-author book launch tour – with four launches lined up across Kolkata, Bangalore, Gurgaon, and Chandigarh. What I had worked incredibly hard for throughout 2018 with a full-time job and a child was set to materialize at last, with family around to support me. What can be better, right?
Proud. Relieved. Celebratory. All the right emotions to feel. The launches received significant national media coverage, posts on social media generated scores of congratulatory messages, and as I scrolled through them, I felt quite the opposite to the three words above.
My struggles with how I often feel the very opposite to what I am told I should be feeling are nothing new. I can’t help it (or maybe I can to some extent) but that is not the point of this piece. I have forced myself to be vocal about this constantly, forcing the vulnerability I feel aside. I have had to, for I have had a tremendous tragedy in my family that makes me strive every day to try and speak out on mental health and its many facets. To normalize. To break the stigma. To have depression, anxiety ( or any disorder of the mind really) to be viewed in the same light as cirrhosis, broken limbs or cancer. Not to have them compared (they can’t be), but to have them understood and tolerated the same way. But this post today, is about a something a bit (although not totally) different.
It’s about our role models and how their stories are told. A story of triumph in most cases. A story of seeking happiness, always. Of achieving whatever can be conceived of. And being strong and happy and brilliant to ‘manifest’ all that is being ‘conceived’. All struggles are portrayed in an ‘after’ light. We like to hear about challenges, only after they are solved and see them with the pretext and pretense that they can always be permanently resolved.
But some struggles, like depression, or living with a debilitating condition, or having a certain life or family situation, don’t ever go away. Nor is success permanent.
Sitting at the book launch events, watching visible admiration in the eyes of those who had come there to support me and my heart racing (not with the ‘normal’ nervousness of what next for the book and how it will do but with obsessive sad thoughts that I often can’t silence my mind out of) I thought of the importance of narrating the other stories. The ones of our imperfections.
Because this is what I consistently hear and see. ‘You are so strong.’ ‘You are doing so many things.’ ‘I would like to too, but I am not that amazing, strong, organized, powerful…’
I wondered, what if I said out loud that neither am I? What if I shared, instead of the front that I was putting up, that I burst out into tears often? What if I shared that I see the negatives more than the positives often and have a racing heart most of the days? What if I shared that I am afraid? That I take one day at a time? And what if, on hearing this, a lot more women (and men), realize that they can do whatever I (or anyone else) they see doing too?
What if we could hear more stories of role models through their struggles – not as the past – but as the present because that is what it really is. I can’t name names but I am willing to bet that we are all Stanford ducks often. The important thing to realize is that is not a bad thing. That is what needs to be normalized and discussed more. It’s not healthy otherwise. And as what we see all around us shift from friends or family who we get to see in ‘real’ light to what social media scatters all around us, the problem worsens.
I am not saying that everyone’s struggles match up, or that the entire world is as ‘crazy’ as I am. But it seems like more and more we are being made to feel guilty for being ‘weak’. But with all due respect to ‘being strong and positive’, weak is OK. ‘Weak’ might look less fabulous and glamorous, but ‘weak’ is real and good. Sometimes ‘weak’ is all we can be so it’s important to know that ‘weak’ can win too.
In corporate grooming, for the sake of ‘professionalism’, we practice not discussing such matters. It’s not OK to cry at the job. It is also important to fake control and composure. I can understand that in certain scenarios, but Google any guideline on office decorum and even how to be a good co-worker is reliant on perfect faking of an expected image. Under control and excelling. Always. There is not much room that we are leaving for ourselves in the other spheres of life either. With friends and even families, we are setting ourselves up. By hiding our vulnerabilities, we are creating a circle around us of not so real relationships and a hard to keep up invincibility.
So going forward, I personally want to have more breakdowns openly when I am not keeping it together with hopes of finding friends who will still stick around and will trust me to have their own moments with. Whenever I speak, I will talk more about my sleepless nights. About the ‘tools’ I implement under the table (like holding my leg up) to keep my anxiety under control while I am seemingly acing a deal above it. About what I do wrong daily, yet manage to thrive.
Hopefully, someday soon enough, this will prevent me from having to hold the hands of some amazing lady (who is as strong as I am if not more for she has given up her career to raise her special need child) and hear that she’d love to write poetry again, but is too afraid to start, for she is not as strong. Or sitting face to face with a woman who is braving job search for months living a situation I would die of fear imagining ever having to be in, and share advice on how to be strong because ‘I am so strong’ while she is not. They will realize that I am them and they are so much more and will take the same steps in ‘weakness’ that they’d have taken in ‘strength’.
I am not trying to be a role model myself. I am just hoping to claim the importance of imperfections back in the age of perfect Instagram-s.