My favourite underdog

Dear Kiki,

I miss you. It’s been a while since we last spoke but I want you to know that you are always on my mind.

I know you’re hurting. You feel defeated and let down. But I want you to hang in there. I do not know if things will change or promise you that you’ll never feel this way again. But you’re not alone in all of this. I feel your pain. I feel your humiliation. I feel your shame. I hear you cry. I see your hopelessness. And I’m sill here. I’ll always be here.

I don’t know the cure to your dilemma. But you must not question your abilities. Never. You can think Kiki. You can speak. You can listen. You can write. You can smile. You can buy your own food and pay your own rent. Most importantly, you can empower others to do the same.

Why can’t everyone see what I see? Surely, you and I both cannot be wrong? I know you’re smart and intelligent and hard working. I know you’ll never take advantage of someone to get what you want. I know you’re compassionate enough to care when things don’t feel right. But we both know none of that matters. In the end, people see what they want to see. They will hear what they want to hear. Because they made up their mind about you a long time ago. When they saw that you were different from them. The wrong skin colour. The wrong gender. The wrong nationality. The wrong religion. The wrong attitude. The wrong life. They’re scared of you Kiki because they don’t get you. They feel threatened by you because you march to the beat of your own heartbeat.

I know you’ve always struggled to find the right balance between human relationships and listening to your heart. Most people lean towards one or the other. And so they end up either being very successful but lonely or surrounded by people but feeling insignificant. In trying to find the right balance, you feel so far away from both don’t you? If you had to make a choice Kiki, what would you choose? Do you know? Do you want to know?

I read somewhere that the cause for all unhappiness is the longing desire to have more. Think about it Kiki. You’ve come so far. Yes, you’re tired and exhausted from the journey. But it could’ve been worse. What if you failed at everything you ever tried to do? What if every time you failed, you went back to ground zero and had to start all over again? But that’s not true Kiki. You succeed at five attempts and fail at two, so you’re still three up from when you started.

I know what you’re going to say. Sometimes you fail because you make mistakes which you will learn from. But what if you fail because even though you did everything right, someone set you up to fail because you were “different” or because they didn’t like you? What do you learn from that?

Someone told me recently that you cannot worry about the things you cannot control. So what will you do Kiki? Will you just accept your fate that you cannot control certain things and must hence be ok with the outcome? Will you avenge this injustice and punish the people responsible and hope that you come out of it vindicated and unscathed? Or will you make another attempt and hope for a different outcome because no one will care that you’re “different’? Notice that in both scenarios, you cannot control the outcome Kiki. You can do either of those things hoping for the outcome you wish with no guarantees.

I’m not trying to say your pain isn’t justified Kiki. Or that you don’t deserve to be sad and unhappy. You are entitled to those feelings and a lot more. Just because your life is so much better than millions of others, doesn’t mean you should be ok and content with the bias and injustice you go through. But we try so hard to please the people who don’t like us, we forget there are others who might embrace us. Why do you want to work for people who will never accept or celebrate your abilities? Why do you run away from relationships with people that get difficult because they’re different from you? You do get to a point where you have to ask yourself if the struggle is worth it. If the job you’re fighting for is worth it. If the people you’re fighting for are worth it. If the cause you’re fighting for is worth it.

I’ll never stop rooting for you Kiki. You know i always root for the underdog. And you’re my favourite underdog. I don’t want you to dwell on all the things that went wrong in your life. Yes, you’ve been a victim. On many occasions. But you cannot let that define you or break you. You will get through this. Just like every other time. And you will come out wiser and stronger and more at peace with yourself. Keep looking over the horizon, towards the brightness, and you will find your own footprints ahead of you. Because you’ve been here before. You didn’t stop. You didn’t turn around. You kept going.

Not matter what you decide to do, I will support you and understand your reasons. And I promise I will never abandon you again. You will hear from me again. Soon.

With loads of love,

Mumble

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Morocco

When i started looking for holiday options for the Easter weekend, I was hoping to book a relaxing, lazy getaway to a beach or a lake or a mountain. Nothing to disturb me while i wake up late. Being able to eat and drink when and where i want to. Not having to worry about being late for something.

What i booked instead was a trip to Morocco. And because i’ve never travelled to Africa before, i chose to do it with a group of strangers and a local tour guide. The tour started with us arriving at Marrakech from London on the evening of 28th March. Driving from Marrakech to Dades gorge the next day. Driving to Todgha gorge the next morning, and arriving at Merzouga, camping in the Sahara desert. Driving from Merzouga to Ouarzazate the next day. Finally, driving from Ouarzazate to Marrakech where we spent two nights.

Because we stayed at each place only for a night, each morning involved waking up, having breakfast, showering, changing and packing. Way too much work for a lazy holiday!

The hurried mornings and constant driving especially through winding roads made me a bit weary. But despite all that, I quite enjoyed my African adventure. Morocco is a beautiful and culturally rich country that is very proud of its heritage.

Our flight from Gatwick, London to Marrakech took about 4 hours.

This is us outside the Marrakech airport just before boarding our ride to the hotel.

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Dinner that night was at a nice rooftop place where i had my first taste of the famous Moroccan tagine. I ordered lamb tagine that night and we all realised for the very first time that there wasn’t going to be any alcohol served with any of our dinners in Morocco.  Although its quite warm and sunny in the mornings (around 24 degrees), it does get a little nippy at night this time of the year.

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Our drive the next morning started from Marrakech towards the Dades gorge. Along the way, we stopped at cafes and various picturesque places to admire the beautiful landscapes.

This is my first glimpse of a small Berber village. Berbers are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa. The first thing you notice about Moroccan buildings is the red clay.

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Along the drive, you can also see the majestic Atlas mountains in the background.

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We drove through the never ending Tizi n’ Tichka pass before stopping for lunch.

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After lunch, we walked to the UNESCO world heritage site of Ait Benhaddou, which is a fortified village along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech.

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Within the Kasbah (fort), you’ll find lots of merchants selling their goods.

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The view from the top of the Kasbah is pretty awe inspiring! It looks like a sand castle!

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A picture of us at the top of the Kasbah.

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We then drove through the incredible Dandes gorge. I kept my eyes shut through most of the winding roads but every time i opened my eyes, I saw some unbelievable landscaping.

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We stayed the night at a rustic hotel called La Gazelle du Dades right next to a gurgling stream. We were entertained during dinner by some Moroccan drumming, which to my dissatisfaction went on  till 1am.

The next morning, we started our drive towards Merzouga. On the way, we stopped to take pictures of the slithering Tizi n’ Tichka pass.

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We stopped a couple of times to take pictures of interesting rock formations.

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Spotted another Berber village along the way to Todgha gorge.

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We finally arrive at the Todgha gorge around lunch time. Its as beautiful as they said it would be.

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Being a popular tourist site, you’ll also find many merchants selling their merchandise alongside the gorge.

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We stop for lunch at a close-by restaurant and finally drive towards the Sahara sand dunes.

When we arrive at Merzouga, we take a detour and drive off the main road towards the sand dunes where the camels await us. I’m sure its not something they look forward to at all.

This is the spectacular Sahara desert.

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And these are our unwilling camel rides.

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Getting on the camel is a bit tricky. You can sense they don’t want you sitting on them. Surprise! You have to hold onto dear life once they are up on their fours. I managed to take a few pictures with one hand though.

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The desert is incredibly dry but also very calm and serene. It stretches for miles and miles and you can imagine how someone could get lost here. There were no words needed to be said. Its one of those experiences where you just want to be quiet so you can fill your senses with everything that surrounds you. The shadows cast by the camels. The sand drifting under the camel’s hooves. The waves in the sand. The sun setting behind the dunes. The moon rising above the desert sky. The rhythmic movement of the camels. It was all so therapeutic and hauntingly beautiful.

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We stopped in between for the camels to rest and for us to take pictures.

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After an hour on the camel, we could finally see a few campsites from a distance.

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We stayed the night in a very pretty decent tent with a proper toilet and beds with duvets. And for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, we were able order a bottle of red wine to be shared among 8 people! After dinner, we sat under the stars listening to traditional Berber drumming and dancing.

The next morning, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise around quarter to 7.

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We finished our breakfast and headed back to Merzouaga for our quad bike rides in the desert.

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I’ve never ridden a quad bike before. So i was a bit wary, especially with a pillion rider. But once i got used to the steering, I felt like batman in his bat mobile.

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After an hour on the quad bikes, we started our journey towards Ouarzazate. On the way, we stopped for a few pictures of streams and lava hills.

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We stayed in an old but functional hotel in Ouarzazate where we were once again entertained by traditional musicians who sang and danced passionately with all the guests.

The next morning, we were taken to Taourirt Kasbah.

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Within the kasbah were uniquely shaped and sized rooms with interesting stairwells, doors and windows decorated with plaster work, paintings and mosaics.

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We then started our drive towards Marrakech. We reached our hotel just in time for dinner. We went to a rooftop place called Zwin Zwin cafe. By now our guide had learned that half of us were alcoholics, so he only took us to restaurants that served alcohol. It was only after our first bottle of wine that we realised we were missing a person. Our guide eventually found him and we all went back to our hotel after downing four bottles of wine.

The next morning was slightly overcast. We were given a tour of a couple of famous mosques in Marrakech.

The Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech.

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After the mosques, we were taken to the beautiful Bahia palace.

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Inside the entrance are a set of beautiful gardens with rooms opening onto lovely courtyards.

The architecture is a combination of intricate wooden carving, colourful mosaic tiling and ornate decorated ceilings.

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After spending a significant amount of time in awe of the lovely Bahia palace, we headed towards the world renowned UNESCO world heritage site of Jemaa el Fna Square. Its a large public square where you’ll find small merchants, hawkers, entertainers, snake charmers, chained monkeys, horse carriages, donkey carts among other things.

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Through the square, we made our way to the world famous souks of Marrakech. You must keep aside some significant amount of time if you’d like to see it all. As a tourist, I always try and buy a few local artefacts to help the local economy.

Olives.

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Spices and oils.

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Spices and dried fruits.

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Moroccan sweets.

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Lamps.

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Ceramics.

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Tagines!

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More ceramics.

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I also spotted quite a few stray cats in Marrakech. This one was probably bargaining for a cup of milk in exchange for a fur ball?

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We were done with all the shopping by 6pm and headed back to the hotel to shower and change for our last dinner in Marrakech.

Our last meal in Marrakech was at a very traditional Moroccan restaurant where i had my favourite lamb tagine again. We were entertained by traditional musicians, singing and dancing. Also thrown in were a a couple of belly dancers!

The next morning, we checked out, left our luggage with the reception and headed out to find Majorelle garden. The queue to get into the gardens can be pretty long. It took us an hour to get in. Its advised to start early in the day when they open to avoid long queues.

My roommate and I bought the tickets to the garden and the Berber museum together. It only cost us 100 dirhams. We’re not allowed to take pictures inside the museum but it was quite an exquisite display of Berber garments, jewellery, carpentry, weapons, tools and utensils.

The garden was a splendid display of cacti, bamboo, coconut palms and bougainvilleas among other plants.

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The property has a villa which was the residence of the French artist Jacques Majorelle. It was later bought and restored by the famous fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent. The special shade of bold cobalt blue is named after him, Majorelle Blue.

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The garden also has interesting fish ponds and lotus ponds.

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Found a few baby turtles learning how to swim.

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We walked back to the hotel after a brief lunch stop of grilled meat. Lounged on the sun beds on the hotel terrace for about 30 mins before we head back to the murky skies of London. I’m definitely coming back for more Africa!

More pics on flickr. Flickr album

One last picture before we all return to our mundane routines back in the UK.

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Sleep, my love

Take off your headphones. Shut down your laptop.
Put your phone on silent. Turn off the lights.
Rest your head on the pillow. Close your eyes.
Drift into the darkness that calls out to you.

Don’t let the masked monster wake you up.
The blood you see isn’t yours.
The pain you feel isn’t real.
Your racing heart will learn to comply.

Look instead at the floating stars.
See how they dance for you.
Feel their warmth on your skin.
Let their light wash off the stain.

Go drink from that dwindling cup of hope.
Breathe in the exotic sweet smell of despair.
Now, wait for the pretty poison to sink in.
Then breathe out the fire that runs through your veins.

Listen to the voices of drowning souls.
Run towards that sound of silence.
Sing to them the song of the universe.
Hold their hand and watch them float.

Let the sun burn through your bones.
Let the rain lick your open wounds.
Let the clouds cradle your broken body.
And let the wind carry you to the moon.

Climb that mountain of buried truth.
Break those shackles of shameful lies.
Don’t blink and look the monster in the eye.
Now turn around, spread your wings and fly away.

A garden of daffodils

What if I told you I was beautiful
will you put me under a magnifying glass
and brand me with your label
or will you celebrate my imperfections?

What if I told you I was broken
will you try to fix me up
or put a cushion around me
and watch me fall?

What if I told you I was guilty
will you judge me by your stare
or lay your vulnerable heart bare
for you and me to share?

What if I told you I was scared
will you lock me up
and watch me cry
or will you teach me how to fly?

What if I told you I want to shine
will you drown me in your darkness
or will you light the spark
that ignites my soul?

What if I told you I was sad
will you ignore my existence
and hope it’ll pass
or will you wrap me in your blanket of kindness?

What if I told you I was all that and more
What if I told you I’m that garden of daffodils you know
Sometimes I’m bare and sometimes I’m in bloom
I’ve been nurtured and I’ve been battered
I’ve been kissed by the sun and bathed in the rain
I’ve swayed to the sweet intoxicating breeze of spring
and I’ve shivered in the cold stillness of a wintery night
I’ve heard the ground whisper sweet nothings to me
and felt the butterflies caress me a million times
And yet, through all the chaos that surrounds me
I feel anxious and I feel lost
Will you walk with me for a while
And perhaps show me your garden?

Lake District, Cumbria

I haven’t taken a vacation since i arrived in London in Sep 2015. It’s been a pretty hectic ride, hopping from one stop to another. There has been a lot of change in the past two years. Some refreshingly rewarding, while others not so much. The internal struggle to stay afloat despite all that change drains me. But I’m not complaining yet. I’m where I’am because i sought it.

I was originally planning on visiting my parents back in India during the Easter weekend. But as much as i longed so see my mother again, i also longed for some peace and nothingness.  So i booked my hotel and train tickets to a place i’ve been wanting to experience for a while. Lake District in the county of Cumbria.

I booked my stay at a hotel called Cumbria Grand Hotel in Grange over Sands. Grange over Sands is a quaint little town close to another pretty little town called Kendal, nestled in the valley of River Kent.

Lake district, as the name suggests is popular for its beautiful lakes, the largest being lake Windermere. Windermere is also the name of a town from where i started my sightseeing tour. I must remember never to sign up for a coach trip ever again. Not when i’m trying to drown out all noise and disappear into the beauty that surrounds me .

If you’re anything like me, you would want to experience a place like this either on your own or in the company of someone who likes just being in the moment. Being one with the crisp fresh breeze. Being one with the mountains & the valleys. Being one with the gurgling streams of water. Being one with the waltzing blade of grass. Being one with the intoxicating smell of damp earth.  Neither my words, nor my pictures do justice to what i witnessed while i was there.

Cumbria Grand Hotel is about 0.5 miles from the Grange over Sands railway station and has spectacular views of the bay.

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The first day was mostly bright and clear and we got to see a lot of sheep. Matter of fact, that’s the only animal life i saw apart from dogs.

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I decided to take a boat ride in the town of Keswick. The whole round trip took about 50 minutes and was totally worth braving the cold for.

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The second day was overcast with continous showers. In the beginning, it seemed like a lost cause but looking out of the window as my coach drove by, i realised that rain was an integral part of the ecosystem here. When the coach would stop, i’d get out and feel the rain on my face and strangely, it felt very calming and theraputic! I wish i could feel the same way about all other things i cannot control.

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I also stopped by the Muncaster castle near Ravenglass where a volunteer was training birds. I got lucky to get a glimpse of these beautiful creatures!

There wasn’t enough time to explore the castle itself but it stands against an amazing backdrop.

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DSC_0258I ended my day with a mini train ride. The train itself is super cute but it wasn’t much fun sitting inside with the closed and foggy windows.

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Driving along lake Windermere, crossing quaint little towns like Kendal & Keswick, passing by sleepy villages like Ullswater & Grassmere, made my soul dance with joy. The locals are very friendly since the Lake District thrives on tourism. I would highly recommend it to anyone that likes being outdoors and needs an escape from the city life.

Guilty by association

I recently flew down to India because my mom was seriously ill. I was told she may not make it and i should probably say my goodbye before its too late. I didn’t even know how to react to the news. All i remember doing was sending out an email to my boss and booking my air tickets. I was worried but i was pretty sure she was going to be ok.

When i saw my dad who came to pick me up at the airport, i noticed how old he had gotten. But i met him only a year ago. We drove to the hospital talking about mom’s condition. She had a heart surgery 6 months ago. The surgeon not only performed a CABG but also replaced her defective aortic valve with an artificial one. And now six months later, it seemed like she had caught a very unlikely and rare infection called endocarditis. The hospital where she was being treated started treating her with very strong dosages of antibiotics like vancomycin. The drug comes with some seriously damaging side effects.

While i was listening to my dad talk about all this, I couldn’t wait to see my mom because in my head all she needed was a good hug and she’d be alright. Nothing prepared me for what i was about to see.

There she was. Sitting on her bed, in an ICU room. Waiting for me. She was half her weight from a year ago. Looked at least 20 years older.  She sat with her hands stretched out, tears rolling down her cheeks, pointing to the blood and vomit stains on her hospital gown. It broke my heart to a million pieces. I went to the hospital straight from a 24 hour journey through three airports, so i dared not touch her. I stood at a distance. Smiled as best as i could. Asked her nurse to hug her for me. And i knew for a fact then, that a hug could not fix this.

My dad was to stay with her that night and i decided to go back to my parents place, clean up and come back to the hospital the next day. I was very nervous going back to my parents place because my younger sister Diana also stays with them. Diana, with a serious paranoia personality disorder. Diana, who has been progressively getting worse every year. Diana, whose parents are in denial about her having a mental illness. Every time i see her, i see a different side to her. And I was very nervous about what side of her I’d get to see this time. It usually takes about 2 to 3 days for her episodes to kick in. But i didn’t have to wait that long this time around. We spoke briefly about mom. Then i retired to my room and locked the door behind me. She started knocking at my door at about 3 in the morning. This is usual. She doesn’t sleep. I let her in and she starts talking about some guy she knew more than 5 years ago. She’s convinced  that he’s conspired with everyone in the world to make sure she’s never happy. I suggest she try to get some sleep and we talk in the morning. She storms out, bangs my door shut. Goes to her room and starts yelling at the top of her lungs. Random ramblings. Obscene and vulgar ramblings. This is new. I’ve never seen her do this before. And i realize my three weeks in India aren’t going to be just about mum.

I would spend time in between hospitals with my mum and my parents home with Diana. I had to remember not to upset my mum with Diana’s episodes so i wouldn’t mention anything. But what do i do about my dad’s episodes? The man cannot help but be paranoid about all the money he’s spending in hospitals getting my mom treated. He doesn’t even mask his paranoia in front of my mom. Your wife of over 40 years is lying there half dead and you want to keep reminding her of how much money you’ve spent treating her?

The time i spent with my family this time around made me realize that perhaps my sister’s illness is inherited. From my father. His paranoia is very deep rooted. He’s paranoid about his money. He’s paranoid about his religion. And he’s paranoid about what the world thinks of him. He’s the unhappiest person i know. And everything he touches becomes unhappy. I knew a long time ago that i had to keep my distance from him if i was to have any chance at happiness. Which is why the thought of losing my mom scared the living daylights out of me. Because as unhappy as he mostly was, my mom was the only ray of occasional sunshine in his life. And without her, i don’t know how he’d cope.

Thankfully my mom had started recovering after we moved her to another hospital where they were able to monitor her antibiotic dosage better. Her original surgeon wants to operate on her again and fix her leaky valve. But perhaps not yet. Not until she’s strong again. We’ve got to get an echo done regularly to make sure the leak isn’t getting severe. And if she does get operated again, I’m going to be afraid not only for her but for all three of them. My father has also thankfully agreed to get my sister admitted to a hospital for therapy and treatment after my mum recovers completely and they go back home. I can only hope he lives up to his promise.

Growing up with a dysfunctional family has taught me to isolate myself from intimacy. The only way i could drown out the noise was to pretend not to care. Eventually over a period of time, the pretence becomes a reality. I’am now unable to establish or maintain intimate relationships. I can only see things clearly from a distance. I cannot dwell within the boundaries that come established with most relationships. They confuse me.

Anyone with baggage knows that guilt is a terrible thing to have to live with. As hard as i may try, i cannot shake that baggage off because its wired in my DNA. How can i help my family? They’re like quicksand. If i go near them, I know I’ll drown with them. If I don’t, I’ll drown in the overwhelming guilt. The guilt of being indifferent. The guilt of being selfish. And here’s my dilemma. Being selfish is the only way i know how to survive.

Talk to me

So, I’m finally done with my exams. As relieved as I am about getting past the most boring part about getting an education, I’m also a little gutted about having no more excuses to procrastinate.  There’s a long list of things that need to get done. Starting with getting a job and seeing a dentist to fix the swollen face.

While i spent two months revising, researching and writing exams, i did have an extraordinary amount of time to indulge in conversations with myself. And it is during those moments of self therapy that i discover things. And while i’ve always enjoyed my therapeutic conversations with myself, i was quite amused to find how uncomfortable it made people around me feel. I remember using that knowledge to spook a couple of girls i was a sharing a room with at Uni back when i was 20.

It’s funny how we learn to cope with what we’re given. Growing up in a family where one only spoke when spoken to, turns you into a painfully shy person.  The only person you feel safe speaking to is yourself.

While i’ve frequently enjoyed drifting into my colourful and twisted abyss, it’s only recently that i’ve started to learn things about myself. For example, when someone asks me something about myself, my response is almost always very defensive. I’m always very fiercely guarded. So much so that i get seriously offended when someone offers to pay for my food or drink.  I’ve been racking my brains to understand where that fierceness comes from. Why do i always find the need to protect myself? Maybe my sister and i are not that different. I just got lucky and she didn’t. Her state of constant paranoia that everyone wants to hurt her is obviously a lot worse than mine. But deep down, we’re both constantly building walls.

What do you do when you’re torn between guilt and anger? It’s a vicious cycle. You’re too angry to forgive and too guilty to forget. Maybe the reason you managed to cope is because you consciously buried the memories. And now that you’re making an effort to understand, you’re starting to remember. What if a part of you doesn’t want to believe what you remember? What if that part of you tries to convince you that its all a part of your imagination? That’s when you realize you’re seriously fucked up, isn’t it?

But that’s quite alright. I have no intentions of fixing myself or ironing out my abnormalities. I quite like myself and i thoroughly enjoy my own company.  No matter how hard people try to scare me with the consequences of ending up a sad lonely woman, that fear is far from real to me. For now.