Please note: The protagonist of this story suffers from derealisation disorder, with occasional episodes of depersonalisation. These are real mental disorders, which the author has tried to portray authentically after researching about them and their symptoms. The intention is to draw attention and create awareness about these lesser-known conditions, as well as to create a main character who suffers from a mental illness and slowly comes to terms with it, not wanting it to define her entire existence. As the author has not personally experienced any of this and is going on other people’s descriptions, any inaccuracies or exaggerations in the representation of these disorders are apologised for and heavily regretted. To know more, you can start at this link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/
“Stop laughing and help me out of the dustbin. I think my foot is stuck in a coffee cup.”
“What were you thinking anyway? Walking straight into a dustbin?”
“I really thought it was a bit farther away, you know?” Aditi’s face was morphed in clear indication that she was barely controlling bursting into another fit of giggles. Nope, Kavya had had enough of her high-pitched demonic cackle to last her the entire week. “Now quit interrogating me and help me out of here, will you?”
“Okay, okay. Wait.” Aditi held out her hand for Kavya to grab onto and made a big show of hauling her up.
“You really need to work on your depth perception, dude.”
“Hmm.” Kavya struggled to stand up on her own two feet. She hadn’t thought her fall into the dustbin was a particularly hard one, but it must’ve been because the world seemed to be oddly overwhelming. She could vaguely make out two wide brown eyes staring back at her and construct a murky outline of a round face; it looked like someone had scribbled on the person’s– Aditi’s, Kavya’s brain offered belatedly– rosy cheeks with a black marker. She reached out to wipe the wormy patterns away but someone else’s hand came up to rest on Aditi’s cheek before she could so much as move.
Aditi grabbed the person’s hand gently. Kavya didn’t know how someone could be grabbing something so delicately, but Aditi had always managed to be an endearing mixture of contradictions. She looked at where Aditi’s hand touched the stranger’s and followed her eyes along the stranger’s arm to see who it was. Turns out her eyes couldn’t even trace the path correctly because she ended up looking at her own shoulder.
God, her vision was really acting up. Her head must’ve been taken an excruciatingly painful hit when she fell into that godforsaken dustbin.
“Are you okay?” Aditi shouted at her. Or whispered.
Kavya couldn’t tell the two apart anymore.
Kavya took her words back; Aditi’s paradoxical behaviour wasn’t at all endearing. Right now, it seemed more like a heady concoction that would be staring back at her empty-stomached self from a toilet bowl the next morning.
“Kavya? Kaaaavyaaaa?” Aditi continued to whisper-shout-sing-song at her. That’s it; she’d reached the end of her limits of tolerance.
“I want to go home and rest. Not feeling good.”
“All right. So you don’t want to watch the film anymore?”
Aditi looked at her strangely. She shook her head and the black scrawls extended even beyond her face, strangely. In fact, every sentence describing that moment ought to end with a ‘strangely’.
“You know what, let’s head home. You’ve already suffered more than your fair share of embarrassment, anyway. Though I guess your allotted share is much larger than that of most people.”
Kavya grinned. A wave of reassurance swept through her. She knew this sense of humour. She knew this Aditi, had known her for about ten years now. This was real and this was familiar. She could deal with this. She just really needed to rest her mind properly.
“Nah, it’s probably better for the both of us to stay in and have a lazy day.”
“Yeah, I just think I need a nice nap.” She would get home, tuck herself into the cosy warmth of her bed, and sleep. Then she’d wake up and be all right.
There wasn’t much left of the temple. Everything was grey and broken and smothered in weeds, and the only thing in one piece was a statue standing at the base of the steps.
“So, how do you … feel?” Aditi spoke carefully, but Kavya could sense the amusement in her voice.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be this way.”
“They did tell you there’d been an earthquake.” Kavya’s younger brother, Arnav, was accompanying them courtesy of their mother.
“Yeah, but I wasn’t expecting it to be this terrible. Everything is different.”
“That’s one way to put it.”
“Right.” Kavya circled round to face Arnav and crossed her arms over her chest. “I get it, this was a terrible idea, I was hoping to find some familiarity in this place I spent almost all my weekend evenings in during hols but all I got was a dilapidated building surrounded by broken–fricking–rocks. Are you happy now?”
“Hey, hey, hey. It’s all right. No need to fight, you two.” Aditi tried to interject.
“I’m not the one fighting. She is. We know you’re a bit wonky in the head, but don’t take it out on us, yeah?”
Kavya knew Arnav was simply looking to annoy her, yet she couldn’t help the involuntary pang of hurt from shooting through her body, making her physically wince. She constantly felt as though she was spirally deeper and deeper into insanity and people’s offhanded comments, even those that were meant to be harmless, didn’t help.
“Arnav.” Aditi uttered the word without a hint of inflection.
“Sorry.” He didn’t sound sorry at all.
“Let’s head back home, okay?”
Home. That day, two years back, when Aditi had uttered almost the same words to her and taken her home was still vivid in her memory. It was one of the few moments of that year that she could accurately recall, perhaps because of the multitude of times she’d read and reread her journal entry describing that strange day. Cocooned in naiveté, she’d thought sleep would drive the weirdness away. And it actually had, but only for a while. Soon, the sleep she used to ward off her abnormalities had seeped into and been wholly absorbed by her regular existence. Every waking day, she felt as though she were still asleep and dreaming. Even though she knew she was present, she didn’t feel like she truly was.
And oh, how she wanted to just be there. Here. She wanted to clamp open her eyeballs and force them to see properly, dump a bucket of cold water on her head or scratch at her skin until it awakened to the present, and smash the glass plane that sometimes separated her from everyone and everything else. Most of all, she wanted to squish and smother these things she felt until she was normal once more. That was exactly what she’d been trying to do since that day, but the more she pushed this thing down, the farther it inflated and pushed down on her.
The priest at her temple told her that it was by the will of God, and would go away if she prayed and offered regular obeisance to the temple deity. She cried, and prayed, and begged. Nothing changed.
Her school counsellor told her to do breathing exercises. It helped, but her continuous state of living a dream didn’t end.
Her biology teacher called her aside last year and said in a rushed, strained voice, “I’m sorry Kavya, but I don’t think you’re quite fit for becoming a surgeon. I would choose to pursue a different career if I were you.” She dropped Biology altogether and took on Maths, a subject she’d always found dull and way too hard to grasp.
Two months back, the gradually inundating dam broke; her father succumbed to lung cancer.
For the past two months, even home hadn’t felt like home. She’d come to this temple she used to visit frequently in her grandparents’ town, where she’d spend all her childhood summers, chasing a semblance of familiarity. But now, she felt even worse.
“Kavya? Earth to Kavya.”
How long had she been lost in her thoughts? It could’ve been a few seconds or an entire hour. Both seemed equally plausible to her muddled brain.
“Yep, I’m here.”
But was she? She didn’t know anymore. What she did know was she had to pull herself together and do something.
Throughout the journey back to their grandparent’s place, she tried to draw up a mental (she had a love-hate relationship with that word) list of things she could do to feel better: eat her grandmother’s home cooked meals, meet all her old friends, watch her favourite films and listen to her favourite bands with them, reread her journal to recall happier days, take up writing seriously.
“Visit a therapist,” Aditi spoke up quietly from behind the steering wheel as if she was adding to her list. Kavya wouldn’t be surprised if she could read her mind at this point, though it would’ve been way more advantageous if Aditi could feel her mind. Could step into her mind and walk a mile in it. (Immediately, her uncooperative brain conjured an image of Aditi walking around wearing miniature brains in place of shoes and she regretted ever having that thought.)
It was only when Aditi, quite dangerously, took her eyes off the road to gauge Kavya’s reaction to her words that she realised she’d lost herself in her thoughts once more.
“You know what happened the last time.”
“That’s no excuse to never try again, Kavya. The same thing isn’t going to happen every time. You know you need to get help.”
“Yes, I know I need help with everything. What can I even do on my own?”
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it. We worry about you.”
Kavya bit her lip. She worried for her own sanity. “Okay.”
“And you need to start writing again.”
“As you wish.”
“No, this isn’t about my wishes. This is about you and doing what makes you feel nice.”
“Kavya! You know you’re actually good at writing, right?”
“To be honest, her poems are pretty sucky.” She liked her brother much better when he kept his mouth shut.
“ ‘Sucky’? Really? Is that even a word?”
“Sounds much better than ‘lethargic’, which you insist on using in, like, every poem ever.”
“Please don’t start bickering again.”
“We’ll do as we please.”
But there was relief in her snark and comfort in this conversation. As long as she had these people by her side and continued to plough through life doing things she liked, Kavya knew she was going to be all right.
“You’re pretty happy for a dead girl.”
It was supposed to be a joke, Kavya guessed. But her mind zeroed in on the word dead, which she most definitely wasn’t. She was very much living and breathing and real, thank you very much; she just didn’t feel as alive or in control of herself as a normal person did. And what did he mean by ‘pretty happy’? She wasn’t allowed to be happy because of her condition?
“I’m on a date with a cute boy, why wouldn’t I be happy?” Kavya faked a flirty giggle.
Of course, she didn’t voice any of her thoughts. She hadn’t expected him to understand anyway. Hell, even the first couple of doctors she had tried had a hard time understanding her.
As if on cue: “So, does your therapist, like, put you in a trance or give motivational pep-talks or what?”
Thankfully, Kavya had her get-out-of-jail-free card poised to play. A single furtive text and a second later, Aditi was calling her up, pretending to be going into labour. She flashed her date a smile that she hoped looked apologetic and rushed out of the restaurant.
Phew! She knew she was the one who had made the rule of bringing this up on the first date every time– it made it easier to identify and eliminate the douchebags who didn’t take it well– but it was rather awful; she didn’t want to spend her date night explaining her mental disorder and clarifying people’s misconceptions about therapy.
Sitting on her desk later that night, she penned down her day. “I feel like I might actually stick with Dr Seth, she’s better than all the previous ones. She wants to try rTMS again with some tweaks; hopefully, the results would be better this time around. The date was…okay. I had to initiate my exit-plan slightly later than usual…”
She’d rather confide in her diary. It didn’t judge her; it accurately held the thoughts she poured into it and faithfully offered them back to her whenever her memory needed a little jog. It was even better than Aditi in some ways: it never questioned her decision to pursue medicine again (even though she wouldn’t become a surgeon), never assumed she was being picky when she couldn’t find the right Doctor and never gave her a sorry look for still struggling to recover completely, even after 6 years. It was also the place where she’d noted the idea for the draft of the novel she was currently working on.
It accepted her unconditionally and had helped her come to peace with herself.
<She could confidently say now that she was the mental girl who lived on a separate plane of the universe, seemingly inhabiting an earth that vibrated at a slightly different frequency than the regular one. To everyone else, she may only be ‘the mental girl’. One of those reclusive writer-types lost in their own world, writing pretentious stories about how they were different. They didn’t understand the rest of it. But her diary did. Her therapist did. Aditi did. Her brother Arnav, in his own way, did. And her parents always tried to.
She knew now that she wasn’t one hundred percent all right and may never be. But she also knew that that was all right.
It was okay not to be okay.I like this!