The first time that the thought of writing this piece down came to me, I was hopeful. Life seemed to have entered a never-ending phase of spring and my optimism was blooming like a pretty spring flower. When I actually started writing it, the same hope went on an unsolicited hibernation. Life seemed to have arrived at the dawn of another autumn that was full of despair and my optimism seemed ready to leave the front seat.
I don’t know how to begin a write up of this kind. Is it even worth writing? Will it make any difference? I still don’t know. But just like a hundred decisions that I have taken without taking into account the consequences of them, I have decided to write this down too.
At this delayed outset, I want you to know that this won’t be a happy preachy jingle that begins with a negative undertone and ends in a happily-ever-after. Before I digress any further, I want to lay out what this write up deals with. In this piece, I shall address an uninvited guest that first took refuge in my head and eventually ended up in taking me as a hostage. For the longest time, I didn’t know what to call it as. After extensive discussion, I have made peace with calling it as ‘the Knotty Mass’.
I grew up as a confident kid. I was happy to be in my own skin. I wanted to sing even when I had a croaky voice, I wanted to dance even when I didn’t know how to, I thought I could draw, I considered myself good at studies, I wanted to do everything.
As life kept adding years to my age, this confidence started waning. More than this confidence that had taken a hit, I also lost the general sense of satisfaction that I had with myself. As I entered the mid-teenage years, spending time alone turned into a nightmare. The desire to look at the screen became a compulsion as hours without a gadget would mean spending more time with myself. As friends and family gloated over my grades and my skills, I felt like I was fooling everybody by presenting a version of myself to them that did not even exist.
This was how The Knotty Mass made itself comfortable in my head. I would sit every night and scribble on a paper. By the time dawn broke, I would tear those pages apart for I felt that I was fooling myself by feeling this way. What more in life did I possibly want to be able to be happy? I thought that this feeling of chaos, this despair, and this hopelessness was a thing of my teens and that it would go away when I grow up.
As I entered college, I thought that a whole new world was ahead of me and that nothing could stop me from gaining my long lost sense of happiness. But during the years of my graduation, the knotty mass converted its tenancy into a permanent residence.
Even when I tried doing things I thought I was good at, I couldn’t find peace in them. The knotty mass became knottier. The more I tried to make sense of it, I was more engulfed by it. The knotty mass made me believe that I was not enough. It made me belittle every new achievement of mine. The knotty mass convinced me that I was not doing enough. The knotty mass made me stick to my bed for weeks. The knotty mass told me that I was undeserving.
The knotty mass made me hate the outside world. It convinced me that I despised greenery. The knotty mass made me question every conversation I had with a friend. It made me feel that I was unreasonable and obnoxious. It made me hate the idea of hanging out with friends. Every time that a loved one showered love or praise, the knotty mass convinced me that they loved me out of sympathy. The knotty mass turned me into a recluse. I had no apparent reason to be sad, but the knotty mass didn’t let me feel happy.
Every time that I did something which had the potential of making me happy, the rush of happiness lasted for a while and then it would go away like it never was there, making me crave for the happy feeling more. I wanted to tame the knotty mass and it wanted to tame me. I would want to get better by clearing the clutter in my head. I would want to lead a regulated life, to be productive and to feel better.
The knotty mass would stop me as much as it could. I fought against it at times, at others, I just succumbed. Productivity helped me fight the knotty mass but the knotty mass didn’t let me be productive. It felt like a massy web of knotted threads was cramped inside my head. I tried to untangle them but for every knot that I untied, a dozen new appeared. The knotty mass made me be uncomfortable with my own being.
I could see that the knotty mass was slowly pushing me away from everything and everybody that I valued. What justification did I have for a dead face and trembling body in sleep?
My life was smooth and I had no ailment. How could I be so lifeless all the time?
For the longest time, I shied away from seeking help. There were times when I felt like I had sent the knotty mass away forever. But each time, it managed to come back without fail.
When the lockdown was first imposed, I decided to use that time to settle this knotty mass for once and for all.
I started working out, I tried to sleep on time, to eat healthily and to eat on time and I did things that I liked. In the first month, it felt like I had finally sorted my life until the end of that month when I realized that I had not. The gloomy, damp feeling was coming back to me. Again, I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. I took to binge-watching and binge-sleeping. I felt disappointed and disheartened because this was one time that it felt like life would be out of the shadows of this knotty mass forever.
As I wanted to get out of this vicious cycle, I only got more entrapped. This time I had no means of compulsive distraction as college was off and I could only wait for the lockdown to be lifted. Alongside long bouts of low moods, I took to physically harming myself and felt suicidal very often.
The last nail I knocked into my own coffin was when I hit a loved one. When this happened, I seriously considered seeking help for the first time. It couldn’t be normal that my middle-class self had also mustered the guts to break things in anger. I understood that I was losing myself, the people I loved and my life in general.
When I first decided to seek help, it sucked. I felt terrible at the thought of needing help. Why did I need it exactly? To stay sane? Nobody struggled with it (Or did they?). My friends had real issues, people were dying and I was just a compulsive miser who generally despised life? But it was what it was. I needed help to know why I felt the way I did. I needed help to know why I felt so miserable.
I needed help to get over my insecurity. I needed help to get some clarity in life. I needed help to ensure that the handful of people who had stuck throughout these years would not be forced to leave. I needed help to be able to sit by myself and to feel comfortable. I needed help to be able to breathe with a sense of life.
All I knew about therapy was that it is expensive. I frantically started searching for therapists but as I had expected, the amount per session was too huge for my tiny college-going pockets. There was no chance I could ask my parents for help. But I did need help.
Fortunately, I got reminded that a friend had once shared a list of low-cost/free therapists with me. I scavenged through the list and called and emailed a number of people on it. I finally got an appointment with a no-cost therapist and thus began my therapy.
It has been some weeks since I started it. The idea of opening up to a stranger felt strange and scary. But the thought of letting the knotty mass strengthen its roots felt scarier. Before the first session, I remember feeling conscious and confused. After every session, I felt overwhelmed.
It was difficult to make sense of things. But as time passed, I felt more in charge of myself. Therapy didn’t get me any magic trick that would untangle the knotty mass. But I did get a sense of agency. I know that the knotty mass isn’t gone. But I also know that I had been blaming myself for things that were not in my control. I now know that it is not that I like being miserable, but that the knotty mass makes me feel miserable. I have found out that the knotty mass will exist, that the shoot of despair will stay but that the shoot of hope will also exist side by side.
I now know that I might not know ways out of being miserable, but that it is not the only way to be. I know that there might be days when I don’t like myself but I cannot escape myself. I have started having days where I can sit alone without feeling the need to dig all old graves. I have started realizing that sitting idle can be relaxing and that going on guilt-trips after every relaxing day is unhealthy. I feel lighter, happier and most importantly, I now want to let joy be the only measure of my success.
I still have bad days. There still are days when I feel like I am not lovable or worthy or capable. But I also know that these days will give way to days when I feel like I am lovable, and worthy and capable. I am still learning to love myself and to forgive myself for things that I did when I lost control. I am trying to make peace with the existence of the knotty mass. As I am writing this, I fear that I might enter that cycle of chasing the knotty mass away again. But even when the knotty mass keeps telling me that I cannot escape this, I still want to get better…