It took me nearly a quarter of a century and one epic stomach ache to realise that my life was falling apart. For me, the Rotavirus Attack of 2014 symbolised the opening of doors I had locked a long time ago to keep unwanted emotions away. For a whole week, I shat constantly, every few minutes.
And while shit could just be shit, my shit, I know now, was a pain-in-the-ass metaphor for my mental ill-health.
It was a cold January morning. The small, ugly living room clock that Avi’s parents had hung on the wall was smugly sitting at three. I had just come back from my zillionth visit to the toilet. I had not stopped pooping all day. I was crying. “I want my Aai,” I said loudly to no one in particular. Should I wake her up? Should I make that call? Aren’t late night calls scary? What if they think I am dead? What if they don’t take my call and I actually die of pooping. Do people die of pooping? Sure, poor people do, don’t they? Avi interjected my chain of thought and said, “Just call them, tell them it’s worse, they’ll know what to do.”
I dialled the number. Baba answered the call, but before I could get a word out, he gave the phone to a panicked Aai. “I cannot poop anymore, Aai,” I cried. “It’s hurting. It burns a lot, and it hurts, even though all I am passing is water.” Aai, on the other end of the phone had begun to melt into tears.
“Tila kae zala asel? (What must have happened to her?)” she turned to Baba for comfort. “She needs to go to the hospital,” Baba said firmly to her, but more to himself. “She should have done that in the afternoon. It’s always the eleventh hour with her.” And then he asked me to put Avi on the phone. “Call an ambulance and take her insurance papers with you. We’ll be there as soon as we can,” he told him.
And that is how I found myself in the ambulance in the middle of the night. Avi started giggling, saying how he had never ridden in an ambulance. “Thanks to you, I can cross off another experience from my list,” he said. I started laughing. The paramedic looked a little puzzled and a little irritated.
He needed me to play my part of the patient well. I often remember the laughter we shared in the ambulance. That was the last time I laughed without the burden of fear and anxiety. I would have laughed a little longer, a little harder, had I known that my unremarkable, life-altering moment had finally caught up with me.
When I returned after spending a week in the hospital bed, an irrational fear accompanied me. Now that I was home and not in a place where I was being given round the clock care, I was afraid I might fall sick again. And what would I do then? I tried to reason with myself. Even if I fell ill again, unless it was something incurable, I would get better. Another stomach bug would not be my end. It wasn’t the first time I had got a stomach infection and certainly wouldn’t be the last time.
I tried, but I couldn’t get myself to stop obsessing about it. “Constant diarrhoea, what does it mean?” I would type on Google search. No, I didn’t get diarrhoea constantly, but I wanted to be prepared. “Afraid of diarrhoea.” Another subject I searched. This one was to find a community of people who shared my fears.
I discovered there were several support groups for diarrhoea sufferers. Look it up if you don’t trust me. “Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome,” I typed. Because Avi said his mother had it. “Can irritable bowel syndrome be cured?” Because he said his mom had been struggling with it for years.
One day, in my favourite tattered green Tantra t-shirt that flashed “Lassi Jaisi Koi Nahi” across my breasts, I lay on the bed, curled up in a foetal position, holding my stomach and staring at the wall. My oily scalp, on several occasions, had left stains on it. An unsuspecting mosquito had been swatted to its death there, and I hadn’t even wiped clean its blood. Or was it my blood? A notice board hung on that wall that had a never-changing to-do list.
My heart was racing, my hands tingling and yet numb, my skin burning, my tongue so heavy that forming words was impossible. I was living the nightmare that leads to sleep paralysis. I cannot move. Will this ever be over? I kept thinking. “What is happening to me?” I asked Avi. He had no answer. “It will be okay, you will be okay,” he said unconvincingly. How does he know I will be okay? I said to myself. He doesn’t know anything.
By this stage, my fear had reached ridiculous heights. I had started relying on unnecessary medication. The slightest amount of gas in my stomach had me reaching for my medicine box. Pan D plus Aciloc, when taken together worked best for gas troubles. Only Pan D or only Aciloc wouldn’t do the trick. O2 tablet was my best friend. That beautiful orange antibiotic tablet that could cure a variety of diseases from chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, anthrax to even the plague, was my chosen drug.
Any sign of pain or discomfort and I’d promptly pop one. But most of the time there was nothing wrong with my stomach; my head, meanwhile, was a different story. O2 would stop my perfectly normal pooping cycle and make me constipated. My stomach therefore would still not be okay.
But I’d refuse to give up the medication.
Excerpted with permission from it’s all in your head, m, Manjiri Indurkar, Tranquebar.
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