S01Extra1: Coping in the city

A conversation with Sonia Thomas and Sandhya Menon

Deepika: Our first episode ‘Lost connections’ looked at how loneliness seeps into our lives in cities and featured two wonderful women as guests – Sonia Thomas and Sadhya Menon. The conversation with both of them extended beyond the boundaries of the podcast so we’re presenting this extra which captures how the two of them moved from analysing the issue of loneliness in cities to the space of sharing how individuals and cities cope with such situations. 

To begin with, Sonia takes us through her journey of coping and living with depression, anxiety and PCOD in the city.   

Sonia: Well-being as a concept didn’t actually strike me till I started working as an adult. So probably 21. Till then I didn’t think of well-being as something I need to worry about. You know, I mean, I spent all of my school life or college life either being taken care of or being in hostel and not really caring about my health. So that’s not.. that’s not a concept that I actually had till 21 when I started working and I realized the effect the direct effect that mental stress has on my physical health. I got detected with PCOD when I was 22 and my gynecologist was thankfully a very nice person and was able to explain to me how anxiety and PCOD are directly related. 

She explained to me how stress eating then becomes a vicious cycle when it comes to PCOD and that’s the day I think the gravity of mental and physical health being directly related actually hit me. Because till then I had a… I hadn’t taken the connection seriously. It’s something I was like, yeah, you know, I get a pimple when I’m pissed off or I catch a cold when I’m upset or something, you know I thought of those things as something that happens, but not.. not something like… something more chronic like my anxiety and PCOD being directly related. So that was.. that was actually quite eye-opening for me and it’s something I tell everyone now. Do not ignore your mental health or your physical health, both are equally important.

So I’ve just somewhat eased into my medication and things are finally looking up. So I have.. have told myself have to start the whole exercise thing and start working out and that sort of thing, but one thing I do almost every morning is I just have honey and lemon in water because I don’t drink chai or coffee. So it’s just hot water with lemon and honey. And as I wait for it to cool down, I just sit down and I listen to music or I go through my phone, reply to messages whatever. But it’s 15 minutes of just sitting down and forcing myself to slow down instead of forcing myself to hurry up and get to work and do things in a hurry. 

That sort of stuff has made me.. made me a morning person. I started enjoying mornings, which wasn’t something I enjoyed before. And at night what I do is I just have like a night-time skincare routine. It’s really… it’s really I know it’s very peak, you know performative self-care but we really under-estimate how well that works because just the act of me washing my face, starting to put on moisturizer, starting to apply lotion immediately tells my body, ‘Okay, you know what it’s time to sleep’. So what I do is even when I’m applying lotion at night, I just sit and I massage my hands or I massage my feet at the end of the day, just to calm my nerves a little and… and that’s it. That’s all I just play some music and I relax that’s it. I don’t.. I don’t force myself to do anything at night. 

Also I think one thing that never leaves my side during these.. during these times of the day is music. I play music in the morning. I play music at night. I am always listening to music at work. I think nothing works like a good playlist. I have a lot of playlists for a reason, but just.. just listening to music fixes everything. 

A lot of people associate taking care of themselves with putting in the work, going to therapy and you know, having breakdowns and you know, just losing control. And I think while that’s true, I think that’s also viewed very negatively. A lot of taking care of yourself requires vulnerability. It requires being true to yourself which means don’t lie to yourself if you’re feeling like crap. Don’t tell yourself: you know what I’m fine if I’m being mistreated or I’m fine, if you know, this hurts me right now, I’ll be okay later. Of course, you’ll be okay later, but to acknowledge that in that moment that you’re not okay is such a big deal because then you know how to get better. I think people confuse breakdowns with falling apart. It’s completely okay to. 

I think the idea of never lying to yourself about your feelings and never.. never forcing yourself to hold back will definitely help you get better faster than you think. I think a lot, and while therapy and medication are definitely the place to be at I think for a lot of years my coping mechanism was just to tell myself: you know what right now, I’m not okay and to be true to myself and to write those things down to be able to express those things to myself before I could express them to a therapist and that’s a starting point and if… if you get there you’re halfway there, honestly. 

Deepika: Sandhya, took us through her own journey of coping using art forms like painting and crocheting. She also shared how she thought the city, Bangalore in her case, has found new and creative ways of responding to loneliness.  

Sandhya: When you’re cornered …when you’re squeezed you’ve got to find a way to sort of either melt or you know shrink and then slink out and then grow again. When you’re in a tight corner we find ways and that clearly is the human condition. 

Bangalore is hungry .. if an events place can capitalize on that and they can make a lot of money.. hungry for things to do on the weekend because that’s really the time and either traffic’s not so bad except Saturday evenings. And daytime activities! So then I know people who found themselves telling themselves all their life saying “I have no artistic talent”, joining an art class, joining a crochet class, joining a music class. And the number of… did, you know, there was a pole dancing class in Bangalore. Yeah, and these are all.. the women in the pole dancing class are women between 35 and 45.. which is great, right? 

And I’m thinking this is the way… these are these are women with most of them housewives ..homemakers because… They’ve got children of school age and obviously they’ve made the choice to stay back home. And again husbands are busy in that whole traffic work situation. So then what do you do when your kids are not at home: pole dancing classes, belly dancing lessons, which is great. But so there’s an outlet for these women also. And another really lovely way of building resilience that I have seen in Bangalore is giving anything new a shot.

I must also talk about the fact that people like my house-help for instance. She’s going to think about resilience. You don’t have that conversation about resilience she finds her own way. It’s a way of life for her, you know. Factory workers, bus conductors. They don’t have this conversation because you don’t have this language or these… survival for them is top and centre in so many ways that they don’t have these things. 

But I spoke to.. I speak to cabbies right … I said What do you do..I mean you drive  for 12 hours straight you eat in the car, you sleep in the car, whats going on. More than 2 cabbies have told me, before I go home, I pull up somewhere. For about 40 minutes either have a nap or listen to music and then I go home and I’m like why?, because you’re going home, aren’t you in a hurry to get home? And they were like.. in different ways, of course… but the essence of it was … I’m handling the stress of the city the entire day, my wife and kids are at home. When I go home, I want to be in a relaxed space. And I’m thinking that level of maturity and just care for who’s at home is great. So I find all of these places that people find to relax in.

I for me really crochet has been and water coloring has… watercolors sort of boost my mood because everything is light and beautiful and crochet is repetitive so I can stay focused on it and that just very nicely brings me in a space. I mean it took me through suicidal thoughts and tendencies for a very long time. It earned me a living in I think it was not a lot but it earned me my.. you know when I was staying rent-free at my parents house, it earned me my money for groceries, it earned me my money for paying the utility bills, it earned me that much money for about a year and I will forever be grateful. Like I wouldn’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have that for me at all.

I think the biggest lesson for me and I think… that would be something that is for most people beneficial… is to realize you aren’t a burden.. you aren’t a burden on your family you aren’t a burden in terms of the way you see it. I mean you could be a completely lazy person who doesn’t go to work and lives off his family then you might be a burden but your emotional state is not a burden on the family. Or your friends… it really is not. I mean, I say family and friends… I mean people who you genuinely care for and people who genuinely care for you. Once you start to tell you: if this person does not want to listen to me or what does not want to be my friend, they will somehow let me know. Then it opens up a space for you for actual vulnerable conversations that allow for companionship, that allow for being left alone when you want to be…. People surprise you, you know. 

I think eventually I’m trying to say is it’s not transactional but it’s a lot of beautiful give and take, which is meaningful and without that we are really lost and we are angry bitter people without the people that we love and nobody should do that to themselves. Honestly. Nobody should do that to themselves. 

Outro: If you are lonely and want to access support or help do look-up the resources we have put up in our website. There you can also learn more about how the issue of loneliness in cities is understood and being tackled. Our website is  http://www.thecuriocitycollective.org 

In our next TCC episode, we’ll be talking to Aparna and Tanuja from Initiating Concern for All or iCALL. It’s a pioneering mental health project started in 2012 by the School of Human Ecology, Tata Institute of Social Sciences – Mumbai. Listen in to hear how we can understand the nature and kinds of distress experienced by individuals in cities and what can be done about it.