A new normal
This is a collaborative piece.
Text: Sharmada Sivaram
Art: Shruti Kabo
There have been a thousand little rebellions within me, forming an invisible weight for the last year-and-a-half. Rebellions that have me second-guessing every decision, anxious about the consequences, lost and confused, sad and unhappy. I have felt as though I was bursting at the seams. They say that talking or writing about one’s mental health helps with coping. Ironically, the things you often must talk about most are the hardest to articulate.
I have been friendly, talkative, extraverted and not particularly afraid of conversations (unless you were my primary school bully). So, when I first began feeling anxious about interactions and conversations, I was shocked and dismissed my temporary new normal. I demanded of myself that I simply get over it. Except, it didn’t stop there. I was worried about leading a bitter existence of regrets. Anxiety reigned supreme.
When someone asked me how I was, some version of the following would start playing in my mind: I’m worried I’m destined to not live by myself; I’m thinking maybe I should quit my job and pursue wedding photography and travel-write, but what if I realise I have no skills whatsoever; I’m also thinking maybe event-management or administrative work is my calling; but I’ve also been thinking of PhD applications lately; oh no, are you going to ask to meet me once I respond to you, because that is going to need planning because of the prospect of interactions and conversations and I’m probably no good at this and you hate me. Anyway, how’re you?
As someone else put it for me, I was grieving for the person I thought I would be.
Add to all of this, I was un-acquainted with death and grief (of losing a person other than future me). My aunt battled cancer and passed away all too suddenly, all too young. It was as though an avalanche hit me and I was struggling to keep myself together, let alone be there for others in my family. Nothing brought me joy.
This is when Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (revival) was set to release and it felt like the perfect recharge that I needed. For a change, I didn’t have to force myself to look forward to something. It was going to be my warm, fuzzy, nostalgia-filled break. The official of all unofficial symbols—a WhatsApp group—had been created to count down and then discuss our beloved show’s return.
I needed a win.
As did Rory, one of the Gilmore Girls, apparently. They say that the key to happiness is low expectations – I seemed to be practicing the exact opposite. I grew older watching Rory grow despite our lives not being alike. Connecticut and Chandigarh were worlds apart. And yet something struck a chord – being a teenager and navigating the age of confusion. It also helped that she was much more sorted in the original series and had higher aspirations. She had qualities to look up to. Sure, she struggled when she dropped out of Yale University and was unsure of her future as a journalist. But she was also back in action in no time, acing finals, interviewing, making amends – smart, hardworking, and loyal. And that’s the Rory I grew to love, respect, and expect.
Imagine my disappointment when the show I pegged to be my refuge seemed to beam back some of what I was feeling exactly. Rory, and her life and career were literally and figuratively all over the place.
I needed her to get her act together just so I would feel better. Midway through watching the revival, I was worried I’d end up like her. Some privilege and some talent but utter chaos.
She and I have both been encouraged to pursue writing and watching her made me wonder if that’s what lay ahead for me, the non-Yale Daily News editor. She procrastinated breaking up with a boyfriend, the way that I procrastinated picking up a cheque for a freelance gig, eight months too late. The Gilmore Girls revival showed us how Emily and Lorelai were grappling with Richard’s loss (husband, father). It had been a couple of months since my aunt passed and I was still trying to figure out what I was feeling and how to cope with that grief. Clearly, none of us are immune if Emily Gilmore was lost enough to wear denim and Lorelai did something outdoorsy.
Towards the end of the revival though, it seemed like all three of the Gilmore Girls found their bearings a little bit, through fresh starts: Rory stepped in as editor of the 'Stars Hollow Gazette' and started writing her book; Lorelai finally married Luke; Emily headed to therapy, moved to Nantucket, single and independent. This in a sense, gave me hope that I would find my way out, slowly but surely.
However, shortly after, I reached a breaking point. I couldn’t go on without seeking change, seeking help. I had been trying to convince myself that things would organically fall into place, that it was "only in my head". That’s when a little bit from the Harry Potter books nudged me to the start I needed:
"Of course it is happening inside your head, (Harry), but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" – Dumbledore
I now took my mental health seriously. I embraced the new normal, which wasn’t as temporary as I thought it would be. I sought out therapy and began my healing and I’m not the same person I used to be.
But I’m beginning again, having had my last therapy session a few days ago, aware that it’s okay to have ups and downs and that I’ll be okay.
Sharmada Sivaram is a sociologist who enjoys a well thought-out Marxist meme. This filter coffee addict tries to travel, write and photograph as often as possible, and is forever on a lookout for "her DDLJ moment".
Shruti Kabo's creature comforts come in the form of everything plants and wildlife. When she is not illustrating and designing, she is in a garden, growing food and listening to podcasts obsessively.
See more of her work on her Instagram and Behance.