I write this on a beautiful May day, sitting out on my deck and listening to a bunch of birds having an animated conversation. So much more than the conversation we humans are having with each other these days. May is celebrated as a month to honor the Asian Pacific American Heritage and it is also the Mental Health Awareness month. Somewhere, in between, lies our American Kahani.
At this point I don’t even remember when all ‘this’ started. Work wise nothing changed for me. I have been WAH (work at home) for over two years now and actually love it. I love the solitude of working with just me and sometimes my music as my office mates. Intrinsically, I am an introvert but I do have my moments when I want to mingle and be an extrovert. That side of me usually comes out for a couple of hours on the weekend.
As time rolled on, three weeks of isolation became six and time kept rolling by. Not many of us are aware which week of quarantine, self-imposed time out or whatever you want to call it, we are in now. The posts on social media were first about concern, everyone keep well, keep your spirits up kind of messages, then came the wave of cooking “parties”, then the Zoom parties with friends from elementary school, colleges and cousins who you once upon a time were real close to but hadn’t chatted with in years.
As the world reeled with loss of lives, jobs and distance from loved ones, I noticed our conversations with each other getting edgier. Suddenly we had a lot of time to reflect. Reflect on who we were, our own personal space and what and who we want in there. Insecurities crept in. Comparison’s compelled our thinking. Some of us (including me) took to social media to proclaim our lofty inspirational messages. But tell me, really, how many of us believed in our own messages? Somewhere between week three and week 1000003333, some of us lost the plot.
We as Indian Americans, (and for that matter, the South Asian Americans) have been somehow held to a higher standard, be it at work or at home, by the “viewing” public. We are the model immigrant community. We don’t fold easily. We forge ahead, we have great resolve, we have education, we have grit and not to forget how we now are doing so well, with just the two dollars we had in our pockets when we first arrived on these golden shores, leaving our sandy, barren shores behind. As recently as two weeks ago, a colleague at work, sent me a message, “I want to be Indian.”
I mulled over this for a long while. Sure, we are all of this and more and yes, we are some of this and less. Yes, we are immigrants and we most certainly are not model.
We as Indians have gender defined roles, for most of us, preset in our DNA. We, as women, are the pillars that keep the inside of the home running, and our men go out to keep the outside world running, so that we can keep the inside of our homes fueled. I am not saying this is typical of all families but it is to a large extent. Most of us have abided or carried on with this for most of our lives. We have seen our mothers, aunts, mothers-in- law do it and we just keep following that pattern.
Then Covid-19 came in and so many of us, mostly women, started to question our roles and our responsibilities at home. From just having to worry about a hot dinner, every night, so many of us were now faced with thinking and dishing out a regular breakfast and lunch. No more, a bar on the go for breakfast. No more a sandwich for lunch. The kitchen sink is never empty. Now the voices raised were a little higher, the resentments a little deeper. Many of us women also work full time, and it now felt like work at home has doubled, no pun intended here. It has doubled, from just being WAH for regular work to WAH and a double WAH to include home.
Some of the men I know were making triple their “normal” trips to the grocery store. Again, in a very gender defined role, most men fell into their role of protector. They took on the risk of contact with Covid-19, making sure the wives; the partners were safe at home. Then suddenly even those trips started becoming a chore. Every trip began with “I was just at the store, now what do you need?” “I have to work; I can’t keep running to the stores.”
Do any of us have a solution to this? No we don’t. We all have things that we deal with on different levels, both men and women. No one here is right or wrong. The only thing here that we can do is take care of our own selves first. Take care of finding ways to keep ourselves from not running on empty.
1 Breathe, and give yourself permission to feel everything.
2 Stay present, stay mindful
3 Keep your inner child alive, always
4 Journal, write, do whatever gets you to put that emotion you are going through on paper. Black and white always gives you a better perspective, a deeper depth.
5 Go running, do whatever physical exercise motivates. When you move physically you are also moving mentally.
6 Pay attention to the foods you eat, eat mindfully. According to Ayurveda, foods that we put in our body help us deal with stress and balancing our three vital energies of Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
Most important, be you, be who you are. Don’t try and be someone, someone else wants you to be.
Shabnam Samuel is the author of best selling memoir, “A Fractured Life” and is an international motivational speaker. She is also the founder of the Panchgani Writers’ Retreat ( www.panchganiwritersretreat.com), based out of Panchgani in India. The retreat incorporates mindful living along with creativity and wellness following Ayurveda principles, with yoga, meditation and writing workshops. Shabnam is a student at the Kerala Ayurveda Academy in Kerala, India. When she is not writing, speaking or learning, you can find her cycling somewhere in the suburbs of Maryland where she has lived for over 30 years”.