As free as the fishes
After a visit to her doctor, Rashmi Sundaram discovers the joy of loving herself unconditionally
I push open the white iron gate that leads to a small garden, and my eyes scan the emptiness of the place. I step back to check the nameplate: Dr Sunita Patel. I redial the last call on my cell phone to notify the doctor of my arrival. She disconnects the call with an SMS: “Please be seated. I shall see you shortly.”
I stroll around, noticing it’s unlike any other clinic I have visited in my life, and feel mesmerised by the simple yet heavenly feel of the place. The boundary wall is lined with tall trees, and the cool breeze has a calming effect on me. The leaves rustle rhythmically, and some small shrubs add to the rustic beauty of the place. They seem to be untouched, free to grow. I look up to see a squirrel run up and down one of the trees. Below the tree is a playful cat. The effect of this place is magical. Everything is so wild, yet perfect. Confined inside a bungalow garden, yet so natural. I feel my head clearing up.
Childhood memories surface
I peep into a natural miniature pond full of a variety of tiny colourful fishes. Instinctively, I place a finger on the glass: my trick for befriending fishes. After about a minute, when not even a single fish comes towards me and as I am about to move my finger away disappointedly, a bright silver dollar slowly heads towards me and starts poking at the glass from the inside. I just ‘caress’ it. It’s an amazing feeling, which I had not experienced in a long time. After a few seconds, some more fish come towards me.
I see a colonial bench in one corner. Behind it on the wall are open stone shelves, filled with books. Normally, I would first scan the book collection, then pick one and start reading. But today, I don’t feel like it. Instead, I sit on the bench and indulge in enjoying the simplicity and natural feel of this place.
Therapy session #1
I am startled by the sound of the door opening. A soft, welcoming voice greets me: “Hello, Rhea. Sorry to keep you waiting. Please come in.”
I notice that the arrangement inside is equally welcoming. Is this a clinic? I wonder. Dr Sunita settles on the couch opposite me. She is as calm as the aura of her house. Her vibe makes me feel comfortable and relaxed immediately. On my way to the clinic, I had run over the conversation many times in my head, doubting whether I would be able to explain it to the doctor, unsure if I should even be visiting a doctor for such a trivial thing.
“Yes, Rhea. Tell me, what brings you here?”
I freeze. My mind is blank. My palms feel sweaty. And then, without a thought, the words just pop out of my mouth. “I have this weird feeling most of the time.” I pause, lost for words.
“What feeling?” Dr Sunita tries to probe.
I start fidgeting with the strap of my handbag. “Oh, God. This seems tougher than I thought it would be.”
“Go on. Try to describe the feeling.”
“I feel . . . weird, sometimes . . . not always; actually . . . most of the time. It’s difficult to explain.”
“ Try not to judge or think too much. Just let your thoughts flow. We will figure out the feeling.”
“I can’t pinpoint it exactly. My husband is a great guy. We have an amazing kid. I am happy to be working. Sometimes I feel low. I know it’s normal for everyone. The problem is not ‘feeling low’—it’s not knowing the reason. I have . . . mood swings, and I fail to understand it.”
Dr Sunita nods, which is an indication for me to go on. Her eyes are on me constantly, trying to read the unspoken words. Her look seems to penetrate deep into my soul. She seems to focus on the underlying emotions.
“I want to know what this weird feeling is? I want to get rid of it.”
“Can you tell me your routine?”
I fail to understand. What’s my routine got to do with this? Still, I go on to tell her my routine.
“You are a mom, a homemaker, work with your husband, multitask a lot. Great. Tell me what do you do for yourself?”
“Sorry, I did not understand that question? Everything that I mentioned, I do for myself.”
“Is it? Think about it. From what you just told me, I didn’t come across a single thing you do for yourself. Let me put it this way. What are your hobbies? How often do you socialise? By socialising, I don’t mean going out with your family. I mean stepping out with your friends.”
“My hobbies—I love reading. I do have my close group of friends.”
“Great. So how much time do you invest in reading every day?”
“I can’t, every day. I just have too many responsibilities.”
“How often do you catch up with your friends?
“Once in a couple of months, sometimes longer than that too. Everyone has their own schedule and—”
“What stops you from reading or meeting up with your friends?”
“As I mentioned earlier, I have to be there for my son, do things at home, in the office. Similarly, my friends have their responsibilities.”
Dr Sunita cuts me off. “Think about what I asked you? Let me put it differently. Who or what stops you from doing things you like?”
I stare at her blankly. I don’t have an answer. No one is stopping me.
“If you step out once in a while and meet friends for lunch, will it really affect your work? Or on a weekend, let your husband take charge, and you pursue a hobby.”
“I have not tried this in the last 10 years.”
“You should. It’s important.”
Therapy session #2
After a week, I visit Dr Sunita again. While I wait for my turn, I spend some time near the fish tank, repeating the same finger trick I did last time. While I enjoy the fish coming close to my finger, my mind lines up all the things I am excited to share with Dr Sunita. After my first visit, I met my friends for dinner, bought some books that were on my wish list, and started reading again.
I am so engrossed in my thoughts that I don’t realise when Dr Sunita comes out and stands behind me. I turn back startled. “Hello, Doctor.”
“Hi, Rhea. You like fish aquariums?”
“Oh yes, I do. They have a very calming and meditative effect on me. I can watch them move around for hours.”
Dr Sunita smiles. “Come in.” Like last time, she takes her place on the couch, and I sit on the chair opposite hers. She waits for me to settle but doesn’t say a word.
I assume she expects me to talk, and with so much on my mind, I part my lips to talk. But, instead, I cover my face with both my hands and cry. After about a couple of minutes of venting out, I look up, wipe my tears, and say, “I don’t know what’s wrong. I had no idea I would cry. I am sorry.”
Dr Sunita gives me some time to compose myself as she hands me a box of tissues placed on a small table next to me.
It takes me a few minutes to steady myself. “I have had a wonderful week. In fact, there were so many good things I want to tell you about. I have started reading. I went out with my friends. After my last visit, I went home and told my husband about the session. He said I should plan to go out for dinner with my friends the same night. ‘Tonight?’ I asked. ‘But I haven’t planned anything. The cook is on leave. I need to make dinner. It’s a working day. Tomorrow is school. Moksh needs to be put to bed by 10. My friends can’t just come out like that.’ My husband replied, ‘Relax. We can order food. I am here for Moksh. Try calling your friends.’
“I went for dinner and had an amazing time. When I came back, Moksh was asleep. My husband was watching TV. He looked at me with a smile. ‘How was dinner?’ he asked. I just hugged him and began to cry. He had no idea why I was crying, neither did I.”
After narrating the whole incident, I just look at Dr Sunita for answers. Maybe she can tell me why I was crying when I should be happy.
“How do you feel? Why did you cry that day? And what made you cry now, Rhea?”
“I felt stupid. For all these years I was not letting myself take a break. I felt guilty if it ever even occurred to me. I think I have found a word to describe the weird feeling I had—‘trapped.’
With a smile, Dr Sunita continues: “Don’t be so harsh on yourself. Only you are stopping yourself. The house will be fine, your son will be fine, so will your husband and office. You need to feel good first. The only person who has the power to trap you is you. Imagine a caged bird: All her life the bird dreams of flying in the open sky. And on the last day of her life, she realises that the cage door was always open. The bird simply had to step out of that little door and fly.”
“You are right. That’s exactly how I felt. Trapped. And I am solely responsible for that feeling.”
We chat for a bit. When my session is over, I get up and walk towards the door. “Thank you, Doctor.”
Dr Sunita smiles and says, “Pick up a fish jar or a tank on your way home. It’s the little things in life that matter the most. Do a lot of similar little things that you enjoy. You will definitely feel better, and eventually, you will set yourself free.”
She hands me a small card. It has the image of a cherry blossom. A carefree girl is sitting on a swing made of a tyre, tied on the tree with a rope. Her hands are gripping the rope tightly, her body weight slightly pushed backwards, hair blown by the wind, a content smile on her face, feet stretched out for balance. I look up at Dr Sunita.
I turn it. “I choose to love myself unconditionally in each and every situation and see this as my most important responsibility towards myself.”
“Believe in it. Implement it.”
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