Posted in Article, Life

The Apparent Absurdity of Safe Spaces

It was not very long ago that I thrived on debating on social media, whether it was about the existence or non-existence of a deity, politics, video games, or even about which was better- Marvel or DC (It’s always Marvel). But there comes a time, when you must recognize that toxic interactions do not help your depression, and you need to limit your exposure to them. Eventually you stop getting the compulsion to prove you are right or to have the last word, you learn to swallow your ego, you stop worrying that if you left an onlooker might think you lost the discussion, you become more liberal with blocking people.

With that, inevitably, there would be a handful of very helpful people, even your friends, scoffing at you and calling you an escapist. They’d patiently explain that blocking or ignoring people isn’t a solution. You can’t just run away from difficulties all the time and take shelter among whom you feel comfortable. There are no ‘safe places’ in the real world.

Ah, yes. There are no safe places in the real world. It’s true… well, except… hasn’t the entire history of the human civilization has been about that?

Safe Space 02
Wait a minute… this isn’t cave art!

Just imagine for a moment. It’s the Paleolithic Age. Our ancestors are coming together and combining simple groups to form tribes and villages. They’re learning the use of more and more complex tools. Someone suggests that maybe they should try to build a structure- something called a ‘fence’ around their village, so that wild animals or enemy tribes can’t attack as much during the night. The prehistoric men and women look at each other. It seems like a great idea. Then a particularly grim looking individual stands up.

“Excuse me, but ‘fences’? What a ridiculous notion! There are no fences in the real world. We’re always ready for defending ourselves. That’s how we remain strong. Don’t infantilize our warriors by giving them security or time to rest and relax! As Darwin said, it’s the survival of the fittest.”

“Who the hell is Darwin?”

“My distant cousin, twice removed, it doesn’t matter. The point still stands. We need to remain fierce and alert all the time!”

I like to think that when the fence was finally built, he was thrown outside.

Safe Space 03
A prime example of pointless bravado that masks sadism and cruelty

Human beings have a very unhealthy obsession with bravado. While it does serve our purpose at times, it doesn’t do us much good to rely solely on bravery and boldness, and foregoing caution entirely. Seeking safety and comfort is part of human nature, and for good reason. This instinct has been responsible for our survival through the ages.

The most basic of human structures, our homes, are the simplest forms of safe spaces. We don’t leave the doors unlocked all night because there are no walls or doors in the real world. When our immune system is compromised, we are taken to a clean room. The doctors don’t tell us that there are no clean rooms in the real world and kick us out of the hospital. Throughout history we have striven to make the world safer for us. Instead of adapting to nature, as most organisms do, we have changed nature to suit our needs. We have even modified existing animals and plants to serve us.

What many of us fail to realize, is that safe spaces are sought by the marginalized, oppressed, and distraught- those who are not given a voice in the real world and are attacked for daring to speak, like the LGBT+ community, women, victims of sexual assault, victims of psychologically illnesses, and more. They are not a threat. They are victims. It is not about establishing their ideals on others, but it is about their very survival. The moment a similar safe space is demanded by the un-oppressed majority, that’s a gateway to fascism and dictatorship, and that is what you should be worried about.

Safe Space 04
No, a gay wedding is not a place for you to debate LGBT+ rights.

Safe spaces for minorities might seem absurd to you. If it does, good for you, because that means you’re not the one who needs them. You’re privileged enough that you don’t have to worry about your existence in the everyday world just because of who you are. Not all of us have that luxury. It doesn’t mean we are not open to criticism. It means we are not open to criticism 24/7, especially when the criticism is whether we should exist or not.

The world is huge, and in spite of our continued efforts over the millennia, it is not completely a safe place. And that is totally fine. It leaves a lot of room for us to engage in logical (or illogical, whichever you prefer) debates, duels, challenges, and Pokémon battles to establish our intellectual and egotistical superiority. But also try to understand why the less privileged of us might need places to feel safe and secure, to breathe freely. I promise you the result would be a much more tolerant and peaceful world.

Posted in Life

The (Unexpected) Trick to Happiness

It’s been quite a mixed bag of a week since I started writing here in my blog (okay, more than a week, but that’s not the point). Some people actually came to read it and encouraged me to go on! That made me feel so positive that I surprised my editor by submitting an article on time for once, started working on the draft of a short story which I had written back in high school (but lost the manuscript), went through a number of Photoshop tutorials and started practicing, and I even started (and finished) watching Westworld. After years, I once again felt a creative energy. I felt happy. But I’m still at the edge of the black hole, aren’t I?

As a few days passed, I didn’t even realize when that energy had started to seep through. I began to lose the enthusiasm as the gloom set in. Once again, everything started to seem futile, meaningless, and claustrophobic, as if someone had constantly been urging me to doubt myself, surrender, and give in to self-pity. But I guess there was a small part of me that endured, because I found myself once again asking some familiar questions: How can someone stop feeling like this? How can one feel that positiveness again? What is the secret to being happy?

Westworld was… interesting. Maybe I should write about it.

I have asked myself these questions for many years. I have asked others as well. From what I have gathered over the years, there is no universal answer, sorry. What inspires you to be happy and gives you strength and motivation, might not mean anything to me. That’s a pretty important disclaimer which is never in a self-help book. If you’re particularly unfortunate, like me, it may even take you years or decades to find out what makes you happy. I myself am still not sure.

I took my therapist’s advice, and decided to reflect on my more recent experiences (because apparently they are easier to analyze when they are fresh). What I discovered, was unexpected. Sure, books make me happy, as do video games, good movies, or TV shows, and I have relied solely on them for years, but they are more of a brief reprieve from the crushing hopelessness than anything else. They do not make me feel as warm as I did after starting my blog. It took me a while, but I eventually realized- it was people.

I’ve never been a social person. When you live in the country with the highest population density and there are people everywhere, you tend to get tired of them. And then there was the fact that as a teen I had nothing in common with people around me. So I isolated myself from everyone else. I built a proverbial shell and filled it with the geeky stuff I liked. It wasn’t comfortable, but it made it easier to survive. But the thing is, there is a lot more to life than merely surviving.

If this scene from Avatar frightens you, don’t come to India.

Even couple of years ago, I wasn’t that much active on social media. Sure, I logged in everyday, but it was more to observe than to interact, and most of my friends list was there just for the sake of being there. After I started working at Haogamers, though, things began to change. I met a lot of like-minded people from all over the world. I found myself posting and commenting more. The weirdest thing was that they didn’t seem to hate me. Some even seemed to enjoy my company. It was only then that I had started to think about starting my blog.

I’ve always felt that human beings, especially writers and other artists, tend to have an inexplicable penchant for sharing emotions and ideas. Maybe that’s why we create and tell stories. What we don’t always realize is that it often works both ways. Sure, we have climbed a long way up the ladder of evolution, but we still exchange emotions and ideas as if through osmosis.

Contrary to popular belief, ‘echo chambers’ are not exclusive to social media. They exist in real world too. Example- me. When I kept to my own and surrounded myself with my own kind of negativity, that was the only thing I felt. Over the last couple of years, though, I have made many great friends on social media, whom I love and care about, and I think their positiveness might have been affecting me more than I realized.

Shells are nice and comfy, but remember that you’re not a cute and cuddly snail.

In my experience, people are usually more honest and outspoken on social media. When I focus too much on the negative side of things, I have friends on Facebook who tell me to cut it out- sometimes gently, sometimes harshly when needed. When they seem genuinely happy over small things like animal pictures or funny comic strips, I can’t help but feel a little brighter. Every time someone texts me or pings me on messenger, for whatever reason, it makes me happy. It reminds me that I have a place, however small, in their life. When someone comments on my posts or tell me they like my writing, it doesn’t feel that my existence is a waste. Sure, ideally I wouldn’t need validation of someone else to be happy, but let’s take one step at a time, shall we?

All the successful, genius, and happy people you see in TV shows seem to have everything figured out by their early twenties. I used to think that it was too late for me. My friend Ren reminded me that “life is never as short as young people think it is”. So maybe I should get started on life after all.

The only reason I’m writing now is because I wanted to get these thoughts out, to let my friends on social media know how important they are to me, even if they don’t realize it. After my last blog post, one of them (you know who you are) messaged me to tell me that it inspired them to confront their own demons. Another friend reminded me that I helped them just by talking to them and not giving up on them. One of my students told me that I have inspired them to be a better person. I owe it to them to not give in.

I have a lot of stories to tell them, after all.

Posted in Life

Acknowledging the Black Hole

Coming out with depression is tricky. You never know how someone is going to react. Some might blow you off, because psychological illnesses are obviously an imaginary concept popularized by capitalist millennials; some might start to avoid you, because you surely belong in an asylum; and some might start pitying you, because you’re certainly no way fit to be a functional adult in society. The worst, though, are those who try to empathize without having any clue about what depression is.

“So what if you’re depressed? That’s a good thing. Every sane and responsible person should be depressed. Even I am depressed from time to time when I see all the poverty and injustice in the world. It only proves you’re a good person at heart. Don’t try to cure depression by seeing doctors or taking meds. Instead, nurture it and keep it alive.”

Yeah, someone actually told me that.

When you have been living with chronic depression for more than a decade, you eventually stop being enraged by these remarks. Correcting everyone or convincing them that depression is not really like that, can be tiring. So you learn to smile and nod while someone sagely lectures you on your own condition, while imagining what would be like if Darth Vader suddenly came in and started choking them with the Force (with the Imperial March playing in the background, of course).

Dammit Vader, I said Force choke, not flowers!

Living with depression is different for everyone, but it is never pleasant. To me, it feels like existing at the edge of a black hole. You always see the pitch dark nothingness of the singularity at the center, always feel the crushing gravity that threatens to suck in all the light, and it takes every last bit of your energy to maintain your orbit all the time, because if you’re careless for one moment, you’d fall into the pit of despair and pain beyond the event horizon, and collapse into the nothingness forever.

Sounds exhausting, right? It is.

I’ve been living with chronic depression for a long time- since high school, when I didn’t even have any idea of what depression was. I was officially diagnosed when I was in university, and by that time, it had started to affect my life quite adversely. The initial treatment didn’t go very well, so I gave up trying. Things got worse. One day I woke up and realized that I had given up on my dreams, hopes, aspirations, and life in general. I couldn’t see any reason to keep surviving, and the effort it took to not kill myself, drained me every waking moment. I had arrived at the edge of the black hole.

A lot of days like this, yeah.

2016 was a pretty bad year for me personally. My illness reached a new low. I almost gave in to it a few times. As a last effort, I decided to visit another therapist. What did I have to lose? Then things started to change.

I’d love to tell you that I was inspired and found a new zest for life and became a whole new man overnight, but as you might have guessed, psychotherapy doesn’t work like that. The change is slow, difficult, and often painful. The first four months were the hardest. The burden of guilt increased as I was paying quite a lot of money on my sessions and wasn’t getting any results in return (I guess a part of me was pissed that I wasn’t spending the money on games and books), and also because I felt that I was letting down some very patient and understanding colleagues and friends who, for some unfathomable reason, refused to give up on me. So I started to try harder. And now here I am.

So… hi.

Am I completely free of the disease now? Heh, not even close. I’m still seeing my therapist, I’m still taking meds, and I still have bad days. But, I am finally beginning to understand my place at the edge of the black hole, and I’m finally trying to break free. And this blog is a part of that effort.

I promised myself that I’d try harder in 2017 and that’s what I plan to do. For me, the best way to do that, to counter the gravitational pull of the black hole, is to create. So I will write, I will draw, I will take more photos (including selfies), I will learn how to create beautiful artwork in Photoshop, I will make funny memes and share them, and I will write some more. And I will come out of my shell and talk to people through my blog. If I chronicle my efforts and my journey, maybe it will help someone; maybe it will help me.

I’m eager to find out.