The Zennish Panda

The Place of True Healing


“Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.”

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Mrs G’s office is in the corner of the psychiatric clinic. The corner is a metaphor. Maybe. Her patients don’t want to be seen entering her office. They would be called unstable, weak, hypersensitive… more colloquially mental. They would be cornered for feeling things. The little office is strategically tucked in the corner.

The corner: an invisibility cloak for her patients. Her clients. Mrs G is my therapist. In fancy terms, she is a psychotherapist. My shrink.

I look haggard. The antidepressants have begun to work on me. Google tells me that the neurotransmitters are fired up. How do I know what the neurotransmitters do? I want to leave my hand inside my head, remove the brain, and store it in a mason jar for a while. I want to uproot my heart and hand it to my dog. She is my confidante. My heart will be safe with her. What will I do with my body? I carry that into Mrs G’s office with the confidence of a somnambulist.

Even in that dazed, corpse-like state, I search for a wan smile in Mrs G’s impassive face. She looks up from her iPhone; a part of her is still tethered to the phone. “So!” she sighs. The air-conditioner hums. I want to sink in that plastic chair and sleep for a couple of years. I wish that the chair could travel back in time, grant me the power to hold my hands before I wielded an ax and butchered my life.

“How are things, Deepika?” Mrs G knows thousands of intimate details about my life that I don’t ever want to run into her at a public restroom or at cinemas. In my head, Mrs G is confined in that claustrophobic office that’s big enough to accommodate two adults who sit against each other with a tiny, useless table between them, and small enough to not allow another person inside. It’s so small that if I stretch my hands, I can touch the wall behind Mrs G and the doors behind me. It’s the smallest room I have ever seen. I would never know why Mrs G has installed a table. Despite appearing like a rational therapist, she is a victim of futile norms.

She is unlike other therapists I have seen in movies. Mrs G runs her hands on her stiff, artfully draped cotton saree when she says I have to be proud of myself. She pushes her gold-framed glasses further up on her nose when she says I have a whole life ahead of me. She turns her wrist-watch when she declares that I don’t need a partner and that I am adequate by myself. The gesture of touching her watch is the sign. Time is up. I must leave. Now I know why she has placed a table. Her words land on the table and just sit there. Like spirits which are not malevolent. They don’t cross her side of the table to reach me.

My intention is to play ping-pong with her, but she seems to like Squash; I am not her opponent.

I rummage in my rucksack, fish out a 500-hundred rupee note, and take it across the table. She collects it reluctantly. Perhaps, she knows I wouldn’t return. Perhaps, she knows that she doesn’t deserve that money.

Mrs G is like my aunts, only with multiple degrees in Psychology. She is also a reluctant feminist. She mouths motivation without conviction. She listens, not to listen, but to know the embarrassing stories of my life, and to offer threadbare solutions. She is as curious as my aunts, only to choose the salvageable pieces like a rag-picker. Maybe, before going to bed, Mrs G might laugh with her husband, “Gosh! This last client ate my brains today. She loves listening to herself. Pah! So much for that 500!” Maybe, she relates my stories to her other patients. I mean, clients. Maybe, she would run into me in a temple and she wouldn’t recognise me at all.

She is also like my friends; friends, who are tired of my deplorable self. So I often sense an air of resignation around her. I hear unsaid words, “Could you stop taking yourself seriously? Walk out of those biting shoes, self-importance!”

Mrs G is not your proverbial freudian therapist nor your Shah Rukh Khan in Dear Zindagi. No faux leather couch. No Persian carpet. No bicycle rides. I can’t hold her hands and stroll on the Goan beaches. I can’t even lean back in her office. She forces me to sit straight quite like her approach toward my problems. She doesn’t ask me to build a bridge with my parents. She doesn’t observe that everything went wrong because of my twisted childhood. She listens to the ticking of her watch, responds to messages on her phone while I deal with the tears snaking down my cheeks, and she smiles like it’s the hardest thing to do.

kintsukuroi (Image from here)

The real therapy happens elsewhere: In the shower, in my books, in my writing, in my father’s face that catches the morning sun as he lies supine in the divan, in my mother’s sakkara pongal, in my sister’s laughter, in my boyfriend’s hug, in my nephew’s letters, in my dog’s paws, in my dark, excruciating, lonely nights, in the bushy-tailed squirrel who dines by my window, in the mangy mutt who receives me when I return home, in the glorious sunsets, in the stories I overhear, in the silly memes my friends share, in films, in random act of kindness, in lifting others, in the scars on my calves, in the moments I forgive myself, in the moments which are lost forever, in the moments which retrieve my brain from the mason jar, my heart from my dog, and piece them together. Gently. Lovingly.

“The place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light.”

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed