A Pandemic Year for Women: How self-care made working through grief during a lockdown a little less challenging

This essay is from our International Women’s Day 2021 series, about women who rose to the challenges of being mothers, artists, professionals, students, and above all — individuals trying to make their way through an unprecedented time — over this pandemic year.

Kiran Raj March 16, 2021 09:30:47 IST
A Pandemic Year for Women: How self-care made working through grief during a lockdown a little less challenging

Illustration © Adrija Ghosh for Firstpost

EDITOR’S NOTE: A UN report from September 2020 on the economic toll of COVID-19 on women, notes that “the impacts of crises are never gender-neutral”. The report delves into the many ways women have been disproportionately affected, financially, by the ongoing pandemic: For instance, industries that predominantly employ women have been worst-affected; women’s paid labour and women-run businesses are hardest hit, and the gender poverty gap is projected to widen.

The impacts of the crisis, however, go far beyond the economic. News stories and surveys have looked at how women are bearing the brunt of childcare and household chores while they work full-time remotely. Isolation and confinement have meant that cases of violence against women are on the rise.

While the coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdowns have been especially hard on women, there are also many stories of resilience, courage and hope that have emerged in these times.

On International Women's Day 2021, we launched a series called A Pandemic Year for Women. These essays have been written by women with varying experiences of the past year, who rose to the challenges of being mothers, artists, healthcare workers, community outreach professionals and entrepreneurs, students, and above all — individuals trying to make their way through an unprecedented time.

These first-hand accounts do not look away from the costs of the crisis, but they look beyond too: to the future, to what is possible, to what still remains to be (and must be) done.

Read the essays here on Firstpost, in ‘A Pandemic Year for Women’.

***

A lot of people associate 2020 with the pandemic, but I also lost my younger brother in December 2020. Not only was his death traumatic, it was exceptionally shocking as — despite an autopsy — till date, we do not know how he died. It’s been over two months since we lost him and there are no answers about why he did not wake up one morning. The autopsy ruled out all the usual suspects from foul play, to suicide, a heart attack, a stroke. The only reason I was able to cope was thanks to the help I sought on the eve of the lockdown.

I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel at the end of 2019 which was taking months to heal and had rendered me immobile to the extent that I could barely strain my right wrist without crying out in pain; I tried everything from taking the required supplements, wearing a wrist splint and resting it much more than needed — only to have the pain mirrored in my left wrist. Thankfully, an acquaintance who had also previously suffered from carpal tunnel, told me how homeopathy had helped resolve it.

To my surprise, my homeopath insisted that in order to treat the carpal tunnel she would also have to prescribe medicines for my anxiety, which she felt was aggravating the wrist pain. She explained that the reason my left wrist also hurt was partly psychosomatic; the same applied for my sensitive gut (I suffered from irritable bowel syndrome). She warned me that if I didn’t seek medical help for my anxiety, I would find myself in a vicious cycle of constantly facing some ailment or the other. So I relented, after 10 years of resisting medical help.

***

It all started during my stint as an intern for a lifestyle women’s portal at 20. It was my first taste of journalism, and barely any of my articles were getting published. I could not fathom why, so began doubting my abilities. That, coupled with a barely responsive editor, made me question myself and feel that something was gravely amiss. I soon found myself expressing my fears to one of the city’s most renowned psychiatrists who also happened to be my source for an upcoming story and asked her if it was “normal for journalists to seek help”. She reassured me and stated that many of her clients were media professionals. So began my tryst with seeking professional help.

The first few sessions went very smoothly; I finally felt understood and accepted my anxieties. Then she suggested I start taking medication. I discovered that if I took my dose even an hour late, my hands would tremble and I get panic attacks. I soon began questioning if medication really was the answer to my anxieties and found myself increasingly opposed to the idea of taking medicines.

Coincidentally, by then I was working on a film, and one of the people we featured in our documentary was a clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist who I felt compelled to reach out to. She understood my apprehensions and reactions to medication and suggested that the solution lay in understanding the root cause of my anxieties with the aid of hypnotherapy, which helps access one’s subconscious mind. Hypnotherapy believes that most trauma or stressors are deep-rooted, unconscious and can be traced back to past repressed memories, fears, thoughts, beliefs that may or may not have any basis in reality and it is these very perceptions that often trigger certain responses.

Alas, seven years later my psychologist herself recommended medication when I found myself grappling with mounting work pressure and other personal upheavals. I adamantly refused despite her suggesting that I could even consider alternative medicine to treat my anxiety. But her words fell on deaf ears as all I could think about was how I had reacted to medication many aeons ago; the last thing I wanted was to relive those panic-stricken nights.

***

Little did I know that I would cave in eventually, but I was left with no option at that point because had the pain persisted, I may have had to go under the knife — which I definitely wanted to avoid at all costs. Not only had the pain from the carpal tunnel subsided in a matter of weeks, my gut no longer reacted to random foods and the stomach cramps were history. I was also able to handle the pandemic stress a whole lot better. For someone who relished her freedom, I was able to respond positively to the lockdown and appreciate the time it gave me to spend with my family, focus on my health and self, and use it to heal instead of feeling stifled as I ordinarily would! I was also finally able to come to terms with the fact that I had different ambitions and for once, being unemployed did not take me down the rabbit hole of questioning my confidence and skills.

Most importantly, thanks to these medicines and the therapy I sought, I was able to deal with my younger brother’s sudden demise. While others around me are hoping to find out how he passed away, I have made my peace with the fact that I may never know and that’s one of the things therapy teaches you — to deal with uncertainty — that some of life’s most plaguing questions can remain unanswered and you have to accept it and find a way to be okay…

While I don’t have answers, I have memories of quality time, inside jokes, sharing secrets, life-plans and dreams with my younger brother who became the man he was meant to be during this lockdown. The lockdown brought out the best in him as it taught him to trust himself, his instincts and his intelligence — it was one of the most professionally fulfilling years for him and he had a lot to be proud of. He finally came into his own and became someone emotionally intelligent, confident, nurturing and fiercely protective of his loved ones.

So while I cannot speak for how the lockdown was for others, it brought me closer than ever before to my brother and one of the few reasons I am able to even manage to cope with his loss is thanks to the timely medical intervention I received.

Author's name changed to protect identity.

Updated Date:

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