2020 was a terrible year for the world. So much death, unemployment, isolation and suffering all around.
Except, I was exceptionally fortunate.
What happened in my household in 2020 was almost exactly what I needed to rebuild myself from within.
Not to say I would have wished that on myself, but the crisis is the crucible of character and I feel like I came out of it sharper, stronger and with an inner core which keeps me burning even now. Because of that steel in my heart, I could tackle what came next in 2021 with some level of serenity. 2021 was the year where all the losses, death and destruction happened in my family. But we're getting ahead of ourselves right now - stick to 2020.
I'm usually equipped to deal with large scale emergencies, but completely lost at an ordinary life. I've had friends comment that between that sort of hyperfocus flow states and drinking coffee to calm down & sleep, I might have ADHD or something. But the label doesn't matter as much as what I experience on a day to day life. I have to plan everything as much as I can to cope with my focus snagging on the wrong things - the modern world I live in is very cooperative of my needs. If I need to drive out for dinner, I'll look up the location in Google street view, even if I'm looking for a friend's house or look at satellite views of Lake Merrit before deciding where to park around it. If I have to go to Lowes, I can lookup every item in the list, note down the aisle numbers and plan a walk around the building to "get in, get out" fast. I'll happily break down my recipe into a shopping list, rearrange my shopping list to match the aisle order (hate it, hate it when they reshuffle it). I've got all the traffic light orders in my little end of town memorized, even the ones which switch during rush hours. Everything follows patterns or if it is new, it can be looked up easily. Everything can be planned to minute detail, so that when I'm doing it I can just go through the motions without having to actually think consciously.
I exercise this part of my brain every time I get a complex problem to debug - the patterns jump out at me without seeing the code in detail. Anyway, I digress.
And because I'm hyperfocussed but only occasionally when my brain does fall into a pattern, I need to really push it as far as I can go. I would get more done in a night of flow-state than stopping at midnight or 2 AM. Sleep is only needed because you have to drive tomorrow to work. Productivity wasn't on tap, but like a flood that washes everything else away in your life - I don't hate my commute, I just hate what it does to my mind the night before. My choices are sleep now, lose the focus or do the work, but be tired all day the next day.
Did I mention I was looking forward to a new baby in July 2020? Talk about an emergency in the making - I could probably drive to the delivery room with my eyes closed and probably did do that in my mind everytime I heard an "Ow" from under the blankets.
So, suddenly I had no social interactions to worry about being "off" in public - if you know me, I start mashing my eyes and pulling tangles out of my hair as my internal agitation starts boiling over. My grocery trip efficiency was an excellent idea, extreme emergency planning was a rational activity to go into. My kid was right there with me all day, I could genuinely play with him - truly free play instead of something directed. I could cook all the meals. Started going for runs just before lunch, but with the instant pot already on a timer to be ready when I come back. Started sleeping longer in the night, because I wasn't coming home tired - I was still working, but had saved a 9 PM to midnight slot to actually do some work if I needed to. I was no longer sitting at a desk from 4 PM to 8 PM to finish something, because the kid needed attention. The days where I pushed him to burn through his energies in the afternoon were fun, but it also made bedtime a breeze. My night also ended with dragging myself into bed, complain about the 77F room half-heartedly and sleep quickly. If I wanted to watch something I didn't have to do it at night before sleep (like I used to), tomorrow afternoon was wide open.
In lockdown, every day was the same from the outside, nothing could change easily - at least, nothing came in from the outside to disrupt the repetition. There were birthday parties, but it was on Zoom - I could jump out of it on a moment's notice, no waiting for the awkward goodbyes to leave. There were strangers on Zoom, but nobody was having private conversations of "so, what do you do?" - the birthday would be on-topic. My phone would ring, but picking it up was a choice, I could if I had the space to talk. And everyone wanted to talk, including me, but not just every day. Good days had good phone calls, good food, sunshine and my brain stop firing alarms.
There were bad days too, all the wildfires in California, the smoke filled days without sun sucked. But those days came after my brain had left this constant state of panic about "what's happening next?", which messes with the planning side of my brain.
I could cope. And my brain had stopping exploding the current trends into a fractal of complex probabilities of the future.
The kid came in an unexpected way, but we got some help from family already in the US. My immigration situation got sorted at the same time. Started feeling connected to the place I live in a way which made it feel like home, not some cave I take refuge in every night.
Right now it is Dec 2021, but my brain has (so far) been permanently changed by 2020. There are still challenges and struggles, but there's serenity in the moment.
In a very roundabout way, 2020 was the best year for my mental health since I was a teenager.
I hope all of you get the peace you are looking for, but without needing a global catastrophe to set the dominoes falling.--
“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.”
-- Kahlil Gibran
I'm holding my breath. And counting.
I should breathe, but I'm staring at my son, willing him to start breathing again too. We'll exhale together.
Kavi is on the 911 call, the paramedics are coming. They can't be far away.
He exhales, I don't know how long. I've lost count when I coughed. His lips are a little blue or am I just imagining it. The next 3 minutes feels like an eternity. The next three days are a blur.
I never want to feel like that again. That was back in 2016, but that fear runs through my veins every time I put on a mask, get that whiff of sanitizer. And if that is how I feel when this story has a happy ending, I can't imagine what a tragedy would feel like on my conscience.
I'm jetlagged, sick and shell shocked. A week ago, I was in Australia. I had taken a mid-week trip to Australia, the first time I had said bye to the kid for a work trip. The plane goes SF, Sydney, Melbourne, then meet hundreds of people at a conference and then back again. On the way back, I've come home with a cough. Nothing serious. I just need to get enough sleep, drink a megadose of vitamin C and keep going like I always do.
But I missed the little guy. And I'm also feeling guilty that I haven't done my equal parent duties for that week. I played with him, rocked him to sleep on my shoulder and everything else I always do. I even joked about my cold that it's alien, but that "this is how he's going to build immunity". It's not like that would've actually mattered, he slept in the same room anyway, but I definitely didn't care. I was sick, but not enough to stay away.
When he held his breath the first time, I was in entire denial. No, this bad thing is not happening, because if he's really sick then I would be the one who brought something bad home. Sleep deprivation just amps up my paranoia about risks hidden to all but me. I overcorrect it by pure and blanket denial from deep within - it is not happening, if it is happening it's not too bad; you're the one making it a big deal, not me, if you leave it alone, it will go away.
And sometimes things get real. Way too real.
Waiting for that ambulance, that other part of me was starting to crush me from the inside. But by the time the ambulance was loading up, there was just a determination to get through this, for him, before I give way to that guilt. There was a long list of things that are more important than how you feel.
The ambulance takes off to the hospital without the sirens. I'm sitting up front, because I don't have a car to follow in. One stop sign later, he starts seizing again and the driver drives at 50 through, onto the ER. We run in, through those doors that swing both ways. The ER staff tries to get an IV into the foot, he kicks & perforates a vein, blood spurts onto the bed. I would have thrown up if I had some breakfast in me. I know I need to call people immediately and ask for help before I fall apart.
On the other hand, I'm relieved nothing is in my hands anymore, but there's still no time to wallow in regret. The doctors tell me that they need to get a CT to check for blood clots, need a spinal tap for viral encephalitis, send swab samples to PCR for some virus (MERS?) and need to shave bits of his head to wire up an EEG. There are consent forms and then some more. If not for the paperwork in the way, standing by in the ER is a religious experience, forcing you to confront the fragility of everything.
For the next few days, there was a mix of relief and disappointment as each test came back negative, until they called it an hMPV infection. We went home with an apparently healthy child, but without any information on why it happened, a diazepam shot and with instructions on avoiding infections which might cause fevers (because of febrile seizures). Bottles of sanitizer in every room, masks on for visitors, limited outings and no more good night kisses for him.
Except for getting triggered once in a while, the ending redeems everything. The next time it happened, we were ready. Went straight to the ER, got a diagnois, the treatment worked and Kavi took him swimming, to celebrate. And nothing like that has ever happened since. Phew.
The guilt of passing on something dangerous to someone more vulnerable than you is an unbearable burden on your conscience. It is a stain that will not wash off.
To everyone reading this, you all know why a mask saves others, but don't feel it in person - you just don't know who you're going to save and they won't care that it was you. Except, knowing who you doomed and how will break you. Because it will be your friends, your family and you might wish that it was you instead, not them.--
It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.
-- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Monday, August 11th 2003.
I will remember.
I can still feel it in my gut. The pointless despair, the rising anger, panic and the frustration of being at the recieving end of someone else's ego trip. Knowing that I was forever changed from that moment forth.
It was a valuable lesson - something I don't plan on forgetting.--
Experience is the most brutal of all teachers.
-- C.S Lewis
In Memoriam - Monday, August 11th 2003.
And I mourn for a loss I cannot explain.--
I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.
In memoriam - Monday, August 11th 2003.
They said that time heals all wounds - they didn't know me at all.--
Blessed are the forgetful; for they get the better even of their blunders.
In memoriam - Monday, August 11th 2003.
Half a decade later, I still remember like it was yesterday.--
It will be a memorable time -- no matter how hard you try to forget it.
In memoriam - Monday, August 11th 2003.
That makes it four years now, but I remember like it was yesterday.--
If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we would all be millionaires.
-- Abigail Van Buren
There are no innocents in this war. To not have an opinion is treachery to a greater cause - for it needs nothing more for evil to thrive than good men to stay out of the battle. But when the battlelines are a line in sand, unclear & transient, only a vocal minority survives a twinge dissent in a dystopia which rewards disloyalty with a jingling bag.
The squeaking wheel always gets the grease, but does a wheel squeak for all others bereft of lubricant ? But there are wheels within wheels, connected cogs running this juggernaut that fulfils our needs, wishes and aspirations. This isn't a zero sum game, where everyone else has to lose.
But silence is golden. In fact, it will be bought with gold, spices and precious stones. The turncoats reap the profits of their new found discretion and the immorally inept, failing to curb their conscience, experience a re-run of Mr Carrot meets Mr Stick.
Like in the game in its simplest form, the winners always defect.--
It occurred to me that my speech or my silence, indeed any action of mine, would be a mere futility.
-- Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness"
On this August 11th, I completed the third year I've been working in the software industry. My first day shall forever be burned in my memory, for that was day my ideals died. If I seem too cynical, too pessimistic about the software industry, it all started from day one. For that was one day that caused all five of us to leave eventually and destroyed any vestiges of loyalty we might have had. I don't regret having gone through all that, because I learned a few valuable lessons, just a few hours into the job.
So, all of us were picked up from campus on the very first day of campus interviews. We were all satisified and never attended any of the off-campus interviews that our friends who had got into Infy and CTS were going to. I even lost interest in my GRE score and that pacakge from Georgia Tech is still lying on my shelf unopened. So all idealistic and eager, we arrived in their Electronic City office, around 8:15 AM on that fine monday morning.
We were part of a batch of 68, who were all joining on the same date. There were students from all over - Pune, Coimbatore, Allahabad, Mangalore and Bangalore. So our exams ended by late June and the lab results for us weren't tabulated till date. Of the group, all eight of us and three others from Pune didn't have our final year marklists. After the employee IDs for four of us were generated, some guy realized this fact and literally threw us out of the hall.
"You didn't inform us that your marklists weren't out. We will call you back when you have a degree" - those were his exact words. We were told to go home and that we would be called back along with the October batch of new joinees. We were more scared than pissed off. Fresh out of college and with no job, we were pond scum in the job market mill pond.
First thing we did was call up our parents. We even called up our principal and placement officer. The latter earned our eternal scorn by washing his hands of the affair. And to compound the issue, there was an ongoing student protest in the university college.
In the midst of the rioting students, policemen with tear gas, my father and Joe's father managed to find that our marklists were ready to be tabulated. They managed to find the clerk in charge of this, drive him to the uni, get it tabulated, got him to take it to the VC's house and get it signed & stamped. And all this, they did before 2 PM.
After making 800 rs/- worth of phone calls and such heroics from our parent's, the marklists were faxed to the HR by 3 PM. We were very reluctantly admitted and our employee IDs generated. We had gotten in and we assumed that it would be a smooth ride from then on.
So the training began. Most of us spent the days on the back-row playing virtual pool, copter and other flash games. And it really pissed off our trainers when me and Sreekrishna walked out of the half-hour C++ exam about two minutes after it began, with near perfect scores. Hardly did I know that we would pay dearly for those stunts.
We were informed about a week into september that we were going to be posted in Hyderabad for a Telecom & Internet reqs. And I mean, just the three back-bench wise-asses. And when I asked about openings in their embedded wing, I was told that "In bangalore, there are only testing openings" (for freshers).
Off to Hyderabad, I went. Only to discover that after all this drama, I had been posted to a testing job. My job involved filling in an excel sheet with PASS/FAIL depending on whether my button mashing on the mobile phone caused it to dump core. And all three of us started working on our resumes rather than our day jobs. And then came the rejections. Sometimes outright rejections when I was passed over for people from known colleges - IITs, RECs, BITS and elsewhere. Talent just didn't seem to matter and mine was very hard to measure in an interview (I am useless on paper).
After six interviews and no job, especially that Unix & C rejection, I was disillusioned about a career in software. I decided that day and then that if I manage to escape, I'll never again work in a services firm as a cheap brain for clients somewhere.
Nothing motivates a man more than to see his boss put in an honest day's work.