A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint

Archive for the ‘Lessons I learn’ Category

Walking with the Lord..

Posted by Pepper on October 18, 2016

I stayed away from the blog, my piling emails and other media platforms for a few days, but today, I had to come back here to say a big Thank you! I have gotten so much of love and support, I am overwhelmed. I will reply to every comment and mail I’ve received in a few days time. For now, I just wanted to let you know how much it means to me.

Since I didn’t want to talk about my problem and then leave behind a suspenseful silence, here is a short update. When I last posted, I was using steroid eye drops around 6 times a day. This past week, we moved it to 4 times a day and my eyes haven’t flared. For this, I am extremely grateful, but I have to keep in mind that while the doctors tapered my eye drops, they added an oral steroid to my treatment plan. I have to take this 3 times a day. Prednisone, in case you care to know. The taste of these tablets is extremely bitter and makes me go bleigh every time I force them down. I am currently tripping on Prednisone but that is keeping my eyes quiet.

The plan is to taper my eye drops to 3 times a day in the next few days and let it stay that way for another week. We basically taper every week until I finally stop the drops. The oral steroids will however continue for a another month and a half atleast. Constant use of this awful steroid makes you gain weight and gives you what is popularly called a ‘moon face’. But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t mind being fat and droopy faced as long as I am healthy otherwise. And hopefully, I won’t get fat or droopy faced either.

What does the future hold? I still don’t know. I’ve spent a lot of time reading up about this disease and with the progress we’ve made in the field of medicine, thankfully very few people lose their sight because of this. What it takes in order to preserve your sight is however, another story. There are several people who are able to stay flare free ONLY as long as they are on the steroids. The moment they stop the steroids, they flare. Like we all know, living on steroids is not sustainable. So they put you on other heavy medication that suppresses your immune system for a few years.

In India, if you are unable to wean off the steroids and stay flare free, they put you on Methotrexate directly. If you don’t know this, Methotrexate is the most common drug used in Chemotherapy and comes with many side effects. It is also the drug they use to induce abortions. I think I started feeling depressed when my doctors told me what was in store for me if the steroids didn’t work. They said I’d have to be on the Methotrexate for years on end. A cold fear gripped my heart and I was unable to feel any kind of joy. My thoughts followed the same trail on a loop. How could I be affected by an illness as horrible as this? I mean, people fall sick. They catch a cold and develop a fever. Some have it worse and go on to get diseases like Jaundice and Typhoid and Malaria. They’re sick for a few weeks but they come out of it. Nobody I know was facing the probability of being on a chemo drug for years. Not at my age.

And then finally I felt the fog lift one day. I felt totally ashamed for thinking the way I did. MANY people have it worse. How could I be so blind? Heck, I have Oregano in my own family to learn from. He’s suffered such a great setback and has yet managed to turn around his life.Even after his transplant he lives on a cocktail of deadly meds, and he is still happy and well. Why was my situation so terrible? I figured my biggest fear was the mere idea of being put on Methotrexate. So I decided to educate myself further about its usage in treating Uveitis. From what I read, they put you on a very low dose of the drug. Nothing like the dose they use to treat cancer. So the side effects are far fewer. Moreover, you take a small dose every week and most people are able to live a very normal life.

How bad does that sound? Not very, right? I mean, that is the worst case scenario and if that is the chosen plan for me, I will bow down to it with dignity. For now, I still have reason to hope that I will NEVER need it. I just have to wait for the moment of truth though. If I am able to stop the steroids and stay flare free for 3 months, then they will consider me to be in ‘remission’. I have no way of knowing until I crawl to the end. Here is to quiet eyes for me.

PS – The title is a famous song we used to sing in our school assembly. I find myself humming it in my head a lot these days. Lift up your hearts, for you are walking with God..

Posted in Lessons I learn | 15 Comments »

Barriers

Posted by Pepper on January 12, 2016

I often think about my childhood. And most of my childhood memories would be incomplete without Gomti. Gomti was our domestic help. She had been employed just a few months before I was born. Prior to her joining, her older sister worked for us. Gomti stepped in when her sister got married and continued working for us till we moved out of that house. That would be for around 19 years. So for the first 19 years of my life, she was always around. Every childhood memory of mine has her somewhere in the background.

She was one my earliest friends. Everybody at home considered her to be family. And while I truly believed she was one of us, I could see some glaring differences in the way she behaved. Gomti never sat on the dewans  or the sofas in our living room. She never came close to stepping on our bed. She didn’t eat her meals on the dining table along with the rest of us. No, she ate her meals on the kitchen floor. And if she was ever tired and needed a break from work, she would lean against the wall in the kitchen and sit on the floor, drawing her knees to herself.

Domestic helpers in my friends homes too seemed to exhibit similar behaviour. As a child, I did not question it. It made me learn that domestic helpers did not have the same social standing. They were not on par with us. I never paused to consider how right or wrong that was. It was just a fact of life. Nobody ever said this to me and I doubt anybody in my family wanted me to believe this, but I think kids absorb a lot from their environment. Every action sends out a message. All behaviour is internalised. And what I watched and observed all through my growing up years told me that domestic helpers were of a lower social rank.

Only after I grew up did I start questioning it. Why do we have such class barriers in India? Aren’t we all employed by somebody? Somebody works for us. We work for somebody else. It is as simple as that. We all earn different amounts of money, but why should that change the way we are treated?

This happened a few months ago. I was waiting for the elevator. A domestic helper entered the lobby and to my surprise, pressed the button for the other elevator. This troubled me a little and I asked her what her problem was in using the same elevator as me? We need to keep in mind that we shouldn’t be wasting electricity like that. Her reply made me a little sad. She said she had been forbidden in the past to use the same elevator as the residents. I should have known. Most buildings in fact have a separate elevator for the laborers. Why would I blame the poor woman for feeling unsure of sharing the elevator with me when she had been rebuked in the past for the very same reason?

This is why, when our cook decided to make herself comfortable on our living room couch one day, I was a bit stunned. Not displeased, just a bit surprised. She brought the the veggies she needed to chop along with her, flopped onto the sofa and began her chopping. It took me a few seconds to recover from the shock. Which again, is a bit sad. Ideally, I should not have been shocked. This behaviour shouldn’t be so uncommon. I know we employ her but she is one of us. She need not sit below us. I doubt any of us are expected to sit on a level lower than our employer’s.

I have been pretty used to having our cook sit alongside us now. Nobody in my family bats an eyelid. Today though, she was seen by my neighbour. Our cook was sitting on the sofa, slicing onions as she watched TV. My neighbour almost collapsed in shock, pulled me aside and told me I shouldn’t be tolerating such behaviour. I smiled and told her we were okay with it really. She gave me a disapproving look and tried convincing me some more. This woman lives in a tinny chawl along with other workers. She doesn’t come from an affluent background. If I allow this, a lot of the domestic helpers will expect similar privileges. I smiled again and told her I didn’t find anything wrong in that either. She walked away.. Never mind, I’d rather displease a neighbour than reinforce an existing class bias.

Posted in Lessons I learn | 10 Comments »

I for Integrate

Posted by Pepper on December 5, 2015

I’ve often written about the kind of fierce rejection I faced from Mint’s family in the beginning of our relationship. Getting them to accept our relationship was a long and painful journey. His relatives could not get over the fact that Mint had the audacity to fall in love, let alone fall in love with a ‘Northie’, a caste-less, cultureless, immoral girl from the dreadful city of Mumbai. That is really the perception some of them continue to have of me. I don’t bow down to their patriarchal ways, I mostly wear jeans and tees and I don’t speak Tamil. I am clearly an outcast. If they find out that I actually enjoy some scotch, bare my legs and wear tiny shorts, use abusive language, they would probably banish me from their world, but let’s not get there.

Right from our first official meeting, I had to bear the brunt of their rigid views. When I say ‘their’, please note, I am talking about Mint’s extended family. His parents are far more reasonable and compassionate. Unfortunately, my MIL’s prime desire has been to see me integrate into the extended family. She told me this repeatedly, that I had to take the effort and break the ice. I would have to work hard to make them like me.

I tried a fair bit in the beginning. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, because I had a huge language barrier. Also, I had no idea about the kind of expectations people had from me. The customs and traditions were alien to me. The first few times I visited homes of relatives, I was utterly lost and simply followed some of the women blindly. Before we left, most of the hosts would take me to a corner and offer me a tiny jar of vermilion. Not knowing what to do with it, I just dabbed some bit of it on to my forehead. After some frantic sign language, I was made to understand that I had to smear the red powder onto my thali (mangalsutra). Most women scowled at my lack of knowledge and understanding. I knew winning them over would not be easy. But really, how could they fault me for not being familiar with a custom that was unheard of in the environment I grew up in.

I still harboured some hope of bonding with the few people who did speak English. My first encounter however, served as a wake up call. In our first meeting, I walked up to Baldie (one of the eldest and most respected figures in Mint’s extended family). I knew he was conversant in English, so I smiled at him and asked him how he was. To my horror, he glared at me angrily and turned his head away. I couldn’t believe anybody could be this rude and insensitive. Instead of allowing myself to flare up, I calmed myself down and tried some more. Each time I talked to him, he would turn his head away and blatantly ignore me. In a room full of people, this was humiliating.

Sadly, he wasn’t an exception. I was beginning to hate visiting these relatives, because each time I was made to feel very unworthy of respect. The women would jeer at my inability to string together petals of jasmine, my inability to draw a kolam and most importantly, my inability to speak to Tamil.  A lot of the men would turn away each time I tried to talk to them. Some of them would give me curt replies and shower me with scowls. The first question Mint’s chittappa asked me was ‘You know Tamil?’. This was on the second day after our marriage and he very well knew I could not speak the language. When I replied in the negative, he spat out a, ‘Then waat you know?’.  I chose to ignore it, but the disgust and the snooty sense of entitlement in his tone is etched in my memory.

I thought I could connect better with the younger generation. I started to ping a couple of Mint’s cousins on Gtalk. I was right. They responded fairly well. I was in the process of becoming friends with one of his cousins, K. We would chat often. A couple of months later, I heard K make a statement that totally put me off. She said she was terrified of letting the others in the family know that she spoke to me. It left me shocked. Was the younger generation forbidden from mingling with me? So much so that the people who spoke to me wanted to keep our interactions in the dark?

What was my fault? Why did I deserve to be treated like this? They had already created enough number of scenes in the past. Here I was, trying to be more forgiving of the rejection, trying hard to break barriers and make them see the person I was, and all I was getting in return was a slap on my face? Only because I belonged to a vastly different region, background and community? And then it struck me. His family did not want to allow me to integrate. For one, they didn’t think I was worthy enough of them. For two, they wanted to keep their kids safe from my corrupt influence. I was seen as a threat, an adulterant.

All along, Mint couldn’t figure out why I was even trying to bond with those people. He told me they would never accept me, no matter how hard I tried. It was probably their way of putting across the message that there will be consequences if you dare to deviate from the norms and marry outside the community. That day, I decided to ignore the jerks and focus on the few good people. Yes, his family does have a few people who are very welcoming. These people always give me warm smiles, although we don’t speak a common language. We visit their homes and they shower me with love, gesture me to eat more, always present me with a little something when we are on our way out. There is a genuine fondness we share.

To date, this is how things are between us. Majority of his family is unwelcoming of me. A handful of them are warm and I make sure I reciprocate in my own ways. This time when my in-laws visited, we got around to talking about this subject. My MIL pointed out that I still haven’t integrated into the extended family, although it has been over 5 years. It sounded like an accusation to me and it made me blow my top (inside my head, as usual). I decided to be honest with her. I told her I was no longer going to be making any attempts. Those people treated me like crap. How long could I go unscathed? I didn’t deserve it and I wasn’t willing to put up with it anymore.

My MIL seemed quite taken aback by my honesty. She seemed to sympathize, but offered a different view point. She said if I continued to try relentlessly, one day they would soften. I told her in all honesty that they weren’t worth it to me. I would rather shower my attention, love and time on people who deserved it. At this point, we realised we couldn’t see eye to eye and decided to not pursue the subject anymore. I know for a fact that she wasn’t pleased with my ideas, but I am glad she was made aware of how I felt.

After all, any kind of integration needs some openness from both ends. If an opening doesn’t exist and you try to walk on to the other side, you will only hit the wall.

Posted in Lessons I learn | 19 Comments »

Rule of thumb

Posted by Pepper on June 8, 2015

Some months ago, I started noticing a mild pain in my left thumb. It came intermittently and shot up only when my thumb got bent downward. Since the pain was not consistent or severe, I ignored it. But it was okay only as long as my thumb didn’t strike anything. If I accidentally hit or bent it, the pain would flare up with all it’s might. It would be so acute and intense, my eyes would well up.

I could bend it backward with ease, but if it got bend downward (forward?) even by a few inches, it was hell. I had no idea what was causing it. I didn’t remember suffering from any kind of injury. Looked like the pain in my thumb just appeared by itself one day. Anyway, like I said, it was not bad unless I bent it. So I tried to avoid bending it as much as possible. I know I should have tried to investigate the cause. I should have gotten it treated. Instead, I chose to neglect it and let my busy life take over..

A couple of weeks ago, a child’s hand collided into mine while we were walking in the park. His hand hit mine quite hard and as a result, my thumb got bent downward with some force. It sent waves of shock and pain in my body. Thankfully, it lasted only for a minute and I was able to overcome the shocking pain. It hurt for the remaining part of the day but it was bearable, so as usual, I shut up and decided to ignore it.

But next morning was pure torture. The raw pain in my thumb was stabbing me. I realised I had lost all movement. I absolutely couldn’t bear to move my thumb even a wee bit. I knew I had taken it too far and that I had to go to the doctor now. It was mildly swollen in the morning. But by the time I reached the doctor, my thumb was so stiff and swollen, it looked like a banana.

The orthopedic I had gone to asked me several questions. He said something was surely wrong if my thumb was that swollen with the mere impact of a child’s hand. He said he sees that kind of swelling in patients who get struck by cricket balls that travel in high speed. Just a little collision shouldn’t have caused so much pain and swelling. Other than prescribing an x-ray, he asked me to get several other tests done. Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Calcium and a bunch of others.

I realised how important the thumb is only when I had to live with a non-functional one. Go on and try to button or unbutton your jeans without using both your thumbs . I had to go to Mint or the sister each time I wanted to use the loo. Either that, or spend way too much effort and time on something that is supposed to be so simple! I couldn’t even use my hand to turn up the volume of the radio while driving. Nothing was easy. I felt handicapped.

My test results were quite pathetic, even though the x-ray was normal. My Vitamin D level was “< 4”. When I asked them what less than 4 meant, they said that vitamin D was untraceable in my body. They couldn’t detect it at all and so they had to have the “>” sign. The optimal range is between 50 – 70, so my level was way too low. Or maybe non-existent. And this is the second time I tested it. So I couldn’t even say the results were goofed up. My calcium, B12 and everything else was also quite bad. No wonder my bone health is so terrible.

I was prescribed a course of injections for the vitamin D and other supplementary tablets for the rest of the deficiencies. Getting used to taking tablets after every meal was just too hard for me. I know I sound lame, but the truth of the matter was that I simply forgot to take them. My parents would call me up to remind me after each meal, and yet, I would forget after I hung up. I knew this was not ideal. I had to take on the responsibility myself. After all, my health should be in my hands.

Finally, after a lot of trial, error, lazy bumming, ‘its-not-my-fault-that-I-can’t-remember’, ‘lack-of-vitamins-won’t-kill-me’, ‘I-forgot-the-tablets-at-home-today’ arguments, I have finally overcome my lax attitude. It’s been a week and I haven’t missed a single dose. I keep some strips of tablets at home, and some in my handbag. So I have them handy whether or not I am at home. I have also set reminders on my phone. Those have helped a great deal. I realised it is all about learning how to acquire a new habit. Remembering to take my tablets on my own for an entire week has been an achievement for me. I hope I only get better from here..

My thumb has healed to an extent, but it still hurts if I bend it downward. It is only a small inconvenience. But I have begun to take necessary steps to correct it. After my 3 month course of meds is through and  if my thumb still hurts, then we may investigate further. Until then, I am doing all I can to fix it. I know I have been stupid for so long, but I am glad I am finally learning to not neglect matters of health, even if they seem inconsequential at first. What about you? Do you usually remember to take your medicines or supplements in time?

Posted in Lessons I learn | 33 Comments »

 
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