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“I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees Asked the Lord above, have mercy now, Save poor Bob if you please” Robert Johnson (Crossroad Blues) Dear reader, without notice, without warning, without even a “hey, hello” the blues barge into my yang, disrupt my yin and knock me over. The damned blues sometimes sneak up on me like a schoolyard bully and push me off my precarious perch on the edge of my rainbow, into complete darkness where all human contact is a chore, where the roses on my path turn into thorns. Yes, dear reader, my sunny disposition, my positive outlook where I try to see all crisis as opportunities, all obstacles as stepping stones is hard won, through doing unto others, prayer and action, as I know what awaits me when I falter; darkness and sometimes spiraling negativity if unchecked. From an early age I have been blessed with an intensity of feeling, almost physical manifestation of empathy (like a punch in my gut when someone else gets hurt). Even as a pre-teen, I was equipped with antennae that picked up swirling energy and emotions around me, gifted with receivers that would take in and internalize light and dark moods of others around me and the world at large. When I read books as a child, I would get so excited about the characters that would come alive in my head that I would forget to sleep in the night. I was a precocious child; adults felt comfortable sharing with me, and I empathized with them. I sensed and despaired at the injustice and misery that I only seemed to notice among my friends, and sleep evaded me as I fantasized about ways to change the world. The flip side of this type of intensity is that by the time I was stumbling into my teenage years, I could enjoy the extreme highs, but could not deal with the lows. I did not have the tools to deal with any extreme pain or hurt, and embarked on over a 20-year journey to dull my feelings, dampen the magnitude of what my antennae picked up. It was not until I was taught and I learnt how to be aware of and acknowledge my blues, my dark shadows, and take actions to embrace the light, did I finally grow up, grow into the person I have always wanted to be. Dear reader, now the blues ain’t so bad. When the blues ambush me, I initially turn inwards, get under my covers and turn on my music; I shut down for a day or two and allow my body to catch up on sleep. I temporarily detach from my world. After the initial shock, I allow myself to see that my slip into the lows are a
symptom of unmanageability, that I am losing sight of the fact that life is finite, that working 15 hour days and not taking days off are not sustainable, that I am not praying enough (or am too tired to pray), that life is off track. The blues ain’t so bad because they are a symptom of my world being off kilter, that I am not attending to my family or friends who need me or strangers who need a helping hand, that I am becoming insular and not giving time or effort to progressing as a human, that I am not sharing, that I am losing my sense of who I am, digressing from what I want and creating a false sense of priorities. The blues ain’t bad as they are speed bumps in my life; my lows help me to slow down enough to look around and take stock of where I am, and take action to neutralize the bad juju that seems to engulf me when I stray from my path. The blues ain’t so bad, because I don’t let them get so bad; I sleep in to rest my brain, I take care of myself, I pray with more vigor, I dream more and visualize where my dreams will take me, I call family and friends and reach out. The blues ain’t so bad because I have learnt to get out of them within a few days, and re-prioritize my life in line with the fact that my journey here on earth may end anytime. Postscript: As I listen to Robert Johnson sing and play the Crossroad Blues (the Eric Clapton version is also excellent), I am reminded that what I and many others go through a few times a year is just a recalibration of our senses and most likely does not rise to the level of clinical depression, which may require professional medical help. We in Bangladesh do not like to talk about mental health issues as we are concerned about the perceived stigma attached to such issues or discussions; unfortunately, this “perceived” stigma denies many of our family members of the necessary care they need to live fulfilled lives. Hence, I share my journey and hope that this perception of stigma can be removed as there cannot be any stigma where there is no shame. If you or any of your family members suffer from depression or other mental health issues, please go get help from counselors and other medical professionals.