Have You Heard the Sound of Your Own Voice?

Posted on November 21, 2021

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A plug for Krithika’s book, available here: https://www.amazon.in/dp/B09DP2SFGM

In her words: “I recently self-published a non-fiction book on depression. It’s called “Have You Heard the Sound of Your Own Voice?” It was written with the intention of hand-holding students who feel suicidal/depressed on Indian college campuses. I am wondering if you can help me in some way to get the word out about this book. “

Closing Time

“There should be an instruction manual on how to run away from yourself,” I thought as I pulled on a hoodie. The California sun dutifully splashed warmth, but my skin felt ice-like. Ignoring the sickly pallor on my face and my tousled hair, I stumbled out of my cramped, airless apartment towards the expansive ocean.

The go-getters and the compulsive overachievers took the express bus to campus. A quick ride. A productive stint at the library. Tick marks across each item on the daily to-do list. A constant, effortless A-game. Another quick ride back at the end of the day.

Then, there was me. When your to-do list is restricted to one homework assignment, you can afford to take what I called the tour Isla Vista bus. There were the eternally effervescent girls from the sorority house debating which cupcakes to order. There was the spritely lady from the neighboring retirement community balancing bags filled with grocery. They traveled on the same bus as me. However, they were able to see the world in full color. I had likely developed a cataract; only, it wasn’t just my eye’s lens clouding over; my mind was in tow too.

BookcoverKrithika

I let the coffee cup I was clutching warm my palms as I walked across campus. “Name each building as you go along,” I reminded myself when a tear threatened to leave my eye. You develop strategies to appear normal, to distract your brain before it breaks into a dull song listing each little personal inadequacy. When I did not actively remember the answers to the assignment, I thought of the building I was crossing. Buchanan. Phelps. Engineering II. With each unsteady baby step I took towards the ocean, the drag became more perceptible.

I dropped down on the sand, relieved to have made it this far without breaking down. The ocean’s permanence was like a crutch to me, and I depended on her heavily to stabilize myself. Here, my already insignificant existence diminished further to become a mere speck, and I could hide and remain unnoticed, even if only for a few hours.

Have you been in the continuous company of friends and colleagues and felt the need for some quiet downtime? “I am on social media detox till the Fall semester begins,” a friend posted on her wall before disentangling from the intricate virtual cocoon of friendships encapsulating her. “Going away to a cabin off Lake Tahoe for a week,” another friend messaged me at the same time. “How do you run away from yourself?” I repeated, knowing fully that no answer would be forthcoming.

The truth is, you can take yourself to the top of a cliff or set up camp alone in a forest. Wherever you go, your voice, yes, your voice that chants your every insecurity, fear, and failure at the most inopportune of times goes along with you. There is no separating you and your voice, and if it makes you miserable and weepy, you remain miserable and weepy.

I settled at the tip of an undiscovered ledge below the pier, pretending to finish my homework. An hour passed. Then another. I wrote my name and assignment number on a thin stack of papers. Yes, this too counted as progress. What was it that kept me from finishing this simple task? It was my tumultuous mind. It flitted relentlessly from one painful memory to the next. I remembered when my high school counselor advised against applying to an Ivy League. I recalled feeling small when a Chemistry teacher threw my exam results in front of my friends. The premature demise of my ambition to teach rolled in to take center stage. Unsurprisingly, the tears came out like a torrent, a physical manifestation of an exhausted mind.

It dawned on me that there was a definite quota of tears I had to shed daily. Should you not weep in private, where no one can see you? Should not the light breeze be your balm? Should not the waves be your unwavering companions? Each incident that flashed by reinforced the belief that I was not enough. The feeble antiphon, “I am trying,” remained stuck in my throat. Yet, I plodded because I had no other option.

I was always a conscious singer. I had self-taught a few movie songs and sang them now, one by one, verse by verse. I forced out a solution before a verse ended and repeated the same procedure to write out another. It mattered little whether I croaked or sang like a lark because I had no audience. My goal remained modest: to stave off the tears till a song ended. Three songs later, and after downing a coffee with five sachets of sweetener thrown in, I was finished. The unambitious like me had only one task on a to-do list. To put a tick mark after completing the sole assignment itself was a miracle.

My favorite professor taught this class. He regularly interspersed engineering formulae with philosophy. His discourse should have been riveting if I were in the right frame of mind while sitting in class. “It’s never good to remember too much,” he wrote across the board before introducing a new topic. Memories from Purdue came flooding in, me standing at the helm of an empty lecture hall with a binder full of notes, mimicking my advisor. I quickly looked away from the board and stared into my notes till the lecture ended.

Teaching is what I was meant to do. To have it taken away from me made me grieve as if a close family member had died.

When the purpose that pushes you no longer exists, you begin to question why you should live. I was naively focused on a teaching career. Without it, I felt like I had been stripped of my identity. What they should teach you in college, aside from Math and Science and Engineering, is the ability to have a Plan B, C, D, and E, all in case Plan A evaporates. My sudden inutility is what debilitated me. Had I been taught that I could be of value elsewhere, I may not have perceived the loss of my first career choice as the death knell.

I reluctantly peeped into the water, stretching below me like an endless blue green satin sash. Could I be in peace if I tipped over, I wondered? I peeped in again, but this time the old thrum began with renewed vigor. “Look at you,” the voice whispered. “Unaccomplished and weak-minded. Looking to escape, are you?” the litany continued. Wanting to drown this nagging voice, wanting my brain to shut down completely, I left the ledge ready to fall into the lap of gentle waves waiting for me.

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