Monday 29 July 2019

When I unleashed the inner black beauty...

When I unleashed the inner black beauty..

The story of Rashmi Singh (Name changed)
Based in India
Written by Mallika Bhatia

I am the youngest and the fifth amongst my siblings; four sisters and a brother and yet I was always the happiest when I was alone. People always confused me, Neighbours, friends and even my family members made fun of the way I looked, I was too dark for them and hence not beautiful. They often said 'badi hogi toh theek ho jayegi” (She might start looking better/acceptable when she grows up). My sisters were fair skinned and conventionally beautiful. People, including my own father, a well respected, high ranking police officer, would discriminate against me based on my complexion. I remember my father's behaviour towards me always had underlying anger or he simply ignored me. When he paid attention, he would comment on my features and say "at least she has beautiful eyes.”  My mother tried to make it easier for me. She would sympathetically tell me “Always remember that beauty lies in simplicity and you are my Black Beauty.”

Education was always given a lot of value in our house. So much so that everything else, including extracurricular activities were considered a distraction. We had to focus on studies and on getting high scores, everything else was simply not allowed.

Somehow my parents spoke to me almost only about the errors of my siblings. I was always told about their mistakes and warned against repeating them. Their pattern of communication actually pushed me further into the shell that I already lived in. I never asked for anything, never shared my feelings with anyone and started believing that I had to earn things only with hard-work. Unfortunately the lack of emotional support was also a given. I was still an ambitious child with a clear head. I enjoyed school, as I could be who I was amongst my friends. My school was my world.

One fine day though, that was snatched away from me. When I was in the eighth grade I was told by my parents that I couldn't go back to my school. No explanations given, no reasons shared, I was just supposed to be at home. I didn't go to school for a whole month, missing my studies and friends while searching for reasons for this punishment. My mother later told me that there were some issues in the family and there were threats to kidnap me, hence they couldn't risk sending me to school. I did not understand why I was being targeted yet Maa refused to give me any explanations. I did not have the courage to ask them about my friends, my studies and everything that I had left behind. I couldn't tell them that I wanted to meet my friends again or that my world was snatched from me.

Picture by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

Sometime later I was shifted to a school in another smaller town where nothing made sense. Neither did my mental capabilities match to where I was now, nor the social rules. I was too shocked with everything around me. My life had completely changed without my involvement or consent. I wasn't even aware of what had caused the uprooting. All I knew was that someone else was responsible but I was suffering. I felt abandoned and unloved.

My mother, my only partial support in our family had not moved to this new town with me. It was just me, one older sister and my brother. I missed Maa terribly and kept asking myself what my fault was in all this, why did I have to suffer? I wanted my mom and I needed answers. I wanted to know why was I abandoned. I got none of that. I was just told by my extremely strict father that I had to fulfil my responsibility towards the family and do what was good for everyone. Hence I had to adjust in this new setup.

At 13, none of this made sense to me. Why was I abandoned and was still expected to fulfil my roles? What had I done to deserve no love or attention? Did I not deserve any answers? What good of the family were they talking about? Everything about my life had changed overnight. I did not know this town, I did not know the people nor the rules. I felt as if I did not fit-in in the scheme of things of my family so I was just tossed away. I realised that I wasn't loved or valued hence it was OK for everyone to abandon me.

Back then I could have never imagined that this incident would define how I would live my life for a few decades to come. School finished and college began in another town. I lived in a hostel and could slowly breathe again. I could look for my tribe, make friends and find out who I had become. With college came a new sort of excitement in life, I fell in love with a batchmate who cared for me so deeply that he wanted to protect me from the world. Only that the 19 year old me did not realise that defining what I could or could not wear, whom I could talk to and how I could conduct myself wasn't truly protection. I was looking to be loved finally so I did everything he wanted me to, believing that this was what love was all about.

He was overprotective and said that it wasn't me but the world that he didn't trust. I believed him, ignoring all my instincts, which clearly told me not be get into the trap that I had already experienced with my overprotective father and brother. I still did everything he told me to, everything that would make me 'lovable' in his eyes. I made sure everything he said was done the way he liked it. I was there for him all the time, the way he wanted me. Though whenever I really needed him,  he went absconding. Later he would come back and blame me for forcing him to go away. I loved him too deeply and truly felt that I had driven him away. He was also,forced to abandon me because of who I was, just like my family.

Towards the end of my graduation my parents asked me if this  boyfriend of mine would marry me. He said he would and then, yet again he vanished. None of his numbers worked, no friend had his contact details. For months I didn't know where he was, he did not even come back to give the final graduation exams. Yet again someone I loved so deeply abandoned me without an explanation. Maybe I did deserve that.

I finished my graduation and wanted to be independent for once.    I was soon told by my father that women in our household don't work. If I decided to work, then I was never welcome at home again. It was an easy decision for me to make. Even though I deeply craved their love and approval, I knew that I had to pave my own path.

I found a job and started sharing a flat with a few friends from my graduation days. My work slowly helped me get back some of my self-esteem. I had started seeing some value in who I was and what I deserved in life but the journey had just about began when my boyfriend came back yet again. He obviously attacked me emotionally rather than apologising for vanishing. He said that I had put him in a tight spot by asking him to marry me and he had no choice but to run away. I went back to him, after all I believed that he loved me enough to come back for me.

By now he knew that he could make me do anything. The otherwise emotionally abusive relationship now moved to the next level of being physically abusive as well. Somedays I would go to work black and blue. His habit of vanishing had not gone. He would be untraceable for weeks at a time. Slowly the abuse wasn't just behind doors, he would come to my work place and create a scene. He wanted me to leave my job and not interact with other men. He would tell me about the other women he slept with while he was away. He said had to sleep with others to see if it felt wrong to him. According to him coming back to me after every sexual encounter showed how much he loved me. This went on for about two more years before which I decided that enough was enough.

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

I changed jobs, changed my address and moved on. I was in a new place but my patterns were following me.  In the next few years I had a series of relationships with men who seemed very decent and calm initially but would abuse me every which way once I was committed to them. Often I would get hit by them which would be followed by them apologizing profusely and adding that they were insecure and didn't want to lose me hence they couldn't control themselves. This mental abuse was something that had started feeling normal to me, like something I had to endure to be loved. Yet there were days when it seemed truly scary and I knew I had to do something about it.

A big city seemed to be the solution in my head. I started looking for work opportunities in other cities and soon moved to a metropolitan. IN this bigger city, I had great professional exposure and truly wanted to improve my overall life. I decided to study while working. I did an MBA. I kept moving up the career ladder yet unfortunately my luck with men hadn't changed. I continued to be in relationships where I had no respect. I would support my men emotionally and financially. I would try to be 'good' and in return I always was left, abused and told that I deserved nothing. I was in my 30s by now and realised that something had to change.

I decided to seek the help of a psychotherapist. That changed my life, she urged me to understand my patterns and change them. The process of therapy truly helped me explore a new side of my life. I started seeing my role in all that was happening around me. Now I knew that I was the common factor in all the relationships. I was making sure that my internal beliefs about being unloved were simply being manifested through all the relationships I had. I had let the men do to me what I believed my family had done to me in my childhood. I was allowing it to happen I had to had to stop  it. I had to stop expecting everyone around me to change. I had to change internally, the onus was completely mine. I started recognising the strength within me that I always had but never saw as everyone made me feel small throughout my life.

I started giving myself credit for always being independent, right from the start of my career. This gave me strength, I had never liked a male dominant environment that unfortunately all the girls in my family had faced. How much we craved for things and activities but were curbed, hence I had decided not to wait for anyone's approval, another decision I was proud of.  Even as a child I had made up my mind to be independent, no matter what. I knew I had to always move forward and no job was too small. I knew it was OK to ask for work when there was none openly available. I kept seeking work and kept growing with it. These were some of the best decisions in my life and acknowledging them really helped my self-esteem.

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

I started seeing myself in a brand new light. It was not easy yet I knew this was my chance to turn my life around. I decided no more relationships for me. I had always looked for someone to complete me. It was time that I started to figure out how to feel complete within myself.

I slowly started filling the deep void that existed within me, focussing on learning to love my own self. I explored hobbies which were forbidden in my growing up years. I started doing things for myself, things I had expected the men to do for me. I began to forgive myself for my past, for not standing up for myself enough. I could never say 'no' earlier, which is something I had to learn to change. I stopped punishing myself for being abandoned and realised that in all these years, I too had abandoned myself. Since my childhood I had stopped myself at so many levels. I had avoided doing so many things because I did not want to be a bad example, like my older siblings. There was an ignored and neglected child in me which I had to heal.

Slowly but steadily I kept working on my beliefs and was learning to be happy and content in my life. It had taken years but I was finally happy being me. I was falling in love with who I was everyday. There were struggles and difficult days as well but I had decided to focus on only moving forward. I was now more confident than ever and had figured out that if the center of control lies within us, everything else will fall in its place. My profession was going well. I was exploring as much as I could in all the other aspects too. I enrolled in a variety of courses, decided to get a photo shoot for myself and celebrate how I looked, and even explored the option of starting a parallel profession using my talents. In one such course, I happened to gel with the trainer, who was years younger than me. My rule of no relationships was still intact, which truly helped me explore a deep friendship with him without any romantic expectations. I would talk to him about any and everything.

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash
From just the two of us, we slowly grew into a gang of friends and it felt like I finally had a family. Two years down the line, he confessed his love for me. I told him not to ruin the beautiful equation we had. I was scared of losing everything that I had worked so hard on creating. He understood where I was coming from and remained like a rock in my life for the next few years as well. He was respectful of me and accepted me as I was. I had never hidden anything from him because I never felt a need to hide my truth from anyone anymore. He would often tell me that I deserved much more than I had in my relationships, I agreed.

Even though I had started feeling for him too, I wanted to test him before I changed my rules for anyone. I do realise that this is not the way but I was still a work in progress. Getting into a relationship again was giving me the jitters, maybe I wanted to find a reason to not start this relationship at all. I had had no experience of a functional relationship before this.

He was all that a partner should be but I was not sure that I wanted a partner anymore. He had seen who I really was. I had never sugar-coated things, I showed him my anger as and when I felt it. I did not hide my insecurities and he never used them against me. I had slowly let my fear of rejection go and had learnt to say NO. Over the years I had started respecting my journey and what it had made me and finally met a man who respected me for that. It wasn't long before I finally fell deeply in love with him and changed the rule. This time not because a man wanted me to but because I wanted to.

We have been married for six years now. We are each other's best friends and my family members respect him too. My father is no more but when he was alive, he had more conversations with him than he ever had with me, he is clearly a family favorite even though he is a black beauty too. I very proudly give myself the credit for finding such a gem. After all, all my life, I had manifested relationships that fulfilled my patterns and fit my insecurities. Only when I changed internally, did my reality outside change. Today too, I do realise that I am still a work in progress as every human being is, however I realise that we need to recognise our strengths even when we aren't perfect. We need to respect ourselves and transition to the newer versions of us to eventually unleash most of our capabilities.

As I share my story today I want to tell every one of you reading this, value yourself and only then with others value you. Find out your own role in your patterns, explore how are you responsible for them and change them. There is never anyone else to blame, we are the centre of our universes and always create a world and relationships that reflect our internal state. If people aren't treating you right then ask yourself if you are treating yourself right. Learn to say NO and keep spreading hope.

* If you found this story inspiring then don't forget to share, comment, like and subscribe to The Hope Tribe. You can be the instrument of Hope for someone by spreading these inspirational tales. Thanks for reading, Mallika Bhatia, Founder- The Hope Tribe

Tuesday 28 May 2019

My husband doesn't love me. What choices do I have left?

My husband doesn't love me, what choices do I have left?

The story of Mansi Deshmukh (Name changed)
Based in New Delhi
Written by Mansi Deshmukh
Edited by Mallika Bhatia

Finally, it is my time to be happy! In the past I was sad, angry, hopeless and worried. Then I decided it had to change.The despair wasn't worth it any more.

Well, I was not even close to being happy a few months back. I got married in 2010 with a dream of a 'happily ever after' kind of life. I had always believed that marriages are made in heaven and full of romance. Within a few months of being married I learnt that it is not so. Me and my husband could not connect emotionally at all. We had different priorities and different expectations out of our relationship. He wanted to continue living his independent life where as I wanted us to do things together. He wanted to be browsing on his phone when I wanted to watch a movie with him. He hated going out and I loved to. I would initiate plans and he would keep cancelling them. Emotionally as well, we did not match. We had major differences at all levels. We were just two very different people living together in the same flat.

Coming from the expectation of having a companion in my partner, I wanted to try harder. I wanted to make it work and what better way than communicating everything, I had thought. I spoke to him several times about how lonely I felt in our marriage and he simply kept telling me that I overthink things. My emotional needs were labelled high expectations and I was just too demanding for wanting any of his time and attention.

He was busy in his life and I kept trying to make my place in it. At home I kept myself busy with everyday chores; cooking, keeping his parents/relatives happy, shopping for him, giving him all my attention and ignoring my own happiness and my side of the family in the process. Yet, never once did he acknowledge my efforts. I really wanted to have children of my own but I knew that bringing a child in these circumstances wasn't a good idea. I wanted to try something else to maybe light a spark so I decided to move abroad for work to see if the distance rings any bells in his heart. I had taken the assignment with his consent.

Photo by Maria Teneva on Unsplash

Sadly, my being away for a year did not have any effect on our relationship at all. I had come back after a year, still hoping that with time things could get better. As soon as I got back, I conceived our first child. It was all still confusing for me; we had issues amongst ourselves and even with his family who had extremely high expectations from me and now there was going to be a baby in the picture. I was happy about the baby but also very scared. I couldn't stop my fears or being angry, sad and negative. Our relationship was as bad as ever. I always valued love and family more than anything else. Yet I was deprived of both. Inspite having all these stressful feelings to deal with, it was the first time that I was not feeling lonely. I had my baby who was with me all the time, a companion for life I had thought.

In the 4th month of my pregnancy, 26th Sep. 2015, a Saturday morning I started getting labor pains. We went to hospital and were told that baby had not survived. I delivered my first baby boy that day. I became mother but had no child to hold. I couldn't see my first born because my husband, without consulting me, asked the hospital staff to take care of the body. I couldn't even say goodbye to my child. With so much shock, grief and anger I spent countless nights crying to myself. There was obviously no support of any kind from my husband or his family. I only had the support of my mother and a friend of mine.

It was easy to blame myself and I strongly felt that may be I didn't love my child enough so he left me. Maybe there was a lesson for me here but I didn't know what yet.

I tried to go back to my routine life; Office, home, husband, family and now also constantly missing my baby. I got pregnant again in April 2016. This time I conceived in desperation. After loosing my first baby, I just wanted to be mother as soon as possible. As if I was trying to prove something to myself, his family or even the society. This time too, in the 5th month of my pregnancy I got to know there were growth issues with the baby. I was put on daily injection to improve the blood flow to the baby. But I guess we were late with finding out the issues and within another month, I lost my second son too. His heartbeat had stopped. I was composed this time. I was strong yet I wanted answers. I wanted to know WHY this was happening with me again. Yet again I had no emotional support from my husband, and his family. But this time I got to say bye to my son. I saw him, thanked him for being a part of me, felt sorry for not able to bring him to life and kissed him goodbye.

Now I felt more strongly than ever that God wanted me to learn something before blessing me with a baby. This time as well, just after few days I was back to the same routine life, emotional drama of my in-laws and a busy husband. I decided to take a challenging project and kept myself busy. The only emotional support I had was my side of the family and my friends.

It was during this time, after all these years that I finally I realised my husband truly didn't love me. Marriage was a obligation for him that he had to fulfil. It took too many years for me to see this but finally I did. I guess I was too blind with my expectation of a companion earlier to see his side, I was so busy loving him that I refused to believed that I would not be loved back. All this while, I had consoled myself by telling myself that he was not as mature as I was, or maybe because he is man so lacked a way of expressing his feelings. I told myself he was busy and stressed about his start up or he was forgetful and what not. But what I was scared to accept earlier, was very clear to me now. He did his best to make it clear that we were in a marriage where there was no love but I had refused to see it.

This new reality was killing me. It must sound silly that after losing 2 babies, dedicating 10 years to this relationship, ignoring my career, leaving assignments and losing my self confidence, I was still longing for my husband's love. As painful as it was, yet it was clear that a person can be this ignorant about his partners needs only if he is has no feelings for her. It took me a few weeks to accept this bitter truth but once I did, I stopped complaining.

I realised that both our family set up was as such that we could not think of a divorce and yet I did not want my life to go wasted. I started making changes in the way I was. I stopped tagging myself around him when he was home, stopped being over-attentive to his needs, instead I started doing things which give me happiness. He was least bothered by this change in me. I am not sure he even noticed it.

It was April 2018, when for the first time and without any fear I stood up for myself in front of him and his family. I started saying NO to the things which challenged my peace of mind. I was changing what I had done in the past 10 years. It was shock for him and his family. Now is when he changed his attitude. He wanted us to go back to the functional relationship that worked for him and his parents. He wanted me to be the same submissive girl that I was for all these years. He tried his best to pacify me so that I went back to my 'normal' self. He tried be the soft guy, the tough guy, the ignorant guy and other tactics until I broke down for the crying guy. I decided that maybe I could give him a chance but I would stick to my ground, with my new rules. This was when I conceived my 3rd baby. Soon after, things were back to usual from his side.

This time I had resolved to give birth to this baby. I did research and found new doctors who specialised in difficult cases. I had decided to take the reins of my life back in my hands. I went to the doctors with all my past history and was put on blood thinners from day one of my pregnancy. I had to take injections everyday, which was very scary for me because I was petrified of injections. Yet this time I was prepared to do it on my own. It was subcutaneous injection; to be either given in stomach or thigh. I am so proud that I did it everyday without any fear.

I stepped up and said NO to anything that did not work for me or my baby. I took care of myself, my profession and my baby. I chose to shut down negativity and create positivity around me. For the first time I was actually busy thinking about how to bring joy into my life. I started thinking of things that will make me happy. I went to movies alone, I shopped on my own, painted, went out with friends and made my independent plans. I even invited my mother to stay with me for few days. I would dress up for office everyday showing off my little bump. I worked hard at not get affected by the sulking and indifferent faces that my husband made. My pregnancy was smooth this time. I was due in just a month when my doctor found out that the blood flow to the baby was getting compromised again. She asked me to get admitted to monitor my condition. The next morning she suggested a C-section to deliver the baby. She made us understand that it would be easier for the baby to cope when he was outside. The environment inside the womb was now hostile with the limited blood flow. She knew best and I trusted her completely.

I remember my son crying as soon as he was born. The doctor's first words to me were “your baby is vigorous, just like his mother”. Since he was premature, they rushed him to NICU for respiratory support and care. In the evening my husband told me that he met our baby and he looked fine. Next morning I went to see him in the NICU. At first I was devastated to see him with all needles and tubes. He was so tiny to have so many things poked into him. I couldn't stand there for more than a few minutes before breaking down. By the afternoon I was asked to express milk and send it for my baby.

Next day when the doctor in the NICU saw me all teary and scared, he told me 'You are the mother, your touch will heal him and soon he will be all fine'. These words gave me strength and hope. For the next 20 days I went to the NICU everyday to express milk and give him KMC (kangaroo mother connect, in which the baby rests on mother's bare chest). Slowly I started changing his diapers and giving him massages. Each activity was a milestone in itself. His responses were my best reward. I made sure there was enough milk expressed for each of his meals at night.

He got better each day and by the twentieth day, we were allowed to take him home. Finally I had my baby in my arms, my child who refused to come into my life till I started making myself my first priority. I now knew what my lesson was, the one I had refused to learn earlier. It isn't about someone else loving me, it is about me loving myself.  I had to learn to make myself a priority, I had to stop looking for approval from others around me. I had learn to stand up for myself and almost seize the respect that my husband and my in-laws had refused to give me.

It has been a beautiful journey so far. My son is  almost six months old now and time seems to be flying with him. I want to capture each moment and enjoy every second with my child. I have not felt this happy and content in past 10 years.

While growing up my mother always told me that if I study well, I may get a good husband. Well I studied decently and it did not result in a good husband at all. Yet it helped me grow as a person, it empowered me to have my own dreams, It gave me the confidence to realise that my happiness shouldn't be dependent on someone else actions, I should be able to make choices on my own. In the past 10 years I always thought about raising a baby girl. I wanted to show the society how to raise strong, humble and independent girl. Someone who is not bogged down by societal pressures. Now that I have a son, I am equally happy as I hopefully be able to raise a boy who may grow up to respect his partner for who she is. No doubt our society is progressing and not discriminating against their daughters, but we need to also concentrate on our sons and make sure they don't grow up to feel entitled. I am still in the process of unlearning things which the society taught me while growing up. This slow transformation is helping me towards my happiness, regardless of my surroundings. I hope my story helps you too. I hope it helps you find a direction, an inspiration or just a push into loving and respecting yourself.

* If you found this story inspiring then don't forget to share, comment, like and subscribe to The Hope Tribe.You can be the instrument of Hope for someone by spreading these inspirational tales. Thanks for reading, Mallika Bhatia, Founder- The Hope Tribe

Tuesday 30 April 2019

Is motherhood restricted to having a child?

Is motherhood restricted to having a child? 

The story of Mallika Bhatia
Spanning over New Delhi and Munich
Written by Mallika Bhatia

Back in 2012, motherhood had already changed me much before I  became a mother. I had leaking breasts, sleepless nights, contractions, labor pains, stretch marks, everything that could qualify me as a new mother but no baby to show for it. I had delivered her, of course, but instead of her 21 week old body being handed to my warm arms, she was put in an ice box and sent for biopsy.

My baby had died in my womb in the fifth month of pregnancy. The cause was never made clear. No doctor wanted to claim responsibility, no one wanted to take the onus and call out the cause. We were told in hushed voices that it could be because of an invasive test that was administered too late in my pregnancy. According to the reports of the very test that took our child from us, she was a perfectly healthy fetus, hence no cause of death could be determined except for maybe shock of the test. We could blame the machines, we could blame the people involved or ourselves but all the blame in the world could not bring back our child. She was gone; without me ever having seen her, without me ever having touched her, without me taking-in her baby smell and inspite of she growing inside of me, she was taken away. I never got to know her yet she changed me completely.

She taught me to love someone deeply without having met them. She taught me to be angry without fear. She helped me learn the importance of my relationship with my partner. Her going away made me see clearly that we, as humans always operate out of our weaknesses. A few of my so-called friends did not reach out to me because they did not know what to say. Family members and relatives did not try hard enough to support me emotionally because they believed I was strong myself. People who were supposed to console me, got awkward around me. It made me question the meaning of each and every relationship I had. My own mother was far away visiting my sister in another continent when I became a mother.

A mother!! Yes, I was still a mother even though at that point, I had never wanted a baby of my own again. It was too painful to want one. I was a mother even though I had believed that giving birth was the most physically painful experience there ever can be. Labor felt as if the devil himself was sitting at the center of my being and pushing aside each of my parts, shoving every bone and trying his best to tear up the lower part of my body. The lack of a child had not taken motherhood away, in fact it gave me a painful version of the experience. I was still a mother, though an unfulfilled one.

I still sang to my child in heaven and I wrote for her and thought of her all the time. Not crying at the brink of a hat was not an option that existed. Our missed abortion, which is what the doctors call it, made me miss a huge part of my life. Even though I am a psychotherapist, it was my husband who was acting like one for me.  He had lost a child too but he focussed on the sobbing, howling creature in front of him that needed love instead of tending to his wounds.

My physical recovery was much faster than the mental one. I was discharged from the hospital the same day that I had delivered my baby girl. My gynecologist had very conveniently forgotten to mention that I was going to start lactating soon, just like she forgot to shift me to the labor room and I had delivered right on the bed that I had in my room. She had forgotten that I was supposed to deliver in her presence and not when she was busy in the O.P.D. and still be charged a hefty amount for her assistance in my delivery. I had never experienced so much pain in my breasts like I did the next day when I woke up. They had never felt like rocks in the past. The doctor simply said, oh I must have forgotten to prescribe the medicine against it. My body was reacting to the delivery and producing milk for the baby who could never drink it. My breasts were full, heavy and hard.

Emotionally I felt lost, purposeless, unsupported. I could not trust anyone around me, neither could I go back to work. My profession involves helping others cope with their issues. How was I supposed to help someone else cope when I was going through so much myself? I needed something to push me, something to motivate me, something to make me feel otherwise. I needed a change of scene and I needed to be far away from where I was, literally.

Strange that I say that because both me and my husband were against moving out of our country. We were happy with our lives before this incident. We had our work, our friends, our family and our social support in India. India was the only life we had known and the only life we had loved until then.

We moved to Germany within five months of losing our baby. It was a difficult decision to make, a very difficult one! We were moving out of our comfort zones to a country where no one spoke the language we understood. In Munich, which is where we live, people either spoke German or Bavarian, there was no third language back then. We literally did not know anyone here. We did not know how this country worked and there was no way to find it out unless we learnt the local language.

In the hind side, the newness and challenges were the best things that happened to us. It meant a fresh new start, it meant no baggages, it meant new challenges and new learning every single day. Even though I had been with my husband for many years, now was the time where we had many of our adventurous firsts and hopeful seconds. We went to our first Oktoberfest together; got drunk, acted crazy, played pranks and loved each other a little more. We learnt our first foreign language together, we visited many countries for the first time and after a year and half of healing ourselves, we decided to have our second child together.

Even though the decision was full of hope and trust, I dealt with anxiety every single day. I cried very often and prayed very hard. The conversations that I had with my husband were my comfort; he would say, "no matter what happens, we are together and healthy and that is what matters. At other times he would tell me to trust. Trust in the universe, trust in our luck, trust in our destiny, trust that we learnt our lessons the first time, trust that things can't go wrong twice. I also had two friends who were my constant support. I would talk to them very often, share my fears and truly gain strength from them. These three people saw me through my anxiety in an otherwise healthy and perfect pregnancy.

I was glowing and growing. Me and my husband travelled and explored more places before our second child finally arrived. We bought little things for her together and prepared for our lives to be changed forever. When she was finally born, she had ten perfectly manicured fingers, ten little toes, the chubbiest cheeks we had ever seen and that divine baby smell that drove us crazy with love. She was perfect then and now at four years of age, she just keeps getting better. We are growing together as a family. She teaches us much more than we teach her. She gives us much more than we ever can. She speaks three languages fluently, four if you consider her language of love. She is a wise little nut who knows exactly which buttons to press in order to get what she wants. We are raising her not as an inferior for being a child, nor as a superior for being our rainbow baby but exactly as an equal. We let her make mistakes, we let her fall, we let her experience pain because we know it is through the pain that we grew into who we are today. We let her believe in magic and let her hope that unicorns become real creatures, because it is hope that always sees us though.

* If you found this story inspiring then don't forget to share, comment, like and subscribe to The Hope Tribe.You can be the instrument of Hope for someone by spreading these inspirational tales. Thanks for reading, Mallika Bhatia, Founder- The Hope Tribe

Monday 11 March 2019

I loved him so much that I begged him to go...

I loved him so much that I begged him to go...

The Story of Charu Aggarwal

Based in New Delhi, India

Written by Mallika Bhatia

Me and Rahul got married in 2009 after patiently waiting on convincing my parents for a long time. We both wanted to wait till both sides of the parents agreed. It was purely Rahul's trust and effort that finally won them over. For the next few years we were in bliss and we decided to expand our happiness by creating a new life together. I got pregnant in 2013. My pregnancy was textbook perfect. I was hale and hearty, full of energy throughout the pregnancy, no morning sickness, no nausea, nothing, just a happy kicking baby inside me. All the tests and ultrasounds were perfect and we, along with our extended families were really looking forward to the new phase of our lives.

Nine months later, my labor pains started just a day before the due-date given by the doctor. After 24 hours, we had a healthy looking, pink baby in our arms. It was a boy who weighed 3.8 kilograms, a healthy birth weight by all standards. We named him Rushil, the charming one. Celebrations began soon after his birth. It was almost midnight so my mother decided to stay at the hospital. It would give my husband, Rahul some much needed rest. It had been a long day for him too, he had been in the labor room throughout. As most babies do, Rushil had the colostrum, the first feed of mother's milk, and slept blissfully for the next few hours. 

We had to wake him up to feed him again. He had a little milk and vomited out something green a couple of times. The nurse told us that it was just acid reflux, something very normal for newborns. She took him to the NICU (Neonatal ICU) to clean up his stomach and for general observation till he was comfortable. After a couple of hours, he was brought to me again as they had cleaned his stomach and he seemed absolutely calm. I breastfed him again only to see him vomit something green one more time. The doctor and the nurses told me again that it was all normal and took him to the NICU. We were also advised to stay in the hospital for one more day for observation. 

I was asked to pump milk and called in NICU for skin-to-skin and direct feed while Rushil had started exploring his new surroundings. Rahul kept peeping in NICU to see if Rushil was sleeping or awake. All seemed normal until on one such trip to NICU, Rahul sensed something wasn't right. It was late evening and the NICU incharge had been called back from home. She informed Rahul to wait back in the room and that she would speak to us soon. A very anxious half an hour later, she walked into our room and informed us that there was indeed something wrong with our baby. They did not know what it was yet but knew that he was losing blood as he was becoming pale. It could have been in the brain, they had suspected. The doctors had to find the source of the blood leak in order to fix it. She told us that she was consulting her colleagues and seniors even in other hospitals. She said she was trying to figure out the next steps and needed our trust and patience.

At around 10.30 p.m. that night, his tiny frame was being taken for an ultrasound followed by a CT scan. All the reports came out normal. Our tiny baby was being pricked every few hours to check his levels of haemoglobin. It kept dropping. He was being pricked for some test or the other and that troubled us parents to no end. The pediatrician told us to rest while she tested Rushil for possible issues throughout the night and yet, not once did we feel that she left our side. By dawn, Rushil’s stomach had started distending, i.e, it had swollen up and he was now in pain if someone tried even to touch his stomach. Our doctor had contacted the pediatric surgeon and requested him to come and see our child. The surgeon said that if the child had passed urine and meconium then all should be well. He did come after insistence.

The surgeon had one look at Rushil and said that he would have to open him up. We now decided to inform both of our parents about the happenings who rushed to the hospital to be with us. They were going to do an exploratory surgery in order to identify what the issue was. Our son was just 3 days old when he had his first surgery. We were obviously nervous wrecks. He was so tiny, so pale and so fragile. We kept hoping and praying that he would be alright during the surgery and the doctors managed to find out what the issue was and were able to fix it. We just wanted to go home with our little baby. Tears and tension went hand in hand.

A few hours later, the surgeon walked out of the operation theatre with a small bowl in his hand. It contained a tiny sausage like thing. The doctor then informed us that our son had a very rare congenital deformity called the Apple peel deformity. Usually there are a web of blood vessels supplying blood to the intestines, in our case, our son had only one such nerve but still his small intestine were fully formed. The only blood vessel supplying blood had got twisted and the blood supply to intestine was hampered. The blood had started flowing inside the intestine turning it gangrenous. More than 70% of his small intestine had to be removed, though the colon, which helps the body absorb liquids was intact. That was the only positive outcome of the surgery. The surgeon informed us that once Rushil recovers from the surgery, we would assess if he could have mother’s milk or would he require special pre-digested formula. He also told us that Rushil might require special pre-digested food throughout his life. His body was not capable of digesting anything on it's own.

We did not know if we should be happy about the doctors finding the source or sad about our child never eating. That evening was when the reality of it hit us, we knew we would never have a normal healthy child. He would have tubes feeding him throughout his life, he would be a regular visitor at the hospital and God knows what other complications along with it. Our neonatologist kept giving us hope. She said let's wait and see how he recovers. She was doing a lot of research of her own to try and find solutions that might work. She was looking into transplants and other options. She also insisted and convinced the surgeon with her findings that no formula can replace the goodness of mother’s milk and that it will in fact help in recovery.

I had been discharged but me and Rahul still spent the whole day in the hospital, waiting for our son to recover from his surgery. Rushil stayed in NICU. We visited him during the day and spent the rest of the time assessing and discussing his condition with the doctors. After around a week, when his stitches had healed and the doctors thought it was safe, we tried to feed him breast milk again. He took the feed hungrily but unfortunately his stomach bloated almost instantly after taking the feed. The surgeon rushed back to check on him. He made an incision on the tiny stomach and the same green liquid/bile started coming out of it, following this the complications just kept increasing every single day. Again a series of tests were conducted which lead us nowhere. The surgeon suspected that his internal stitches had given away and wanted to open Rushil up again but we were vary of it. He was just 16 days old. It was all happening too fast and it was all very difficult to process. Just a week and half before we were celebrating this new life and here we were, a few days later not knowing what to do with it.

We took second and third and a fourth opinion. By now we were told by everyone to stop hoping for his recovery. We did not want our child to turn into a vegetable, we did not want him to suffer so much just for our egocentric love. We could not focus on just keeping him alive when he did not have a life worth living. We knew by then that he would not grow, he would need support and medical intervention all his life and yet he would not be leading a healthy life.

What did we want the end result to be? What were we looking at in the long run? Did a little baby deserve to go through so much physical pain and so many surgeries when we were not sure what would come out of it? We wanted our baby, we wanted him to be healthy and happy but at what cost? There were so many questions in our heads, so many dilemmas. What was the right call to make?? 

Our answer came to us when the surgeon we took the second opinion from explained that his only aim was to keep Rushil alive, if he eats all his life or not was secondary to him. Me and Rahul instantly knew that we could not make such a selfish decision. 

That evening we went to our surgeon's residence to speak to him. He was rather nervous when we walked in. We sat calmly and told him that our prime objective was to relieve Rushil of his pain. If the second surgery would help him then we were ready for it. We told him that we trusted his judgement and wanted him to know that if he was faced with a difficult choice during surgery, then we would trust the choice he would make. We conveyed our faith and also our unfortunate decision about not wanting our child to turn into a vegetable. 

During the second surgery, the doctor found out that it’s not just the stitches but most of the small intestine that had given away. There was almost nothing left and his stomach had just become an open pit. Nothing was left, neither his intestine nor any hope. The doctor stitched back whatever little was left and we were told that all we could do now was palliative care, just to make sure that his death was as pain-free as possible.

We had to accept that he was dying, there was no way of saving him. It was extremely painful to watch him with all those tubes and wires and yet it was the tubes and wires that made acceptance a bit easier for us. He had an IV keeping him as nourished as possible. The doctors and nurses were constantly there with him. As ironic as it sounds, he had so many mothers in the nurses taking care of him, hoping and praying with us. They seemed to be taking care of him like they would do for their own babies. Sometimes we would all cry together. He had become like a family to all of them and they would take turns to hold him and spend time with him in our absence.

Rushil's condition was getting worst and it had actually started affecting the staff emotionally. This had been a forty-day long journey for all of us. 40 days that taught a lot of us much more than we wanted to learn in this lifetime.

Rahul and me together decided to take our baby home. We wanted him to come home, even if it was for a few hours. No one could predict when he would eventually go but everyone agreed that he deserved to be home and loved. The pipes weren't helping. Our wish of taking our new born home was finally being fulfilled. The doctor spoke to us and told us how difficult it was going to be at home, emotionally and physically. Everything would be erratic, unpredictable and draining, both for us and for him, she had said. She tried to prepare us by giving us as much information as possible. She told us that he would slowly starve, he might cry a lot because he would always be hungry and his throat would be dry. One by one his organs would start failing, in what order could not be ascertained and then finally he would literally starve to death.

The next few days were the longest and the shortest days of our lives. We had to make the most of the time we had with Rushil. We would dress him up and have long conversations. He would just look at us with pure love in his eyes. Sometimes he would smile back and respond in his own sweet little baby ways. He would also constantly be hungry and dehydrated. There was nothing we could do about it, just hold his little body while he wailed. We hoped that our love was enough. Till date we aren't sure if it was! He would get tired and sleep. We had to feed him every 20 minutes, just to keep his throat from drying. The milk would go in through the mouth and come straight out from the bottom, almost life pouring something through a pipe. This cycle was repeated every 20 minutes for the next few days. He required 24 hours care and feed and I obviously did not have that much milk supply so we topped it up with formula. Slowly his liver started giving away, he developed jaundice.

Now our conversations with him changed. We started telling him that we were truly sorry but there was nothing we could do for him. We started telling him to go.... We told him repeatedly to not elongate his suffering and, selfishly even ours. We would kiss him with tears in our eyes, hold his little body as close to us as possible. His body did not have enough energy to move on its own, not even a hand or a finger and yet he would look at us with pure love and gave us the sweetest smiles. Like he wanted us to experience the pure bliss of love without saying a word. His schedule started getting more and more erratic, either he would not sleep or he would not wake up for hours. Sometimes he would sleep for 12 hours straight. The doctor told us that this meant his end was near. We would keep checking if he was breathing, that was all we could do.  We were still singing to him, dressing him up and enjoying the little time we had together as a family.

On one Sunday afternoon his breathing became very labored. We called the doctor who told us that it could be a fluid buildup in his lungs. She said she would try to arrange an instrument that could help him breathe better at home. Rahul was holding our tiny baby and standing in the balcony. I came out of the shower and overheard a teary eyed, broken Rahul speaking to our son, begging him to go. I went close to them and held them both. Our little family was so perfect and yet so imperfect right now. We all loved each other and we were all so helpless. We wanted our son but we kept begging him to go away from us. It was all too painful, all too complex. I took Rushil in my arms where he took three or four labored breaths and then stopped breathing completely. 

Our son had decided to listen to us, he was gone. He had left us and this world that could do nothing for him. Just like that Rushil was no more. As we held his lifeless body, we didn't want to believe that the moment we were dreading was finally here. We decided to rush to the hospital, where Rushil was finally declared dead by our doctor. It was like he had to say goodbye to his doctor as well.

Our charming one had charmed his way into so many hearts. There were so many wet eyes that day. He had had a short life and yet in his short life, he gave so much. He made us parents, he got us face-to-face with the different layers of love, he made us go through our worst fears and helped us realise that life still goes on. He made us eternally grateful. 

Rushil was truly gone. He came and went so quickly. Both me and Rahul had a lot of emotions to deal with. We were sad, angry, helpless and relieved. There was so much we had lost that it seemed natural to us to even lose ourselves. It took us more than a year to get used to the emotional pain, I wouldn't say get over because how can a parent ever get over their child! We had to relearn how to live, this time with a constant emotional pain. We grieved, we cried, we healed and became mentally strong. We were sure that we only wanted to focus on ourselves. A lot of people around us wanted us to behave like our child was never born, they got uncomfortable when we talked about Rushil and kept telling us to get over him and try for another child, almost like our baby was replaceable. We had support yet in many ways we were all alone. 

After about one and half years we both decided to go back to the same doctors and talk about having a second child. The doctors had been so supportive and transparent that we could only trust them now. Soon we were pregnant with our second one. This pregnancy was completely the opposite of my first; I was anxious and sick all the time. I had acidity, vomiting, nausea...the works. We were doing several extra detailed tests and our pregnancy was being monitored by a genetic expert this time. Everyday of the pregnancy I had to tell myself that we will face whatever happens. Somedays I told myself that we can't be a second time unlucky. I had medical science backing me up because even though the condition Rushil had was genetic, it could not be predicted and rarely did the same set of parents have the same case repeated. 

Two years and some months later, me and Rahul were in the same hospital with almost the same staff going through labor. Aseem was born the next day. He looked so much like his elder brother when he was born. He is 3 years old now and is the naughtiest child we have ever come across. He seems to be here to receive everything that Rushil gave us. All our love, attention and blessings. Everyday we thank our Rusha for coming back to us. Everyday we count our blessings and live with gratitude.

We decided to share our story because we wanted the world to know that there is pain but there is always hope, it just depends on what we focus on. We want to thank the medical staff who took care of us and made us trust in humanity. We want to thank all our family and friends for being a part of our journey in their own ways and helping us heal. We want to thank you for reading and humbly hope that our story will help you or your loved one in some way.  Like they said, a single thread of hope is still stronger than an entire rope of doubts.

* If you found this story inspiring then don't forget to share, comment, like and subscribe to The Hope Tribe.You can be the instrument of Hope for someone by spreading these inspirational tales. Thanks for reading, Mallika Bhatia, Founder The Hope Tribe

Monday 21 January 2019

Living with the missing 'X'

Living with the missing 'X'

The story of Sowmya Mohan
Written by Mallika Bhatia
Based all over India

“Your struggle develops your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is STRENGTH.” This quote encapsulates the story of my life.

I was born in February 1982 to an Army officer and back then a-future-teacher. My parents fell so deeply in love with my cuteness that the fact that I was short-limbed was simply termed as a tiny baby who would grow big and tall with time. I was their first born and hence got all the attention possible. I am told I was quite intelligent, chirpy and a delight to be around. I had started talking very early and would supposedly even hold long conversations as a toddler. I was the apple of my parents’ eye and loved even in the neighbourhood. Since we were an Army family, we had the great opportunity to live in a new place every two years. Around four and a half years after I was born, came along my brother and our family increased. I had started school by now and my parents started noticing that I wasn’t growing in height in comparison to my peers. I wasn't even as agile as them. It took me much longer to cover the same distance that my friends did effortlessly and quickly. After a few months of observation, when I was around 5 years of age, my parents took me to the local pediatrician. He checked my vitals and simply asked my parents to keep patience. 'Some kids just take longer to grow' he had said.

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

My parents of course believed the doctor for that time but something kept bothering them in the back of their heads. When I was around 9 years old and still hadn't grown much, I was taken to the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) for a detailed check-up. We were stationed at Meerut that time.Together the doctors in Meerut and AIIMS finally diagnosed me with Turner's syndrome.

(Turner syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality in which all or part of one of the X chromosomes is missing or altered. Diagnosis is based on physical signs and genetic testing. No cure for Turner syndrome is known.Read more about it here)

My parents finally had the answers for the questions no parents ever want to ask and I had the huge task of accepting that the bullying that I was facing in school would probably never end. I was always a part of the journey that my parents had undertaken in trying to find the reasons for my lack of height and they made sure that I was a well informed part. The way they conveyed the news of my diagnosis to me was by telling me how lucky I was to be blessed with a brilliant brain and a thinking mind. I was told instead of height, I had immense talent. Instead of talking about what all I would lack in life, I was told about how lucky I was to have an endocrine disorder and yet have the least threatening symptoms/manifestation. Instead of talking about my missing X chromosome, we talked about my blessings as an individual. That formed the base of my personality.

Me in the background with mom and my brother

Just because my parents were supportive did not mean my issues went away or that the world was kind. I had started having thyroid issues and gaining weight very early on. When other children were out playing and running, I had to focus on exercising and eating right. With my stature, it wasn't an easy task. In school the other children had all sorts of nicknames for me. I was called githi, chukti, piddi, all local words derogatorily pointing towards how short I was. The teachers were not far behind. My sports teacher did not let me participate in many games because of a lack of height or because my gait wasn't what was considered 'normal'. They decided that I was not good at sports even before I got a chance to experience playing. I was vehemently discouraged from participating in activities where one had to be on stage. I would look too odd on the stage was the general belief.
In all honesty it was a struggle for me to cope physically with regular activities since I was extremely short limbed, yet my mind worked fine, in fact it worked better than a lot of my peers and yet I was not given a chance to showcase it because of the way I looked.

I clearly recall one incident when I was in 9th grade. It was one of the inter-house debate competitions in school that I really wanted to participate in. The topic was Intelligence 'vs' perseverance. I spent many an evening preparing my content, which I later discussed with my English teacher, who was very impressed by it. When I went to the house mistress with my participation request, she didn't say anything to me but the opportunity was given to another child who would look 'normal' on stage. The decision wasn't based on the content that one would present, it was rather based on how one would look presenting it. I was informed about it by the teacher who was supporting me.

I knew I was capable of representing the 'house' and yet I wasn’t given a chance because of how I looked. I was heartbroken and spoke to my parents about this unfairness. My father chose to come to the school and speak to the head mistress. She listened to my father's concerns and yet did not do anything about it. I was handed the duty to help the other participants in the debate but backstage.

As the topic of the debate was, so were my intentions; I knew perseverance well enough and chose to still go on to the stage at the end of the competition and present my views as a guest speaker. I couldn't give up just because a few adults refused to show sensitivity. I knew I wasn't lesser simply because of my height.

Eventually, I was very happy that I did present my views. My real reward came when a few days later my biology teacher, whom I admired a lot, came up to me and told me how much she admired my views. That was my win.

I did continue to lose out on opportunities and still was bullied but by now I had realized that most people always focused on things that were superficial. It wasn't my loss but theirs. Yet some losses hurt more than the others, I lost out on Prefect ship because the Principal of our school did not find my persona towering enough. I took much longer to learn how to cycle. I still didn't have any great friends while my peers were busy forming their little cliques.

Teenage makes life even tougher than it otherwise is. I could observe the bodies of my schoolmates changing. The girls were growing breasts, the boys had changes in their voices and facial hair. Everyone was busy 'growing up' but me. Girls now had boyfriends and best friends and stories to share and all I had were my academics. I felt left-out, very often. My mind oscillated between acceptance of myself and my condition and falling prey to the social pressures and questioning why I did not look like them?

I tried to fit in, I tried to copy them, I tried to ape as much as I could and yet I was not like them. Since no one wanted to befriend a person who looked 'strange', I did not have anyone to share my pain with. I kept internalizing everything. How it helped me in-turn was that it made my inner resolve much stronger. The difference between the real and superficial became even more clearer.

I now could see how much effort my family had put in to support me and to make me feel absolutely normal. I saw my parents struggle internally but they never let that reflect on to me or my brother. I wanted to tell them that I truly valued what they were doing for me, so I started focussing completely on my academics. I got brilliant results in almost every class and enjoyed economics immensely. After school I went on to do a Bachelor's in Economics followed by and MBA from the prestigious Army Institute of Management, Kolkata. I stayed in a hostel, away from my family for the first time during my Master's. It was a test for all my resolve and upbringing. Thankfully that was another test I passed with flying colours. I enjoyed my experience thoroughly. I was independent and completely responsible for my own self. I knew there was nothing that could stop me now. Over the years I had also made some great friends who loved me for who I was.

Post MBA, I entered the corporate world quite effortlessly. In the professional world, I was judged based on my abilities and intelligence rather than my looks. I am currently working as a Manager for a reputed Multinational company, I feel fulfilled and complete in every respect. The struggles were worth it and helped me in building a sense of faith in oneself.

I want to tell each one of you reading this that it is extremely important to trust oneself and accept who you are. It is equally important to focus on the blessings more than the challenges. When issues come our way, we need to face them as stepping stones rather than hindrances. I am thankful to my parents for letting me be independent and never letting me feel that I lack something. I wish more parents could do that. As they say, the way our parents speak to us becomes our inner voice. I am thankful for such a beautiful inner voice. I might be missing an 'X' but I know that in life, there is nothing I am missing out on.

* If you found this story inspiring then don't forget to share, comment, like and subscribe to The Hope Tribe.You can be the instrument of Hope for someone by spreading these inspirational tales. Thanks for reading, Mallika Bhatia, Founder The Hope Tribe

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Does your life hold a lesson for someone else?

by Mallika Bhatia

This month's The Hope Tribe feature isn't a story like the other months. It is an appeal, it is a request, it is a command and a tribute. 

For what you may be wondering, let me tell you. 

It is an appeal for you to value your journey, to see the long way you have come and the obstacles you have overcome to make it here. It is an appeal to not undermine your own power and the lessons that you have learnt along your way. Your lessons might help make someone else's journey a bit easier. 

It is a request to see the value in the person you have become, focus on the ways you have changed through the years. Some changes may be subtle, while a few others may be too strong for those around you to handle, but these are the changes that make you who you are. Acknowledge them and be proud of who you have become. 

It is a command to not stop here. If you think overcoming obstacles was all that your struggles meant, think again!! There are so many others going through something similar and they need the guidance and support that you may not have received. You may feel that your journey is unique to you, it is. Yet, our struggles are universal. They are the thread that eventually bind the humankind together. Imagine what it would have felt, just knowing that there are others in similar circumstances as you. Think of how alone you had felt while going through your pain. This is your opportunity to make someone else know that they are not alone in their pain and struggles. There is actual emotional safety in numbers. 

All I am asking you to do it share. Tell me your story and I will share it with others. Write it yourself if you like, give it your name or do it anonymously. Do it anyway you like, what is important is that your story reaches others, for women to know that they are not alone. There is support, there is help and there are others who have come out of their struggles and made it. Show others the light at the end of the tunnel. Like Mick Kremlin said, ' You have not come this far, to only come this far.' 

This piece is also a tribute to all the heroes who shared their stories with us in our first year. I would personally like to thank you for trusting The Hope Tribe as a platform to share your fears, weaknesses, joys and successes. You have made The Hope Tribe possible. My hero, you have helped me achieve my dream of creating platform for awareness and support that is free of cost and available to anyone who is willing to benefit from it. Thank you for trusting yourself and believing that your story is worth sharing. Some of you did need a little convincing but I am so glad you let go off your hesitation and decided to share your life with us anyway. 

This year end feature is also to thank our subscribers and readers. Thank you for reading, sharing and recommending The Hope Tribe to everyone. I truly hope you would continue to do so and help the world become a little bit more compassionate, hopeful and loving. 

So lovely people, trust that your stories are worth sharing, continue to support us and have a superb year ahead full of hope and love. 

Mallika Bhatia, Founder, The Hope Tribe.

Monday 26 November 2018

It never gets easier, you get stronger: my journey from a non-athlete to a Half Marathon runner


It never gets easier, you get stronger: my journey from a non-athlete to a Half Marathon runner

The story of Nidhi Khurana
Written by Nidhi Khurana
Edited by Mallika Bhatia

I want to share with you all my incredibly hard but rewarding experience: the story of my transformation from a non-runner to a half marathon runner in a little more than a year. I still find it hard to believe that a non-athletic girl like me can call herself a 'Runner' now. Until I started running, I had never done any kind of exercise besides a few irregular visits to the gym or sporadic walks with friends. Then one day my friend just mentioned a new fitness challenge that she had taken up. It was to run non-stop for ten minutes. The duration had to be increased everyday till one could run for twenty minutes at a stretch.

I decided to try it even though I wasn't sure if I could do it. Little did I know that those ten minutes would be life changing for me. To mine and my friends surprise, I could run for ten minutes effortlessly and soon I started to run for twenty minutes non-stop. I became a TWENTY MINUTES RUNNER. I wasn't bothered about how much distance I covered or the pace at which I ran, I just ran for twenty minutes everyday.

I continued running for two months and then a new chapter in our lives started. Me and my family moved to Munich for my husband's work. As we were busy making Munich our new home, I stopped my twenty minute runs. Surprisingly I didn't even miss them, maybe because I hadn't done them for long enough to become a habit.

My running journey restarted when a friend introduced me to a Facebook group called Ubermom runners. I know that have said this a million times in last one year and I say it again today that joining the runner group is the best thing that has happened to me in Munich. I saw other moms logging their runs ranging from 1 km to 20 km , they were all equally appreciated for their running efforts by the other group members. The most beautiful thing about this group was that no one ever judged on the basis of pace or distance. Everyone is just applauded for their efforts. The group made me believe that I too, could run and every run would be a good run!!

I was still contemplating about restarting my running but I needed a push. Rather a BIG SHOVE to jump out of my couch and run outdoors in the cold winters of Munich, which was such a contrast from Singapore weather.

On 17th January 2018, one of the moms in the group posted that she wanted to start a 100 day running streak, a 100 day challenge she called it. That was all the motivation I needed and I decided to join her in the streak. I promised to run 4 kilometers everyday for a 100 days straight. I wasn't sure of my capability but I was sure of my commitment. I knew if I take it up, I will complete it.

The first few days I struggled really hard to run 4k, a distance I had never run before. I had to literally force my body and brain to continue running after the first 2 kilometers. Ninety nine percent of me wanted to stop and go home to my warm couch but there was one percent of me that wanted to continue. Thankfully I listened to the one percent.

It was not just physically challenging to run everyday but I also had to be resourceful with how to find an opportunity to run each day. When I knew that I had a busy day ahead, I would choose between an the early morning run before anyone at home was awake or a late night run when my daughter was in bed. I often ran laps around the local playground while my daughter played in the middle. There had been instances when a perfect lazy afternoon with a few drinks at our local Biergarten or a girls night out ended with a run. There were days when I had my period and was very demotivated to run and yet I went out and ran. I was a girl with a motive. Once you commit and believe that you have to do something, you find a way and time to do it.

On Day 65, I ran my first ever 10 Kilometers.

The beauty of this run was that I was running with the mum who had started the 100 day streak. Half way through our run it had  started to snow and yet that didn't stop us. In just two months I could run 10k! Sometime in the middle I caught a severe viral infection and could not stop coughing. My family told me to quit my challenge but how could I. I used to sleep in a separate room so as to not disturb my husband with my coughing but I did not miss a single day of my run for a whole of 100 days.

That is what regular training does to you. It makes you stronger, mentally and physically with each passing day. My biggest accomplishment from completing the streak is that running  has become a part of who I am and I run almost everyday now.

I don't run to add days to my life, I run to add life to my days.'  - Ronald Rook

The next step was the first race of my life, Stadlauf München on 24th June 2018.. I can so vividly remember running those 10k and thinking how far I had come and how amazed I was that I did it. I ran with a few other members of the same Übermom runners group. In a month's time I was again on the race track with my runner group, running the 10k Sommernachtlauf München on 24th July 2018. I was totally hooked!!

Now I had started contemplating a half marathon but was too scared to vocalize it. Soon enough another member of the group, a new runner like me suggested running the Munich Half Marathon in October. A half marathon meant 21 Kilometers. I was so sure that it was impossible to make the leap  from 10k to 21k in such a short time, that I discounted it as an unattainable target.  She said that we could do it as we still had over two months to train. That was all the push I needed. We decided to run the half marathon with a goal of finishing the marathon at our own pace.

Now started the two months of hard training for my first half marathon. I was running almost everyday but the the distance and the time I was running for was much more now. I looked like a lunatic who would run for over two hours at least twice a week. Some of my neighbours who saw me running at the school drop off time around 7:30 am were amazed to see that I was still running when they would step out of their home again around 10am. I was like a machine now and my fuel was running...

Training for my race was not only a physically demanding endeavour, but it was also an emotionally rewarding one. My mantra during the training period which kept me going was: If it was easy, everyone would do it.'

My training was hard on me at many levels I had to change my diet, my habits and my routine. My family had to make sacrifices in their schedule to accommodate my running time, we had to cut short family vacations for my race, I had to give up my beloved junk food. Finding two and half hours for running everyday isn't easy but I never gave myself another choice. After two months of rigorous training I was confident that I had a decent chance of finishing my race well within the time limit of three hours. I was obviously very nervous before the race started but once I had started I enjoyed my run for the first eighteen odd kilometers. The last three kilometers were very difficult though. It was a very hot day and I started feeling sick with the heat. There was a constant battle between my body and mind.

The former said to stop and walk whereas the latter said keep going and finish what you have started. I listened to my mind but was still finding it hard. Around the 19th kilometer I met my racing partner. She reminded me how hard we had worked for it and we had to finish it. She was the much needed motivation I needed at that time when my body had almost given up. I finished my first ever half-marathon in 2 hours, 40 minutes and 16 seconds. I was ecstatic! We both crossed the finish line  holding hands. It was one highest moments of my life!

If someone would have told me a year ago that I would one day run a half marathon, I would have laughed at them. For me running was something 'other's did', never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would be a runner. But now, if I don't run for a day I feel that something is missing.

Running helped me feel so many things all at once. It has given me a belief that I can do anything. It has helped me improve my stamina, I feel much stronger and I sleep so much better now. My overall health has improved tremendously and mentally I am more determined. I feel accomplished and motivated to try out new things. Lately I have even carried our heavy duty car tyres when we needed to switch to winter tyres. I do not know if I am deeply in love with running but I do know that I am in a relationship that I can't see ending.

PS: Running is contagious. It runs in our family now!! My 8 year old daughter ran her first race, the Olympic-Alm Crosslauf on the 18th November 2018 and my husband aims to run a 10k soon.

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