Conversations with myself – when loneliness strikes


We have all been through it at some point in our lives.

- The feeling that nothing is going right.

- Something terrible is about to happen.

- No desire to do anything.

- Binge watch TV

The list can go on endlessly.

I have had these phases in my life and each phase had a different solution to the problem. Here I am going to share two significant ones.

When I was studying in the USA (1982-87), I lived alone for almost 2 years. During this period, there was some engagement with studies but there were a few weeks perhaps a month (I don’t clearly remember) that I didn’t leave the house let alone go to college. I didn’t have much money nor was I employed and there was no motivation to do anything.

I typically woke up at odd hours because I slept at odd hours. I ate poorly. I didn’t feel the need to bathe or change clothes. There was hardly any food and even worse, no motivation to cook. I didn’t clean the house either. Most of my waking hours were spent watching TV and then sleeping. I don’t know how long this pattern continued. But what I do remember is that I fell sick.

I fell so sick that I couldn’t get up to eat. I remember managing to reach the phone and in desperation calling my friend Susan Dickinson who stayed in the college dorm. She instantly came over. The first thing she did was make me get up and bathe. I protested that I had high fever (I think). She wouldn’t listen. While I bathed, she went to the local pharmacy and got me medication for both the fever and the cold I had. She helped make some soup, cleaned my apartment as much as she could and since it was nice weather outside, she opened the windows. I was too weak to move. She kept talking to me about how my helping her with maths had kept her motivated to stay in college and study. She admonished me for the wreck I had let myself become.

She visited me every day for the next 3 days. She ensured I ate, I cleaned, and I walked at least till the grocery store. We talked about my situation. She listened patiently. Then admonished me again. She was clear, I was being stupid. The 4th day, I was strong enough to go back to a better routine.

My conversation with her resulted in some changes

- No TV during the day, even on weekends. I restricted my viewing time to a couple of hours a day

- I cooked something EVERYDAY, even if it was just soup from a packet!

- I cleaned the house EVERYDAY, even if it was using the vacuum cleaner for 15 minutes

- I washed my dishes after EVERY meal

- I changed my bedsheets every 3 days

In themselves, these seem insignificant. But they set the tone for building discipline and positivity in my life. It gave me things to do on a daily basis and this helped build a routine for me. Routine makes the mind more active in a positive way; it sets the mind thinking about what to do next.

These things helped me get on my feet and away from my home. I finished my studies and while doing that, I was able to do a part time job too.

There was another phase in my life when I was in a similar situation. This was in the mid 90s when I didn’t have a job, I had a kidney stone to deal with and nothing that I did went right for me. This time I wasn’t alone in a house; I was living in my family home in Mumbai. While there were people there, most were hostile – they really didn’t want another person in the house. It wasn’t a small house as Mumbai houses go. It was large. But uncles, aunts, cousins and even the grandparents had routines that they didn’t want disturbed. I was viewed as an intruder. I started getting into the same pattern; no motivation to work, and nothing to do. This time there was no TV; the many in the house were in bedrooms of others. I didn’t have space to keep books, but I still managed to read. In a house full of people, I started to feel lonely.

Bit by bit my motivation went away. I started cutting corners in finding work. There wasn’t a house to clean or chores to do. What worked for me in the past didn’t work for me now. I tried to find a different routine. Reading was one routine that helped me learn and get lost in a different world. In one of the books I read the process of stilling the mind. I had to find a quiet corner, light a lamp and watch the flame for 5 minutes and working my way to 30 minutes. I was lucky if I ever got 5 minutes alone in such a crowded house. Luckily for me there was a temple in the same compound as the building where I lived. In the early evenings, it was desolate. I started going there and found corners where I could sit quietly. The 5 minutes grew to 15 in no time. But by 15 minutes my legs and back would ache from sitting on the ground. I don’t remember why, but I left the temple and decided to walk on the beach near my house.

It was still sunny and sometimes hot, but I began walking on the seashore near the waterline. The crashing waves worked like therapy. My mind began calming down. I began noticing life on the beach. The routine started building up again.

The family had some property and I was entrusted to oversee my father’s share. It was something I didn’t want to do. The advantage was that there was an office there that I could go to. My routine started expanding. I started reading even more. The internet explosion was still far away and so I read the Tuesday classifieds of all leading newspapers. These had freelance jobs and business opportunities listed. I started picking up small assignments and experimented with odd ventures.

Here is a list of things I did for short periods of time:

1. Removing scratches from CD/VCD. DVDs had yet to appear in India. Music CDs and VCDs would often get scratched with use. The music would then skip and or rendered the CD unplayable. In Mumbai in the 1990s there were several “CD lending libraries”. CDs were still unaffordable, and many imported CDs cost a lot of money. It was thus in the interest of the lending library to ensure music CDs had longer shelf lives. I discovered that the scratches remained on the plastic side and the metal (where the music was encoded) remained untouched. In a walk in the neighborhood of the family property I noticed a small workshop polishing plastic products. The special wheel and wax lent a brilliant shine to what were otherwise dull products. I had a eureka moment. I tested on a friend’s CD and viola it worked. I bought a buffing machine, the soft cloth buffing wheel and some polishing wax for about Rs. 3000. To lending libraries, I ‘sold’ a different story of a complex low-grade laser that removed scratches. They didn’t believe me at first. I agreed to do one CD partially for free. For the full CD, I charged around Rs. 100 per CD. I recovered my investment in the first month. In the next 2 years, what I made was sheer profit!

2. T-shirt printing. In the 90s t-shirts with characters were difficult to find. Be they of musicians, cartoon characters or of sports persons, there was a demand but very little supply. I located a t-shirt manufacturer. I drew by hand many of the designs. I printed them in a small workshop I could set up in the family property. My investments were low, my return per t-shirt was high because of the designs. At some point I even hired an artist to create more designs. This venture lasted for over a year and I made enough to sustain myself. A natural extension of this venture was finding multiple cities where these could be sold. For some time, I had enough to stay afloat.

3. Diwali gifting. Mumbai has a rich culture of corporate gifting. I learnt the hard way that creative packaging and a little marketing went a long way in generating income in just about 60 days. Until the time that I moved to Delhi (to join SAGE) this is what I did in the months leading to Diwali. It ensured I had money for the whole year.

4. Pre-inked stamps: the money I made from selling Diwali gifts helped me secure a small loan and to put up a pre-inked stamp manufacturing unit. Even in the 90s this was classified as “tiny industry” (smaller than cottage industry). Perma Stamp was the biggest brand there. I ran this venture for about 3 years and then gave up.

5. The hunt then began for using my brain and I became an editor. The rest as they say is history.

The reason I have detailed these ventures is to show you the path of my evolution. From a desperate jobless person, I became a serial entrepreneur. Not a single one of my ventures became of any significant value but each made two valuable contributions.

1. Each venture made me enough money to get through that period of time with some dignity.

2. Each failure taught me how to handle failure and to search for the next opportunity.

In today’s world where things look bleak and joblessness is rampant, the first thing getting affected is the mind. It is easy to feel helpless, desperate and frustrated. It is even easier to wallow in self-pity, blame the stars, parents, friends, destiny and everyone one can find. But one needs to literally dust away the cobwebs to overcome the inertia that has settled in.

Here are some easy steps to help you get started.

1. I know it may sound stupid, but bathe every single day like it was the day you went to office. If that doesn’t motivate you then bathe like it’s your wedding day.

2. Wear clothes that make you happy even if they are expensive ones.

3. Critically examine your smart phone or computer. See the amount of clutter that is occupying space. Begin deleting files, photos, apps and every other sort of data you don’t need.

4. In your home find a spot that hasn’t been dusted or cleaned. A fan isn’t dusted that often. Clean that spot, or appliance or cupboard. Actively look for spaces within the house that could do with some scrubbing. Then get on with the cleaning.

5. Shut out all negative news, be it of the state, the country or even your neighbors.

6. If videos are your thing, hunt for “how to videos” on YouTube or watch documentaries on topics of interest. If nothing interests you, find music videos or movies on musicians. It takes a lot of perseverance and dedication for one’s music to be recognized.

7. Set yourself a goal, be it of money or even a worldly possession (yes, be selfish). Write this goal down on a piece of paper. E.g. “I want to see Rs. 10 lakhs in my savings bank account.” You can substitute 10 lakhs with any number you want. Another example could be “I want to buy my own apartment/house/flat/car”. Use any of the words. Every night before going to bed read what you have written on the paper. Place the paper besides your pillow and sleep. When you wake up, read the paper again! This is science not some hocus pocus. Your mind needs clear messaging to pursue a result. It is the most complex computer there is. Once it knows your objectives, it WILL help you pursue fulfilling it.

Remember that it’s your mind that needs help. The body will follow. It’s easy to be negative and extremely difficult to remain positive. It’s ok to give in to anger and frustration BUT ensure that it isn’t for more than an hour. After that find a task to engage in.

Every day, pause, think about yourself and what you want. Stand or sit in a quiet corner or a place of worship. Listen to your mind talking to you. It will be one of the best conversations you have that day.

Stay healthy and Stay blessed.

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© 2020 Vivek Mehra