Chelle was a trooper on the long trip (for her) from Varanasi to Kolkata. A wild 90 min taxi ride can seem like a bouncy castle for an individual in good spirits. For someone still under the spell of an intestinal illness it looked excruciating. Not to mention the plane flight. I was at a loss as to how best aide her. Compassion, empathy, and TLC became her salve. With a little difficulty we arrived at the Orient Hotel not far off the main corridors of Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta and main focus of Mother Teresa’s missionary work in the early 50’s and beyond. Suffering in Kolkata was evident for both Chelle and I but for different reasons.
As the issues with the Indian currency demonetization continued to complicate our trip, the long lines at ATMs, lack of cash to see the sites and my struggles with feelings of helplessness as I traveled around a wonderful but developing nation. My stress levels were reaching dizzying heights. Strategies to manage stress that were very effective back in Austin just didn’t work in India. I was out of my depth. No real escape unless we ended the trip, which I didn’t want to do.
For the better part of the last twenty years I have had an anxiety disorder which when triggered catapults me back to the late 80’s (I used to refer to it as my traumatic Duran Duran experience). I get entangled in a fight or flight response and go into protection mode. Following difficult personal work in the mid to late nineties it is well managed. Unfortunately and rather unexpectedly parts of this trip profoundly exacerbated my stress levels and my emotional equilibrium was drastically disrupted. Kolkata was one of those experiences.
It is alarming and highly disconcerting for those observing it firsthand. It is best described by a buddy of mine as a “come apart”. I’m in a dissociated state, constantly performing a threat assessment and simultaneously considering exfiltration options. Once the situation is mitigated I can typically trace back to the origination point. Intellectually I understand what is happening but my stress level is so elevated it has been challenging to self-correct in the manner I do back home. Not wanting to disrupt Chelle’s experience I would attempt a re-set and soldier on. Some days were better than others.
We had some small outings around the city and saw a few sites. We fell in love with the classic Ambassador automobiles a reminder of colonial days. Kolkata had been the British seat of power before Indian independence and the partition. That influence was all across the city. Kolkata is well organized with advanced public transportation and ample sidewalks – unknown in most portions of India. Chelle was particularly pleased to visit the flower market. Filled with bold colors, wonderful fragrances and garlands of flowers and plants galore.
I have vacillated about publishing this post. It is a raw and authenticate glimpse into my very private world unseen by most of the people in my life. Just as I was unwilling to give up on India, I refuse to perpetuate the stigma of mental health in general and post traumatic stress disorder specifically. My hope would be that it contributes to a open dialogue on all health issues despite the origins. Whether I like it or not my situation is a thread woven through the fabric of my relationship and marriage with Chelle. A short detour on the path that is our journey together and part of the India experience for both of us.