There are times you’ll meet a stranger with whom you’ll click, and in the shortest time period, divulge all your inner thoughts and beliefs to that person. It’s a feeling of a delirious high when we get our feelings across to a sympathetic ear, regardless of whether the chance encounter between you two will ever come to pass again or not.

I look back at all the times I’ve put my faith into somebody and revealed my secrets and innermost feeling and insecurities to them. Whether a stranger, an acquaintance, a lover, or a friend, that bond has only been forged when I believe that there will be a nonjudgmental (or maybe just noncritical) ear to listen, and I presume the other person’s faith and knowledge that I will deliver pure, unadulterated words of truth that need not be unmasked. What trust such a momentous conversation and dialogue can have… I am grateful for these incredible experiences.

I’ve learned other the years that these chance occasions are always unexpected and shocking. Bonds forged once are not automatically renewed, nor are somewhat distant relationships automatically excluded from a plausible connection in the future. It’s the combined forces of time, place, moment, and present emotional and mental state that determine if the ‘click’ between two familiars or two strangers is there or not.

I’ve come to take these chance encounters, and moments of ‘truth speak,’ as priceless gem-like milestones in my life. Not quite epiphanies, as I tend to relegate those to only my academic endeavors, but more a meeting of serendipity. These are the bonds of faith.

For those individuals who forge that bond with me, I am eternally grateful for your compassionate ears.

The one biggest piece of advice I can give you is to get into the habit of treating yourself when you feel stressed out! We often forget ourselves in our busy routines, and this is your body’s way of saying that it needs care and pampering too!

Everyone has days or moments in their day when they just want to throw their hands up and just stop everything because life’s getting a tad too stressful. Or you are so mentally burdened it’s time to force relaxation. Either way, the usual tips given – to eat healthy, sleep enough, exercise regularly, meditate, and take time out for yourself – can all start to seem like a chore when you’ve reached your breaking point.

Either way, give yourself at least an hour or to relax and calm down. Over the years, I’ve come up with my own toolbox of things I can do to give myself an enforced time-out. Everyone’s toolbox will be a bit different, as it depends on what you consider work and play – for example, walking doesn’t help me clear my head so I don’t do it!


The following Top 10 quick pick-me-ups are quite helpful stress busters. Make your own Top 10 activities toolbox that can be your go-to whenever the next stress bomb hits too!

1) Take a Hot Shower

Other people walk to clear their heads, I shower. There is something about standing under a hot jet stream of water that dissolves all my stress. I’ve had days when I take 3-4 showers a day just to wipe my mind blank!

2) Take a Nap

I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. Especially when I’m trying to write a 5000 word essay the night before my assignments due (procrastination queen) or after big fights or particularly bad depressive episodes. As long as you’re not an insomniac, and even if you’ve had enough sleep during the night, just turn the lights off, snuggle under your covers, and close your eyes. I find these naps refreshing and the pressures of the day don’t look so scary when I  open my eyes again.

3) Get a Haircut

I’ve mentioned this in yesterday’s post as well, but going and getting a haircut or highlights  is a great stress buster. You can’t do this activity too often as it can become a very expensive endeavor (plus you only have a certain amount of hair to play with), but I’ve been known to use this method about 2 to 3 times a year.

4) Do a Color-by-Numbers

The mechanical and rote action involved in coloring needs your full attention and it stops you from thinking about other things. I see it as a form of active meditation. I learned to do this from my friend in Chicago. We’d have coloring parties when the tension of being grad students was crushing us!

5) Watch a Movie

I go to the cinema (or nearby discount theater) to watch my movies but you can just as easily watch them at home too! Just make sure it’s not a heavy and serious film. I get wrapped up in watching and it takes my mind off….well, me. Sappy tearjerkers are a bonus.

6) Get a Face Massage

Massage-lovers will love this one! Any kind of massage is good because they are such a treat, but I’ve found that the following areas often feel the best when I’m particularly stressed out: face, head, arms, and hands. Do it yourself, find a professional, or teach your spouse/partner!

7) Do a Jigsaw Puzzle

For jigsaw puzzle enthusiasts like myself, I’d definitely recommend this method of relieving stress. I have one or two easy puzzles in my house that I love to make when I’m stressed. I made sure they’re small enough that I can complete them in one sitting (my beach puzzle is 500 pieces and takes me 2 hours flat to complete). I never choose a puzzle I’ve never done before, it’s in the ‘familiar’ that relief and comfort lies. Again, it has to do with making the movement as rote and mechanical as possible to produce the effects of meditation. If I’m still not completely de-stressed by the time I finish, it’s not uncommon for me to disassemble the puzzle and start over again. Sometimes I’ll feel better even if the puzzle’s not complete, and I just put it back into the box ready for another ‘rainy day’.

8) Have a Cry

Again, I’ve used this therapeutic tactic for as long as I can remember. When things get overwhelming, just have a cry and you tend to feel better afterwards. If you’re having trouble crying to the point of relief, can I suggest looking at your red, blotchy face in the mirror – it’s bound to bring on a fresh wave of tears!

9) Eat a Take-Away Meal

Delivery doesn’t do it for me because it involves interacting with the delivery guy/gal too long. Instead, I walk to a nearby restaurant that serves yummy food, order, pay, get some other nibbles at the corner grocery store, pick up the food, and head straight home. You don’t have to worry about cooking, and eating great food can be your treat for feeling so stressed.

10) Text your Friends

Sometimes it’s nice to talk to friends and partners face to face too (they are natural pick-me-ups), but that can seem like too much work at times. Sometimes you just want to scream or punch a pillow and aren’t ready to talk about it yet. A simple, one-sided text full of frustration and angst is enough to make me feel better. Even if they don’t reply for a few hours, just sending it seems to soften the ball of stress within me. I have a handful of friends who I will write to, at any time of day or night (and always out of the blue), with a short burst of “I’m going crazy!” or “why is life so hard :'(” or something similar. They have come to expect it from time to time, and send their own versions of similar outbursts when they are feeling overwhelmed as well. There is no need for explanation. If you don’t do this already, get into the habit! And honestly – that’s what friends are for!

This is the last installment in a 3-post series about my weight woes. To read the earlier posts, here are Part 1 (Journey from Childhood to College) and Part 2 (Journey from PCOD to Weight Watchers to Gymming Frustrations).

As a pretty isolated person who felt quite out of her element having moved to India for the first time in her life, I had a hard time adjusting to my surroundings. With little in the way of like-minded friends or the opportunity to meet twenty-somethings who weren’t busy wives and mothers, the gym was a temporary answer. Most of the friends I made that year came in the form of an eighteen-year-old college freshman, girls enjoying their engagement status or honeymooning phase, my early-thirties powerhouse gym trainer, and aunties my mom’s age who loved their gossip. Gym buddies are a lovely thing aren’t they? You meet a group of strangers when you decide to join the gym and become the coveted ‘regular’ which brings about solidarity. The same thing happened to me when I joined. I enjoyed their daily company, especially since I was heavily aware that I never meet such a diverse group of people in my daily life. The married women (especially those with lil ones) were taking an hour out of their busy schedules to come and work out, so the gym proved to be a good focal point around which friendships could be forged.  In fact, it was nice having people push and support your weight loss goals and compliment your efforts.

I got into the habit of keeping a detailed daily diary of the types of exercises I’d do, number of repetitions, and time taken to do them. It proved irreplaceable when I’d be in a particularly bad mood and feel inclined to stop because the weight wasn’t coming off as I wanted it to. Those disheartened moments would be replaced by surprise and self-praise upon reading that I’d done the elliptical for 45-60 minutes that very morning or done 300 bamboo stick rotations as well as a 30 minute step aerobics workout just hours beforehand. I worked up my stamina immensely in that year and I was proud of what I had achieved. As I mentioned in the last post, even though the scale remained rigidly immobile and I couldn’t lose any kilos that year, I looked and felt like a whole new person. My confidence soured higher after being in the dump for a while and at least I was holding my head up high regarding my workout regime.

My weight goals were clear from the beginning – don’t get stuck on losing weight, but rather get fit, build stamina, and gain energy. I was achieving all of that. I assumed the numerical weight loss would be an obvious side effect. However, I was also aware that the unchanging number was partly my own fault. One major factor that could have hindered me weight loss, aside from it being replaced by muscle mass, was the fact that my social life improved immensely (as did my happiness quotient) which meant I’d go out to eat (portion-controlled) greasy Indian snacks and gorge on popcorn at the movies a lot more than usual as a way of treating myself. We didn’t keep sodas (a big weakness of mine) or chips in the house, so the convenient location of my gym also meant that I could sneak in a celebratory fizzy drink once in a while.

So was friendship and small doses of happiness stopping me from losing weight? In all probability, yes. Was my PCOD condition to blame? Well, probably that too. Was the gym a good decision to get fit? Definitely, hands down.

When I finally got my acceptance letter to the University of Chicago, and moved there, my happy quotient shot higher as I got one step closer to making my PhD dreams come true. It was not long before I founds interesting personalities and fantastic friends who dissipated the lingering loneliness I’d been feeling since my last degree. (That’s not surprising, because the strongly charged atmosphere of being in a university setting tends to foster rather strong bonds and relationships…) I was getting my fix back after unknowingly being in withdrawal for ages 😀 With this silent craving satisfied, the lingering results of my gymming still in effect, and the ideas and hopes for my academic future free-flowing, I could care less about my ‘obese-ness.’ The worries rolled off my shoulders.

The inevitable stresses of learning culture, a breeding ground for tension and depression, did get to boiling point for me a few months later. Although it wasn’t my weight that directly got affected because of the emotional ups and downs I felt, my body was definitely telling a different story. Ironically, it was weird that my weight – which had always gone up steadily – never changed once for those months I was in Chicago, regardless of the tumultuous emotions wreaking havoc inside. As a long-time sufferer of depression, I was surprised to note how much my symptoms changed as I became more and more disenfranchised with my life and academia. I started developing reactions that I’d never had before, which weren’t limited to only the following: stress hives, social anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, insomnia, loss of appetite, fatigue, and frequent mood swings. The only thing that didn’t ‘swing’ was my weight.

I sought professional help for my mental health and managed to get the majority of my physical symptoms and problems under control over a lengthy period of time. In the meantime, I finished my classes, started working, and reached the unofficial ABD (all but dissertation) status for my Masters degree. With the supportive help of friends and colleagues, I got through, but as they left Chicago, one by one, for newer horizons, I ended up reverting to my isolated self. My mental well-being suffered a downturn and I took the decision to put my health first and continue my degree from home. And what timing it was! Because it I ended up getting appendicitis, needing an appendectomy, and being on virtual bed rest for about 2 months soon after I got back! Coincidence, coincidence. Of course, my weight showed no signs of changing through all the chaos.

As I worked on gradually turning emotionally unstable to stable and some form of acceptance, I took it upon myself to revise my earlier wishes of simply ‘getting healthy’ and having a ‘balanced diet’ into much much more. My ‘obesity’ issues took a new turn…

With a personal journey that started with an earthquake and one Choco Pie, and led to uncontrollable weight gain and conflicting body image issues, what followed was a PCOD diagnosis and subsequent trials of diet and fitness regimes. After confronting continued mental health issues and a mind-numbing stagnation in my weight in the past few years, I have finally come to understand the triviality of weight labels like ‘obese’ and ‘overweight.’ I’ve come to realize that weight woes, and any insecurities you may have about your body image, have no influence and bearing on whether one can achieve health, happiness, and well-being through one’s life. Move beyond the physical, and be happy with the inner you!

Besides ‘physical fitness’ and ‘healthy diet,’ I now yearn to be ‘content with myself’ (weight and all) and strive for ‘mental fitness.’ I’m incessantly working towards these goals, as this is a journey that will take a lifetime. There is no guarantee that my depression and anxiety will not return (I’m nearly 100% sure I’ll have to deal with those feelings for the rest of my life), but nothing stops me from finding coping strategies that can lessen each painful blow. Whether it is maintaining a healthy diet, physical exercise, mental stability, or finding balance and harmony through meditation, I’m doing what I can to minimize the future hurdles that will undoubtedly come my way.

Thanks for reading everyone! May life’s challenges and struggles make you strong!

Arranged Marriage Comedy

March 24, 2012

I generally agree with the guy on this one….what a scary thought…

Arranged marriage

By meerasapra | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

Check out Meera’s other comic strips on her blog Life’s a comic strip!

I watched this 102min Japanese film last week and was pleasantly surprised by the subtle portrayals of first love and friendship in its storyline. Way of Blue Sky (Aozora No Ukue) was released back in 2005 and directed by Masahiko Nagasawa, who was also a producer on the wonderfully poetic film Love Letter (1995) directed by a man I much admire – Shunji Iwai. You can watch this film online at MySoju, but in the meantime, here is a trailer for the film (with some pretty bad quality english subtitles).

The film tells the story of Masaki Takahashi (played by Takuya Nakayama), a junior high student who announces that he is moving to the United States that summer, and the effect it has on the five girls in his class that have feelings for him. The story is about the trials and tribulations of average 15 year olds, such as the crushes and first loves that blossom through these times. Way of Blue Sky is a heartfelt and touching story that is uplifting and positive in its message. The drama does not bog you down, but draws you to sit comfortably on your sofa and watch peacefully. The soundtrack is a big plus! A film that entices your senses and a prime example of serenity, Way of Blue Sky tells a cosy and warming tale.

The melodrama is kept to a minimum as Way of Blue Sky explores the simplicity, purity and depth of boy-girl friendships and is more an attestation to the strength of relationships. The array of character traits portrayed by the five female leads in the film are also mention-worthy, as no two are alive and each has their own unique trait. It brought a smile to my face to see the ‘foreigner’ Naoko Ichida (Aki Nishihara), the smart-alec Alisa Takahashi (Mei Kurokawa), childhood friend Haruna Kawahara (Mikako Tabe), and tomboys Yumi Hayami (Ayaka Morita) and Takako Suzuki (Saya Yuki).

Thankfully it doesn’t feel too much like a teen romance. Rather, Way of Blue Sky a nice movie to watch on a rainy cold day as it brings a small smile to your face guaranteed!

I’d rate this film a 6.5/10

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with these two Indian guys and we started talking about saying Thank You among friends in different socio-cultural contexts. This discussion started when I automatically said “thank you” after one of them did something for me (it was something insignificant like passing me a napkin). The all-important response from them was along the lines of “don’t say thank you…there is no reason to…there’s no Sorry and no Thank You among friends…at least not in India.” Hello culture-clash!! Now, in the years I’ve spent living in India, I have heard this ‘Friendship Rule’ numerous times in movies, newspapers, and otherwise. But this was the first time someone said it to me. So I couldn’t help elaborating on the comment and making it a full-blown exchange of ideas.

I explained that I was aware it was unnecessary (and often avoided) to mention Sorry or Thank You among friends circles in India, but the opposite was true for someone like me who had lived in America and the United Kingdom. They were confused so I explained further. My reply was of the following fashion – “For me, I tend to feel more inclined to say Sorry and Thank You if I am among my friends. What I feel is what I like to convey to the other person, and I can do that easily among people I am close to. So if I am sorry or happy or feeling gratitude for something, I’ll say it and would also want the other person to say the same to me as well. It’s not a big deal, and it isn’t a big declaration, but I believe our friendships would suffer if we didn’t share our feelings. So for us, it is essential to say thank you among friends, even more than among strangers. The same way not saying such ‘formalities’ makes for closer bonds among Indian friends, saying these same things make our friendships grow stronger.” And the conversation went so on and so forth… It wasn’t until this topic was broached that I realized that the importance of such phrases like Sorry and Thank You in social life are not uniform across cultures.

I can’t seem to figure out when I first learnt how important saying Thank You was to me. I may have been about 15 years old when I first learnt its significance, but never truly understood its power until a few years later, when I was 18 years old. Growing up in Japan, I would often use the phrase in formal settings – when talking to strangers or elders or teachers, etc… However, we barely used the word in any informal setting – between friends or family. At home…I rarely said Thank You to my parents, except on one special day of the year – Mother’s Day. I guess I also grew up without saying I Love You to my family (not even my grandparents) until I left home to go to college. The feeling was felt, it was understood, it was written down in cards, but it was never spoken. Even today, these words – Thank You and I Love You – are hard for me to say.

Now that I think back to it, in the years I’ve spent in Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and India, I’ve come to realize that I use phrases like Sorry and Thank You in informal settings numerous times a day in each country. The ‘anthropology’ of it all, as it were, could be understood by examining how these words are important to different societies. Thus, Japanese people are generally overtly polite in thought/act/speech, even in informal situations, while people in the United States and the United Kingdom are taught such pleasantries as Thank You and Sorry more habitually by thought/speech – like the popular exchange Excuse Me and Bless You after someone sneezes. India, on the other hand, are more accustomed to these concepts by thought/act in familiar settings, with friendship rules to compensate for the lack of speech. When it comes to I Love You, everything is more or less the same, but both the Japanese and Indians generally express their emotions through thought/act, reserving speech for special occasions, while those from the US and UK are more expressive in overall thought/act/speech and frequently say I Love You  – sometimes too often. Interesting isn’t it!

and so I’d like to leave you with the following: to my parents, grandparents, older brother, close friends, far away friends, and blogosphere friends….

I Love You All

&

Thank You!!!