On Hurting and Healing Through Self-Love
Avnika Gupta

Sometime back, I made a stupid, rather aggressive, list in my head. It basically had everything that people told me was too 'absurd', 'weird' and 'impossible' to achieve all at once. And for once, I believed them. But I kept going.

I remember wanting to colour my hair blonde and letting go of whoever found it too weird, even if it had to be my best friend. I remember dreaming of scoring over 95% and dreaming of Lady Shri Ram College For Women. And I also remember crying my way through my board exams and sleeping more than I studied, but trying to do better than I knew while writing my exams. I remember reaching 2 hours early on the first day of college and seeing a couple of girls smoking and thinking more liberation, less dirty. I remember being overly dressed up for my FIRST day and staring rather obnoxiously at a couple of people hugging each other and singing "Dhinak Dhin Dha", and desperately wanting to be there. Moving into the auditorium, I saw a group of girls letting go of everything I had learnt, and dancing to "Kinare" from Queen. I remember wanting that stage and those lights and that rush.

I remember wanting to discover what the purpose of my being was, at the cost of irrevocable embarrassment and the following self-depreciation, by applying to 8 different societies in undergraduate college. I remember wanting to travel, trying to have a group of close friends which is something I've never been able to do due to years of misfitting into spaces and bullying, letting go of my trauma with a past acquaintance who damaged me mentally and physically, using my crippling anxiety as my shield and strive for more, writing for the best magazines in the world on the most audacious issues outperforming each other, learning spoken word poetry from some of the world's greatest mentors while taking care of mom and attending classes straight from a rather depressing hospital room during her exhausting treatment. Wanting to counterattack each fear and each inhibition I'd internalised due to years of bullying and being told "that I was too less or too much" for everyone else, wanting to be on rather far-fetched stages with transformational poetry that could make people hope against hopes. Even though I consistently doubted myself, and shivered my way, to the perfection that could make me even remotely stand still on stage, without breaking into a million messy pieces.

I remember crying for 5 days a week for months, and yet resolving to translate all the trauma I had borrowed from abuse victims into performable poems, wanting to speak publicly on porn and addiction and intimate partner abuse despite paralysing anxiety, thinking of getting my anxiety illustrated for people to know how you can HAVE everything and STILL feel as dead as I do, dreaming of learning travel blogging, visualising losing myself into the principles of spirituality through the Heal Your Life school of thought, aching for a loving partner who understands transcendence and rebellion like his first name, gathering my logic and yet wanting to repose my faith in a Rajasthani goddess, praying to have money and time to vacation abroad with my family, echoing the need to take independent performing trips to Bombay and Bangalore for art and geographical barriers don't go along well.

Avnika Gupta

But the old voices saying "Why did you spend 16 years locked in a room trying to be the topper in each subject in each year when you're this person who loves to dance & laugh?" never left me. There was always a "Are you going to cry again?" or "Aw you poor little helpless girl, you'll fail to be happy AGAIN despite how happy everyone thinks you're?" or "Are you using success to excuse yourself for feeling as shitty as you do and for not being as happy as you should've been?" or "Why do you always need to struggle more than everyone else does?"

To trying to love dogs despite a deep-rooted FEAR that doesn't let me move at the sight of one, to relying on a dog on my way to the top to see the sunrise over an Everest-facing mountain campsite, to wanting to volunteer for autistic children and to work with women in prison complexes and with homeless girls addicted to drugs living on cramped railway tracks, to wanting to help my friends developing apps and charity initiatives and self-love portals, to wanting to win a dressing competition (being my own, Misfitting Ms Freshers at college); to wanting Charles Darwin's granddaughter to answer my queries on creative impulse and wanting to share laughs with Prasoon Joshi and Imtiaz Ali, to sharing bits of my work with Amrita Tripathi and Vikram Chandra and Anne Waldman, to learning about the lack of women on set from Anupama Chopra and Vidhu Vinod Chopra, to learning on politics and time management from Shashi Tharoor; wanting to excel not just professionally and personally, but in each way that was too weird and too impossible, for a mere girl with a thought in her head and a tear in her eye.

To wanting to judge poetry competitions as fairly as presently possible, to wanting to address everything I've felt is wrong with fashion, to experimenting with alcohol, cigarettes, piercings and hair colour. To knowing things before rejecting them! I remember breaking open and bleeding and looking up at the sky and on the streets, for one sign of help, for one person to save me from myself. I remember listening to Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" convincing myself "I Was Born To Be Brave" when all I wanted was to SCREAM, "I'm weak", "Take me away" and "Make it stop, I can't do this anymore."

I don't think I ever understood "jitni chadar utne paer"; translation: "one should not go beyond his/her capacity" when I was "too bold" to not have routines, to not have the ideal body, to visit a psychologist for my anxiety (even if just for one session), to get my jewellery customised according to the colours that soothed my anxiety, to start going to the gym to improve the way I feel and to be greater than my pain and guilt, to bonding with strangers through my art when friends and family weren't enough to absorb everything I wanted to give, to being an otherwise lazy person but waking up at 5 AM to spend an extra 20 minutes washing my hair at the thought of sharing outrageous stages with the key influencers in the world, to choosing India over The States for covering literary festivals; when I was too bold to be my own person.

Avnika Gupta

I remember being so lonely that the only messages I received other than "I love how you write" were from Vodafone. I remember creating my own loneliness so it could create enough unrest to produce art that mattered, and eventually being able to settle with those parts of myself that I was ashamed of, and would do anything to get rid of. I remember hurting myself, and hurting the people I love. I remember wanting to love while hurting. I remember wanting to numb everything into oblivion. I remember screaming and I remember silence. I remember challenging the pain of my existence and the desire for being taken away. I remember taking charge of my hurt and of my healing. I remember choosing intimacy in my grief and kindness in my suffering.

2 years into college and there's not a single thing I haven't done out of this list and not a single regret I have. There are innumerable "Remember that time when…" and not a single "What if?" I have one more year before I graduate and it already feels like I've lived a decade in the past 2 years. What I mean to say is that, if you choose to believe in yourself with all your weirdness and absurdity and madness; you'll realise how much of YOU the world needs, how much of YOU you need. You'll realise that self-love is all the love the world needs from you. So smile, shower, sing; for there will be many days that you fail, but today is not that day and tomorrow isn't that day either. Just look, listen, and be; because that's all you need, that's all anyone needs to make a difference.

Avnika Gupta

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