When I first started writing seven years ago, I wrote obscure poems. I remember reading ‘Lady Lazarus,’ by Sylvia Plath one night, and getting this urge to write. And so, I woke up, created a blog on Blogspot, and wrote something down. I thought it meant something, but I doubt anybody else did. After that, I wrote another poem inspired by Plato’s Allegory of the cave. As time passed, I wrote more and more and posted them on Facebook. I was spamming the feed. Nothing made much sense, except to me. Some idea would inspire me, and I’d rush to the computer and write. It was during this period that a psychiatrist diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder, and put me on heavy medication, which made me manic, and I guess that contributed to my abstract creative flow.
People ridiculed me back then. Friends said, “Does your writing make any sense at all?” They laughed at me each time I brought up my writing. But I was so consumed by the craft. I wanted to get better, to make a living out of it, and to prove them all wrong. I spent nights awake using a razor of bitterness to hurt my heart. People started abandoning me. It was during this period that in a fit of mania I asked a few women out and received replies like: “You were never on my list.” Someone then told me that writing must be simple. I believed them and started writing cheesy romantic poems. “Oh, I love you; I love you; I love you. You make my heart flutter and sputter.” I even sent some to Harper Collins. They must have laughed out loud!
Then I tried wordplay, and rhyme without meter. My efforts were pathetic, but I kept posting and posting. Sometime during all this, I discovered WordPress and started spamming its feed too. Ten poems a day. Hell, maybe even twenty! And strangely, my blog grew, the comments and likes poured in, and seasoned poets said, “This is fantastic!” The people on Facebook were better critics! They didn’t accept my friend requests after I deleted Facebook for the first time! Soon, years passed, and I saw way too much sorrow. It was during this time that I read ‘Stag’s Leap’ by Sharon Olds, and I developed a hunger for imagery. I also loved the way Olds made her poems revolve around storytelling. I found it fascinating. I realized then that my poems lacked depth. And so, I dug into my core and poured the darkest parts of me onto paper.
I also realized that my poems lacked emotion. I wanted to make my readers feel deeply. There were a few writers on WordPress who had this quality of giving their work gut-wrenching, visceral sentiment, and I admired them. There was one who made sensation blaze through his work. I wondered how he did it. I tried imitating him and a few published poets, but my efforts were futile. I finally realized that experience (real and imagined) makes writing believable. If you want to write a poem, you must live it. You must envision a gritty, distressing reality, or revisit the harrowing past, and feel tortured, before penning something down.
And so, I wrote better poems and talked to the same friends. They said, “Your poetry is dark.” I asked them what they meant by it, and they kept saying, “Dark, dark, dark.” One said, “It’s first impressions you see! You wrote horrible poetry once! And don’t ever think you’ll be a great writer!” All this furthered my need to prove that I’m a good writer. I then got published once in a minor magazine in New York, and I guess that changed people’s perspective (or not). I don’t know because most of the people I knew once don’t talk to me anymore. I have two friends in real life. Yeah, just two. I often get very lonely, but I’m very uncomfortable when I meet new people. I’m especially disturbed when I meet people I don’t connect with on an emotional level. I don’t care if you’re as intelligent as they come. What’s the point if you’re sarcastic and if you love being part of a clique? If you’re not someone who feels richly and wants to love people, I’d hate associating with you. And trust me, I’ve met some nasty people in my life. I’ve met virgin-shamers in college. I’ve met people who sacrifice their identity to be a part of a group. I’ve met gold-diggers. I’ve met sociopaths. I’ve met hypocrites. I’ve met the most self-righteous people you can ever meet. I’ve met people who toss friendships into the dustbin just because someone suffers from mental illness. I could go on, but the point here is that all this made me bitter.
My father abused my mother and me growing up, and my classmates in school bullied me. I lived with undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder for a long time before I sought professional help. And seeing the cruel world just shattered me. Now, I’m not a perfect person. I’ve hurt people too. I’ve broken people’s hearts, but I’ve suffered for my wrongdoings ten times over. And bitterness eating me alive was probably the last straw. It made me seek religion and God, but my relationship with Christianity is complicated. I have had many religious experiences in my life, and all of them have made me want to quit writing and live for Christ. But none of them have lasted. And writing has become an addiction. Therein lies my problem. I must write even though it’s killing me. I’m becoming better at it, and I know I’ll never be perfect, but I must keep trying. A few years ago, I stumbled upon a Calvinistic website which preached a Christianity, so different from what we see on Christian Television Channels, and what we hear in mainstream churches. One line I read struck me. It said, “A Christian cannot live in a continuous state of carnality.” Now, there I was professing to be one and leading a life antithetical to what the Bible preaches.
I was terrified when I read this. I thought I was going to hell. It worked on me more and more, and I’d keep writing and deleting; starting a Facebook page or a WordPress blog and deleting it, until I couldn’t take it anymore. I started dreaming of hell. I spent nights petrified. But I eventually had what one might call a salvation experience. I remember repenting of my sins, and Matthew 11:28, did it or me. I felt incredible joy. I then started praying for the right things like asking God to take away my pride, my lust, and my idols, but when my family turned against me, I couldn’t take it. It drove me mad. I started having irrational thoughts asking me to do penance at three in the morning by walking the streets barefoot. I listened to them, stepped on thorns, and even tried gouging my eyes out with a branch. They finally institutionalized me. I then gave up on Christianity.
Two years later, God restored me to repentance, but this experience also didn’t last. I started getting these awful blasphemous thoughts, and my madness grew. I felt a finger poke me in the morning to wake me up, and I finally saw something. What it was, I don’t know, but it was something supernatural that made me scream in terror. Soon, I went back to my miserable ways, started a Facebook page for the umpteenth time; started my twentieth WordPress blog, and started writing again. I initially wrote under a pseudonym, but I deleted that blog too and started one under my real name, which brings me to today.
Today, I’m jaded. Most of the people on Facebook probably think I’m some sick, tormented maniac and don’t bother reading what I write. People on WordPress show me a lot of support, but it’s because they’ve made my acquaintance only recently. The older bloggers know how unpredictable I am. I follow them, but they don’t care about me. I also have this habit of unfollowing them before re-following them, and so, they know how pathetic I am; clamoring for attention like a herald in the old days. I also have this habit of sending out friend requests on Facebook to people who stopped accepting them years ago. Yeah, I’m desperate to get people to read what I write. I’ve let go of most of my bitterness, but I still want to prove a point to people. I should realize that people have moved on with their lives. I don’t think I’ll move on with mine anytime soon though. I’m still chasing the will-o’-the-wisp thinking I’ll be a successful writer who’ll win awards for his literary fiction.
Today, my parents support me, and I barely manage. I’m still on heavy psychiatric medication, but I cope. But the truth is that I cannot work a regular job and support myself. I’m highly dysfunctional and suffer from social anxiety. I’m also belligerent. If you didn’t know my story, you’d think I’m spoilt. I have friends who tell me to give up writing and ‘get a job,’ and it hurts me. It’s easy for people to talk. They don’t have a cyclothymic variant of Bipolar where your mood swings every hour. If I could do more, I’d do it. The reason I dropped out of college was because I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t study, or focus and depression, coupled with delusion sank in. And with time, my disorder has only gotten worse. I’m no longer the man I was five years ago. Depression isn’t only a vague feeling of sadness. There are times when you feel like the world is on your shoulders, and you can’t even get out of bed.
And don’t talk to me about therapy. In India, most therapists are authoritarian and dogmatic. There is a gap in power between the therapist and the patient. I don’t think anybody tries existential approaches to therapy here. And I don’t believe in hypnosis. You should never let someone into your subconscious mind. People (including therapists) are flawed. Imagine the chaos they can wreak.
In the hospital I was admitted in, the doctor asked me if my fears of hell were rational with a scornful look on his face. Now that again is a problem. It’s hard to find a Calvinistic therapist! People come from different religious backgrounds, and they’ll try imposing their ways on you. Now, in the end, truth is singular. There cannot be multiple truths like postmodernism says because that goes against the very essence of the term. Whatever you believe in, you’ll confront one certainty in the end like you face one death. If you’re going to deny that, then you might as well say that there is no reality. So, I don’t understand the many rivers all end in one sea analogy, or the even more commonly used fusion of many religions theology. How can polytheism be fused with monotheism? More importantly, how can two people be right when they’re saying two different things. You’re right, or I’m right. It ends there.
So, I’ll end this by saying that I don’t know what the future holds. Will I become a successful writer? My second choice in life is to study literature and teach. My third is to abandon writing and study theology and preach. But for the third, you need a strong calling, and I’m not even sure where I stand before God today. Finally, to all the people I’ve hurt in life or online, I’m sorry. I hope you’ll forgive me.
© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)