Sunday, June 13, 2010

Temper Tantrums

I thought I would not be able to blog for a while with my daughter and g'daughters visiting us. True, I have been busy - no, not overworked since my daughter takes care of her children's need pretty well - but just enjoying their company. Little Annu wants to be carried all the time "amma, godi"........ is her request from time to time. Need I say that I am ever ready to oblige. Her mom complains that I am spoiling her but aren't grandmoms expected to do just that?

However, I just heard of a case in which a mother had been misunderstood all her life and passed away just around the time her daughter began to understand her problem giving her no chance to make amends. I felt sorry for both of them since it was not fair that one's judgemental error becomes a life long burden. I could not help sharing this story with you so that if ever we come across such cases we remember that there could be more to it than that which meets the eye.

Shuba was a close friend of mine when I was in college. We in the hostel tend to get close to a few chosen friends and often share secrets with them - secrets that we don't feel comfortable talking to our own siblings or members of the extended family. Shuba's problem was her mother. As perceived by Shuba she was foul mouthed and uncaring and gave her father a tough time. Shuba and her younger brother were sympathetic towards the father who often worked late hours in office just to avoid a confrontation with his wife. Even when he did come home early the children would meet him at the street corner and the three of them would take a stroll to a neighboring park just to be able to talk to him without the mother constantly yelling and complaining making any communication between them impossible. When alone with her father Shuba would crack jokes, mimic her teachers while her brother would discuss cricket and politics. Her dad would tell them how his day went and about his aspirations for his children.

"I wish my dad had been blessed with an understanding wife. My mother comes from a rich and influential family and nothing my dad does measures up to her standards. She is quarrelsome and often takes out her frustration on her parents as well as me." Shuba would say.

"Why you?" I'd ask.

"I resemble my dad and she hates me for it."

At the tender age of 16 I did not really understand much and pretty much agreed to Shuba's view that her mother was acting difficult on purpose. My opinion did change a bit when I met her mother in person. She seemed a warm person and made me feel comfortable. I took her side in private when Shuba tried convincing me that her mother was just putting on an act.

"She does it whenever we have visitors. She'll be so kind to me that none would believe my version. That is why I never talk about her to family members. No one would believe me when I tell them about her temper tantrums."

Like all good things life our association came to an end after we graduated. We exchanged letters for a few years and finally even the letters stopped. I often thought of her and wondered how she might be faring. My own mother was a pillar of strength in the initial years of my marriage when I faced severe financial problems and had to deal with a sick mother in law all by myself.

"This will not last for ever. Better days are waiting for you. Just be patient." she'd say.

And I'd feel better. It really helps when one gets the right kind of advise. I wondered if Shuba's mother could ever be a mature and balanced guardian to her the way my mother was.

Years rolled on. I met Shuba purely by chance at a wedding. She was a microbiologist working in a multinational company. She was her usual jovial self but I sensed that all was not well with her. I could not bring myself to ask about her mother. So I enquired about her husband and children instead.

"I have an only daughter and would you believe it when I say that she is just another version of my mother. She seemed so unhappy and dissatisfied no matter what I did for her. I got her married to a person of her choice hoping that she'd be happy with him. But no, she kept quarreling with him and hated his parents from day one. The couple moved into a separate apartment and now she accused him of hatching plans against her with his parents behind her back. She attempted suicide following a quarrel with him and I had to intervene. I took her for psychiatric counselling and her condition has been diagnosed as bipolar disorder and she has inherited it from my mother through me. With medication and counselling she is much better now. Her in laws are quite understanding as is her husband. He has decided against having a biological child and plans to adopt one in a year or two when her psychiatrist considers her condition fit enough to raise a child."

"All is well that ends well. Thank God that she had understanding people around her. Why do you seem upset? Things are improving and you should be happy." I said.

"Only when I accompanied my daughter to her counselling sessions did I understand what it was that my mother suffered from in all these years. We did not have the means or understanding to treat her condition and always believed that she did it on purpose. Unfortunately, I got so involved in my daughter's life that it took me a while to realize that with a little medication and a lot of understanding my mother too could have led a near normal life. I truly wanted to make amends and bring her over to my house on my return from my daughter's place. But God perhaps wanted to punish me for never having tried to understand her problem. Within a week after my return from my daughter's my mother passed away in her sleep with only my father by her side. She who never found peace in her life time, left us without giving us a chance to tell her that we now understand. Try as much as I might, her memories keep haunting me. If only I had a second chance........." her voice choked and she burst out crying. I let her cry to her heart's content hoping that her guilt would be eased out at least to some extent.

The entire story kind of depressed me. Very often we fail to understand that temper tantrums and the like need to be addressed with care and concern. It is easier to accuse the person of deliberately causing trouble and brushing aside his/her behaviour as a ploy to get attention. Moreover no one likes to admit that a family member needs psychiatric help. Like the heart, liver or kidney, the brain can also develop symptoms that can be rectified with proper treatment. No one need to feel embarassed about going to a psychiatrist. At least not in the 21st century.