Birthday Breakdown, Literally

I had a bad breakdown on my birthday. What I’m writing is a reflection on it, and I think it will be inherently negative. If this don’t want to read negative things, don’t read this.

I like to think that with my renewed interest in blogging, I have made this space a progressive and positive place. I believe that I’m constantly looking for self-improvement and tolerance and that I have been able to reflect that in my posts.
This past Sunday, on my birthday, I had one of the worst breakdowns of my life. It wiped away many delusions I had about the extent of my development as a person, and made me question if I was still an angry angst-ridden teenager. It made me feel small.

It’s been 3 days since that. I am okay now, and the time is appropriate to reflect on it, talk about it, and salvage something from it. However, what I’m writing is a reflection on it, and I think it will be inherently negative. If this goes against what you expected from this post, or if you want to avoid reading about negative things, I strongly recommend you stop reading now.

I have a rocky relationship with my father, and most of it is from my side. If you know me, you know that I am a very obstinate and stubborn person. In these, I am a watered-down version of my father. He is an inherently good man, and his discipline and moral compass make him a natural leader in his circles. A businessman, he is confident and skilled at what he does.

He is also an opinionated, loud micro-manager, and an intrusive, dismissive, negator who can never, and I mean NEVER, admit that he is the one at fault. His memory of events changes for his convenience, and he can go on about a topic he knows nothing about for hours if you let him. Literally. Anything. Try it. And of course, he doesn’t listen. He interrupts frequently.

Since I started high-school, my grades have never been great. I have the records to prove it. While my entire set of teachers had nothing but good things to say about me, I could never translate my classroom participation and high intelligence (their words, not mine) into written format, which unfortunately was the format of the exam. So three times a year, I had to take my report card to my father and endure tongue-lashings which would sometimes last 2 hours. A couple of times I’d run crying to the bathroom to puke. Reminders that I’m a failure and that I wouldn’t be able to get into a good college are some of my saltiest memories from that period of time.

Thus developed a subconscious incessant need to impress my father. I was already engaged in several activities, mainly because I love trying new things and am frequently bored, but now I think that a small part of that may have been to make him proud, albeit a very very small part. I was a member of the Leadership Training Service, was an honorary part of the theatre team for many years (even taking a big role in the school’s 50th anniversary), and was attending dance classes. I would draw and paint small pieces from time to time. If you’ve been reading my other things, you can see that I still engage myself – cooking, writing, clay etc. Whenever I won a prize for something, I’d bring it home happy. I would see him happy, he’d say something like “good!” or “good…” or “well done…” depending on his mood, and that was the end of that (they were mostly certificates because our school retained any trophies students won, so I never brought home a trophy). No “I’m proud of you” or sustained enthusiasm.

It was only when I had reached the last years (class 11 and 12) that I’d overhear him talking to someone on the phone. He had a few friends from the community that we live in, and his brothers (my uncles) and a couple of others that he would talk to, loudly and proudly telling them about whatever it is I had won (or my sister had won) and how he was so proud. He would be bouncing slightly on his bed out of the excited state he was in. Apparently he loves us a lot and is very proud of everything we’ve done. It’s just that he would rather tell others than us.

Fast forward to college – at the end of second year, I was back with my family on a trip to a set of religious places. During one stoppage, I had a huge fight with him (where he said cruel things such as “Don’t talk to me if you don’t want to. I’ve already buried a father, I’ll just think I’ve buried a son too.”) post the drama of which, he explained to me why he is so quick to chastise me. He believes that a preventive measure is far more educative than a curative one i.e. he wants to teach me things while stopping me from making mistakes rather than letting me make mistakes and then learn. If you know me, I’ll let you judge how effective his style is.

Many other incidents have been skimmed over, not because they are not important, but because they don’t reinforce any message that I’m conveying here. It is appropriate to note here that he’s made no bones about it now – he’s proud of me as I am currently, graduating at the top of my class with distinction, and with employment at Oracle for a very handsome salary.

Cut to Sunday. I’m annoyed because I don’t want to go out for dinner, and because I’m doing a good amount of design work for a friend of my father’s, when I was told that it’s very little work. Whatever – these are not big reasons to be angry and I was being a baby, but I want to be pampered on my birthday. It’s wrong to ask for something like that however, isn’t it? It’s wrong to inconvenience someone. So I’m trying to avoid my parents to not get into a fight with them, but obviously we end up going out. I’m still trying to avoid them because any small thing from my dad is a trigger to terrible memories. It’s not that I can’t control myself, or let go of the past (although that is something I shouted I can’t do later), but it is that I see him behaving exactly as he was all those years ago, and I feel snubbed. Why is it fair that I change in all these ways, and he gets to be exactly the same? Never mind that he is 46.

Anyway, we are now out shopping, and he confronts me while mum and my sister are away doing their shopping, and I try to avoid him, but he stays with me, we go into a tee shop and my mood improves after some browsing. TIL shopping is a mood-lifter. We went to dinner afterwards and everything was fine. When we reached home though, he brought it up again. We fought – the details are unimportant. My sister and mother were there, listening quietly. Then, as I was recounting things, telling him he conveniently forgets stuff he has said, he denied calling me a failure. He denied it! He said he’d never done it! All those times, all those instances that shaped my life, forgotten! I saw red. I lost it. I shouted, cried and screamed. I let him have it, and didn’t let him interrupt me. I got up and left. I was crying in the other room. I didn’t want to talk to anyone there. I was bawling – it was pathetic.

I called my girlfriend and I tried to talk to her. It was unfair of me to put her in a situation she had never been. To her, I was Superman. I was indestructible. I had never cried openly to her, I was never as vulnerable as I was at that moment. There was the time when we watched the HIMYM finale together and I cried a bit at the death of the mother, and she remarked how she’d never seen me cry. But here, I was blubbering.  I could barely get words out, and all she could say was “Vaibhav, please stop crying.” At this time, I asked her about the whole thing, and she insists I’m still Superman. However, I have lost a lot of confidence in myself following the incident.

After the phone call, I went out where dad quietly called me to talk. I said no, went back in to my room, came back out and told him off without letting him speak. I told him that whatever I said was not even 1% of how I felt, and I said very, very harsh things including that he should now think that he has indeed buried a son, and stormed back to my room. It hit me then – my biggest meltdown was nothing, not cathartic at all. I felt like a bottomless hole of anger and darkness was in me, and that every fight prior to this, I had held back my feelings to avoid hurting his. It felt terrible.

What of him? While I was having my second crying session in the room after that last bit, I heard mum and sis arguing loudly with him. Apparently, the first thing he had done was told mum “This is 101% your fault.” and she’d basically told him she won’t have his bullshit.

The next day, we didn’t speak of it. Everything was normal. Mum and Sis are currently in Chennai on vacation, and I’m stuck with my father for 10 days. We’re speaking normally. I don’t know how he feels and what all they argued about, but I had a general sadness in me before that I was using to fuel myself regularly. That ball of sadness is bigger now. 3 days hence, it is time to start figuring out how to tap into that ball without having it explode. If I don’t make this meltdown mean something, then my tremendous progress as a person over these 3 last years are all devalued and negated. So let’s start re-building.

  • Nargis

    I just wish it wasn’t so heart wrenching to read 🙁 i would have been happier to read it as a fictional piece. ! you are gifted! Keep writing (y)

  • I think this is one of your best posts. I love all your fictional stuff and even the articles but there’s something great about writing from experience. About the content, I like to believe that people with shitty family lives usually turn out the best, welcome to the club.
    Oh and Happy Birthday again.