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Archana Jahagirdar
Saturday , July 24, 2010 at 12 : 41

A depressed dad, being single & life in between


My friend Rrishi who isn't known to show much emotion, asked me after reading my last post, "What has been the impact on your life? Did you manage to have fun, lead your life even though you had to take care of two ailing, ageing parents?" The answers to these questions are complex. It hasn't been easy, no matter in which way you look at it. That hospitalisation of my father at Ashlok meant that I had to take long leave just as I was trying to find my foothold in my new job at The Times of India. Suddenly my departmental colleagues started seeing me as an object of sympathy not as a competent professional. That itself was difficult to swallow. But there have been many more aspects of life that you see when you are in the situation that I found myself in. But I am getting ahead of myself here.

My father came back home a depressed man. Strokes or transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke, also referred to as TIA) often trigger clinical depression in patients. My father who had so far faced every adversity (the biggest setback for my father would be my mother's schizophrenia. It changed his life in a way that he would have never imagined) that life had so far shown him with silent grit and determination and, now, thanks to errant blood clots that had chosen to race to his brain and throw it off kilter, was clinically depressed. What an irony. A man whose life turned upside down thanks to chemical imbalance in his wife's brain was now himself a victim of it.

My sister on my father's arrival back home announced her intention to return to Dubai citing her work as the excuse for it. But, I asked her, how was I to cope alone with a depressed father and a schizophrenic mother? As a colleague later at Business Standard pointed out that it is the single daughter/sibling who has to take care or step in with situations like this, it seemed that I had become the default option.

Even though I have been born and brought up in Delhi, I have never felt any less emancipated than a man. My mother, despite her severe mental ill-health, had always been both pragmatic as well as forward thinking and had wanted all three of her daughters to be well-educated and have careers. Delhi is brutal towards women but somehow I had had the privilege of being with people who also subscribed to a more modern view on women. But for the first time in my life I understood why people want sons. The daughter, son-in-law relationship is so delicate and still governed among PLUs (people like us) with old-fashioned ideas that when parents become dependent these surface in an ugly way.

I became my parents' primary care-giver not because I was the most competent but because I did not have a husband. For the first time I understood why there is so much emphasis on women getting married in India. It's not that a treasure trove of happiness awaits them after marriage but it gives them an identity. As an individual, a single woman still counts for far less even in the eyes of her own family.

So even though I was five-months old in The Times of India and not eligible for long leave, I had no choice but to take it. When I returned to work it was a struggle to ensure that everything at home was under control every day. There was no day from then on that I could ever be carefree again. When I could "let my hair down" or just hang with my friends without worrying. Every day became a test of mental toughness and physical endurance. Most days were about my parents and fewer and fewer days were about me. I guess this is what it means to be family, to be there for each other unconditionally. I guess this is the way, we children pay our debt of gratitude to our parents.

So to answer Rrishi's question: "Did I have fun?" You guys decide that and let me know. I, for one, still don't know.


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More about Archana Jahagirdar

Archana Jahagirdar has been a journalist for almost 20 years having worked for some of the most prestigious names in the media business like The Times of India, Outlook and India Today. Her last full-time assignment was with the Business Standard where she also wrote a column on luxury and fashion. She has done her Masters and Bachelors in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University.

‘My Parents’ Daughter’ will be a weekly update, narrating Jahagirdar’s experience in taking care of her chronically-ill parents over the last eight years. From dealing with doctors and hospitals to taking decisions regarding medical treatment to changing dynamics in other family relationships – this blog notes the journey of a caregiver.