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Reborn on wrong side of 40 | Jaspriya Gandhok

When I was younger (not that she’s old but much younger than she is now), I had thought that by the time I am 50, I will be close to hanging my boots and be ready to lead a relaxed, retired life, having taken care of most of my responsibilities. But, as things stand today, instead of retiring, I am starting my life all over again, which is not easy to accomplish if you are on the wrong side of 40. And I am 47. This is my story of resilience and self-discovery.

Growing up, I had a normal childhood. Though my family had limited means and a fair share of challenges, we were a close-knit and loving unit. I was a happy-go-lucky child, an idealist, and a dreamer. Being inspired by my mother, I dreamt of being a good mother myself and raising a warm and loving family, just as my mother had.

But marriage and family were not the only things on my mind. I also wanted to be independent and carve out my identity. After I finished my education, I started working and that’s where I met my future husband. Ours was a whirlwind romance, the stuff that fairytales are made of. After a brief courtship and some resistance from our families, we finally got married.

As we settled into our married life, I realized that I faced an extra set of challenges than a regular marriage because ours was an inter-faith marriage. But over time, we learned to tide over our differences and life fell into a comfortable rhythm. I continued working for many years after getting married. But as our two children came along and my responsibilities increased, I started to struggle with balancing a demanding professional life and responsibilities at home.

Moreso, because my daughter started playing competitive tennis and there was a lot of travel involved for participating in tournaments.

It was not just traveling, but also day-to-day scheduling that required her complete involvement. That’s when I decided to focus completely on raising my children and quit my job. But I had no complaints. I was happy and content in my small little world – a loving husband, beautiful children, and a warm and cozy home. Life was monotonous, but it was safe and secure. I was content to play the role of wife and mother, with no regrets. I believed that I had found my “Happily Ever After”. Unfortunately, it was not so.

As they say - “Good things don’t last forever”, my perfect little world was not so perfect anymore. One fine morning, I woke up to the realization that my marriage of 17 years, which I had worked on so hard, was a sham. Not going deep into what happened and why it happened, dear reader, for now, it is enough to know that my marriage ended in an instant – it was not a slow death but a direct shot in the heart - quick, though not clean.

As my world came crashing down, I was stunned. Stranded, with no job, no money, and two teenage children to care for, I found myself spiraling down an endless tunnel. From one moment to the next, I was in completely uncharted waters, answering an out-of-syllabus question and I was not prepared for it.

I started doubting myself like never before - questioning every decision, every motive, and every person around me. It was natural because the deeper your trust is, the harder betrayal hits you. My mind would not rest, spending sleepless nights thinking about what I do wrong, whether was it my mistake that my marriage broke down or was it that I was not good enough. My days were spent in a daze, going through the motions of living but feeling dead inside.

As emotional breakdowns became more and more frequent, my family decided to get professional help. However, that did not help either. All the medication made me so drowsy and lethargic that I would not have the energy to even get out of bed. While my body would not move, my mind would not rest, could not rest – plagued with all the thoughts pulling me down in the black hole of self-doubt and self-pity, driving me towards self-harm, putting an end to all the heartache and misery.

My plight was further made more damning because it coincided with the first lockdown due to COVID. As the whole world was cut off, being on my own, and unable to reach out to my family and friends, made the pain more unbearable and the loneliness more acute. I kept withdrawing more and more into my shell, even shutting my children out.

But as they say, when you touch rock bottom, the only way out is, up!

Out of nowhere, one morning, I had an epiphany! When I got out of bed and saw her in the mirror, I could recognize her. I did not like what I saw - a beaten, broken, and bitter woman. That was the turning point for me. All my life I wanted to set an example for my children and what I had become was definitely not what I wanted them to follow. More importantly, I realized that I owed it to myself that I did not give up on life. The end of a relationship did not mean the end of life – it only meant a change of course.

What helped me was to stop looking at myself as a victim - what happened to me was an unfortunate accident, but I survived it. I was a survivor. This change in mindset helped me to find the motivation to get my life back on track.

First, I started looking at the lockdown as an opportunity to build a stronger bond with my children. Being cut off from rest of the world gave me a chance to have a lot of “me-time”, which I hadn’t had, for many, many years. Thus started my journey of introspection and self-discovery.

I got back to my passion for writing poetry. Writing gave an outlet to my feelings, and I started to heal.

With performances at open mic events, I started to build my identity in local poetry circles. One of my poems was also selected to be published in an anthology of poems on mental health. A big feather in my cap was the opportunity to be a TEDx speaker, not once but twice, where I shared my life story and experiences. With the overwhelming response from the audience, I found another turning point in my life – a desire to inspire and help others to overcome personal challenges and become better versions of themselves.

There was also the question of establishing myself professionally, after all, there was bread to be put on the table and a roof over our heads. I realized that in order to re-enter the professional arena, I will need to upskill myself. I enrolled myself in various certifications and added to my skills. Brick by brick, I started to lay the foundation of my new life, my identity as a woman – Not just a daughter, mother, wife, or sister.

I fought my way out from the darkest phase of my life; I was bruised but not broken. I was reborn with hope and a new sense of purpose.

Today, after two years of that life-altering event, I feel that I have found my purpose. I am building my practice as a life coach, mentor, and motivational speaker. I believe that my real journey of life has started now, as I have stepped out of the different roles I was playing earlier, to become my own person. While my destination may not yet be in sight and I have a long way to go, I know that I will make it one day. This poem reflects my growing confidence and self-belief.

Failed relations. Rising debt. Out of work. Am I out of luck? Oh no! No, no! Not at all! On the contrary, Life's on a new trajectory. I may be out of orbit, But I am free To find direction, A new destination. I am a shooting star, A trailblazer. Lighting up the sky, Even if for a moment, before I die.
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