“Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”
Throughout this project, I have been alluding to an inadequacy that I have felt within myself. However, I must make the distinction that this is not a singular inadequacy but rather a series of them; each stemming from deeper insecurity or perhaps a pressure point that has at different junctions contributed to a greater sense of me not being good enough. The ‘good enough’ itself is perhaps a tricky matter in itself. Is it good enough according to the world? Or perhaps how I measure myself up against what Psychotherapy would label as the ego ideal? Perhaps, one could more simply label it as my idea of what my ideal self is.
If I am being sincere, I pay little heed to what the world thinks of me anymore. Not to say I never have or did. I distinctly remember a time when I would temper myself to better fit the mould of what was expected of me. My need to conform to social cues severely limited my need for self-expression.
I love teal. Anyone who knows me or has ever glanced at the website knows how deeply I love that colour, and yet for so long, I would stray from even admitting the joy it brought me because I was concerned with how unmanly it would look. I think it is all but common to be young and constantly worry about how the world perceives you. There were times in my life when it was all too overwhelming but years of finding depth and grounding within have allowed me to let go, to a great degree, the worry of what other people might think of me. There is a deeper inquiry to be done into where this comes from. For my fellow South Asians reading this, the all too familiar -”log kya sochenge?” (What will the people think) is one of those classic phrases that is repeated, at nauseam, in our households. It makes you hypervigilant of every action that you perform, out in the public eye for sure but shockingly within the private sphere as well. I do want to talk about what growing up in a culture where the demands of the greater ‘society’ did for me, but I will leave that for another time. However, a lot of my inadequacy stemmed and still does, from my failure to live up to my idealised version of the self.
We all have an idea of the self that is in form, a version of ourselves that we strive towards. I believe this is a dynamic form, ever-changing and adaptive, but equally, there are core tenets of what we deem to be right, just and universal that we also seek to incorporate into this ego ideal. I value fitness. I place great value on health and over the years have come to place a greater priority on function over form. However, there have been times in my life, less so over the years than they once were, when I have felt deeply inadequate in my body. I believe some of this has been talked about in great detail in the previous chapter and I do not think it is important to revisit how I view my body here. If you’ve followed this series chronologically then that view will be fresh for you however if you’ve yet to read it, I do think it could add an interesting dimension to this reading.
When I talk about feeling inadequate in my body, it is rather all-encompassing for how my body feels to me and yet how I equally feel like it could fail me or already has. At the time of writing this chapter, I am fundraising for a charity and doing so by attempting a set number of distances as I train for the Edinburgh Marathon in May of 2023. I don’t have to do this. There are other ways to fundraise and most definitely easier running distances to chase, but for as long as I can remember, the marathon has been an unclimbable mountain for me. It’s an exciting goal, and it's an incredible privilege to be able-bodied and to have a body that is healthy enough to train for one, and yet as I write, these exact words on this digital canvas, I am disappointed in it. Nursing a cold and giving myself a week of rest, it feels like my body isn’t good enough.
The logical part of me is mindful that rest is healthy and that running in the state that I am in now will only make matters worse, but it’s days like today where I feel my body has failed me. It’s not race day, but what if it was?
It’s just a week, but it had been much longer in the past.
Previous injuries, long spells of covid, it all felt like being let down by a body that I tend to care for, and yet, it’s not so farfetched to suggest that for all the health I practice, I haven’t exactly been kind to my body either. That I have pushed when I should have stopped.
A specific instance comes to mind, and you guessed it; quick storytime!
Christmas of 2018, my friend Cillian and I went for a run in the morning around the countryside. It was a brisk 10K. I had been doing half-marathons on the regular at this stage so it wasn’t out of the norm. We saw the sights, chatted along the run, and I would say that all things considered, it was a pleasant experience. In the last four hundred metres, as we started running downhill, my right foot landed at an odd angle and I twisted my ankle. No pops, no cracks, just a sprain. I rested and looked after it for the next two weeks and it started getting better. However, and you can expect where this is going, I put my running shoes on when week three arrived and went for a light jog.
I knew I should’ve stayed home. My body was telling me that it needed that extra week to rest, to be better. But because of my impatience, my insecurity about my body, and my discomfort with it not being good enough, I went out on that run. I think I made it all of two hundred meters when I felt this sharp pain in my ankle and heard a snap. I fell to the ground, much to the shock of the folks around me, and couldn’t move. I limped my way home with the help of a stranger (I lived close by), and once I had my phone, called emergency services who recommended that I take a taxi to the hospital. A couple of hours in A&E and an X-Ray later, the news rolled in. I had just partially torn my anterior tibiofibular.
For those wondering, Google defines it as: “The anterior ligament of the lateral malleolus (anterior tibiofibular ligament or anterior inferior ligament) is a flat, trapezoidal band of fibres, broader below than above, which extends obliquely downward and lateralward between the adjacent margins of the tibia and fibula, on the front aspect of the syndesmosis.” Or as I like to call it, the big band-like ligament that keeps my ankle together. Or, in this case, kept it together before I ruptured it.
It was a stress injury born out of my inability to stay put and rest. I was given a healing plan which involved two months of a complete break from activity, rest, a medical-grade ankle brace, lots of icing and physiotherapy after three weeks. As you can imagine, for a man with an unhealthy relationship with his body, those two months were excruciating for me. Waiting for my body to heal when I needed to prepare for another Half-Marathon was not what we had agreed on. I was angry at my body and with every passing day, I felt like my form was deteriorating. I would look in the mirror and be disappointed with the weight I was gaining. Unable to exercise for weeks on end, I found myself in a depression that was entirely of my own making. I started physiotherapy, which was helpful, but I was swiftly made aware that my ankle would never be the same again.
I did not have to run on a sprained leg, and yet I chose to. And because I wanted to feel like I was adequate, I did. In doing so, I caused permanent damage to my body. Damage that I still feel every day. I am going to assume that you read that and shook your head at my stupidity. I almost imagine a collective exhale and some whispers of, “Should’ve just rested.” It’s nothing I haven’t said to myself over the years. And following that reaction, I think it would be fair to assume that you’re wondering why or where this sense of inadequacy came from. For a perfectly abled man, there has to be some logical explanation for why I would continue to push my body to injury (repeatedly I should add). So let us address the cliched elephant in the room then.
Where does this sense of my inadequacy come from? Yes, it’s deeply personal and entrenched in the self, but what’s the root, the origin?
I do not think it comes from my father. For as long as I have known him, he has been comfortable in his body and I would argue that his grounding in it is the very reason he has aged as gracefully as he has. I sometimes wonder if it comes from my mother. A woman, a trainer, somebody whose body has always been the object of critique. I believe there are certain impressions from her. However, and it’s not surprising, I think this sense of inadequacy comes from my time in boarding school. In my experience of never being good enough, as a sportsman, for my peers and superiors in boarding school. I was never the most athletic kid in school and years of being told that I never could be, have, as a result, become part of my internal critic. Every injury, every rest, every failing is another opportunity for the chorus to chime in and repeat what numerous seniors, peers and even juniors whispered - “He’s not good enough.”
To experience the judgement of others solely because you’re not a sportsman, to have your body critiqued for its lack of physicality, it’s an awkward and almost isolating experience. It instils a sense of shame. However, the other impediment that makes the experience difficult is when you try to break out of your labels. Little story time here: Aged sixteen, in Grade 11, I had the opportunity to spend an entire academic term (roughly five months) in a boarding school in Canada. One of the sports that I got really into while I was there was, you can take an easy guess, cross-country running. Surrounded by good coaches and encouraging peers, the kid with reduced lung capacity (on account of smoking) and no athletic ability to boot, competed in a few races and did not finish at the end of the pack! I even did a 10k right towards the end of the season and finished somewhat decently!
My body changed, I developed more muscles and I became more confident! Upon returning to Scindia after winter, I went out for my first run on the fort and was unsurprisingly met with ridicule from coaches, a nameless housemaster of a rival house with a thick moustache and general disregard for kindness, and my peers and juniors. If the environment in Canada was nurturing, the one back on the fort could be politely described as stifling. The repeated echo of “Stay in your lane” got too overwhelming too fast.
I stopped running.
And just as I was expected to, I resigned to my lane. Debates, brains, arts, and that’s it.
I have written and spoken about this in the past, how for young men (who then grow into not-so-young men), sports, athleticism, and physical prowess is one of the most significant elements of our social status. It is how you climb the hierarchy. While Scindia remained a pocket dimension of sorts, the cultural norms that existed within it weren’t abnormal, rather they were perhaps the more normal, ubiquitous parts of it. Arguably, dialled to the max, but I have encountered that same ladder of masculinity everywhere I’ve been, albeit with added elements of bias focused on race and sexuality.
I am not going to deny the confidence that comes with having a competent level of fitness. Your clothes fit better. Your body feels more capable. Your steps are more planted and certain. You experience admiration and desire, which while superficial, do feel good. However, I think, as a cis-man, there is an altogether more important element that we tend to not speak about yet actively participate in.
You may have heard this one before, but as a man who works out, I genuinely believe that most men emphasise their form to impress other men. Behind the shirtless selfies, the PR Squats and bench presses, there are men who are vying for recognition and celebration from other men. It’s entirely performative. In my head, I often compare it to male Silverbacks beating their chest to assert superiority, and I think to a greater extent, this is how the men of our species do it. It is how we portray our masculinity. How we validate our social standing.
It is, for many men, how we show we are man enough.
Our pecs, our arms, and our abs are the performative aspects of our masculinity that demonstrate and tell other men that we are worthy of their respect and praise. And I am one of those men. Granted, my days of wearing tank tops and wearing tight v-necks are long behind me (thankfully) but I still attach great importance to my ability to run for long stretches. My beard is a performative aspect of my masculinity. Growing up in a hypermasculine environment, the equation that athleticism equals respect is deeply entrenched in me. And while I may be aware of it for the first time, the road ahead is challenging, long and difficult. There is unlearning involved that will take some time, yet I am no longer resigned to it. My recent therapeutic work has had a focus on this, but that isn’t to say that it isn’t a painful process and that I am immune to regressions. We often assume catharsis or recognition in therapy as a switch, where it's suddenly done and dealt with. I often see it as a flow, a swing and a dance. Yes I am aware of it, and yes I am making progress, but equally, there are days when I miss a step and fall back to the familiar and old. It happens less often and perhaps more importantly, I am in a position where I can recognise it, but it still happens.
So am I still running a marathon? Yes.
I do not think I can make progress on my journey of feeling like my body is enough till that unclimbable mountain looms in front of me. Five years of hearing “Not good enough” on repeat have left their mark on me. Either I fail and prove them and my internal critic right or I succeed and prove them wrong. I am not one to see the world in binaries and yet this is one of those exceptionally tough positions where I have no choice but to.
Failure doesn’t feel like an option.
And trust me, I am aware that on a level I am trying to prove a point to people who genuinely do not care and that I care very little about beyond this insecurity and sense of inadequacy. But I think these past few years, and especially since Covid, it’s been less about them and more about me. More specifically the kid in me who still believes that he’s not good enough and therefore lashes out when my body (naturally) rests and heals. The kid who learnt to fly only to be told to stick to his lane. I think it’s the same kid that feels disappointed in how I look when I stop to rest. The two, while they may exist in different chapters in this piece, are intrinsically linked. So this marathon, these runs, they are an attempt to repair my relationship with the kid in me who felt and still feels that his body is not good enough, able enough, fit enough.
That feels that any period of rest will be a confirmation that he never will be good enough. We’re on this journey together, but I’m learning to do things my way. Which also means, pausing from running and allowing my body to heal. And I will be the first to admit, a restful nap doesn’t sound half bad right now.
While my experience of inadequacy stemming from my body is a significant facet of a wider experience of my inadequacy, my experience of race and how it lends to my inadequacy is one that I have genuinely never expressed before but one that I have and continue to live with even as I write this now.
And let me tell you, I am terrified! Which I suppose is good, because for you as a reader, this will be some vulnerable as fuck reading, and for me, this will be a cathartic release, the likes of which will potentially lead to more conversations, discussions and normalisation of the struggles of people of colour that live, love, and laugh in a world that still sees us as the ‘other’. And while it is by no means a new experience for me or an experience exclusive to me, it surely is one that I have just about started to find the words to express. What is perhaps difficult about writing this section of what has so far been a not-so-breezy exercise is that in recognising and voicing my experience, it feels like I’m playing victim, which I don’t intend to.
I do not want to diminish my agency, or my capacity in any which way or shed doubt on my responsibilities and sense of control, but somehow it feels like in suggesting that there are cards stacked against me, I feel like I’m seeking an easy way out. Which I believe to be an experience, once again, not unique to me and one I believe my fellow ‘others’ have their own experience of. So while it feels terrifying, uncomfortable, and horrible to write the next words, I think its an important step, so here goes:
I feel inadequate because of the colour of my skin. It’s taken years to recognise that it isn’t an innate feeling, one that existed from the beginning, but one that has been absorbed by years of social messaging. I’ve been in rooms, in conversations, where the topic of representation has been discussed and every time someone asks, “Well what happens when you don’t see people that look like you in the stories, songs, cinema, theatre, the world around you?”, I immediately answer it in my head
“It makes you think that it’s because you’re not good enough to exist in those spaces.”
As I write this, I know the landscape is changing. And I hope, I so fucking hope, that kids of colour growing up, will do so with a greater sense of representation and feeling enough. However, for my generation, we grew up in a world where some of our favourite films never had a person that looked like us, and when they did, they were either killed in the most horrific way, were an amalgamation of our worst stereotypes (Apu from Simpsons anyone?) or often, either the evil suicide bomber or the awkward nerd you’d pick as ‘most likely to prematurely ejaculate’ (Taj from Van Vilder comes to mind).
For as long as I know and have known, from the Hollywood movies that made me dream of penning stories to the books that made me dream bigger worlds, people that looked like me were put in a box. A box that in contrast to the charming, suave, white men on the screen was always less than - read, never enough.
And as I write this, I know the box is bullshit. It is because I stand outside the box just like so many other brown men do. Every day, other people of colour break outside the boxes that tell them to be a certain way and get to become the generations that future ones look up to. I know we’re making strides, and I know that me being here, writing this, conscious of the box in the first place is a big step in the right direction but no matter how real that awareness is, or how visible our people become, I feel inadequate. The thing about this feeling of inadequacy is that you end up spending a great portion of your life in dissonance. The world expects you to fit a box and yet you know that you’re well and truly beyond the scope of it, and when that happens, what do you do?
You overcompensate. For me, that overcompensation came in the way of rejecting my diversity. The very parts of me that made me unique, which further pushed me away into the uncharted lands where I would actively silence and hush the Indian parts of me. I would exclusively give light, even promote, the parts of me that could make me fit in and be seen as existing outside of the box that a person of colour should exist in. I can make sense of it now because I’ve had to do the painful and uncomfortable work of unpacking this, but for so much of my journey, from India to Canada and then lands beyond, I was unconsciously cleaving or mutilating parts of myself to stand out from the box.
The first one to change was my accent. I can promise you, and I have evidence to prove this so we know this much is true, I did not always sound the way I do now. For those reading that do not know what I sound like, I’d describe it as a mix of an Irish twang with very North American pronunciations and a constant fumbling of my V’s & W’s (which is a very Indian thing to do). Or you could listen to one of the Podcast episodes (wink, wink). But that’s not what I always sounded like. I also feel it important to note that a majority of English-speaking South Asians do not, DO NOT, sound like Apu. Growing up in an English-speaking household, my sister and I always had upper-class Indian accents. However, unconsciously, with a need to both assimilate and break past the imaginary box I would otherwise be restricted to, I started co-opting accents of the worlds I found myself in. Even today, writing this, I am thinking in the accent I do have and it’s an unconscious process. The only time it regresses is when I’m talking to my family or spending an extensive amount of time with other desi’s (something that I avoided for so long for fear of the box). While people would continue to judge me based on how I looked, the first words out of my mouth would surprise some.
I have a distinct memory of the first person to ever comment on how “good my English was”. Sadly the first of many. I joke about those instances, on one occasion I even asked the very Irish man who asked me that question, “You’re fairly proficient yourself.” I replied. We got a good laugh out of it but statements like that one, repeated at nauseam, are always a reminder to me of how I am expected to fit in a box. The evolving accent opened new doors and opportunities. Getting jobs became easier, and I got speaking opportunities. An enigma of an accent that didn’t match the face allowed me to craft a niche that made it easier to fit in, but at the greater cost of leaving behind an arguably more important part of me. As you would expect, this shame over my race manifested in the romantic. I’ll be the first to admit that while I have been nervous before sex, I have never truly felt shame or concern for the same things that men are often concerned or anxious about. I almost wish that were the case because, for me, sex and relationships were other aspects where my inadequacy reared its ugly head. There is a long, narrative-laden version to this, one that I have all intentions of speaking about in the next season of the podcast, but the byte-sized version and the more feeling-focused one is that I have always felt that my partners were settling for me.
No matter how interested, reassuring, or actively engaged they were, I always entered the intimate, feeling that I was the consolation prize. A settlement rather than what they actually wanted. The fact that for so many of my partners in Ireland, I was often the only person of colour they had ever dated or slept with, only fueled my insecurity. Which not only added to the panic but greatly took away from what was on most occasions a truly engaging and wonderful experience. Scattered in those experiences was of course the not-so-pleasant person I dated for a month who was quick to remind me of how ‘I was not like other Indian guys that she knew.’. Had I been younger I would’ve continued to date and probably ended up in an unhealthy relationship with her. And yes, lest I forget, the deeply uncomfortable experience with a couple where my race was heavily fetishized.
But I digress. That sense of inadequacy only served as an impediment to my romantic connections. I’d often compare myself to their former or present partners. This comparison would get worse when I found myself engaged in intimacy with another couple. Here before me was a white man, who for the entirety of my childhood and teens had been the mark of what a man was, the one outside the box that I strived to be, and when faced up against him in a very intimate setting (not that anybody but me in that situation was competing), I found myself overwhelmed and burdened by my sense of inadequacy, to the point where I experienced my first instance of erectile dysfunction. This would last for months and after repeated episodes of ED, I lost all appetite for sex. I refrained from any physical intimacy, and in doing so found myself robbed of an aspect of connection that I greatly value. Minor deviation, but I am a very physical human. Physical expression is my love language. By which I don’t just mean sex. I am a hugger. I love a good snuggle. It’s how I express my attraction or adoration for someone. The physical goes beyond the act of touch. It involves cooking, perhaps tidying someone’s laundry, pouring them a glass of water or making a cup of tea. The bottom line to this deviation is to emphasise how important touch and physical affection are to me and how I communicate. It’s easy enough now in reading this to see how my inadequacy; which up until that three-play had remained unconscious for the most part, was the big factor behind my ED. But I genuinely did not know what was happening to me.
Therefore, after grovelling and stewing in my misery for a month longer than I should have had to, I brought it into therapy.
And it was painful.
To sit in front of a white middle-aged man, one whom I greatly admired and trusted, but one who was in so many ways the ideal that I constantly measured myself up to. it was painful to say that I did not feel adequate as a sexual being. What followed were months and weeks of unpacking the deeper layers of my inadequacy and where it stemmed from. I knew there was a box that I was breaking away from, that aspect of this process was the only somewhat conscious element of it, but the complexity, the nuances, and the many layers of what that box entailed all came as a slow release of truth to me. It made it easier to understand but it wasn’t necessarily easy to accept.
As I started accepting the desi that I had rejected for years, the universe introduced me to one of the most incredible souls that I have ever come across and one whom I have the exceptional privilege of calling a ‘dost’ (friend). Ayesha.
We met through the Dublin Story Slam and through months of our friendship I got to witness somebody that embraced every facet of their diverse cultural heritage with confidence and intentionality that slowly became infectious. I haven’t ever really told Ayesha this, but meeting her saved me. It allowed me to embrace and repair the parts of me that I had been chopping away and self-mutilating. It allowed me to embrace myself fully. Our friendship, her spirit, allowed me to find the first semblance of meaning in my otherness. And I am glad, because I am so grateful for the desi community I have now, and I am so heckin proud of our diversity! Does this mean I do not feel adequate?
Somedays, yes. But almost none of it has to do with the colour of my skin.
I’m not completely free from that thinking, but it’s easier to temper it and see it for insecurity born out of years of striving to be the white heroic leads from some of my favourite movies. My journey in healing and being kind to the parts of me that never felt adequate is still ongoing, I believe it will be, but I am aware of it and I am making strides.
I still feel unsure some days. The promising loves that fizzle out or the runs that I have to abandon because of sickness still pinch those insecurities (I am human after all), but I am better and I am doing better. I am learning to be kind to myself. Because the reality is that, some people will always see me as less than. I disagree with them on every level but I have to acknowledge that hard to swallow but real as such truth. For some people, I am just not a person. Or if they do extend me that basic humanity, I am somehow less than them. But that opinion is a reflection of their inadequacy and not my own. I am adequate.
There was a time I didn’t believe that. Times when it still makes a cameo but I’m trying to be kinder to myself. In a world where I am judged purely for the colour of my skin, I don’t need to make it any tougher for myself by adding weight to this dumbfoolery. So I made the conscious choice not to. The box, an imaginary box, is precisely what it is. A figment of a societal imagination that I and my other desi’s are actively making strides to break and I am proud to have that be part of my identification.
I am worthy of kindness, dignity, love, and respect. A right inalienable to us all. And I am part of that all. My people, yours, we, us, always have and always will be enough.