As my father-in-law, an old cancer patient in remission succumbed to secondaries within six months of my wedding, my status changed overnight, from the ‘most wonderfully caring daughter-in-law’, to ‘the manhoos who ate her father-in-law’. As the months went by and emotional manoeuvring ran rampant in the family, my husband, the most loving and supportive of partners, gradually became a man divided against himself—his mother’s only son, unable in the face of her bereavement to express support for his wife, yet torn by guilt at the way his wife was being treated.
Related reading: Living with criticism from the in-laws
Seeking solace in work, he isolated himself from everyone, coming home only to sleep, and I found myself floundering in a sea of hostility, with my one anchor out of reach. The inevitable result: mood swings and anger issues, rapidly escalating into obsessive behaviour and depression. Those were times when even owning to mental issues carried social stigma; seeking professional help was out of the question. And so, an army of demons invaded our lives—hypertension and diabetes for him; hypothyroidism and rheumatic arthritis for me, all before we turned 30. And, of course, infertility—further proof of my unsuitability to ‘their family’!
Walking out on the marriage was unthinkable. Besides, every time I felt like giving up, memories of beautiful times would surface.
And in spite of the hell, our life was becoming, I could not help loving and respecting him for his integrity, as he refused, on one hand, to give in to the family’s mind games to rupture our marriage, and on the other, to take the easy way out, abandoning family obligations for an overseas posting.
For my part, I was increasingly driven to prayer, chanting continuously to keep myself focused and sane. And the prayers were answered—in the form of feature assignments for the newspaper where I was officially assigned to the Finance section—interviews with psychologists and lifestyle counsellors, which put me in touch with people whom I could approach for help and guidance. And then, a lucky bout of spring cleaning brought to light my grandma’s rare old books about natural, herbal cures for all ailments, including some for exhausted, embattled psyches.
After three years and a miscarriage, our child brought a fresh surge of hope into our lives and I shifted to freelance work from home. A few years later, we were even able to take a limited period posting to the US, as some family members needed temporary accommodation in Delhi and came to live in the house. That was a halcyon year indeed.
However, soon after we returned, my mother—my pillar of strength through all my trials—passed away and I found myself sinking into depression. Now it was his turn to heal me with his love and support, despite the family situation, which, if anything, had worsened over time. So, although we pulled each other through, the family status quo continued, and with it, our mounting list of stress diseases.
And then, a few years ago, our adolescent daughter started showing signs of reclusiveness and low self-esteem, an inevitable outcome of the beleaguered family environment. This finally pushed us to do what we hadn’t been able to do so far: ignore destructive family influences and create a protective shield of positivity for her.
Despite our enduring love, we had been living in a state of siege, where a visit to the cinema hall, a restaurant, and even to relatives or friends ‘where everyone was not invited’ was a matter for contention
and ugly scenes.
Vacations for just the three of us were a four-letter word, and even a simple birthday celebration had to be camouflaged as a visit to the child’s school.
Now all that is a thing of the past. Our love and concern for our child gave us the impetus to stop paying attention to unreasonable expectations and drama, and enjoy ourselves openly, like normal families, and our daughter has responded to the changed energies, blossoming into a joyful young lady.