Recovery Oriented Blog for Mental Illness

I have recently started a new blog, because I felt that I needed to strictly focus on recovery in serious mental illness, as a theme by itself and calling it any other name would not do justice to my commitment, engagement and research. I have, in the past, tried writing on this blog about mental illness related encounters I have had. However the purpose of the new blog is slightly different.

The new blog is committed to one single theme. All my mental ‘illness’ oriented work would go on that blog as it is also my desire to share with the lay intelligent reader whatever knowledge I interact with, in the course of my phd research. Since a researcher by definition tends to be looking into a vaster expanse of information, data, analysis and study than someone who is not a researcher, for reasons of social good and making research accessible, people could routinely offer small chunks of that knowledge to the wider audience. This is my attempt in that direction.cropped-website-hope-image

However research is not an easy journey to make, for it is largely solitary and a tough act of balancing one’s financial needs, professional goals, study commitments, family responsibilities, domestic routines and you name it. I cannot say I am in any enviable position except that to reduce the monotony of my work, I have started teaching classical music to a few youngsters- it is a breath of air for me. Of course I continue learning with my own guru also- another breather!

This blog post is basically to re-direct anyone who is connected to me for the above reason, to redirect their gaze in a more appropriate corner. You can well imagine that I am likely to post little on this blog, while my focus lies in recovery. However peace is close to my heart and at the heart of all my efforts. If one can help even a single person come into their own center, attain a little peace- they will gradually create their own peace and spread it further as well. I call the new blog- recovering self, because only in re-covering ground that people lose due to setbacks which are called mental illness, do we become our WHOLE SELF again- the self that we were intended by Mother Nature to be. The recovery blog is only meant to be a little offering in wholeness, a testimony to the work I am doing as well as a knowledge sharing blog- diminishing stereotypes about mental illness, challenging convention and offering alternatives.

Hope it accomplishes the intention of its birth.

Understanding our vulnerabilities toward achieving stability

I have a question for you if that’s ok. When you mean you recovered, do you mean you understood the root of your depressions and manic states, your bipolar disorder? Was there meaning, trauma in your life that led to that? And do you not suffer from that anymore? I hope these are ok questions to ask you. (E.L.)

My present blogpost is a response to this query from someone. I think it is befitting that I should answer to an earnest question in an honest manner. I am writing this post specifically so that I can share it with others and not have to make the effort again.

In response to the first question, whether I understood the roots of my depressions/mania- Yes indeed. As well as the triggers.

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This dog knows it can get attacked by its fellow dogs, and so it chooses to sit on someone’s wall and jump inside the house, if other dogs came after him. He knew he was vulnerable and kept the distance from the rest of the mongrels. Why not learn from animals?

What our triggers are – are our vulnerabilities. If one can isolate that it is a great victory and the best way to identify that would be a therapeutic dialogue with a therapist who is kind, wise and non-leading. It is not so easy to find such a person and that is the greatest challenge really.

Dear E. suffering is a part of our human destiny- but it does not have to annihilate us completely- we can live with it peacefully, we can make sense of it on a day-to- day basis and we can find better ways to make sense of things, alternative worldviews and conceptualizations.

Let me explain with an example. I currently suffer from a lot of spinal issues- which is quite painful. But I try to not let it affect me all the time in the day. yes some part of the day it certainly pins me down and when I lie down it just comes over me like a flood. I cannot even sit on the computer for any reasonable length of time that a doctoral reseracher would be expected to. And since spine is affected- so are my arms, legs and feet! I could be a ball of pain- but then I decided I cannot let it have the better of me. I cannot NOT do anything. 

SO, I am not going to compete with another phd candidate who can possibly study eight hours a day- but I will certainly try to do my two today and possibly a little more tomorrow, if tomorrow is not the same as today. This is how we build up our mental muscle- you don’t do it in a day. You do not become another person, you just learn to live with yourself a little more peacefully, more centered, greater equipoise. 

I hope you get the picture- if not please feel free to ask further.

(For those who read my blog with any regularity, pardon me I am not able to write however much I may want to thanks to the cold and my bone issues. But hopefully with summer coming soon, the months ahead would be better. Thank you for staying connected)

 

What will you do with our stories?

Last week I began my weekly counseling at the prison, by meeting with all the women inmates there. I was told their number is around 59-60, though I do not think that many came to meet me, in the open lawns, where we all met.

It was an unusual scenario for me – to sit and share with the ladies what my ‘job’ or presence in their midst meant. Most could not make sense of the word -counseling. For a moment I thought whether it was all a needless effort. There are a few non profits working among prison inmates, mine may be the third or fourth. I do not have a correct estimate of numbers yet. One of them is running a training program in several vocations- such as beauty culture, tailoring, adult education and even a creche for little children. On the whole the population is not very motivated, at least on a cursory glance.

As I sat there mid a whole lot of women from Haryana (the first time I was seeing so many together myself) I was just wondering in what language and expression to share the purpose of my work. Then I just began talking as we all sat in a gathering of nearly 35-40 women. I explained to them that I was here to share their lives with them and to help them cope better with the challenge of living life in a jail. I cannot imagine a bitter tragedy than imprisonment, and the seemingly futile effort of counseling those there.

Yet, not one to give up easily and wanting to make sense of life everywhere I feel I have to offer courage, the way I was offered courage by life and people in the years of my own suffering and solitude. I always believe that humans can be united in the idea of our shared or otherwise suffering- I have taken this from the Dalai Lama- the mindfulness that we all suffer, and that is the root of our common heritage as living beings.

To see so many people with hearts full of suffering, writ large on their faces is an experience of becoming humble, because you do not approach them with any solutions, nor wisdom, outcomes or legal advice- which they actually need. You just go empty handed, with a heart full of stories and ears willing to hear more. Your humility comes from the knowledge that possibly a whole lot of these in the jail are actually just innocent victims.

I spoke for awhile and then invited the women to say something if they would like to. Most did not, but some said they were trying to understand why I was there and what was the offer from me. Then one, who I find particularly bright and quite clear in her mind, asked me, “Madam I have understood why you will be here. You will hear our stories and may be note them somewhere. But will you keep our stories with yourself or will you do something more?

I thought may be I would do something later in research or write about the conditions of jails or how difficult it could be to live a life in jails for years altogether. But right now the agenda is only to work together with the women and understand what is happening in their lives. The truth is that nothing is happening- their lives are all frozen for now, and they live removed from the world in an artificial world of the prison, where nobody comes to meet them (barring stray family members when they can make the journey) and they live lives in their mind, missing loved ones, missing lives left outside the jail, lamenting the loss of what life leaches from them everyday.

What will you do with our stories, she asked me insistently. Not once, but many a times. Will you write them down and share them with the world or publish them in a newspaper? Will you write about us cropped-2014-006-2.jpgand tell the world about our lives here? Will you? Will you not?

I kept quiet for that moment and told her I appreciated her question and may be I would have to think about it. I came away and the question kept floating in front and her fierce, bright, challenging face questioning…till I arrived at a response. This is the response of me the human, the counselor that I find emerging from the recesses of my soul.

I will listen to your stories like a friend, not a judge and possibly witness their transformation, wherever possible help while you go over the difficult passages. I come in support and acknowledgement of your suffering. I am not a lawyer, nor court, nor judge- I am just a human who understands human suffering, and I am here because we all suffer. That is all. I hope to share this with her when I meet her again.

Juveniles, justice and anguish: roots of mental suffering

As October ends, two new beginnings have been made- both among populations of people in ‘prisons’. I am saying that though technically juveniles are not seen as criminals and neither is the facility where they are housed called a prison. It is called an ‘observation home’. My reading of it tells me it is nothing short of a prison

As part of laying the foundations down for the non-profit, Hansadhwani we are currently activating its mental health arm (Antardhwanee) in multiple domains- one of them of course is the counseling work done in private. But the other two ventures, viz counseling of juveniles and counseling of prison inmates is more in the public domain. In other words, we are moving forward on a social turf now.

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Both facilities are government operated and in both, sadly enough I found the same problem- a large number of innocent people, forced inside in a system which defies logic and perhaps where the head fits the noose, the head is pulled in, irrespective of whose it is!

The boys’ home

In the home for the boys, I have till now interacted with two individuals in a longer talk and with a group of nearly 20, together. Barring the first two, who I met on a separate day, I met the group and spent nearly two hours with them this past Monday (24th October 2016). All of them had a charge of attempted rape, Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code. Before I met them I thought I was going to see a big group of sex starved teenagers, who had been cruel and sadistic, committing crimes against known or unknown girls and women. But life is such a learning.

I heard the stories of all of them individually, after a long interactive discussion with them, in full view of the authorities of the ‘home’. Of course nobody talked to me within earshot of another, and yet i found in all just children who wanted to be heard and given justice. There was NOT A SINGLE RAPIST over there- that became clear. I do not think they could have made up the stories. Whether or not they had wronged another, they had been wronged by a system which empowers society and families to charge anyone with a crime of rape, and then the burden of proof lies with the accused. He has to prove he is innocent. What can he prove? He does not know anything!

Most boys were school going youngsters. One (17 years) had eloped with a girl his age and lived with her for a month and upon returning home the girl had been forcibly married to someone and he condemned to the jail. There were a couple of other cases like that. But they were love tangles with few, but extortion rackets with most.In a majority of cases the accusers (girls or their families) were demanding money from the boys and their families to drop the rape charges. Money to the tune of a couple of lakhs in the least.

I kept thinking in what manner I could do anything for them, for these were not boys who were in a correctional facility for they needed correction. They are just caught on the wrong side of the law and someone has framed them. They cannot get bails, because their families are often too poor, and lawyers egg the women/accusers to extract the money, to teach them a lesson! In a few cases the girls wanted to marry the boys, by framing them first! Often

My only concern was that the system should not make them into more hardened criminals and that is the hope I go in, that by talking to them as human beings and respecting the truth of their stories, I will at least acknowledge their reality at my level. I cannot see how a person in their situation would not be mentally disturbed, and yet I can see their dreams, hopes and prayers- that someday they would be bailed out and go home free, and never look back at the prison again. I also felt very deeply that instead of psychological or emotional support, at this juncture they needed legal aid, and people who would stand up for them.

Though that does not mean that we would stop going there, but one hopes that considering these are not children facing the easiest of life’s challenges (trial for a crime not committed), the system would not end making permanent and hardened criminals out of them. Perhaps keeping their sanity and humanity alive in the abysmal conditions of their life (which are truly dehumanizing) we would jointly keep burning the flame of inspiration which all humans carry and need to remember during adversities.

The innocent are caught and the guilty go scot free- this is the reality of modern civilization where it is money, connections and lies all the way. I am sure nobody forgets that in India, especially with the likes of…

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Vijay Mallaya still in our midst and whose steam never cools, and the law or police too feeble to get his hand/head in the noose, where it deserves to be!

The Piano Teacher

Earlier this week, I called up Hem, who identifies himself as a creative film maker/ recordist (!!) After discussing my recording requirements, which are mostly classical music based stuff, I was generally talking to him about a few other things.

Hem is a south Indian, and lives near my parents’ home in Delhi, a place called Kalkaji. He is trying to set up a studio of his own, which I think finally he has found a place for. When I was here in December from Goa, he and another person, who we will call as R, came to meet me. R has been known to me for the last nearly two decades or possibly a little less than that. I have known him to be a musician of a small order, who has not learnt music thoroughly from anyone, yet by learning to play by himself and by dabbling with his keyboards.

He has often come to me for learning music, but more with the intention of ‘getting things out’ rather than really learning classical music. Surprisingly enough we have never clicked as a teacher-student. He always came, once in a couple of years, bowed at my feet (whcih I always resisted and told me not to) and talked about musical ideas and compositions. He never had it in him to learn music with anyone- he was always in a hurry to ‘encash’ things- quickly learn a raga and show if off to others. Even when I invited him to play with me, as I sang, I did not find him competent enough to, because he would be too restless to hear and start playing as I would start singing.

There are many I know like him- who keep playing tunes on the keyboards and then they figure out full melodies and they become musicians. Nothing wrong with that. They are doing things which they wanted to, by dint of sheer persistence.

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So willy nilly, moving in our conversation, Hem informed me that R is ‘out of the market’. I heard him and did not pay heed. He repeated it for me again. I thought ‘what a strange thing to say’. So I asked him what he meant. He repeated himself and said that R was in jail, for the next ten years at that. Oh! I thought, now what was that about.

And then it struck me that I had read about it in the Hindu paper, that  a piano teacher being caught abusing his student in Kalkaji. I asked Hem if he was talking of that incident. At that moment when I read about it, I thought of R- what a coincidence. I of course was not thinking of him as an abuser, but I just thought that he was the only piano teacher that I knew of in Kalkaji. But then I consoled myself thinking that hopefully there would be others, and it is not him. Now what Hem was telling me confirmed that indeed it was R!

It is sad. The world of Hindustani music is rife with teacher-student abuse, which has stifled many a career and many a relationship. ( There have been instances when teachers have married their students, but that is not an instance of abuse) But a man in his forties abusing or exploiting a child. I do not know how quickly the prosecution worked but they gave him ten years in jail. I thought for a moment, what would happen to him after those ten years and what about his family?

And then what about the child who suffered? What would be the consequences of this on her? And what if there would be more children, who could not raise their voices against him? Would there be someone to support her traumatic experience? I am sure it would have taken a lot for her to express her suffering.

The sad thing is that when people known to you do anything, your faith in humanity is shaken for a moemnt and then the whole anger which each of us has against the systemic abuse- finds a target. I feel no sympathy for R. In fact, I feel more for his wife and family. What a suffering they would have to go through socially. Like we always say, letting go of every abuser only emboldens them further- it is about time some were punished. Even if those some be people of our own associations and families. It is about time.

Here is a related post about the same incident, on another blog.

 

Mr. Rail Minister-acche din dooor hain

Dear Rail Minister of India, Mr Suresh Prabhu. Namaskar

I sent a parcel from Delhi (PRR number 4000377207) NZM station to Madgaon, in Goa on the 10th June, 2016. The parcel was loaded by a young man who works in our domestic enterprise, his name being Pundalik Zalmi.

Pundalik Zalmi (Gokul) is a simple village boy, who by dint of sheer labour and tenacity has worked his way into being the right hand man of the owner of the enterprise, my spouse. In his family he is the only one who has come so far- economically or socially. He was on his maiden trip to Delhi- to assist me with something. He took the parcel and landed up on the Nizammuddin Station. First of all, he encountered a coolie, who demanded Rs.1200/- to help him reach the parcel to its destination, which was the parcel office of the Indian Rail. When someone intervened the coolie agreed to do the job for Rs.700/-

In the ensuing pell-mell that happened somehow the coolie rushed him into the train, having booked his parcel allegedly on the same Rajdhani Express that Gokul was taking- train number 22414, NZM-MAO. When he got down the next day at Madgaon, the parcel had not reached with him- he went and checked in the luggage van too. He was confused, for it was the first time he was doing such a job.

Next day, and for several days after that he kept going to Madgaon Station every single day, a distance of eight/nine kilometers from our home, asking around for the parcel and then talking to whoever concerned at the station. Several times this was done by another of his colleagues Pravin Shirodkar, who is the driver in the enterprise.

After a few days, there was no sign of the parcel and everyday we were going up and down. Then I spoke with someone in the railway, who suggested I send a twitter message to report the misplacing of my parcel. I was anxious- I had just returned from Delhi myself, the day before and seven days after Gokul but the parcel was still not to be found. I needed the contents of the parcel for my next travel, which is due on the 1st July 2016- I have to return to Delhi with my two dogs, by Jet Airways. My parcel contained doggy crates- PVC containers meant for carrying small animals  by plane.

Upon the suggestion I sent the following tweet

PRR no.4000377207 sent HNzm to MAO_ Goa, 10Jun,16, not received till date. Plz help urgently. Load train 22414, PNR2765467844

This was followed by a daily round of tweeting to scores of people, who linked me to one another. The entire conversation can be seen here-

 https://twitter.com/HansadhwaniP/with_replies

Into the dialogue were roped the Konkan Railway, the Madgaon station people, the NZM station people, the freight people in New Delhi and of course the rail ministry in India. IN the medley, I saw many a bad egg and a few good apples too. This open message to you, Mr. Prabhu is written to bring to your notice one practice, which is perhaps going on regularly in the railways and is routinely unreported or brushed under the carpet.

After my first tweet of 18th, the following week, on Tuesday, 21st June after trying desperately to get hold of some information about the parcel we finally got in touch with one Superintendent at the NZM station called Mr. Meena. He told us that the parcel had been loaded on the train, as per the details here ( i noted them from the website myself)

Parcel/Luggage/VP Details
PRR No./PWB No. 4000377207 Scale Booking Date
From Station HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Destination Station MAO-MADGOAN JN.
Consignee Name and Address – – – Consignor Name and Address – – –
Item Description Total No. Status
PVC GOODS 1
Last Loading Train No. 22414 Last Loading Stn. NZM-HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Last Loading Date 10-Jun-2016 11:24
Status Loaded on train Stn. NZM-HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Status Date 10-Jun-2016 11:25
Last Unoading Train No. Last Unoading Stn. Last Unoading Date

He repeated the same message to everyone concerned.

Now Sir, just make a note of the following- The time of departure of the Madgaon Rajdhani is 10:55 am. IF the train left at 10:55, can any parcel be loaded in it at 11:24 logically?

In several conversations, Mr. Meena (mobile number 09717- 999425) had with both me and my husband he repeated the same information. In the final dialogue we had with him, he even told me that the parcel had been sent to Panvel, instead of Madgoan (perhaps to get rid of our persistent queries?).

Since I was in touch with a gentleman called Upendra Shindye from the Konkan Railways, who had been kind enough to call me on his own, in response to my twitter message to Konkan Railway Corp, I requested Mr. Shindye to make inquiries at his end. He did- I think he even sent someone to Panvel, from Mumbai, though I am not sure about it.

We were already more than ten days from the time the parcel had been loaded. I was worried for a lot hinges on it for me in the present moment for me. Mr. Shindye promised to update me by the evening. The date being 22nd June-12 days later. Meanwhile our rounds to the Madgaon Station were in vain everyday- but we still went. Either Gokul went or Pravin.

Finally my husband went on 22nd- we were all worried, and he met someone there, who promised to help him, then did not call. Later a gentleman called up Gokul and spoke with my husband too. He identified himself as one Mr. Murli (mobile +91 9004476083)- who said he was investigating the case of the missing parcel. My husband proposed to him that he probe into one angle- that the parcel had never left from Delhi in this whole span of time.

Lo and behold…Mr. Murli called and confirmed the suspicion, and said that the parcel would be leaving on the 22nd June 2016, by Goa Express and reach Madgaon on 24th. Later Mr. Shindye of Konkan railways also confirmed the same. IN other words, in this whole span of 12 days when we were all tearing our hair, Mr. Meena kept misleading every single person- saying the parcel had been loaded on the train, whose details are there on the website.

Who is updating the website?

My query and concern to you, Honorable Minister is this-

  1. If the parcel was not loaded on the train, how did it start reflecting on the website?
  2. What sort of a fraud is happening here – in which people’s parcels are getting lost? I at least had access to internet and even twitter, but what about those who cannot use these new technologies? Do you think every Indian who is using the railways for sending parcels is having a twitter account- to knock at your doors for lost goods?
  3. I am told that people are compensated @50/- per kilo of the weight of their parcels. what sort of a way is this to ascribe value to goods people are sending? (My parcel was carrying goods worth at least Rs.50,000/-, though its weight was a mere 25 kgs)
  4. There is a deep flaw in the way parcels are tracked– and there is no verification happening. IF a man can tell us that the parcel has left the station, while it is very much lying on the station, what do you think is happening in this department? How can the website be uploaded and scores of people mislead?
  5. Can you please initiate an inquiry about how goods are getting lost in the Indian rail parcel service and start fixing responsibility for the same?

Can we think of simple village folks like Pundalik Zalmi who come from their villages and lose their belongings on trains, never to have any voice in the whole din and cacophony of the Indian Rail?

Is size of the Indian Rail so big that we do not now care about the common Indian people who use it day and night, putting their hard earned money into goods they transport by trains everyday?

Would a Pundalik Zalmi, not backed by his employers who were English speaking, twitter familiar people, have found his parcel? Would he have the resources to keep going to the station, everyday, leaving his work behind, without losing his job? What employer would have allowed him the leave and not believed that he was lying about the loss of the parcel? 

Today is 24th June, 2016, and true to the word given by Mr. Murli and Mr. Shindye, the parcel reached Madgaon and we duly got a call at 7am confirming that. We of course have to pay a price of Rs.2880/- as the rent of one of them, for we were being charged @ 180/day for the same. The parcel that would have come on 11th, would have meant only four days of rental, instead of the 16 it has become.

But that is not the point, Mr. Minister. The point I am trying to make is would the average Indian have managed to stir so much action? Are we really empowering our people by giving them redressal mechanism via the twitter and other social media?

I am grateful that the twitter action works, but how many Indians have access to it and they use the Indian Rail? Please stop by at any station, Sir, and take a look at the India that travels by train- maybe you would think of other ways to touch their lives and save their hard earned belongings.

(i wish there was a way to measure the quantum of suffering this experience has caused us, starting from the encounter with the coolie- a great shame I assure you)

A good 24 years later

It was in November 1992 that I got a diagnosis of bipolar in disorder, and the calamity that followed had to be lived to know. I cannot imagine why depression should debilitate people, but I mostly think it is the diagnosis that does so. It freezes you to the point of stoniness- you cannot think there is life beyond the diagnosis. You just cave in, hopelessly, stoic and resigned, as though nothing at all in the world can change any longer and this is the final judgement on your intelligence, capability and achievements. When the whole world around seems to be joyfully straddling along, notwithstanding how much joy anyone is really experiencing, a depression diagnosis simply hollows you out from within. It does not stop, it keeps on doing it- hollowing you out. You waste away, and life passes by around in a haze as though you are watching it in a dream state.

However many times I would try to get well something or the other got me down and kept me so. Life passed by, friends passed by, careers never took off, people stopped believing in you, and the loss of face one experienced kept one automatically away from the world. With what face can you go and tell the world that you do not do anything of any consequence because you suffer from depressions.

At least today I know that even if depression are a part of life, they need not incapacitate someone permanently- people have a lot of strength in them, if they can develop the capacity for changing what is not working, to what could work. When relationships do not work, either we leave the relationship or recreate it. Remaining in an unhappy relationship with anyone- even with a job, or a partner, friend, birth family, neighbour or colleague makes a person anxious, troubled, irritable, withdrawn and perform far below one’s capacity.

Anyhow, long years did not bring changes- only more of the same. It was time for a change. I changed practically every aspect of my life, and it happened a great deal due to the entry of my dogs. Thereafter, a move to staying alone made me realize that a lot of my conflicts were due to family life- understanding oneself from the solitude of one’s existence offers the scope to question many assumptions we carry about ourselves. It was a great though tough experience to live alone from the time I was 35 years old, with four dogs, yet this leap was the pivot of change.

I turned on that axis of change to such a wide degree that I turned my life upside down or inside out, whichever sounds more realistic. In 2016 it would be 24 years that I had a first brush with bipolar. But today my life is not what it was then, or what it was at any time in the interim. Every step I took in these 24 years, with 18 years of drug dependence for bipolar, fortified my tenacity and willpower to deal with suffering- whether real or imaginary.

On 14th April 2016, I am starting PhD research in mental health and law, at Nalsar- it is a long journey at every step, even making it through the phd was not foreseen until a few months ago, due to certain issues of marks that I had during my MA years.

The reason for writing this post is nothing if not sharing with anyone who reads it that change is the nature of life and the universe. If you want to change anything about your life which is not working for you, you just got to be sure about it- life will give you chances from unexpected quarters. My experience of getting admission into the phd program is testimony that anything can happen to those who are standing in the queue. If you are sitting at home or sleeping away feeling disabled then you are the biggest impediment in your struggle.

If I, who had no hope whatsoever to do anything in life, can get into a phd program, I believe anyone who has a mental health issue can recover and reclaim their life. IT is my firm belief and conviction. And the sort of work that I do in counseling is ensuring that this is happening. Life is a big mystery and we all need to continuously reinvent ourselves, in response to the environment, our bodies, our minds and our resources. Change is ever ready to welcome us- and so should we be. Finally like the woodpecker in this picture, I pecked at it until it changed- whatever it was- fate, destiny, my life or my options.

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The greatest lessons usually come to me from nature, birds and animals