“What is the optimal level of conflict that a youngster can handle? In a recent case of counseling of a 16 year old with me, once again I saw a deeply troubled behavior due to experiences at school. I saw that all the anger and anxiety of her school experience was being vented out on the parents, who were quite helpless in view of her tantrums and insults that she would target them with. That she had been to a school counselor proved to be not much help as the counselor told her to just lie low and bear it, for it was only a short time that she had anyways, before she passed out from school! Instead of being empowered enough to deal with the situation the counselor just pushed it under the carpet. When she came to me for counseling it was a complicated enough case, even without the fear of the parents that they did not want to take her to a psychiatrist. But having taken much victimization in her three schools from her classmates the only outcome she had was to victimize others, wherever she could. Being just a teenager she was not ready for any feedback or reflection on herself yet, without which nobody who has a behavioural situation to deal with can hope for any ‘recovery’ or peaceful co-existence with others. She soon abruptly terminated coming for counseling with me too, as it was not ‘convenient’ for her to listen to some of the ideas I threw back at her. My only fear about a youngster like that would be that over time such a person would become more and more complicated, non reconciling, stubborn and have a greater propensity for tantrums in situations where she would not have her way. To see this is the light of peer victimization, an experience of isolation from peers who she wants to be part of, and to be the butt of everyone’s sarcasm makes a person very angry inside them and it just complicates life of everyone around, as this youngster once again showed me.”
I recovered this from a letter that I had written on 24/06/2013 to the parent of the child who I was discussing about in this email. I sent him this email in the hope that they would understand where she was coming from and what was the source of her suffering, anxiety and anger, which was periodically directed at them.
I had met this youngster a few months earlier, upon urgent request from her father who had somehow found about me, from our mutual doctor, Dr. Mitra in Kolkata. Doctor saab was dealing with her for her moods and tantrums and now she needed to talk to someone like me. They came with great effort a long way, and extremely troubled. We all met on the first day itself- both parents had accompanied the daughter, it was around autumn of 2012. I was thick into research in mental illness at that time.
She was having extremes of moods and great bouts of anger, in which she would run away from home and on a few occasions loitered around in late evenings alone, chasing a certain young man, who she had been friendly with. Yet he was not seeing anything special in the connection while she was deeply attracted/attached to him. She landed up at his house at night one day and perhaps he was not willing to face the consequences of that- her parents were called, they came …her father just said, that he was fine if she wanted to stay with him. (Poor father, what more could he say to quell the heat at that moment). But the young man (who was into his mid-20s) just quailed and backed off. Our little heroine had to come back with her parents, who were so pained and ashamed they did not know what to do.
They started looking for solutions and quickly a psychiatrist came into the picture, who recommended that the next time she tried to run away from home she ought to be brought to hospital and hospitalized. Perhaps he also gave a prescription. But the father was not convinced, and he started looking further out. He landed up at the door of an NGO in Delhi (they guided him to Kolkata, as that NGO head was known to me and I had given him the number of my doctor). That father was determined enough to go and meet Dr. Sa’ab. I have in the course of these many years referred so many to Dr. Mitra but this man was the ONLY PERSON who actually went the distance.
She would meet me now and then and over time even that underwent a transition, including me meet her parents separately and jointly on a few occasions. But whatever else the parents suffered from they kept the suffering of their child as the focus, and avoided to talk about their own conflicts, which any couple has. But both were very doting- though her response to them was different, for which I cannot blame her. Yes, she was sufficiently angry with them to not want to live in the home with them, after passing school. I remember nearly a year ago, when she met me her major concern was how to get out of the city and take admission in a residential institution, just to get out of the home.
Over a span of time I figured that in her home she felt victimized by continuous comparisons with cousins, which her grandmother and aunts made, she was a lonely child at school, and because she had been a victim of severe bullying in one school she had left it after class 10, and joined a residential one. Over there also she became a victim of the same- bullying, this time by girls. She left that school too. Then she joined another school back in Delhi, though she had lost some time in the process and the teachers felt she may not be able to make it up- so they also started pestering her, in addition to she becoming isolated once again in her class of girls, yet again.
There was a pattern I could see distinctly. She was repeatedly becoming a victim by her peers and that instilled fear in her, she would shut herself up in her room and spend long hours on social networks, making communication, or just talking to herself and stalking the profiles of those once known to her and those who wanted to connect with her. She was suffering greatly, and even in the extra classes she took, she was isolated. I was concerned about her and we discussed thing thread-bare, many a time. We discussed a whole lot of issues, including her actions and how she reacted to others around. It was my attempt to bring back her focus on the present and let her articulate her ideas more concretely and then start pursuing them – even if it was something like wanting to get out of the city for further study. Later I figured the reason for her wanting to get out of Delhi had something to do with a bully in school from her younger years. It seems the bully had bad-mouthed her among their common peers, saying she was in pursuit of him, whereas that was not the case, for on an earlier occasion she had spurned his advances. The boy could not take rejection and turned it on her by spreading lies about her, which made her very heart-broken, fearful and mocked at by her classmates. All the earlier running away that she had been doing was an outcome of that fear.(Fortunately I had so much research evidence at that time about school bullying that I could put it to good use with her)
Just before her exams in March, she came to meet me (in February) and we discussed how she had been faring and how things had changed for her, if at all. She had just got a farewell party in school and all her friends had said to her that she was such a kind and supportive person, they were so fond of her and she would be fondly remembered. When I heard that my eyes just brimmed, for this was a child who had been repeatedly ignored, laughed at, joked about, jeered at and how she had wept in front of me. And our conversations…may be they helped her somewhere, did they? I would always ask her when she would be leaving, how she was feeling after talking to me, just to make sure she felt better about herself. Invariably she did. So after the school farewell I remember telling her, “Look my dear, see how far you have come and now everyone is so fond of you- you are a very warm and wise person, and do not forget how much you are a source of strength to others.” I meant it, for she had turned the whole public opinion in her own favour in a few months of being in that school.
A few days back I was in Goa when she called up and we talked again- the same issue of the schoolboy, who had bullied her came up. He had come back into her life and was demanding from her to pay heed to his presence, and she had let him in. Young people take time to learn lessons, and so did our little heroine. We both agreed that letting the chap back and communicating with him was a mistake.
One morning I was in Delhi and I saw a message from her saying she wanted to talk, could she call me up and when? I told her I was in Delhi and then she requested to meet me, which we did. In that meeting her anxiety about the same boy spreading rumours about her was top of the agenda. That fear, which had been planted in her mind in adolescence came back to haunt her, again and again. This time also we talked and sorted things out and brought new ideas into light. She said she was planning to do some summer voluntary work. I was happy to hear that, for she had begun to find her strength and identify that helping others made her happy. This would be a good beginning for her. We agreed once again that we do not have to focus on the negativity that youngman was directing at her, yet I also reminded her that she ought not to let him connect back with her, thinking he would have changed from the last she knew him. There were many others in the world and she must be friends with those who valued her, no matter how much younger or older they be. As I saw her out I wished her the best for her school final results, naturally not knowing what to expect.
Today at 15:15 my mobile rang and she was calling from her mother’s phone. I suddenly remembered that her results may have come- and yes enough! “I have got 80.25%” she beamed, and I could see her that instance, so happy, proud, and confident. My heart expanded and I had no words to say…except… my dear, I am so proud of you. Please convey my greetings to your parents, and congratulations. “Our” child had made it, from a girl she is now stepping into a new threshold of her life, she knows who her friends are, she knows who to trust, she is growing wiser and more confident by the day. What more can be our success that we brought her back together from the fights we all participated in, the tantrums we heard, the failures we analysed , the dreams we all saw together. This was all our collaborative effort, and my hats off to the child and the parents for trusting in the journey, for trusting my word and paying heed to it always. Together we came out with flying colours.
(I am not offering any analysis for this is a blogpost, not a research article. I do not think that troubles in life end so easily for anyone, but passing out of school, facing bullying, which has been directly linked to mental illness across the world, collaborative dialogues is what I wanted to focus on. If I feel the need for it at a later date, I would do an analysis in a research article, with due evidence. When Dr.Mitra passed away suddenly it was this girl’s father who had called up to confirm it with me. The other equally important thing is that this passage from school is akin to a rite of passage for this young woman, for her suffering was taking her to the extremes of breakdown, but hopefully that has been averted. There are always un-addressed issues and conflicts, which I hope with time and with wisdom their family will once again address.)