Hesitant as I am to buy or sell the idea of anyone being ‘mentally ill’, for the sake of those who believe that they are, I will go with that classification for the present blogpost. This post talks about the stories of two young men who worked in the medical profession and who got the labels themselves.
My mother just told me this story- and the boy was also once upon a time known to my sister. The boy was among the toppers at the stage of entrance into medical college and he went to one such which would rank among the top five institutions in India. When he became a doctor, he was immediately (perhaps, or this is our guess) assigned to some section where he had a lot of encounters with the ‘dead’ (bodies? post mortems? Forensic? or something else like that? we do not know)
It seems the boy just could not handle it and the next thing heard about him was that the family would keep him confined and possibly tied up! But the sad thing is he was finally dead by the time he reached his 30’s! We do not know the story for how it progressed, we just knew of the boy entering medical college when he had – for he was the talk of the town then. Could not imagine he would come to such an end.
That brings me to a mail, I just received from another friend, (about another medico) saying -‘Hi! There’s this guy, who had arguments with his parents about his exams and career few years back. His parents took him to a psychiatrist who labeled him with schizophrenia. The psychiatrist was telling him that he has OCD too as he was not willing to accept his diagnosis. He doesn’t get any hallucination or delusions…He says now he is being covertly drugged. I asked how and what he is feeling now and asked for the side effects and when he’s getting them. And I think he IS being drugged. Further he says his parents are demoralizing, humiliating and inciting him by showing his case paper to all the relatives. He has completed his graduation and wants to do PG now. Though his parents are ready to help him financially he feels scared to take any help. He doesn’t know what to do about the situation. Both his parents are doctors.’
Here is what I am seeing in the story (the marks in red above indicate the flaws, which are the red herrings in the picture to me), if I just deconstruct the power axis here:
The parents are in a position of power over their son and these are the ways in which they are exercising control-
- In response to arguments (which are a sign of any child rebelling or asserting his/her rights-autonomy or selfhood) take youth/child to psychiatrist.
- Youth/child is not allowed to choose career as they do not permit the choice for they know ‘better’, have seen more of life, know what is best for the child, can take better informed decisions for him.
- Psychiatrist hands over schizophrenia diagnosis because boy is clearly showing anger, rebellion, and even rejecting the further labelling of OCD. this is even more problematic in their collective eyes, because people want that those who are being given the label should accept them (called diagnosis) meekly and silently.
- Parents decide to avenge this ‘misbehaviour’– and now attempt to socially isolate him, by public display of his ‘pathology’.
- They further want to help him financially, for continuing his education.
The mental state of the person in question here, may be like this:
- Initially anger
- Wronged- because he has been unfairly given a ‘diagnosis’
- Cheated by being covertly drugged; unfortunately by parents, against whom the defense mechanism is weakest.
- When parents let you down, who can you further trust?
- Where can he turn now, and more so, what options exist for him?
- If parents are trying to bail him out financially, how much more control will they exercise over him? For what can he trust them?
- If this is the way life will go further, what is the nature of happiness in his life, or will there be any? Will he be able to determine the course of his life or will it be the parents all the time making decisions for him?
(All the above ideas are in the nature of conjectures, because I have not directly spoken to the person. I am just writing this out so that more people who may chance upon this writing may read and take some inspiration, if they can)
The real question of mental illness here is a question of developing a voice or autonomy. Autonomy is supposed to develop during teenage, as per psychological parameters. At that stage because it is also accompanied by hormonal maturation, it becomes a cluster of experiences- some of them showing assertiveness which is construed as rebellion by families. In a culture where submissiveness or unquestioning obedience is valued, any sign of rejection, questioning or self-expression becomes a threat to the ‘system’ around every individual. People who are showing these expressions are taken as rebels and they are then given appropriate ‘correction’ mechanisms to make them fall in line. Unfortunately, this is what happens in a vast majority of cases.
Somewhere along the way, such people also part ways with their friends and peers because they are too anguished to share what is happening in their personal lives, with their ‘friends’ for they think whatever is happening, is happening to them ALONE- they become prisoners of their mind, their souls and their imagination. Reality is that we are all on a continuum of human experience and suffering and a lot of people are suffering due to overt or covert family violence of this sort, where children are unequally pitted against their parents for they are weaker in position in multiple ways- financially, socially, initially physically, and more. Often parents also operate as ONE unit/voice- no difference between the parent as mother and father.
- You need to develop your own inner and outer resources– which starts from financially to social mechanisms of support.
- Remember, the more you rebel in this scenario, the more you will be penalized and you are already outnumbered, out-powered and out-witted for the’system’ can overpower you very easily- DO NOT try to challenge the system. The ‘system’ refers to family, psychiatry, relatives, neighbours etc in this case. It may also be your educational institution tomorrow, which is another kind of system. Each of these is a system in its own sense, for it has its own principles, guidelines and methods, and together this process is a complex systems thinking.
- When parents are not your support systems it often becomes difficult to trust outsiders. But there are many resources out there in the world and support mechanisms– though those who have mental illnesses themselves cannot be your support systems right now, for how much can you support another one , if need be? Be wise and be safe. Do not become part of peer support groups, because that would be only more aggravating and you will see your own story played out in different variations across the spectrum and it will fluster you further.
- If you can make slow progress one day at a time, by even continuing your education, by slowly gaining control over one aspect of your life at a time, it will slowly fortify you and give you the ego-strength to overcome the system. Instead if you try to challenge the system by taking it head-on, it will punish you seriously. Do not do that.
- Come to a clearing, where you can totally wrest free of your parents and your diagnosis, by reclaiming your life as your own. This cannot happen till you are dependent on them in any way. For that you need to develop your mind, and your body adequately and you will be able to get up and walk away from everything that holds you back today.
- Remember a day a time and not a life in a day.
- Be slow, be steady and be regular– even if you make an inch of progress in a day. Even if you wake up late, even if you have no one to talk to- you will have someone soon.
- Believe in yourself and your strength and build it a drop at a time, a little at a time.
I believe everyone can overcome their pathology and diagnosis– if they have others who believe in them and if they also believe in themselves and hold on to their dreams. So hold on to your’s, no matter if they are the most ridiculous ones also and try to see them as clearly as possible. You have to gain the power that others hold over you, into your own hands- be the HERO of your own story.
Already, even at this stage, though this person is not directly in touch with me, there is a collaboration at work FOR HIM- for there is a friend of his, who has written to me. I have sat down and invested this effort in deconstruction/writing/counseling…we are the smallest links in the chain and a proof that there is hope and scope for everyone, because when you cry for help, someone hears it- even if distantly. SO PLEASE …ask for help, for it will come to you.