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.

Reshma’s Schizophrenia Memoir

The memoir of Reshma Valliappan is finally out and this blogpost is just about that. I do not think I need to say anything about it, because the article that I am about to share on the issue says it all. I must say why this memoir becomes significant is that the author stopped talking medicines, though she calls herself now a ‘schizophrenist’. This is a big contrast to my position, though possibly becomes it comes from research- where I reject any labels of mental illness and call it a linguistic rephrasing of people’s distress into medical categories.

Of course knowing Reshma personally, I feel she is one of the brightest, most energetic and vivacious people to be with. So to have such a high level of intellect is a compelling case of the spirit plunging to that low to offset the ‘highs’. Knowing bipolar the way I do, and knowing that it is perfectly ‘curable’ if someone is committed enough to deal with it, and persistent no matter what- I am beginning to feel that so is schizophrenia! of course the world is not ready to hear this, even though many people have been saying this for decades, including psychiatrists and linguists. That brings me to the point that I have been wanting to delve in for a long time- a study of psychosis!

So this is the  post- http://www.ndtv.com/blog/first-of-its-kind-this-memoir-shines-spotlight-on-schizophrenia-744812 that talks about Reshma’s story. I hope it will offer a ray of hope to some at least.

Seeing the Full Elephant- Spirit, Science, Religion and Psychosis  

I am writing this piece in a general way so that even if you do not understand any of the disciplines that I am borrowing ideas from, you would be able to understand what I am talking about. This is my offering to you on these different, seemingly divergent issues- which flummox people on many sides of life (parents, doctors, social scientists, patients, religious followers, lay public, and scores of others), for they are not able to see beyond their disciplinary/experiential boundaries. To comprehend better, what I am about to share, kindly suspend any judgment about who I am or how qualified to write this. Just enjoy the writing, for whatever it is trying to share. (Since I will take several hours in writing it, with a view to shed more light on unconnected areas, I urge you to spend at least a few minutes, reading with some patience). I am annotating this writing with scores of resources, for you to refer- for I am not just writing from self experience, but self experience fortified by ideas and wisdom gleaned from the work of scores of people across the globe. This is not to suggest that I am the wise one here, but in bringing these ideas to you, I hope we will all grow from the possibilities that they open out for dialogues.

Birth Onward

I am going to start with the birth of a child. Recall that the process of birth itself is a dangerous, potentially perilous and fearsome journey, because a living entity from a primitive, borne in water form (just like the start of life on the planet earth, in water) comes into an aerial medium, through a birth canal- it can die in that process, the mother can die, the reasons for threat are many. The birth is a big triumph for so many and for the birthing mother is considered a second life. It is a big trauma- though not for all. So the state of trauma can come early- let us remember that. We know of many women who during the birth process have near death experiences, show signs of PTSD, as well. The same signs will come later in life when suddenly exposed to other traumas- rape, victimization of any sort, violence of a man made nature, natural calamity that threatens life, war, drowning, and etc etc.

Any child soon after being born is a creature of pure instinct- there is no reason,  judgment, or boundary. When there is an instinct for hunger it may cry, when it wants to ease its bowel or bladder, it does not wait for the appropriate location- it just follows its instinct and wants to ease that pressure. So that is the state when the ego, is in a primitive, undifferentiated stage- it does not recognize anyone, anything and so forth. In this state, since it has emerged from an amniotic environment, it can only connect with its mother, in a parasitic (helpless) dependence. Recall here the idea of id-ego-superego, given by Freud.

The next stage is the development of the ego stage- it starts differentiating between it’s self and another, family and outsiders and so forth. If you recall psychology is the discipline that wants to start seeing from an early stage how the mind learns, trains and starts getting ready for a role in society, someday in the future. Most development of the ego remains just that- attachment, connection, identification with self. So if you recall, people who are called egoistic are those who think that they matter the most or what they have to say matters the most, their own knowledge, or sense of self is very heightened. So anyhow the field of psychology is all about studying the path of this development and where it goes off its set path. What is the set path of anyone? If you recall the work of Freud, for him the stages of development of every human are so significant that he reduces everyone to their libidinal instincts only and psychoanalysis comes to center around the early years of a person’s life- and trying to identify the present, using the yardsticks of the past. There is something right about this and something wrong.

Just like they say a mighty oak hides inside a little acorn– the potential of each human lies inside it’s body- but nobody can see where it hides- it has to go through its own maturation, its unique experiences and become a special person, different from everyone, different from the ones who created it. This potential is different for everyone- just like any species. From the birth if someone follows a path of becoming who they are destined to, which is given as potential, this path is called the path of individuation (Jungian terminology). But often it is not easy to follow the path, in a linear manner. Everyone faces hardships of one or another kind, the path is not exactly laid down like a blueprint- it changes in response to external stimuli all the time. On the path many hurdles lie for everyone, and sometimes the hurdles can be extremely painful too, like loss of a mother, accident and loss of a limb, sudden disabling condition, war, calamity, physical violence, abusive family or anything else- the possibilities are innumerable. That changes the path of individuation and a person like a plant has to undergo many a season, many a mishap if it has to survive till an older situation. When these mishaps and traumas do not get addressed at the time when they occur people do not get over their impact, or they may be unable to express them, for they do not understand what happened. For instance take the case of a child who faces an abusive/incestuous adult at home. All these sufferings, these lack of expressions come to lie hidden in a person thereafter, and keep getting added to other suffering, which life necessarily brings.

C.G. Jung and Analytical Psychology

According to Jung, a person’s potential is not a sexual template but a spiritual one- and he tells us that the whole of human history lies coded in every person- called the collective unconscious, with which we have no regular communication, except through dreams and symbols. Those symbols are not such convenient ones like the logo of Coke/Pepsi. They lie hidden mid folds of stories that are handed down in every culture- through its mythology, fables and fairy tales. He also shares that the reason why mythology acquires any significance via gods and goddesses is not because they were real beings, but they were chosen to carry forward the messages that a culture wanted to transmit, about itself for generations ahead, through simple stories. They are patterns of behavior, which are chosen to be identified as desirable or noteworthy and made an example of.  So the power of a story in mythology does not lie in the story itself, but in its interpretation.[1] Joseph Campbell did some remarkable work in the area of mythology by studying the mythology of scores of peoples across the world and then he wrote many a book, for me personally a great book- The Hero with a Thousand Faces (life changing book as I see it). The essence of the book was that he brought together any number of stories from around the world to harbor on the fact that the HERO is not one person (only)- he can have a million forms, faces and voices. But ultimately every ‘hero’ (that potentially lies in every human as his/her unique potential) has to go through a big circle of suffering, losing his way, whiling his time, getting a reminder of who he is and then making the labourious journey of finding a way back into the world, with the learning gathered, and if possible, offer that to others. This pattern in every story of a mythic dimension is what Campbell calls the monomyth. It runs through any mythic story,(or any human’s story) from anywhere in the world.

If, at this juncture, you may be reminded of the story of Siddhartha, who is born a prince- goes on a difficult path because his allure for life has been jolted. He sees the possibility of death, suffering, old age and whatever else it was, to realize that everyone will go that way. If you have read the road he takes, he followed no footprints- his is a search, often a perilous one, for he can even die in the process. But he does not- he survives, become the Buddha, and returns back to civilization- to offer that method to others.

The Underworld

That is the method which all those, who makes a descent into what Jung calls the ‘underworld’ (not the one of gangsters/mafia, but one’s own unconscious mind) have to take by default. Those who have long years of depressions, who have nightmares of gigantic proportions, who see great suffering for one reason or another-  descend into a land which inspires fear, where nobody would want to go out of choice. Descent into this underworld may be a one way road for most, because they do not know how to integrate the experiences of that world with the day-to-day reality of living. Their entry into the underworld may be a result of a suicide attempt, a rape, a war, a family violence, a poor exam performance, a divorce or anything else. They become lost, fearful, worried, confused, anxious and bothered. Seemingly simple things like accidents, family violence, bullying at school, dominating adults in the family , untimely  loss of a parent, or anything else that makes a child insecure can much later in life manifest in a sudden descent of the spirit.

I am now going to bring this descent of the spirit, into a contrast with its ascent, due to sudden equally unexpected situations, in a format possibly unfamiliar to many- the serpent power in the subtle body.

The Game of Consciousness- from self to the transpersonal realm

Let me make this transition via the theme of the collective unconscious lying dormant inside every person. In the yoga tradition there is a similar thing- called the kundalini– lying dormant inside everyone. The important thing is that traditions of antiquity have methods to evoke experiences of kundalini (and kundalini -like experiences, including among the natives, the medicine men/shamans and among those who are not averse to a little intoxication via natural opiates. Also recall in this context the issue of drug induced psychosis) and they are meant to be done under the watchful guidance of those who know. But are such knowing guides really so accessible? I have seen many ‘spiritual masters’ who talk about Shaktipat, or about kundalini yoga and whatnot quite laughable, rest assured. Anyways this is not to lampoon anyone. The idea that I am coming to is that there is something called- kundalini, [2]the serpent power, said to lie dormant in every person, at the base of their spine in a form of a coiled serpent (I am not going to give an explanation but hints about many things- read more if you want to). I am not going to get into the debate about whether there is something like kundalini or not, because it does not matter to me. I really do not care about kundalini, as much as I do not care about the electricity coming into my home. If it is an asset to me, I like to honor its presence, when it goes off, then I have something to worry about.

In some cases, this kundalini ‘wakes up spontaneously’- and it runs through the spine in an upward direction. (Even if you do not believe this, just keep reading.) It is a very powerful energy and can unsettle everything in a person- for there is no explanation what happened, how it happened, where the trigger came from and what it means, how one has to behave now, who to talk to. If, of a powerful enough dimension- it may lead to psychosis- then you see all those ‘symptoms’ called grandiosity, running helter-skelter, flight of imagination, racing thoughts, inability to focus and …(please read DSM if you like). But this term ‘psychosis’ is the terminology of psychiatry- based on the outwardly visible ‘symptoms’.

What happens in reality is this- (okay this is self experience speaking now)- a powerful electrical current becomes present in the body, and it keeps the body in a faint vibration, like a hum; just a little more powerful than the one that you may experience upon being intoxicated. Now what happens with alcohol is that after awhile the intoxication comes down and the person is ‘restored’ to normalcy, whatever it had to be. But in case of kundalini/psychotic upheaval the sensation does not get over- it just stays. It makes a person ‘extroverted’, happy, as though intoxicated, carefree and of course expansive- one wants to share this strange sort of ‘happiness’ with others, but does not know how to say it, in what words and whether they cannot see it as well.

Remember this is the so-called divine potential unleashed in a person who is not ready for it; just like a wire that suddenly has a huge voltage passing through it, but was not expecting it. I must refer you to the writing of Swami Rama here, in particular when he refers to the similarity between the manic and the mystic (Book: Yoga and Psychotherapy, Himalayan Institute)

Religious traditions train their neophytes in various ways and by severe disciplines for any such process to happen- by training their mind, senses, body and thought processes. But awakening the kundalini is not considered necessary by any stretch of imagination, among the truly spiritual. The training of the mind for action without reward is considered more important. (If interested please read Kundalini- by Gopi Krishna). On the other hand, you may be aware that there are several unscrupulous people who want to use the ‘divine’ potential in ‘ugly’ ways- the tantriks etc.

The issue of kundalini that I understood finally is that kundalini is the cosmic consciousness lying inside everyone – a coiled serpent, at the base of the spine. So psychosis is nothing but the spontaneous awakening of the divine potential and a person coming to understand that though s/he is a body , there is also a bigger picture- s/he is also a fragment of the divine. That makes initially (or permanently) people go berserk- because they can see their cosmic potential and believe that –I am god/Jesus/the Saviour etc etc (aham brahmasmi).  We in India know that Aham Brahmasmi comes from the Upanishads, into our traditions. In other words the Upanishads are testimony that though man is a mirror of a cosmic maker, yet there is a path of knowledge and virtue that needs to be followed in order to truly awaken the cosmic potential. Now the Upanishads are the highest knowledge of the Indian civilization that is agnostic or perhaps predates religion. There is no religion in the vedic age- but nature worship. So the human is one with his natural element and through that expresses every aspect of life. Moving away from nature, if you can connect the dots, moves people from their natural and easy selves to their unnatural/cosmetic/dis-eased selves!

The greater issue is that even if the cosmic potential awakens spontaneously, it cannot be utilized unless the person learns to harness it. It is like saying that you have a huge voltage passing through yet you cannot handle the charge- so the body breaks down, the mind breaks down and it causes ‘madness’ . In this case psychiatry enters and says it can handle something that it does not even recognize as such- where are the tools in psychiatry to understand the ‘subtle body’ in which this so-called ‘divine’ potential resides, there is a whole array of nadis, the three dominant ones being ida, pingala and sushamana? I am not accepting anything or rejecting anything. I am simply putting the facts in front, as I have understood in over two decades of my own studies and research.(in fact in Gopi Krishna’s book, there is an explanation about why the wives of Krishna are said to be 16,000 or whatever their number is. That coincides with the number of nadis a person has). I must add that the entire spiritual traditions of India provide subtle and gross references to these things, in different ways. I of course found my anchor in Kabir there, because he was the one master who wrote very clearly about it, without really revealing anything, to those who could not understand. (The more difficult task after the spontaneous awakening is to ‘earth’ the kundalini, otherwise it will make you mad permanently- nobody can handle it. There is a great book in this context- After the ecstasy, the laundry. Please read it in case you have had an experience of this nature. It talks about integrating the knowledge, which is more arduous than one can imagine. It takes years and years, or decades. Even then, there is no guarantee one would learn. In my own case it took me years and repeat incidents of ‘psychosis’ till the time a time came when I would not go into any psychotic breakdowns any more, but simply watch the ‘game’ like a game, and not be ruffled by it, not get hyper in any sense and just accept the polarity of the universe playing within, like the sun and the moon- and carry on my day to day, extremely tough and deliberately solitary life.

Those of you who are aware of the idea that the spiritual traditions recognize that this universe is nothing but consciousness, the human and divine just two aspects of it, will comprehend that there is nothing high or low about it. It simply IS- no judgement. A great amount of work in this realm has been contributed by Stanislav Grof and Cristina Grof- the former being a psychiatrist. What he has done is so remarkable that every psychiatrist needs to at least read it, if not dare to follow. He risked himself by becoming a subject for LSD research and experienced the play of consciousness physically and he writes about that in many books, including The Cosmic Game. Of course the book that I was first introduced to was the Stormy Search for the Self.

Grof could see the continuity in LSD research, the shamanic traditions of the world, psychosis and much else. His wife’s near death experience (NDE) during child birth, brought in the concept of PTSD, and became the reason for her to be involved in the same journey that led in due course to the Holotropic Breathwork technique they created and share internationally.  I also found identical ideas, during years of my own inquiry, in the Sudarshan Kriya, though I found it lacking in depth (which no doubt now it must be gaining due to being investigated in medical departments). There are more such things in every religious practice anywhere, where the focus lies on breath. As we all well know, hatha yoga of course begins there- pranayama is one of the first four tenets; prana- meaning life force energy that is manifest through the breath.

Bringing you back to Psychiatry

If you can see from my writing, the two people who contributed immensely to newer understandings, are Jung and Grof- both psychiatrists by training. Of course both created huge traditions, with thousands following in their ways and me learning from all. The Jungian method lead to the tradition of analytical psychology and Grof- transpersonal psychology.

I am now taking you to a different pole- where you get to see the birth of psychiatry itself! This is a very tricky place, because this is the realm of Charcot and France now- (please read Foucault’s –Madness and Civilization, if interested). Foucault shows how madness is ascribed to people who cannot express their suffering properly by a man, who is a powerful physician, who has a great social standing and prestige, and who has the guile to transform the inability of people to express their suffering coherently. So where they lack language, he puts in his own- he becomes their ‘representative’- his language is his representation of their suffering and in fact nothing but a ‘social representation’[3].

Have you ever noticed how socially marginalized people look up to those who they perceive as having a better social standing/class? They feel helpless and meek in front of them. They dare not oppose what the ‘rich’ say. In such a case if a poor wo/man would go in front of a rich person, and the rich person says, ‘you are an idiot’, the poor wo/man will accept it with resignation that the ‘rich’ man really knows better. (Please put this in the same location as poor and rich countries as well). So a rich man, who has close connect with the nobility goes around telling in his evening parties and soirees all about the patients he saw. (I really recommend you read how he is amused at discovering that ‘hysterial’ women are mostly those who are younger women married to older men. But he does not tell this to anyone- he just knows he has ‘figured out’ the roots of hysteria!!). You may know, like me, that many younger bahus in families, because they are periodically the subject of family oppression, show these signs. I also know this to be true for young girls who are not being allowed to marry the boys of their own choice.  If you marry them with the boys they want to, all ‘symptoms’ will instantly disappear! ( one must listen to Parvez Imam about the film he made in this context- yet another psychiatrist here).

So here we are now- back into real world – where the suffering of someone, coming from a huge history behind it, gets to be given a label of ‘mental illness’. By-the-bye, just in case you do not know, Charcot was also one of the early influences of Freud, who in turn influenced Jung. In other words, they were all looking at human behavior and trying to comprehend the reasons for the so-called ‘abnormal’ behaviours. That is why through psychoanalysis and talk-based interventions their hope was that people would be able to go back into their unconscious mind, where their traumas and suffering lay hidden, and possibly in the presence of a person trained to help, be able to get past those traumas.

Anyways, by the time the DSM came into its third version, this behavior-oriented psychiatry was abandoned in favour of the biomedical view, because now the pharma industry wanted to have a fair share of people’s suffering. So psychiatry became a tool for the pharma industry to ‘sell’ cures that simply were not there- in what manner can psychiatry deal with the suffering of a child whose mother committed suicide at age eight, other than stamp her with a schizophrenia diagnosis at age 17, 19 or 22? I strongly recommend two books[4] at this juncture. Ethan Watters[5] talks about the DSM and how it is ‘sold’ to the world by America and another book called Mad Science- Psychiatric Coercion, Diagnosis and Drugs. Both are researched and written in the US.

What happens to people in ‘poor’ countries

The fact of lives in poor countries is that their poverty is not just  chance or destiny ordained by the heavens above. They are the unfortunate bearer of the progress of the rich countries- to the extent that now they are so poor in so many ways that even ‘knowledge’ does not reach them. So if the research that I have quoted above were to happen in India (first of all it cannot happen in India, because the sort of data that has been quoted here, would never be available), it would be kept so ‘hidden’ from the public eye that nobody would know.

There is a ‘culture of silence’ at work in poorer countries- anyone who opposes/questions anything (coming from the dominant West) is marginalized or made to look like an idiot or a threat to society. It is very easy to silence someone by making them ‘invisible’ or ‘inaudible’. Most people would not have access to the sort of books it takes to arrive at any real, paradigm shifting knowledge.

The knowledge that is effectively handed out in our universities and institutions, (especially in departments of psychology etc) is all second hand knowledge that is disseminated from the West, repackaged in Indian syllabi and taught to students as though it is the last word. Students memorize theories and ideas and spit them out in exams and become ‘qualified’ to heal others (naturally I am talking in terms of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists etc). If there is any other form of ideas they are derived from quantitative studies that do not examine the differences, diversities and individual realities of people’s subjective experiences.

Where does that leave anyone?

You may have heard of the story of the blind men looking at the elephant. In case you have forgotten here is a great link to remind its metaphor- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant. The symbolism of this story is so significant that it is used in various parts of the world with minor variations.

What my theme from the beginning of this ‘essay’ has been to share with all of you, those ideas which come from such diverse directions that unless you are aware of them, anyone will take a great amount of time to land there unexpectedly. I have spent nearly 23 years of my life to attain this connectivity, coupled with much writing, dabbling in music, encounters with holy men, wise wo/men, sadhus, monks, academics, ‘ill’ people and whatnot to come to this mental and linguistic ‘clearing’ that I can offer you some of these ideas, in this manner. The rest is for you to see, what interests you, makes sense or not, may be it is all nonsense for some.

In the end it is my hope that given the manner in which I have brought all these divergent ideas into a convergent sort of a frame- where the journey of the aggrieved person is not a mental illness but a quest for wholeness, I hope many would be able to help others who they encounter where they do. And I on my part am getting ready for the next phase of my life- in sharing/teaching the path that I have discovered, so that many more heroes will come, in their various faces, voices and contours and each heroes journey will contribute to the overall good of the world.

Thank you for reading till this point. I offer you another linked piece of my writing that I never really wrote fully, but the theme was identical. Kindly click this link for it – https://www.academia.edu/4923393/Madness_as_Search_for_Authenticity

Last, though not the least- I will be thankful for any feedback/comments, but only on blogposts, where they will last longer, and not on email please.

[1] I invite you to read the myth of the churning of the ocean, from the Hindu tradition, as per my interpretation and relevance to the modern time- http://merakabir.blogspot.in/2009/07/mythology-of-churning.html

[3] Social representation is an idea in social psychology, according to which every one who represents himself or another is making a social representation. The representation of someone’s suffering by another, by changing the language of their suffering, into one’s own (medical or specialized) language is nothing but another such act.

[4] In case anyone of you cares to come by to my home, you can see/read them for yourself.

[5] Here is a blog post that shares a few resources as well- https://inprateeksha.wordpress.com/2014/12/17/making-madness-uniform-and-global-the-american-way/