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)

 

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

Caregiver’s stress or psychiatric emergency

On Saturday, the past week, a woman in her early forties, came with her mother and child to see me. The person who needed a counseling intervention was her mother, who came in with a deeply disturbed state of mind. I felt her inner fabric had been suddenly jolted due to a shock and catapulted her into a state from which she could not recover, with her own means.

According to the description of the daughter initially, and later corroborated by the mother herself, possibly two significant events in her life had lead to that. In the distant past, she had lost her spouse, in 2009, which possibly triggered off a grief which could not be duly addressed, or if it was it was not assimilated properly. However, the lady lived a fairly active life despite that, with one of her other daughters, in Bombay. In the recent past, the daughter who accompanied her to meet me, moved from Bombay to Goa, with her family, in response to her husband’s need for better work prospects. That set off another degree of anxiety in her heart, which remained unarticulated.

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All of a sudden the daughter became unwell (she had a bipolar diagnosis) due to adjustment stress in a new situation, whilst otherwise she had been quite stable for long years and off medication of any sort. The news of her daughter falling sick made the mother panic, and her anxiety took a turn for the worse- pushing her off the brink and rattling her fragile balance significantly.

When she came to meet me, for her daughter thought the next intervention required would be counseling/therapy, her discomfort and constant talk made me immediately decide that this was not someone who needed counseling support but immediate relief from her ‘symptoms’. The talk was ceaseless, she was frantic, tearful, anxious, repetitive, and kept saying that she would not take any medicine. The daughter was trying her level best to seek out any intervention that would work for her. I decided within five- seven minutes of listening to her that she would not have any effect of counseling, and requested her to take homeopathy, which she had been taking earlier as well.  But it had not been effective of late. I even referred my own doctor to them, lest their doctor have a limited repertoire, which is mostly the case with homeopathy. Before coming to meet me they had tried other ‘treatment’ options of reflexology, possibly reiki and other things.

I called up my doctor and also made her talk to him, and requested him to intervene, give a prescription which would be followed here in Goa. This is not something that we do frequently- because every doctor needs to meet their patients face-to-face. Doctor sa’ab was kind enough to relent, seeing the lady hysterical, and reporting lack of interest in anything in life, suicidal ideas, and several other indicators.

However , the catch in the whole picture was that she kept saying, that, if my daughter (indicating to the woman with her) comes back to Bombay I will be fine. This was a peculiar situation, because her deepest attachment seems to be with her daughter who is already married with a child of her own. The mother is so deeply attached to her, that it is almost like a parasitic attachment.

They stayed with me for over an hour, but since I had decided earlier, I did not put a bill on the exercise. What is the point of taking money when the recipient is not ready for what you have to offer- I cannot be a mercenary like a ‘professional’ if I remain untouched by human suffering, and focus just on the money that my practice can bring me. The more I thought about it, the more ethical I thought my decision was. Of course I could have told them to leave quickly, but considering they had come a long way, I just let them stay and talk about how to go about it and of course explaining to the daughter the medicines the doctor  had prescribed, since it was me who had spoken to him not her.

The Next Action

Today is Monday, and according to me today the whole routine would have fallen in place. However the daughter called me up today before noon and said her mother was refusing to take the medicines and had gone back to her earlier prescription of homeopathy. She reported a further hardening in the head and was unstoppable. I felt anguished to hear that. I had seen the mother to be a headstrong lady and I could see she was making it difficult for everyone around her to deal with the situation and only making it worse, in every possible way.

That brought to mind the last resort of psychiatry. I thought there was no option but to sedate her to calm her down. It is a very sad thing when I myself have to recommend psychiatric medication to anyone, because I try the best that nobody should be pushed into it. But if there is no alternative left and the person is adamant, what else can the family do? Her behavior must be causing a great deal of stress to her daughter also, poor girl, who was bravely facing it, both in front of her husband and in front of her mother- keeping a calm exterior.

I thought for the time being the best option was to anyhow medicate the lady and help her calm down. Over time when things stabilize and she has had some sleep due to sedation, possibly she would look for other ways to deal with her stresses and the triggers. For now her franticness would only make others spiral into the same. Her daughter said she was herself thinking of the same, as nothing else seemed to be working for now. In other words, the difficulty a family faces, pushes a person into forcible psychiatric intervention. The only trick is that at a suitable time the person has to be weaned away from psychiatric medication, because psychiatrists themselves will never prescribe it!

On that note we parted over the phone- me with a resignation that only when people are willing to get well and be compliant to recommendation of any sort, does an intervention work. Some people make difficult patients- they resist everything, for they know the better of it. I cannot but feel sorry when people have to be administered psychiatric medication, but I always hope that it would be a short term measure. Of course if the patient is complying, like me myself, homeopathy can work very well.

I do not see any recourse except for a devious manner of giving the medication or per force- which actually amounts to a human rights abuse. So that brings in the ethical dimension, as well as the dilemma- what could have been done alternatively? What can be done now? I am not sure today and I leave this post with this query.

Everyone will have a different response to this situation, but how does one decide. I do not know if they will come back to me, because they need not. But I will be around to support them in future, if they choose to. The mother certainly needs counseling to help her deal with the sense of loss that she is suffering from, and to help her focus on what is present in her life, rather than clinging on to adult children, who need to fly away from the nest, towards greener pastures.

I also hope that the daughter would not be unduly troubled by her mother’s suffering, as it creates a scope for her own suffering to surface once again.

On the last note, I am also wondering whether the mother’s suffering is not another face of the caregiver’s burden of looking after a child with bipolar and being tuned to her needs in an obsessive, fussing manner. But there is no way to find out about that, because I had no time to talk to them about their life together. Only this much could be ascertained within the scope that we had, once I felt it would not be proper to dig further into her psychic matrix. Whether this is an ’empty nest’ syndrome, a psychiatric emergency or another form of caregiver’s hyper-reaction to her daughter’s situation, piercing through her own frame, it is difficult to ascertain at this stage.

Arts, Media and Mental Health- WCPRR special issue

http://www.wcprr.org/volumes/volume-10-number-34/

This blog post is only to share this link, via which I hope to save here the special issue of the World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review, in which my article has appeared finally, nearly two years from the start of the process. What a painful journey. This journal is a publication of the World Association of Cultural Psychiatry. 

I am not sure if there are more recovery stories in there, apart from my own, but I hope to look into that also later. However, this special issue is about how the arts interact with mental health and whether change occurs in the lives of people due to it. I am going to write my reflections on the issue and in general about psychiatry and how it appropriates human suffering, by calling it madness so effectively- and a whole array of resources get going to confirm that position.

You are NOT your label

For many months I have been wanting to write about Suneetha (name changed) who has been talking to me over the phone, ever since she read my article about recovery from mental illness in the Hindu newspaper. Suneetha told me that she had a schizophrenia diagnosis for over two decades of her life and she had been on a number of medications for that and then the comorbidities that appeared later.

One of the key things for her nowadays is SLE (lupus in some form) and then irritable bowel syndrome, which keeps her movements outside her home restricted. When I heard her story long back, I figured she had no reasons for a schizophrenia diagnosis at all. She was given some simple tablet, which could very well  have been a placebo for all the doctor cared, but he certainly gave her a label. She was in her school going years then. Many things happened, including marriage, divorce, brother’s suicide, mother’s death and so forth. Her medications increased over time but none of them had anything to do with her schizophrenia diagnosis, but sometimes memory, sometimes stomach, sometimes concentration. She feels the need to go and seek medical help for these conditions, which I feel basically happen because she is alone, alone and alone! I sometimes admire her courage to live alone and manage to spend a day by herself. It takes a lot for a single woman to survive, without much social support, a job or any significant relationships. It is very courageous indeed.

On this blog sometimes I want to note the interactions I have with this woman, who is now in her early forties, is fearful of going out of her home because she has fear that she may have to go to evacuate her bowels suddenly, as the bowel movement is not predictable, and that has made her life very limited in many ways. Many a times I just talk to her for a short while, 35-30 minutes and offer her courage and alternative ways of looking at her life, which she does not mind considering for the time we talk and even later.

I think the only thing people need is a voice to offer them courage, hope and remind them that there is a reason to be alive. She just now told me that she was very suicidal for the last two weeks, just like her brother (she said). And then she felt better by staying closely connected to her sister’s daughter. Even earlier she has expressed to me that she is happy to be with younger children. So I wondered then why not she go and work in a school, of young children, instead of wanting to work in an engineering job, just because she trained to be an engineer? Is it so difficult to choose happiness, I wondered? Perhaps she  understood and at my recommendation she has been looking around for a school job for the last few months and no longer focusing on getting a job in a company or corporate.

On a parting note she said that she just wanted to hear my voice, instead of writing an email to me, because she feels a lot calmer, once she hears me. And I thought, how much she would benefit if she could be in regular interaction with different sorts of people, who do not constantly remind her of her diagnosis but see what good she offers to them. This is the general tone of my dialogues also with her- building hope and courage. I hope to see new changes in her life, for I can see she is trying to create a new story, and go beyond her diagnosis. I feel just a little more time and things will start looking up. I have to remind her and myself that jobs are not so easy to come by these days, as there is a recession in the market, all over the world, whether we are aware of it or not.

I have hope because the channels of communication are open and many things can flow on those pathways. Recovery included.

The Personal Meaning of Shamanism

I discovered shamanism in 2003, via Stan Grof’s, The Stormy Search For the Self, given to me by my Jungian analyst. Once I read it I knew immediately that I was in the wrong boat for I had to be a healer Imagine what I was- a psychiatric patient, trapezing between the highs and lows of bipolar!

Wonder how complex the road was, and yet for someone as determined as I was, to fall down infinitely and get up every time- in a slow, laboured process, in sheer loneliness and hostility that was radiated by the world around from then onward (abetting only when I chose to leave the world as I knew it), I sometimes wonder what keeps me egging and I knew it is the kind spirit of the healer that hides within and which I encounter in scores of people when I meet them- all those who want to heal the world and heal themselves somewhere along the way, save mother earth from the damage done by greed, by human indecency and caprice. It touches me, in gentle waves that reach across space and time, across scholarship from around the world, in books, paintings and music and whatnot.

Meeting a real shaman was a great ‘homecoming’ of sorts. Like a spirit guide that I wanted to meet and waited for a long time. The best guidance comes from the universe and once we learn to recognize those universal symbols embodied in people, we can appreciate the beauty in the people that we encounter in our lives. I have to thank my analyst for helping me build that capacity over years of work with me of a very unusual nature, in which our meetings would never exceed three in a year, and some years went by not meeting one another at all!

A good person can leave life long memories, even if they cannot walk with you all along the way. Whatever path you have walked with them, enriches your perspective and awakens a goodness within which only knows gratitude and concern for the world around. If meeting with my analyst was one such experience, then meeting this native American shaman was an identical feeling, and I am grateful for this opportunity.

Meanwhile knowing my own healing spirit and nature, I continue honing my abilities to heal others, by meeting them in therapy encounters of various sorts. It is a learning of a new dimension, which continues every moment of being alive. The purpose of writing this post was twofold- to share in brief the personal meaning of a shaman for me and then to share the following article- so beautiful that I have to preserve it here on this blog.

http://earthweareone.com/what-a-shaman-sees-in-a-mental-hospital/