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)

 

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.

You are responsible for your recovery (from mental illness)

You will probably think I am unkind to even suggest this. But the truth is that nobody can bring change to your life, if you won’t. Just like no outsider can bring development in another country, nobody can bring progress to another group,  neither can anyone bring change in your life- even if they be your parents or anyone else close to you. You have to free yourself from the ghoul of mental illness. Be assured that others have trod the path, you are not alone.

The human mind is an interesting,  powerful device, and there is nothing that it cannot learn or unlearn. Even if there are behaviours that you have come to be  attached to, which you identify as inherent to your personality and sense of who you are, if they are not doing you good, you need to change them. Not because I am saying so- because getting rid of something that is not working for you, is only going to make you happier.

If you look all around the world, people who have overcome their severe disabling conditions are not weak people, who were attached to their disabled selves. They have taken their disabling conditions to be a part of their lives and lived lives accordingly, without being overwhelmed by disability forever. I am sure you would agree with me if I mention the names of Hellen Keller and Stephen Hawking. Perhaps on would think their disabilities have been big enough to incapacitate the average person’s mind into inaction. But that did not stop them. These are the role models one needs to look upto.

Trust me, I have always worked by looking up at role models- people whose stories I could see reflected in my own, and in whose struggles I felt I could find a resonance. I have found immense courage and will to survive by looking at others, especially those who suffer. Take heart and look at others. You will see more faces like mine, of those who have recovered.

Only when you believe that you too want to recover, will you take the next step – to plan how the recovery will happen. Recovery is always a slow process. You cannot be impatient about it, as you will have to muster many sorts of inner and outer resources, filter them over time to see what is working and what is not and remain consistently involved with them. I do not think anything can stop you from recovering. That is a promise from someone who has been there, done that.

However, before I conclude this little writing I must share with you, that nobody can recover without the support of outsiders of the circle. We cannot see where we are going wrong, or even if we can, we often do not know how to change it, because we are so accustomed to behaving in ways that we have always known. For that we need suitable others.

Since the mind is capable of learning and adapting, it can adapt to new behaviours. But what those behaviours could be, is not what we may know. That is where, counselors and therapists come in: to help you steer your path. If I did not have a therapist may be I would never have recovered myself. Whether or not I could be in regular counseling with her, whatever she advised me, I followed meticulously, because I valued her presence in my life immensely. Without outsiders we will make progress, but at a rate which may take decades to recover.

Choose sensibly therefore.

Why family support is NOT WORKING in mental health

This article can be downloaded from here, and is one of the resources offered by Antardhwanee. In this location, this article is titled, Families and Recovery.

In societies where social resources in health are limited, families play a crucial role in the illness and recovery of people. In mental health the case is even more so. For long periods, it is the family alone that bears the brunt of people’s illness and disabilities. Sometimes this may amount of a lifetime, and then the parents/siblings, who are the primary caregivers end up with the massive concern of who will look after their loved one[1], after their own demise.

Here is a brief list of findings, that research leads me to conclude, in the context of roles that families are playing, which ensure that people remain mentally ill, rather than recover and reintegrate back into society. This list is not exhaustive and as study is an ongoing process more thoughts will get added to this. Here are the beginning ideas.

Learning to be helpless together

Sometimes when one person is given a mental illness diagnosis, the whole family is paralyzed by a fear that mental illness has crept into their gene pool. They feel  extreme pressure due to the diagnosis and the social stigma associated with it. They all feel helpless about it and the infirmity or sense of loss that accompanies mental illness diagnosis of one person, in fact impacts everyone deeply. Secretly, they all start analyzing their own behaviours to see whether some traits of it are also lying within them!

In such a case if another member of the family faces anything of a similar nature, they are very quick to take action and take them for a ‘check up’ as well.

Protecting the loved one interminably

I have seen personally families being so defensive about their loved ones, that they keep protecting them from the world around. At times it amounts to the extreme case of hiding them from view, or not letting their loved one engage in any social milieu by themselves or without supervision. It aids in chocking both the people or set of people very severely, as no new ideas can come into the ecosystem, which does not interact with the outside world in any significant ways.

I have even seen another extreme, which surfaces in scenarios of marriage. I am not sure if this happens in India, but I have seen it here only. I have seen multiple families ‘hiding’ the mental illness diagnosis from the partners of their loved ones. As a result people are not able to remain truthful in relationships, and the trust that could be there between married partners never develops fully, because one partner knows they are not honest. This protectionism of the parents does not allow the partners to be one another’s greatest support systems, which marriage was traditionally meant to be.

Hero worshipping

Paradoxical as it may sound, I have found in many families that parents or siblings talk about their loved one, with a great fondness and regard, often attributing their mental illness to a ‘high IQ’, superior intelligence, artistic abilities or anything else like that. Though there are studies that have proved that mental illness is more positively linked to artistic creativity, the reverse is not true. Artistic creativity does not appear out of the blue, just because you are mentally ill and therefore your intelligence is also more than the average person.

By making their loved believe they are ‘smarter than the average’, families bestow them with a sense of entitlement, which means, just because they are more intelligent, they have a right to have moodiness, depressions, or any other attribute. This even inflates their ego and self belief that whatever they do or not do is well deserved, because now they are ‘mentally ill’.

I have seen in many cases that these loved ones, even when they come into counseling are so cocksure of themselves that they do not believe they will gain anything from counseling. They don’t. Their own intelligence is such a barrier, which their parents have created around them, that they are unable to use that intelligence for their own betterment by seeking help from anyone outside the circle.

Families ensure compliance to Medication

Since families have a great amount of faith in modern medicine they do not believe that psychiatry does not have a cure for mental illness. In fact, I would go to the extreme of saying that in families where parents or siblings are doctors or scientists, the possibility of anyone recovering from any serious mental illness is quite remote. Due to their unquestioning faith in modern medicine they keep medicating their loved ones, without ever probing into whether medicines are really bringing any tangible outcome.

Families may become human rights violators

Nobody ought to be coerced or forced into psychiatric treatment, especially electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Families often believe doctors so blindly and rather innocently, that whatever the medical professional recommends is to be taken as a rule. ECT  is a very controversial procedure which has long term repercussions for a person. There is no need to administer ECT to anyone, but doctors do not educate families enough, who are anyways only too willing to follow what psychiatrists say.

Often people are given psychiatric medication against their will and in spite of having no need for it, even on the sly (by mixing in food for instance). Those with mental illnesses are not allowed to choose their treatments, because their families believe they cannot decide for themselves. As a result they keep medicating them and pushing them towards the edge, for the rest of their lives, till they reach their end! Sadly, the human rights violations in mental health are the most in any category of health, and the most part of it comes from families.

Fractured Communications

In  a whole lot of families people do not talk to one another- either properly or at all. As a result whatever support could come to all of them due to interpersonal communication, does not come about. Everyone lives in an emotionally marooned state, spiritually shrunk, cold, deeply fatigued, restless and wounded.

Even if one of them finds a solution to a problem, since their inherent communications are flawed, they are not able to convey that to others. In my own work I have seen many a family member, including people with a diagnosis, have been enthused to either meet me, encounter my work or hear about the sort of work we do. However, they have not been able to convince other members in their families due to a long term loss of trust, in one another and in the fact that any other ways could appear, leading them out of mental illnesses.

Not only in my case, but often due to lack of communications, people do not seek any other social mechanism to deal with mental illness, apart from free resources that the internet offers them.

[1] Throughout this writing I have used the phrase ‘loved one’ to refer to those who have been given a mental illness diagnosis, rather than calling them someone with a mental illness.

Narratives as method in Law School

INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE

Introductory Narrative Methods is the course that Prateeksha Sharma, a classical musician who works in mental health and communications, taught a group of 24 students within a span of 11 days at our law school. This elective subject was offered to the students from the second year till the final year, fifth year, students. According to us, the elective was unique in that it was a one of a kind elective that had never been taught at a law school. With lessons that related law with narratives and also made the students interpret a few events in a holistic view the elective was offered as a one credit course to the students. We think ,the idea behind the elective was to enable storytelling – recounting experiences and using your own experiences to understand and relate to other people’s experiences. Also we felt that, the course aimed to develop the skills of expression and listening that are pertinent to the practicing of the legal profession.

 Our  survey will focus on the Introductory Narrative Methods classes itself and opinions from various group of students as well as the course instructor and will conclude with whether the course helped the students arrive at a synthesis to their thesis and anti-thesis and whether the elective was really something that should be advised for law students or not.

THE METHOD

 The primary method of collecting our data was through surveys. There are three different types of groups that were interviewed by us : the people who were given the opportunity, the people who were not given the opportunity and the course instructor. Within the people who were given the opportunity there were two different groups- the students who opted for the course and the students who did not opt for the course. Our  group of three allocated specific roles for ourselves and we worked towards reaching those goals and in the end everything was collectively edited and made. One of us interviewed the people who were not given the opportunity, the people who are in the second year including the second year students who attended the elective and the course instructor herself. One among us interviewed the people who are in the third year and the fourth year including the people who took the elective from those years; and the one of our member  interviewed the people who are in the fifth year and also the fifth year students who opted for the elective.

For this blog post a total of 40 students were interviewed by us and this blog post will cover all the different views and opinions shared by them.

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THE ACTUAL NARRATIVE:

People who were given the opportunity:

  • People who took the opportunity;
  • People who did not take the opportunity

People who were not given the opportunity: The first year students were not given the opportunity to elect this course. As the first years are not given the opportunity to take part in any electives they are the group that comprise of people who were not given the opportunity.

While interviewing the first year students, our member gave them a basic outline of what the elective is about and also showed them the brief description of the course, which was provided to the other students before the start of the elective. They were then asked whether they would be interested in taking part in such an elective or not and asked for their honest opinions about it.

We see that ,Nathan was not too excited when he heard about the elective. His goal is to work at a corporate firm and so he thought that the course would be of no help to him especially since it doesn’t even deal with any legal aspect.

“I don’t see any point in doing such a course which is not even related to law. I mean what more can this course teach me than the saying that there is always more than one side of a story?”

Willa replied to us that she did seem interested in the topic but the only drawback that she thought the course had was that the course instructor was a music teacher and had no legal background. She also mentioned “without a legal background I don’t think the course would be of any help to me because she wouldn’t know the laws that go behind let’s say arbitration which has been pointed out in the brief description given by the teacher.”

We got some other responses like , Kate did not want to be a part of any elective as she was already busy with all of her other credits and she did not think that she would be able to give enough time for the elective.

Shyaak told us that he did not want to take any elective, as he wanted to just enjoy life and live in the moment. He was satisfied with everything he has as a compulsory subject and he did not want to sit in a classroom for another 2 hours every day just to earn one more credit.

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We have also interviewed the second years to delve deeper into the reasoning behind the students’ interest in the Introductory Narrative Methods course. We have divided the second years  into three categories to gauge their opinions. The groups were:

  • Students who applied for the course but later dropped down.
  • Students who applied for the course and continued it.
  • Students who did not apply for the course.

Neil told us that he opted for this course as it was took relatively lesser time and efforts when compared to other law school subjects.He even felt that he developed a new perspective on law school and legal writing.

After speaking to Emma we felt that she was exposed to newer forms and techniques in writing. She wanted  to take this learning further. She also said that the course instructor introduced her into a new world.

Armaan said that taking this course was an enriching experience for him. He put down his unexpressed thoughts onto paper with the self-narrative writing task. He also felt glad that he interacted with a varied set of people.

Sara applied for this course. Later, she opted out of it due to some health issues. But told us that she was really interested in doing the course and would have done it if she had been feeling well.

Zayan attended the first class and later decided not to do the course because he was expecting the course to be more law oriented. The course did not appeal to him because it was mostly arts oriented. We understood from his words that he felt wanted to do a course which would be  more in consonance with what he was studying at law school.

We had some unique response too.Sasha’s was one such. She expressed that the course description was too abstract for her liking. She felt she might not give her best to the course as she was packed up with a lot of other work. The writing task mentioned in the description also did not interest her.

And Juliet  replied to our questionnaire saying that she heard about the course before it started and found it interesting. But she chose not to do it as she had booked her tickets to go home. And she wanted to spend time with her family during the festive time.

We found a contrasting opinion in Jennifer’s response , she said that the course description was not appealing. She also disliked writing tasks and so did not choose the course.

The third year, fourth year and fifth year students mostly overlapped in their criticism and appreciation of the course. This is what we could comprehend from their responses. As far as the assignments are concerned, a few people were a little uncomfortable at the personal nature of the self-narrative. Even people who are open about their thoughts and feelings draw the line at people they are close to and comfortable with. They even shared that, the foundation of the course being connecting with people and finding your comfort space, people were not willing to extend their personal space to people they otherwise don’t interact too much with were reluctant in taking up the course. With the self-narrative, there were concerns as to how they could be completely honest about their experience in narrating it to a stranger. Secondly, an experience has no objective standard of grading. How then will the self-narrative be graded as an assignment? How can a third person evaluate your story? And if the point was just to enable one to write his/her story/experience, it comes down to it being a personal choice of values.

Some students replied to us that, if the course was to be conducted earlier in the semester, they would have enrolled for it as October being the month of submissions, exams etc. tends to get quite hectic.

There were others who didn’t sign up because they didn’t find the course relevant to legal studies or to their choice of field.  A few others feltthat this sort of learning need not come through a course. Some people were just not open to the idea that this course might bring in something new in terms of learning and did not consider it important to their goals in law school. Some people were busy with other things and could not take out time for this course even though they desired to do so. The timing was an issue for quite a few people because after full day class, an extra class can be quite exhausting. Logistical issues were quite prominent among the issues people raised. We observe that apart from the first years, the students from other batches had expressed similar concerns.

This was the aggregate of the opinion collected by us from who attended the course.Among people who took the course, apart from those who raised concerns about their personal space and thus not being able to realize the purpose of the course, it was described by a few as a fresh course that was fun and extremely relaxed. The new activities and ideas that the course introduced them to was a welcome distraction. Prateeksha Ma’am especially was appreciated for her kindness towards the students and her own openness. Some people feel that even if they are not sure what the learning from the course is at this very moment, they can keep drawing from it in the future. The course wasn’t one with a definite end, but is about ongoing experiences.

THE COURSE INSTRUCTOR:

Prateeksha Sharma was invited to University of Law to teach the students. With a specialization in mental health she wanted the students understand that every word such as “criminal” and “victim” have more than one way people can view it. Since she works with stories and since stories have a lot of possibilities. Moreover, law is also full of stories include law Introductory Narrative Methods was the course to teach. To see your own story as an outsider was an objective that the students were to understand during the elective. The first year students should have been given this opportunity as it would help them make the connection. It will make the students more sensitized. While we felt that she was expecting a little more stories and interaction from the students, Prateeksha found the class a little dampening and thought that the students were looking at the elective through the lens of academics and grades and no fun. However, she was happy to see a few people’s earnest effort to write. She also found the 4:20 to 6:20 timing a littleodd, as the students were burnt out by the time class started.

Prateeksha had to take a 3day leave from her daily life to come to our college and teach us. The repetition of such an elective occurring next year is not plausible as it takes a lot of her time and she would prefer that students come to her and learn, which could be done during the semester breaks or during a 3 or 4 day break within the semester.

After an interaction with her , we could get  more useful insights about the course from her. She said that it was  a ‘challenge’ for her to mould her research experience into teaching of narrative methods. Her experience in teaching prior to this course was mainly in the field of music. But she has been constantly working in the realm of narratives in mental health. Her efforts were to bring narrative tradition into law school. We understand that her main concern after beginning teaching was that this course should be introduced as early as the first of law school. She even believed that a teacher’s learning undergoes fine tuning with teaching. We comprehend that she meant that she was learning with us too. She even had to try hard to link the subject to real life narratives , as this would make every student engaged in the lecture. We felt that this was an appreciative way to evoke responses from the students. On being asked about where she found motivation to teach. She replied to us that she felt it as a responsibility to carry forward the energy and efforts put in by the students. That’s what kept her moving.

Reaction to the course

Me: So why did you think narrative methods would help us law students?

Prateeksha: See basically I work in mental health and I’m always looking into stories of people. If I look at people from the same framework as society is labeling them, is that enough- like when I say  like “criminal”. Is that all or is there more to it? Do I want to listen to the label as a finality, or should I look at their subjective experiences? I am interested in looking into the stories of other people and since I do I thought whether it could be related to law. I had a choice of choosing whatever I could do here. She (the academic convenor) said I could do something which would make students understand life with a new perspective, which made me look up ways to take my knowledge into a law school; and I read a paper of how law is all about stories. So I thought of teaching this course.

The Course Material

Me: So about the course material. Did you teach everything that you have expected to teach us?

Prateeksha: I came with the idea that I should give an introduction into what narratives are. When I thought about the course, I structured it mentally as an exercise which produces a reflective attitude within learners. When we work in stories and mental health anybody who becomes a therapist should learn to look at their own story in an objective way first, otherwise one never develops a distance from one’s own subjective reality. Should lawyers not be open to this and see justice and injustice first within their own lives? Learn to see their stories as outsiders or should they see everything without delving into their subjective truths, which are always changing? One of the key objectives for me was to help students develop a self distance from their narratives and believe that they are experiences that belong to a human domain, not just their personal truths.

  • Shaemus thought that the course material hitting the objective of what was supposed to be taught in a narrative methods class.

“The course material was, see it was good. Good as in substantial as in it was relating to narrative methods. It was hitting the target.”

  • John was happy when we asked him about the course material because it had actually helped him in writing a better narrative.

“The course material helped me in understanding how to write a narrative but since I was absent I can’t comment over its application in law.”

CONTROVERSIES:

Our interaction with anumber of students has reiterated the fact that there were no controversies related to the elective course “Introductory Narrative Methods.”

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CONCLUSION:

The conclusion is an amalgam of our convictions and our learning . introductory narrative methods course was a unique elective course offered in a law school. After doing this course we have learnt a new of way of viewing every legal issue. For instance, in every single legal case there are various perspectives, and each perspective is a narrative. As law students we would be benefitted by the knowledge of narratives to understand various existing narratives.Though the course seemed to be off track, the element of law was not absent. The essence of law is language. The impact that words can have through writing was highlighted to us.This could be taught to the law students in their initial years at law school. They would be hugely benefitted by it because they will develop a holistic perspective in viewing everything. Most of the students were impressed by the course description. But some of them could not opt as they had time management issues and other workload. Most of the students who have taken the elective course found it to be a rewarding experience. They even expected to have contours drawn and a framework to be set to the course as the intended results would be delivered better then. They even opined that the given course time could have been used more a effectively and productively to imbibe more valuable information from the course instructor. We felt that the  sessions were highly interactive and the course instructor was flexible with the students too. We even learnt that every issue in law has a social , penal and legal perspective to it. This made sure that elective course was not cumbersome. So all together, it was a joyful learning experience for us. We would also like to express that there was a legal angle to this course which was not noticed by many. It might have been underplayed. But trying to understand the legal aspect of this course was the main objective.

Note from examiner: The responses that have been included here from me, prateeksha, are changed from the original submission, without affecting the grades of those being marked for them. I thought it was best to write my own language here, because young students may not be able to represent what I am saying to the extent I can do so. But that need not impact on how anyone has to respond to this narrative. 

Sorry, due to my inability to do so, I am unable to upload video clip.

HIERARCHY, and campus life

  1. Introduction

The present narrative aimed to study hierarchies within a small community of a residential university. In order to study these structures, we asked the student community questions about the various forms of hierarchies that they have noticed and been affected by on the campus. We surveyed around 80 people, across batches of the undergraduate and postgraduate courses, roughly in the age group of 17 to 30 years. Though we had initially considered including the teachers, administration and non-teaching staff of the college as well, we decided to restrict the scope of our research only to the student body so as to make the scope of the study narrower and more streamlined.

The research methodology we followed was empirical, i.e. we collected first-hand information from students by putting a fixed set of questions to them, noting down their responses, and then collating the information gathered to see the commonalities and differences based on their position on the hierarchy.

The questions varied in terms of structure- while some merely required a yes or no answer, others were subjective requiring the respondents to elaborate on the reasoning underlying their answers. The basic questions we put forward centred on whether people noticed hierarchies playing out and how they sought to explain these. We enquired as to what parameters contributed to the formation of these hierarchies, and suggested options such as socio economic background, age/year of study, caste, region, language, etc. Where respondents identified factors beyond the ones we listed out, we took note of the same. We spoke to people about how their behaviour, or the behaviour of others had changed due to their relative positions in the hierarchies. Ample opportunity was given for respondents to exemplify their observations as well. Respondents were questioned on what they perceived to be the reasons for such hierarchies to exist, and how these hierarchies affected people socially and psychologically. Finally, we asked respondents whether they perceived hierarchies to be a necessary element of student life in their college, and whether their perception on the necessity of the hierarchy changed as they moved from a junior to a senior class.

  1.     Types of Hierarchies Identified

Hierarchical power structures manifest themselves in various forms. In a University context, the power dynamics could be perceived in the subtle differential treatments awarded to students from belonging to different race, language, region, class, year and course of study, those having lower CLAT ranks and CGPA et al. Survey participants have identified the existence of a hierarchy in these broad areas and not even one among the 80 odd responses received, denied the presence of positional power structures in college. Hence, the egalitarian ethics that we swear by as students of the law seems to have been perverted by the active perpetuation of power asymmetries and positional relationships. For the sake of clarity, we can study the hierarchical relationships at three levels: within a batch, across batches and the intra-college power imbalance.

Intra-Batch Hierarchy

CLAT Rank:    Based on our personal interactions with the students, we can say that this type of hierarchy is very subtle in its manifestation. Students who have lower CLAT ranks are silently excluded from certain peer groups and study groups, at least in the initial period before they can prove their merit in an exam. Those students with higher CLAT ranks conceded that they sometimes felt like they deserved a place in a premier law school more than those with a very low CLAT Rank. However, a sizeable number of people dismissed this conception as unfounded in reason and logic.

Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA):   Exams aim to grade people based on their intellectual capacity, though the ideal is often not achieved. This gradation more often than not, penetrates into non-academic spheres of social life like peer groups. Several participants said that they felt ignored or excluded by certain people who were arguably ‘smarter’ than them. A small number of people, refused to accept that such divisions existed.

Race, Language & Region:     Students from the Southern and the North-eastern parts of the country, during personal interviews, said that they felt cornered on this basis and silently discriminated against. Apart from being called offensive names, their lack of fluency in Hindi (the unofficial ‘national language’ of the country) was a major reason why they were singled out and ridiculed as ‘pardesi’. As they pointed out, this hierarchy also affects their social life though they try to hide it and escape it as much as possible.

Inter-Batch Senior-junior Hierarchy

Year of study:  It is common to see the students in the first year being positively interacted with (read ‘ragged’) by the senior batches, at least in the first few months of college. Hence, the target is the freshmen who are victimised through intimidating questioning and demand of embarrassing favours that could run whole gamut from ludicrous performances of dance and singing to the more serious expressions of the inner perversions of the seniors. It was surprising to record that some first years were genuinely labouring under the delusion that such positive interaction (read ‘ragging’) is for their own good.

Intra-college Hierarchy

Course of study:          In a law school, the students from non-legal courses like MBA are alienated and the majority of the mainstream LLB treats them badly. Surprisingly, the postgraduate students of law are also ill-treated by the undergraduate students despite their seniority in terms of age and intellect. The participants in the survey have confirmed this social common sense of the law school students. However, it is only true about the abstract conception of the ‘law schoolers’, which evades definition but has empirical support. During direct questioning on individual basis, several students said that they ‘do not mind the MBAs and the LLMs’. hierarchy-image

Fig: Intra-college and Inter-batch Hierarchy

III.     Perceptions of Hierarchy

It was observed through the survey and interviews conducted that the student body did not have a homogeneous view on the issue of hierarchy. Opinions on reasons for the existence of hierarchies varied greatly across batches as well as within batches; while some identified benefits arising out of hierarchies, others deemed them completely pointless and unnecessary.

Why do Hierarchies Exist?

Every person who took part in the survey agreed that hierarchies do exist in the college. Several underlying reasons were cited, the first being tradition. The hierarchy is not something that has established itself over a short period of time; it has been there from the very beginning of the institution and ways of behaving have been passed on or imbibed through batches, over several years. In that sense, even the unpleasant implications of the hierarchy such as ragging have been legitimized as a part of the law school experience that one first tolerates and then (in most cases), perpetrates. The rightness or wrongness of the tradition is of course debated. For instance, one respondent said, “While this hierarchy is neither sensible nor fair, it is still unavoidable.” Another said “The hierarchy is tradition; the way in which it is exercised by specific people determines whether it is a good thing or a bad thing.” The second set of reasons that emerged deal with notions of power, superiority complex and insecurities. Most students from the 1st and 2nd years seemed to believe that a lot of the seniors who ill-treated them were doing so just because they had the power to do so.  Over the years it has been observed that the 2nd years are most enthusiastic in ragging the juniors (not to say that the other senior batches are not interested) and also the most aggressive. One obvious and repeatedly cited reason for this is that having recently moved up the social ladder, they seek to impose their superiority over the juniors. On being asked to elaborate on insecurity as a reason, a respondent said “People are so insecure about their own standing that they feel the need to intimidate others to feel better about their own selves. Hence, they perpetuate convenient hierarchies.” Third, in stark contrast to the other two reasons mentioned, it was also argued that the hierarchy helps in the acclimatization of the juniors to law school. While interactions start out in a field of intimidation and some discomfort, there are subsequent benefits that emerge from these interactions with relation to projects, moot court competitions, internships etc.

While most of the abovementioned reasons were cited with the hierarchy within the undergraduate students in mind, reasons such as the need to establish one’s superiority and self-validation were common for other hierarchies such as those based on courses, caste, CLAT rank etc. The next section discusses in some detail, the pros and cons of these hierarchies.

Do These Hierarchies Serve Any Purpose?

Contrasting opinions came to fore on the issue. A marginally larger fraction of the respondents believed that hierarchies are not an essential element of student life at the university. In fact, they argued, these are just remnants of unfounded practices, conveniently dubbed as tradition by those who support it. A 2nd year student said “It is nothing more than the desire to do to another what has been done to you. As we move onto subsequent years, we tend to say that our juniors have had it far easier than us; it’s a way of rationalizing our own irrationality”.

On the other hand, those who believe that there is a purpose that the hierarchy achieves contend that it is a harmless introduction of first years to a protected yet more real-life atmosphere as compared to high school- “Hierarchies are prevalent everywhere. Even when we intern and subsequently get jobs in law firms, corporations or courts of law, we will begin at the base of the hierarchy there. Relatively, those hierarchies are far more ruthless and the prior experience at college is actually preparing us to deal better with future situations.”

Transformation of Perceptions

A characteristic feature of the seniority-based law school hierarchy is that today’s alphas were once at the very bottom of the same hierarchy. Through our survey, we also sought to discover if the views of the students on hierarchy have undergone any transformation over the years. Almost 90% of the respondents said that their views had changed while a few claimed that their first-year disapproval of the hierarchy has only intensified with time. The responses quoted below appropriately represent the bulk of responses we received-

“Yes, I have become a perpetrator of the violence that is an inevitable result of this hierarchy.”

“Yes, my perception on the requirement of hierarchy has changed. In my first year of college I was not in favour of this hierarchy probably because I was at the lowest strata but as I moved to my second year I myself started enforcing and justifying this hierarchy maybe because I was no longer lowest in hierarchy and had someone below me in hierarchy to enforce it on.”

“No, it has made me all the more careful about not doing the exact same thing that was done to me. It is only hypocritical if I end up doing the same. Hence, there is a conscious effort to not reinforce the said system of hierarchies, which is not only unfounded but also unfair. My perception of this requirement has been the same and has rather become far stronger.”

  1. Socio-Psychological and Behavioural Impacts of Hierarchy on Students

It is often considered that hierarchy is a mere control of behaviour or conforming to a particular standard. However, from the responses it was evident that this hierarchy a deep socio-psychological impacts on the minds of students, both short-term and long-term. Most of the responses of the first year students as well as of seniors acknowledged this factor. One of the most common hierarchies faced by first year students is that with the senior students. It hints towards the socio-psychological impact that instances of ragging can lead to. These impacts could be of varying degree.

Many instances like giving nicknames, making fun of, etc. were narrated by the students which had socio-psychological impact on them. However the major impact that was highlighted by the students of the first year was that they started judging themselves from the perspective of others. Students started trying to conform to a particular set of standards without even considering whether such conformity to set standards of behavior is correct or not. In this process the student loses his confidence and in this web of hierarchy he or she starts pretending to be that which he or she is not. Students may start using abusive language, drinking alcohol, dressing in a particular way, etc. all to fit into particular groups considered superior in the hierarchy. More drastic instances narrated by a student included facing depression and inferiority complexes. Thus, this conformity to hierarchy leads to loss of individuality of a person.

Does this impact remain confined to socio-psychological or also impact the performance of a student?

This impact of hierarchy does not remain confined to the socio-psychological impact, but as a considerable number of students have pointed out, it affects the academic and co-curricular performance of the student as well. The feeling of imposition and need for compliance to a certain norm places a deep burden on the thinking of a person and distracts him. Their focus on studies gets lost due to these other issues which they face under the hierarchy.

For first years, these hierarchies impose an extra burden on them beyond the problems they already have to face like adjusting in new environment, home-sickness etc. It ultimately affects the performance of the student in academic and non-academic activities. A further issue is that in most cases the family members or a third person do not see hierarchy as a factor of bad performance. The whole liability of the underperformance is usually placed on the student. His merit is questioned, worsening his situation. These factors collectively contribute to the performance of the student. Thus the hierarchy has a substantial but hidden impact on the academic as well as non-academic performance of the student.

  1. Conclusion

We started off with a premise of exploration. The aim was to document the hierarchy that exists in the college. Frankly, we didn’t expect quarter as many responses as we received. And it is not just the volume of the responses that surprised us, but the quality of the responses itself. As we set out on our path, being apprehensive of the culture on campus, we didn’t expect people to write in responses which highlighted the manner in which the hierarchy plays out. An unspoken proposition that we placed reliance on was that of the fifth years being the alphas of the University, incubating and perpetrating the hierarchy that exists on campus. To our much expected surprise, it turned out to be of complexity that this exercise cannot fathom to achieve.

Certainly as the responses show, hierarchy exists on this campus. It exists not only amongst the batches, but as has been highlighted, follows the contours of the larger societal relations like caste, class and language that exist in the real world. And while the ‘real world’ was used as a standard to enforce this hierarchy, except a few responses, not any highlighted the problems with that culture. The culture of oppression that breeds hierarchy in the society was left untouched by many, a fact that is worrisome. Hence the recognition acknowledging the culture that exists within the university did not extend to the oppression that is perpetrated as the system reinforces itself. The problem exists with the entrenchment of the culture within the student body, as was rightly pointed out by several respondents.

While several responses pointed out the psychological impacts of the imposition of hierarchy, those could not be explored in detail. Yet as has been noted, personal conversations with individuals highlighted how the hierarchical impositions in the form of ragging or subtle coercion can and do have long lasting impact on people. This does not necessarily replicate in the action being repeated, though instances of the same do exist. The problem exists not with the action itself, but the normalization of the same. This hierarchy is not seen as an exception to the culture, but rather an element of the student consciousness.

Certainly the exercise stops short of exorcising the ghost of this cultural problem. But that was never the aim. The aim was to document the existence of the hierarchy and to build a narrative around it to enable further steps to be taken in this research. We hope that we have achieved that objective, and acknowledging the shortcomings of our exercise, realise that much more needs to be done in order to understand the interplay of hierarchy in the student body. Alas as a 5th year noted, this culture embeds itself into the peer groups of the students resulting in a hierarchy of popularity. The question we should be asking then is, what is the job of the university and the students within it? We have stopped short of exploring ourselves, expressing dissent and cultivating thought. What we have achieved rather is the bondage of oppression.

(this inquiry was a joint effort of- Dipankar, Pallavi, Rakshanda, Lakshana and Vedant)