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.

What will you do with our stories?

Last week I began my weekly counseling at the prison, by meeting with all the women inmates there. I was told their number is around 59-60, though I do not think that many came to meet me, in the open lawns, where we all met.

It was an unusual scenario for me – to sit and share with the ladies what my ‘job’ or presence in their midst meant. Most could not make sense of the word -counseling. For a moment I thought whether it was all a needless effort. There are a few non profits working among prison inmates, mine may be the third or fourth. I do not have a correct estimate of numbers yet. One of them is running a training program in several vocations- such as beauty culture, tailoring, adult education and even a creche for little children. On the whole the population is not very motivated, at least on a cursory glance.

As I sat there mid a whole lot of women from Haryana (the first time I was seeing so many together myself) I was just wondering in what language and expression to share the purpose of my work. Then I just began talking as we all sat in a gathering of nearly 35-40 women. I explained to them that I was here to share their lives with them and to help them cope better with the challenge of living life in a jail. I cannot imagine a bitter tragedy than imprisonment, and the seemingly futile effort of counseling those there.

Yet, not one to give up easily and wanting to make sense of life everywhere I feel I have to offer courage, the way I was offered courage by life and people in the years of my own suffering and solitude. I always believe that humans can be united in the idea of our shared or otherwise suffering- I have taken this from the Dalai Lama- the mindfulness that we all suffer, and that is the root of our common heritage as living beings.

To see so many people with hearts full of suffering, writ large on their faces is an experience of becoming humble, because you do not approach them with any solutions, nor wisdom, outcomes or legal advice- which they actually need. You just go empty handed, with a heart full of stories and ears willing to hear more. Your humility comes from the knowledge that possibly a whole lot of these in the jail are actually just innocent victims.

I spoke for awhile and then invited the women to say something if they would like to. Most did not, but some said they were trying to understand why I was there and what was the offer from me. Then one, who I find particularly bright and quite clear in her mind, asked me, “Madam I have understood why you will be here. You will hear our stories and may be note them somewhere. But will you keep our stories with yourself or will you do something more?

I thought may be I would do something later in research or write about the conditions of jails or how difficult it could be to live a life in jails for years altogether. But right now the agenda is only to work together with the women and understand what is happening in their lives. The truth is that nothing is happening- their lives are all frozen for now, and they live removed from the world in an artificial world of the prison, where nobody comes to meet them (barring stray family members when they can make the journey) and they live lives in their mind, missing loved ones, missing lives left outside the jail, lamenting the loss of what life leaches from them everyday.

What will you do with our stories, she asked me insistently. Not once, but many a times. Will you write them down and share them with the world or publish them in a newspaper? Will you write about us cropped-2014-006-2.jpgand tell the world about our lives here? Will you? Will you not?

I kept quiet for that moment and told her I appreciated her question and may be I would have to think about it. I came away and the question kept floating in front and her fierce, bright, challenging face questioning…till I arrived at a response. This is the response of me the human, the counselor that I find emerging from the recesses of my soul.

I will listen to your stories like a friend, not a judge and possibly witness their transformation, wherever possible help while you go over the difficult passages. I come in support and acknowledgement of your suffering. I am not a lawyer, nor court, nor judge- I am just a human who understands human suffering, and I am here because we all suffer. That is all. I hope to share this with her when I meet her again.

Mr. Rail Minister-acche din dooor hain

Dear Rail Minister of India, Mr Suresh Prabhu. Namaskar

I sent a parcel from Delhi (PRR number 4000377207) NZM station to Madgaon, in Goa on the 10th June, 2016. The parcel was loaded by a young man who works in our domestic enterprise, his name being Pundalik Zalmi.

Pundalik Zalmi (Gokul) is a simple village boy, who by dint of sheer labour and tenacity has worked his way into being the right hand man of the owner of the enterprise, my spouse. In his family he is the only one who has come so far- economically or socially. He was on his maiden trip to Delhi- to assist me with something. He took the parcel and landed up on the Nizammuddin Station. First of all, he encountered a coolie, who demanded Rs.1200/- to help him reach the parcel to its destination, which was the parcel office of the Indian Rail. When someone intervened the coolie agreed to do the job for Rs.700/-

In the ensuing pell-mell that happened somehow the coolie rushed him into the train, having booked his parcel allegedly on the same Rajdhani Express that Gokul was taking- train number 22414, NZM-MAO. When he got down the next day at Madgaon, the parcel had not reached with him- he went and checked in the luggage van too. He was confused, for it was the first time he was doing such a job.

Next day, and for several days after that he kept going to Madgaon Station every single day, a distance of eight/nine kilometers from our home, asking around for the parcel and then talking to whoever concerned at the station. Several times this was done by another of his colleagues Pravin Shirodkar, who is the driver in the enterprise.

After a few days, there was no sign of the parcel and everyday we were going up and down. Then I spoke with someone in the railway, who suggested I send a twitter message to report the misplacing of my parcel. I was anxious- I had just returned from Delhi myself, the day before and seven days after Gokul but the parcel was still not to be found. I needed the contents of the parcel for my next travel, which is due on the 1st July 2016- I have to return to Delhi with my two dogs, by Jet Airways. My parcel contained doggy crates- PVC containers meant for carrying small animals  by plane.

Upon the suggestion I sent the following tweet

PRR no.4000377207 sent HNzm to MAO_ Goa, 10Jun,16, not received till date. Plz help urgently. Load train 22414, PNR2765467844

This was followed by a daily round of tweeting to scores of people, who linked me to one another. The entire conversation can be seen here-

 https://twitter.com/HansadhwaniP/with_replies

Into the dialogue were roped the Konkan Railway, the Madgaon station people, the NZM station people, the freight people in New Delhi and of course the rail ministry in India. IN the medley, I saw many a bad egg and a few good apples too. This open message to you, Mr. Prabhu is written to bring to your notice one practice, which is perhaps going on regularly in the railways and is routinely unreported or brushed under the carpet.

After my first tweet of 18th, the following week, on Tuesday, 21st June after trying desperately to get hold of some information about the parcel we finally got in touch with one Superintendent at the NZM station called Mr. Meena. He told us that the parcel had been loaded on the train, as per the details here ( i noted them from the website myself)

Parcel/Luggage/VP Details
PRR No./PWB No. 4000377207 Scale Booking Date
From Station HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Destination Station MAO-MADGOAN JN.
Consignee Name and Address – – – Consignor Name and Address – – –
Item Description Total No. Status
PVC GOODS 1
Last Loading Train No. 22414 Last Loading Stn. NZM-HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Last Loading Date 10-Jun-2016 11:24
Status Loaded on train Stn. NZM-HAZRAT NIZAM-UD-DIN JN. Status Date 10-Jun-2016 11:25
Last Unoading Train No. Last Unoading Stn. Last Unoading Date

He repeated the same message to everyone concerned.

Now Sir, just make a note of the following- The time of departure of the Madgaon Rajdhani is 10:55 am. IF the train left at 10:55, can any parcel be loaded in it at 11:24 logically?

In several conversations, Mr. Meena (mobile number 09717- 999425) had with both me and my husband he repeated the same information. In the final dialogue we had with him, he even told me that the parcel had been sent to Panvel, instead of Madgoan (perhaps to get rid of our persistent queries?).

Since I was in touch with a gentleman called Upendra Shindye from the Konkan Railways, who had been kind enough to call me on his own, in response to my twitter message to Konkan Railway Corp, I requested Mr. Shindye to make inquiries at his end. He did- I think he even sent someone to Panvel, from Mumbai, though I am not sure about it.

We were already more than ten days from the time the parcel had been loaded. I was worried for a lot hinges on it for me in the present moment for me. Mr. Shindye promised to update me by the evening. The date being 22nd June-12 days later. Meanwhile our rounds to the Madgaon Station were in vain everyday- but we still went. Either Gokul went or Pravin.

Finally my husband went on 22nd- we were all worried, and he met someone there, who promised to help him, then did not call. Later a gentleman called up Gokul and spoke with my husband too. He identified himself as one Mr. Murli (mobile +91 9004476083)- who said he was investigating the case of the missing parcel. My husband proposed to him that he probe into one angle- that the parcel had never left from Delhi in this whole span of time.

Lo and behold…Mr. Murli called and confirmed the suspicion, and said that the parcel would be leaving on the 22nd June 2016, by Goa Express and reach Madgaon on 24th. Later Mr. Shindye of Konkan railways also confirmed the same. IN other words, in this whole span of 12 days when we were all tearing our hair, Mr. Meena kept misleading every single person- saying the parcel had been loaded on the train, whose details are there on the website.

Who is updating the website?

My query and concern to you, Honorable Minister is this-

  1. If the parcel was not loaded on the train, how did it start reflecting on the website?
  2. What sort of a fraud is happening here – in which people’s parcels are getting lost? I at least had access to internet and even twitter, but what about those who cannot use these new technologies? Do you think every Indian who is using the railways for sending parcels is having a twitter account- to knock at your doors for lost goods?
  3. I am told that people are compensated @50/- per kilo of the weight of their parcels. what sort of a way is this to ascribe value to goods people are sending? (My parcel was carrying goods worth at least Rs.50,000/-, though its weight was a mere 25 kgs)
  4. There is a deep flaw in the way parcels are tracked– and there is no verification happening. IF a man can tell us that the parcel has left the station, while it is very much lying on the station, what do you think is happening in this department? How can the website be uploaded and scores of people mislead?
  5. Can you please initiate an inquiry about how goods are getting lost in the Indian rail parcel service and start fixing responsibility for the same?

Can we think of simple village folks like Pundalik Zalmi who come from their villages and lose their belongings on trains, never to have any voice in the whole din and cacophony of the Indian Rail?

Is size of the Indian Rail so big that we do not now care about the common Indian people who use it day and night, putting their hard earned money into goods they transport by trains everyday?

Would a Pundalik Zalmi, not backed by his employers who were English speaking, twitter familiar people, have found his parcel? Would he have the resources to keep going to the station, everyday, leaving his work behind, without losing his job? What employer would have allowed him the leave and not believed that he was lying about the loss of the parcel? 

Today is 24th June, 2016, and true to the word given by Mr. Murli and Mr. Shindye, the parcel reached Madgaon and we duly got a call at 7am confirming that. We of course have to pay a price of Rs.2880/- as the rent of one of them, for we were being charged @ 180/day for the same. The parcel that would have come on 11th, would have meant only four days of rental, instead of the 16 it has become.

But that is not the point, Mr. Minister. The point I am trying to make is would the average Indian have managed to stir so much action? Are we really empowering our people by giving them redressal mechanism via the twitter and other social media?

I am grateful that the twitter action works, but how many Indians have access to it and they use the Indian Rail? Please stop by at any station, Sir, and take a look at the India that travels by train- maybe you would think of other ways to touch their lives and save their hard earned belongings.

(i wish there was a way to measure the quantum of suffering this experience has caused us, starting from the encounter with the coolie- a great shame I assure you)

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.

Caregivers can change outcomes in mental illnesses

Having seen the outcomes of many recovery stories and even non-recovery ones, the one thing that becomes clear is that if assisted positively and non-intrusively, many people can recover even from serious mental illnesses.

So why does it not happen more often? The one likely thing that comes to mind is that mental illness triggers off due to some contribution from the family environments- like it or not. Perhaps this is the most difficult idea to digest.  But if we can stomach it, and be willing to reflect upon what they could have done or wrongly so, then many things can change.

With this in mind, I work in therapy with people- I mean families, and with the same idea, I decided I ought to reach out to a wider number of people. But instead of choosing to keep the knowledge offered as part of the course, only a function of my own knowledge, why not spread the net wider and bring in many others, who have been working in mental health with a similar or same commitment as me, and trying to diminish the burden of human suffering, wherever possible.

With this idea as a background I decided to do two things- first of all create a framework of ideas and then a resource base of ‘experts’. Honestly speaking, perhaps neither of these ‘experts’ would claim themselves to be as such, and this is not to judge their knowledge and represent it in the same way as the positivist tradition does- for measuring expertise by degrees and professions. My only basis for classifying them as ‘experts’ is the number of years they have been working in the field and the orientation they carry- recovery and rehabilitation from mental illnesses.

As yet this orientation has not gained salience in India, unlike some Western countries- and therefore these people have not been seen as such either. But I hope with this course now in the public domain, more people will recognize the reality that mental illnesses can be a thing of the past, if more people take heart, families change their attitudes and supportive behaviours. This is one of the key advantages of being in relatively poorer countries- that our family systems are quite intact. So why not assist them in augmenting what is already present, rather than aping Western models and walk towards our own annihilation via their pharma enterprises.

Here is the first Caregivers’ Online Course, that I have been referring to as part of this blog post. And I feel relieved at last to have come to this clearing- there is so much water under the bridge, from making the website, to getting the experts to collaborate, structure, and now the next challenge- to ensure its viability and efficacy.

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/

Losing sight of your Self

A few days ago a friend left a message saying he wanted to talk, over the chat box of fb. After a little effort of a few days we got together to talk. He suffered and I could see that, but having known him for a couple of years I could not connect the dots- though I never under-estimate anyone’s ability for suffering.

I sensed there was a dejection of the spirit and a pressure which probably had built over a long time, especially seeing one’s peers well established by a certain age and him struggling with holding on to a job. I think there are many people who need to find the groove they fit into before they can be in the groove for long enough- and for some that may be a difficult road to try out several grooves before you land up in the right one.

I have been seeing him for a long time and this is the sense I always got from him- that he was in search of the right groove, which would fit into his soul and unlock potential lying within, making him happy and feel fulfilled. The reality of life is a very funny thing. It seldom offers such linear solutions- so we have to constantly find our balance and adjust with whatever we have in our hands- that is what is called ‘compromise’! ALAS!

Anyhow, while counseling I look at everyone as someone who has momentarily lost sight of who they are, or is unaware of who they are in general. But with those who are in depressions, I particularly see that they have reduced themselves to self-hurting talk, that goes on inside ceaselessly. Instead of he telling me how he was feeling, I offered this  perspective –

I think you are feeling very overwhelmed by what you are faced with in a new job and also seeing yourself viz.a. viz, your peers and classmates and thinking they are all doing so well, while you are still searching for the right job. And possibly all the past hurt is also accumulated and giving you an overall sense of failure, that seems too large to handle. Plus in the new job that you are, you feel pressured to rise upto the levels of expectations others have of you and you fear you cannot deliver.

He agreed this was indeed the case. Of course about the new job I am only quoting his insights, for he felt that the goals were too high for him to acheive and he was closeted inside himself, instead of being able to interact with others around, for that made him feel insecure, as though they would be able to judge his lack of ability- while he of course has the ability. He just forgot this for the inner talk that went on inside him, made him feel like a loser.

And this is what I shared with him then, and my words to any who has momentarily lost sight of who they are-

what you are today is a culmination of all your past. Your past is not just made up of your failures, because even failures are new knowledge. You have a lot of strength, based on which you have been hired in the first place. Do not push yourself but be gentle and remember that what is your current goal, and which unnerves you, is already within your reach- that is why this goal has been set for you by those who hired you. They know you can do it.

Life is not a summary, it is an unfolding, in which we move from the past to the present, integrate the learning from our failures and successes, act in the present and lay foundations for the future. Do not see any of these as though they are complete within themselves.

Of course what I told him, was also in particular said to him, which was that

Even if you are not the way others are, of your age and among your peers, I feel you are on the path of finding an authentic expression of your soul, that is why this confusion, this search for gurus and teachers and new jobs and new colleagues, a certain restlessness. For most people a job that pays and takes care of their bills is all that they want. For ones who want a little more the price is bit unusual- so do not compare yourself with those whose yardsticks of living and measuring success are not determined my your scale.

I asked him how he felt after that. He said, he felt a lot lighter, and his spirits had lifted already!

This is what I work like– to just bring light into the darkness, in which a suffering spirit has encased itself. This entire dialogue happened within 20 minutes, and I knew my dal, that was cooking on the stove, would then burn, so I just pushed him away- but not before I was certain that the psychiatric diagnosis had been laid to rest. There was no depression that needed a cure- just a reminder about the divine that hides within and asks for recognition– a play that I always love.

I also put this under the head of relational leading, for had it not been the trust he had in me, to call me up to seek this insight, i could not have shed this light on the situations around him. His instinct lead him to me, but my instinct about him and his suffering lead him into a ‘clearing’ – the goal of the therapeutic dialogue accomplished for the moment.

Me- the collaborator 🙂

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Anxious about anxiety!

A few days ago I had a first encounter with a lady who suffers from deep seated anxiety, It had to be a brief encounter for we were just trying to ascertain if the skype connection, through which we were connecting, really worked or not. She is in Europe, a recent (two years) immigrant from South Asia, educated person, in her late forties. I also wanted to establish a face-to-face link before we could sit peacefully to communicate, at a later date.

In the course of those approx.11 minutes of my communication with her (which I never understood why they became so long, just to fix an appointment) she was so restless it was difficult to focus on anything she said. This was how the talk went typically-

First of all, instead of facing me or looking up at the camera of her hand held device, she kept on holding it at such an angle that I could only see her eyes and part of the nose and covered head, as though it was a veiled impression she wanted to convey to me. So you can imagine I was talking to someone who was seemingly talking to someone else, not me! I have conversations with people via the skype from all parts of the world and we always get a sense of looking at the other person directly, even though they may not be lookign at the lens of the camera but the computer screen. She kept on holding me, as though, ‘below her chin’. People do not understand how much their body chemistry conveys to another!

Secondly, instead of realizing whether this was a real call to communicate her distress, she simply started off, without a prelude or a warning. Even if one goes into the consulting room or home of a person, you may have to wait awhile before you are invited to communicate. In your own anxiety to say whatever you want to, you cannot be unmindful that the other may not be yet ready to hear you out. They also want to be ‘present’ for you, not just physically be there. I was unwell. I told her so. But she did not seem to care- her own distress was paramount. It is all consuming, so much so that it made her ‘berserk’ and possibly a bit selfish too!

Healing is such a complex, multivariate phenomenon and not accomplished by just rattling your story out to someone who is lending their ears. I told her that I work in a three pronged manner- whatever it was I told her. She seemed to not be listening! Can anyone really help such a person? She was in therapy with another young person and had a few (seven-eight!) CBT sessions with her. Am not sure how CBT can work with anyone apart from social anxiety or minor ideas like that. Anxiety or a generalized anxiety disorder or possibly chronic anxiety. Can people understand that the times we live in produce an anxiety in everyone in general? And to deal with it, we have to create meaning in our lives, make connections with the world around and slowly intergrate in the milieu we are in.

Moving from one part of the world to a completely different world is definitely very alarming for anyone, especially in their middle age years. So to work out through that maze one has to be able to put the finger on the right and convergent causes, and not look at the continuity of life experiences on a continuum and catastrophize every experience, because we will have to continuously adjust to life, at every stage, no matter what. Building reserves, resources is very essential.

And equally important it is to go, look for support, identify your support mechanisms and stick to them for awhile. She thought she had a good rapport with the young woman who gave her CBT. When i asked in what manner she benefited, she said it was yet to ‘get over’. Does anyone really benefit from anything if the signs of it do not start showing in the first couple of meetings itself!

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/