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.

2014 107

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/