You are responsible for your recovery (from mental illness)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose sensibly therefore.

Robin Williams, mental anguish and cultures of silence

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A death, particularly of a celebrity by suicide, is a big thing, more so when the celebrity is someone who seems to be at a pinnacle in his life, popularity and fan-following. So what could be the reason for such a death and how should others, who look at it in disbelief and dejection, see it? If someone who was so well applauded for his work, won many an award or nomination, then what despair could it be that could not be overcome despite such ‘success’ and adulation?

Suicide is always a many sided phenomenon, never a linear progression and to link it to depression is the easiest anyone can offer as analysis. However, depression by default does not lead to suicide, though the likelihood of lurking depression among those who attempt or commit suicide, could be a correlate. This writing is a miniscule deconstruction of celebrity suicide (with this one as case in point), in its sociological aspects and an attempt to tell others who suffer how suicide is not something we need to be shocked at in this instance, but at the alienation of a human, despite every sign of success and how unimportant those outer signs of success are in the overall scheme of life and sense of joy. So in case your depression is coming from a sense of failure or that you are feeling lost and lonely whereas there are others who are shining and winning accolades of all sorts, this is another side of that shining life.

Men often suffer in silence, and do not want to be seen as anything but macho in dealing with emotions. So the likelihood of a man seeking help or support of a therapist or any other ‘talking professional’ is that much more diminished, because they see it as a sign of weakness, which is culturally indoctrinated from the time a little boy is told, “Don’t cry like a girl/baby”. There is a whole process of socialization of what emotions are desirable in public and what are not, and everyone learns to fake it early in life- for mostly it is the family which leads the way in teaching what is acceptable and what is not.

Secondly, the final act of suicide, which implies a whole complex array of thought spent on what is the best way to commit it, that ensures success in the first attempt itself, is proof of the alienation that a person has from their environment. No matter what they have accomplished in the public sphere, how happy or joyful they appear in public portrayals of success, their own art/craftsmanship, companionship or even make others laugh, the fact that comes out in the end is, that they are not able to connect various other dots in their lives and neither they want to seek anyone’s support on the issue. OR, more worryingly, if they have sought that support, that support itself was not correct!

I work in research in mental health and all evidence to me that comes from those suffering from disabling mental illnesses is that talking to clinical psychologists, among others, is often counter-productive! I can further corroborate this from two dimensions- both experiential also. I myself had a very damaging interaction with a young clinical psychologist, in my younger years, when I suffered from bipolar disorder. It was a chance encounter with a Jungian therapist that made me change my views about therapy, for I had no intention of meeting a psychologist again, after that meeting in a psychiatric clinic in the early 2000s, with that young woman I mentioned in earlier lines. Now I am head of a team, that includes young people with degrees in clinical psychology as well, and they tell me that the role that a clinical psychologist is expected to  play in the hierarchy of mental health is to augment the work of a psychiatrist. So if the psychiatrist recommends medication, the psychologist will further argue with the patient/client that the medication be taken as the first line of action and then some therapy can be effective. In other words, they do not really have either an idea of human suffering, nor they have an independent line of thought that can stand on its own feet, to deal with mental distress as something that comes from the social environment of a person. They are also taught in their training programs that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM) is the bible in mental health, without being told the flip side of it or whether such a side even exists.

There is any number of research evidences that talks about the inefficacy of psychiatric medication, its harmful effects, including suicidal ideation, violence and whatnot. I am not delving into the long lists here, but what I am trying to derive at is that the among the side effects of psychiatric medication, also antidepressants, there is a whole possibility of suicidal thoughts coming to those who consume such medication. Oh yes, my own experience also confirms that.

Fear or uncertainty about future/imaginary illnesses, (isn’t hypochondria something similar) or the onset of a new one is also something that can make anyone suffering from depression even more depressed. Williams had recently been given a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, which is a progressively disabling condition. However, he did not have the resources internally or possibly around him to deal with it, in a manner that did not cut his life short. If we look at another celebrity story, whose life was also fraught with something equally distressing, we can all really admire the spirit of Ronald Reagan, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease ( his son claims, that the onset of Alzheimer’s possibly happened during his presidential years). So that brings us to the question of disability and how people cope with disabling conditions of the body or mind.

David B. Oaks had been an activist in mental health for nearly three decades of his life, till he was disabled by another condition. Despite that, he continues to inspire people through his courageous spirit, attitude and commitment to work for the larger good of humanity. The reason I bring up his story is to draw attention to the fact that suicide is a possibility we all face- it is so much easier to kill yourself than go through the tragic meanderings of unknown sufferings of the body or mind. So why does one commit suicide while another does not? Is it that those who commit suicide are more courageous, more desperate, selfish, cowardly or what? Nelson Mandela lived for 27 years in prison, in the course of which he faced innumerable acts of inhumanity and violations at the hands of the prison guards, including not being allowed to attend the funeral of his daughter. Similarly, Victor Frankl talks about his sufferings during the holocaust years. One could imagine that they wanting to commit suicide would make more logical sense than someone as successful or seemingly so, like Robin Williams.

It means we need to reconsider what is success. More significantly what is the significance of the success of one person when the whole world is suffering? In that case you are unable to connect with anyone else, because in your success you become a prisoner of a façade that you have to maintain. I am certain Williams would have always portrayed an image of a happy man, or worse a comedian! How many times would that have been only a façade? So may be when you see yourself on the continuum of the human experience, your success contributes something to the overall success of the human race in some dimension and your failure, an overall human failure, not just your personal one. That is why when one person commits an act of suicide hundreds around him/her are affected in different ways. And when we combine our individual suffering with the suffering of the world around us, we will be pulled away from the brink of suicide no matter how many reasons compel us to consider suicide. That is where a Nelson Mandela, a Thich Naht Hanh or a Victor Frankl will stand out, whereas those caught in the trappings of their own imaginations will perish.

Everyone who is depressed needs to remember that our lives are scripts that get written every day- NOT one final day, when we get a diagnosis.  Celebrities and actors look good from a distance- their lives in reality are often not all that great and what we hear them talk on screen is dialogues written by others, not themselves. Given their choices and vulnerabilities, they are only as fragile as you and me, and you tell them to write the scripts of their lives then we see what they make of it every day in newspaper stories, which we are continuously bombarded with.

Suicide is a personal and a social act. It remains personal if you think your suffering is your own and it is only your responsibility how you deal with your life and its fluctuations. Instead, if you think you are a social being and your death could be of consequence to many others, you may consider being more responsible. If you remain in the first model, of individualism, then your life and your death, only matter to you and that  is cowardly, irresponsible and a punishment you are putting others through. Especially those who love you, and who will be left to clean up after you have left the world in a huff, what to mention the emotional mess, which will haunt them for their lifetime ahead- including mental breakdowns in older years in some cases.

Instead of looking up to celebrities, who are the modern day gods and goddesses, shall we not look at the great people around us (believe me there are so many even in your own neighbourhood) to see that a hero can have a thousand faces, or may be millions.

If we think that we are connected to everyone on this planet earth and one act of violence toward anyone would be an act of violence toward everyone – we may value our lives differently, and not commit that act of violence even toward our own selves, because we are NOT THE OWNERS of ourselves- the world owns us and that is who we need to owe an explanation to. That is the stage when we would have moved on to a different level in our evolutionary journey- from the personal to the transpersonal self. And that is the only journey worth making finally. Among the many things I read in the context of Williams’ death, the one thing I consider worth sharing is by a professor from Liverpool.

 Yet cultures of silence, which teach men to hide their sufferings and despair, becoming ‘real men’ will continue and take many a life and a big toll, unless men and women both realize that a life in which we balance our masculine and feminine energies, polarities and sensibilities is a life which will keep us safe, humane and centered. Isn’t it time to question these cultures of silence that want men to remain emotionally frozen and robotic? What is your view?

My problem with the Israel-Palestine conflict and why peace talks fail

If you like what you read, kindly share further – on facebook or twitter, and add your voice to mine, to spread global peace

For years now, somewhere in the back of my mind, I have been anguished by the Israeli atrocities against Palestine and have wondered how a people who have faced so much persecution over the centuries, which reached a pinnacle during Hitler’s reign, become so inured to human suffering? How is it possible? Does suffering of an extreme nature make you inhuman, apathetic or bloodthirsty so that they want to enact the same drama again and again and again- and for how long? 11 millions Jews died in Europe (for more figures/statistics and facts, please check all links in blue, for this is a thoroughly researched piece)

While I am developing my own analysis of the situation in a slow and phased manner, for this attitude is something that I would extend to all conflicts around the world, I always look at any conflict from multiple positions and from different perspectives too- mostly with an attitude to understanding the genesis, the development/escalation of conflict and then to look for a solution that is beneficial for a larger number of people. But one position I am lately beginning to take is that of political economy and sometimes use the social constructionist view for dialogic engagement.

How the new nation of Israel was born– a background

Due to the Nazi holocast, in which millions of Jews were killed in Europe, the flight of the Jews to other regions of the world, when Hitler lost the war, it was time to see whether Jews who had been persecuted for thousands of years before that, should not have the promised homeland.

As far as i am concerned, I personally always had a soft corner for the Jews, more so for I found them so hardworking, honest and committed to everything. There contributions in the field of knowledge are legion. If we look at some of the greatest among them it is truly inspiring.  I also loved the movies in which we saw them and naturally sympathized with them, whether it was Teyve singing if i were a rich man, in Fiddler on the Roof , or the Von Trapp family running away from the Gestapo in the Sound of Music. The chilling stories in the Boy in the blue, striped pajamas and Schindler’s list, or the Pianist made me see the other side, where people were not really escaping but getting caught and dying premature deaths at any age. The books that nailed it for me, for I was incapable of seeing it beyond that were Anne Frank’s Diary and Frankl’s writing.

Anyways that was the background and the conditions, as well as the historical antecedents of it all. Now coming over to the birth of the new nation and how it takes roots in Palestine, where the Jews were supposed to have originated from, making Jerusalem, come into the eye of the storm. Now the problem is that the holy land of the Jews, lies in a place which belongs to the Palestinians! So what happens next? I just encountered a simple video, which shares that- this one.

Since the present state of the conflict is very well known and how it impacts even the smallest aspects of life in Palestine, i am simply looking at the larger context of its political economy and who stands to gain, if the region remains in conflict. So here is this Political Economy Analysis. We all know that the biggest industry in the world is the armament industry, followed by the pharmaceutical. So if there are two sides at war ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD these are the two who will gain first of all. So well…what have we. You create a war and sell arms to both the parties, then when they kill and maim one another, you rush in medical aid and then so on and so forth.Each year, the United States gives Israel about $3.1 billion in military assistance, a commitment that stems from the 1978 Camp David accord that led to peace between Israel and Egypt. Those billions are roughly divided into two funding streams. About $800 million underwrites Israeli manufacturing of weaponry and military products.‘ In case you want to read the full details of how the US gains from the conflict, you might want to click this- by an American journalist. Just imagine, if the anyone gave $3 Billion dollars to Palestine to develop- every year at that!

(Actually at this stage, it is correct that I bring in perspectives about the various sides involved in the conflict, including what is HAMAS and how it was created, what purpose it serves and what about the ones who are not part of Hamas- who are/were they, what was the role of Yasser Arafat and why his death has been such a great loss…but this is just  blog post and I cannot write more than what I can, so that whatever I am saying at the moment is not lost or become too much for anyone to digest. In the near future I will write about all these as a separate post- or several of them)

WHY PEACE TALKS FAIL?

Don’t ask me this…who stands to lose if there is peace? Just probe that. Nobody is going to buy from the arms dealers, and they may have to close shop. There will be no money spent on deployment or maintenance of troops, there would be enough for everyone to eat, study, develop and live a life of sharing simple pleasures and not creating barriers for movement from neighbour turned enemies overnight. So much more, so..much much more for everyone. Who does NOT want that? Do you think the ones who want to sell arms want to sit at home and appreciate the blue sky on a clear winter morning?

This is a very broad way of putting stuff- the political economy analyses has to go down deeper, also bringing in the role of US foreign policy and why it needs to defend its own imaginary or real interests, everywhere in the world. We need to fundamentally understand one thing- there is always two sides in a conflict- the one that wants war and the one that does not. Now if there is one that does, then the second one automatically gets drawn into it, and often have no choice in the matter.

Do you think little children whose charred and stiffened bodies we encounter every other day are there by choice? Or young girls and boys, mothers and fathers, old people and wounded people- did they have a choice in the matter that a grenade came through their window and burst in their homes? Can we choose to stand immune to this human suffering any longer?

But equally significantly, I want to ask the Jews in Israel, hey what happened to you guys? I would have thought you were such gifted people and the ‘chosen ones’ – as you liked to call yourself. So how come, despite having suffered so hugely, you did not develop any compassion to not persecute another? Did you forget your own sufferings, and not want to save the world from it? I never forgot mine, so I want to save the world from it…so why are you and me, not the same? We are the world after all, we are (same) people- of this planet earth.

But just see this before we part-  

 

Upon losing an eye- some possibilities

 

Earlier today I had a communication with someone who lost his eye recently due to a doctor’s error, during or after cataract surgery. He told me that he was extremely anguished for the last nearly ten months, had been weeping now and then, and suffered an immense sense of loss, dejection, loss of hope and will to live. This was added to the loss of faith he experienced in humans as well and a whole lot of anger against the doctor who had performed the surgery. He oscillated between wanting to hit him (being a Punjabi he said he would love to settle scores with the man, ‘expose’ him to others and other revenge if could)

I told him that he was free to seek revenge but be sure to choose his battles carefully because, I believe, that often we do not know who the enemy is. In his case, he has completely lost vision in one eye for something as simple as a cataract surgery gone haywire. I felt sad to hear this, for this is such an ordinary thing, but in every surgical intervention there is a scope for human error which can cost someone dearly, in this case an eye. In a recent case that I know of, a friend’s uncle lost his life (after remaining in coma for nearly ten months), after a surgery as common place as a knee replacement surgery,in one of the biggest hospitals in the vicinity of Delhi.

If I get him correctly, his eye has lost its vision and is as though closing, but not fully shut…it keeps on having stray tear drops fall from it. If he walks out with his eyes uncovered he said, women look at him twice, just to be sure he is not winking at them. He is NOT, and therefore doubly anguished, for he has to meet their looks of disapproval and possibly distaste.

I want to draw the attention of this gentleman, for I shall be inviting him to read this post later on, that in the times and the culture we live in there is a huge pressure on everyone to look a certain way and we all carry within ourselves images of an IDEAL ME- someone who has a certain desirable size, complexion, hair, height, skin tone and whatnot. These images are regularly suggested to us in the mass media that floods our homes and sensibilities at all times and tells us how to become more popular, beautiful, center of attraction and the apple of everyone’s eye. 

Nobody shares with us how to live in a body that suffers, with families that abuse, or with partners who are violent, alcoholic, parents who are coercive, classmates who are bullies, children who abandon, siblings who do not look back in adversity after a life of parasitic dependence. So how is anyone to find an inner balance when the world is constantly tossing us around. On top of it we are so attached to our own body that even a minor flaw looks like a huge catastrophe, what to mention something that is a new one- it feels like the human itself is completely doomed.

This gentleman feels like that at present and I can completely empathize with him, for nobody deserves to lose an eye in a small incident like this. But the bigger issue is that NOW that he has, how to cope with the trauma and live with it further? How to accept loss of a part of one’s own self, that one is so used to having around, that we never even think about it?

If I could, I would love to say it is all karma and we sooner or later have to deal with what is our due. But I think the karma theory is something that I have discarded, for who can decide who deserves what and whether what we are going through at present is something that we sowed in our past some time. I think we have to remember a few things here and they come from my attitude of rationality, whatever it is.

First is the human error and that every human error is just that– there is no act of deliberation. May be the doctor ought to have waived off the fee after a huge mistake like this, which not only cost someone a loss of an eye, but also a great mental suffering, for which there is no compensation, even if the rest of the costs are covered.

Secondly, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Of course it is human and natural to hit out at the person who has caused the harm, and I would feel the way this gentleman feels, but I also believe that one cannot and ought not to go beyond that, in a way to cause further harm to oneself or another. There is no end to anger for it is a fire that only glows brighter if we tend to it with more anger- one has to break the circle of anger and get out.

Thirdly, I want to re-emphasize the culture and the times we live in are a huge challenge especially because we have so much attachment to our body, instead of thinking it to be a vehicle through which we have to pass through this world, and somewhere or the other breakdowns will happen, overhauling would be required, we will lose hearing ability, chewing ability, ability to walk upright, loss of skin tone, teeth, an organ of the body or a part of it. I am not trying to trivialize someone’s suffering here, but trying to extend the scope of this inquiry to encompass a larger dimension of us- not just remain confined to our body.

All spiritual traditions remind us that we are not just a body, but that the body is an encasement for the soul. So why not believe it when all that we think of about ourselves is what we cannot really own. Can we even own our own stories. Can we admit we made a mistake, even on hindsight? We are extremely fixed in our views, more so about ourselves.

Fourthly, on the way ahead and what I would recommend- every suffering is an invitation to look at some part of life which we have been ignorant about. What are the innumerable ways in which we humans can suffer? Please put yourself in the shoes of someone like this, and see what you have to say to them. I would always say that yes we all have a choice to hit back- but who will it be? So choose your battles, your Kurukshetra carefully. There is a way to go and hit back at the doctor and damage him, his reputation or some other personal side of him. The other is the possibility to see whether this experience, which is actually of a transpersonal dimension, is not an opportunity to awaken the spiritual being within, who can see the suffering of a whole world around and who can now understand so much better the stigma associated with so many conditions.

We all suffer in our lives, for suffering is the one thing that runs common through us, though its outer variation may differ. But suffering can also be transformative in an evolutionary way, if we can find or create the right support systems around. What are the lessons here, that is the learning? Attachment to the past (of the body in particular) and rejection of the current body can only be counter-productive and self damaging. I hope we can all get the better of that, even with this dialogue to shed a little light on the subject.

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