A good 24 years later

It was in November 1992 that I got a diagnosis of bipolar in disorder, and the calamity that followed had to be lived to know. I cannot imagine why depression should debilitate people, but I mostly think it is the diagnosis that does so. It freezes you to the point of stoniness- you cannot think there is life beyond the diagnosis. You just cave in, hopelessly, stoic and resigned, as though nothing at all in the world can change any longer and this is the final judgement on your intelligence, capability and achievements. When the whole world around seems to be joyfully straddling along, notwithstanding how much joy anyone is really experiencing, a depression diagnosis simply hollows you out from within. It does not stop, it keeps on doing it- hollowing you out. You waste away, and life passes by around in a haze as though you are watching it in a dream state.

However many times I would try to get well something or the other got me down and kept me so. Life passed by, friends passed by, careers never took off, people stopped believing in you, and the loss of face one experienced kept one automatically away from the world. With what face can you go and tell the world that you do not do anything of any consequence because you suffer from depressions.

At least today I know that even if depression are a part of life, they need not incapacitate someone permanently- people have a lot of strength in them, if they can develop the capacity for changing what is not working, to what could work. When relationships do not work, either we leave the relationship or recreate it. Remaining in an unhappy relationship with anyone- even with a job, or a partner, friend, birth family, neighbour or colleague makes a person anxious, troubled, irritable, withdrawn and perform far below one’s capacity.

Anyhow, long years did not bring changes- only more of the same. It was time for a change. I changed practically every aspect of my life, and it happened a great deal due to the entry of my dogs. Thereafter, a move to staying alone made me realize that a lot of my conflicts were due to family life- understanding oneself from the solitude of one’s existence offers the scope to question many assumptions we carry about ourselves. It was a great though tough experience to live alone from the time I was 35 years old, with four dogs, yet this leap was the pivot of change.

I turned on that axis of change to such a wide degree that I turned my life upside down or inside out, whichever sounds more realistic. In 2016 it would be 24 years that I had a first brush with bipolar. But today my life is not what it was then, or what it was at any time in the interim. Every step I took in these 24 years, with 18 years of drug dependence for bipolar, fortified my tenacity and willpower to deal with suffering- whether real or imaginary.

On 14th April 2016, I am starting PhD research in mental health and law, at Nalsar- it is a long journey at every step, even making it through the phd was not foreseen until a few months ago, due to certain issues of marks that I had during my MA years.

The reason for writing this post is nothing if not sharing with anyone who reads it that change is the nature of life and the universe. If you want to change anything about your life which is not working for you, you just got to be sure about it- life will give you chances from unexpected quarters. My experience of getting admission into the phd program is testimony that anything can happen to those who are standing in the queue. If you are sitting at home or sleeping away feeling disabled then you are the biggest impediment in your struggle.

If I, who had no hope whatsoever to do anything in life, can get into a phd program, I believe anyone who has a mental health issue can recover and reclaim their life. IT is my firm belief and conviction. And the sort of work that I do in counseling is ensuring that this is happening. Life is a big mystery and we all need to continuously reinvent ourselves, in response to the environment, our bodies, our minds and our resources. Change is ever ready to welcome us- and so should we be. Finally like the woodpecker in this picture, I pecked at it until it changed- whatever it was- fate, destiny, my life or my options.

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The greatest lessons usually come to me from nature, birds and animals

Caregiver’s stress or psychiatric emergency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Next Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Self talk, and embracing the enlarged Self

The purpose about communication about one’s own self can only be towards enlarging the scope of possibilities of human endeavour, hope and courage. So though I usually do not like to speak about myself, unless the reason be very compelling, I did accept an invitation to talk about myself for once, in a detailed manner in the Department of Psychology, at the Delhi University, on 4th Sep, 2015, at the behest of a professor, who has been a collaborator on many issues of mutual interest in the past as well.

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Dr. Suneet Varma, is to the extreme left in the picture here

Dr. Suneet Varma carries out the tough act of introducing the new paradigm of Indian Psychology to his graduate students and as part of that exposes many a scholar, practitioner and academic to students to drive home the point of the various threads that contribute towards the ethos of India’s myriad cultural, artistic, spiritual, aesthetic and philosophical traditions. In that context, he has exposed his students to many aspects of Indian music as well, particularly those strands that interest him deeply. My interest with him coincides on the page of Kabir. My article about Kumar Gandharva is also something that he has shared with his students in the past.

When I shared with Suneet, about my article – Making Song, Making Sanity, being purely in the context of Kabir, he was interested in having me come and talk to his students. I took up the option, even though it meant talking about myself, which I find extremely difficult, because of my shy nature. No, do not get me wrong– I am not shy the way one would think the ‘shy’ word- I am shy to talk about myself (a great irony in the times we live in). That is it! The paradox is that my own life has many a hint for many to think about in the context of illness and recovery, or in fact human capability. On the other extreme, in research I have frequently written about myself, which is a very difficult thing to do. But I cannot explain the complex thought behind that is this blog post- it would take a full research article, about my motives.IMG_2435

Illness of the spirit is not an ordinary somatic illness, because everyone’s spirit can be troubled, just like Arjun was in the midst of the Mahabharata. The troubled Arjun can remain troubled until a discerning Self in the form of Krishna does not appear. Krishna is actually the ‘Viveka’ in the human, that awakens by complex ways. I cannot go into details here. The journey of what is classified as mental illness is something that I see as the search for an authentic self- the self that cannot connect with the falsities and facades of modern living. Various people reject the world around for various ways in the which they do not sync with the possibilities inherent in the experience of daily living. To come to the point of a ‘breakdown’ is a real amplification of those incongruous situations and the rupture of the psychic fabric.

Of course it is another thing to experience, what students in Psychology would understand as PEAK EXPERIENCES, and another thing to be able to harness the waking power of the sleeping serpent- that is where madness emanates. Naturally life is too short to explain all that I have understood in journal articles and I have no use for any further academic writing. But yes, there is a need to write about the consciousness and how it originates and how it diversifies and whether it really achieves the dimension of the transpersonal or whether it is only a theoretical possibility.

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So I gave a talk in the department, which was received with an unprecedented appreciation, for me. I have spoken about myself in guarded ways, in the past as well- particular in conferences. The prime reason for my shyness does not stem so much from the stigma of mental illness, as much as it does from the self-centred, attention seeking attitude with which those who share  illness narratives, often end up representing themselves with.

For me, there is no self that remains to be represented, if not the past self of an immature mind, that goes through a process of maturation, by its dive into the IMG_2416underworld of its unconscious and by integrating knowledge both from the personal to the collective human history, which lies in each of us as the collective unconscious, emerges from the experience a tired, centered being- no longer dazzled  by anything at all in the world, not interested in any trappings of scholarship, spirituality or a desire to attract attention. It is just like coming home to oneself- there is no one there, but silence- and all noise is outside now. And yet we have to constantly guard against the outside noise, which is only too close and will catch one unsuspecting.

But I am happy and surprised to note, that though my narration of my past was to a group of young women and men, who were perhaps on an identical inquiry in their own ways, with the tools that they have at their age, the response I got from this lot of young people is by far quite unusual, for it brings to mind another interaction of another nature, whose context was directly mental health. That was in the Ambedkar University, and a panel discussion on the subject of mental illness- in which a number of people were invited to be part of the panel, including me. The year was 2013. However, the response I got from the students there, who would perhaps be directly dealing with the subject of mental health, was markedly lukewarm as compared to this experience of Suneet’s students.

Even in the past many students have filled their seminar room, including having more senior professors too hearing me talk, but this time the students lingered on IMG_2464much longer, after the talk got over. Not just a couple of them, but many actually. This is surprising, and made me self reflect what was the reason? Is it because they are hearing a self narrative of recovery? Is it because it gives them hope and courage to deal with whatever they are dealing with at present? Do they see a possibility out of mental illnesses for others as well? There are questions galore in my mind too, as to why the story of one person interests another.

However, the reason for this post is partially to note the experience and partially to invite the young women and men to comment about what was it really that they felt connected to, which they can openly articulate for everyone to read. So this blog post will go to all the students, with a request for their footprints here, and their thoughts, reflections and insights. That may give me the scope to look for further possibilities to connect with them, via another talk/lecture/workshop or collaborative research- the way I had initially mooted about the ‘musical self’ but which the time constraint did not permit an articulation of.

The young man who has taken these pictures, was astute enough to note that if someone can overcome something as difficult as a mental illness, then possibly overcoming the struggle of doing a master’s degree would not be so bad! Well, they do not even occur on the same page Rishi. And on the last note, knowledge which is gained from universities is just an introduction, which is no substitute for lived experience based knowledge. Perhaps you would agree as also several of your friends understand.

IMG_2355Thank you my dears, for helping me deal with the hesitation of self narration, so that though I have attained a certain level of triumph over my past self that suffered so much, I still have to move myself towards a larger self, in which I am not hindered by what others conceive of me, upon hearing about a past of mental illness. Your feedback, appreciation and generous ideas certainly give me hope and courage that the youth are not impervious, indifferent people but sensitive and looking for authentic encounters- to express their own authentic selves.

I invite your comments and the same ideas or new ones, on this blog post, to save it for all our future references. Thanks to Rishi for the efforts, as of course we all must thank your department, and Suneet in particular. Eric there is a lot of Jung in me, so perhaps the next collaboration could be with you ?!! 🙂

Ah yes, I muIMG_2366st mention how difficult it is to talk and sing at the same time, to illustrate some of the ideas that I am discussing, but I try not to fight shy of the challenge. The voice from talking, becomes tired and is then made to flip over to the singing side. I hope to master this challenge, if someone can! IN any case, I seem to be doing this quite a bit, in talking on the subject of music all over the scope of my work.

I could add here that the title of this post is a trifle misleading, because ‘self talk’ is what happens inside a person’s mind and not in the public domain. But when the inner self talk, which arises due to a disturbed state of mind is more or less over, then the talk about the ‘self’ which is not an individual but universal self is what the post title could be seen to imply. Self is not the focus, but the SELF, which is common to the whole of humanity and its awareness- that is the intent.

This post has an unusually large number of photographs because the photographer was generous enough to not only shoot many, but also send them to me. Thank you for that.

The First Thing about RECOVERY from mental illness- a readiness to accept it is possible

(In case you would like to comment, please leave them on the main blog post and not on social networks of facebook, google or linkedin- for that retains the comments for future. Please consider sharing this post, if it appeals to you)

A few years ago when ‘Orkut’ was still going around, a young woman sent me a query, seeing me respond to something about bipolar disorder. She sent me a list of ‘symptoms’ and asked me if it amounted to bipolar- was she bipolar by any chance? I was perplexed to receive the query in the first place- it seemed as though she wanted to be classified as bipolar. It was as though it were a club for the privileged and she wanted to part of it! Nothing is farther from truth, for those who have been there, know the suffering of everyone, once gets a mental illness diagnosis. Nobody who is really ‘bipolar in disorder’ wants to be there, rest assured- it is NOT the club I would have chosen for myself. In fact this post is about recovery and why we want to recover from the suffering, rather than remain its captive for the rest of our lives- a captive of moods that imperil your very life, existence and fabric. Schizophrenia equally or more so.

This is also one of the attitudes that I encountered in the course of my own long association with bipolar. To be honest, once the association starts, there is no going back- there is no stepping out of the field of experience any more. I cannot go  back to my pre-psychosis days, for instance. Of course it has brought much by way of experience, (and I have been tough enough to put myself through the rigour of seeking knowledge out of the enterprise)

What was recovery then?

One of the most difficult things, for even me to accept was the possibility of recovery. No matter what anyone would say, I would not believe that recovery would mean going off psychiatric medication. To me recovery was the fact that I was ‘stable’ (not having psychotic breakdowns any more) and relatively functional in most domains of life- from writing, singing, teaching, performing to other social sides of me. But to be off psychiatric medication only the fools would attempt it! Little did I know that someday when I would think of recovery from serious mental illness, it would really begin with the end of psychiatric medication.

Co-morbid conditions notwithstanding (I suffered from thyroid malfunction for 13 years due to lithium, and then due to valproate, there was liver malfunction, which I have not been able to recover from. Apart from this there was PCOD and other issues) I would not believe that someone could go off psychiatric medication and never have a relapse of any sort. To the extent, that I remember that there was a senior psychiatrist in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, one of the premier institutes in India, who suggested to me that possibly I need not remain dependent on medication for the rest of my life. I was still in my twenties. I was so shocked at his suggestion, that I though possibly he did not understand bipolar very well! I did not go back to him- the fool that I was. Possibly if I had, I would have got off psychiatric drugs long back. But nay, I had to go round the mulberry bush for another decade easily, before I would be able to come to that clarity.

Families and Medication

This brings me to the idea that mental illness has a way out, and medicine is not the only way it works. A few years ago, I had referred someone to my own homeopath, who also had a bipolar diagnosis. He was a younger man, in his early 30’s then. He went and took the homeopathic medicines and started getting better. Unfortunately his life and situations were such that they drove him towards alcohol in the past. Due to his psychiatrist’s advice he stopped drinking while on medication. So once he started getting better with homeopathy, he started drinking again.

His parents started arguing with me that due to homeopathy he was back into drinking again! Nobody starts drinking because of medication – but due to stresses in their daily life, which they are trying to deal with in ways that they understand best. He was unwilling to come into therapeutic dialogue, because that was not something that could have any outcomes as far as they were concerned- it was only for fire-fighting (dealing with emergencies, such as his panic when his wife was pregnant). He would really not come into any clearing- just live his life, do his stuff and then in the evening go out to drink with his friends.

Anyways, the summary of that story is that the boy was brought back into psychiatric medication, because (sadly enough) he could not deal with his parents’s opposition to homeopathy on the one hand, on the other  deal with the reasons that caused him the suffering- which were all embedded in his family dynamics and the family communications, as I could make out quickly.

His father had been dominant all his life (though not in an unkind manner), even as he grew up. It undermined his selfhood and when he grew up, he could not get over the criticism that would come to him from the paternal side, which made him remain ‘small’- as though ‘incompetent’ or ‘incapable’, in spite of being a young man, married and with a child too. Parents can undermine children and, without knowing, mothers become a another pillar of support to the patriarchy which torments young boys – they never understand that their suffering comes from what goes on in their families- not any biochemical imbalances. So how can medicines rectify something which is simply not there– but is there in how people are talking and construing one another?

Most people think that those who recover do so because they are lucky or they have done something special, which they themselves cannot do. The reality is that they have worked on those sides of them, which others are ignoring repeatedly. And getting past parental domination should be on everyone’s agenda- including the parents, to be certain. And this is not meant as an offence. That autonomy which needs to develop in teenage, never develops due to parental over-concern. So parents, if you are reading, please understand your child’s distress is a function of your engagement too- please do not be offended by this statement, because that is not my sentiment. I want to bring this to your knowledge, to help you think of newer ways to go over the same paths.

Otherwise, families will continue to suffer for decades and decades and nobody will know the way out. Please be kind to yourself and your loved ones- but not over-kind.

The suffering of family caregivers- WHO AFTER ME…

‘Who after me’- is a question which every parent whose child faces a disabling condition, which requires their care-giving, support and engagement, has to deal with. There are many ways to look at this question- to look at the individual side of the question, or look at the social side of the question. Since one cannot but act only at a small level in the short run, I will begin by answering this question at an individual level.

Personal history

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In fact, let me begin my question with myself. When I was extremely ill, my parents handled my full-fledged responsibility; I lived in their home, and they went to teach in their respective institutions (in Delhi University, both of them), while my grandmother and one dog was the remaining family. I was completely incapacitated, would not get up till 10:30 or even 11:00 in the morning on certain days. The depressions were so huge that life was completely unlivable. But whenever the skies would clear up, I would pick up my pieces and start mending the frame somewhere- I mean the frame of my existence.

One thing was clear- my siblings were both in the US, and had lives of their own, and I, the oldest, was with my parents, who both went to work. In other words, at the prime of my life, in my 20’s and 30’s I was sitting at home doing nothing, but some study, some reading, writing and singing. I could not imagine that my parents would keep on working and I would just spend the rest of my life that way. I was troubled, useless to myself and the world around and there was nothing I could do, would do or go meet anyone. (whatever exceptions were there in music or writing happened on days which were not so bad). There were no friends from any dimension- school, college or neighbourhood, no relatives who knew anything or if they did, they pretended to act ignorant, and there was nothing but a great spiritual stagnation.

At a very critical age of my life- at 35, I decided I could not live the life of my parents, I had to figure out my own. What would happen when they would not be around any more? I would have no skills to deal with anything. I would have no income of my own, no friends, no relatives to fall back on, nothing at all…where would I go and what would I do? So that brings me to the question of this post- the question that all parents face, whose children are incapacitated from doing the day-to-day actions of living and participating in life in ways what gives them hope , courage and happiness.

When I got well, whose story is written elsewhere in research, the one thing that progressively became important for me was to see whether this recovery was a chance or random act, or was it happening among others too and what pathways they were adopting to get there. This has been the general direction of my research as well- towards recovery solutions. So if I just come back to the first question, one has to see whether someone like me can act at an individual level or a social level.

At the individual level, one can engage with one person, nay one family at a time, help them comprehend distress, help them rehabilitate and recover the manner I have done myself or now hold many other hands- towards recovery solutions. I do not think people cannot recover- no matter what span of time they have been ‘ill’. But it is just like saying that someone who has been used to walking with crutches will now learn to run. So how to bring the turnaround and who will bell the cat- the suffering? Before they drop their crutches, they have to gain courage that they can indeed walk, that their limbs have strength and they will not tumble, just because they will let go of the crutch, which they have been depending upon for so long. (the crutch metaphor is only a metaphor, no intention to allude to another ‘disability’)

What can one person do?

I am very clear in my mind , that I cannot bring social change- that is for the government to accomplish for they alone have that many resources that they can empower, employ, and rehabilitate hundreds of people. However, that does not mean I cannot do anything at all. I, or anyone like me, can only deal with one person at at time. There are many people who create organizations in the hope that they can mediate with the government and bring in more interventions at a macro level which can transform society. Often a lot of times, these people have no model by which they want the change to come about. I do, because I AM THE CHANGE MYSELF, not just the change-maker, or someone fighting for change, without a concrete plan of action.

I believe that people can recover. Needless to say, I have seen them recover, both from bipolar and schizophrenia; I need not delve into other things of a less distressing nature, not that they do not make life difficult in any way. The only thing we can do is then from this prototype of recovery, to create more recovery outcomes. If recovery could be accomplished by the government then perhaps the whole country would have healed by now, and there would have been no problems.

Maybe some people have hope in the government and its systems, I do not. I think it is only up to me to do what I can and bring all resources I can, to reach out to the widest number of people- both families and individuals to let them know, first of all, that recovery happens all the time, many recover, and it happens all around the world- not just in resource rich countries.

The concern of parents that comes from the WHO AFTER ME question is a reflection of the unending suffering of both parents and their children who have become permanently dependent, thanks to a system of continued infirmity. I know one thing for sure, that if one remains dependent upon psychiatric medication, nobody can recover. Yes, you will most certainly become functional in many domains of life, but independent living, and handling life stresses- that can never happen. Each one of us (including John Nash) who recovers, anywhere, has gone off psychiatric medication at some or another stage of their life, by creating alternative resources, no matter what. So who after me, is a confirmation that the path of rehabilitation that they have followed has actually disabled their child, and made him/her permanently dependent, rather than making them recover any aspect of their lives.

A few months back, I was talking to Dr. K.S. Jacob of the CMC, Vellore on the subject of continued medication, and he brought a startling insight to my notice- that only one- third patients require long term medication. I was so shocked to hear that, because in my 18 years of psychiatric dependence, my psychiatrist NEVER EVER told me that I could go off psychiatric medication, no matter how many times I would implore him to help me reduce the drugs. Certainly he brought them down to a minimum, but no way he would say I could go off them. I would have to continue them for the rest of my life, what did it matter?

What did it matter to him that I had co-morbid conditions and I had gained so much weight that it contributed to a lack of self esteem and self worth? The mental fog that would waft through my brain at all times, never would lift for me to face any day of the year, any festival, any change of season with any ray of hope in my heart? I was just a patient who was a regular nuisance, because she would come and request a reduction in medication all the time.

Today when I look at my own recovery I am grateful to my parents that they let me make some important decisions of my life, including the choice to live alone, including the choice to come back home when one marriage did not work or more. I am grateful to my mother who never told me to take psychiatric medications, because she was quite open to other alternatives. In fact it was she who would regularly encourage me to try out new things and even eat them herself to offer me solidarity- one of them being the bitter leaf of ashwagandha that grew wild in my then home in Faridabad. Ashwagandha is known to be a mood stabilizer, and she would try getting me many sorts of ayurvedic pills and potions, or stand with me in queues of this or that vaidya.

I think one of the key people in my recovery are my parents, and they have always supported me in my choices, no matter how difficult they be. When I see other parents on the one hand I understand their suffering, on the other hand I see how they become the chief mechanism through which their children get medication for years and years on psychiatric drugs- for they never have the courage to look for alternatives. But like I said about mine, though they are the KEY PEOPLE, they are not the reasons for my recovery ALONE, in fact not in any significant way- if I did not have the scope to express myself through other means.

That is the sort of alternatives I am trying to bring together towards the recovery programs we are designing at Hamsadhwani- mostly for people suffering, but in one exceptional case- for parents too- The Caregivers’ Online Program, as part of which parents will not only get to meet many people who have recovered from serious mental illnesses but live lives just like anyone they know. Needless to say, psychiatrists who have a recovery orientation are part of the contributing experts as well as professors who have worked in clinical psychology and health psychology, activists who routinely meet and deal with people having mental illnesses.

Naturally enough all of us who work in mental health, regularly meet people- I also meet families due to my orientation towards family therapy, are more exposed to mental illness stories of people than parents who only know their one or two children or a few friends’ children with identical stories. It is only by exposure to new ideas can new solutions be found- for by now everyone knows that psychiatric medication can only go so far. We cannot solve the problems that we have created by the same thinking that created them (Albert Einstein). As Anil Vartak, the vice president of the Schizophrenia Awareness Association says, that solutions for mental illnesses can only come if those who have recovered actively set out to help more recover. That is also my effort via this program and that is why I have also roped him in.

Parents will have to continue worrying about their children permanently if their caregiving is so dependence-creating that they cannot enable their children to become functional, and self preserving. Instead of working on the deficit side of their children, if they can help them deal with their mental distress in ways that their existing strengths and abilities are only further consolidated, their worry about WHO AFTER ME, will never be a worry again, because after them, their children will be well enough to manage their own lives.

For that outcome to emerge they have to put their children in front, as agents of change in their own lives, and allow them to make mistakes and grow, rather than determine the direction of their growth all the time, proactively run around here and there looking for solutions and meeting all sorts of experts, all over the world.

ON a last note, I just remembered that my mother was a very active and valiant parent when we were growing up as children. She would actively fight against issues in the parent- teachers’ association in school and at another level in the politics of the teachers of Delhi University, among other things, such as women’s issues. However, I thank god that she never took up these roles in mental health, choosing instead to focus on me as the sole concern. In getting her priorities different from parents who created organizations to fight for the whole society, she created the scope for me to recover and possibly bring that knowledge to others, rather than keep debating with the government for more measures to deal with mental health. She did not have any hope from the government too, I reckon. No surprises, I am indeed her daughter.

Of course this is not to say that those who took these paths do not deserve recognition for it. I am certain in their own ways they may have contributed to some social outcomes, but has it also brought about a recovery in their own children’s lives? That is the key issue. If they have succeeded in that, then they may have a path to show to the rest of the parents, or else, it is we who have recovered, who have dedicated our lives and our youth, our homes and our families to the suffering of humanity need to take care of this responsibility.

And this is where I stand too.

Accepting violence, as part of ‘love’

Dear H

I have been thinking on the subject of routine violence of women’s lives and how they condone, accept or even justify it. A few days ago, Haseena, the young woman, mother of three, who works as my home assistant (I prefer this term, instead of ‘domestic help’, because I feel she assists me in my home in diverse ways, and is a part of my home, just like a member of the household) came with face that was not exactly chirpy and bright the way she does every morning. I asked her if everything was fine. She responded that her husband had hit her, because she had screamed at him, due to his parents’ calls to him, which she objected to. His father is disabled and possibly bedridden. Naturally his parents require money, even though the mother herself earns from domestic work in the homes of others.

However, when the son could not send money immediately, as his wife (Haseena) was out of work for several months before starting work with me, they grew frantic. On the other hand Haseena was also upset that they could not hold on patiently, because though she had started in her new employment she could only get money at the end of the month- not in the middle of it. So she ‘screamed’ at them! She needn’t have- but this is the circle of poverty and this is the circle of dependence, which makes and keeps people insecure.

So I asked her again, what was the response of her two young girls to the fact that her husband had hit her. She said that the children were very troubled and became anxious, fearless and tearful. What can one expect?

Yesterday those two children came to me, for I invited them to come meet me. I wanted to see her children and in general I am always concerned about children who are first generation learners, for I wish to be in their little journeys and assist them, if I can, in understanding life in different ways. I know, coming as I did from a family of college teachers, how differently we grew up- these children would never know a house full of books and parents studying. For them their father works in a scrapyard and mother works in someone home.

When I saw them and interacted with them, I saw they were no different from any children. The two girls were actually quite beautiful- and the older one expressed her desire to write stories and the younger one said she wants to be a doctor, though she is also fond of drawing. I thought it would be good if they met me with some regularity and tell me about their lives and I tell them about other things. I invited them to bring their friends as well, so that the group can have a maximum of ten children- girls and boys or only girls. And they can always bring one adult with them, since they have to walk a long way to reach my home. So i hope to add some little things in the lives of these little children in my vicinity, which opens up alternative ideas in their minds and not just the violent realities of their lives, homes and discrimination of daily living, being Muslims. It remains to be seen whether they would take up the option or how seriously.

Perhaps for Haseena, her husband slapping her in the presence of her children was not a big act, for she condoned it saying, “It is okay if he hits me, because he has a right to, but I do not think he can see how wrong his parents have been to him always.” To her mind a man hitting his wife is a right that he has earned by virtue of being husband, to my mind it is a violence perpetrated not only on her, but on the three children, who were unconsciously taught the rules of patriarchy- a man can hit a woman- both the girls saw it, the boy saw it too…and this way the circles will continue. Unless we bring these little children into new worlds of ideas where hitting anyone is not the done thing, no body in a position of power will exercise their powers in ways that can demean another human being. But we have to begin early.

So you would say, why in the world am I telling you this? Just imagine how far you are from these people in every possible way, living a world apart in the heart of developed Europe, whether women have fought and earned their rights in significant ways and routine violence is just not acceptable any longer, it is NOT the done thing, just because you are a man or anyone in a position of power. What about the fact that your university education and the fact that you hail from South Asia- how far you are from this world, where hitting a woman, because she loves you, is the done thing among men.

So what happens when a man who is a part of your life, by your choice, chooses to behave with you, the manner Haseena’s husband did? In what way is your response different from Haseena’s condoning of her husband? She has accepted the fact that being a woman she is liable to get hit- are you also? And why is that? Just because you loved someone? So what is the purpose of so much education, if it could not instill a sense of self worth? What is the value of your independent spirit, if you could choose to live alone, in a house of your own, yet be exposed to routine verbal or physical violence and take it with an attitude of submission?

The reality of education is that no matter what women are studying in universities about gender, violence, equality or any ideas- the homes that they go back to, beat them back into submission, clip their wings, abort their dreams and bring them back into the same cycle of daily abuse, which has been heaped upon women from times immemorial, because women who challenge patriarchy are best outside of their own homes. Parents and in-laws only want submissive, silent women, who will take anything because they have to carry the responsibility of their family pride, honor and social respect.

On the other hand when women who are educated, do not have the support, mentoring and guidance of other women who are independent, strong and clear thinking, they lose their ways in the labyrinth of emotional submission because they think that no matter what they study in their universities and classrooms, they cannot deal with the same ideas in their day-to-day lives. They have to accept day-to-day patriarchy, because otherwise they will be alone, single and unloved. The reality is that in seeking love from those men who have a power-oriented conception of relationships, women also enter into negotiating around power. That struggle enters into diverse domains- of money, sexuality, behaviours, interactions, social displays and so forth.

Relationships based on power

If you remember, Hobbes (the philosopher) had said that the essential nature of man is nasty and brutish. I do not remember what he said further, but one of the goals of education could easily be to overcome this nastiness as an endowment of birth, by appropriate socialization, in which people overcome their habitual bad manners, spiritual ugliness and shortcomings by comprehending the benefits of mutual respect, altruism and the benefits of collaboration, over dominance, submission, cruelty and misbehaviour.  In any relationship which is based on power, there will be an interplay of power, at least in the mind of one partner, the other may be completely ignorant. The one who has money may think that they hold the key to the relationship. Usually this struggle is such that all resources are vested in the hands of men, more so in marriages.

However, in your case, this is not the situation. You are not dependent on any man to pay for your bills, your home is in your name, you live in Europe far removed from the values of what women in South Asia face on a daily basis. Then why cling on to ideas of this part of the world, my girl? Your parents had enough money to take you from here and offer you the scope for this life, where you could make choices of your own and be responsible for them. I do feel that a mentoring that was required could not be offered to you, but that does not mean that the very values they wanted to shield you from your life, should dominate your mind, no matter what milieu you live in, on the outside.

Diaspora is more entrenched in old values than people within their home countries

I felt this for a long time actually- that Indians who lived in the West were less liberal and more feudal, navel gazing and parochial than Indians living in India. Their only real connection with India is very watered down, and largely defined by ideas that they have imbibed from cinema, and the cultural icons exported out of here. They do not live the dynamic life that Indians live in India, a hotbed of ideas, struggles, debates and whatnot. Diaspora lives a cocoon – neither a part of the progressive ideas of the subcontinent nor progressive ideas of the West, as though all currents of progressiveness just pass them by!

They are quite consumeristic, fond of razzle-dazzle and empty in their minds. I am especially referring to those who are born in the West. The ones who have gone from here in search for higher education, especially in the social/human sciences are doing some very wonderful work and contributing to scholarship. The ones who have gone in search of jobs are seeking escapes out of the poverty and socio-economic backwardness of our society. Anyways, this is not meant to be a critique of them, (for they merit a longer post or article) but a reminder that when they left South Asia it was decades ago. Their ideas stopped growing organically, because they had no exposure to the ideas that were developing in this society. They were on a foreign soil and they had to protect their ideas, values, culture and tradition in a foreign land- often they took the most rigid, dead ideas of the past and continued them in the name of tradition; the sort of ideas we would never accept in our own lives here.

I see you there!

And this is the underlying reason for this post- to remind you to not cut yourself from the reality of your life, but embrace it more fully. Women’s liberation or feminism is not about antagonism towards men, only the militant versions may be. The truth about women’s liberation is that it has to be a liberation from the day-to-day oppression in the lives of women, and even men need to be liberated from that oppression, which they are also victims of. Women liberation is a struggle for dignity of every person on the planet and not just women- for women are the wiser of the species (a fact proven by the animal kingdom too), and they have no need to dominate, murder, kill and maim people- they just need to be more empowered to recognize their strength, their wisdom and their abilities.

Unless women do it themselves and stronger women, mentor weaker women, old women nurture younger women into more empowering roles and positions, women will continue to get tortured in every private space- in homes, offices, relationships and you name it. Women will continue believing that it is okay to be hit in their homes and it is okay to be violated in their jobs, because they are women and this is the price they have to pay for womanhood. They just need to be reminded that women need to connect with their masculine sides, their inner man, and not be with an outer man who needs to subdue her to prove his masculinity.

This is my hope too, in writing this note to you- that you do not need a man whose need it is to abuse you or any woman in any way. You do not need a man who clings on to you because he sees you as a symbol of power, yet wants to crumble your spirit by regularly violating it with words, abuse your family, doubt your character or your friends, demand money from you and wants to escape the drudgery of his wretched existence back home, by escaping to Europe, yet not learn the liberal values of the West, that you have grown up internalizing.

I may need to write another post on how sexuality needs to be seen by the modern woman, but I will reserve that for a later date.

Your’s in concern

PS