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.

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The Piano Teacher

Earlier this week, I called up Hem, who identifies himself as a creative film maker/ recordist (!!) After discussing my recording requirements, which are mostly classical music based stuff, I was generally talking to him about a few other things.

Hem is a south Indian, and lives near my parents’ home in Delhi, a place called Kalkaji. He is trying to set up a studio of his own, which I think finally he has found a place for. When I was here in December from Goa, he and another person, who we will call as R, came to meet me. R has been known to me for the last nearly two decades or possibly a little less than that. I have known him to be a musician of a small order, who has not learnt music thoroughly from anyone, yet by learning to play by himself and by dabbling with his keyboards.

He has often come to me for learning music, but more with the intention of ‘getting things out’ rather than really learning classical music. Surprisingly enough we have never clicked as a teacher-student. He always came, once in a couple of years, bowed at my feet (whcih I always resisted and told me not to) and talked about musical ideas and compositions. He never had it in him to learn music with anyone- he was always in a hurry to ‘encash’ things- quickly learn a raga and show if off to others. Even when I invited him to play with me, as I sang, I did not find him competent enough to, because he would be too restless to hear and start playing as I would start singing.

There are many I know like him- who keep playing tunes on the keyboards and then they figure out full melodies and they become musicians. Nothing wrong with that. They are doing things which they wanted to, by dint of sheer persistence.

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So willy nilly, moving in our conversation, Hem informed me that R is ‘out of the market’. I heard him and did not pay heed. He repeated it for me again. I thought ‘what a strange thing to say’. So I asked him what he meant. He repeated himself and said that R was in jail, for the next ten years at that. Oh! I thought, now what was that about.

And then it struck me that I had read about it in the Hindu paper, that  a piano teacher being caught abusing his student in Kalkaji. I asked Hem if he was talking of that incident. At that moment when I read about it, I thought of R- what a coincidence. I of course was not thinking of him as an abuser, but I just thought that he was the only piano teacher that I knew of in Kalkaji. But then I consoled myself thinking that hopefully there would be others, and it is not him. Now what Hem was telling me confirmed that indeed it was R!

It is sad. The world of Hindustani music is rife with teacher-student abuse, which has stifled many a career and many a relationship. ( There have been instances when teachers have married their students, but that is not an instance of abuse) But a man in his forties abusing or exploiting a child. I do not know how quickly the prosecution worked but they gave him ten years in jail. I thought for a moment, what would happen to him after those ten years and what about his family?

And then what about the child who suffered? What would be the consequences of this on her? And what if there would be more children, who could not raise their voices against him? Would there be someone to support her traumatic experience? I am sure it would have taken a lot for her to express her suffering.

The sad thing is that when people known to you do anything, your faith in humanity is shaken for a moemnt and then the whole anger which each of us has against the systemic abuse- finds a target. I feel no sympathy for R. In fact, I feel more for his wife and family. What a suffering they would have to go through socially. Like we always say, letting go of every abuser only emboldens them further- it is about time some were punished. Even if those some be people of our own associations and families. It is about time.

Here is a related post about the same incident, on another blog.

 

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)

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.

2014 013 (2)
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.

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.

The power play in university departments

I ought to have written this blog post longer ago, but spinal pain did not permit me to sit at the computer, to last as long as a blog post (naturally the priority is always the emails first of all)

I want to share my dismay at the sheer play of power that I got wind of from a recent dialogue with a graduate student pursuing a masters’ course in psychology in a prominent university in India. As part of the course they are also being offered a six-monthly exposure to counseling (I pray to god, they don’t become counselors after that- it would be a great disaster). As part of that course, they are also invited to undergo their own analysis for the briefest possible span of time. I asked the student how much the time was and who was doing the ‘analysis’.

IMG_20150916_181538088_HDR

I was told that one of their professors, (who is known to me as an academic and not a therapist) listens to their dreams and interprets them. So what follows is the memory of my dialogue with the young scholar, that left me troubled and anguished for many days afterwards, but I will share the reasons of that after the dialogue that I quote. I represent me as M and the student as S.

M: So your teacher went through a dream analysis session with you? And what was the outcome of that?

S: The outcome was nothing specific, he gave me an explanation based on symbols, which he said were universal symbols, and which were part of his repertoire.

M: By talking to him, did some clarity emerge in the picture or put is differently, did you benefit from his dream analysis?

S: Yes mam, I gained some clarity in some respects about the dream?

M: What does that mean? Did it leave some unexplained things as well?

S: Actually it opened up some unexpected parts, which were left unattended to.

M: Really?! But there was no further dialogue with the teacher on them?

I was angered, because an academic who is not an analyst is not supposed to interpret dreams out of context for a student. Just because they have the power to demand from students a certain accountability does not mean they can pry open the lives of their students.

Unfortunately, Indian students are very vulnerable and docile by temperament, more so women. They would never think of raising their voice against this sort of an intrusion, which has no accountability. How can a university professor demand that his students tell him their dreams in a sporadic manner and then leave the dreams with whatever interpretation he knows best? There is nothing universal in dreams, except for the imagery. A dream has to make sense and have relevance for the person who sees the dream.

I remember in years of my own analysis with my therapist, we barely discussed dreams on more than two three occasions. It was never the centrality of our dialogues- if I had a dream that I wanted to talk about we did. There was never a nudge from her to share dreams. But whenever I did, the explanations that emerged were very deep and meaningful. I always felt it had been worthwhile to talk it out with her.

But look at this blatant misuse of a teacher’s power in the classroom. Of course he did not publicly hear the student out, but nevertheless when he was not an analyst, did not know what all it takes to unearth the symbolism inherent in a dream, by simply interpreting it in some universal way, he just showed for once again the patriarchal nature of our education system…where the souls of students can be cut open without due regard to their humanity and suffering, without a qualm or a guilt as to what pandora’s box you are opening up for them. SHAME ON HIGHER EDUCATION in India. Will we ever become sensitive towards our fellow human beings?

Education headed for doom!

Recently I was invited for a conference …

The organizing chairman, happened to be a neighbour- psychiatrist at that! Woe upon this world

But guess what- not a conference in psychiatry, but a conference in early childhood education!

photos-merinews

Woe upon civilization, more so! Let children play…they will learn all that they need to.

When psychiatry starts deciding about early childhood education and not educationists, we know the future of society is more medicalization and more pathologizing  human behaviour. We are doomed and the future of the world seems to be more medication for children at a younger age now!

As it is we Indians are a servile lot- one of the chief guests was that psychiatrist sitting in London- Vikram Patel, who lives off the research of others all the time!

Who wants the collaboration of psychiatry for god sake?!

Must quote my other blog post in this context, though of a slightly different due. Both are written today. The sinister design of psychiatrists to lead a flock of idiotic sheep posing as teachers and educationists are going to finish the country’s thinking ability, if ever the system let it develop anywhere anyways. We have failed as a country, and this is the final testimony- the take over education by all sorts of vested interests.

FEAR, LOATHING AND ENVIRONMENTALISM: THE SNAKES ISSUE

FEAR, LOATHING AND ENVIRONMENTALISM: THE SNAKES ISSUE

IMG-20150927-WA0000

Introduction and methodology. 1

First and Second Year Students. 1

Awareness about snakes. 1

Personal Responses. 2

Utility of awareness mails. 2

Suggestions Provided. 2

Presence of Medical Infrastructure. 2

Third Years. 3

Reaction. 3

Awareness. 3

Suggested Solutions. 4

Medical Infrastructure on Campus. 5

Awareness. 5

attitudinal change. 6

Acceptance of risk and awareness of medical infrastructure awareness. 6

Administration and guards. 6

Conclusion. 7

Introduction and methodology

The issue regarding snakes on campus has been a serious one and this makes the lack of discussion on the same a cause for concern. This lack has not just been in the direction of a solution but even the more essential aspects of awareness and medical aid. The problem came into sharper relief while surveying the students on questions relating to the presence of snakes on campus, and their awareness relating to the same. In this vein, we have surveyed various interested parties and stake holders in college, who vary both in their temporal relation towards this college and their interest towards the college. The primary groups surveyed include a broad typology between the junior-most batches, the third years and finally the penultimate and final year students. Another perspective that we have explored is that of the administration and faculty.

First and Second Year Students

The survey team first interacted with the juniors of the University. There were seven students from first year and second year who were interviewed and expressed their concerns regarding the presence of snakes in abundance. The importance of this group serves as a litmus test for the current attitudes towards snakes in the wake of the increased awareness on campus. They also form an interesting footnote that contrasts their levels of awareness vis-à-vis their counterparts in senior batches.

Awareness about snakes

Most of the students didn’t expect presence of snakes at the college. For most of the students, encounters with snakes was an event that they had rarely, if ever faced before.  Most of them never had any encounter before coming to University. The majority of students are scared of snakes, and the fear has triggered hate against snakes. One obvious cause for the same is lack of awareness.

During the interaction, all the students believed that all snakes are harmful. Most of them aren’t even aware of the names of the common snakes which we might encounter at the college. This is a very hazardous situation as identification of snake is the first information that is required before administration of anti venom or other medicines in case of a snake bite incident. The knowledge on identification is restricted to popular tropes wherein the surveyed persons were scared of all ‘hooded’ of snakes and judged threat from a snake based upon ‘hood’, color and length.

Personal Responses

All the students said in unison that they will run away. A few first years said that they will call the seniors who have experience in handling snakes, or the guards around them. All accepted that they have no knowledge about the first aid to be administered after snake bite. A few tried to answer this question but their techniques were wrong.

Utility of awareness mails

Most of the first year students find the mails circulated for ‘snake awareness’ of great utility. To an extent, it also helped them in clearing their misconception about snakes. But interestingly, most of the second years don’t remember anything about the mails.  This might imply that the frequency of such mails can be increased. Further it might also suggest that with time, the students accept the presence of snakes and don’t find it significant enough to educate themselves.

Suggestions Provided

Most of the students were of opinion that the ideal solution would be to bring mongooses into the campus. One person, XY, further said,” In my opinion, snakes should be killed as soon as we see them. This is not for any ego issue, but for purpose of safety. Also, something must be done to stop their breeding.” One student says, “This campus is surrounded by forest, it is obvious that snakes will be present. Instead of killing them, we should get street lights in all the areas of campus, specially the path to the mess via lawn.”

They also criticized the administration. One of the student says,” I think we should definitely do what we are doing right now, but also have trained experts catching the snakes instead of students.”  This statement is with regard to the safety of the senior students, who generally take up task of catching snakes and then releasing them in safe areas. It is these students who are informed at first whenever a snake is found on campus.

Presence of Medical Infrastructure

The majority of junior students are not aware of the medical infrastructure which has been implemented on the campus to deal with the unfortunate situation of a snake bite. They have no idea whether the facilities are up to any recognised standards or not. This further reveals the lack of awareness both on the part of administration and students. One of the students says, “Just because snake bite has not occurred in past, doesn’t mean it will never happen in future.” It should be kept in mind that real problem is not the presence of snakes, but the absence of knowledge, awareness, and proper facilities.

Third Years

 Eight students belonging to the third year were surveyed personally to arrive at the following observations. This group stands as a handy intermediary point between the ignorance of the first and second batches and the obsolescence of the final year students. As such, third years can be expected to have the biggest stake in addressing the issue due to a combination of factors of experience and knowledge

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Reaction

Firstly, the initial reaction of fear was expressed in one of two ways on encountering a snake. Either screaming and running or slowly backing away and locking the snake in if possible. Both of these were clearly conveyed as a reaction induced by the fear. Further questioning the basis of the fear did not show the presence of any previous experience of trauma related to snakes but were simply an instinctive reaction due to the perception of these creatures as venomous and life-threatening. The justifications, however ranged from classifying all snakes as “plain evil”, or ”absolutely disgusting” to an articulation of fear that was not specific to snakes, but a reaction similar to what one would feel towards any creatures that could potentially harm you. Thus the first reaction to encountering a snake seems to be, as one student put it, attributable to a desire to not die of a snake attack.

Secondly, a general reaction to the presence of snakes, even to the ones who have not directly encountered one, was sought. The responses were not vastly different as students were mostly terrified of the idea that snakes could be found anywhere on campus. The fact that “they are so quick” and “manoeuvre around difficult areas so fast and easily” were some of the reasons why the mere presence of snakes on campus was considered extremely unsafe by the students.

Awareness

The students were questioned on the level of awareness they have regarding snakes with reference to either identification and/or first aid. They were asked also, if the level of awareness has increased after entry into the campus because, firstly, the incidences of encountering one have increased and secondly, there have been several e-mails sent to aid the students in identifying and employing personal safety standards, among other things. Being students of third year, the interviewees were expected to have had a reasonably long exposure to a series of such mails. The responses to the questions were mixed as students either claimed to have forgotten the contents of the mails, “retained only terrifying information like the fact that snakes can climb stairs” or simply not opened these mails and were hence at various levels of cluelessness. On the other hand, there were some students who thought that they were slightly better equipped, more watchful and have, most importantly, learnt that not all snakes are venomous and the non-venomous kind didn’t pose a threat. However, that would bring us to the next cause for concern; the fact that none of the surveyed students considered themselves able enough to identify snakes and would not, consequently, be able to differentiate venomous and non-venomous varieties.

The awareness with respect to first aid for snake bites were also lacking as the students had no idea as to any course of action, while one person said that they would tie a cloth over the bite to stem the flow of venom to the rest of the body but didn’t know further procedure.

Suggested Solutions

The surveyed students were asked about what could be done to handle the situation better. The suggestions saw both extremes as some students wanted the campus to be devoid of snakes by any means whatsoever. Even as one student suggested that the college should get mongoose and “purge this place of the blessed creatures”, others felt that the possibility of safely removing the snakes from the campus and transferring them to better suited habitat must be explored. It was felt that the administration should perhaps get in touch with people equipped with dealing with snakes and employ them instead of relying on students to take care of themselves. The suggestion stemmed from the fear of absence of the two students currently equipped to deal with the situation, because an immediate corollary reaction to fear on encountering a snake is to call one of these students for aid and in their absence, there was no alternative safe solution available to the students. It was felt that it was “extremely reckless” of the administration to let students deal with the issue irrespective of how equipped they might be. Other suggestions included the purchase of anti-venom and safe modes of administering the same as well the oft repeated suggestion that an identification manual ought to be circulated among students to aid with awareness of what snakes they are encountering which also becomes crucial while dealing with the administration of anti-venom in case of emergencies.

Medical Infrastructure on Campus

It was unanimously agreed by all the students surveyed that the campus had absolutely no medical infrastructure that enabled them to deal with a case of snake-bite. Some students said that even if there was a stock of anti-venom, there weren’t any qualified medical personnel equipped to administer the same and this was clearly a serious issue as the misadministration of anti-venom could be as life-threatening as the snake bite, if not more. It was suggested that there should also be a few sessions on first aid given to students to inform them on how to act immediately after a snake-bite before seeking medical aid. And the obvious extension to this being that on seeking such medical aid, the same is available readily and efficiently so as to not distress the students further. The need for a qualified medical professional available at all times as well as a functional ambulance was severely advocated for unanimously.

SENIOR STUDENTS

The nest group that is being surveyed is a collection of senior students, drawn solely from the 4th and 5th year batches. It was important  for us to target the said group in order to explore the temporal aspect to the attitudes towards snakes in college. These students, by virtue of having been on campus for 4 and 5 years respectively, have the gift of retrospection and form a handy litmus test towards how attitudes towards snakes have changed  over time in college. Another insight that this group brings is that they are in a better position to judge the changes in awareness and preparedness on campus towards snakes.

Awareness

All of the people surveyed agreed that they came into law school in their first years with attitudes towards snakes that were at best, mildly fearful and at worst, diagnosed phobia of snakes and other poisonous creatures (it is important to note that OurSchool is also home to many scorpions). However, they all broadly agree that in many respects, their attitudes towards snakes has taken a turn for the better. One student, AB, told us of how after attending a talk on the increasing environmental change around Shamirpet, she had been forced to understand the part that displacement played in pushing an unusually large number of snakes towards campus.  More than half of those surveyed recalled the attitude in OurSchool towards snakes in their initial years. In the absence of any awareness, preparedness or skills, all snake sightings were inevitably met with panic and the inevitable death of the snake at the hands of the security guards of the institution. One interviewee, SB, recalled an instance where he personally witnessed a perfectly harmless rat snake being killed by the guards because of the prevalent attitude.

attitudinal change

The attitudinal change came for many in the 5th year, through their interactions with their batch mates, who would hold forth on the subject and the harms of such an approach. For those in the 4th year such sensitization was primarily carried out through emails that were circulated to the batch. A clear and consistent response was that initially the increased awareness of dangers on campus, made most of them far more nervous and consequently cautious while stepping out. Secondarily, and variably, it raised the awareness and sensitivity towards issues of lack of medical awareness, the need to develop antivenom infrastructure and finally (and only in certain cases) the need to consider the ecological impacts and ethical costs of the indiscriminate killing of the snakes.

Acceptance of risk and awareness of medical infrastructure awareness

Needless to say, the senior students displayed, by far the most moderate attitude towards the presence of snakes on campus in college, with certain responses ranging from utter indifference to their presence, to a cautious state where the occurrence of snakes has become a normalized part of the experience of college. One particular student, who once found a snake in his cupboard, insists that this in retrospect is a fond memory, part and parcel of the more rooted nature of living in college alongside the clear skies, the lake and the fresh air. Furthermore, these students were all able to mention at least certain basic techniques for addressing the contingency of a snake bite and had moderate knowledge about anti venom and where to procure them from in case of an emergency

Administration and guards

It is the general perspective of the student community that more involvement is necessary from the administration in order to manage the issue of snakes on campus. The faculty and the non-teaching staff of the campus are well aware of the issue at hand but also don’t always possess the level of awareness desirable to deal with the same. Thus it becomes vitally important to gauge their reactions.

On questioning the staff, it became clear that most of the problems that the students are grappling with also affect the members of staff who also acknowledge that they need to be better aware and prepared. This is especially true in the case of guards who inevitably happen to be one of the first ones who come to know of snake sightings. On surveying them, it was clear that they are also largely scared of the creatures and their first instinct is to beat them to death irrespective of whether or not these creatures are venomous and are actually threatening. On interaction with the guards, we get to know that they aren’t aware of the best method to deal with snakes. They do their job of trying to catch it and keep students and others safe. Safety of snakes is none of their concern. Hence they don’t hesitate in killing a snake. Once when a snake was found inside hostel, the students called guards, and together killed the snake. Afterwards it was found out that the snake wasn’t venomous. This is seen as rather unfortunate by those sections of students who advocate for the safe transfer of even dangerous snakes.

The above incidents shows that even the guards are required to go through proper training to deal with snakes. It is necessary both for the safety of snakes as well as guards. Snakes aren’t supposed to be killed. They being aware of right techniques and with proper equipments will be in a position to catch snake, and not to kill it. Further, it would reduce the fear from the minds of both guards as well as students.

Therefore, in order to deal with the issue more effectively, awareness and direct involvement of the staff of the campus becomes crucial. This duty includes not only being more aware and prepared personally but also in employing able personnel who would be able to provide aid in cases of emergencies and advocating and actively pursuing the goals of better awareness for the entire community.

Conclusion

The survey exhibited that the students and administration considered the issue of snakes on campus as one requiring immediate attention and also that nothing constructive was being done in this direction. Lack of better modes of creating awareness and, more importantly, lack of  medical facilities are concerns that warrant swift redressal.

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

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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.

Emphasis on Recovery- whose focus should it be

The overriding concern of psychiatric services till date has been management of mental illnesses– by any number of drugs and services. Whatever counseling or therapy has accompanied these services, the dominant role has still been played by the model offered by psychiatry (in other words, the DSM)

I am not writing a critique of psychiatry here, because it is unnecessary. It may have had something good to offer, to a lot of people, facing crises, but it does not offer recovery as an option- that is a certainty. If you are willing to submit to its ideas and experiments, newer and newer drugs will keep appearing and they will keep promising newer outcomes; NOT RECOVERY among them.

When recovery is not even an agenda for psychiatric services, to expect that people will get well and fully recovered, just by taking psychiatric drugs and nothing else, is nothing but ignorance. I for one, know from myself and scores of others that, no psychiatrist ever tells a patient that they can go off medication or they can be on their own without drugs (unless they are working in government hospitals, where they are not always working for profits). The bigger issue is that patients and their families keep looking up at doctors to give them the cue that they can be off drugs! They never have the courage to take their own decisions- for everyone who has known psychosis or extreme mood states knows the perils of them. Of course, even if family caregivers tell psychiatrists that their loved ones do not require medication, because the initial symptoms have subsided, they do not pay heed. From self experience, I documented this as part of this research article in 2011.

So whose focus should recovery be, if patients have to recover? I just asked my mother this question awhile back. In fact, in the blog post I wrote before this, about the dilemma of caregivers, I had mentioned about my mother being a very active and militant sort of a person, which she is- not to take any nonsense, to give speeches wherever need be, and in general to stand up for causes that she finds justification in (quite radical actually). Even her mother was a radical in her own time, who the then PM of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri (or was it Jawahar Lal Nehru?) had invited to be part of the parliament. She had declined because one of her children was quadriplegic and there was no one to look after him. In other words, their children have been one of the key priorities of women in my family.

No matter what her personal position in other domains of life,  it was she who was more recovery- focused than me! I was in no condition to even consider recovery as an option, for with great perseverance I had come to a point where I had achieved a certain measure of ‘stability’ (an absence of diametrically opposite mood states), and I knew that with the given dosage (valproate mostly) I could go on and on for years. I would not worry about any more fluctuations. It was another matter that for years the fog in my brain would not lift, the heart was always heavy, the body always tired and moods relatively low- but I accepted that as a part of being ‘bipolar’, and disorder was there to stay.

Mummy would not accept that. From ayurveda to homeopathy, to any other system of medicine that could yield results, including naturopathy, yoga or what have we, any new- found person, anything, even an astrologer would work- as long as her child could get some succor. I do not really see that tenacity in a lot of people, who are willing to let medical science decide the course of action for them. No doubt, the haze in mental health is so huge, most parents will never get to researching of the kind my mother could read or comprehend, or what most other researchers access and read, especially in the context of critical psychiatry and psychology. I even work in language to see how language impacts mental health- and what are the complexities of the phenomenon.

Recovery is Coming into Light 

In some advanced countries of the world, as I noted earlier in this article, recovery has become an important focus for caregivers. But these are welfare oriented countries, not where health care spending is routinely cut to add to defense budgets or give bailouts to big industrial houses.

Recovery is only going to be a focus in cases where people are not worried about making profits out of healthcare. Yesterday a senior and retired professor of Psychiatry sent me some of his writings, in which he is talking of the utility of home based care in which a caregiver who is a trained professional would go to people’s homes and offer guidance and support not only to the main ‘patient’ but also their family caregivers. This is also the sort of model which has been followed in Finland, where they have accomplished recovery to such an extent that they have practically emptied out psychiatric wards in hospitals. Their model of social psychiatric, services embedded within the community, is taken as an exceptional model by all standards.

However, to make that model a reality one would have to create the sort of social, cultural, political, and financial infrastructure that Finland created for it to succeed. As of course the willpower that we wanted our people to recover. Do we really? Who has the jobs to offer if more people join the workforce, if they want to be married and want housing, if they want everything the way everyone else does? Who wants that psychiatric medicines should be consumed and psychiatric wards should remain active and abuzz with human footfalls? Surely not parents or caregivers.

So whose focus should it be that their children and loved ones should become well? Those whose interests are tied to the perpetuation of psychiatry? Will parents wake up and see reality?

Will they understand that they do not need to fight for more psychiatric services, but better education systems, and health care (not mental healthcare)?

Will people ever understand which wolf is wearing the sheep’s clothing?

On a parting note, in case any parents are reading this, please work with those psychiatrists who are employed in government hospitals, not private clinics, because they would be glad to assist your children/loved ones be on the lowest possible dosage of drugs, and not prescribe unnecessary tests, unless absolutely required. They are the most likely people who would have a recovery focus. Meeting some psychiatrists I too have gained that impression. All of them are not feeding the pharma-industrial complex alone- some genuinely care for patients.