Pave the way or ask for directions?

alI am amused and surprised about the number of people who meet me and DO NOT ASK for directions. Of course nobody is an idiot to offer help without being asked for it! Certainly not me at 45 years!

Yes, meeting someone who is recovered is an encouragement to most and they see, in person, someone who has accomplished something difficult. Possibly it offers hope- but I am surprised about the ignorance of a large majority that does not ask me how I managed it or how indeed can they? Perhaps a large number of them want to pave the way for themselves, because repeatedly (in research literature) one reads that recovery is a very individualistic effort. NOTHING, indeed nothing, can be farther from the truth. Perhaps this notion is spread so that people do not talk to one another.

If diagnosis is made on the basis of certain shared attributes then recovery also would have certain aspects which would be visible in all individuals who accomplish a goal of recovery. Yes of course, everyone’s recovery is going to look different from another’s -but they all would look recovered.

That reminds me of a story from my life long ago. It was the cassette (those were cassette days, CDs not having arrived on the scene) release programme of my first musical album- Kahe Kabir, which in its final avatar became a four CD album, with 24 original songs by me. The cassettes were released by a senior musician, who was one of the brothers of a duo of classical musicians. In India there is a tradition, especially in the traditional art forms of touching the feet of the guru, or any senior person as a mark of respect to them and the tradition they represent. In the context of the tradition, Surinder Singh-ji, the musician who inaugurated my cassettes said that, ” As we grow older people automatically touch one’s feet to seek blessings. It does not mean that we have become all knowing. It simply means that we have walked the path ahead of you and as you join the path now, we have already made the journey, you would be making now. Therefore everyone consults their seniors as someone who are familiar with the road.”

So how does that fit in on a blog about recovery from mental illness? The same truth holds here- as the current writer being the person who has made the journey and is familiar with the road (of recovery from mental illness). No I am not asking anyone to touch my feet (in fact as a classical musician I forbid my students from it completely). It just needs a bit of recognition to see what I am saying here.

Let me illustrate with an example. Recently someone who is suffering (I think) approached me with a request to write a blog post for a blog they have started and could I please write my story on that? I thought about it for a moment.

In the early years of this decade, the first time I decided to write about myself, it was in a journal article- the length was approximately 5000 words. Then I wrote another piece/article, it was upwards of 7000, and another which was another 8000+ article, and then there was another smaller thing -possibly 1000-1500 words. A journal article easily takes a year to write because it is a very thorough piece of writing- going back and forth between the writer, editor, reviewers, proof readers etc many times. According to a senior academic known to me, a journal article is easily a three year thing. From the beginning to the end of the process, when you see the article in print- it takes that much time. I have myself seen articles going for two years, like a bone struck in your throat! Having done that much of writing about myself- I am quite tired to visiting my past so much, so many times and that too to analyze and sift out what part of it should be now talked about, which has not been talked about in the past. (all those articles may be downloaded from my research link on academia dot edu)

Irrespective of the outcome of the connection with this young person, whose intentions are honorable and praiseworthy where they are- I am NOT surprised they did not want to make the effort to take the long road I had suggested. I suggested why not read the articles I have already written and make a summary of them? Instead of asking me to write about myself, why not ask me about recovery? DO YOU NOT want to recover? Does being a mentally suffering person make you happy about yourself and your life? Would you not want a way out of it? (I did not ask the things in the purple font, but i had these in my mind)

So many university students read my articles and even write about them in their exams- for there is that much to be learned from them! They are not people who are necessarily suffering from any mood afflictions. A couple of years ago one student told me, ‘ma’am we have attempted one and a half question about you in our exams this time.’ I was so amused to hear that and I wondered what the framing of those questions could be like. These were masters’ students of Delhi University.


That is me talking to the MA class in psychology there

I have even heard a presentation about my own article in one college in Delhi University last year- it was funny and strange- because here was young student trying to represent me and my past, while I sat right in front. But the sharing that followed was so emotional after that, that in a class of nearly 20 students, at least 15 broke down for this or that reason. Obviously it was not an emotional moment in my life that moved them so, but their own lives which they were willing to examine in the light of mine. We were talking about disability and identity there.

An attitude of learning…

The point I am trying to make here is that people who are given diagnosis would rather NOT LEARN. Sadly enough the ones who are learning from such a one who has walked the road are university students. Of course everyone who is currently mentally ill and wants to recover (IF THEY WANT TO) can create their own recovery, in their own time- it may take two years or twenty, nobody can predict.

But would it not make sense to ask someone who has walked the road ahead of you? Had I known such a person when I was ill, I would have certainly asked them the path, because the path is not so simple, visible and clear that one can take it at one’s free will. And if you were to ever ask a psychiatrist they would deny that such a possibility even exists!

But then… I have an attitude of a learner, a seeker and I am willing to humble myself in front of someone who is learned. That is why I learned and continue learning, constantly seeking guidance from senior academics (who are often not my formal supervisors). And of  course one of the key reasons for my recovery was I trusted- I trusted many a person whose guidance I sought and followed their direction blindly, with faith and in surrender. My therapist said about me, that Prateeksha you were the only person who did everything I ever told you to, and read most of the books I gave. I didn’t actually, because I was so ill that I could not always read them But I made sure to make photocopies for days when the mind would be clearer enough to comprehend and that happened sooner than later.

That brings me to the concluding thought about a recent WhatsApp chat I had with someone who has a diagnosis as simple as OCD. According to people like me, OCD does not even qualify to be a mental illness. it is the sheer cruelty of pharma companies to morph that into a mental illness category and sell drugs in its name. Naturally enough nobody can recover- what can you recover FROM? There is no ‘illness’ anywhere in your body or mind. They told me that they have been taking medicines for the last 26 years. So my response was that if in this much time you are not healed and recovered, obviously something is NOT right about the path you have taken. You need to change course.

Even this person has known me from nearly 2012-13. But never once made an attempt to come and meet me, talk to me, trying to understand whether there could be a recovery angle to it. People keep doing more of the same, popping pills, writing about themselves and gathering more people around them in the name of their afflictions in the hope that it would help them pass their time and possibly meet more like themselves! (misery likes company?) I never ever joined any such group when I was on a road to recovery, for I cannot imagine even till date how it would help. I have always maintained that how would a diabetic benefit from another? So why would a schizophrenia patient benefit from meeting another? You are not your illness category after all. You are a person.

Ask, to save time

So my advice to anyone who is currently suffering is that if you meet someone who has taken a path that you would also like to take, don’t hesitate to ask them. It will only cut short your travel time. Otherwise of course if you would rather spend a lifetime searching the correct path, and where the slippery alleys are by no means can anyone stop you. It is your life, your time- you choose how you want to invest it.

Finally I think it is the attitude of a person which decides about who will recover. Learning, humility and openness are the keys that will open the gates of knowledge and challenge the darkness of ignorance.


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