Like everything good or bad, this year comes to a close. Time to look back and quickly recap whatever has gone by. Lot of work in fact…so much so, it left little time to make blog entries on any blog. But being my recovery blog, I will stick to the doctoral research issues here and the Recovery oriented stuff I would like to make note of.
Doctoral Research first
Naturally this is the long loop open from 2016, which merits the first mention. At this point I have the dissertation underway- almost three chapters are being written. It may appear as a funny way to write, but this is how my mind works. So I am basically working on the epistemology, methodology, method, and ethics- this is ONE chapter (in all likelihood chapter two of the thesis). I have started the first chapter (introduction) in small bits and pieces and then there is every other chapter open and being added something to.
Just the other day I finally finished writing the ethics part of my research. It is a little over 4500 words. This has been a rich and fruitful segment. I have read tremendously, and the last book to arrive at my table was ‘Walking the tightrope- Ethical Issues for Qualitative Researchers‘. Before this book’s arrival via my brother , from the US, I had already run my ethics segment through an aunt (a professor of law at an Australian University), taken her feedback and tidied up my writing. With this book, some of my arguments got further bolstered.
In writing this segment, there are many journal articles that showed up on the horizon of my imagination. Of course the one sent to the Journal of Ethics in Mental Health will be publishing in the Spring of 2019 (Canadian spring, not Indian spring mind you- which is around April-May). This will be my first article coming out of my Phd research. It traces the experiences I have had in collecting the narratives of people who I have studied as part of my Phd.
As a matter of fact, I have not yet started studying any of the narratives! So this article is basically about the struggles I have gone through in reaching the people who finally became part of my study. It talks about my efforts as an ex-patient and encountering people’s prejudices and preconceived ideas about how the ‘mentally ill’ are supposed to be and behave. Few expected someone like me to appear on the horizon who has gone through two decades of believing herself to be mentally ill (bipolar) and then well enough to do a Phd about the same! This is the prejudice that I talk about. It is a fine paper ( I am saying it myself, because writing it has been a life-enhancing experience for me) and in fact it gave a structure and framework to my entire thought, epistemology, and the final shape of the Phd.
Writing the ethics part of my work also made me think about the politics of representation quite seriously, because the so-called mentally ill have always been represented by others- by doctors, by the media, by their families etc. The voices of the sufferers are largely drowned in this medley of voices. Of course the stigma around mental illness contributes to the silencing of the sufferers in no small measure. And that brings me to the thought of another research issue- whether it is important to remain anonymous or come out in our real avatars when we speak as marginalized people.
The Politics of Representation
I am referring to another Phd- in which I am a research participant! It is a Phd being done in the UK- the person doing it another like me, but her theme is bringing the knowledge of people who have been mental health patients and survivors to the fore, constructing a new version of truth about us, by ourselves. In her Phd she gave us the option of remaining anonymous or going by our real identities. Since she draws upon my previously published research, which is about myself, I thought it was best to not be anonymous. And that made me see the tactical side of representation- can we always choose anonymity as a gold standard in research? There is a whole politics at work here- a representational politics. In all likelihood I will write about this issue someday.
At the time I am writing this, in all likelihood her Phd would have been submitted and she would have gone over the last part of it- the viva or defense. Her name is Jasna Russo and she is a well-known researcher and voice in the global mental health survivor community.
Constructing knowledge from the base upward- a theory for my research
Epistemology is a theory of knowledge. When you do a Phd, you are contributing an original bit of knowledge to the world, otherwise there is no point in making such a humongous effort, spread over so many years of solitary work.
I am constructing a theory which brings together an understanding about recovery from psychosis, especially in countries like India. Of course this is not a theory in a quantitative, natural science format, for this is a qualitative research. People cannot be quantified after all, for there is a huge diversity of people, their sufferings and their experiences.
At present I am writing a set of ideas about the significance of lived experience that I bring to this study, about what is recovery– which means an historical tracing of the growth of the recovery movement all over the world, starting from the 1970’s! (In India we are not talking about it till now!). Then there are purely philosophical ideas about epistemic injustice etc- as to why people who are given mental illness labels are seen as essentially deficient by others and how it undermines their intelligence and silences their representation. So there are many many ideas naturally. I cannot be talking about that here yet, for this is an early stage and I am not letting my Phd out before doing it!
Side by side, I am also writing a chapter for a forthcoming (international) book, in the area of Mad Studies- which is bringing together perspectives of people who have lived through mental illness labels and are rejecting the whole basis of it. Yes, Mad Studies is a new discipline emerging in the West (Canada in particular), and the first book Mad Matters is an excellent book that captures the resistance of people who are questioning psychiatry in Canada, often in very organized ways too. I have the book since 2017, but only recently I have read a lot of its chapters and they are a pleasure to read, appreciate and think through.
Of course my own philosophy is now coming to the idea that there is NO mental illness, and therefore there is no madness anywhere. In this book chapter, I am writing some vignettes about my experiences of working with others in counseling as well as the philosophy behind why I reject mental illness or ‘madness’ as a category. Naturally enough everything has a philosophical basis and I am bringing together different ideas to create a meaningful bit of theorizing, of why we could reject all mental illness as a social category, and not reify it into a medical category, which in fact it is NOT!
However this is NOT to imply that people who are given mental illness labels are not suffering, or that their suffering is imaginary. The suffering is existent, it is real and it has repercussions. But saying so does not make it into an illness category. Anyways I am not going to write about that here, for that is for the book. But overall, two and a half years into my doctoral research, if there is one thing I have come to understand it is the futility of psychiatry’s diagnosis, and why it is so unhelpful. Of course, I am writing about how I support people in understanding their suffering and their mind away from diagnostic categories, and create more empowered versions of themselves.
While this is somewhat about the academic work I am at, but there is also an expansion in my networks around the world, among diverse sorts of people working in mental health. I think the most radical and powerful people are the sociologists and I simply love their work. I am referring here especially to Bruce Cohen in New Zealand, and Heidi Rimke in Canada. If there is one discipline that is giving the biggest push to critical studies in mental ‘health’ it is sociology. It is a pity I do not have a background in it, for I come from Political Science. I find a majority of my work happening in Sociology and Philosophy. (On an aside, I am even thinking why I should not do another Phd in philosophy! Now that is what you can classify as real madness- the ability to be drawn into other fields while walking in one direction!). I had a Skype discussion with Prof. Cohen and several email exchanges with Heidi- and both are very supportive and interested in my work too. Cohen has sent me scores of his published and about-to-be- published writings, which is a great help.
In 2018, my networks have grown globally…all in ‘Mental Health’ in one way or another. So on the one side there are scholars in social sciences, in particular Sociology and Philosophy, I also got connected to many peers around the world- in Canada, in Europe (Switzerland, Greece, France, and of course UK).
In addition to these, there are the Open Dialogue networks spread between Norway, Finland, Denmark and the UK. I am not mentioning here the ladies from Argentina and Paraguay, because possibly they do not belong to this network (I could be wrong), though with one I am connected on the WhatsApp too.
Thanks to one friend who is a psychiatrist from Finland I also got connected to another psychiatrist, an Indian based out of Australia. In all likelihood all these people will become collaborators in the times ahead as I set up the Institute.
The work has grown in all directions- in counseling, in teaching classical music, in counseling training (starting soon) and so forth, and naturally the Phd too.
Soon it will be …
I am looking forward to a lot more of my doctoral research in the new year, a few journal articles (not more than four, because two are already part written), and starting the introduction to the counseling training that we will be offering as part of the Institute in the times ahead. So this is it for now, a lot of water under the bridge, several (mostly academic) projects underway and few on their way, already visible. I am also sowing the early seeds of a psychosis recovery team for myself, which can handle and support my work when we open the counseling practice fully and spread a word about it widely. Getting a team ready is a priority at present. All who will be part of it will have professional and/or personal experiences of dealing with psychosis as doctors, caregivers, professionals or patients (that need only be me for now, in fact!).
Thank you for reading my writing. Hope to hear from you sometime, and wish you a joyful beginning to the New Year- may it bring peace, music and cups of tea shared with many, to your life. (In case you prefer coffee, so be it!)