Introducing Recovery

Time and again, people like me, will have to tirelessly go and expose newer and newer sets of young people to the idea of recovery from serious mental illness. And no matter where one starts, we will always end up talking about recovery, one way or another. I have done that on many occasions, and today was one such.

I had been invited to speak on the subject of Music for Self Transformation and I felt it pertinent that others talk about their own self connection with music, rather than focus on mine, because in any case my work in music spills over in so many domains. And the students listened with interest (or so it looked then), interacted openly and asked me many a question.


It was a good experience- and funnily enough the whole discussion veered in the direction of my work in counseling. Being a group of Master’s students of psychology, a good number of them being interested in counseling, they were first of all surprised to hear the word or the idea of recovery in schizophrenia and bipolar.

Their own long held assumptions were challenged and pushed to another margin and this can be fairly unsettling for young people in their early twenties, when one swears by one’s discipline. Few are ready to understand the futility or limitations of well established academic departments, because it stands to unsettle their belief in their selves and their aspirations and futures.

Anyhow, I feel good that at least another set of young people who will don various mantles as professionals in psychological sciences in future, have been exposed to the possibility of transformation that humans have and hopefully at least a few of them will be making the effort to look at those who suffer beyond their diagnostic labels as just other human beings- worthy of being supported.



PhD research- next phase

I am nearly at the end of my ‘data collection’; if one can say that about qualitative research. I have interviewed most people that I wanted to, barring two sets- it is a big number, considering how challenging it has been to identify such people; when one is not taking the road of psychiatric clinics to reach one’s desired group of people. I am of course toying with dropping one person out, as despite my repeated requests to him to help me communicate with his family, he has not been supportive in the least. On the other hand, when he had come to meet me, I did not get the sense that he was ‘recovered’. He still seemed to be floating in the ‘twilight zone’- if I can say that and to cite him as someone stable and recovered would actually amount to misleading myself and the whole study.

I just finished transcribing the interview with my first research participant- a lady in her early forties, who has a Phd from the US and was given a bipolar diagnosis when she was studying in a university there. She had been through a series of treatments in the US and India and of course is among those people in my study , who are completely recovered.

I still have to transcribe her mother’s interview, but for that I also have to hear it first. Nevertheless starting the transcription is a great relief- at least I could do it myself! I was really afraid that I would not be able to manage it.

This was a short interview but I have much longer stuff to deal with. the learning curve has been straight-forward> From the time I started the work of collecting the narratives, until now the fag end of it…my questions have become very clear and concise, for by now I know what I am looking for. This has also of course cut down the time I need to expend with every individual/family and it is a useful thing indeed. This is the filtering process at work finally- you filter out the irrelevant questions.


It is a great relief to do the first interview…(oh, the above cartoon is really my condition at present. Apart from the dogs, the major thing looming on my head is research).

The insights of the lady whose interview I transcribed about marriage and what is the meaning of ‘recovery’ are interesting and useful contributions to my work. Marriage is really not a cure for someone’s suffering and depression, is the nutshell of it. The rest of course has to go into my research, not on a blog I write- at least not yet.

On another front I am planning a few articles on different themes- one about the ethics of peer research (whose outline I have prepared already), another about epistemology and where I draw my inspiration from AND one article also in music- in the area of applied musicology. The winter months are looking quite introverted as usual. On Friday I will be giving a talk in the Department of Psychology in Delhi University, on the subject of Transforming the self through music”- the one department that always pulls me in thanks to the professor with who I have overlapping interests.

There is no dearth of work on my table, not to mention the two new pups in the house, an ageing and ailing Labrador- who has taken a turn for the worse after the death of my German Shepherd Raga. Life is active and the spine is also better nowadays. Thank god for small mercies!


Bring the beaver- save the raccoon

Nearly the whole of yesterday and today I thought about beavers for some reason- and the phrase that kept popping up in my mind was eager beavers– until I found out it had a derogatory connotation to it. SO that required a little more digging, which I just did and found some interesting attributes of beavers.


Look at this one in the picture here- by dint of its own teeth it is felling the tree! Just imagine the size of the trunk!

Why the beaver’s image kept coming to mind is that I have been meeting these ‘beavers’ metaphorically speaking of late. I must draw up the context here. So let us start from the beginning.

In my recovery oriented counseling work, my whole intention is that people start understanding recovery as a concept first and then start building their resources- in every possible domain to accomplish that. One of the key issues that has bothered me for years now is why are more people NOT recovering from ‘psychosis’, even if there is evidence in front of them? Even if they see other people’s stories of recovery, including your’s truly? Does it mean those who recover do so only under some special circumstances? SO then what are those circumstances? Of course this blog post is not about circumstances of people’s recoveries, because each one has a different pathway and as a researcher my interest lies in phenomenon, not anecdotal evidence. Let me narrate this post with two sets of people I met in the past week.

These were two different families- one in which I myself went to meet them, as they are part of my research, and the other came to meet me, for counseling support. Both families have individuals with schizophrenia diagnosis- there are two young people (a woman in her twenties, a man in his twenties- these are from two different families) and the mother of the young woman, now in her fifties. I had at least a one hour discussion with both sets of people. And then the formation of the beaver appeared in my mind. So here it goes.

In every family that seeks to recover from the consequences of schizophrenia or bipolar, or from any other psychiatric diagnosis, there is a pattern of relationships. I have decided to give them my own classification, as these are all the actors of the drama of their respective lives. Here are the dramatis personae in both sceanrios-



The foot soldiers are the ones who are absolutely worried sick of what is happening in the family and they must find a solution to it. In this context, they are ‘sick of’ the behaviour of a particular person and they want to find rational ways of dealing with their behaviour. They seek explanations in all schools of thought- from babas, to astrology, psychiatry, to colour therapy, reiki, music therapy or anything that someone says can help the troubled person (who is then called a patient by psychiatry).

The foot soldiers first concern is their family- they have to save and guard the family.  But they are not only foot soldiers of the family- they are equally as much foot soldiers of psychiatry. ( I have also recently written this phrase in the same context in a journal article). And because they have to save and guard the family, they need to maintain the  equilibrium by maintaining the status quo, so that nothing is upset and nobody’s is troubled. In this search, they often land up at the door of a psychiatrist- in the hope that a wo/man of medicine will have the ability to deal with their loved ones’ ‘difficult to handle behaviour.’

Foot soldiers tend to be mercenary soldiers– they will do anything to keep the apple cart undisturbed. They want stability, not change. They want predictability, nothing new or unsettling which makes them change their belief system. They are the status quo warriors- full of suspicion about change, sold on the idea of psychiatry’s efficacy and committed to maintaining its continuity in the belief that it will have definitive outcomes of well being for the loved one. The foot soldiers are the prime customers of psychiatry and also it’s enforcers within the family. It goes without saying they are the biggest obstacle that anyone has to handle, to recover.

These are the people who buy into the arguments given by psychiatrists that they should anyhow medicate their loved one, it is perfectly ethical to do so even without their consent. They do not realize that they are violating the human rights of their loved one- son, daughter, husband, wife or parent. they just believe in the ‘miraculous power of modern medicine’ (without looking for any evidence of course). Of course this is the benevolent arm of psychiatry and they are its foot soldiers- they always pay heed to the voice of their master- the psychiatrist!

The Beaver/s

The next ‘character’ of the play is our beaver character- the one I began this blog post with. So why is the beaver so important here? According to this article, beavers have an ability to change the natural biodiversity of an ecosystem. Well, isn’t that the characteristic we also need in the recovery of a person given a psychosis diagnosis? We need someone from within the family who is so capable of pushing the idea of recovery forward, that notwithstanding the lack of support from any other quarter they will still push it ahead, in their own belief of its possibility.

I have met many beavers in my life, starting from my own family. My mother and my sister were very keen to look for solutions for me. I never bothered because I felt secure and safe within the predictability of psychiatry’s certainty about myself! That is how everyone is- they feel secure that they are nothing unusual or even if they are, it is nothing unknown to humankind and there are people who understand what ‘we are going through’.

Beavers will usually try to look for solutions on their own. They will look for alternatives, for the recovery of their loved one. Sometimes those who are ‘ill’ also do so, but often they are so overwhelmed by their diagnosis that they do not care to fight it out- I also say this from my own sense of loss when I was there. There is no capacity in the wounded ‘raccoon’ to deal with anything.

I find beavers to be parents mostly, because parents first of all want their children to get over the suffering and live normal and happy lives. Which parent wouldn’t want that for their child? But beavers can also be siblings, like i referred to my own. They do not want to hold their loved one within psychiatric tentacles alone- they want full fledged recovery, so they keep snooping around and sniffing out newer things, in the hope of finding a solution to the problems they all are facing. But now I recall, I have also seen uncles, and sons, daughters and friends writing to me or calling me up to talk about their loved ones- sometimes they are not even caregivers directly, for care-giving is the role of the FOOT SOLDIER- who lives on a day to day basis with the ‘patient’.

And the ‘patient’ is the raccoon…



Just look at this baby raccoon. The first sense one gets upon looking at it is, that it is suffering. We do not know what from, but certainly there is no joy in her deportment.

This is typically the case of the person given a psychiatric diagnosis- they are so resigned to it, and they have lost the spirit to fight about it, to rebel against being medicated. They just need the security and belief that they can live a relatively quiet and unharmed life, which is enough.

In every family this is the way in which the acts play out-

The sequence of the play

This play has three acts-  diagnosis, recovery and disability.

Diagnosis– Once the diagnosis is given, the raccoon becomes the center of everyone’s attention for that span of time, because the raccoon’s behaviour is sufficiently unusual as to draw everyone to look in her direction.  It also has a potential that is threatening to the whole ecosystem, for it can unsettle everyone. Just imagine having to tend to a ‘sick’ or angry person for the rest of your life> What would you rather do? Why not just calm them down anyhow and try living a ‘normal’ life?

SO the family decides to go to a healer- it can be a traditional medicine man, a psychiatrist, a counselor or anyone that works as a first level interventionist for them. Now we know that ONE PERSON NEEDS HELP!

The reality is that the whole family needs help, but nobody understands that! And nobody will ever explain that to them as well- because who wants to bell the cat?

Recovery– Recovery now begins in part second of the play and the person tries to make a all suitable adjustments in accordance with what they have understood of their ‘problem’. The raccoon is the patient.

The foot soldiers are the caregivers …but the beaver


Is the one person or more, who are looking for alternatives. Like I said earlier the beaver can also be the person who has been given the diagnosis, can be a foot soldier too, or can be anyone.

Characteristics of the Beaver are very important, for they are replicated across people-

  • They are very attached to the ‘patient’- more like doting;
  • They cannot believe nor ‘buy’ the idea that their loved one is going to remain a patient for the rest of their life;
  • They will look for other explanations out of the dilemma, reading, googling or anything;
  • They are willing to try any alternative out and will often go and knock at the door of anyone who offers some succor from the present suffering;
  • They will jump into the waters directly in search for newer alternatives- just like the one in the picture above.

Disability– Disability happens in situations where the beaver loses her way. In other words, when the beaver loses her zest to find a way out, or feels that it has been wrong in the past or nothing is working out – so let us stick to the path everyone is suggesting – psychiatric medication.

Which fundamentally means the raccoon has no future– (or a future which is controlled by the foot soldiers)


This raccoon will have to be on medication and that will keep increasing over time and sooner or later, the raccoon is going to become so fogged by the medication that it will be pretty much disabled and incapacitated to live a normal life any longer!

It is all in the hands of the beaver now to save the raccoon.

Whether the raccoon will recover fully or will become disabled now depends upon the beaver’s tenacity. This the the real job of the beaver- can it change the ecosystem? If the beaver- the eager person who seeks alternatives does not give up the search, does not cave in easily to the arguments of the foot soldiers and can still support the raccoon quietly, only then the raccoon can recover.

516rs7ghznl-_sx258_bo1204203200_If the beaver is lost… 

 But if the beaver is lost, confused or heart-broken upon not getting easy answers…then the raccoon will never recover.

So all ye beavers- seekers of alternatives and solutions for your loved ones, your struggle is not with those like me, who are there to support each one of you, but with the foot soldiers sitting right in your own homes and holding firmly to the flags of psychiatric diagnostic classifications. You better see the reality for yourself first.

In my case, of these two families the beavers are one younger sister in one and father in another, while the raccoons are the ‘patients’ in both families. Fortunately for the second family, the father’s role is quite prominent and he is very keen to find a way out for his wife and daughter- and I think they all will. But I am not so certain about the first family,where the role of the foot soldiers is more proximal and the beaver lives faraway. this means that the foot soldiers are living with the boy, and the beaver- who is looking for solutions is far removed from the scene of action and is a young mother. She cannot tend to her brother like her mother and sister can. So though she is looking for solutions, in case she is not able to find her way out of the maze of words that her mother and sister have woven around her and if she is not subdued by them, her brother will also lose the battle – and progressively become more troubled- as does anyone with schizophrenia medication.

Getting off medication for Bipolar

Should bipolar people look to get off medication? How would you do so and what treatment do you advise?

Yes, I would recommend that. But I would not suggest that you take a decision about this in a hurry, because even with medication many people remain quite symptom free and stable.
However, medicines have side effects and of course they take a toll. But the worst part is that people take medication on a long term basis, whereas ethically their doctors ought to just help them wean off medication- once their immediate ‘symptoms’ have settled down.


Ideally I would invite you to consider a sinking boat scenario. Just imagine you are on a boat with a hole and you have to get off it or else sooner or later the water will get to you. Now the option is either you know swimming or you shout for help, or you wait for another boat to come along. What is the probability of any of these happening? Bipolar medication is just like a sinking boat- it will never get you anywhere in a safe way, because it is not meant to! There is no recovery written in its chemical make-up. you just need to know that. A lot of times, clinical trials are all fudged up and in any case patients never read what is going on in research in pharmaceutical companies.

I can recommend a switch-over. Or rather let’s go back to the boat scenario. What can you do? You can plug the hole- but which means you have to lock yourself in the position where the hole is and that may not be feasible to get anywhere.

The path of knowledge

I think the only way lies in understanding the roots of the problem by sitting with a therapist- who can help you understand where the genesis is.

I would not advise any treatment in terms of treatment or further chemicals. I suggest a change in life priorities, bringing certain elements that help you balance your polarities, may be a change in occupation or change in the number of hours one works or several such things.

Every person who wants to ‘recover’ has to create a set of resources- which can include new medicines/treatment systems, lifestyle, exercise, counseling (very important according to me), slowing down, something recreational or something that helps to deepen your connection with yourself/nature/life, some ‘quiet’ time, a little more solitude (one key element in my recovery)

About Self…

Mostly we do not understand where our behaviours come from- what are their sources, their pathways and their patterns. This is one of the key reasons we suffer. Understanding patterns- whether they be personal, generic, mythological, archetypal or cultural always empowers us to deal with them better. Jungian analysts are very good with this work- helping one understand their patterns. Going off medication is another journey. But do not embark on all of them at the same time.

Self knowledge leads us to freeing us from our conditioned behaviours and that is the success which everyone who suffers needs to know. Understanding the Self- which is not just what we believe of ourselves- there is an oceanic dimension to it, yet in a microcosm we have to traverse it. Get the picture?

After the ecstasy, the laundry – a great book. DO read it.

As also- Stormy Search for the Self (Grof)


‘Normal life’ with medication?

What are the chances that a schizophrenic patient will lead a normal life, while continuing medication?


There is no psychiatric medication that does not have side effects. So no matter what you say, some lingering residual effect is always going to be there. Here is what i have gathered from another source for you to read in detail.

I do not know of anyone taking psychiatric medication able to live a ‘normal’ life- it is very difficult indeed.

Older and newer antipsychotic drugs can cause:

  • Uncontrollable movements, such as tics, tremors, or muscle spasms (risk is higher with first-generation antipsychotics)
  • Weight gain (risk is higher with second-generation antipsychotics)
  • Drowsiness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Restlessness.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Constipation.
  • Nausea.

Capricious or tight lipped?

Finding willing research informants is a concern for every doctoral researcher, thank god for it! What a contradictory sentence this may seem. But had I not known the component I have highlighted, I would have thought it is only me (and moped about ‘poor me’!). In a sense, it is great to have a mentor who can placate your fears that you are not a lone wolf facing the abyss alone; all lone wolves who do qualitative research continue doing that as part of their work- from the time research was invented 🙂

The first time I had to deal with people as ‘research participants’ and I had chosen to study mental health on my own, without guidance, without any reality check, without a real framework- I encountered this phenomenon – of capriciousness.  Back then, in 2012, people would promise to be part of the research and at the last minute- back off. Or back off mid-way, or back off after meeting me and hearing about it.

It was a great setback , for I also took a lot of it as personal rejection. Oftentimes these people would be known to me for long. Now that I am doing a phd research, a position which in fact establishes my research more seriously, there is not much difference- known people outright slamming the door in your face, or not responding to emails or backing off after saying yes once, or not responding to their phones. I am time and again toying with the reasons behind this apathy. Is it mere caprice?

a sudden and unaccountable change of mood or behaviour.
  • “her caprices made his life impossible”
    synonyms: whimwhimsyvagaryfancynotionfadfreakhumourimpulsequirkeccentricityfoiblecrotcheturge More

    Or is it a rejection of me, or a rejection of putting themselves out there -in front of a ‘stranger’, an outsider or someone they have not known too long or too close?

    Of course research is a long winding road and experiences continue to mount- but this hesitation to talk about their mental suffering for the purpose of research has made me inquisitive about the phenomenon this silence points towards.

    Here are a few of my guesses why people do not want to talk about themselves to a researcher/me (a certain kind of researcher)

    Feeling ‘exposed’

    We Indians are incredibly secretive about our lives. Talking to someone about an area which invites great stigma is something they do not want to deal with or possibly even admit.

    Feeling ‘powerless’

    As in someone like them has recovered, while they themselves are subjects of research. Feeling powerless that they have to ‘surrender’ their stories for an outsider’s gaze and scrutiny

    Why should she? Who the hell is she?

    Why should she grow at our expense? What do we get out of this? She is getting a degree but what about me?

    Or is it plain jealousy, which is a part of our human mind?

    So how does one read this sort of a message, that I received in the wee hours of the morning today …(the spellings and grammar are copied verbatim)

    Hi P…mam, Sorry about my late responses…Please don’t take that as ignorance or arrogance but at this point I am just a little overwhelmed with Work pressure and too many tight schedules.

    If you don’t mind I would like to bowout of the research program for the moment while I can manage and fix the other things in life. I hope you will understand and we can meet sometime…I miss talking to you as its always a great enlightening experience listening and learning from your advise.

    I admire your patience and capability to understand people from much higher perspective, hope we can discuss more soon. Thanks a lot Mam.

    (I was quite heart broken to read this actually, and had tears in my eyes. I feel so tired sometimes in managing so many sides of life, research, my ill dogs, my own pains and fatigue, household chores, and of course music-new compositions, students, research and whatnot)

    I would love to write this off the above WhatsApp message as bullshit…but can i really? People suffer so deeply in their lives that their own meaning and day-to-day existence is a struggle. May be I would just forget this person and move on.

    Many years ago, when I had finished doing my data collection he had met me and told me that if ever I do research in future, he would be interested in participating. People just talk I think- to stick to your word, takes another sort perhaps.

    It is perhaps a time to reflect inwardly and acknowledge people’s suffering as something real, therefore worthy of empathy – and not just a personal affront to me.