Last post…

This is a last post of sorts…

May be it is the last post for November, or may be for this year- though likely by the end of this year, I will surely come back again to take a bird’s eye view of how the year went by, and what all transpired in an aggregate way.

I will be in Delhi for a fortnight now and it would not be possible to write a new blog post from there. Once you leave home for that long a time, then all the things that pile up in your absence, do not really permit much blogging at the end of a trip.

I have some important paperwork to finish this visit- the governmental sort of work of course- always painful in India. It is about transferring my car papers to the current location where I live- so no shortcuts, but going all the way to my erstwhile home state of Haryana…blah, blah, blah

But as I look at this last part of the year, some of the ideas that are bobbing up in my head for the last few months are as follows, and they make a befitting prelude to the final post I will write, later this year

I have been brooding over the pathetic state of affairs, viz. on the issue of philosophy of education. Until a group of people identify the goals of education, it is a whimsical manner in which education progresses. In poorer countries, education has never been central to anyone’s conceptualization of social upliftment. As a result all resources that ought to have been devoted for mass education were devoted to all other areas-in all countries which have been colonized anywhere, at the cost of long term investments in human capital, which cannot but be taken care of by anything but education.

Education has often been confused with skill building in newly independent countries ( I wonder how long they will continue to remain ‘newly independent’) and the philosophical orientation, or critical thinking that education ought to have imparted people with is condemned to oblivion. Rather a slavish subservience and non-questioning attitude is what the education systems have been trying to hammer into the heads of learners, burdening them with the feudal practices of a colonial past.

Apart from this the issues of secrecy of science that I also shared as part of the last blog post have been playing in my mind- i am thinking that I need to work on that more seriously. In such a scenario, the thought of art education and what role it ought to play can only be philosophical and not necessarily on the ground- it is extremely painful to see the sort of musical experiences children and adults engage in and what they could be doing, had options been created- for an aesthetic development of the mind via artistic pursuits.

World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review

That also brings me to the journal issue, in which my last article was published. I have been slow to go over the articles, naturally enough. Most articles are written by researchers and psychiatrists of course. It is quite a strange platform for me- as a person with a past of bipolar disorder to be writing about her own recovery! That brings to mind the fact that when I had got the comments from the peer- reviewers, these were their words- which will always echo in my ears, reminding me of the significance of writing this article, irrespective of how many read it. Mine is the only article in the journal, which actually maps full scale recovery of a person. In no other article has recovery been documented. This is where I stand apart from the world, which I stand as part of- with a new light, which remains quite hidden or obscure at present.

This is what the first reviewer said-

I think this paper is just great, there is only one issue, the use of the word psychotic delirium, delirium is an organic state and so is misleading, I would say psychotic confusion or perplexity. It also needs a close proof read , minor typos and grammatical errors and bear in mind this is for international English speaking audience, so keep it plain as possible.

The second reviewer said this-

The connection between art, creativity and major mental illness is a subject extremely interesting to Cultural Psychiatry, and the report from an artist diagnosed with mental disorder does represent a substantial contribution.

The choice of an anthropological instrument seems valid and challenging, but the ethnography must be framed within a scientifically well established and validated methodology, which in turn must be described in the text.

Furthermore, instead of quoting verbatim sentences from many authors in the ethnographical section, it would be more appropriate review them in the Discussion, possibly along with an analysis of more controversial points raised in the paper, i.e. why and in which cases music becomes therapeutical.

Study limitations must be explained, in terms of generalization, as well as the risks of relying exclusively on individual elements /resources, such as creativity or inner world, especially when we address a pathological condition where help seeking is extremely discontinuous throughout lifespan and life-threatening events can be frequent. Maybe in this research the ethnography has been collected properly and scientifically, but there is no trace of this throughout the manuscript. It is therefore most suggested to make a major revision in order to bring this contribution at a scientific level more adequate to the journal to which it has been submitted.

So this is the sort of comments which actually contribute towards making an article a long term contribution in a field. It is a pity that few would read it! Anyways, i did the most I could and I know not many people will doubt that- with no training in research or anything else…I have come a long way indeed.

So while I still stand on the first level of this cartoon… I am generally thrilled to dig mid the debris of civilization’s hogwash and try finding solutions to problems, in a meaningful manner, rather than for a degree (though who knows how close that could be too!)

 

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Towards new knowledge

These days I am quite concerned about writing and writing better. I am not writing- to say the least…just musing about it, reading other people’s writing and thinking of ways to make my own better, crisp and more accessible. Of course one of the reasons that has caused this shift in approach to understanding human communication is rooted in my newly deepening interest in linguistics- the science of language. For the last few years, not recent.

The next bit of research that I intend working on is the interpretation of psychosis in terms of psychiatry, and law on the one hand and how from mid psychotic breakdowns also recoveries are happening, yet marginalized. It is a critical gap, if one can see it, yet all researchers believe that whatever is their current obsession will indeed contribute to knowledge in some meaningful way. So I am no exception to that rule of a researcher- an obsessive dreamer who wants to contribute a minuscule fragment of knowledge to the overall pool of human knowledge.

Of course this is not my research question but one of the significant issues that I intend delving into. I am keen to understand how linguistically psychiatric nomenclature of psychosis is interpreted in law and why people are institutionalized- what is the philosophical position taken by law and enforcement agencies in deciding who needs to be institutionalized. This is all a matter of how the science of psychiatry is interpreted in legal terms- in other words does law have a mechanism, linguistically to decide what psychiatry is saying or is something getting lost in a transfer of information from one medium to another.

Last night I was reading an article called Transparency in Public Science. The author raises some critical questions and also in some manner reflects some of my own concerns about the politics of knowledge sharing. I think for the current research this lady, Sheila Jasanoff will remain an important person to follow, for my own referencing, even though her writing is largely in the American context. But being of Indian origin, I may run into other issues, and who knows at a later point even discuss them with her.

Since linguistics is all about interpretation, the various stages of interpretation of a person’s account of their suffering, which involves- expression openly and its interpretation in a specialized knowledge of psychiatry led interventions and thereafter other social welfare outcomes are all matters of interpretation. So my interest in linguistics is not just here to stay, but grow and grow deeper and deeper.

I have to deeply acknowledge the role played by Ramakant-ji in this awareness. He is one person who has always consistently been happy in my success, maintained a very generous and supportive stance and actually taken pride in my little accomplishments. When I got to know him in January 2011, he was already retired from the university, as the founding head of the department of Linguistics in Delhi University, but despite that he continues to steer people, in very gentle ways towards the significance of language. I feel unfortunate that I could not meet him earlier in my younger years or possibly I would have thought of studying with him, but better late than never.

He has sent me some introductory articles on linguistics and now today told me some three books to read up. So I hope to do that before I can sit with him in the near future to discuss the role of language in the context of mental health. Of course one big strand of language has come into my consciousness already due to social constructionism and its emphasis on language, so the remaining gaps whatever they are will be taken care of by this inquiry- hopefully.

So coming back to where I started and my never ending concern with writing better. I encountered this talk by Steven Pinker, that I think could be saved here, for future reference, because some of the ideas he mentions are indeed valuable. It is another matter that I also agree in parts about the issue of Strunk and White’s book that i found so tedious and archaic myself when I read it, that I could not finish it. Nobody who is into writing can stop their efforts at trying to get better at it- so I am no exception to it. But reading more of those, whose writing you really admire, is somethign we can never afford to ignore. And if I have to think blindly who are those people, I know I would count Bertrand Russell, Kenneth Gergen, Richard Dawkins first of all. Then of course when one starts thinking deeper many more names emerge. But I think the next in that league is going to be Sheila Jasanoff. Oh yes, I do really like the writing of Carolyn Ellis- of course I am only ending up mentioning researchers here I think. But this is not the entire list, I must admit. To write better and more succinctly, I really need to imbibe a lot more precision and clarity- which I hope, is happening all the time.

World mental health day and Hyderabadi biryani

The world mental health day is an uncanny day this time for me, as for the first time I will be outside my home. At the time of writing this, I am very much on my own computer and have an article to share as part of this writing, which has just come down today for the final approval. But I have butterflies in the stomach- due to other reasons.

The road of life

The road of life- yet again

So while the world will observe the world mental health day I will be sitting in Hyderabad, at Nalsar, cooking my concoction of Hyderabadi Biryani- just kidding. I will be discussing ideas with the school of management people at the university, about my entrepreneurial venture, among other things. Some very interesting new developments have happened, in the past few days which are helping me focus on the idea of music education more than anything else. Why worry about mental health,when music itself contributes to mental health in significant ways? If I keep my focus in the domain of music, it is a much better thing than getting it distributed between music and hardcore mental health, via counseling and all that cycle. It also comes into direct conflict with many who work in mental health from clinical orientations, that are derived largely from academic frameworks and not the radical lived perspectives of those who live and recover from mental illnesses.

Okay, the article that I am sharing as part of this writing is called Musical Progressions and you can directly click on its title, which is highlighted. It will take you to an external link on the academia site, from where it can be downloaded. This article is soon to be published in the World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review, which is bringing out a special edition on the Arts, Media and Mental health. Perhaps I am the sole entry from India to contribute to this issue of the journal, of the World Association of Cultural Psychiatry. It gives me quivers in my stomach to think that I have come so far- imagine me…my years of doomed dejection and hopelessness, months and months of unending fog in the mind and a ball of anxiety in my heart. I cannot even begin to call it an anxiety disorder, for that seems so small in comparison. Huge mountains of uncertainty loomed so large…has it all come to pass? And how utterly lonely! Especially those years when I finally chose to live alone. To think of that today- that leap into the uncertain future, cutting all bonds from family in a physical way, proved the key to unlock the future, no matter if it were not even visible then for years ahead.

I find it so difficult to believe that I have indeed left it behind, and today I have the courage to revisit those fearsome, blind alleys, where I languished in insurmountable creeks, where life simply could not survive. Perhaps the only reason to write such articles is the memory of those ruins so deeply etched in the mind, that I dare not forget the suffering of another. And nay, that suffering is not due to mental illness alone, of a so-called biochemical nature alone.

That suffering is spattered all across human civilization now, clothed in myriad shades, and textures, due to which people cannot recognize that we are all part of the same suffering- the eternal human suffering, whose genesis lies in one man’s greed and insatiable lust to control, dominate and lead another. This instinct for power is so deeply rooted in the human psyche that all of civilization’s suffering can actually be reduced to this one game- the power play between people, nations, communities, genders, races, groups, nationalities and you name it. It is all a power play.

Few will gain the clarity to see the picture like outsiders. But if they did, they would be able to bring all divergent ideas to one convergent hub- the greed of man and a lust for power. In the end, I am reminded that I did a master’s in political science and from that position, if I remember what the English philosopher Hobbes said, he foretold the nasty, brutish and shorte nature of man and how in nature everyone is in conflict with everyone, in a war of power!!! How tragic, and yet isn’t it true?!

Tomorrow I will be off to Hyderabad again, though this is only for two days and am back on Sunday afternoon. Before I wind off this post, I must share why this article is the most important article from my perspective and what it brings to a lay reader, who may possibly be suffering herself or have a loved one who suffers. In this article I have brought many sides of evidences, (for peer reviewed journals do not work without evidence) to say how I used

Music

Serious creativity, and

Writing -including poetry, research. (For the first time, there is an actual poem in a writing by me)

And searched- which constitutes research in a serious way to find a way out of mental illness. In music also I worked in not one, but three genres or musical form. For the first time via this writing, I talked about ghazal as well- though in a shorter version, in another article I did share that as part of another post. Ghazal was a great venting mechanism for my personal suffering, which would not find a way out through bhakti poetry. It was only after the ghazal, that I moved into the more serious khayal, as my chosen mechanism for self expression.

Today I have left all forms behind and primarily all my musical expression lies within the domain of khayal and now I am also thinking of how to take that khayal further- via teaching diverse sorts of people via educational, therapeutic and other ventures. Everything begins with an idea- a thought or what is called in Urdu, khayal. For me this whole world is a khayal, and any artist’s imagination for a new world, a new face of civilization is essentially a khayal first. Only from the khayal, you construct an image, and from there comes a plan.

Currently my khayal is about my new enterprise and of course about further research, which will no longer be about me mapping my own story. Phew! that was tough.

(In another few days, I will be posting my poetry that I have sent to the conference of the WACP in Mexico. But since I posted the above photo and called it the Road of Life, which is also a poem’s title, I will share it right here. It also carries the date)

Me watching the sunset in Udaipur

Me watching the sunset 

A March on the Road of Life, and the Path Unknown

22nd September 1999

A march on the road of life, and the path unknown

The road rugged, the road rough’n a rude road-

Mostly a companionless road, I traverse

Hard pressed-

Unexpected corners’n blouders make it feel impossible

To take another step

In anger welling…wishing the heart would stop

Or p’raps a friend, companion, wayfarer around the next turn;

Kicking pebbles, circumventing potholes

Occasionally falling, but never really so-

The road leads the way, and the path unknown’n

I press on regardless.

Upon ‘turning writer’- the hook that got the crook

These past few years have gone by in a mist of some sort, where I have floated in interminable zones of uncertainty about who I am. I am a musician, I kept telling myself, who has also become a researcher and is interested in mental health and counseling people towards recovery solutions. So there is a bit of this and that. The reality is that I am all of them, and it all is me.

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My sister’s painting

But, when a few days ago, I got a commission from a publisher, I was so surprised, that I am still having that expression of disbelief- mostly due to the fact as to how anyone could go and even sniff me out from the layers of invisibility I am cloaked in. Anyhow, when I finally spoke with the commissioning editor, on Wednesday, she told me about doing a google search and identifying me from an article written about me, some three years back! I thought, “Really, can this also happen?! How unlikely, and yet it has happened.” Perhaps the magazine that carried the article had a lot of weight. When I just glanced through the article, it is such a poor poor piece of writing, that I feel ashamed even to be associated with it! But then this poor piece of writing, brought this new connection!

Anyhow,  now the funny thing. After approaching me herself the commissioning or acquisition editor told me that I would have to write a proposal and then she would have to run it through the sales teams, to check for its sale-ability and if it meets with their approval we are on.

So while I am writing the proposal, having received the nudge from her, I am really surprised with the turn of events because just a few weeks ago, I had planned another book in the area of the health effects of music education, and inviting people from any part of the subcontinent (including Pakistan of course) to contribute self narratives or narratives. That call is still open, and I am hoping that at least a few people will have stories to tell me about their health and how they benefited positively from long term music education. There is someone with a stammering experience, someone with a cleft palate and another with asthma who I am expecting contributions from. I may have to write myself about a girl I know who has used music education in autism spectrum disorders. So worst comes to worst, even if nobody is writing for the book, I will be able to make narratives of these experiences. I mean, I am visualizing the worst case scenario in any case- the way I like to at the outset of any new thing. Of course I also have my own recovery from bipolar to report on the subject, though I do not want to keep writing about myself on diverse pretexts. I may write a small part in the introduction about how my inspiration to edit the book emerged in the first place, because I had myself experienced the salubrious effects of musical engagement and education.

The worst case scenario is unfolding on a very different level, with my first book- so while I had found a publisher, which I wrote about so ecstatically many weeks ago, the publisher is quite noncommittal about publishing and is offering newer insights (which I also somewhat agree with). But then, the worst case scenario, as I mention above- the book is asking for a change!! Can you believe that? The book is telling me to re-write it!

It so happened that in the first couple of days of this month, I was brooding over the process of the book, the uncertainty due to it and in general whether something could be different. Then I had a sudden idea about why in the world am I trying to write the book in the context of a research book? Why should it not be just a simple book, with no pretensions at all about being a book by a researcher. Okay I am a small time researcher, but not really someone who knows the language and method of research by training. I have taught myself to whatever extent a lay person can or I as a lay person could. But do I have the method, language and other skills of a researcher? I don’t. So for what reason am I trying to get into their space and wrestle with them? These thoughts gave me the shift in perspective, and the rebirth of the book!

Suddenly all the pretension of the scholar and academic dropped, I became lighter. I felt no need to write a social representation oriented research, but a narrative of people’s mental health stories. So while the paradigm shifted in my mind and the oppression got over, my back took a turn for the worse and I was laid in bed for many days. Despite having a whole lot of ideas floating, I could not write about them or make a post. I only scribbled what I could, in a supine posture, writing by leaning on one side, with my hand. (Currently I am undergoing some oil based ayurvedic– massage therapies)

The first book which I started writing in 2012 (no less), exactly three years ago, same month, will be going through a renewed effort at writing. I am changing the very style and voice of the book. The second book appeared on the horizon in terms of the call for contributions I sent out and let us see what else is appearing, out of the unknown horizons- mysteries of life continue to pep and plunge the spirits.

It seems without planning or intending to be one, I am turning into a writer. Isn’t it surprising? Then I might as well be good at it, because fiction is something I am not going to try my hand at, and to find readers for other forms of writing, calls for a different sort of writing ability, which I still have to nurture, by practice, persistence and labour. No shortcuts for anyone. Oh and that reminds me that with so many books potentially in the pipeline, at least some will get published, and possibly I will become a writer, no matter where I started from! The allure of writing ideas that I love to dabble in will bring out the writer in me. So this is the hook, that got me the crook to think of a life of writing, in addition to singing, creating a research institute, and of course working on a method of music therapy!!!

Dilly dallying about writing and writing still

I must be a really confused bum at times. Or may be frequently. But I think writing has become a sort of an addiction with me- not that I like it or want to do it! I just do it!!! That sounds quite ridiculous I am sure- what am I to gain by writing when it is not really leading to any career goals being met, since I am not a university based academic or researcher?

Then it occurred to me that writing gives me clarity- in many ways. I recently wrote an article called Power to Label, for a conference, which is due in Feb 2015- since we had to send in our writing early, I did. In fact one of the organizers wrote to me personally to write and I did. I am not so hoity toity that if I have difference of opinions with people I can never mend the fences. That is real small mindedness and refusal to enlarge your perspective. Anyhow, once I wrote the paper – I felt that it was a not a very long piece and perhaps just right for a conference. After writing I sent it to a senior academic who I identify as a friend and a mentor. He approved of the writing and said it was very good for a presentation (in other words it need not have been?!). I sent the paper onward towards submission.

Suddenly then I realized that in a short space of a few thousand words, possibly I had said a lot of things in a very clear and concise manner. I do not know how the clarity came. Or may be I have always carried it inside and now I am also learning to articulate it. The gentleman whose call to write the piece I had responded to called it a formidable piece! So I asked him why he said so. This is what he responded saying, 2010-august-15 017

When I read your paper I was struck by the force of your argument and what seemed to me like the stubborn tenacity with which you would have had to pursue it for years to come to that clarity.  I used the word formidable to suggest that the effort behind it was simply beyond my comprehension in terms of difficulty, especially when I think of the fact that you were struggling with the disturbance produced by your distress on the process of thought.  It also seemed to me that it proposed the alternate way of recovery that seemed (to a lay person, me) like a viable answer to the kind of treatment proposed by the pharma-medico-rational mainstream, and that seemed again like a formidable achievement.

So that brings me to the thought about the next article whose abstract I wrote- it was about music, education and religion and this one I sent to two people to read and offer comments. One is a young professor of History and another a retired one in Linguistics. The latter is also one who I identify as seniors who are like mentors. He told me that it was an extremely well written piece and may be I would want to consider putting it in a leading journal in education. I did not even know about the journal till then- but of course the idea hit the target. So for now I have sent the abstract and then I had written this other article about using the arts (all of them) towards self healing in mental illnesses. I cannot use it anywhere, because the original will be translated into Marathi- but I cannot afford to lose the original and the prospect of reaching it to hundreds of people across the country. So I varied it a bit, dropped the references, made the language more flowing and sent it to a newspaper.

Of course I am not going to count the short story that I sent to a journal in medical humanities, because though it came from experience, it does not qualify as research writing for me. It is an outcome of wanting to write perhaps and say things in simpler formats! (talking of achieving clarity, am sure this is one of those devices).

And just when I was thinking of starting the next article – I thought I would write this blog post. So like it or not, I am writing next an article about the therapeutic potential of music for a journal of doctors and another in medical humanities about how positivism was the basis of psychiatry- I mean the history of psychiatry and how it got transformed from a behaviouristic to a medical paradigm.

Did I not say this year that I would not be doing any journal writings? Am I in my right mind?! What a cry baby I am! Or may be the two headed cat here. But yes, here is one article that I also wanted to save via this article.

Birthing stories

I did have to record this before the year went down finally. There was this big shift in my mind where I felt that I was in love with the form – of the short story. I think it takes a lot to write a good short story.

So while the year slips by, I am looking at the many stories I started and did not really put an end to. However, they have been advanced far into and it is only a matter of time before I would get down to completing them. Of course this is all thanks to the fact that I worked so much in research and then I felt it was pretty much useless. Why would I want to write stuff that only gets read in universities and does not reach the eyes or ears of the man on the street? Not because i want to cater to the lowest common denominator (only Indian cinema can do that), but because I do want to communicate more openly and accessibly.

As it is due to the sheer love I have for people anywhere and the sense of appreciation with which I look at life around (notwithstanding the wry tone of some of my blog posts) I always want to write about the lives of people who nobody is going to stop for. I see their determined, grim faces and how much of an effort they make at keeping a straight face, no matter what their heart is weeping about. In their little failures and joys, lie the reasons of hope for me. I feel as though I just look at lives around like it were a movie happening at every step- every story is a story unfolding on a daily basis.

Anyways, keeping aside the thought that I am in love with the short story genre and likely I will offer a great part of my writing in future, to the world via the short story, the reason I am writing this blogpost is that I encountered an interesting link to a few podcasts on the art of short story writing and i thought it would be a good idea to save them via an entry of my own.

Here is the link. In this link one can encounter eight writers talking about the short story – a good learning experience I think. Nothing like a cup of tea to read/write a short story 🙂

Goa 2014 266

Entering University on a New Platform

It is a funny life finally. For years I have been moping over the fact that I wanted to get into doctoral research and I could not get admission because no university in India would admit me. Why? Because I did not have the mandatory 55% marks in my Master’s course (due to  disabling that psychosis caused). Notwithstanding the fact that I had so many publications in peer-reviewed journals and so much else, no concession could be made for me- ANYWHERE in India. This is how enabling our environment is!

For the last couple of days I have been having these one line communications with a young scholar doing her doctoral research in Delhi University. I did not know until a few days ago who she was and what was her interest in me or my work. Then we had a little exchange, because I sent a request for volunteers to be part of a new research that I am planning on the subject of loneliness. She volunteered to be part of it.

Anyhow, today I figured that she had interest in disability too, because of experiencing something herself. I referred her to my own research site, without telling her what disabling condition I suffered from. One does not know how much is too much to share with unknown people, though both her guides are well known to me. Anyways, in response to my sharing of research with her, she sent this message-

I have read some of your articles as part of our master’s course.
Its my privilege to know you and your great work.
I have heard you in our indian psychology conference also ..
Thnx

That is the irony of life sometimes. I could not enter the university to study, but my writing is being referred in a course of MDSC00918 (1)aster’s in Psychology. Does anything make sense anywhere? How much more my writing would have benefited the world, if only it could have been published in a better format! I am sad, yet satisfied that at least my writing has left some footprints behind, and someone is still seeing it!

Attitude toward research

Dear Mrs Sharma,

I am not used to write to autors of papers, but I just finished the reading of your article and I feeled I had to tell you how much I enjoyed it. 
I am a Ph.D. student in psychology in Montréal. I am very glad to see that research is not only a cold and competitve domain but that it can also be something human and humble. I was very touched by your writing and I found it very inspiring. I personally work on stigmatization of mental illness and I see your paper as a very interesting way to go beyond the stigma that is attached to bipolar disorder (as modern psychiatry name it!) in a creative process. 
Congratulations, 
I hope you all the best,
É
Candidate au doctorat en psychologie (Psy.D./Ph.D.)
Université du Québec à Montréal
Boursière FQRSC
 
Today morning, I got this when I checked my mail. This made me want to write on something that I have always wanted to talk about in the context of research- who should be the ‘subject’ of one’s study. And this is where I feel that autoethnography is such a superior or perhaps the highest in terms of complexity that any researcher can choose, for they are then willing to put themselves through the complex process of analyzing their own actions and minds. 
 
Of course it is another matter that one can easily choose such a domain where you do not reveal much about your own life to people. For instance, most of the autoethnographies that i have come across are about someone’s experience of adjusting in a new culture, about sports injury, about race and ethnicity, about pressures/choices at work. But putting yourself under the scanner or opening up hidden dimensions of yourself for public scrutiny is another story altogether and I found that nobody ever had the sort of courage, Carolyn Ellis exhibits in Revision. Taking her as a benchmark for setting my standards, I have done a good amount of autoethnographic writing (some still pending review). But of course despite the encouragement offered by Prof Misra I have no courage to write my whole story of recovery down as autoethnography, for it has the potential to stir many difficult aspects of life, including memories of psychosis. Had it had any more value than publication in a research journal, i may have thought about it. But to write something so that 200 people can read it, does not appeal any more.
 
Anyways, coming back to the subject of what could be a desirable attitude toward research, I am pondering about the comment of this email to me…’I am very glad to see that research is not only a cold and competitve domain but that it can also be something human and humble.’ reaffirms the words of Alridge about when we choose certain questions to research, that itself is a bias- the choice of question itself is a bias! So if someone is choosing themselves as a subject- is that a bias? Or is the object of the study- the process of recovery and whether it merits being a research question, become the bias. 

I can imagine that studying about someone else is not such a difficult thing, for then one is only studying, analyzing someone outside of oneself- the classic way all normative inquiry works. By definition itself when you pitch someone against a social ideal or idea of what one is measured against, coldness comes into being in the research process. How contrasted this is in comparison with Ellis’ writing somewhere, that she calls ‘Heartfelt autoethnograpy’ the voice. 
 
Not only is there a world of difference in qualitative and quantitative research, I think the people who do them are also different, though I guess it would be easier for the ones doing qualitative to do quantitative as well, but not the vice versa. I may be wrong, but my suspicion is that those who look at humans as numbers or categories are certainly a step removed away, even from the beginning while those who look at humans in their eyes, replete with their subjectivities and their milieu are already more tuned to a more humane reality. And that I think, determines whether people end up doing research which is socially meaningful or simply something to advance their career goals by garnering degrees and publications.
 
 

Recovery story of one means that recovery of another is also possible

The companions of my research journey

The companions of my research journey

A few days back I wrote the following, for a public forum. I write with the idea that since we acquire all our knowledge in a social domain, we can also take ideas from the lives of others. When I was seriously ill, I had no one whose story could inspire me to get well, or even think that wellness was a possibility. But encountering the writing of Kay Jamison Redfield changed that perception. But considering that she was a big professor and I was a very small fry put me in no small anguish. That is why to write about the ordinariness of living a humble life, full of suffering and no real accomplishments, I hope would offer some milestones to others. Of course music is a unique part of my life and work, especially its contribution to my wellness.

Anyhow, this is the piece that was meant to be shared on that site, and it sheds a little light on how to read the story of one person’s successful recovery from a potentially disabling condition and why it is NOT a person’s story alone, but a cultural success for all humans, for we can see how within the resources that we have we can also create new outcomes for our suffering. This is my hope too. So while this is another link to my main paper (directly download from here), the other article follows here-

Recovery Stories foreshadow other recoveries

(This little writing is a prelude to my longer publication, which I ought to have offered to everyone who read the main paper. However since I did not think of it earlier, it does not absolve me of the responsibility of doing so at a later date. By writing this piece I hope to simplify the reading of my publication and to invite many other dialogic and creative possibilities using the arts, or music for that matter, toward therapeutic outcomes)

I do NOT want this to be read as a personal victory, for in that case I need not document it, by going over the laborious task of research writing and publication, which took a year and a half to be finally seen by others! The reason for me to work in research like several others, post our recoveries, is that we wish to see the patterns of disabling conditions at hindsight, enriched by our lived perspectives. Research always begins with a subjective agenda, but also has its own criteria. We cannot be telling our stories just to seek attention toward ourselves, but definitely there is an element of attention seeking involved here- yet not toward the person but the question of the research.

The question that I wish to address via this writing is that Recovery is (often/always) possible in serious mental illness, and that this paper shares the process of one such- the evidence of such a recovery. This is also a little background of why I head an arts based non-profit, a research organization of recent origins, whose agenda is to create synergies in health and education via the arts, and to create possibilities where more of such recoveries happen via the interfaces that such an immersion can bring about.

Auto-ethnography is NOT self advocacy

I often use autoethnography as the method to write about myself and it is not to be confused with self-advocacy. The purpose of the two is quite different. While we work in research we sometimes work in situations where we do not have access to others or our  stories are so unique that they, by themselves, carry enough seeds of ideas. This is more so in survivor- research (though my own preferred usage now is emancipatory research). The other situation in research is that once we get out of the tunnel ourselves we have seen the inner dimensions of it so well (which often I am afraid even the best professionals would have no access to, unless they are fearless like Stanislav Grof, who experimented with LSD, to understand various aspects of consciousness, the root of all that happens in psychosis or other serious troubles)

I vaguely try to distinguish between autoethnography (a/e)and self- advocacy thus:

  1. A/e is a legitimate qualitative research method, self advocacy is a PR tool.
  2. The purpose of a/e is documentation in a framework which can be used by researchers and lay people alike (if they want to read it), whereas the purpose of self-advocacy is to draw attention to the recovery of one person in the hope that they would inspire others.
  3. Purpose of a/e is to draw attention to the phenomenon, while in self advocacy the person is the phenomenon.
  4. A/e is never written for popularity but with a commitment that we offer our stories for the world, as a reflecting surface in which they can see their own stories, in particular those who face similar crises. Self advocacy is a way to draw attention toward oneself and sometimes to show the injustice one has faced. Likely every person in this unjust world faces a lot of injustice, as autoethnographers we just choose to respond to that injustice in a different manner-as compassionate warriors, not simply passionate ones.
  5. In doing a/e we go through a lot of heartburn for we have to write our stories ourselves and then bring in research evidence from various dimensions to show that they are valid, whereas in self advocacy mostly there is no writing involved of that academic nature. People have already bought your concept and you just have to go and talk about it- there is a market and there is a product. Who does not want to listen to the story of suffering of another and then pat their back? But how many have the courage to say, that listen, I am not suffering now, but I did in the past, so may be if we could just look at it together there could be something lying in my recovery that you can use.

Having said that, without wanting to be patronizing and self-righteous, with due respect for all those who work in self advocacy, I still want to say that we are all on the same side of the fence- teammates of the same team, though our methods differ, in accordance with our trainings, inclinations and abilities. It takes all sorts to wage a war, and people of varying abilities need to bring their abilities together to deal with the enemy that we all deal with- the enemy of human suffering. Let the generals come from all ranks, and those ranks not be determined by the dominant voices of a certain sort only.

There are of course scores of things that can be written here, also on the subject of why autoethnography and NOT autobiography. I will write about that separately on my blog that you can follow, if you like, here

 

Musical recovery of a musician is not the same as that of a non-musician

You will read ahead that I work in many aspects of music- including in research in  areas of pedagogy on one side, therapy another and also want to see the role of music in its interaction with identity. Even some of my published research in music is within the folds of psychology among other disciplines. I am not a musician whose work is all focused on performance, though that is among the many things I do on rare occasions.

Music Education or Music therapy? 

These are two close issues that need to be seen on a continuum. Music education involves an engagement with music directly, whereas music therapy is engagement with music mediated by another person, who is treated as the expert.

For a musician like me since engagement with music is at so many levels it is actually an occupational thing, not therapeutic- unless the musician herself is so incapacitated that there is no connection of that person to the outside world as a musician (which happened in my case), and the only connection you have with music is a means of venting out your emotional-spiritual chaos. But yes, it also provided me with a means to redefining my identity and not just view myself as ‘poor girl’. In later writing I hope to share the role of my dogs, who have been one of the key pillars and closest companions of my recovery, the role of my mother, and other members of my family, the homeopath and the chance encounter with him, via my sister and one or two close friends…and that is still not the end of the list. An 18 year long illness cannot be summarized in a few journal articles- it is slow, laborious and excruciating to visit it again and again, and I do not know when I would run out of steam.

In another paper of a bigger dimension (currently under review) in which I write about the overall work I do, in the creative dimensions, I have explored the role of music in a multimodal sort of a way toward my recovery, for the first time writing about my poetic side too, as well as weaving all these with what I do in research as well. On the one side I analyze about whether the work should be seen as serious creativity, on the other I contrast it with the death of another musician by suicide, to bring together evidence that music is not always therapeutic- even for musicians.

All my research is in fact an advocacy for music/art pedagogy, which in due course can have other outcomes too. If we see in the larger context it serves the purpose of my advocacy for art-education, for I believe that the arts ought to be a part of every child and adult’s life, not only in the process of education, but also as a means to expressing the emotional and spiritual fluctuations of being alive and resolving inner dilemmas in socially legitimate ways. I also believe this about other things, like connecting with nature, gardening, sports etc- but this is as far as what I can personally contribute via my (non-funded) research and its agenda.

How would music therapy work for the non musicians or those who are not interested in music at all?

I would like to treat these as two separate issues. I am not just referring to music (or a particular kind of music) but music as a form of art. So if some people do not respond to music, they may respond to other art forms. There ought not be to a forcible reduction of everyone to using music alone.

Everyone whether they know it or not, has a musical self, which is part of their larger personality. Many are aware of their musical abilities and inclinations but some are not. So we do not focus our energy on the method but the person and whatever they respond to, is what should be offered as their therapeutic medium. If we work in coercive ways, then we would force everyone in one way only and sadly this is what happens with modern medicine, but if medicine knew its limits or that it need not be hierarchical or dominant but collaborative, people would become the center of everyone’s work and I think that no problem would be above a solution then.

I have often worked with people who seem to have no music in them, which to my mind is unthinkable. But in saying this I show a bias within myself, for am I not then stereotyping them? I once worked with a group of school teachers who I could select out of 90, into three groups of ten each- I said I would only work with 30, as a pilot. There was  a group that just did not respond to musical notes, and I brought them all quietly together, without telling them what the common ground for connecting them was.

Then I started working with them using rhythm, not melody! They were all so thrilled firstly that they had not been excluded for they all had a very poor self image viz a viz their musical abilities, and then they were more keen to prove themselves worthy! I accomplished many things I thought with this little exercise- building self esteem, letting people identify their musical abilities and not be dominated by the view that they were tone deaf (which in fact they were!) and create new possibilities even for them. If we can turn around teachers we can turn around most things in the world. This is my philosophy.

With this introduction I invite you to read this article , as an offering in creating new possibilities in health via the arts. I would be happy to answer any further questions via this blog so that more people can also read them.

Discovering emancipatory research

Last year (2013), when i was working on the bigger research that i worked upon, and was almost closing it, I encountered the perspective of emancipatory research. As it is, I had been very uneasy with the idea of survivor-research as a paradigm, because it necessarily means that one is a survivor. This linguistic framework itself is a problem as far as I am concerned- as though it is  the holocast that you are referring to, that you have survived. If I am not wrong, perhaps that was the genesis of the word too.

For me researching in an area whose contours and nuances you understand well, from multiple positions- from experiencing the suffering of the soul to reaching that objectivity of a researcher, that you can also examine your own story like an outsider (no matter how much courage it takes to write it down) takes a lot of heart. And of course I derived that heart from reading the writing of Carolyn Ellis, for nothing except the honesty with which she wrote, and that which I can never expect from the writing of a fellow Indian, because we do not share our personal stories in public- at least not to that extent. Her book, ReVision, became such a benchmark for my own writing that once I wrote my big research I had that as a model to go with. I wrote to her, and shared what I felt about her book, and would she be kind enough to look at my research and possibly write a foreword for it! She almost agreed, though I could not finish my own writing in time, to send for her comments (still doing it actually!)

Anyhow, coming back to the subject of emancipatory perspectives, the first thing that appealed to me about it was the linguistic appeal- as I was as it is somewhat uncomfortable with the ‘survivor’ tag. Then secondly I find it more empowering than feeling like a loser- the sense I get from the word ‘survivor’ (may be a whim, but certainly that is how I feel). Plus I also feel I am not a survivor to the extent that I have survived something- I have been able to reinterpret suffering in the context of psychosis- depression as well as seen the continuum of human emotions as they go from one extreme to another. This is an attitude of inquiry, not necessarily passive observation. I am not just letting the waters pass over me, I am letting myself be transformed from an observer to someone who is interacting with the material that the waves are bringing. And that of course started happening in the context of other people also, when I moved from my personal autoethnography to a more social version of it (my bigger research).

I was at the end of my research, when I encountered, thanks to the academia network the writing of Noah De Lissovoy, and others…had a little correspondence with him and he shared with me further ideas about emancipatory perspectives. My journal paper to the Canadian Journal of Music therapy had already been submitted and now I was reading about emancipatory perspectives!!! When I got a feedback from the reviewers, I actually brought in the perspectives! what a thing to do- I changed the conclusion, and I suddenly felt as though the chips had fallen in place.

Perhaps the most important thing about the emancipatory approach is that it does not consider the university as a privileged place for the construction of knowledge– and that is truly liberating. For someone like me, whose college education formally stopped with the onset of what was called psychosis, in 3rd year college (notwithstanding the later degrees I accumulated), to come to a point where my research could be contributing something to the overall construction of knowledge is a great leap for me personally. I do not feel anything except humbled by it, for the colossus of human suffering is so huge that if we can only offer our little stories as offerings of hope to other fellow human beings, in a bid that they can see their own sufferings with newer lenses, that is real emancipation for all of us. There is no point in doing autoethnography for me, except the desire to hold the hands of everyone who is touched by my voice- physically, musically and spiritually.

In fact this perhaps is the greatest victory of my research too- for most people who were research informants with me, at any stage, upon meeting me and seeing my various degrees of engagement, ‘accomplishment’ (as if there is anything) feel inspired- and THAT is the hope they all needed.Now most are better off than before, one even got married- after long discussions in which I may have also contributed. I think in general the work i am doing is quite satisfactory and of a nature that inspires others, who are in the throes of suffering.

Perhaps if I had been in another country, the whole society would have valued my knowledge- but India is a different sort of place. Though we call ourselves a great collective civilization, we are in fact very individualistic- for in the accomplishment of nobody we truly feel happy or as though they are good or worthy of encouragement or celebrations. Fools have other fools falling over them on every pretext and universities are full of jokes going on in the name of research. But I feel relieved that I have discovered the perspective of emancipatory research, for I no longer need to yoke of a university department to ratify my findings…the world will be my testimony. So what if an Indian university could not open its doors for me- many signs will come from around the world to say that my research is truly useful, and not just another jugaad.

Of course I cannot thank Prof Misra enough for always egging me on, even till date- even after becoming a vice chancellor- wanting me to write my bigger autoethnography. Am not sharing the contributions of Prof Dalal here, because it merits a longer writing. But I feel that more than writing my story, there is a need to help others reinvent their stories and accordingly, in addition to working in research, I am donning the new mantle of Recovery Consultant in mental illness. I have been there, and know what it takes- and nobody can challenge me on that- not even ‘professionals’, for their knowledge comes from a theoretical perspective alone and that too guided by criteria set in foreign countries, whereas my knowledge comes from experiential perspectives honed by theoretical engagements- and that is truly emancipation for me, from ignorance. My college had its motto as sa vidya ya vimuktayethat alone in knowledge which liberates. And I know when I go down in this life, I will go with the satisfaction, that whatever two penny bit I learned, I was true to it enough that it proved to be my liberation- from aeons of darkness that surrounded my soul. So now holding other hands is my destiny, also via music.

Last bit, so I recently wrote to Noah sharing with him how discovering emancipatory research, thanks to his paper, somewhere changed the course of my own thought, though sadly I could not write the bigger research within that framework. Just got a response from him saying-

Hi Prateeksha,

Thank you for your message. I am very glad to hear that my work has been useful to you. Congratulations on the publication of your article, which sounds great. Best wishes going forward.

Noah

Yes…going forward now.