Creativity and mental illness

Creativity and mental illness– I am sick and tired of reading the views of psychiatrists on creativity and mental illness…but it is still worth reading another time. Even if I have to debunk this at a later date someday! This is a link from brainpickings- am sharing further

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.

Editor’s words- from the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

Since I just received a pdf of the full journal edition, I am very intrigued to see how the editor interprets the whole ideas presented in the journal, and how open they are to pushing the boundary of inquiry in truly democratic and open-minded ways, even if it challenges the views one has held for long. And that is precisely what is holding back our own native cultures which value and salute tradition so much, that anyone who seems to extend anything here is beaten into silence, submission and marginalization. 

These are her words and I copy them down for what is pertinent to the context of my writing in the journal edition. This post is about this only. 

Editorial / Éditorial

Jennifer J. Nicol, PhD, MTA, RDPsych

University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, CANADA


Are you ready for some provocative reading? Hopefully yes, because

several papers in this issue of the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy aim to

disrupt conventional understandings and challenge implicit beliefs about

music therapy and music therapists, about research, or even about what

constitutes the human being. For example, is music therapy innocent? Sue

Baines reviews Susan Hadley’s new book, Experiencing Race as a Music

Therapist: Personal Narratives, which uses personal stories to suggest that

in fact privilege, marginalization, and the potential for harm permeate all

relationships. Laurel Young notes that Kenneth Aigen’s new book, The Study

of Music Therapy: Current Issues and Concepts, challenges readers to consider

the possibility of music therapy as a stand-alone field of specialization rather

than one that relies on other disciplines (psychology, medicine, education) to

explain and justify itself. What are the implications of this idea? How might

this perspective affect practitioners, educators, and researchers? Prateeksha

Sharma writes about using her own musical skills and culture to heal herself,

without the involvement of a music therapist. Her autoethnographic inquiry

introduces the typically unheard voice of subject-as-researcher, which by

extension raises questions about what is research? What is knowledge? And

who is qualified to contribute to these two enterprises?


Two other papers focus on individuals with dementia and raise

questions about the importance of cognition in terms of establishing

our humanness. Does a person with dementia have the capacity for selfactualization?

Is it possible for this person to have a spiritual life with spiritual

needs? Melissa Jessop provides a poetic rendering of a music therapy group

for adults with dementia by way of recasting music therapy clients as agents

and sentient beings with an alive and valuable life that exists right now in this

present moment, not just in the past. Kevin Kirkland, Mary Catherine Fortuna,

Elizabeth Kelson, and Alison Phinney describe the use of a mapping system

implemented to make visible clients’ responses to spiritual experiences

along with qualitative techniques that all highlight the importance of personcentered

care for people with dementia. Both papers represent an alternate

conceptualization of group music therapy work for adults with dementia.


The flip side of writing research

Today I had an unexpected experience, in fact perhaps the sort that thrilled me. There are two things I must add as background here- one is that I am trying out a new service on google called Hubspot or something like that, which tracks your email, and tells you when someone opens the email sent by you. So in case you have sent the email to 20 people, it will tell you each time they open, though if they are part of a list their names may not show up.

Just the past week I had a somewhat unpleasant exchange in a little group that talks about mental health (not all in the group work in mental health directly) and there were those who raised doubts and called me self pitying and playing the fool, writing my story down as a research, where it did not merit the tag of research!  I was somewhat taken aback that such people whether they understand all sides of research or not, have the courage/audacity to confront you, without verifying details. Anyhow, many people wrote to me privately after that and expressed solidarity, which was a little relief.

As it is, writing about yourself via research is not the easiest and I’ve not yet forgotten how many tears I have shed every time I have written an autoethnography. Then to meet cynics who tell who that your work lacks merit or verifiability is just plain hurtful. Perhaps instead of taking it so personally I could have taken it in the spirit of criticism, but then what is the compensation? First of all your suffer for long years being ill and then you suffer because you have no way to get back into the mainstream of life, and then you suffer because though you offer your wisdom to the world, in ways that can transform the experience of others if they can take a leaf out of your’s, you face more criticism. Where are the people who will really assist those who come out of decades of illness and embrace them and let them just breathe and celebrate their success, for it is not only a personal thing, but something that carries the potential for the universal? Unfortunately those people do not seem to be sitting in India (barring some really senior academics in universities).

But the really interesting thing happened today, which I had really not even imagined could. I am subscribed to a list of research from the McGill University, department of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, from which I almost get weekly updates, of research happening around the world, in mental health. Between this and a few other sites that I am connected to, i am pretty much in the loop about the latest dialogues in mental health research in most disciplines- psychiatry, psychology, anthropology, sociology, linguistics and you name it. Many a time I have written to people directly on this list and asked them for their research papers since I have no access to any university serves, and the beauty is that EVERY SINGLE PERSON i have ever written to has always sent me back their articles. Oh course I can say the same for Professors-  Misra, and Ajit (Dalal) too, for they even gave their personal copies of many a book to me and Girishwarji sent many books to me online. But this is not about comparisons, and there is no scope like that here.

I wrote to Prof Lawrence Kirmayer who is the editor of an important journal apart from being Director of the program in the McGill University, Canada, Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, and inquired whether my article of the CJMT could be shared there, and went for a walk with the dogs, and then to feed them, clean the house, do this that, cook, eat etc etc. When I got back to the computer there was a response from him, thanking me and asking me whether he ought to also include my email as part of it, and forward to his list of people. I affirmed that.

Within five minutes of me sending the response to him, I got a letter from the same list, for he had posted to his list, and this was one of those emails that I too get as part of being subscriber to that list. As I am writing this blog post, it is only an hour back and almost 120 people have opened the same email! This is called speed. Am not sure how many people in India did that ever…or even shared with one more person!! Then we lament that good research does not happen in India- what an irony! You do not facilitate sharing of ideas and exchange of views, provide access to those on the margins and then  you expect that great research should happen in India just because we were once such a knowledge oriented society. Indians need to get out of the Halo of the past, because right now we are not only mediocre but less than human mostly. I want to see one professor of psychiatry do this in India! Or any  professor who works in any discipline that can connect with the originality of this work- for it leads in many directions.

But the flip side I am talking about is- that perhaps those who need it most would still not get to read it- and that is my real loss, for they are the driving force that makes me write in the first place- and not university departments or the prospects of any career enhancements- for there are none coming my way in either domain.

Canadian Journal of Music Therapy- please download paper and connected (introductory) paper directly here

In case you are using this link, kindly look at the right hand of the main blog and you see a widget, from which you can directly download any of the papers I have shared there. This post is only meant to facilitate further dissemination of my research- no other reason.

Additionally I have shared an informal bit of writing which explores the reason why someone ought to write their story, post recovery or what it offers to others. How one story is a possibility for others, if its ideas are morphed to suit the situations of another life, is what this paper talks about.  I felt that my story is the narrative of a musician, so does it mean that non-musicians cannot utilize the benefits of music or its therapeutic potential. All these ideas are shared as part of the writing called Recovery Stories foreshadow other recoveries.

I just (1st august 2014) discovered another way to share research publicly. Here is the link to that. Am trying in my own limited ways to reach the this inquiry to more.

Harnessing the bipolar mind

I have always wondered why so many people love the bipolar disorder tag so much that instead of making it work for them, they make it as a representation of who they are, in effect remaining dysfunctional and discordant for their whole lives.

Looking at the work done by Tom Wootton, and long before him upon encountering the work of Kay Jamison Redfield I had learnt that bipolar is not something that can keep you pinned forever and one can function reasonably well, even being in a disordered state. Of course not while one is psychotic. One of the reasons that I wanted to work in research in mental health and also look at my own recovery critically was to see if there was anything in the story that could be a hint or a direction for another to take.

Of course every story and situation is unique and unrepeatable, so when I read An Unquiet Mind (download from here for free) I was extremely troubled, for the situations and the sheer circumstances of her life were so different from my own that I felt that possibly only people like her can recover from serious disordered states, while the likes of me would perish to their extremely troubled innards. She is after all a professor of psychopharmacology, that too in John Hopkins. (Just on another note I must share another link by a therapist who offers an analysis of the same book). One thing is for sure, that reading both their experiences, and before that knowing about the famous bipolars in the arts, I was always comforted that may be I need to deal with my ‘condition’ more sanely and not commit suicide, for the impulse comes once too often.

Harnessing the bipolar mind is actually a misnomer, because every mind is bipolar. So the point is that we need to harness that mind whose fluctuations between good and bad are too extreme for even the person to handle. Is there anyone in the world who is NOT bipolar? So when our innately bipolar constitution becomes so charged and fragile that we can no longer manage our moods, actions and behaviour we end up being in a state of disorder. That is where the world around us steps in.

Anyhow, since I could not enter into a phd program, thanks to the inbuilt inflexibility of the Indian University system, and its infamous bureaucracy, I decided to write about my own recovery, slowly, in research articles or a full-scale auto-ethnography. After the first, I wrote the second and there is such a long winding road ahead, especially because from within my own I am trying to cull out substance that is universal and therefore offers itself to universal application, that it becomes very painful to keep getting back to your past. More so for me, because I stay by myself most of the time and this solitude, while looking at the past, which seems such a great mountain of lost opportunities- seems even more aggravating.

Anyhow, I think to write about how everyone can harness their innate bipolarity to create personal and common good is something I ought to seriously consider, and if possible write down ideas so that others can follow them, recreate new possibilities from them or expand the scope of them by merging with their own experiences. This is how we transform ourselves and the environment around us in a cyclical process.

Changing views about your own suffering

Changing the view you look at your own suffering

I am sharing this link, for it is my writing, on another platform, and the whole issue is about letting people understand their stories by dissecting them carefully. If one person who is drowning can save herself, so can another. But not if the one who is saved goes to save the one drowning- most resources have to come from within the one who is drowning and the one outside can always encourage, lend a helping hand or point out a dry patch of land on which to get a toe-hold.

Ultimately we have to be the creators of our own lives, not others. But yes, we can always learn and gain from the experience of others. If you want to dig your own well from the start, you do not know how many times you will hit rock bottom! Be wise, at least in deciding whose hand to hold, the ones who have no words but medicines, or who have been there, done that!