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 Box.com 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!

Why I would be wary of families viz.a viz. Mental health

What family wants to admit skeletons in its cupboard? Do they want to say that we have not brought up our children well, or with incorrect values, or in a family atmosphere of dominance by one person, or anything at all? Everyone wants to believe that their family, is the BEST in the world, mind you, till the bubble lasts.

In my own research and study also this is my finding, that a whole lot of stressors for serious mental illness, sadly so, come from the family environments. I do not want to hold families as solely responsible, but most certainly they are very significantly responsible. So when parents and care-givers come together demanding more mental health infrastructure, psychiatrists and other professionals, without worrying about how they have themselves contributed, and want to come together in helping one another I just shrug my shoulders. I wish I could contribute to their dialogues but it is so futile, that I would not even attempt. 

The ones who are truly interested in the recovery of their children will not become activists for the rest and the ones who become activists are likely those who cannot even handle their one family member properly or walk with them hand-in-hand till their full recovery. I would not even want to check within such groups if there are those among them who have completely recovered. This group sent me an email (http://facemindia.org.in/), and would I ever really bother or refer anyone to them?! God forbid.

The photo here has nothing to do with the post, but perhaps the expressions of these folks can capture some of my apprehension!Image

Research that makes you laugh

A few days ago I was talking to someone who had obtained a doctoral degree in public health by studying case stories of five women (!!!) who had been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Upon listening, I requested him/her to share the research with me, since it must have been registered as such in a university and there was nothing to worry about plagiarism. The response I got was this- “I am afraid I will have to take the permission of those whose stories I have written in the study, and if they agree I do not mind sharing the study further.”

I was astounded to hear that. In other words, as part of the research had their identities not been changed, to ensure anonymity? Or was that research done just for the sake of degrees, and now the degree having been granted, there was no need to share the research any further?

What a small minded attitude I thought to myself. What sort of ethical values would this person have maintained in the research, if it is so difficult to share the outcomes of a study, for which a new degree has been given? And sooner or later, based on this degree this person would be in the job market – looking for a job. So if they had such a problem sharing the outcomes of their research, what sort of addition to knowledge would this research have made? Why do people work in research?

It is a such a shame in this country and then people lament the fact that good research is not happening in India. Is it any surprise that it is NOT? This brings me to a few connected issues, which are all stand alone things, but all being about research am mentioning them here-

First- I was recently talking to a friend of mine, who is a senior (due for retirement in a few years) professor of Psychology in a premier university of India, a great scholar and a very learned person. He shared with me that there had been interviews in his department for which they had received the applications of about 300 candidates, for 15 jobs, and all applicants were Ph.Ds. But he further added, not a single was inducted (!!!), not even to the extent of being invited for interviews, for their resumes itself looked not up to the mark. I was extremely surprised to hear that.

Second, it reminds me that a few years back I had met the chapter-director of a global NGO, that works with children. Generally in the course of my communication with him i had asked him what had been the area of his doctoral study. And he had told me that whatever it was he was not happy to share it further because he was not proud of it anymore!

Third, last year after a public lecture in a lecture hall, a senior professor of psychiatry was asked by a student, from among the listeners, how research questions should be chosen! I was so amused with the question that I felt like telling them that they ought to discuss with me! A whole lot of research in mental health happens in inane areas, which have no effects on the people and does not even reach them, while researchers in all sorts of institutions, on public money spend years chasing ideas that really do not contribute any knowledge to the pool of human knowledge or solve any issues of the world around us. What a sham.

Perhaps this is how research is really done in India, where people do not merit jobs after it, and the ones who get the jobs based on those degrees do not want to share it further, nor it has any effect on anyone’s life in the world. Reminds me how different my own experience has been, even though no university considered me worthwhile to enter its portals, for I was just a few marks short of the prescribed limits; that too in an exam I had taken over a decade-and-a-half ago, during a phase of acute illness. I was not condoned for that lapse 16 years later, despite having publications in peer-reviewed journals.

So even though they did not open any doors for me, I still chose to work in research, unconcerned who pays for it (my family did, by paying all my bills in these past years). So now that the proofs of my labour are showing, I know I have been honest to the core in my work. After the first of those publications, the next forthcoming one is in the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy (the biggest breakthrough for me really, considering it is a new area), a book chapter in an edited book, another paper pending review and of course the qualitative study of those 13 people that is near completion now.

I found it so laughable that the person in the first paragraph said to me that they would have to take permission of the research informants to share their stories further! In my own experience, once the informants are ready to share their stories, which they do only upon being sure they are safe in sharing their narratives, they really do not bother about how they are represented. Of my own research informants I shared the story of one person with a journalist and it came out in the Hindu newspaper as well, two years back. I asked that person later if they were okay that i had shared their story with the newspaper and he was so matured that he was just fine , for there was no way anyone would have found out it was  him who was being talked about.

Do researchers have any commitments toward their research informants? Is that anyway to conduct research on live humans that you have to keep hiding the outcomes from the world or share them with select people only? I am shocked, amused and feeling better about my own work now. No wonder when no university opened its doors for me, all the professors I knew told me, that I was the better for it! Of course at that point I could not but feel upset about it- but on hindsight I think I am the richer for working alone, where I can directly discuss ideas with these senior people without having the compulsion to follow them, if my heart does not agree. This is called real freedom and in this freedom I have always worked- the outcomes will soon come. Insha’allah.

Ginger’s birthday today – the dog who changed my life

ImageBut that is not the reason for writing this post…that suddenly came to mind actually. When I was at the fag end of my sleep I wanted to write about the bogus research that happens around, then about fireflies- which I am now encountering after a long time in the village here. But opening my mailbox changed my focus to Dhondutai Kulkarni, that I would be sharing in a new blogpost soon, in fact re-blog from my Kabir blog.

I have often been wanting to pen down the role of my dogs in my life. I say this at times, perhaps it needs to be said more, that though i am a musician who has also accomplished a recovery from serious illness due to music, which is being documented in many research papers, the real and living sources of my recovery have been my dogs. Music was not therapeutic beyond a certain point, because my ego was also tied to it, being an occupational thing somewhere. That is the gap that the dogs filled. I have said this to many that music was not my therapy, my dogs were. And I cannot but say that again.

But to the extent that I worked so much in music, I cannot say it was not therapeutic, for it engaged my mind solely for those extremely torturous twists of my road, where I could have been completely doomed or damned. However the human element at that time being missing in my life, was mediated very gently by the dogs. The forthcoming article of mine in the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy is among the first writings on the subject of recovery. I have to write about the dogs in research too, for the living elements and the companionship they provided and still do was something that no human company could have provided. Continue reading

Not a therapist, but researcher

Here is an interview of mine that recently appeared in a Delhi based magazine, on 7th Dec, 2013- Tehelka. If I do not save it here, I will never have a copy!

http://bit.ly/1cc9kqS 

Language is of paramount significance to someone like me, for one word used inappropriately changes the entire meaning of the communication. In India we use language fairly flexibly. I have seen college graduates of psychology or post graduates, calling themselves ‘therapists’- they have no clue of anything, just taken some exams, and its funny what their claims are!

Anyways, these professional titles that are gained after taking exams, seem rather vacuous to me, at this stage in life- i see that degrees do not really mean knowledge, and knowledge wherever it is there, cannot necessarily be measured by degrees. So this is the preamble to why I would never call myself a therapist. I am a researcher, for I am searching, I am re-searching, from within the options life gives me and sometimes by giving me more directions to look into when I am examining something.

Research, I figured, is an attitude to life- and those who do it for degrees and career enhancements…cannot do better, but just worry about their degrees and enhancements!! the less said the better. I am into research perforce and for want of doing something really useful, whether or not someone supports me for it or not.

This is how I approach people when I do- I try comprehending their reality from their position, not my own- the way degrees or prior knowledge,  often dispose you to. My aim is solution, not management of a problem only. But solution is always found only by reaching the root- therefore a search, re-search, because there is so much buried in the individual consciousness and mind, that if we saddle them with our own saddles…we will never really reach their bone and spleen.

I am a seeker, that is all- and there is no dearth of problems that I seek to find solutions for. My life is too short.

Journalists are young people- inquisitive and happy to encounter new ideas. It is always nice to see so much desire to do good work, among those who are fresh out of college or are due to be so. But at their youthful age, they cannot know the difference between research and anything else! And yes, names matter.