Archive | November, 2016

Dear Zindagi: Yet Another Review

30 Nov
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After months, or maybe even years, Bollywood delivered a movie which managed to draw the attention of people from all spheres of life. Dear Zindagi, like every other movie, received its share of praise and criticism, and for about a week now, I can’t scroll down my social media newsfeed without stumbling upon yet another review about it. The movie grapples with the idea of mental health, and what is heart-warming for me is that more and more people are now sitting up and paying attention to the issue, albeit, with certain criticisms thrown in. I was initially hesitant to jump on to the bandwagon, since all the articles I had read about it, seemed to collectively mirror my thoughts. However, I was aghast when I came across an article, which reviewed the movie with some distasteful words, armed with extremely incorrect and stereotypical facts. It made me realise that the concepts of mental health and mental illness are still elusive for a wide part of the population, and being a part of the mental health profession myself, I felt the need to voice my opinions about the movie.

One particular area which I believe requires to be emphasized on, is who exactly is in need of help with mental health and/or mental illness? A popular idea which seems to be doing the rounds is that the lead protagonist of the movie is just a young woman, with difficulty in sleeping and forming healthy romantic relationships, and thus is just spoilt and emotionally weak, and definitely doesn’t need to seek help. “But she doesn’t even have a diagnosable mental illness! And she has been having sleepless nights for only three days. What is she seeking help for”? Interestingly, what I found progressive about the movie was this very depiction of a situation requiring valid psychological help. The director broke through the barriers of diagnosable mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia; and welcomed the issues of difficulty in coping with one’s life situations, emotional distress, difficulty in acceptance of one’s own sexual orientation, into the realms of psychotherapy. One doesn’t need to have a classified mental illness to enter psychotherapy. “I don’t feel so good these days”, is an equally valid reason; denial of which, only strengthens the stigma revolving mental health and illness. Hundreds of people stifle their cries for help, only because they are told that their problems are just not grave enough.

Another criticism that I came across was about how impolite it was when the lead protagonist of the movie declares her mental health problem in front of guests at a party. Again, I personally found it empowering to see a young woman, unabashedly yelling out her problem, not just in front of her immediate family, but also her parents’ close friends. It gave me a hope of de-stigmatization, of more and more people getting emboldened by this portrayal, and being able to confide their struggles to their close ones. The very idea is to break the shackles which have been chaining mouths shut for decades, and allowing the people to discuss their problems freely, thus, breaking the taboo.

Yet another criticism which seems to be doing the rounds is how instead of helping the young woman understand faults within her current patterns of communication and attachment, the character of the psychotherapist in the movie conveniently shifts the blame to her childhood and her unhealthy attachment pattern with her parents, to be the reason for her present difficulties with forming a healthy relationship with a significant other in her life. A quick research on the internet should suffice one with various theories propounded by eminent psychologists, who believed that our early years of development constitute a crucial period of our lives, any significant disturbance in which, can have powerful impact in our later years.

Lastly, the usage of the term ‘shrink’ needs to be put an end to. It is a slang word, and I believe that writers, bloggers, film directors, can do their bit to cultivate a habit of instead using the more dignified terms like ‘psychotherapist’ and ‘psychiatrist’ to refer to the same. Gauri Shinde skillfully weaves these terms into the movie, along with the more relatable Dimaag ka Doctor, thereby giving the derogatory shrink a miss.

Even though the movie did portray certain fantastical scenes which violate some of the regulations and ethics of psychotherapy, it still deserves an applause for being brave enough to broach the subject of mental health and mental illness, and softly target the stigma with grace.


The Duality of Mind and Body

28 Nov

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The 58 year old woman has a severe backache, years of toiling around the house had sucked the calcium out of her bones. She manages to drudge along during the day, but as the night falls, her bed suddenly seems to transform itself into an iron slab studded with sharp nails. She tosses and turns all night, only to wake up the next morning, tired and lacking energy, day after day.

The 15 year old boy was the pride of his high school basketball team. Towering at a height of 6″1′, the only sound accustomed to his ears while playing, was the resounding roar from the crowd, chanting his name. Fate seemed to have cruelty in store for him, and he lost his left leg in an unfortunate car accident. Gone was his leg, and along with it, gone was his glory. Unable to grapple with the loss of adulation so abundantly bestowed upon him earlier, his self-confidence received a massive blow, and he started avoiding social gatherings.

The cancer victim, a 42 year old man, had undergone numerous sessions of chemotherapy to demolish the parasitic cancer cells in his body. Having always been a zesty person, he marched on bravely through the first few months, determined to bring cancer down to its knees. The degenerative disease took its toll on him over the next couple of months, and the zest was soon replaced with hopelessness. Along with the cancer cells, chemotherapy seemed to also have demolished his interest and ability to find pleasure in life.

The frail, malnourished child who had been abandoned by his birth parents, met his guardian angels at the age of 3 years, when the benevolent couple adopted him and brought him to their home. The child, they noticed, was not as energetic as his peers, and often plopped down in the middle of a game of running around the garden, fatigued.

Suffering from typhoid, the 28 year old man had lost his appetite. Much to his wife’s vexation, no variety of savoury food could awaken his hunger, and he would only peck at the dishes laid out in front of him, forcing tiny morsels of food down his throat.

What would we expect the family members of all these people suffering from the physical illnesses to do?

Do we expect them to be empathetic, and frantically seek medical help for their loved ones?

Or do we expect them to shower their loved ones with suggestions like “Just get over it”, “It has been so long, you need to move on now”, and “It is all in your mind, if you try hard enough, you would get cured.”?

A person diagnosed with depression also had the sleeplessness of the old lady, the hopelessness of the cancer victim, the fatigue of the malnourished child, the low self-esteem of the erstwhile basketball hero, and the loss of appetite of the man suffering from typhoid. However, instead of being offered medical help, they are often expected to magically recover, by just trying to snap out of it.

It’s time that we accept the tribulations of the people suffering from mental illnesses like depression, and treat them as we would someone with a physical illness.

The pain is the same. The approach to treatment also needs to be the same.

​Daddy’s Little Girl

19 Nov

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While attending a psychology lecture, a young woman came across the legend of Electra, a character from the Greek mythology, who had plotted the matricide of her mother, as a revenge for the murder of her father. The Electra Complex is a theory about a girl’s psychosexual competition with her mother for the possession of her father, at about 3 to 6 years of age. Successful resolution of the Electra Complex takes place when the girl internalises the mother, and starts to identify with her, incorporating to her own ego, the personality characteristics of the mother.

Memories start playing in the young woman’s mind, quite like snippets from an old film reel. She starts to connect the dots, right from her childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood.

On a warm Sunday morning, the father gets his beard shaven, sprawled out on the chair in the verandah of his house. In the corner of the room stands his 5 year old daughter, a look of innocent betrayal on her face. Just as the barber’s razor was about to graze on his moustache, he calls his daughter to him and asks, “Is it okay if I shave it off”? The girl shakes her head violently in indignation, and the father promptly asks the barber to let his moustache, his daughter’s prized possession, to remain on his face.

Most of the young woman’s memories from that age, revolve around her father. She had an indescribable bond with him. Tantrums were thrown whenever the father mentioned traveling to another city without having taken her permission. The little girl felt a sense of possession and ownership over her father. 

During her teenage, her relationship with her father took a backseat, and she only has recollections of her mother, and her constant striving to be more like her mother, her supreme ideal being. She wished to inculcate her mother’s kindness and patience, the kind which was required to deal with a man as erratic as her father, whose evenings were spent with a glass of scotch in his hand, while the music of Mick Jagger blared on the speakers, albeit, much to her mother’s displeasure.

Hailing from the Indian culture, the realisation and acceptance of having been attracted to one’s own father can easily pass off as desecration. However, objectivity was a quality ingrained in the young woman because of her academic discipline, and she chuckled to herself as she continued analysing her own life.

Her thoughts drifted to the recent past, when the little girl inside the 23 year old woman had given away her heart to a man, as they got drunk on cheap whiskey and the Rolling Stones, in her one bedroom apartment.

And at 25, she still gets attracted to men with well-groomed facial hair.

Daddy’s little girl, indeed.

Prisoners Of The Mind

15 Nov

​Difficulty in falling asleep. A plummeting drop in self esteem. Anxiety and panic attacks. Bouts of weeping. Reduction in socialisation. And the devil in a saviour’s disguise in the form of anti-anxiety medicines, and dependence on cigarettes and alcohol. 

The clinical psychologist trainee sat across the visibly distraught client, who mumbled the above mentioned symptoms with downcast eyes, and the psychologist immediately knew that she had to help the person out. Empathy, they say, is an important quality to possess in this profession. Never had she felt the pain of any other case as her own, as she did for this one. Pored over books for hours and designed a therapy plan, only to have it prove completely ineffective. The client returns with the thought  diary as empty as her insides. Maybe the client needs another therapist? On began the search for an experienced and qualified therapist, but as luck would have it, financial and geographical constraints were already conspiring against the client. The client visited her everyday, her blank eyes asking for help, since social stigma had sealed her lips shut.

 Sometimes she would seem like she was improving, and even managed to look up and smile, but only to return a day or two later, her heart bleeding through her eyes. The psychologist would just sit there, feeling more helpless than the client. The client was gradually wilting away, like a beautiful flower that someone had once planted in his garden, only to soon forget to tend to it, while it faced the cruelties of nature, all alone everyday. 

The analogy brought tears to the psychologist’s eyes. She stood up, took one last look at the weeping client, and turned away from the mirror.

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