On the other side of the Madhouse

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Is she waiting for Godot?

By Garima Gayatri 

A house stands across the river, amidst the lush green fields, with a bit of floor beneath and a piece of sky above. The madmen nestle closely lest they should fall apart. Sometimes, they sit by the window with a warm cup of coffee. Most of the times, they have anti-psychotics. The window is the shadow line. The one that glimmers of acceptance. Are they really pleading for acceptance or is it the guilt of pushing them too far that makes us think of this?

The civilization has been brutal and history owes an apology to them, more than ever now. Can words be enough? It’s time to turn the wheels of time. It’s time to acknowledge that they are sitting, right across us, on the other side of the table, under the same roof!

I am not talking about aliens or the animals, with them the adjustment might take a little longer. Designs of nature.

Why the ‘other’ when it comes to mentally challenged people? I refuse to use the term ‘mentally-ill’ for them. I accept that the illness has taken strong roots in our minds, when it comes to understanding them and simply acknowledging them as humans.

Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Anxiety, Autism, Dementia, Depression- you name it and a chill runs through everyone’s spine. This is the medical vernacular. Then there are long visits to the doctor, prescriptions and medicines. Endless sessions of therapy. Some work and some fail. Trust me when I say this, the ones suffering from these challenges do not understand all of this. They only understand the language of love.

Schizophrenia and the myth and mysteries surrounding it has long been on my mind. Who is conspiring against whom? What are these voices? Who are the people appearing every now and then? What kind of split in personality are we talking about? Why the urge to remain aloof, blank and emotionless? What is the sense in the incoherence? What are the pictures drawn all about? Why so happy and why so sad? These questions are exhausting and they never seem to end.

In the words of R.D. Laing, “Schizophrenia cannot be understood without understanding despair”. I couldn’t agree more. The moment you start treating the ones experiencing poor mental health as ‘patients’, you have lost the battle then and there. The journey of healing them will always begin with treating them as equal as anybody else. Make them understand that it’s just a phase they are going through, which might last for a lifetime. They think differently, experience emotions differently and respond accordingly. This does not mean that something is wrong with them. They are not possessed by some evil spirit. They are not ghosts. Just one of us with a different worldview in their mind. Don’t give up on them, by making them feel worse about their situation, if not any better.

Give them hope. Feed them with dreams to develop, in the best of their capacity. Help them come forward. Once strength and confidence makes some room in their mind, they are good to be on their own.

This is not what I had originally in mind about the mentally challenged people. Madness was always a never to be talked about subject, with evil myths and stereotypes. It was the urge to understand my own folks, that I went deeper into the subject, reading books and watching movies on schizophrenia. A Beautiful Mind left me unsettled and a serious research followed to comprehend the ‘what’, ‘why’ and the ‘how’.

During the journey, I met R.D. Laing. I couldn’t have understood schizophrenia better had I not read ‘The Divided Self’. R.D. Laing arrived as the light in the dark tunnel when he went on to explain madness. With his experiences and conversations with the patients, he allowed me a closer view on this subject. Though criticized for his controversial views, he actually revolutionized the way mental illness is perceived in the modern world. Laing showed how a person’s fragmentation was an intelligible response to an intolerable pressure, often the pressure of the infamous double-bind. He takes his readers to the roots of madness, well within the subject’s family and the larger society. Laing received harsh comments for he blamed schizophrenia on families. However, here he made a strong point. There is no doubt about the fact that any attempt to understand a person’s mental state cannot be made without analyzing his closest relationships. In the contemporary times, it is being acknowledged that its diagnosis and treatment can be better understood with the social context attached with the individual.

Without an iota of doubt, the times are changing. Psychiatry has come a long way, if we look back at the approach and wisdom 30 or 40 years ago. But there are miles to go. Modern times are full of narratives of protests by the suppressed and the marginalized communities, in terms of sexuality, race, gender and so on. They fight till they get it right. Here, we must not forget that these people, categorized as ‘mentally-ill’ cannot even rise for their cause. We are their voice.

Reality check.

How the mirror makes us uncomfortable in the times of introspection! For our own convenience, we break the mirror on the wall. We trample upon the pieces. But truth sparkles through the smithereens, pierces straight into our eyes. The glare is too fiery to ignore.

How long would we stand across the river and stare at the madhouse in fear and disgust? Let’s look within and laugh at our ‘better sense’. After we are done mocking the sane side, the madhouse will open its doors for us. Who are we to push them aside? They left our world long ago. And now, they wait for Godot.

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”

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