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“It is okay not to be okay”- 5 November 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 31 December 2017 17:29

Meeting her friend after a long gap, a young petit woman asked after her welfare. Her friend smiled, hesitated and her not- so-well state of affairs became obvious to her even before she could utter something- her body language gave her away. Quick to observe her discomfiture the petit young lady promptly said, ‘don’t worry my friend- it is okay not to be okay’. Then they both laughed and I was impressed at her philosophical reassuring response which came so aptly and promptly. It was not a novel magical insight that she was giving and nor was it a wisecrack, it was so many things rolled into one and her sincerity of tone made the impact so very positive- it stuck in my head for ever so to say.

What a great understanding of life and the process of life!

No one’s life follows a perfect plan or path however much you desire to do so. We can see people struggling to be happy, in spite of their handicaps, miseries, losses and setbacks. People have their own set of desires and aspirations for defining their sense of happiness in this world and at most times lots may be left to be desired. The first thing to do is to be aware of yourself and your life as much as possible. The ‘awareness’ gives us an objective assessment of what is going right and what is not going right and the objectivity gives us a sense of balance that ‘it is okay to not be perfectly okay’. If life is not generally fine it is best to accept it as a phase that will go away maybe not by its own but by taking cognisance about it and acting on it. But if life is generally fine and reasonably okay and no major upheaval has happened we should be okay about life anyway. This does not mean that we should not have high ambitions, this means that in the process of achievement we should maintain a harmonious mind by enjoying the process whether good or bad.

This brings us to the second principle of ‘acceptance’ of what is. Most times we forget what we have in hand and run after what we want in hand. If we observe we can see senseless running after material and social rewards. Our wants and desires seem endless –we have just achieved one and begin hankering after the next one. If we care to observe people are blessed by God in many different ways, we have been bestowed a wealth of resources within us, but many times we forget to look inside our own treasure house and look for it outside or in others houses! Acceptance of what we have and what we can do with it is the trick. Counting our blessings and acceptance of reality keeps us grounded and happy.

A depressed man wailed that “life was terrible, horrible, all was lost and hence not worth living”. Such can be the nature of clouding of the mind when we put on dark glasses and observe the world- everything appears dark and cloudy with no silver lining. It takes an enormous amount of effort to lift the veil of darkness and show them the silver lining in the sky. A balanced attitude with the right perspective will help us accept life in all its colours- whether bright or dark and to know that it is a bad time that will pass, as good times do too. The storm clouds will not remain endlessly but will sweep away one day. But people do lose patience, lose hope, lose perspective and consequently lose their minds.

The fundamental principle of maintaining a balanced mind comes from a realistic as well as a positive sense of self image. When we perceive our strengths and weaknesses in a framework of reality and yet maintain a positive approach towards it we develop a good strong healthy self image. This is turn leads to a good sense of self esteem which is of utmost importance in facing life’s cruel challenges. The person’s sense of self respect and dignity empowers her to accept whatever comes by way of life’s offerings. It is accepted as a gift from the heavens meant for a specific person. No experience goes waste, for it teaches us lessons which no book can teach. The experiences of life are the best teachers in the world and we could accept them with a happy and healthy attitude of ‘it is okay- let it come’. Drowning yourself in pity and sorrow will multiply your woes and make you more miserable. Awareness and acceptance will help you take a detached look and decrease your miseries.

In counselling when people come crying, they tend to apologise and feel bad about their uninhibited behaviour. At that moment to tell them that ‘it is okay to cry and it is okay to feel bad’ is very reassuring for the other, for it validates the emotions of the other. It also reflects ‘acceptance’ by the counsellor and a non-judgemental response to the situation of being ‘not okay’. The task of being in a ‘state of perfection’ at all times is daunting and terrifying. It acts as a stressor that can lead to negativity. It is okay to be just okay and not so okay!

 

“I am not mad you know”- 22 October 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 31 December 2017 17:27

We know that there are many shades of madness. We also know that there are levels and degrees of madness. While we believe what the famous Sigmund Freud stated that ‘we are all neurotic to some extent’, we know that most of us are not stark mad. But we would like to state clearly that the art and science of psychology and psychotherapy is not about treating madness but about treating neurosis, which we all suffer from, in lesser or greater extent. This is a reality and the sooner recognised the better for society and humanity.

I loved the Hindi movie named ‘Dear Zindagi’, starring the suave Shahrukh Khan and petite Alia Bhatt. Besides the superb acting displayed by them, the theme was endearing and won my heart. It focuses on the process of counselling/therapy of her repressed conflict with her parents in childhood and how it impacts her adult relationships with her family and friends. With regular sessions she gains insight into her emotional turmoil and regains her normalcy with her parents and friends. That the ‘dimaag ka doctor’/ counsellor is a friendly chap who does not appear scary at all and thus gives mental health its due share in Bollywood. Hindi cinema comes of age with this film as far as mental disturbance/neurosis is concerned and redeems the damage done by earlier movies which have depicted mental illness in a very distorted and poor light. The earlier movies have always shown cases of ‘severe psychosis’ and the stark/horrifying images of mad people behaving abnormally has got stuck in our minds. ‘Dear Zindagi’ promotes counselling by saying, ‘everyone needs a ‘dimaag ka doctor’!! How true! At some point we all need some sight and insight into our problems, our behaviour and our mind.

The stigma against mental health and mental illness is huge even today when the facts and figures of illness are rising. It makes us wonder if people ever read a little bit of psychology and ever try to understand the workings of their own minds. Do people ever question their stereotypical thinking and ever find little time to reflect on their own behaviour and attitudes? Are we a thinking population or a closed-minded society who continues to believe in the old fashioned solutions to ‘modern day’ problems? When times change we need to change ourselves too besides changing our dresses, addresses and mobiles. When knowledge in any field expands the domain of understanding, we need to make use of that science for the betterment of our lives. The rise in life-style diseases such as chronic hypertension, diabetes, cardiac complications, migraines, are stress related which arises in the mind and causes damage to the body but we agree to treat the body and not the mind where it originates from! If a disease travels from my mind to my body, we look for physical solutions to the malady and not mental solutions! That is called ‘beating around the bush’ where the problem never gets resolved. We are ready to accept physical/medical medications but hesitate to visit a counsellor. We are ready to spend thousands on medical investigations but not a hundred on a ‘talking cure’ or a ‘speaking therapy’ without medicines. This illogical logic defies me! Only when the disease reaches the mind in a gross way and makes the individual dysfunctional in terms of work and family life do they come for psychological help. The damage done is huge by then.

Stigma reduces the likelihood of clients seeking early interventions and might want to postpone and delay timely help. Stigma also leads to premature discontinuation of the treatment when the cure is not even half way. Stigma is due to myths and wrong notions that society has about mental disturbances. It can be removed only when we make ourselves aware and educate ourselves of the developments and progress made in psychological sciences. The quality of the services in mental care has improved tremendously and has been nothing short of a ‘revolution’. Many therapeutic methodologies are available that offer relief and cure for your emotional disturbances.

‘Everyone is not mad’ but I restate that ‘everyone is neurotic to some extent’. Let us elaborate on this with some examples. Anuj lives in anxiety and mild depression and that reduces his capacity to love and work. He feels drained of energy and lives in fears that affect his mind in many ways. He is afraid of ‘falling ill with some dreadful disease’ and lives in this dread. He frequents the doctor who declares him physically fit and gets tired of saying so umpteen times. Anagh lives on a short fuse and is ready to fly into a rage on seemingly inconsequential issues. His wife, children and family is afraid of him as well as tired of him. Neeti is obsessed with cleanliness and washes and cleans several times a day. She likes to keep the house spic and clean and proper at all times and hence disapproves of the members relaxing/sprawling on the sofa or the bed. Ananya is devastated because her boyfriend betrayed her and ditched her for her good friend. She is depressed and losing her interest in career. Swapnil is addicted to his mobile and social media and cannot control his habits in spite of academic slow-downs and failures. He must spend four to five hours on the social media or playing games. This is the latest addiction and a new nightmare of parents with teenagers.

 

This is not ‘madness’ you would agree, but it is ‘neurosis’ for sure where conscious / unconscious emotional conflicts and dilemmas disturb your quality of life and living. It decreases your functionality in work and love, and leads to a discontented, unhappy mind. It spoils the atmosphere at home and work and has a spiralling effect all around. The ‘neurosis’ spreads across the social environment - until you check it consciously with simple / non-medical techniques called ‘counselling and psychotherapy’.

“The beauty of making mistakes”- 8 October 2017.

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 15 October 2017 17:06

A two and half year old was struggling with a toy puzzle and trying to fit in the blocks. The father on entering the room saw this spectacle, immediately swooped down, took the piece from the child’s hand and fitted it in the part. Bravo! The father won but the little child failed....The child just lost the opportunity to explore with his own hands and to solve the puzzle with his own sense and speed of intelligence. He got instead a sense of failure and a sense that father is ‘all powerful’ and he is a ‘no good’. He was deprived of the pleasure of the feeling of success and the ensuing confidence. If the father instead had sat there patiently and egged him on to try alternative moves he would have helped the child in many more ways.

A three year child accidently spilled her fruit juice which her mother had just made. The child began to cry and feeling guilty said ‘sorry mother I wasted the juice- it was my fault’. The mother although very upset with the scene controlled her anger and sat down. She said ‘I am sorry too, the juice was wasted, it was very expensive and papa works very hard to earn money for us. Be careful next time. Promise to be a good child on the dining table. For now, do not worry, I will make you some more’. The child was very guilty and learned a lesson but in a positive way.

As a routine if a child comes with a learning difficulty for help, I give him a simple assignment of writing down a small paragraph on any subject. When I see the parent/s interfering into the assignment and trying to give ideas to the child or make corrections in his writing, I know what is going wrong. They keep correcting him all the time and do not allow him to make mistakes and correct it himself. I then ask him to be his own ‘teacher’ and do a self-correction of his work. He takes his own time to search for his errors in spellings and grammar and feels happy when he is able to do it. I encourage him to observe carefully and pick out the errors and try to reduce them next time.

Ayushi’s parents always chided her for making bad friends. Her mother would criticize her friends and pick faults of each one of them. They were according to her, ‘not good in studies, shabbily dressed, not good looking and smart, won no prizes’ and the likes. This upset her a great deal for she was thirteen now and knew how to choose friends. She loved experimenting with new types of clothes and hairstyles which made her mother furious. Constant advice and lecturing made by Ayushi’s mother made her angry and irritated for she felt she was not allowed any freedom at all in her home.

Making mistakes and learning from them is a great source of education. If given the freedom to make mistakes and indulge in self correction, it helps the process of development in many ways. Firstly, the child is not ‘afraid’ of making an error and does not ‘live in fear’ of being judged at all times. ‘What is my mother going to say if fail the first time or if I turn out to be wrong?’ With such fears children do not dare to attempt new tasks for fear of failure. In contrast another child with an accepting mother would say ‘my mom will laugh at my mistakes and tell me not to worry about it’. She would be happy with ‘the effort I have made and would encourage me to improve my efforts’. The difference between a critical mother and an accepting mother is enormous. An accepting mother would be patient with her child and after putting her to ease, talk to her to discuss the issue at hand giving suggestions and alternatives.

A teenager gets scolded for choice of clothes, hanging out with peers, indulging in casual behaviour and choice of friends. A parent with fixed, rigid ideas, values and with less patience would solve the problem by ‘shouting, lecturing, criticising, stop talking and giving the cold treatment’. They could also ‘refuse to listen to understand the problem at hand, not show trust and faith in their own teen, and harp on focusing on studies as if life depended only on attaining a good degree’. Parents forget that the attaining of maturity comes from a sound personality which can think through problems in a logical way, which also means using the power of critical thinking. Such traits can develop through open minded discussions at home within a safe and healthy atmosphere with positive vibes and free exchange of ideas and thoughts’.  An intellectual atmosphere at home is imperative but sadly missing in most homes. Instead of being told in a direct dominant way by parents, ‘do this and don’t do this’, a teenager would be happy to have a fair exchange of thoughts and ideas. Most parents can find that intimidating and not know how to counter the argument in a cool balanced manner and hence use ‘force and command’ to put down the belligerent teen. They bemoan the fact that ‘why cannot my parents be more like a friend to me rather than bossing me around’.

 

Making mistakes and learning from them is a great method of self realization. A trial and error in many tasks can lead the child to the realization of right and wrong and what is good and bad for her/him. Although we partly believe in the adage ‘wise men learn from other men’s mistakes’, the beauty of life lies in experiential learning whose value surpasses any wisdom given by others or gleaned from the books.

“Saving depressed young minds”- 17 September 2017

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Written by Rita Aggarwal
Sunday, 17 September 2017 21:18

Ashi was irritated most of the times and she would lose patience with her younger sister. She had a school board examination on her head and she was worried of the outcome and her results. She did not like missing even a single mark in her examinations. She wanted her sister also to do well and often coached her with some science subjects but lately she was losing her temper. She would fly into a rage and break things whatever came in her hand. This scared her parents who referred her to the counsellor. She was undergoing depression since some months which was manifesting itself as ‘irritation, anger and rage’.

Shruti was withdrawing into her shell day by day. This was observed by her close friends as they would try to reach to her for social outings which she would decline with some excuse. This began to worry them after the initial misunderstanding and misgivings they noticed a pattern and decided to take note of it. They tried their best in various ways by humouring her up, taking her to parties, seeing movies and films but her moods did not seem to lift up much. Her friends were smart enough to report it to her mother who became alert for her child.

Ashish was unnecessarily getting worried about each and every thing lately. His mind would often get into the fear of developing some serious disease. He was afraid of shaking hands with his college friends for fear of infection. He avoided hugging them for fear of being hurt by them. He knew it was all going irrational in his head but he could not control his fears. He made frequent trips to the doctor for chest pain and for a muscle spasm and the doctor assured him that he was fit as a fiddle and had no disease at all. But his mind would not agree with his logic for it had its own logic so to say! He was going crazy and needed re-assurance from whoever was willing to listen to him. He was actually suffering from anxiety and depression.

Each and every child that we come across in our clinic is depressed or anxious about life. Depression is a much misunderstood or shall we say an ignored phenomenon. The incidence is growing rapidly and alarmingly especially among the teens and youth. Among all the suicides that are committed in India, one third of the victims are youth. This is a sad and shocking number. It was predicted by WHO about a decade ago that the second largest cause of deaths in the world by 2020 will be ‘depression’ after cardio-vascular diseases. It seems young minds are under assault like never before and it appears that children seem to be caught in a proverbial ‘chakravayuh’, a maze, with no way of finding out the exit point. Life certainly needs to be simplified for our kids and parents who complicate the meaning and purpose of life are acting no less than ‘innocent criminals’. For with all their good intentions and intent they are pushing their children into depression and suicide.

The reasons could be as many for the world is just not the same as it was some decades ago. Rapid technological changes and economics have changed the face and fabric of social norms and culture. Parental expectations are sky high and as families shrink in size, the onus of being the star kid falls on the shoulder of that one kid who is constantly under the gaze of his parents to achieve and reach the skies.

A society that believes in gurus of various kinds, and any kind, even to the point of some of them being ridiculous and some being downright criminals, is unmindful of a progressing science that is breaking new frontiers in mental illness and mental health. This following of gurus indicate a mindset that goes more by ‘faith healing’ and less by ‘science and its methods’. We still live in the dark ages by this standard and need to educate and aware ourselves of what’s happening in a science called ‘psychology’. All this modern wisdom and more is available in the ancient texts of our civilization but is subsumed by the fake ‘baba’ culture that is unfortunately dominating our society. Everyone today who believes has a stake in our children and the youth should educate themselves on mental health issues and depression especially and extend a hand to provide ‘first- aid’ to the ones who need it badly.

Today, with the spread of medical knowledge people have become aware of specific physical symptoms which might need immediate medical help. This awareness saves many lives that may be in danger if ignored and left unattended. This is precisely what we need to do with depression and other mental illnesses- provide them immediate psychological first aid and then refer them to a professional. The ‘first-aid’ in depression is all about ‘opening out the depressed person and making him talk’. This ‘venting out’ is the biggest relief we can give the depressed person. It is also about listening with empathy with a non-judgemental approach to the thoughts of the person. It is about ‘validating his negative and depressed feelings’ and reflecting it back to him. After this initial ice-breaking with the person, we need to encourage and assist them in seeking professional consultation with a psychologist. By giving such first aid we can save a life.

(Rotary Action Group on Mental Health Initiatives (RAGMHI) promotes positive mental health to help children, adults and families lead meaningful and productive lives. ‘Its mission is to act as a worldwide resource for Rotarians and others in the field of mental health and mental illness and to promote, protect, restore and to help build a lost capital to make a happier, healthier society and world’. RAGMHI has a 7- member Board of Directors. It has a website (http://ragonmentalhealth.org) where interested Rotarians, their family-members and Alumni, and non- Rotarians can register online and become members for a small fee. Those interested can get in touch with me for information and action.)

 

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