Sunday, April 1, 2012

Trauma and Self-Care

A guy called John Pead came to teach us last week. He is from Australia. So far in the course, I have had it till my snooty post-colonial nose from the ‘western’ teachers really! How much of white peoples’ understanding of Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan can you take without insulting your post-colonial intelligence you tell me. They speak as if the only beings with an occupied (as opposed to vacant/empty) spherical body part above the shoulder in Afghanistan are the ones that considerably lack in melanin. I will not go into the debate of occupation and vacating for some might take it as a downright insult. Not that I mind insulting anyone at all. Just that this is not the purpose of mentioning John Pead. Overall the whole experience has been so colonial that I have considered calling up Achille Mbembe and Gaytari Chakravarty Spivak to complain.

My urge to call and complain has suddenly increased in the past few weeks. When I discovered the next module was to be Trauma and Self-Care. I considered calling up my boss (who is at the moment heavily ignoring me) and telling him I am coming back right now. But cost of long distance calls and Thai food hold me back.

I chose to burden my benevolent classmate instead. As I complained to her about being in the enemy boot camp, I dreaded that the next lecturer will now turn unsuspecting Afghan and Sudanese into traumatized victims needing psycho-social support. I visualized hoards of Australians (who have grown beards to fit into the Afghan culture) talking to Afghans who are traumatized because already the ‘Disarmament and Demobilisation’ guys have taken away their AKs.

As the Afghan lies on the couch by the Bamiyam Buddha the bearded Australian prompts – You need to try. Try to remember how they took away your AK 47. Where were you? What were you doing? How did you feel? What did you think?

Afghan on the couch – it was not a 47, it was a 56 damn you (swear word in Afghan) Do not ask me to talk about it. It is the saddest moment of my life. It was my favourite toy. What will I play with now? And the bloody Disarmament guy had a whole rocket launcher to himself too!

Australian – That is very good. If you can remember the exact model of your Kalashnikov it means your memory is not completely disjointed. You even remember the weapon your traumatiser carried. If you try you will be able to join the fragmented parts of that incident and that will heal you.

Ok, I must admit I am getting an uncontrollable desire to continue with this scene under the BB. But this story is not about that either. This is what I was dreading will happen in class last week.

Come John Pead and no matter how hesitant I feel talking about anything positive, I must say, he and elections in Myanmar are the only positive things I have heard in the past few weeks. Yes, I know, don’t remind me that elections in Myanmar mean nothing. Perhaps JP means nothing too but I need to get on with the story.

He spoke mental health, trauma, systemic oppression in groups like Indigenous population in Australia and the effect of that, trans-generational conveyance and he said – psychiatric intervention is not always the best thing to do when people are traumatized.

For the first time in my life I heard a mental health practitioner saying intervention is not always the best thing! I could not believe my ears. He does not want to go to Afghanistan and provide ‘trauma counseling to the affected population’? Is he Raja Harichandra in disguise? For my non- Indian friends, Raja Harichandra is this nearly mythological king from some part of India who went through absurd levels of suffering because he would only be honest and truthful. Not that I like Raja Harichandra a bit. He was a patriarchal maniac if you ask me. But that’s another story again.

Now, enough about JP too. I feel like erasing everything I have said so far about him because it all sounds so positive. I am sure if I see him one more time I will be able to find some fault in him. Some of my classmates who are further ahead of me on the irritability scale have already found many. But the man did say many things I did not know about mental health or had assumed completely wrong things. Now, it is not every day that a man can prove me wrong if you know me. And it is probably the rarity of the occasion that has impressed me so much.

Now to some basic cokoo, loony, banana science. For those of you more knowledgeable than me (really?!) this might be namby-pamby stuff for you. Leave a nasty comment if it is. But please do not suggest psychotherapy at any cost. JP says we are junkies.

I actually wanted to do this in a quiz session. But since blogs are not really interactive tools, I will have to sound very scientific.

Mental Health: No, not the physical health of a person who has gone mental. WHO refers to it as a ‘state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of diseases.’ Like all UN definitions this one too is so broad that it has spread itself thin into air. I can’t remember what JP said as I did not take note in class. But from what I remember clearly what he said is something close to this – ‘A state of emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual is able to use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities, function in society, and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life.’ This one is said by Scientifically what I understand is that mental health is important for us to be able to enjoy our single malt and marijuana and to borrow money from anyone (especially parents) without guilt. It might also keep me from treating my boyfriends so badly. It might make me not pretend to be working the whole time and actually do some work in the office. This one I just made up and is not backed by any science at all.

I have already admitted I did not take note in class. But when he talked about human emotions (happiness –sadness), their physical manifestations (what in India we call gas and heart burn), their transference (love, jealousy, violence) and how love and work can help us live a healthy life it made sense to me. See how simple it is to have a normal life. All you need is love and work. I remembered many of my friends, my lovers; my family and a lot of incidents, feelings, reactions, and decisions became clear to me. I have been reading up frantically ever since. And yes, even to find peace in the world, to resolve conflicts, we need loving human beings first. So whether it is the descendents of Alexander who want to dominate the world through sophisticated warfare and sinister business plans or it is the guy from Burma who has been living in the refugee camp in Mae La for 30 years, we all need to feel good sometimes. And love is good for that. Love can make the changes we desire. Love can make good policies and make us see all human beings as human beings irrespective of their skin colour and size of the penis.

Uff, do I sound like I have flowery clouds in place of brain already? That must be the seesha. This is scientific, I am telling you. And if it sounds like free advice again, I am sorry. I am advising myself loudly and hoping you will hear and pull me up if I do not follow my own advice.

No, money is not important at all. You can have it or make it important for you but that is only transference. Yes, physical well being is necessary for mental health and for that a certain level of physical comfort, basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and health care need to be met. It is very unfortunate that in this world of ours many people live in the absence of at least one or more of these basic needs. But you know what, there are more unhappy people in the world than there are poor people. And I should mention that the way we understand poverty is very subjective too. A person who owns his own land, grows his own food and has his river to fish from might be happy without potato crisps, but for some of us that is a sad life, ain’t it?

No, jealousy is not an emotion. It is a conveyance of anger. If you are angry at something in/about life, you will feel jealous of others. So every time you are deeply in love and feel very jealous, think what is making you angry. Not what is making you jealous or take it as a measurement of the depth of your love. Not healthy for the mental at all.

Losing a mobile phone or a break up with your lover is not a traumatic event. You mean, when I am traumatized by the bad writing or bad public speaking, it is not a traumatic event at all? I am traumatized learning this! For an incident or an event to be traumatic it has to involve a threat to life, a face-to-face with death. That’s it. Now I can’t even have PTSD. Damn these scientists. This decreases my chance of drama and manipulations to near zero. Not healthy at all.

To be continued…