9th May 2015. The Red Door ride in collaboration with CCMC (Coffin Cheaterz Motorcycle Club)
As opposed to a brilliant plan we had in mind – we were also well prepared when plans don’t work out the way they should. What makes our 4th Unbirthday party different was the welcoming of our first Intern whom I, Resh kept ragging only to realise this kid is way more of an adult than I am. Obviously it was her first day in just getting to know the Pune team and the nonsense we engage in. Just plain old fashion ‘hanging out’ on a hot summer day. We did want to talk about Red Door as we do it all the time. Even when having fun we think of The Red Door and what we can do or what ridiculous stuff we should do. So much so that this time – both of us (Niki and me) didn’t really want to do anything but just chill and be silly. Out of formality we did get The Intern (voiced in a deep shaky horror like tone) to speak to our ‘boys’ and take an interview. Then we went on to have plain old stupid fun, bike talks, weird accents, burping sessions followed by irregular bowel movements in my case after 5 sips of cold beer.
Many first buddies of TRD know about our story. But I retell it every year because it is important for every other member and person. And every single time I tell the story it only gets bigger so I apologise for the length of it. This is simply because our human spirit grows every year making TRD what it is.
Defining The Red Door:
This door is a very personal door for me – as everyone now knows. I never knew it existed until I tried taking my life that year (2011) (death being a constant reference) It was the year my documentary was made. I should have been happy as expected. The name, the fame, the coming out…all of what seems natural. But it is not in mental health. On one side yes it made me feel grandiose – awed – wanted. On the other side is always the backtalk, the schizophrenic who doesn’t look schizophrenic, the jealousy, the envy, the ‘luck factor’ – that it takes money for someone like me to be living without medications. This ‘Oh she must be lucky’ statement had really disturbed me. I couldn’t sleep so often thinking about the lack of luck others like me have. That I should be grateful. That others have it worse. And this kindled the same fire of suicide. Not because I was feeling horrible for having schizophrenia. But because I felt bad that I can function. That I can recover. That I have had found support. That my father had savings. I felt suicidal because it was the very first brick in self-advocacy thrown at me: Rejection in coming out completely. This we call as the ‘revolving door’ in politics. I use the term ‘four wall theory’ to describe the constant cycle that pushes the person to feel bad about themselves, feel bad for being good, feel bad for being better, feel bad for doing good, feel bad for asking for rights, feel bad for everything that is YOURS and not anyone else’s.
After having several small events I collapsed out of constant fear of my future. Red Door was not yet defined or structured. I was not making much money as an artist because art is not just about good work but it is about business. I had little to keep myself going but my father still had to pay my bills, my food, my clothes, my tickets, my health. Often my parents would buy me something or my younger sister would buy me a gift. And I would hate it because I felt so useless for being such a financial burden that I refused anything good that came to me. Despite my dad assuring me that he would support any of his children when they are starting something new – be it a venture or a life, it wasn’t the same feeling. I carried the weight of it all throughout. Even rejecting luxury food, family outings, hanging out with friends because it would mean taking money from dad to live.
A day came when I threw a question to several friends and just asked them out of curiosity:
Hey how about we go paint with random people?
What, you want to paint the town red?
No, I just…I just want to…you know paint with street kids and talk to them. Like listen to each other and have fun.
What do you hope to achieve out of this?
Nothing. Why should I? I just want to paint with them.
What is the sustainability of this? You have no money.
Hmm…I just want to go paint and tell stories. I am not thinking of the after.
It’s not going to work.
For 2 weeks I stayed in bed just texting random friends and watching television back to back and drowning myself in how useless I am. Cause my days of looking for jobs or applying for a different career was over because I knew I couldn’t keep a job for more than 3 months – I never have. In between some days I would be responding to a lot of emails around psycho-social disabilities, interventions, personal narratives, methods and implementations that can work…all the boring serious stuff that I wasn’t getting paid for.
So I picked up my brushes, paints and paper and headed out to the Jogger’s park at University of Pune. I sat there painting. People glared. People approached. I approached. I spoke. We sat together. We talked. We shared. We left with a smile. I was happy. This was good enough for me. I didn’t know where I would have the money to do this tomorrow but I just did it. Soon a friend joined in. Then a family member. Then more friends. Then strangers. Then couple more. By then I already knew what The Red Door is. More than giving it words I wanted people to feel it – because that feeling – that invisibility that I have felt for so long is what I hoped I could get them to feel. It turned out it was more than just a mental health invisibility. Something happened in every event. It did not matter if it was only 1 person – that was okay.
The Red Door grew quite fast honestly. I’ve never been able to compare or analyze the work we do because it was actually one person but with many supporters. Many hearts. Many love. Many spirits. I was the same person who came up with the idea, built the various blogs, maintained them, contributed to legal work and advocacy, attended talks and lectures, maintained online group and discussions. ….there was quite a lot for one person to do and even this embarrassed me because people said I shouldn’t be doing so many things. But I was driven by the kind of support I saw coming. The fact that these individuals had NOTHING to do with the field of mental health is what gave me hope. The believe in what they saw in it or in me. They couldn’t offer much if one has to compare to others. But they offered something no one else ever can. They offered themselves and just the fact that they were not afraid to be who they are irrespective of how different we think, live, philosophize, dream, experience, debate, argue, disagree and agree. There was something more human in this that I could reflect.
To me The Red Door is a collective spirit of every person who is a part of it. People have come and people have left. We actually welcome this. There is a lot about what it is. I can give it words but I think many who are a part of it feel it.
The Red Door is what gives me hope because of the wonderful people who simply just are who they are. Bringing in their lives, their pain, their hope, their dreams, their stories, their knowledge, their believes, their experiences, their curiosities…its endless. It is a place I can still complain in and know that my pain is acknowledged. I can leave when I want to and return again. I know that every member might see the inspirational Resh who apparently has ‘a life made’ but can still see that I come with my own flaws and there are often times I am the one who needs help to keep going. That is what I love about it. Because The Red Door is a metaphorical door. It is also a political symbol in itself. As opposed to the revolving door where ‘mentally ill’ keep circling back and forth through experiences, treatment, recovery, advocacy, and repeat cycle – it is a door that allows you to choose if you want to push or pull. If you want to walk, crawl, sleep, dance, jump, break, beat, run, or storm through it…it is all UP TO YOU and no one is going to question your way.
Today I realised how important The Red Door is. Red Door events and unbirthdays are the only days I actually do something about celebrating anything. I realized how protective I am over it. I realized that there is so much it stands for that when certain others want to collaborate with us – I can say NO because I know what we are and what we continue standing for. This is what makes it alive. This is what makes me feel alive. This is what makes me wake up no matter how bad my previous day was -something many of us struggle with on a daily basis ( just getting out of bed )
Today The Red Door – I would proudly say is part of a global voice that people want to hear about and connect to. I talk about it – I talk about its members – I talk about the kind of people there are that keeps it alive. It has not run on money – or even donations. We have not had funders and neither are we registered to get money. It was run on the fellowships I have received and my personal pocket. It has run on the pockets of team members here. They’ve paid my phone bills, my rides, my food, my days of clubbing and not having much money to enjoy life, they’ve taken me out and spent a lot of time, care and love. They are all many of you here on The Red Door!
Whatever your label, your profession, your politics, your disagreements, your agreements, your roles – it has all contributed to the same spirit. I wish you all A Happy 4th Unbirthday because without any of you The Red Door wouldn’t have come so far.
In all my talks – I end by saying ‘The world doesn’t need treaters. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a counsellor, a therapist, a healer, a teacher, an academic, a coach, a doctor, a caregiver, a family member, or a support person to save a life. You are society. By just being you and knowing the small differences you can make you are doing so much more – so just keep at it’. I have understood love through The Red Door. Someone asked me ‘How can you accept or reach out to this world when there is so much of it that rejects you?’. I think it is because everyone connected with The Red Door is the answer to that question.
Today’s Unbirthday was amongst the Pune team – an event we needed for ourselves not for others. From what I was experiencing till last night I saw the answer to it today. Retracing my own lines from my book – I believe schizophrenia is about having your heart and soul being broken a million times over. One caregiver wrote to me saying ‘I believe if I only loved my child…I don’t think he has known it’. I remember a friend who just wants to be held and loved but was sent away to an institution for life. I remember many others saying ‘Schizophrenics can’t hold relationship or maintain them’. The truth is ‘Our hearts have been broken from a very early stage. This is not a symptom’.
And this being true – then I personally believe that world over everyone’s heart is being broken because nobody ones to love and be loved. Some of us do not even know how and it has been given a label of mental illness. I think it is time we change that. I think it is time we love – because those of us who know the emptiness of it will know how much more it is needed.
Peace, Colour & Love!