A hiss one day, oh! How she freaked,
Soon enough it was a gang of three.
Her mind overwhelmed, her body thrust
They say it’s a chemical reaction all that clamour and bawl.
But who are we to blame? We’re the few parts that sustained,
Aliens to society, seekers of love and loyalty.
Pain that is not transformed is transmitted
Yes, we all felt it.
Desires of differentiation
Us from one, one to none.
Do you see the damage you have done?
You punished us for what we had become,
We were all human until a bad deed was done.
All she looked for were ears and answers
For the shades of blue that grew inside of her.
An escapist with recurring reminders,
Dreams for a belonging outside of her.
Until then we rest in her head
For with acceptance or death do parts us.
– by Netra Davar, 2016.
All of us have heard about alternatives in mental health care, holistic models and natural practices. But very few have heard of INTAR. World over many yet only speak of conventional psychology, regular treatments, the chemical imbalance and all such concepts buying it’s way into mental health awareness. Most have no clue about what alternatives and holistic care mean. Those who do are limited in terms of practitioners and experiential experts.
INTAR India 2016 has been one of those conferences where the who’s who of mental health from all over the world shared their knowledge and experience. From members of WHO, UN, CRPD drafters, psychiatrist, academicians, lawyers, activists, advocates, user survivors, caregivers, social workers, volunteers, art based therapist, counsellors, lecturers, film makers, other doctors and other labelled individuals – there were people representing almost every area in the field.
From community work to creativity, holistic models to spiritual and shamanistic concepts and practices, the dropping of the ‘chemical imbalance’ – regular treatment models and regularity of counselling services all challenged and presented through methods that have worked by experienced individuals who are experts in the subject area. So this is a big deal really for many of us living without medications to feel we’re seeing our dreams come true.
It made me think about concepts of originality, plagiarism, copyright issues, and all of such issues that arise in this technological world. In such a space where knowledge is meant to be shared and explored it is difficult to stay true to what you create and hope no one overrides your work especially if you are an artist. Off late, I have noticed that the rise of Mental Health groups and individuals wanting to do something in the area of creativity have cropped up like mushrooms. Each making claim that they have started something new.
At first, I was angry that people were ‘copying’ our stuff. These were individuals where The Red Door has worked with before where I mostly have either given lectures, presented something, conducted an event, given interviews and written stuff all protected by ©Reshma Valliappan as a published author and research scholar, while the The Red Door maintains a ™ over the work done. The Red Door has explored all means of creativity from theatre, mime, art, biker groups, dance, martial arts, tantra, shamanism, story-telling, meditation, writing, talking, humour, comedy, voice overs, redefining madness, imaginary friends, voices…our list constantly grows.
I took it with pride that ‘your work speaks through the universe when people want to copy them’. In the world of technology, intellectual property rights, brand names etc…there is only so much an individual can protect themselves with especially if it involves creativity.
In conversations with few people in the past 6 months, I came to realize that this was exactly the organic effect The Red Door wanted to see happen. I knew there was something in this creative believe and as an Ashoka staff puts it ‘changemakers work have a ripple effect of its own‘. I stayed by this as I knew there wasn’t a way to quantify my work as an Ashoka Fellow. I couldn’t give numbers to funders, organizations or pitches to tell them how we were affecting others and making that difference, as I didn’t keep a paper record of things. This was because I ended up being a single-led organization much like most Mental Health Advocates. Our life and work revolve around each other every single day.
The world runs on a business model and we run on the heart model. I had to keep making the choice of choosing to give my time to someone for free knowing they will take me for granted since there is no value for anything ‘free’ or I had to choose the cause being more important than me where I only give my free time to those who really can’t afford it and have serious concerns which need my availability. Of course the latter has eaten me dry even by health but I am a believer of all things not normal so I can’t operate as the former. Learning to be selfless by being selfish is a difficult yet intriguing process.
The cause is always greater than I am. This was something I learnt from observing and interacting with a senior Ashoka Fellow over 7 years. I met another Ashoka Fellow after that through her. Then another in 2010. Then another in 2011. But at that time, I only knew their names and what they do. I didn’t know they were Ashoka Fellows nor did I know such a thing existed. It felt like this ‘Ashoka fellow’ thingy was some secret group of people who never spoke about being one. But here I was at INTAR, sharing the space with 4 other Ashoka Fellows working in the mental health sector!
Once I wrote to BD an email asking her how is she dealing with the fact that larger groups and psychiatry led organizations have ‘copied’ their work and where some have even stated it as something they’ve been doing. I remember and see how all of them love to say they were the first ones to discover something – a Christopher Columbus delusional archetype is what I call it.
So she (BD) directed me to their disclaimer . At one of their meetings Are you a Bapu Trust?, I spoke a few words mentioning that for me BT is like the mother ship. It had all these concepts, ideas, works and more importantly BD believed in the stuff I was talking about. Not once were my ideas around creativity + spirituality in context to Mental Illness such as schizophrenia were ever rejected by her, because it came from a place of knowing. Of course we have had our disagreements and differences too but it’s all part of welcoming change and knowing when the rider craft (The Red Door™) has to leave the mother ship (Bapu Trust) only to circle back.
I was honoured to be a part of INTAR India 2016 this weekend. I co-presented and shared this sacred creative space with Jhilmil Breckenridge. The theme suggested to us was ‘Responding to Alternative Realities Creatively’. I am looking forward to sharing our presentation in a public domain after/if we get the permission to do so. We did miss our 16 year old poet and The Red Door intern, Netra Davar who was to begin our presentation with her poem (shared above) and adding another generation energy to it!
We received some wonderful responses and feedback by those who attended our sessions. Jhilmil and I tend to naturally sync in the way we work and share a space without stepping into the other’s zone yet maintaining a wonderful balance even by the clothes we wear, the words used, the seriousness and humour, the age, gender and sexuality, and the amazing differences of our narratives yet the similarity in the knowledge and insight we have both gained and translated.
Our entire presentation was worked on online while she sat in Delhi, in her hotel room in Pune and then in a salon too while I worked online from home having not showered for 4 days. This is where technology works brilliantly! Quite honestly I was in several minds to show up for INTAR, as I was supposed to be in samadhi and tuning in to my sadhanas.
For when we met physically, we were too busy having conversations and fun instead of worrying over what and how we were to deliver our presentation. The day of the presentation was as smooth as our process with no hang ups, mistakes or regrets, and right on time with room for questions and answers – almost enough to say perfect in our deliverance as a team of two, each representing our own organization.
I haven’t been taking pictures of myself or of places anymore as I am not in that space of selfies and pictures any longer. This is also because I lose out on time which I find to be a very valuable asset when I am doing the work of 7 people in one body. So I don’t have much to share with you about the actual physical space, and of those I am talking about.
But what makes this even greater is Jhilmil does exactly that! Not to say that she doesn’t value time the way I do or doesn’t have the work of 7 people too. Do follow her FB profile where she has shared a lot of pictures from INTAR, the learning institute and other conferences. We do balance each other out at so many levels and this is important for me to raise because we both practice the way of the divine feminine or the way of the Goddess which would sound delusional to other people who only saw us for the labels we carry.
So, I am sharing my artwork and some conversations here which highlights every day of INTAR that I attended. It is an expression of what I felt about each day. As an artist, I have to paint and not suffocate myself since I need to make a living out of this. Thankfully I had my sketch book, paints and brushes brought along! This also helped me heal myself (and others) as I was picking up the voices and pain of others around me who confirmed it later with me.
Artwork after opening session of INTAR, day 1
Someone who attended our workshop and spoke for an hour later told me “You know you have this presence in the room when you were presenting, and I connected to it. If I may ask what are your ‘superpowers‘ like and how do you deal with so many people? That is not something I have learnt yet.”
My reply was “We are natural healers. We don’t need to go our way out to put our hand on others, send them a message or even ask them. Our presence does it because we are sending energy out and absorbing it too. This can be a huge disadvantage to us at many levels we already know of but we need to find our own shaman tools to live in the same space. Mine is hopping about like a kid, making random sounds and faces, humming and painting, and then immediately moving away from my art to stretch and exercise. If you notice, my body is constantly moving.
I don’t stand too long talking to anyone and immediately hop over to the next. I do the same even on social media. I cannot stay in a conversation too long, especially because it becomes a waste of words and energy for me. I am not a ‘chatter’ but I will talk a lot about something that has an idea, thought, or theory which can be built upon. Most people don’t know that difference. In the event of my hopping between point A to B, I naturally spin or twirl like a child changing the direction of energy like the Helmholtz coil or the Butterfly Effect theory I was talking about in context to quantum physics being the only branch of science that can explain our Mind – Body relationship. Most people will call this restlessness, hyperactivity, childlike behaviour, distraction, not focused and even me being not serious.”
Artwork as a response to a plenary session which made certain individuals uncomfortable, day 1 of INTAR.
Our conversation carried on further about awareness, being, belonging, letting go, learning, acknowledging, not fitting in, relationships and our inner belief.
I had received feedback from her during my presentation and after. She said “…in U.S. we look at art and all these creative methods as alternative therapy. What you are saying is, we need to move away from therapy and I really love this perspective…”
Steven Morgan of Intentional Peer Support gave a similar feedback about using art more than just a painting process but as a guide is valuable for an artist too. Amita Dhanda of NALSAR viewed my presentation from a place of experiential knowing and said “You have a tone that doesn’t come across as an authority yet a knowing and acknowledgment that some things don’t need to be inclusive.” (I am not quoting them word to word but have written my interpretations of their words, which I hope I haven’t misunderstood or distorted as I don’t remember every word spoken)
Artwork from Day 2 while having attended several workshops and presentations on shamanism, indigenous healing, the wounded healer. Right after completing this piece, I had a partial body seizure and allowed 2 individuals to experience the energy I keep speaking off. I need to find this place and this ‘tree’ which could be a metaphor or a direct image. If you find meaning or know of the place my artworks tell you, do write in to me and let me know! I would be ever so grateful. 🙂
Day 3 of INTAR was pretty intense too. I had the privilege to meet the individuals who were part of the early days of Soteria house. Everything Yana Jacobs and Peter said was exactly what I was doing in my work; holding space, being, seeing the human person, using creativity or innovative strategies.
I introduced myself to her “I have known about you guys through Bhargavi and you existed like a figment in my head. I would often walk into her office space and tell her about all these crazy ideas I had on having such a space for people like me and she never undermined my ideas but told me about Soteria. I lived with the knowing of that and just carried on doing what I needed. Now I finally get to meet you and it feels almost prophetic.
My question is how and is it necessary to scale up because for such work to be done we can’t ‘train’ others as it is comes from a natural place. And often I worry that if I don’t train others or find the right ones then the work might not grow especially because there are no funds for this.”
Yana said “Yes, but you will draw the right ones when needed…”. I gave her a hug later “Thank you for existing. I’ve stayed alive wandering and believing and here you are! It keeps me knowing I’ve been on the right track.”
Artwork of last day, INTAR. Image can be viewed and made meaning of upside down too like most of my work.
INTAR India 2016 is ‘the thing’ of alternatives and holistic models in mental health care. It has been a much awaited conference for all of us that validates our experiences, work, believes and practices. I had to leave just before the closing plenary and didn’t get time to meet others, thank them and especially even say a few words to the entire team of INTAR, Bapu Trust, and other partners. So I am using my personal blog to dedicate this post to everyone who were a part of INTAR (before and after) and especially Bhargavi Davar of Bapu Trust.
When I first walked into her office in 2007, I was living in my car. I couldn’t go back home, I was jumping in between jobs to keep money coming in just to pay my rent and paint. I was often taken in by friends, lovers and strangers who cared for me and offered me their homes where food and shower were free only to have me disappear after 2-3 days.
By 2008, I would show up more often at Bapu Trust office and exchange more ideas and learnings. Bhargavi would tell me to look up the works of individuals she heard of who had similar ideas before me. I never bothered to look them up as I had no access to internet then and had limited mobile data because I kept my phone switched off to avoid the messages and phone calls my parents were making to find out where I was and what I was doing with my life. They were convinced that Bhargavi wasn’t a good influence on me. (this changed later of course!)
I met all of these individuals that Bhargavi spoke of at INTAR finally! I likely haven’t told many of them this directly. The firm believe I’ve had has been truly prophetic for me for I’ve only had their ideas in my head which I implemented and worked upon building under The Red Door not knowing the models or methods. (Learning through dreams is what I do. It is where one can tap into the realm of knowledge, connect with others psychically and learn stuff. Individuals who came to INTAR who were experiential experts knew that I wasn’t making things up.)
and I must say that there really can’t be an actual copy of any idea or method but only a gratefulness to it that we must maintain. Every idea or method used is only an extension of a previous knowledge practiced by someone else and this cycle continues in it’s own way as humans evolve through technology and other future possibilities. I have understood and learnt that there is no such thing as a ‘new knowledge’ or ‘new method’ but only the way in which we practice it in the era of our social, cultural, political and familial existence. The essence of the knowledge remains the same.
I do hope others in the field of mental health consider the stances and statements they make publicly on something being new or even theirs because as far as I know many individuals born before me already started it and left the roads open for others to walk on and build. This we must truly be grateful for.
During the end of day 2, a summary of all workshops were given by participants. I was waiting to raise the issue on our starting point of psychiatry and mental health itself being something from the West carrying patriarchal concepts, therefore alternatives or healing comes from the same place that requires a schizophrenic to be ‘fixed’ where the shaman or healer or spiritualist is someone at a better place than the schizophrenic/mentally ill. I use this term as a general term to encompass anyone who is different in body, mind, sexuality or gender.
I suggested that we need to move out of this and see this ‘schizophrenic’ as someone who is equal and at par with any other expert. DMT, opioids, cannabinoids are already firing in our brains as backed up by the research of Sudhir Kakar. Many alternative practitioners, healers, spiritualist, shamans, religious groups and tantriks are operating from the same ‘fixing’ perspective as a psychiatrist putting themselves as experts over our experiences.
When the truth is many of them in the world outside still need to consume these mind altering drugs or even spend hours in meditation to receive their visions and learnings whereas the ‘schizophrenic’ is already experiencing their visions and learnings. I knew I was on the right track when few individuals came up to me and said ‘Thank you for raising that! It’s exactly how I feel too.’
The only difference which is a big difference is our label forces us to withdraw socially because of the multiple disadvantages we face and therefore we don’t get to live the shaman or healer in us.
I also loved my encounter with the Australian lookalike of Sandra Bullock Dr.Michelle Funk of WHO whom I connected with much later and found allies with her and her colleague Natalie Drew. In my earlier days I thought people from WHO can’t be concerned or bothered as I generalized them to the rest of unethical psychiatrist. After having entered the CRPD discourse I learnt that not all authority folks are mean. And after having met these women, hearing their side and having them being honest about their work, their personal and their own limitations it forced the creative strategy ideas I had to come out and extend my hand to them in executing certain areas.
I see hope because it exist and even where it doesn’t it is something we can keep creating as our circle of consciousness grows. Here’s to the beginning of alternatives and what is natural booming into mental health spaces. For it is in the choices we make daily that enable us to carve the road towards us fulfilling and expanding our purposes.
To all who attended INTAR whom I have not mentioned by name, this is to you too! Every interaction and connection made over breakfast, in the lift, during tea, while I was painting, drum circle and dancing, of imaginary friends, work collaborations and random cheekiness is a beginning of another cycle of madness and well being – the redefining of it all!
Peace, Colour and Love to all!
Artwork from Day 1 & 2 of Intentional Peer Support, Learning Institutes. First image is sketch of the original cover drawing from the handbook by IPS. All other © of Val Resh. Poem by Netra Davar.