I came across the word “schizophrenia” for the first time while watching Russell Crowe’s masterpiece, ‘A Beautiful Mind’. After watching the movie, I was baffled by the struggle of the character against a disease not many people know about. As I sat and googled more about it, I couldn’t have thought that I’ll be dealing with it soon.
It happened with a cousin of mine. We had never been close, even though we were of the same age. However, after meeting during summer vacations last year, we exchanged numbers and soon started talking. Over time, the stories unfolded. He told me about the disease, warning me repeatedly not to tell anyone else in the family. His parents didn’t want others to think of him as “mentally ill”. He had been different since childhood, more interested in the “feminine” art of sketching instead of football. Subjected to mental and sometimes physical violence at home for being “different”, he formed a shell around himself. Even though he was a meritorious student in the beginning, the pressure resulted in a steady decline in his academic performance. Bottling up the frustration inside him, he increasingly became quiet and distant.
The problem, thus, which had been developing for a long time, but got aggravated last year. It was the year that the education system has demonized as “the Board Year”. Under the pressure to perform, and unable to do so due to the mental anxiety caused by the medications, he tried to run away from home. He was caught and made to return. The second time, he looked up the internet for a “memory enhancing” pill and consumed it, which led to severe side effects. He couldn’t sleep for five nights in a row, and needless to say, failed miserably in the exam. The failure triggered the voices in his heads, increasing their intensity. He often lost track of reality, forming in his head conspiracy theories of how the world was trying to bring him down. As his friends and acquaintances moved ahead in life, he further became depressed. When he walked on the streets, he felt several pair of eyes looking at him with disdain. The neighbourhood children became apprehensive of playing with him because they had heard he was “pagal“. At this point, he increasingly felt hatred against the world that mocked him for something beyond his control.
During all this, we continued to talk. One day, his father read our chats and broke down and hugged him. I’ll never forget the way he thanked me that day, only for lending an ear. He had been hugged for the first time in his entire life. He felt normal, he said. With our support, he’s slowly regaining his love for sketching and also numbers. (Schizophrenic patients often perceive colours and numbers in a better manner than alphabets.) Even though the disease does not have short-term solutions, medication helps him sleep and control the voices. However, an education system that judges people on the basis of marks didn’t give him the suitable opportunities to pursue his interests.
Currently he’s at home. He is taking coaching classes but finds it hard to cope up with the regular pace. His parents are apprehensive of sending him to a “special school”, for they segregate rather than integrate.
I write this personal account to highlight how the society and experiences of an individual play a role in triggering schizophrenia. I hope some of you read more about it after scrolling through this article. It is also an appeal to our educational institutions that create the same benchmarks for examining an individual’s potential, without enabling people to start from the same starting point. It is a plea to the society that refuses to slow down and equates different with dangerous, to take a minute and lend an ear.