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I Witnessed Everything Alone, As My Mother Dealt With Schizophrenia

My mom died a year ago. The day she went from being a human being – a woman and a mother – to a corpse, was a day after the Vardha cyclone, and 53 days after demonetisation. It was a chaotic time, for the real and political landscapes of our city. It took me a complete year to be able to address this explicitly, although death, or someone detaching themselves completely, is not something new in my life. Like everyone, I too have come across deaths before, and many people including my own father got lost without any connections in the track of my life.

But this whole year has been a completely new experience. The reality that the woman I called ‘mother’ is no more and the fact that I live with the presence of another woman – my partner. Nothing outlandish happened, everything went on as routine. I woke up, cooked, went to office, travelled, read a few books, wrote a little, and I overcame my mother’s death without any depression or trauma. I should mention the philosophy, ideology, and politics that I have learned made me realize that death is just a process in life and nothing more.

My partner faced a lot of mental trauma while trying to overcome the death. However, she managed to overcome it by the strength of her own will. Other than that, nothing much has changed, except for one thing. Suddenly, I became a mature adult. A son without his parents is supposed to behave as a mature adult, who should earn and save well and should lead a decent life and should particularly, be appreciated by neighbours and relatives. I was supposed to believe in God, live like others, follow every other ritual. Moreover, everyone forced me to shave off my beard (which I believed was the loveliest and most stylish aspect of me), which I kept without shaving for the past five years.

Mom spent her last years with schizophrenia and was eccentric at times. She followed the directions of an unknown voice that instructed her, followed her, tortured her, watched her and even advised her on what is good and what is bad. She almost entirely disconnected herself from the outside world. I remained her only contact and the only witness for everything that happened around her in the last five years. She never realised that she is undergoing a medical condition that is affecting her life so much.

In our society, mental illness is an awkward word to say out loud or even used as a curse word. This means that for some a person is merely ‘mental’ or ‘paithiyam‘ or ‘pagal‘ or ‘prandhu‘ – and that is the end of everything, that person is no more a valid member of society and is treated as burden with contempt or pity. But it’s not just my mom who wasn’t aware of her medical condition. I, a person who strongly believes in progressive thinking and the ability to handle all things in a progressive way, didn’t understand her either.

It took me three years to understand the trauma she was experiencing. Once my girlfriend visited my mother and on the way back, she told me, “Your mother is sick, you need to consult a psychiatrist as soon as possible.” It took me another six months to grasp her words completely. I visited a schizophrenia foundation – an NGO – but it felt like no one listened to me. All they said was to bring the patient, and they will see what they can do, and without the patient’s presence, nothing can be done. I could understand them, and they would know better than me – but I couldn’t tell my mom that she was mentally ill.

There’s never any good that comes out of lying, but still, I framed some nice sentences in my mind immediately. But, I was not fully convinced by the foundation’s approach. I couldn’t find much difference between the Indian government hospitals that I dreaded and them – the same lethargic, careless attitude. Then came a break of my quest. I was busy travelling to London, Himalayas, and some other places. Once my travels were over, I continued searching for a better psychiatrist. Many doctors advised me to keep my mother as an in house patient spending a lot of money every month. Most of them were least bothered to hear my story. At last, I found a good counsellor who heard my whole story and advised to meet a medical psychiatrist as my mom needed immediate medical attention.

I found a good psychiatrist, he too listened to my version of mom’s sickness completely, and advised me to admit her as early as possible. I was still struggling to find a way to take her to the hospital. The doctor warned me to not act over smart by lying and bringing her to the hospital. He said that it would make her trust me even less. Amidst all this, the doctor who was supposed to treat my mother, told me clearly that the best he could do was to keep her alive, since her sickness had reached a stage beyond control.

He had told me that she could die, with a maximum possibility that she could attempt suicide. After so many confusions and obstacles, I decided to admit her by ‘force evacuation’ which I learned was done by giving her chloroform and shifting her to the hospital before she regained consciousness. Statistics says that 60% of schizophrenia patients attempt suicide at least once and the suicidal rate is around 10-20%. Yet I hoped that medication and proper care would cure my mom, and she would be back to herself in time.

However, the hopes didn’t last long – she committed suicide the day before her hospital admission had been planned. The day that followed, was hectic. I was running between the police station, hospital, and home. I could not think about much. As a human, all you can earn that is worth something, is the love and affection of fellow humans. I am, and was lucky to have such people in my life. My friends, as usual, stood by me when I needed them the most.

The drama happened after that.

The relatives came from nowhere and took control of everything. The woman who never wanted to return to the village that spoiled her life, physically and mentally, was buried there, without thinking of what she would have wanted. Mom used to say that her mother never liked her, just because she was a girl child. I never saw my grandmother show any love towards my mother, even when she was alive. She thought my mother was a loser as she didn’t own any property, a house to live in or a husband. But even now, after a year, my grandmother still cries whenever I see her.

They did a few rituals, bathed her corpse, the women kept crying, everyone brought garlands and they wanted me to shave my beard. I complied to all of it. Though I didn’t believe in rituals or an after-life, my mom believed in it all and I wanted them to proceed as per her wish. Everything went on in a pre-planned manner – like a play enacted on the stage of a Broadway theatre. The pinnacle of the play was the usual one, she was buried in the land to which she never wanted to return – the land where she was born, brought up, got married, gave birth to two children, spent a majority of her entire life. I know hers is not a new story, almost every woman of this society goes through similar events, and I know I am not writing anything new. Also as a man, I can write only from a male perspective of a woman’s life, but still I wanted to write this.

After one year, most of my immediate relatives kept calling me to ask about her first death anniversary. They were curious to know how big I am planning to conduct it. They wanted to know where I am going to do it. The elders advised me on what to do and what not to do. They wanted me to consult a priest to find an auspicious date to conduct the ritual. But I didn’t have an answer to any of their questions. None of their rituals will bring the dead woman back or cure the illness that she had at the time of her death. I still agreed and organized a closed event of only a few people. Personally, I found no meaning in it.

So, the sympathetic story ends here, if you have felt sorry for my mother, it was not my intention. Here is what I want to say out loud:

Dear everyone, who advised me, showed me so many useless death rituals, claimed a part on my mother’s life after her death, cried for her, attended her mourning and more.

Do you remember that you all left her without even a word when she was ill, or were you least bothered to understand that she was mentally ill? Even now you all believe that she committed suicide just because my sister and I decided about our lives on our own, without consulting her and we were not good children according to society.

But I know well that she didn’t die because of us. We both made our own decisions from our childhood. She knew this very well, that with me she never had any influential cushion. Do understand that she died because she was schizophrenic? She probably became schizophrenic because of the unpleasant life that you all constructed for her. She wanted to be a government employee, but you never allowed her because she was a woman, she wanted to study further, but you never allowed her because she was a woman.

She wanted to live with her boyfriend, but you never allowed her because you wanted to preserve your ‘values’ and ‘dignity’, she never wanted to marry my father but you got her married anyway because she was a woman and had no say in the choice. I don’t know if she ever had a desire to have kids. But we were born. You all did everything which she never wished for. You decided everything about her life in the name of parents, siblings, relatives. When her husband lost all his property and left her with two teenagers, you called her a loser. When she regained contact with her ex-boyfriend, you called her a whore. She left her birth land to live in the city of dreams with the hope that she would never return to the sinful land of hers.

During her illness, she became violent, arrogant, unbearable, and abusive – but you never cared. In the end, she decayed completely. I broke the door and took her out as a corpse. Then you all came back and took her. Hereafter, you will remember her in your stories and death anniversaries, but she is dead – not because of her, but because of your abuse, your values, your culture, and your caste. Even now you don’t know that she died because of an illness. I witnessed everything as a lone spectator and am writing about this now.

All I wanted to tell you is that you may come across many people who may suffer from a mental illness, but they may look physically fine. It doesn’t mean that they are well, and you can say anything about their behaviour. When they want to talk to you, please listen to them.

Let it be their anger, abuse, tears, or anything. Let them spit it out, don’t hold your prejudice and conclude that it is their fate. Fate has nothing to do with life. Don’t leave them halfway, and come back when they are dead. Don’t make decisions for others without their consent. Psychiatric illness is not something bad or disgusting, it is as natural as a physical illness – all you should do is meet the right doctor and seek treatment. Like routine physical check-ups, meeting a psychiatrist or a counsellor is nothing different. For the sake of all those you hold dear, consider fellow humans as living beings, not as material for your gossip.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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