Mocking Mental Heath Disorders

Some days I fear for the future of a country where the most educated and liberal lack empathy for the disabled. Today someone tagged me on facebook alerting me to an article published in the express tribune today. Because they have removed the article, I am putting screen captures of it as well as the comments.

Headline says lock up the crazy, like we don’t deserve the right to live a life the way “normal” people do. I wonder if the writer knows about the history of mental health disorders and how, for most of human existence, people did just that: “lock up the crazy”. Because society chose not to understand us, they shunned us and put us away, as if we were invisible. And this still exists today in Pakistan. The way we treat mental health patients is appalling and inhumane. The last thing we need is for people to advocate that we deserve to be locked up, even as a “joke”. Some things are just not funny and one necessarily has to lack a sense of humanity to think they are, such as the suffering associated with mental illness.

The evidence provided by the author was the DSM IV, a google book, which was published in 2000. Surely a more current statistic could have been found? Furthermore, the figure seems inflated. I wonder if the author would be kind enough to direct me to the page number where she find this statistic for I can’t find it, nor do I have the time or patience to go through this whole thing to find it.

I also wonder where the author discovered that the above celebrities were sociopaths. Were they diagnosed or is she making a guess? If so, is she simply speculating or making a wild guess? What evidence can she provide other than her own analysis.

Also, please note the language. The author refers to those of us who have mental health issues as “the crazies”. I know I’m not alone in saying that it is offensive, demeaning and rather insensitive to choose this phrase to describe people suffering from illnesses that can be extremely distressing. There are so many people who would like to talk about their plight in public but they don’t because people get away with calling them “crazy” to their face and demeaning them. In the same paragraph, the author uses the words “loco” and “kookoo-ness” as well.

Where to begin with this one… let’s start with the fact that it seems like the writer is racist when she says that Angelina Jolie created “her own little army of coloured kids”. I feel like telling the writer: by kissing her brother, Jolie may have committed incest and you want to declare it offends you then please do so. However, do not assume that incest and bipolar disorder are related.

I am bipolar. I have written about it and come out with it publicly. There are so many celebrities who are actually diagnosed with bipolar disorder who could have been used an example such as Stephen Fry who has made a documentary on what it’s like to be bipolar. Jolie was a ridiculous example because she has never declared herself bipolar and speculating that she is without solid medical evidence is weak reporting.

I also find it offensive that Jolie, first declared bipolar, is then portrayed as a stereotypical “home wrecker”. There is no connection.

Isn’t Meera Jee’s twitter account fake? And weren’t tribune the first to tell us that?

I’m not letting this slide simply because it has been removed because it causes a lot of damage. It triggered me. After reading it, I was crying with rage and I was not alone. There were others with mental health problems who felt horrible, almost punched in the gut. Perhaps this is because we expect better from tribune, but that’s not relevant. What’s relevant is that this piece caused a lot of human suffering and no apologies can make up for the distress many of us felt. I would like to know why this was even allowed to go into print. What is tribune’s editorial policy regarding mental health issues? Does it even exist? If not, then perhaps now is the time to consider one.

I’m not advocating that the writer, Saba Khalid, be fired. But I would like to know if anyone has even reprimanded her or asked her to get some sensitivity training. I’m not going to be judgemental and declare her a racist or someone insensitive to mental health issues. To declare that she should be deprived of her job would make me as bad as the kind of people who advocate that mental health patients be locked up. I want to be better than them.

I want answers. I demand answers. Here is an email I sent to the author, the editors and the life & style desk:

Dear editors and Ms Khalid,

As a person who has bipolar disorder, I found this piece to be in extremely poor taste and I was very upset to read it. I am quite sure that none of you have any idea just how badly people with mental health disorders are treated. It took me 6 years to come out with mine in public, which I did as a blog post on dawn and it was the hardest thing I have ever written. You see, we, the “crazies” as Saba so kindly calls us, are treated quite horribly and mocking us makes things even worse for us.

After reading your piece, I was crying with rage and extremely angry that Pakistan has an educated and liberal class of people who think it’s ok to mock mental health disorders. I would never do so for I was raised by people who taught me that making fun of disabilities is inherently cruel. Picking on the weakest, the most disenfranchised and the disabled is bullying. Furthermore, it shows a severe lack of empathy for the plight of those who suffer from life long disabilities, like me.

I hesitate to tell you I was crying with rage for I fear that may have been your goal: to reduce those of us with mental health disorders to emotional wrecks so we stay away from society. You are, after all, advocating for us to be locked up.

I have a few questions that many people would like answered. I’m hoping you have the courage to reply to a bipolar person since, I’m assuming, you want to believe I’m a knife wielding lunatic who will come kill you. After all, you have asked people to have me locked me. The ignorance amazes me.

  1. Why was this approved? Is it because it’s funny to make fun of the “crazies” as you so sensitively call us? Because it’s ok to pick on the weak & disabled?
  2. Did you assume that people with mental health disabilities wouldn’t object because you know that most of us are too scared to publicly admit we have a disorder?
  3. What evidence does the writer have that these celebs have the mental health disorder she claims? Can I please be provided with the evidence that was used for this piece because it seems like speculation.
  4. Did you speak to any mental health specialists who confirmed you were right?
  5. Do you actually not realise that there is a big difference between drug/alcohol addiction & other mental health disorders?
  6. Are you qualified to write about mental health disorders? And do editors allow just anyone to write about mental health issues? Do you not realise why that is problematic?

I realise the piece has been removed but I still expect an answer and there are many who are demanding answers. I’m asking because I subscribe to tribune and read it daily. One of the main reasons I do so is because it has less triggers for me than most other papers. (Don’t know what trigger is? In that case you shouldn’t have been allowed to comment on mental health issues!) In order to live a “normal” life, I need to avoid triggers and if tribune is going to become a trigger, I need to unsubscribe. Unless tribune can assure those of us with mental health issues that we will not be mocked, we would not like to read it.

I realise that your ideal solution would be to lock me away from the world but that’s not an option. That’s not an option because my doctors and family believe that I can live a full, “normal” life if they support me. And guess what? They are right!

I also wonder where your moral center lies. In a country where rapists are running around free, where murders roam the street without fear, where men subject women to the worse form of violence, you are advocating that, instead, we lock up people with mental health issues. It greatly upsets me.

Looking forward to hearing from you but greatly fearing that no one will bother replying to a “crazy” who should be “locked up” since I assume that means I should be denied all internet access so that I can’t distress the “normal” world.

Regards,

Nabiha Meher

I am well aware that my email is strongly worded and may even come across as emotional. So be it. This is an emotional issue, one that lead to this status update on facebook by my friend Adnan Ahmad: “Dear Express Tribune, When writing *anything* that references mental health, please try to research and vet what you’ve been handed. This is not the 19th century, nor is this the early 20th Century. Malicious mockery of health conditions of which you obviously have no clue about is not funny, nor has it *ever* been. It is mean-spirited, uneducated, and I look forward to the shit-storm that this, and other articles of an equally tabloid nature, will hopefully bring about.”

These are questions that need to be asked and I wrote this email with input from other people with mental health disorders. If the authorities at tribune really do not want to alienate readers with mental health disorders, then we deserve answers.

UPDATE: Express Tribune has issued an apology BUT I honestly believe it is not enough. Is it really too much for me to ask what happened to the writer? I am especially irked that no one is answering this question and I know they will answer IF enough people ask them to.

I’ve also been tweeting Bilal Lakhani, the owner of the publication who, from what I can tell, seems to be very open to ideas. I must add here that I personally find Tribune’s prompt responses quite amazing, especially in a country where most media owners only care for ratings. Kudos to them.

Tribune also seems to be open to training their staff regarding mental health issues. I am incredibly happy to hear such a positive response. This speaks volumes: it says we care about mental health issues. They are not trivial.

Because of this whole fiasco, I have decided that this is something I need to consider doing on a regular basis. My doctor’s words ring in my ear: “you are a success story”. As a success story, I have the power to make a difference. As a person who is willing to speak up in public about what it is like to be bipolar, I feel like I should try and reach out to as many people as I can so that others lives are made better. If there’s anything I learn on an almost daily basis, it is this: this country desperately needs mental health awareness.

We live in trying times. We live in a war torn land, at war with itself, at war with everyone else, never at ease, always craving for a peace that never comes. Depression rates are off the charts and thanks to our love for inbreeding, mental health problems exist in numbers higher than we want to believe. There is no one I know who hasn’t been effected.

There are so many people out there who are unwilling to speak up and “educate” others about our illnesses and I do not blame them. I do not blame them because of the incredibly horrible judgement that comes along with admitting one has a mental illness. One necessarily has to develop very thick skin in order to deal with it and not everyone can, nor should everyone have to.

So I’m now brainstorming ideas on what to do and how to go about this. Because of my disability, I cannot have a full time job. As a result, I cannot do this as volunteer, or any unpaid work on a regular basis. The goal is to be able to speak to all sorts of people, in all sorts of fields, and clear up misconceptions about mental health issues. I would personally be very interested in media training and speaking to students. Anyway, watch this space. Something pretty amazing may just come out of all this.

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WAF Press Release on Salmaan Taseer Assassination

Press Release

Women’s Action Forum

Women’s Action Forum condemns in the strongest terms the brutal murder of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, whose principled stand for justice was deliberately and maliciously distorted by extremist elements in the country in the pursuit of their own political ends. Incitement to violence in the name of religion has become widely prevalent in the country and the state has failed in its duty to curb this mischief. The murder of Salman Taseer is part of a strategy adopted since the time of Ziu-ul-Haq to misuse religion in order to undermine democratic dialogue and to establish religious autocracy. This is unacceptable in a Muslim majority country no particular group should be allowed monopoly over religious views.

This must stop now!  There must be a strong and effective law in this country to hold accountable elements that are deliberately provoking and inciting violence in the name of religion. This is critical for safeguarding the right to life and security of the people of Pakistan is safe guarded.

It is high time for political forces to play their expected role and not avoid responsibility to steer the nation on a saner path rather than succumbing to pressure from mischievous elements. No nation can survive in an environment where debate, discussion and dialogue are not possible because of fear, and where intimidation is used as a political tactic for the furtherance of interests harmful to the country.

The real issues before us are those of economic stability, peace, security and well being of the people. These issues are being overshadowed by campaigns of hatred that are pitting citizens against each other.

The media has a great responsibility to adopt policies encouraging freedom of expression and public debate. At the same time, they must restrain elements within themselves who are misinforming and misleading the public on events and issues.

We appeal to the Pakistani nation not to be influenced by destructive forces that use religion or politics to further lower the potential for peace and prosperity in our country.

 

WAF Working Committee

 

The Ostrich Syndrome: A Teacher’s Perspective

As someone constantly exposed to the so-called “youth” of this country, I do believe I have some insight and some valid criticism of the recent ban on facebook, which, ostensibly, has to do with blasphemous content.

Firstly, what is the “youth” of this country? And why are they lumped into a monolithic entity? Why is it assumed that they are all one and the same when their realities are different in many ways. To assume that our “youth” is living air-conditioned lives, constantly logged on to the internet, chatting away etc. is purely delusional. The truth is, the vast majority of the “youth” are very poor and cannot access websites. The “youth” is actually the majority of our population. And we are constantly trying to box them into holes on what they should be, what they should do, how they should think, how they should behave, killing off any diversity that exists… this has lead to an increase in intolerance which I have noticed in my less than three decades of existence, despite the fact that sensitivity towards women’s issues has increased as compared to my generation (I’m only talking about educated people here though. I do acknowledge that the ground realities for women have become even more horrific). Sounds contradictory? It’s not. Read on. It’s all connected to religion and wanting to desperately prove that their religion is not barbaric towards women, a criticism that has very valid roots since, let’s face it, the status of women in the Muslim world is far from decent. So even though I see an increase in gender sensitivity, I also see an increase in linear thinking, mostly intolerant, reeking of a severe persecution complex (“the world is out to get us and destabilise Islam!”), which is very, very dangerous.

The “youth” have grown up in a post 9/11 world so they have little or no living memory of a time when the world wasn’t obsessed with us. I remember people scratching their heads, perplexed about where this Pakistani I speak of was. India was all they knew. And now… well… we’re everywhere, one of the most recognisable countries in the world, a hub of terrorism, a country on the forefront of the oxymoronic “war on terror”, perhaps on the verge of self-destruction, “the most dangerous country in the world”. Our grief has become the world’s entertainment. The world watches as we are bombed, killed, destroyed, humiliated and demonised. And sadly, it truly feels like no one cares. We all know, for sure, that our lives are worth less than any other lives, truly worthless. These kids have always known that. What’s worse is that as more and more innocent people die in their own country, these beliefs get strengthened. As the privileged ones travel the world, and are tortured at airports thanks to the colour of their skins and passports, they face humiliation which angers them for good reason. Why wouldn’t being called a “rag-head who will pray to his sand nigger god to destroy us” enrage someone? They have grown up in a country full of unrest and at war with itself. They have grown up in a world that constantly reminds them they are the “other” in every sense. They have grown up in a world where “Muslim” has become a synonym for “terrorist.” Imagine what it does to their psyche. Imagine growing up like that. It saddens me immensely because, as a teacher who is close to her students, I see the toll it takes on them. I see their anger and I sympathise with it. I don’t agree that this is a war on Islam per se since that is just too simplistic an explanation, but I do understand why they would feel this way.

As a teacher of critical thinking, I have a frustrating job. I love it because it is very rewarding, but teaching critical thinking to kids who have been taught NOT to think is quite challenging. They come to me with blinkers on. And, obviously, there is much resistance to thinking about multiple perspectives at first. The majority don’t want their worldview shaken. Most don’t want to hear that there is another valid perspective at first. It’s hard to digest and I know that because I remember the IB TOK classes which I model some of my classes on. It wasn’t easy. But then again, critical thinking is never easy, nor should it be. It should be constant tool used for one’s personal growth, and it is absolutely necessary in order to evolve and become tolerant. This is why I feel the recent ban on facebook is dangerous and promotes a culture of intolerance.

As a teacher who often jokes that her class should be called “How to Grow a Brain” I strongly believe that banning facebook sends out a counter-productive and frightening message. And no, this is not a slippery slope. This country suffers “The Ostrich Syndrome” and this ban is proof. We like to stick our heads in the sand, like kids sticking their fingers in their ears screaming “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” I’d like to ask all those constantly wanting to censor this that or the other what kind of message they think they are sending out. Because this is how I see it: if you don’t like it, ban it. If you don’t agree, pretend it doesn’t exist. Everyone else is wrong anyway, since they’re all out to get us. There is no need for productive dialogue, there is no need to have a healthy discourse; heck there’s no need to turn the other cheek and ignore it. This is the message: stick your head in the sand until it’s over. Oh, but it’ll never be over since the world is out to get us.

And I ask you: why do I HAVE to be offended? Is our faith so weak that a cartoon will destroy it? And even if I am offended, why am I not being given the option to boycott facebook voluntarily? A voluntary ban would have been much, much more effective in order to send a message out. A blanket ban has only lead to exactly what we like to cry about so much: negative publicity in the world press and many outraged Pakistanis protesting the ban such as me. How conveniently we pick and choose from religion! Lest we forget, I would like to remind the Muslims reading this of the incident of the woman who used to throw garbage at our prophet. The prophet, in whose name we claim we are protesting, was a peaceful, cooperative man who forgave people who pelted him with garbage and rocks. Responding with an intelligent dialogue, responding with patience is, in my opinion, the best way to protest one’s concern. Think about it: why is this competition going on? Why are we responding in exactly the manner the world expects us to? Why are so hell bent on proving that we are not tolerant? Responding with anger, with outrage, will only strengthen Islamophobic beliefs, which will, by the way, make these Islamophobes happy since we are playing right into their hands and giving them the reaction they expect and probably want.

As for me, I am going to go change my “Restore Judiciary” shirt to “Restrain the Judiciary” adding the neglected article who absence has so peeved me since I first bought it during the lawyer’s movement. The fact that the courts are acting like tyrannical parents is something I strongly object to. The fact that they are entertaining demands by catering to the religious parties is abhorrent, especially since these religious parties are incapable of winning in democratic elections. I protest this ban on facebook and my objection to the competition doesn’t count since it’s not voluntary. Without the freedom to offend, free speech ceases to exist. And as someone who grew up in Zia’s oppressive regime, I know how dangerous it is to censor and ban things based on religious sentiments. Intolerant religious interpretations should not be immune to religion, nor should we allow religion to be used to promote intolerance. For those who have witnessed it, we do not wish to see it again.

I may not agree with the venom being spewed through the media, but I’d rather get multiple perspectives than just one, leaving me no choice but to think only the way I am apparently supposed to. And the fact that we let our media go ahead and spew this venom in the first place reeks of hypocrisy. While we think it’s perfectly all right to demonise the world, promoting intolerance and hatred for the West, creating Hindu-Zionism conspiracy theories, we strongly object when the world responds in kind. Again, I ask, why is it ok for us and not anyone else? Are we all meek little innocents? And again, what kind of message is this sending the “youth” we are oh so very concerned about? I’ll tell you what it leads to because I battle with it constantly. It leads to essays that are rants on how evil the world is, full of hate speech, and with absolutely no sensitivity to the other perspective. It has, like I said, lead to a persecution complex so strong that it’s very hard to break. It has lead to people like Faisal Shahzad. Now you tell me. Do we want more of him? Or more of those who are willing to debate peacefully instead of resorting to violence?Because at the rate we’re going, no one will need to bomb us into the stone ages. We’re going there ourselves.

Daily Times Pay Your Employees!

Did anyone else think it was impossible for Daily Times− a propaganda tool and mouthpiece for the Governor of Punjab, which doesn’t even deserve to be called a newspaper− to get worse? To sink to the depths it has sunk to now? I happen to know that many of the employees haven’t been paid a penny since the editorial regime change from Najam Sethi to Rashid Rahman, which has become a perpetual excuse given to the ones who have asked for their basic right: their salary. I have written this to the letters to the editor to some newspapers but so far, no one has published it. There’s a very simple reason why: they all do it, at least periodically. I cannot think of one newspaper that hasn’t delayed/denied payment. Sometimes, it can take months for writers to obtain even meagre sums, basically the amount they end up spending calling up the office and begging for what they were promised. And it most certainly isn’t particular to newspapers in this nation.

Those of us who have been in the workforce for even a few years know that even when your own relatives promise to pay you, the chances of getting what you deserve are not exactly high. And the richer the person, the lower the chances of ever seeing a penny, at least in Lahore. It’s a sad reflection of what being Punjabi is.

One my cousins, who worked for MTV Pakistan, was also a victim of this. Actually, let’s just say that most people I know have been a victim of this other than the elitist brats who work for dad or have pulled lots of strings to get comfy jobs, robbing the deserving who don’t have connections of their futures. Anyway, she coined a phrase that remains stuck in my mind: “the inshallah syndrome.” This nation, by and large, is stricken with this syndrome, as evidenced by those of us frustratingly trying to get work done. Some of my own students, instead of getting organised and working properly, also love this term. Plenty of times I’ve asked right before a paper is due if they’re working on it or are finished with their rough drafts. The replies that frustrate me the most are from the ones who think that saying “inshallah” and writing a rant the night before will be sufficient.

My point is that there are many of us who have been victims of this “inshallah syndrome” when it comes to payment. This is especially true for those of us who are in the education industry or the media. But what’s truly sad is the fact that the majority of people who are deprived of their basic human right are too scared to speak up. They are too scared to say a thing knowing, full well, that the Punjabi elite, the affluent and influential who run all these industries, will malign them or ruin their careers. In this case, as in many others, silence is violence. This systemic exploitation must stop, and the only way we can do so is by speaking up and making a stink. I realise not everyone’s brave enough to take a stand, but those of us who are crazy enough need to speak up on their behalves. Daily Times pay your employees. You’re disgusting enough as it is.