Beating the odds

I love fighters. Especially when all odds are stacked up against them. I cannot choose a side when Sherlock Holmes faces Moriarty. But when an underdog fights a champion, I always root for the underdog. It requires much more than skill to win such a fight. I see the indomitable spirit of the underdog which defeats the champion. Be it David against Goliath or Rocky Balboa against Apollo Creed, the fighters unleash a sense of confidence in me that I too can do the impossible.

It is not easy to be a fighter. Especially when the opponent is a disease which debilitates your mind. It is a fight which the underdog never chose but is forced onto him by nature. It is a fight without time-outs which will end only in a knockout. The fighter in this match is my friend. The adversary is the celebrated Schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe and disabling brain disorder. It is “a long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation”. Common symptoms include auditory hallucinations and disorganized speech and thinking, and is accompanied by significant social dysfunction.

My friend is a small man, about 5 feet tall, halfway through his twenties. Untucked shirt, unshaven face and a receding hairline convey very little about the man within. I have known him for the past 3 years. He is the most jovial soul I have ever seen. Being an avid movie fan, he always has some comedy snippet up his sleeve which he shares with so much life and passion. Any heated argument, which my friend circle tend to have very often, cools down with his timely jokes. He has a geeky side too, being a research scholar in a reputed lab. He is currently finishing up his masters thesis.

He has had delusions and hallucinations since childhood. Hailing from a poor family with limited education,  he was a source of great concern and fear for his family. A man comes to him in his hallucinations and orders him to do things against his will. Many a time, I have seen cuts on his shoulders made by scissors. When under attack, he forgets the surroundings. He talks back to the man who makes him torture himself, causing much concern to those around him.

Over the years, he was admitted for treatment in many mental health institutions. His disease was even considered  to be caused by ghosts, and many pseudo-religious rites and rituals were performed to relieve him of their influence. Sometimes, these became pure torture. Once his eyes were smeared with hot chilli powder as a ghost-busting tactic. When the hallucination occurred at home, he was locked inside a room, with food being supplied through the windows.

The social stigma attached to mental diseases is huge. The patient along with his/her family faces segregation and ridicule from society, especially if the education levels of the community are low. More often than not, the underdogs get knocked out without even putting up a fight. But not my underdog. I can see the indomitable spirit in his words. He does not rebel, he does not complain. He does not need any sympathy. He simply embraces his condition. And that, I believe, is making all the difference.

I have never asked him about his disease. All I know about his condition comes from his jokes at the dinner table. He shares his dire experiences as lightly as his ever-ready comedy snippets from movies. He laughs heartily while recalling the days he spent at mental health centers. He has innumerable stories about the craziness of his ward-mates at these centers. He fully accepts that he was one among them.

Accepting one’s weaknesses is not an easy act, especially when so much stigma is associated with them. But this is indeed the key to tame this formidable enemy. He is not completely cured, but he indeed leads a much fuller life than many of us. Down to earth and being open about his disease, he is loved by  us all. He taught me that being fierce and  revengeful is not the only way to face an enemy. Being true to who we are and embracing it with full heart are indeed very mighty weapons.

I hope and pray that he could fulfil his lifelong desire to meet John Nash, Jr., the Nobel-prize winning mathematician who was a schizophrenic himself.



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