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Dealing with a chronic medical condition || Acharya Prashant, with IIT-Ropar (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
10 min
554 reads

Questioner (Q): I am a research scholar. I am in my fourth year of PhD, and it is kind of my second inning. Earlier I was a teacher, I was teaching at a university, but I’ve left that and I have started my PhD.

I’ve been suffering from a condition for the last 7-8 months, I have actually been diagnosed with a condition called ‘Coccydynia’ in which I have been having tailbone pain and due to this, I am not able to sit for more than 30 minutes. So, this is the only physical condition, but what I have experienced is that, along with this physical condition, I have also experienced, in the last few months, a kind of mental stress. And this stress, I realize, is not only the case for me, but for thousands of people who are young and who want to do a lot of things, but due to their physical or mental limitations, they are not actually able to do it.

So of course, being a mature person, I know I have to engage myself positively. My question is: how to cope with this uncertainty? So, whenever I am doing my rest or taking my routine things and all, at the back of my mind, it’s always there that I have to complete my research work and some pending projects are there. So, the thing is, when we are ill for one or two weeks, we satisfy our mind, that yes, we will recover and we will get back to our work. But when it comes to 8-9 months, then it becomes a problem. So, how to cope with this situation and how to come out of this self-acceptance, to which we are not accustomed, obviously?

And the second thing, at a broader level, as a society, how we can develop an ecosystem to help people like many of us? Because personally, I feel, when I approached people, my friends or relatives, all those people who are young, they are busy in their work. So hard they can do is, they can give you ‘Get Well Soon’ wishes and all these things. And sometimes, it also feels that they give you more of a sympathetic, instead of empathetic understanding. And then again, gives more negative vibes. So, in these 7-8 months only, I have been a very regular Youtuber and watching your channels, spiritual understanding, which really helps me. I am including meditation and all that, but still, I am struggling. And in general, for people like me, what you’ll suggest? What would be the coping strategy? What could be their roadmap? What should be the style, and how as a society can we evolve? Sorry for being long.

Acharya Prashant (AP): No, it’s okay. Doctors say you’ll be all right in 8-9 months?

Q: Actually, he is saying that it can take even 4-5 years, it can take someone to recover 1 year also. The only thing he said was that it is not a complete disability. The only thing is, you have to change your position every 20 minutes. So, if I am standing, I have to sit down after 20 minutes, then I have to lie down, and then I have to take rest. After 2 hours, I have to take a rest for maybe half an hour.

So, of course, you can understand the pressure at IITs. I have my few research papers pending and revision of a few chapters, although, I have done a few publications already. And this is my last year of the course. Maybe, my director would extend it for 6 months on these grounds, but on a bigger picture, how to cope our minds? That’s what I was asking.

AP: All right, let’s begin with a thought experiment. What if we had brains twice as large? And let’s assume that the number of brain cells is directly proportional to our IQ. Let’s have that general assumption. What would happen if we had brains twice as large? We would be able to do a lot of things in a better way, right? Smartly, quickly. So, is it not then a disability to have these kinds of ordinary brains? It is.

What if we had four hands? What if we had legs twice as strong? Is the current body itself not a disability if you compare it to an ideal? But we do not take our current situation as a disability, because we think of it as normal. You will never find anybody complaining that his IQ is only 110, whereas, theoretically with a different kind of brain, an IQ of 250 is possible, right? But nobody says, “Oh I am disabled because my IQ is only 110”. Why? Because we do not nurture an imaginary ideal to compare it with. We take this as normal, and therefore, it does not trouble us. Now, if someone starts thinking of a 250 IQ brain, all the time, then he will definitely think of himself as disabled, even with a 110 IQ. Do you see that?

Q: Yes, sir.

AP: If you start thinking of a model like height as normal, 6 ft 2 inches, if that is normal, then you will definitely think of yourself as a dwarf. I hope you are not 6 ft 2 inches.

Q: No, sir. I am 5 ft 9 inches.

AP: Good. If you start thinking of an NBA basketball player as normal, 6 ft 8 inches, then I am vertically disabled, am I not? I am clearly almost 1 foot shorter, and therefore, disabled. Are you getting it?

So, all these thoughts do not arise out of your present condition. They arise out of an imaginary comparison. It is not a condition that leads to feelings of disability. It is the comparison that leads to a feeling of disability.

I am saying this, because, herein, lies the solution as well.

Q: Sir, but the problem is coming when we have to ask for favours, like, one of my papers was in revision, so they said, ‘You have to submit it by 25th of May.’ Now, as I said, I could not write fast. So, I had to write a letter to the editor that I am suffering from this condition, and I could not submit it by the 25th of May. So now, how you would see these things?

AP: It has to be taken as normal. It hurts when you think of the alternative. It hurts when you think of the so-called healthy ideal. It hurts when you compare it with your past when you were supposedly healthy. That’s when it hurts. Just take this as normal. This is how it is. And there is no alternative. This is how it is and there is no alternative. Just as 110 IQ is what it is. There is no alternative to raise it to 250. And if I keep thinking of 250, I will only suffer.

Similarly, you have a certain cut-off when it comes to one posture—30 minutes. Now, that’s normal. That’s normal and there is no alternative. And if there is no alternative, there is no comparison, and if there is no comparison, there is no suffering. It’s normal.

I, too, suffer from a chronic auto-immune thing. I don’t think about it. It is normal. And I don’t even envision a future in which I will be completely healthy. I have no such aspirations. I have total acceptance for my state, so I don’t suffer. It pains. And it greatly pains in the morning hours before I have to get up from bed. But that’s normal. I know it’s coming. It’s as normal as the milkman pressing the doorbell in the morning. We don’t take any milk, by the way (jokingly) . So, let’s think of it as the newspaper vendor. He comes, he presses the bell, that happens early in the morning at 6 am. Similarly, my pain comes at 6 am. It’s normal. Someone has pressed the bell. And it has to happen. In fact, if it doesn’t happen, it will feel weird.

Q: And sir, I was having a follow-up question with regard to earlier discussions. Can I ask?

AP: For sure.

Q: Sir, like you were saying in most of your questions that ‘collective effort’ is required when it comes to eradicating corruption, making good institutions, or making climate change and all, and also you said that, when you are enlightened, you try to enlighten others, like Buddha also believed in that. But in today’s society, have you ever experienced these things, like I have personally experienced this. One of my friends was driving, and I asked him at the signal to please switch off your car. And he says, “Oh don’t worry, I have enough money and I have filled my car tank full”. And similarly, I will give you an example of my neighbor itself in my colony—they celebrate their child’s birthday every month, and they say, ‘We are very excited.’

AP: See, the problem is not that they are celebrating the child’s birthday every month. The problem is that their child took birth in the first place. No birth, no birthday. And that’s also numerically true. You see, even putting your engine to idle won’t help if there are so many cars. And if you keep giving birth, you are giving birth to cars as well, are you not? The fact is, that bigger than all our climate activism is the decision to not to give birth. Numerically, there is data.

Q: Yeah, sir my question was, when you interact with these kinds of people like I was saying, so I outrightly advise him (he is a good friend of mine), so I said, instead of celebrating your child’s birthday every month, why don’t you go and donate to some needy people. Then what happens, they start saying things like “angoor khatte hai” (grapes are sour).

AP: It won’t happen. See, had he had that kind of wisdom to go and donate to the right people, why would he keep procreating in the first place? So, your advice will fall on deaf ears.

Q: So, under this situation, how we can get enlightened collectively? I could not enlighten my friend, my neighbor, then how will we enlighten people as well?

AP: Join me, join me! I am doing that. That’s the best advice I can give. Join me. I know no other way.

Q: Okay, my pleasure, sir. Nice interacting with you.

AP: Welcome!

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