• Thursday, September 28, 2023

Interview with Ishaa Vinod Chopra, author of "Finding Order in Disorder"

When I first started to learn dance, it wasn’t as a coping mechanism for my mental health
on Apr 05, 2023
Interview with Ishaa Vinod Chopra, author of "Finding Order in Disorder"

Ishaa Vinod Chopra holds a degree in performing arts in Kathak under the guidance of her Guru, Pt. Maneesha Sathe. She has worked as a dance teacher at Dalhousie Public School run by Captain G.S. Dhillon. She has channeled her passion for working with children into an honours diploma in early childhood education from George Brown College, Toronto, Canada. A victim of domestic violence in her marriage, she is a strong advocate for mental health. Coming from an artistic family background, she uses Kathak, Latin dance and writing to cope with, learn from, and reflect on life and its vagaries.

Frontlist: Your book "Finding Order in Disorder: A Bipolar Memoir" is a personal account of your struggle with bipolar disorder. What inspired you to write this book and share your story? 

Ishaa: Initially my intention wasn’t to write a book. I started with reflections on my moods, and life lived so far approximately 7 years ago. However, I realised that this book or project wasn’t just about me or my story and it had a larger impact on each and every individual impacted my mental health in one way or the other. It could be a teenager with a recent diagnosis coping with moods, a woman who is a victim of abuse in a marriage much like I was, or even the parents of a patient coping with mental health challenges. The inspiration finally drew from my lived experiences in mental health and the hurdles that me and my loved ones had to constantly face. I knew if I bared my soul in my writings without hurting the feelings of my family I could possibly reach out to people going through similar ordeals and this was more than enough inspiration and motivation for me to pen this memoir.

Frontlist: In the book, you describe how you have used Kathak, Latin dance, and writing as coping mechanisms for your mental health. How have dance and writing helped you in your journey toward recovery?

Ishaa: When I first started to learn dance, it wasn’t as a coping mechanism for my mental health, however when life threw me challenges such as living away from my family in Germany during my short-lived marriage I utilized my passion to engage myself in the community. I would do things like teach Salsa at a University in Dresden, and teach Kathak to children, as well as do Latin dance and Kathak dance performances all over the city, including in a Church with a fully German audience. I even performed in a Spanish café that served Churros and Coffee. Writing on the other hand was the culmination of my experiences brought to life by my love for exploring my own thoughts, feelings and reactions to my mental health lived experiences. It worked so well as a catharsis for me and the more I wrote I dove deeper into my pool of memories as I state in a poem I wrote. Having artistic abilities through my dance assisted me in my writing and was a catalyst in helping me perceive the world through an artistic lens. Perhaps this memoir would have been very different indeed if I viewed the world in a more scientific manner. 

Frontlist: Your book also talks about your experience as a domestic violence victim in your marriage. How has that experience influenced your mental health and advocacy for mental health awareness?

Ishaa: My experience of being a domestic violence victim has drastically shaped who I am today. For starters, it has made me stronger, and crystal clear about what I want from a relationship. It has also taught me the concept of self-love and self-respect and that we are responsible for each our own, and we only can dictate and draw boundaries between ourselves and potential harm. Having said that I know some women are not in a position to protect themselves and this is why if we view our women as our responsibility especially if they are going through domestic violence, we can support them emotionally through their turmoil. As a society we must help eradicate wrong-doings towards women, but more importantly as a community we must unite and give unconditional support to women so they can have faith in humanity again.

Frontlist: What other projects or initiatives are you working on to raise awareness about mental health and support those struggling with mental illness?

Ishaa: I was part of a documentary project which my mother made titled “Unfinished” which screened recently at the IAWRT Festival in Delhi. This was a project in which many concepts overlap in my book however, it since it was filmed it had a different effect on the viewers. The purpose was to explore mental health related themes, especially during the covid times when I was repeatedly hospitalized in Toronto. It began as my mother Shabnam Sukhdev’s Master’s Thesis project at York University, but it was much more than that as we continue to screen the film for community organizations, families, patients as well as film festivals.

Next I will be working on raising awareness about this memoir as I have strong faith that if it reaches the correct audience as it has a niche subject matter it will help create change.

There is another initiative that we as a family are working on- to build a trust for women who are inflicted in some way or the other by mental health in India. This is a project in the works and will hopefully see the light of day. I am essentially an Early Childhood Educator, and I am currently at the end of my 3rd year of a Bachelor in Early Childhood Education where I plan to pursue an internship at a family resource centre. I am keen to pursue my Masters in Child Psychology so that I can work as a child counsellor for school-age children.

I also plan to do a project presentation on Mental Health and my book, along with one of my college professors, at one of the early childhood organizations here in Toronto. 

Frontlist: Your book is a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. How do you maintain a positive outlook amid challenging circumstances?

Ishaa: There is one advice, my father gave me- is that no matter how much negativity there is in the world there is also enough good and positivity in the world to focus on. I have lived by this advice and whenever something unpleasant occurs I think of all the people in my life I have to be grateful for. I think of the people who struggle on a daily basis due to poor health and poverty. And lastly, another piece of advice which my father blessed me with was to ensure me that there are no problems in the world besides dire poverty and poor health; the rest are all created. So I always ask myself “Is this a created problem?, does it have a solution?, What can I do to make it better?”. Lastly, I have faith in the medical system- so I rely on my doctors for my medications, and if I need to reach out to anyone I call my doctors or counsellors and in any case of emergency I do not hesitate to call emergency helplines.

Frontlist: The title of your book suggests that "Finding Order In Disorder" is possible. Can you talk more about how you discovered order in your life and what that means for you?

Ishaa: I discovered order in my life through dismantling the disorder in my life. I believe to find order in disorder, we first have to experience and go through the disorder, process it, and deeply reflect on it. Next we need to find coping mechanisms to deal with any pain associated with the disorder in your life. Disorder can mean physically, mentally, emotionally, or even how in my case it means medically. However, we all have some disorder or the other in our lives. If we didn’t we wouldn’t have any fire within us to work through the disorder in order to achieve order. 

Frontlist: Your book addresses the issue of stigma around mental illness. How can we break down these stigmas and create a more compassionate and understanding society for people with mental health conditions?

Isha: Firstly, I believe stigma is twofold. It includes the society’s perception of mental health conditions and more importantly it includes an individual’s own view of their own mental health issues. Once we overcome the individual barrier to our mental health then we will be more equipped deal with the societal barrier. We have to first love ourselves regardless of what fears the media or internet sources put inside of us. This isn’t easy, but if we take the collaborative care approach model of having close caregivers to help support our life decision-making skills it will bring us closer to our goals. Also it is very important for people coping with mental health to build the faith and trust in a few individuals to see them through the tough times. We are all social beings no matter what our diagnosis. We require a support system and the research agrees that the people who live the longest are finally the ones with the best human connections. Finally, when we talk about stigma, I believe instead of working from a place of ‘breaking down’ stigma’ if we work from a place of ‘building acceptance and love’ we will be able to achieve true health and happiness.

Frontlist: The book covers a wide range of topics related to mental health, including the stigma surrounding mental illness, the challenges of medication management, and the importance of social support. What message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Ishaa: Since there are a wide range of topics discussed in the book, I truly believe based on each person’s individual and unique life experiences they will take away very different things from the book. However, if I were to list a few I would encourage persons struggling with mental health to try certain strategies that helped me and worked for me. Also it is important that we address the caregivers and families, so for them I would encourage them to help reduce the stigma of mental health by being accepting and supportive to their child. The feeling of inclusion begins with the family. It is nothing to be ashamed of and in fact I have said in the book “If my illness were a person I would want to hug it and love it”. Finally if I were to address domestic violence in my life and share it with the readers who have gone through or are going through similar episodes, please have the strength to walk away even if your family doesn’t support you, and for families in this case please be sensitive towards women going through abuse- it isn’t easy- and you making it more difficult for them isn’t the right course of action. I urge readers who haven’t had experience with mental health issues to emphasize with others who have. I have also talked about life in general apart from abuse or mental health and I hope that you can relate it to your own lives and enjoy reading. Lastly, I hope after reading this book that readers have courage to face the disorder in their lives, in whatever form it may take, and find order in their lives in unique, and creative ways.

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