Riding the Shark: Surviving Crisis/Catastrophe
Fake but heroic
I felt like a sham when Mrs. Jones, cradling her baby, came to me with her husband and said, “Thank you, Dr. Parida. If it weren’t for you, Sam wouldn’t be with us today. You saved our son’s life.” These were powerful words, but I felt no sense of ownership. It was as if my hands had merely carried out the actions, but the power to heal Sam had come from a much higher source.
This experience made me feel like a fake, as did being named the “The Infant Whisperer” by a newspaper article that had profiled me. After observing me, interviewing the parents, talking to the physicians, nursing staff and students, the reporter had concluded that I was able to communicate directly with the helpless infants. I am not sure if I could or couldn’t. What I am sure of is that, whenever I was in the company of infants, I would be in a completely different world—at total peace with myself. But outside of that setting, my life was chaotic and unpredictable. It had no purpose or meaning.
Reality may not be as it seems
The concern is that someone may not even be aware of the misleading representation of reality. Apparently, I was living the American dream. I had everything—an enviable job, a beautiful house and a wonderful family with three great kids—yet in my head I had nothing. Rather than a dream house, I felt as if I had a house of cards, waiting to collapse. My life was a disaster waiting to happen. And that it did.
On a frigid February morning in 2009, I opened my door to a group of federal agents. I was shocked and bewildered. They charged me with fraudulent billing—a charge that I accepted responsibility for even though I was neither fully aware of nor had any control over it. I received an eight-year sentence.
True blessing with my catastrophe
Due to the bizarre nature of my crime—the fact that the money I collected was never touched—a doctor was consulted to understand more fully what had happened. John Biever, MD, diagnosed me with Dissociative Identity Disorder, which I had been living with for most of my life. He traced it back to prolonged, persistent and severe abuse during my childhood. The 10-year-long abuse had shattered my mind and left huge gaps in my memory. Dr. Biever not only visited me monthly throughout my incarceration but also saved my life when I was going through suicidal ideation and planning to take my life. He helped me to start my recovery and begin to heal.
Other people in addition to Dr. Biever were exceptionally important to my path to recovery during this time. Maryann Karinch, co-author of the book The Wandering Mind, which is about my life with Dr. Biever, visited me in prison and gave me the strength to survive. World-renowned inspirational speaker Mark Whitacre, Ph.D., served many years in federal prison as well and reached out to me because he believed that our stories were similar. His story of redemption and second chances is second to none. The movie The Informant, starring Matt Damon, was based on his incredible journey. My life became interwoven with these amazing individuals, and they became my second family. They even reached out to my family while I was in prison and told them that I was their inspiration.
Hidden positive behind every negative
Prison life, despite its hardships, had blessings too. I was awakened—I became more self-aware and mindful. My awareness increased. I experienced a shift in thinking—from the analytical, logical, serial processing to the intuitive, holistic, parallel processing, which gave me a deep insight into understanding the true meaning of life. I practiced meditation and yoga regularly. Behind every negative, you can find a positive if you are open-minded, receptive, and patient and have faith in the process.
At the core of mental health lies a powerful concept, which also underlies the best form of healing—self-healing. With my embracing of the connection among mind, body and spirit, coupled with fear and the controlled environment of prison, I made significant progress. At the expense of losing my physical freedom, I had regained mental freedom.
Several inmates, including some of the more “hard-core” ones, would approach me to discuss mind-body-spirit connectedness. They even allowed me to help them rise above their miseries and overcome their difficulties. This gave me confidence that, if I could help people inside, I could help them outside too.
As I was thinking this, unknown to me, Dr. Biever was having the same idea. He shared his vision with me at a visit, and that idea turned into my current job as the Facilitator of Integrative Medicine Services.
My purpose and mission are to promote people’s awareness of their mental illness and their empowerment to inspire others and to remove societal stigma and stereotypes by open discussions. I try to help people make meaningful connections by sharing their life-experiences and reach their desired results through a program called “Riding the Shark: Surviving Crisis/Catastrophe.”
Learning to accept the past
When I came home and faced my children, I realized that I might never be able to forgive myself. That thought nagged me every second of the day. Processing the past is difficult. If you continue to have feelings of guilt, you cannot make progress. Learning to let go was a key for me.
I was fortunate that my family accepted me back. I finally found inner peace and meaning in my life, but I couldn’t have done it alone. I did it with the help of my two families. That confirms the power of human connection. As Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a social animal.”
Saroj Parida, M.D., is a baby doctor with three decades of experience in three different continents. Having dealt successfully with lifelong Dissociative Identity Disorder and its consequences, he is using his experience to help others. To find more information visit http://www.quittieglen.com/community-programs/lifestyle-wellness-programs or take a mind-body-spirit inventory at http://www.quittieglen.com/community-programs/mind-body-spirit-inventory.