It all started seven years ago, on a December night. Or maybe two decades ago, when I night-wandered the streets of a small town. Or perhaps earlier, when I doubted someone else has gotten into my mother’s body and that’s why she is shouting at me. Or maybe even earlier, when I tried rewriting Mahabharata during my third-grade holidays.
I don’t know. I don’t know for sure when my early symptoms of bipolar disorder started. But I never experienced full-blown mania until I was 31, seven years ago. I vaguely (probably by choice) remember the racing dots I connected for three days and nights, and the psychosis grew into a huge, dark cloud eating me.
I didn’t realize it was a psychotic episode then. Even my doctor had the same opinion - an oversight in hindsight. I thought it was due to the disillusionment with a political organization in which I spent more than a decade and its ideas that were close to my heart.
I got more and more depressed for the next two years. Since depression has been my everlasting companion right from my childhood days, I really couldn’t see what was coming. I decided to move on, forgetting the episode as an exception.
Then came a December. And, the mania came like a roaring whirlwind that tossed me in the air. This time, my doctor confirmed that it is mania and I got admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I still remember the grand delusions when I was sitting before the new doctor. He was explaining what bipolar disorder is all about. And I was wondering if he was part of the state and that's why he is attacking me, by putting up a large religious deity image on his wall.
I did certain painful things during the brief hospital stay that I had to regret for years to come.
Did I say, “I did”? Does someone really “do” everything when they’re undergoing a manic psychosis? If not, how come we remember certain things while certain things are completely blacked out, without a trace of memory? Maybe my consciousness was at times swinging, and at times flipping, between on and off states. That’s the only logical explanation I could arrive at in all these years.
It was the worst period of my life. Some people who loved me got estranged, my colleagues got to know about my condition, my marriage went downhill, I couldn’t live with my child.
I cried (boys do cry) for days. Nights. There was no hope in sight. And one day, G, a dear friend asked me to watch ‘The Secret’ and pointed out how my negative imagination has been pulling me down forever. I was frantically searching for a log to swim across the sea while that video came as a lifeboat. I composed myself, went back to my job and started visualizing getting reunited with my wife and son, every day. Months later, one fine afternoon, my wife suddenly wanted to talk. And the talk led us to reunite.
That made me realize the power of positive imagination, the law of attraction and how positive thoughts can help you realize positive things.
But old habits die hard. After some years, I was slowly moving away from positivity and the urge for negative attention from the in-built poisonous tree was tempting. And due to various reasons, my sleep pattern started changing and I didn’t realize a storm was brewing.
And, as expected, it was Déjà vu, and the mania hit me this time with much more intensity. It was (must have been) a testing period to everyone who was close to me. When I got discharged from a different hospital this time, I sat at home for two long weeks and all I did was watching Romedy Now for the whole day. Or should I say stared?
I didn’t want my brain to think. I didn’t want to say anything to anyone. Hear anything from anyone. I guess I went numb.
Eventually, one question started bothering me.
Why the heck did I have a manic episode even when I was taking my pills religiously?
I decided it’s high time to sleep with the enemy than naively believe that it will never appear again. I started reading articles, watched videos, joined forums, and charted out my manic episodes (with dates and details). I noted down my early warning signs and triggers and shared it with my closed ones. Restarted my everyday mood journal, started tracking my sleep pattern and mood states.
Bottom line, Lithium Carbonate, Divalproex, Quetiapine, Clonazepam, and Olanzapine weren’t some weird chemical names to me anymore. I know who they are and how they care for me when I need them. Terms like altered behaviour, rapid cycling, hypomania got added to my vocabulary. Also, I understood that identifying your own symptoms, triggers and sticking on to the circadian rhythm is equally important in tackling the disorder along with the medicines. And the learning curve still goes on.
It put mania in check, but depression needed therapy. I was able to find the right therapist after a few months of searching, as therapy is not given its due in India. Therapy helped me resolve my childhood issues and I started making progress in changing my Life Script (Courtesy: Eric Berne) once for all.
Meanwhile, I met a caregiver mother whose story pushed me to form a peer support group in Chennai. I felt we’re a community need to come together for support, exchange thoughts and ideas, and fight against the stigma.
For some it’s asthma, for others it’s diabetes, for us it’s bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or major depressive disorder. It’s as simple as that. So, we are not “mental”, “psycho”, “loosu”, “nutcase”, “crack” or any derogatory label in any language. We are real people who can learn, love, care, work, and f***, just like any ‘normal’ person, despite our challenges.
We have successfully conducted meet-ups every single month for more than a year now and have grown into a small community who try our best to help each other. We have shared our secrets, our fears, our vulnerabilities, our pain, our endurance, our hope, our success and we are slowly becoming the best pals, beyond the barriers of age, gender, colour, caste, race, sexuality, politics, and religion.
Thus, I made a tryst with bipolar disorder almost two years back and I have been redeeming a pledge to myself till date.
I won’t run away from you.
I won’t deny or pretend that you don’t exist.
You’re there walking with me, waiting to push me down.
But you know buddy, I know your tricks. I know how to protect myself and where to hit you.
Finally, I am here writing this piece only because of the wonderful people in my life. My wife, who stands by me in her own ways and fights the battle courageously. My little son, who loves me with his whole heart. My sister, who identifies whenever I slip, even across thousands of miles. My friend G, who knows how and when to help me. My friends P, who always stood by me literally no matter what, SN and KR, who patiently heard me during the dark days. And last but not least, my mom, who still won’t utter the name of my disorder but asks me whether I take my pills properly.
One day I may write my journey in full length. Wish me luck.
Views expressed are the author's own.