Kamalbhai & Kanchalben
Today’s narrative is a story of how a husband and wife suffered through, and overcame, mental illness- together.
The illness was just as new to Kamal Bhai as the entire village of Morakhala. Living in a colony of labourers, 21 year old Kamal Bhai was a lean but strong young man and fit for the job: until the accident. His left shoulder injury left him partially paralyzed and that’s when the depression first creeped in. It was difficult for the family to bear the financial strain. Now Kamal Bhai is 46 – he survived 25 long years of Bipolar I Mood Disorder with the support of his wife and three sons, but life isn’t easy.
Kamal Bhai’s illness presents itself through a variety of symptoms. Manic episodes are characterized by anxiety, disruptive behaviour, violent outbursts, restlessness, and sleeplessness. Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night to sing religious songs. Naturally, the family is exhausted with this. In Kamal Bhai’s head, he feels rejected by the family and burdened by the deep stigma of ostracization from the neighbourhood. To be treated like a lunatic is not easy. To cope with his emotional deregulation, Kamal Bhai has turned to substance abuse and drinks excessive amount of alcohol and smokes throughout the day.
At first, like many villagers, Kamal Bhai sought respite in a faith healer, thinking it is a curse. When this showed no results, his brother’s interventions made him receive some medical treatment, but only for a year, as he could not afford continued medication. After having met Minds Foundation and receiving regular free of charge medication, there is something to cheer about. Most of his symptoms have reduced and his confidence is back. There is renewed hope on rebuilding relationships and getting out of the shell that Kamal Bhai and his family was forced into.
40-year-old Kanchal Bhen is Kamal Bhai’s wife, and is also diagnosed with Bipolar I Mood Disorder. While regular medication from Minds Foundation has now alleviated the troubles for the couple, life was far from easy for someone who suffered the disorder and kept company to her husband who had similar symptoms.
Her illness began 15 or 16 years ago with an array of symptoms and apparently after a fight with her mother in law. During bouts of depression, she would experience crying spells lasting one to two hours, decreased appetite, social withdrawal, and feelings of worthlessness. During periods of mania, she experienced intense anxiety and sleeplessness. Minor events would lead to acute irritability; sometimes throwing stones at villagers. Household chores, children’s upbringing and her work as a labourer suffered. It was when she encountered rejection from family and friends that she attempted suicide. Of course, multiple trips to faith healers did not work.
The camaraderie between the husband and wife, though hinged on the disorder, was the only respite to them through the years. Where “mental problems are perceived to be just as bad as HIV”, the couple found relief in each other’s company. After regular medication, their moods are uplifted and they are both working towards rebuilding their social lives.