I used to think of mental illness as taboo for a very long time until my personal experience changed that perception for good. Now, I’ve grown to accept mental illness and vulnerability as a way the body is communicating on what to prioritize on for better health. I’m sharing my personal experience with Bipolar disorder hoping it can resonate with people suffering from a mental illness, break taboos around it and importantly start discussions on what it takes to move towards good mental health.
First Episode and being diagnosed with Bipolar disorder
Being diagnosed with Bipolar disorder in 2012; at the age of 26 was one of the toughest phases of my life thus far. It started with a period where I experienced episodes of high anxiety, worry and fear which I also believe was triggered due to certain situational factors followed by episodes of Mania.
Mania Phase – The High or Ego Phase
Mania for me can be described as a phase where I thought myself supreme without a weakness, even worse was thinking small and judging others around. Something I’d chosen to stay away from earlier. The blurring between what is real and not (unrealistic feelings like someone wants to hurt me etc. or crazy funny thoughts on hindsight like I’m right here and the best fit to be the next President). The tough part about Mania is the inability to know that something is wrong in the thought process- It had gotten really terrible at one point that the lack of sleep and insufficient rest over a period of days got me hallucinating at which point my sister noticed the difference in my behavior.
Family & Friends’ Support – A critical factor to identify a mental illness
My sister has been a great supporter; she recognized a difference both in my behavioral traits and manner of acting and suggested to take me to a Psychiatrist. I resisted and was in denial to visit the doctor thinking that I was absolutely well, on hindsight I was not in a situation to realize what I was going through. This was followed by episodes of sudden change in my emotions – yet there I was in a stage of mania where I felt I was being a very big person by going with my sister to meet the doctor. I feel blessed to have a caring family, wonderful friends, and many well-wishers who supported me through that period.
Overcoming the Denial Phase- Meeting the Psychiatrist
Having my sister and cousins be by my side enabled me tackle the immense fear felt to even meet with the Psychiatrist. He initially prescribed medication that put me to sleep for a period of close to two days helping me get out of the period of hallucinations & Mania, to thought processes of feeling normal again.
Guilt Phase – What was I thinking?
Things were slowly beginning to feel better for me personally; however the tough phase was not over as yet. This period epitomizes the intense guilt I had for feeling the way I did during my mania phase, on how I could think I was faultless and supreme. On wondering why I had these thoughts and this illness.
In continuum came the period where I began to feel I was worthless and alone- this again is a phase where I undervalued myself and began to feel that I am no good. This again is an unreal phase since it is the other extreme where I failed to identify my strengths and primarily dealt on weaknesses alone with negative thoughts that are all I had. It was also a phase that I spend an incredible amount of time unable to be productive with my time. This again was the scariest period since I had thoughts of suicide that slide by without my knowledge. The cycle of Mania and Depression so far has been the toughest period for me.
Importance of Medication and Identifying Triggers (Managing the illness)
Apart from the medicines which play an important role in managing the illness- another critical part is to know the triggers to of Mania and Depression with Bipolar illness:
- Sleep: I’ve observed that sleep is important for me to function at my best. I make it a point to at least sleep for a period of eight to ten hours which is what my body requires at the moment.
- Intoxicating substances & Medication: Both the medications, Lithium and Quetiapine, has helped moderate the moods. Apart from this keeping a check on substances like alcohol helps to maintain a quality of life.
- Emotional health & Impulse control: Making a conscious choice to keep away from negative emotions like anger, worry and anxiety does us good. I am making more of an effort to first be conscious about my impulses, delay it and also keep away from negative emotions like anger, worry and anxiety.
In Pursuit of good mental health and happy living:
Mental illness is tough since it is of the mind and you’re fighting yourself in many ways. Beyond managing the mental illness; I recognize self-awareness is critical to good mental health. Challenges and experiences being faced are a means to know one’s inner self better. I’ve learnt that High ego and low self-esteem are both counterproductive to witnessing our true inner self, which deserves better. Keeping the faith in goodness & choosing resilience helps counter the illness at its very worst. Finally, I believe that secret sauce to a happier living is forgiveness, love, gratitude and the positive impact one makes on self and others .
Experiences shared are personal. Bijoy Jose is a social entrepreneur – He has been a part of Stanford Ignite 2017 from Bangalore & a Postgraduate in MSW from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.