After one of my outbursts, my Dad once told me that I always enjoyed a rollercoaster ride. We laughed at it then, but it was closer to the truth than we realised. I was 28 when I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder type-II (a type without the mania). I was scared and relieved at the same time when I got the diagnosis. I had never imagined that I would need treatment for a mental health disorder, though it should have been obvious.
I had spent months (or maybe, years) just idling away the time in my room. I had no motivation and spent entire days sleeping. I was almost scared to be up as the pain felt too much. Physical pain was from fibromyalgia — that I could still manage. The mental anguish left me stumped.
I had lost my job some years ago due to the body pain and fatigue that comes with fibromyalgia, and was still finding my feet in a new career. I had also come out of a seven-year long relationship that had turned emotionally abusive towards the end. All this had together spiralled me into a depressive episode. The stigma and lack of awareness about invisible illnesses did not help.
During anxiety ridden times, I would be too scared to step out of my house; I isolated myself in my room, constantly under a cloud of angst. I would derive no joy out of anything. This led to another break-up with considerable heartache.
I was no stranger to depression though, with a difficult childhood that came from a lot of bullying. I remember one incident vividly: I was very happy that day because I had got an invite from the kids in my colony to come down and play with them. I used to spend most of my time alone in my house. When I stepped down, the group ganged up on me and forced me to eat mud. I ran home with tears in my eyes. Another time, when playing hide and seek, all the kids left for their homes leaving me searching for them in the dark till my mom called me home from the balcony. I do not have the courage to write about the worse ones.
I did not have a safe space while growing up and I carried this trauma throughout my life. I became a people pleaser, always trying to prove myself worthy. My diagnosis was life altering — I started seeking help.
Therapy and prescribed medication helped me come out of depression. Finding my tribe among my friends and the support from my family gave me confidence. By working on my relationship with myself, I also became more honest and self-aware. While I still struggle with confidence and anxiety, I have made huge strides towards being more in love with myself.
Board gaming is more than just a hobby. It gave me a reason to get out during bad days and focus my energy more productively during hypomania. My work and workplace have made me more confident and grateful. Two cats and many laughs later, I have built a good life for myself in spite of continuing struggles with anxiety, self-esteem, body pain, even stigma in the medical community.
Now, five years after my diagnosis, I also realise the correlation between mental and physical health. For the longest time, I focused only on my physical health. I did not understand the need to get help for what was going on in my mind. I could have avoided a lot of trauma and pain if I had.
I hope one day we will normalise seeking help for mental health problems like we do for the physical ones. The stigma runs deep even within the medical community. It is difficult to find doctors who are not dismissive and allow us agency. With greater empathy and awareness, I hope for a change in understanding and attitude.
Mental health also has real physical symptoms. I have learnt a lot through my struggles — empathy, self-love, awareness about my privilege and the importance of seeking help when needed.
The writer has studied law and works with a NGO. She tries to spread awareness about mental health and invisible illnesses based on her experiences.
In this series, we feature first-person accounts of people who have accepted, acknowledged, and sought help for their mental health problems.