By Punitha Suresh:
I am 45 years old and have been living with Bipolar Disorder for the past 16 years. 25 years ago, my mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. We were children at that time, the four of us, and we did not know anything about mental illness. We couldn’t comprehend her sufferings and were baffled by her bizarre behaviour. She was taken to a psychiatrist but didn’t respond to the treatment. Then one day, she tried to commit suicide by immolating herself; she was admitted to the burns ward in a general hospital where she succumbed after three weeks of agony.
Mine was a love marriage; my husband Suresh was a drummer. When my daughter was one year old, one of my friends died in a road accident. This was when my husband’s late working hours and drinking habits made me panic that he will meet with an accident too. I started ruminating over this issue endlessly; it caused so much distress that sleep eluded me. Because of my delusions and hallucinations I was taken to the hospital where ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy) was administered. I was devastated when I learnt that I had mental illness like my mother and thought that I will end up like her.
On returning home after the trauma of the scary diagnosis, I faced stigma and discrimination. Both educated and uneducated people treated me with contempt. I was ashamed of my illness and the medicines were making me gain weight. After two years of treatment, my doctor informed that I had recovered and could stop the medication. My joy knew no bounds.
But after few months, I started becoming very argumentative and abusive. I fought with the TTR in a train once which made me feel that something was amiss. I got myself admitted voluntarily but refused to admit that I had had a relapse. I just kept on saying that I needed medicines to put me to sleep and when they started treating me instead, I got frustrated and went on a hunger strike. The doctor however said that he will go on with the treatment; I resisted and the ward boys manhandled me. I felt helpless and traumatised and ran away from the hospital to a church on a hill. My husband came and requested me to return. My running away infuriated the doctor further and he threatened that he will hand me over to the police. I was scared. After this I was discharged, but the doctor said that he was doing this against his wishes and advice.
Later on, my husband took me to many different doctors. I was put on different types of medication and had to go through their unpleasant side effects each time. Finally, there was one doctor who’s meds put me on right track. I started recovering but the hitch was that I wasn’t really a part of the treatment process. The doctor wouldn’t talk to me, so when I had marital issues, instead of going to my doctor I stopped my medicines and headed for a relapse. I was working in Avon Cosmetics and running a boutique at that time. I used to smash things in the house and be very abusive; I wandered to Chalukudy in Kerala once and was taken in police custody, my husband brought me back to Chennai. I refused to go for treatment. This time, I was administered ECT without my consent, and admitted in a rehabilitation home. I was paralysed with shock. The memory of my six-year-old daughter pained me and the fear of being locked and forgotten made me spiral deep down. It was then that I vowed that I will recover and come out. I also felt the need to be treated.
I came out of rehab as a totally different person. I started attending a day care attached to the rehab and after a few months I also took up a job. My interest in computers made me join an IT consultancy; I started as a recruiter and was promoted to the position of lead coordinator within a few months. I was happy with my work but deep down a fire was burning
“If I am not for myself who else is for me?
If I am only for myself what am I for?
If not now then when?”
I began my search for people like me and came across an NGO, the Banyan. Here I got a job as a supervisor of a day care and was promoted to be the Jr. Coordinator. I love the job in The Banyan. To think that I used to go to a day care myself and today I am managing one has made me stronger. People think that after ECT a person becomes like vegetable. But that is not true. Since my strength is advocacy, I took up “International diploma in mental health law and human rights”- a WHO initiative with Indian Law College, one of top ten law colleges in India, and passed in 2013.
My Vision: I want to see the world where people with mental illness are accepted in the society, get married, get employment, live with families in a world free from stigma and discrimination.
My Mission: I want to start a movement in India, be a change maker.