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My Bipolar Disorder And I Aren’t Friends, But We’re Getting Along Better Now

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I used to think of mental illness as taboo for a very long time until my personal experience with it. Now, I’ve grown to accept mental illness as just another way for the body to communicate it’s priorities. I’m sharing my experience with Bipolar Disorder hoping it can resonate with others who have had mental health difficulties at some point in life. I think an important message that I take away from it is that I am not alone – love unites us.

Toughest Phase Of My Life- First Episode And Being Diagnosed As Bipolar

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2012. At the age of 26 – it was one of the toughest phases of my life. 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 Phase

Mania for me can be described as moments where I considered myself supreme without a weakness. I started judging and thinking less of others around me. Something I think I’ve always chosen to stay away from earlier. This phase can be categorized as a stage with a very high ego – something I now choose to live without and the blurring between what is real and not (unrealistic feelings like someone wants to hurt me). The tough part about Mania is the inability to know that something is wrong. It had gotten really terrible at one point that the lack of sleep and insufficient rest over a period of days had got me hallucinating at which point my sister noticed the difference in my behavior.

Family And Friends’ Support – A Critical Factor To Identify A Mental Illness

My sister has been a great support.  She recognized a difference both in my behavioral traits and a marked difference in my manner of acting and offered to take me to a psychiatrist. When she told me, I resisted and was in denial – I didn’t want to visit the doctor. I kept thinking that I was absolutely well. In hindsight, I was not in a position to understand 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 and a wonderful friend who supported me through that period.

Tackling The Denial Phase – Meeting The Psychiatrist

Before meeting the doctor I felt a sense of immense fear that I don’t totally understand. However as mentioned having my sister and cousins come with me and be my side enabled me to meet with the psychiatrist. He initially prescribed medication that put me to sleep for a period of close to two days where I just woke up, had my meals and went back to sleep. I still remember how the medicines helped me get out of the period of Mania and I was beginning to feel a bit normal (before mania phase) again.

Guilt Phase – What Was I Thinking?

Things were slowly beginning to feel better for me personally; however, the tough phase was not over yet. This period epitomizes my intense guilt I had for feeling the way I did during my mania phase, mostly for thinking I was faultless and supreme. I wondered why I had these thoughts, this illness and a feeling of worthlessness.

Depression Phase

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 I was unable to identify my strengths and primarily looked only at my weaknesses and my negative thoughts were all I had. It was also a phase, in which I was unable to be productive with an incredible amount of my time. This again was the scariest period since I had thoughts of suicide that slid by without my knowledge. The cycle of Mania and Depression so far has been the toughest period for me.

Acceptance Phase – Importance Of Medication And Identifying Triggers

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Intoxicating substances: I’ve realized the need to keep a check on alcohol consumption for me and the need for avoiding any other substance that alters my behavior.
  3. Medication : I am on Lithium & Quitipin and have been for the past four years. I hope there comes a time when I don’t need medication – but that is something I would have to rely on my doctor’s opinion on whom I trust.
  4. Self-Control: Another aspect of the illness is to act less on impulses. I am making an effort to be conscious of my impulses and then either delay or take steps to not indulge them.
  5. Stop Fearing and Continue Loving: I believe that anger, worry, and anxiety are certain things that affect our mental health a great deal. Essentially, I’ve come to believe that loving each other and also importantly forgiving oneself and others constantly are key to a more healthy and happy living.

Self-Awareness – A Key To Better Mental Health

Mental illness is tough since it is of the mind and you’re fighting yourself. Beyond the medicines, self-awareness is a constant pursuit. Most important to better mental health, is the love you receive and share to all. I do think that illnesses of the mind are also communicating something very important – it helped me better understand my actions and my thoughts; feelings and emotions. I’ve begun to believe that challenges are only a way to get to know your inner self better. Am I going to face more challenges, maybe yes but I choose resilience always!

Experiences shared are personal and intended for the intent of breaking the taboo around mental illness and society’s acceptance empathy towards those experiencing it.

Bijoy Jose is a social entrepreneur – a postgraduate (MSW) from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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