I am writing about my experience with psychiatry and also on being a ‘mad’ person. This is my own experience, and like all things in life, it is just one person’s view.
In 2006, I went through a weird time (a nervous breakdown, maybe) due to multiple stressors.
I was 19 and questioned a lot of things, including what I wanted to do with my life. I had changed my name (unofficially) at the beginning of university as I wanted to reinvent myself. I’d failed a course for the second time because I plagiarized an assignment. I think I had the flu around that time and my diet was really bad. I was also working part-time in an unglamorous job.
Two years later, I felt like a fake person and regretted changing my name. I just wanted to get out of the university and start afresh at another university in another course as myself. I think I was being eccentric, depressed and excited all at the same time.
I remember that I’d created a scene at the railway station (or was it the bus station?) in Canada before traveling to meet my dad at a relative’s place. I don’t remember the details. I just have a faint recollection of accusing the people there of racial discrimination. I don’t exactly know why, though.
I met my dad and long story short, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with a ‘psychotic episode’. My father took me back to India even though I wanted to stabilize a bit. I pleaded and begged him, but he would not listen.
I remember that at the Heathrow and Dubai airports, I was begging my dad to go back to Canada. I just didn’t want to face anyone in the state I was in. I knew I was a mess. I had known it for some time.
When we reached India, I ended up getting myself admitted to a hospital. I also recall seeing some news on TV that felt like it was referring to me. From when the doctor had come, I could only remember an image of him sitting on a chair. I don’t remember talking to him or him taking a history. Probably, he talked to my parents mostly.
Now, that is the problem with psychiatry. When I was discharged from that hospital, my discharge summary said that my girlfriend rejected me, my friends were plotting to kill me and some ridiculous things like I was talking philosophically and was ‘good at accepting religious beliefs’.
First of all, I didn’t have a girlfriend. I had a teenage crush on a girl. I asked her out, she didn’t give me a straight answer and I guess I was hurt for a while. I liked another girl with whom I went out. But I never really had a girlfriend in the strict sense.
As far as my friends trying to kill me, I was the one who’d asked them to take me to the mental health counselor at my university. So that doesn’t add up. I may have been worried about some other kids with whom I had an argument about God, but it wasn’t a big deal. But I don’t know how my parents and the doctor talked about it that it came out like this.
This is what I dislike about psychiatry. It varies from culture to culture, unlike any other medical speciality. If your parents are aged and if they’re anything like mine, you’re stuck if they give your history. And if you are from mixed cultural background, it may not be easy for a psychiatrist to relate to some things.
If any of the psychiatrists had taken out the time to listen to what I had to say rather than get information from my parents, I believe I could have been off medication a long time ago.
For me, all this was depressing and disappointing. I thought of myself as being logical and rational. I saw myself as someone who could see the reality of things. Yet, here I was, diagnosed with a mental illness. Maybe in a way, it was humbling that just when I’d discovered the reality of things, I was diagnosed with ‘a break from reality’. I doubted myself. I’d lost my confidence. It showed me how fragile humans are. Needless to say, I was very depressed about the whole thing.
Three years passed, I’d joined an engineering college and dropped out again. I worked with three companies during this time. But I never felt fully well during this period.
It was 2010 and I quit the job where I worked for a year, to return to studies. I think I was almost off meds. Unfortunately, it was at that time, I changed my doctor to someone who’d studied at a top university because I was gaining weight and my anxiety did not show any signs of improvement (in fact it worsened). He switched my medicines. Looking back, I believe it may have been a very bad decision. But, we didn’t know any better.
I was studying Biology at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and was planning a web development business when I decided to get off my medicines and told my parents that I was reducing them on my own.
My parents did not appreciate my decision. My mom even prophesied that I will be locked up. In hindsight, I see how it became a vicious cycle and a self-fulfilling prophecy. They treated me like I was some monster. To a large degree, they were provocative and I guess I lost my cool. Maybe I was a bit ‘manic’ and violent occasionally, but I felt most of their behavior was fueled by their own imagination, especially my mother’s. At that moment, I truly felt like they were the least understanding parents in the world.
One day a car came to our house. There were two police officers along with my dad and two others. One of the officers told me to come with them. I told them that I will come to the police station to discuss the matter. They agreed and I got in.
Pretty soon, as we rode on, it became clear that they were not taking me to the local police station. I asked them to let me inform someone and told them to stop so that I could go to a cyber cafe. They joked by saying that the police station has a computer. I knew they were lying. It was surreal.
We reached a hospital called SH hospital. I knew what this was and I was still in a bit of a shock. I called 100 on the phone because I trusted the system. I handed the phone to the officer who was with me so that he could tell the address, but he jokingly said something and ended the call.
I was taken to see Dr. S. I don’t remember a lot but I think I told him to give me some proof of mental illness with a blood test or some physical evidence. This was a big mistake. I didn’t realize at the time, but it’s probably the worst thing you could ask a psychiatrist to do. That’s because there are no physical tests to identify mental illness except talking to your close ones and believing their version of events. I was told to wait outside and my dad and the relative went in. The doctor spoke to me for about 5 minutes and spoke with them for what seemed like half an hour.
Next thing I know, I was being escorted by the staff to a room where they injected me with some drug.
I woke up in a dark room. I don’t even remember going into the ward. I was in that ward for 30 days. It was horrible and traumatic beyond words. I didn’t know how long I’d be there. The first few days all I got was an hour of sedated sleep per day. I spat the drugs during the first three or four days. But then, they started crushing the tablets into liquid and watched me drink it. I’d be drugged up and groggy.
The beds had bed bugs that would bite as soon as I tried to sleep. The baths were ice cold. The common toilet stank and was disgusting. I don’t know if they cleaned it. I don’t know how many patients were in the ward but it was pretty stuffed.
There was a guy who used to shit on the floor. Sometimes I (and others) laid on the floor drugged up, trying to get some sleep. One day, I heard that a man was critical because the ward head who was a nun gave him the wrong medicines. Once I had a case of diarrhoea and shat in my pants. I think I wore the same pant after washing it under tap water for 2-3 days.
Another man told the story of a patient who fell on him and hurt him seriously because the patient had jumped to commit suicide.
The doctor came, maybe every alternate day and spent just a minute with each patient. One day the nun told the doctor that I was not a believer. It was awkward, they didn’t even agree on the same God. I don’t know how she got to know that I was a heathen. Probably it was because I didn’t sing along to the blaring Catholic songs that played every night. I couldn’t even if I wanted to, since I didnt know them.
As per whatever I can recall, the food was mostly bread and peas. We were taken outside only once in the 30 days. And by out, I mean down to a badminton court within the building.
I was put there three days after my birthday. I ‘celebrated’ Christmas and New Year over there. All this time I had no idea how long I was going to be there. I lost all hope and faith in humanity.
I was discharged after a month. I was destroyed mentally and physically when I was brought back home. I couldn’t even sit still because of the side effects of the medication. Feeling desperate, I asked my parents to take me to NIMHANS hoping they would be able to reverse the damage done. I had gone to NIMHANS before and they seemed okay. But there too I had problems.
Now my parents are more sensitive and take better care of me. They seem to have mellowed a bit. I have also changed. In a way, my scientific temper keeps me positive and now I try to be understanding of my parents’ limitations.