This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Sruthi Sreekala. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

My Tumultuous Journey Of Living With Bipolar Disorder

Trigger Warning: Mentions of Mental Health Disorders

Once an acquaintance of mine told me he had never seen anyone who is always happy. Another close friend of mine told me that he had never been with anyone as gloomy as I was. Yeah, the big announcement here is, I’m living with bipolar disorder. But let me tell you this, around 50 million people around the world go through a similar journey like me.

Living with bipolar does not mean you switch between two different personalities like it’s being portrayed in movies or pop culture. I certainly don’t laugh and cry at the same time (for God’s sake). According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Bipolar Disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

Every individual’s experience is different, but let me use this space to share my experience of living a bipolar life. I undergo extreme blues and mood swings. more often than others (I don’t want to use the term ‘normal people’ here!). I feel depressed and downcast for half the year for no particular reason. An unpleasant experience can trigger such a phase and this phase has a habit of lasting longer than is required.

Then there’s my ‘sunshine’ period too! This is the other half of the year when I’m confident, carefree, and active—rather hyperactive! It doesn’t end there. I dress up well and speak endlessly. Sounds cool right? It sure does, but this phase is followed by an inevitable downfall where I plummet into a deluge of negativity and suicidal thoughts. The irony of this situation is that a person viewing my contrasting personalities may consider me to be pretentious or fake.

Being made fun of by your family is hard. Especially when it’s your father. However, I secretly laugh at their blissful ignorance towards my mental health condition in general. I have always felt deeply misunderstood. I felt that nobody takes an effort to understand me without belittling or avoiding me. But at a certain point in my life, I began to understand that I was at crossroads with my mental health.. That was the moment when I realised that nobody was against me, I was battling my mind all the time.

That realisation was a relief. It gave me the strength to love people again. But then a new villain emerged out of nowhere; a kind of self-loathing guilt-tripping myself for troubling everyone. Sometimes I would think of how things would have panned out differently between me and my ex-lover had I been free of my bipolar roller coaster rides. This thought especially was a hard one to overcome.

But love isn’t like that. You are not going to be perfect and don’t ever try to be. People who love you for who you are will stay—NO MATTER WHAT.

I lament over the friends I’ve lost, and the relations I’ve destroyed. I hope the teacher in my college who bullied me realises that it was my mental health issue and not my defiance or rebellion. I hope her daughters don’t have to go through this struggle.

The image depicts a woman going through a mental health condition looking out of the window.
All I can say now is that I embrace myself with all my mood swings, anxiety, and irritability. I love the bipolar me! Representational image.

My experience with the medical fraternity was not any better. I have suffered more from psychiatrists. Especially recently, when a very celebrated psychiatrist prescribed me an antipsychotic when all I needed was mood stabilizers. The next one did nothing other than prescribe the same medications and put me on more medications (medical representatives pay him better than patients I guess)! Finally, I found a doctor who is compassionate and willing to hear me out rather than showering me with medications. I’m grateful to him for restoring my faith in doctors.

Another common disappointment is when pharmacists treat you like you’re a drug peddler. Why can’t a 24-year-old buy her prescribed medicines? Isn’t that allowed in this country? It is not easy to get psychiatric medication from a pharmacy because the staff is often judgmental, suspicious or unwilling to give you the medication unless they know you. Besides, many do not even stock psychiatric medication!

Nevertheless, I have had great friends who without any knowledge about my condition understand me, sense the slightest mood change, and support me accordingly. I can never thank them enough. If it weren’t for such good souls, I would probably have not been here to write this down. Art, literature, and music helped me find peace within myself. Volunteering with an NGO to teach children living in shelter homes was a life-changing experience. It changed my whole perspective. The children there became my strength and motivation to move ahead.

Unconditional love comes from children and pets, no doubt. I doubt if I can ever love someone unconditionally. But they will, for sure!

The image depicts a dog whose paw is placed on a woman's hand in a high-five position. The image symbolises how the author describes pets have been able to help her journey with bipolar disorder and mental health in general
You will always be able to find comfort and support in a pet even when you are going through the darkest of times.

Recently, while I was casually mentioning my condition to a teacher, he was surprised. He said in disbelief that he never imagined that someone like me would be having this condition. Funny enough, the shock on his face gave me confidence. It made me realise that I can manage my illness well without being dependent on anyone. Things are getting better with time.

However, let me remind you all, bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability in the world (according to WHO). Bipolar disorder results in a 9.2 years reduction in expected life span, and as many as one in five patients with bipolar disorder die by suicide (according to NIMH).

Unfortunately, a lack of affirmative medical spaces makes bipolar disorder mostly untreated for diagnosed individuals in any given year. Although there is no cure, it is generally believed that the optimal treatment plan for bipolar disorder is a combination of medication and cognitive-behavioural therapy. The medication allows the person to experience a more stable mood and gain a clearer perspective.

When they are able to have a more stable emotional experience they are more likely to start and continue with therapy. The therapy helps them understand their thoughts and helps them differentiate between accurate thoughts as opposed to thoughts that are generated by their condition.

For some people mood stabilizers can help them be functional on a daily basis. However, a lack of resources and access can also make some apprehensive about reaching out for medical help. For many others, choosing to not start medication can be a personal choice or stem for other experiences. All these choices are valid.

Every year, World Bipolar Day is celebrated on the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh (March 30th), who was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder.

All I can say now is that I embrace myself with all my mood swings, anxiety, and irritability. I love the bipolar me!

Bipolarly yours,
Sruthi

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