Human mind is one of the most intriguing and complex creatures. The thoughts that arise from a person’s mind can lead to either the most beautiful creation in the world or to the most destructive one. Inventions, expressions and technological advancements are all manifestations of the human mind.
Thoughts play an integral role in how our mind works. And what we think - is linked to our circumstances, people we interact with, and many other factors beyond our control. Now, if we go a step deeper, how we perceive these factors is dependent on our brain and the neuro-chemicals in our brain. The neuro-chemicals through various neurons send signals to our brain and subsequently we perceive what we see, feel and hear.
Now, if God plays a small trick with you and tweaks the composition of these neuro-chemicals, then your perception of the external circumstances can vary from a person who has a different composition of the neuro-chemicals. This tweaking of neuro chemicals, in medical terms is stated as a chemical imbalance. One of the medical conditions that can occur due to this chemical imbalance is bipolar disorder.
The reason why I am talking to you about this disorder is because I was diagnosed with it in 2017. This is a mood disorder that manifests in mania, hypomania and/or depression. Even though, mania and hypomania, sound very similar hypomania is a condition where the affected person feels like he or she has Godly powers, extremely creative and highly energetic. Manic disorder is when the person is in a condition called psychosis, where they are taken out of reality, and can be delusional, hallucinating, self- inflicting harm etc. While, I have not experienced hypomania, I have been under mania two to three times.
Depression is a common term, and will not need a lot of explanation. The only thing I would want to say is that there can be varying degrees of depression. The level of functionality of a person can be one of the yardsticks of how depressed a person is. For instance, a person will not feel like getting out of bed, or even taking a shower or going to the loo. In another scenario, a person may be able to go ahead with the daily chores, but won’t feel like stepping out and going to work or meeting friends.
Therefore, a person having bipolar disorder, will have mood imbalances resulting in highs and lows. As I said, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2017, and it had manifested itself in an extreme manic attack. I had a very very supportive spouse, friends, and ex-boss that helped me contain the mania to a large extent . I had to be hospitalised for a long time, and have been under medications since then.
After the mania, I was under severe depression (the extreme one as I mentioned above) for almost a year and a half, and then slowly recovered and is still recovering. There had been two manic episodes last year, which rocked the boat a lot. However, now I am slowly stabilising.
A key aspect of this mental illness is that it cannot be cured, but has to be “managed”. Most of the psychiatrists I have met have given me the same example, that is, view it like having diabetes or high cholesterol. However, it is difficult for a person to equate a mental disorder to any other physical ailment; especially when it is not common or known to the people that I was interacting with.
My biggest challenge with the condition has been to understand and accept that I am suffering from this disorder. I still struggle with the question “why me”. But by way of therapy from family and professionals over a period of two years, I have slowly started to get past that impasse.
Firstly, I have come to accept that it is a health condition similar to any other health condition that any person would be suffering from. Yes, it has its unique features, but that doesn’t mean I need to look at it differently from other illnesses. Secondly, why I was chosen to have the chemical imbalance, is something, for which I realised I will never be able to find an explanation for, and try to make peace with the same.
To have a strong and reliable support system, is an important factor for managing bipolar disorder. I am fortunate to have a very understanding and caring family and a close circle of friends, who understand my mood vagaries, and are very patient with it. I have to give a very special shout out to my spouse and his family for being there for me throughout.
In relation to this, I would urge all my readers to view a mental illness, as any other physical ailment and be empathetic with the patient. It is very important that the caregivers and other societal members understand the difficulties a person with mental illness will be facing. This is because unlike physical ailments, in case of mental illness, it is difficult to convey the thoughts and emotions that a person is experiencing. In addition to this, in most cases, the social stigma restricts the person from opening out.
For example, if I am having fever or a sprain, I think a third person can understand it without me having to explain in detail what I am going through. However, if I am getting into mania, or depression, it is extremely difficult for me to comprehend it myself, and in addition, to convey that to a third party will be even more difficult. In such scenarios, it is important to be calm and patient and try to be there for the other person.
A support system is required not only when there is a crisis, a person with mental illness needs family and friends to manage the bipolar disorder. At this juncture, I will reiterate my point about accepting and viewing a mental illness as any other physical ailment and not be judgmental or prejudicial about it. This helps a patient to open out to a friend or family member about his or her condition and get some support. As I mentioned, I am fortunate to have friends, family and my ex-boss who were/are very supportive and non-judgmental.
However, I have found it difficult to tell my ex-colleagues and few other friends or family members, the reason I had to quit my job and take a break. This hesitation stems from the social stigma that is attached to a mental illness, and the lack of openness to discuss it.
The key element for coping with the disorder is to rely on one’s medicines and be regular with it. In this connection, it is important to have a reliable and accessible psychiatrist and psychologist. I am assuming the readers know the difference between the two. In any event, I will mention it. Former, i.e., a psychiatrist diagnoses the illness and prescribes medications for it, and the latter, does therapy and psychoanalysis. Regular visits to both the professionals keep a good check on the condition.
I have learnt from experienced survivors from the bipolar disorder support circle, that lifestyle changes can help “manage” the condition. A regular routine with exercise, meditation and very good sleep hygiene are important to avoid any relapses.
The uniqueness of this condition, is that it is an invisible illness, and the triggers cannot be always identified, and will not be consistent. Personally, after a lot of observations, I have slowly been able to identify my triggers. However, there are some common triggers applicable to the disease such as stress, lack of adequate sleep, a change of routine including a change in place, change in time zone and cessation of medicines etc. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid these trigger factors.
This will be the shortest section of my blog. This is because I am still learning to cope with the condition. I hope that with my first blog post, I would have opened a few minds towards understanding mental health, and viewing it differently. I will be back with another post soon, until then remember “some days are diamonds and some days are stones”.