I don’t think there is such a thing as being ready.
If I wait to be ready, it might be the end of life. I have witnessed too many irreversible finales, so I intend to live fully, come happiness or pain.
I deliberated for a long time on how to write this piece. Sipping on hot chocolate seemed like a good plan to begin with and might make this sharing (rant) a tad sweeter.
It has been a long-held wish to contribute positively to create awareness about mental awareness. And, the only reason I am doing this is, it brings me relief and peace at some deeper level. Last week, I typed a frantic WhatsApp message to Vijay expressing my gratitude for a platform like this. It read~
“You see, I’ve a long history of mental illness in my family. My daadi (grandmother) died of suicide when my father was a toddler and we were told to never talk about it. My father quietly suffered from a mental illness for a long time and ended his life. Again, we were strictly instructed to never talk about it. Now, my sibling has been diagnosed with bipolar and yet again we shouldn’t be talking about it. I completely respect my sibling’s decision to not talk, but I want to help and I want to talk. I feel the more we talk and share honestly, the more we help. So, I will not let go of this opportunity to participate in any way I can.”
The opportunity is, attending the Bipolar India seminar on April 1st, 2018. Two years ago, I attended one such seminar moderated by Vijay and it opened my eyes, mind and heart.
I must have been about three or four years old, when I realised that something was not quite right with my family. My father was a heavy drinker with a tendency to get abusive and my mother would complain non-stop. They were both doctors and fortunately there was enough money coming in, but my father would squander most of it. My mother would often lament about her marriage, and one of the things that was told repeatedly ~ “Your grandmom hung herself and I didn’t know this before getting married.” As a young child, I decided marriage was not for me and I will do something better with my life.
There is this one incident that almost normalised suicide for me, because I feel somewhere my mother struggled with her share of depression too. We had decided to set up a swing, but never got around to fixing the chain and seats, so it laid bare for weeks. She would be so angry and frustrated with my father’s behaviour that she would tell me that she would hang herself there.
From absolutely being in awe of my father, I moved to the other extreme of completely detesting him in my teens. With my mother, however, the relationship shifted from being extremely angry with her to being really protective. So, there were several ugly and physical fights with my father in his drunken stupor and numerous accounts of public embarrassment. I was waiting for the day when he would be no more. I felt that would be the day when there would be peace at home and no public embarrassment. How foolish and naïve, was I?
My mother always said that he needed psychiatric help, but I am from a small town in Assam with scarce access to such medical needs. Remember, my parents were doctors and even they had a hard time. One of my mother’s classmates was a psychiatrist and lived an hour away from my hometown. My mom approached her for help and she flatly refused because my father was a senior in medical college. The dynamics of small town living are sometimes downright insensitive and incomprehensible.
In one of his extremely drunken states, my mother, a house help and I picked my father from the streets and admitted him in a psychiatric ward two hours away from my hometown. By then my love and respect for him had completely run dry. I was angry, almost always.
Anyway, I hoped that he would not return home. He did come back, quieter and sober. The meds or whatever treatment was administered seemed to have worked. I thought I could be kinder to him, but it was too late. Within four months, my father ended his life by shooting himself in the neck. My mother stayed strong for us and went about her daily business to provide for our education, but I know that she definitely experienced depression and tremendous anxiety. This was early 2000 and I came to Mumbai to complete my undergrad.
It didn’t take me too long to fall in love with this city. It taught me invaluable lessons to stand-up for myself, share openly, trust my gut and take care of myself and those close to me. I have a hyperactive mind that easily leads to anxiety and there have been several times when I thought counselling would help. As a classic case of someone with really low self-esteem and self-love, it was easy for me to even contemplate suicide. I am glad that my self-preservation instinct kicked in when it did. Also, regular practice of meditation and Reiki kept me grounded and on a path to being acutely aware of my behaviour, feelings, reactions and mostly my demons.
Just as I began my tryst with meditation four years ago, my sibling had a manic-psychotic episode. Unsure of what it was, we consulted a fantastic psychiatrist in Mumbai who guided us. We were so relieved with the kind of psychiatric care that we got here. My sibling’s diagnosis was transformative for me, because I finally grasped my Dad’s struggle with mental illness. We fight a lot, but I am fiercely protective of my sibling and was determined to see the situation get better. Being a medical student, my sibling shuttles between Assam and Mumbai for treatment as we witnessed several manic and depressive episodes. My mother, now in her 60s, would mostly be helpless because she would be subject to either her own worries, insecurities about her child’s future and aggressive behaviour during manic episodes. There was one time, one and a half years ago, when my sibling caught hold of her neck and had to be tranquilised with injections.
Does it make me extremely angry? Yes. Do I get completely apathetic? Yes. Do I feel completely frustrated with no hope in sight? Yes. So, I have to remind myself that the demons of my childhood will never catch up with me. As a secondary and sometimes primary giver, I tell myself clearly that it is not my sibling, it is the imbalance that causes this condition. Just as my father, my sibling is extremely compassionate. In fact, on the day my father passed away, the shops and offices in my hometown remained shut because he was greatly respected as a doctor. It has been 17 long years since his passing and even to this day, there are people who seek out doctors like him and tell me stories of his selfless service as a medical practitioner.
I am one of those extremely fortunate people who found long and lasting friendships, the privilege of a good education, a practice like Reiki to keep myself grounded, psychiatrists and a bipolar support group as an everyday reminder that seeking help and sharing honestly really is the best antidote to depression, mania and everything in between.
These bunch of friends conspired to set me up on dates and I grudgingly surrendered. It didn’t take me too long to find an empathetic and extremely understanding husband, although I had no intention of getting married. Little did I know that marriage would make me take life a little less seriously, laugh at myself and connect with my inner child.
Life has its ways of surprising us, in generous ways…
~ Jahnabee Borah
(a member of our Peer Support Group)
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Thank you, Jahnabee, for this candid, brave piece of storytelling!