I started developing symptoms of mental illness when I was in A levels. I had cycles of dysthymia and hyperactivity which aggravated after I joined university and experienced some adverse life experiences. I went to a mental health professional in second year after I crashed and was unable to give my second year MBBS prof exams. I was diagnosed with depression and the psychiatrist started me on flux. This helped me initially, but then propelled me into mania. I finally crashed in the middle of my third year. I was admitted in the psych ward and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I started medications, as a result of which I am now much better.
One of the key things which define a person with bipolar disorder is increased awareness and sensitivity to what is happening around you. What I was feeling is something that some people also feel and there is nothing wrong with it, it just needs to be controlled. I experienced certain breakdowns of relationships, existential and philosophical conundrums which also added to my illness. By attempting to address both biological and philosophical aspects, I was able to recover.
I faced a lot of stigma – both societal and self-stigma – and I think it was very good because it was conducive to character building. Societal stigma is what the society thinks about you when you have a mental illness, for example that you cannot be a functional member of this society and you cannot achieve what other people can. There is also a stigma against mental illness, the misconception that mental illness is more to do with personality. This is problematic because it prevents you from seeking help. Self-stigma is when you consider yourself to be unable to do anything because of your mental illness and when you get caught in this cycle of nihilism.
I initially felt that since it was a biological disease and a life-long chronic disease, I won’t be able to get better and that’s why I also contemplated suicide. But then I thought that it may be a chronic illness, but I can do something with the skills that I have and with the knowledge that I have gained through it. That’s when I started working. I had to figure out how to convert this experience into something which could be beneficial for the world. As a result, I embarked on this journey of mental health awareness and public health, trying to make the world a better place. This really helped me a lot, because I realized that I can add value to society and that I can be a functional member. This realisation gave me a lot of courage and that’s how I overcame the self-stigma. Once you overcome the self-stigma, social stigma is much easier to overcome.
Something I would like to share with others is that it is extremely important to understand that the journey of recovery is difficult. I feel that it is highly possible that I may have a relapse in the near future, but I won’t let that define my present. The goal should not be the cessation of symptoms but the regaining of functionality.