Living with bipolar disorder by accepting my mercurial mind

A retired maths teacher and freelance writer talks of the five stages to acceptance of the disorder, from apathy to humour

My mental illness started four decades ago, in the postpartum period, when I developed symptoms of psychosis. I had grown up in a loving home, so this came as a rude shock to my family. As for me, I did not even realise I was sick. Unlike a number of people though, I had the support of my parents, husband, and in-laws.

In somewhat of a role reversal, my son is very aware of my mental health condition and keeps a lookout for signs that I may be ‘speeding’. “Mom have you had your medication?” he will ask me or say, “Shouldn’t you be in bed?” if he feels I’m getting to be manic. I take such advice from him very well, though not from anyone else.

I also received excellent treatment. This treatment, consisting of very strong pills, did not fully manage the illness, so I had to undergo electro convulsive treatment (ECT, commonly known as electric shock treatment). In time, I could live a normal life, albeit on strong medication with side effects like muscle spasms and cramps, an extremely dry mouth to the point of not being able to speak, constipation, dizziness, drowsiness.

The weight gain and the fact that some people sleep over 12 hours each night, make many refuse to take medicines. I realised that they were essential, and that I had to manage the side effects.

Over the last four decades, ‘Compliance, Compliance, Compliance’ has been my mantra. I have been productive, working, managing a home, and furthering my education.

It was not smooth sailing always. As is the case with grief, I have gone through five stages, spread across five years, in my journey through mental illness.

The first stage: Apathy

I did not know how ill I was and did not care. I did bizarre things, like showering with my clothes on, writing to NASA with my resume, and ignoring my sweet child. Only my family knew something was wrong. We saw a leading psychiatrist three months after my son was born and I started treatment.

The second stage: Denial

‘Me? Mentally ill? Of course not. I am a member of MENSA, the society of people in the top 2% of intelligence in the population; how can I be mentally ill,’ I had thought. But mental illness does not discriminate. In fact, bipolar disorder strikes the creative and intelligent even more than others.

The third stage: Anger

The cliche, ‘Why me?’ was my leading emotion. This stage lasted a long time till I had to be hospitalised again for a psychotic episode. When I was stabilised, I was determined to learn all I could about my illness and the treatments that were available. Becoming knowledgeable also helped me manage the condition.

The fourth stage: Acceptance

I realised that the condition was not a fault of mine and the best way to handle it was to accept it like any other illness. While I did not ‘come out of the closet’, I did share my diagnosis with friends I trusted. This gave me the support I needed and I began to live as normal a life as possible. I still have the occasional visit to the hospital for a depressive or manic episode, which cannot be managed at home.

The fifth stage: Acceptance with humour

Just the other day somebody made a remark about me and I retorted, “Hey I’m crazy, not stupid.” Being able to laugh at mental illness gives me the ability to develop a self-deprecatory style of humour. I even did a stand-up comedy routine recently and a good bit of it was about my illness.

  • Those in distress may reach the following:
  • iCALL-TISS at 022-25521111. Available from Monday to Saturday: 10 am to 8 pm.
  • Bipolar India; with a support group on Telegram.
  • Sahaayta Foundation on Facebook.
  • Sunny Siders, a bipolar support group that meets at ANHAD, Delhi.

The author is a retired maths teacher. March 30, Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday is celebrated as World Bipolar Day.


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