By Abhishek Thakore
Abhishek Thakore writes a moving account of the vagaries of living with bipolar disorder
Let me get straight to the point – I live with bipolar disorder, aka Bi (and I use that wording very deliberately, as I shall proceed to explain).
It classifies as a major mental condition in psychiatry. It gives you a tax exemption. It occasionally gives you euphoric experiences. But for the most part, it gives you a helluva lot of trouble.
Imagine that there is an indicator of how you feel in a day, on a scale of one to six – one being a really bad day and six – well, woo hoo. Life is an ongoing series of threes and fours, several twos and fives and a few bad ones (when you need the best of your self-help gyaan) and some amazing sixes (when you had an amazing vacation, a surprise promotion, or mind-blowing sex).
This is normal life.
Now imagine a few minor tweaks to this.
First, imagine that the mood of the day suddenly starts to be decided by the random throw of a dice. Somewhere, a mysterious force decides what the ‘Mood of the Day’ counter should be. With absolutely NO connection to what is going on outside.
For example, it’s New Year’s Eve and your favorite food, music and people are around. Suddenly, the dice can rolls. And this dice is not going to limit itself between one to six. It is going to show up a random number from -10 to +10. Which means, if a minus seven gets rolled on that New Year’s Eve, you will find yourself in real contemplation of a jump from the highrise where you are partying.
Because you are feeling MISERABLE. Imagine your mother, father, wife and kids being shot in front of your eyes by a wicked laughing terrorist. By the time you hit -10, you are too sad to even die (or move).
Why? Because the dice randomly rolled a -10.
That is all. Suddenly, out of nowhere. Of course it could have rolled a plus eight too – in which case you’d be borderline hallucinating and rattling away as if drunk thrice over.
So that is what Bi does to you.
We Bis are the upper caste of mental disorders, second only to the schizophrenics (who grapple with what is real…really!). So Bi is probably how far you can get into a mental disorder while still staying functional.
This, to the discerning reader, may sound like bipolar pride. Let’s consider the facts (which you can google).
Bi knocks off nine years from my average life span. One in five people with Bi ends their lives. Bi also gave me the unique experience of shock therapy (aka electroconvulsive therapy, one of the few things invented in the 1930s that still remains with us). Of course I don’t remember it (a few hundred volts through your brain are bound to take away a few million neurons).
And the New-Ager’s bane is that lots of personal growth techniques become high risk, including T-Groups, Sudarshan Kriya and Vipassana.
So, I am not proud of it. I am happy to change places with you, with regards to Bi.
But I cannot. So in a way, it is like an arranged marriage with a tyrant. A violent spouse who can suddenly get triggered and pound you to pieces, or randomly get pleased and give you a perennial orgasm. Totally randomly – at the roll of a dice.
My relationship with Bi hasn’t been any different. Just like in Life of Pi, I suddenly found myself on a boat with Bi, in the middle of a turbulent ocean. Its arrival was like a storm, crashing into everything in my life (which at that time included several good things – a job at a top-end consulting firm, a gold medal from IIM, a long history of success, and a great relationship).
I still remember that time….it was the monsoon of 2007. I was in a brown uniform at a ‘mental’ hospital (as kids we used to tease each other as mental). I couldn’t think. Life moved in slow motion. I wanted to leave the hospital immediately.
Soon, I became overweight. On my way back to life, I met the debris of the disaster… broken friendships, credit card bills, legal trysts I had survived, sexual digressions, and more. It wasn’t funny – typing about it still makes my heart thump and gives my throat a lump.
Our honeymoon was quite eventful – I moved from total disbelief (how could this happen to ME) to total resignation (after being hit with several mood swings) to general terror (here it comes again!). What helped were the 3 Ms: medication (and medication to deal with side-effects), meditation (loads of it), and mediation (my constant negotiation with Bi).
And after seven long years, it is mostly a stable relationship.
Like any good relationship, we don’t plan to part (Bi is a lifelong condition).
But like in any great relationship, one has to understand one’s partner. I know Bi (more holistically than most). I accept Bi as it is – that it is going to come when it wants to come and magically disappear when it wants to. And it is going to come HARD (it tends to appear at times when I need it the least – in the middle of important events).
How I live with Bi has also changed.
Earlier, an appearance of Bi (particularly the low) would leave me terrified, like a kid who sees Dracula and can’t breathe. Now, when Bi comes, I greet it with the detached smile of a hotel receptionist – Hello, how may I help you?
It’s Krishnamurti in action for me – not meeting the label or its history but meeting the feeling as it comes.
I do not resist Bi checking in – if it is a high, I, in fact, welcome it. The world’s biggest lottery should have a hypo manic phase (high) as its first prize – for it gives you extreme joy in just existing (for no reason other than the chemicals in your brains).
Of course, I have to make sure I get regular sleep, slow down, and control my aggression in a high (I remember walking upto the stage at an international conference, and instead of a vote-of-thanks, going after the selfish corporate attitude of our donor, leading to their permanent disappearance).
If it’s a Bi low (that feeling of deep depression) – then too, it is a simple process (almost standardised by now). I shut down life. I retreat. Into dark rooms away from everyone. And I sit with Bi. With total attention, I sit with it. That is all – no request to go, no regretting its arrival, no therapy to wish it away (though I have a list of ways to get out of lows, including very cold showers, extended sleep and anti-depressants).
But it’s Bi. As it has come, it will go.
Both my partners (work partner and life partner) understand (and know, without my telling them). Just as I do not find it strange that they go to sleep every night, they no longer finds it strange that occasionally, a low can hit me.
As for others, they forget, most of the time. Which could be because I manage it right or because it is invisible. I have learnt to treat it as a sign of a good relationship with Bi.
A group of qualified and well-intentioned shrinks in the US penned down a set of symptoms and called it “Bipolar Disorder.” Disorder because it is not normal (what really is?). Disorder because it is seen as something that is bad (and needs to be controlled and medicated). Disorder because it disturbs order.
But is the order of nature in the boring repetitive metronome or is it in the harmonious cycles punctuated by unpredictable rhythms? What is more ‘natural?’
To me the label no longer matters (though I am very fortunate that it exists, for it helped me learn about Bi and all that it does).
But my experience does – and it is very real. It doesn’t need a name – all it needs is that I attend to it. That I sit with it.
When I am lifted by the waves of hypomania, I scream at the top of my voice, ‘Send me WORK.’ In just a few hours I magically finish off oodles of work. I do all my romancing (because I am helplessly poetic), and all my phone calls. I do my writing and mailing. But most importantly I relish it – because I have plodded through my lows, reminding myself of the highs.
And when I sink into the lows…..there is that black-hole of grief. It doesn’t belong to me – but chooses to manifest in me.
I remind myself that in tribal societies, people like me had only one responsibility – to experience these moods, for they absorbed the unacknowledged, suppressed energies in the group. People like me were exempt from day-to-day duties (hint! hint!) because our being balanced the whole. Maybe the suppression of your collective joys and sorrows manifests in us.
One thing I know for sure – that Bi is not me. It does not define me. I have learnt to love it. But nothing is going to come between me and my living upto my highest potential. Nothing will stop me from fully living, expressing and serving.
Not even Bi.
About the author : Abhishek Thakore is a life coach, facilitator and founder of Blue Ribbon Movement, a social enterprise creating leadership for a better world.
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