I’ve been reading so much about depression and suicide awareness over the last 10 days after the deaths of two high-profile figures. And while it was deeply triggering on one hand with regard to my own experiences, it was also a reminder that we really, truly do not know what lurks beneath the facade of what we see in reality.

I am not going to talk about social media or how it cuts people off, because that’s a tired story. No, this happens irrespective of that. It happens in ways you do not anticipate. People close to the ones who killed themselves were shocked out of their wits. You cannot blame technology for this. This goes way deeper than that.

In the midst of everything I tried to write something on the subject but my fingers froze up. I have no idea why. And so, instead, here is an excerpt from my unedited manuscript. This is just a slice of one day and one night inside the mind of a bipolar sufferer.

It’s the middle of the night.

A single, long, mournful howl rends the darkness. Shivering, I grab the edge of the sheet and draw it up over my head, willing the sound to stop so I can slow the breathlessness of my frantic heart.

A whole minute passes and when I think it’s all over, I hear a knock on the door. Startled out of my wits, I wake up and sit up in bed, now shaking like a leaf. Almost without wanting to do so, I get up and walk towards the front door, my feet padding along softly so I don’t make a sound and wake anyone else up.

Hands trembling, I first reach out for the door handle to turn it and then draw back. Instead, I hold my breath and tiptoe over to the door, lift the shade on the peep-hole and look to see who is standing on the other side.

There is nobody. Not a living soul walks the corridor and all that I have heard so far lies in the depth of my mind that doesn’t stop overpowering me every single day and every single night. Yet, the knocking does not stop and I wonder where these people are when I can see nobody at all.

The next second, I wake up, sweat covering my body from head to toe and my eyes look up at the now slowly revolving fan hanging from the ceiling. There’s been a power cut and in sultry Chennai where it’s never a good thing. The tok-tok sound from the washroom makes me realise that there’s a leaky faucet which mirrors the knocking sounds and instinctively, the knots in my stomach relax long enough for me to understand that it’s all been a nightmare.

Sighing, I wipe the sweat that’s accumulated on my brow and get up to open the windows for some much-needed fresh air. Cool and soothing, the breeze washes over me like the first splash of chlorinated water in a swimming pool. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in attention as my heavy head seeks some rejuvenation from the pain that the nightmare has wrought on my frazzled mind.

But this nightmare? This doesn’t stop. It manifests over and over again in various ways through the month. By the end of it, I was terrified to even take a nap without waking up in a state of utter despair and terror.

So it began- the insomniac nights which were made worse by the fact that I had to be up early for work the next day.

The days, when they came, had to be met with smiles and happiness and the worst part? It’s not even necessarily put on. You actually do feel happy. That kind of strange, weightless joy that blows you away and keeps you energised all day.

Do you know how that feels? Have you ever woken up, afraid to go back to sleep because you wondered how your mind would conjure up something even more fearful the next time? And then started the day feeling on top of the world and that nothing can stop you?

That’s just one instance of what bipolar disorder feels like. It’s not even something you can necessarily accept or understand when you’re going through it. The sheer way in which it overwhelms you is tantamount to driving down a hill at breakneck speed and realising halfway down that the brakes have failed. You’re hurtling towards your imminent doom and all you can do is sit and watch helplessly, waiting for it to happen.

Isn’t that the most terrible thing possible?

Something I heard from a friend today made me think deeply about the whole bipolar disorder from another perspective. For so long and so many years, I have viewed my situation from mostly my own experience. And that’s normal, right?

When I began writing the book, my heart opened up to so many other experiences too. One of them was a friend who shared with me the difficulty of living with a person who was clearly bipolar. For the victim, it’s bad enough. I know that. I have been there, so I completely get it.

And that’s really what this section is about: Living with bipolar disorder.

That statement itself can be read in two ways, do you see it?

The first is when I speak as a suffering victim of the disorder and try to work my way through each day as if it would be my last. I am the victim; I am the person feeling this thing called bipolarism and I am living with bipolar disorder.

The second, which is infinitely more difficult to do, is living with one who has bipolar disorder. I have seen what that does to people and it isn’t easy.

It isn’t pretty.

It isn’t even close to being what you’d expect it to be.

And so I ask that you be kind, be compassionate and be non-judgmental when you hear of someone who’s killed themselves. Think of the weight of an episode like the one above repeating itself ad infinitum in your mind.

Now imagine trying to smile through it all.


*Note: I must add that I no longer suffer from bipolar disorder but a lot of events act as triggers even today for those episodes from 17 years ago.

Image courtesy: Bipolar disorder on paper by Lightspring via Shutterstock

22 thoughts on “Living with Bipolar Disorder- An Excerpt

  1. This is indeed so difficult to understand. Thank you for sharing and helping me understand this better. 2 of my close friends suffer…. actually 3 but she cut me out of her life since I couldn’t understand her. 🙁
    But this helps tremendously.

    I eagerly await your book. All the best.

  2. I can imagine how difficult time it must have been for you. I am glad the whole period is behind you. I agree it is not right to dissect or think harsh about the ones who commit suicide because we can never know what they might be dealing with internally.

  3. Heart wrenching. I can totally empathise with what you went through, as I’ve been there too. But thankfully just like you all this is behind me and life has been very kind and blessed.
    More power to you Shy for putting forth all your strength and fortitude and coming out of this victorious and also having the courage to pen your story.

    All the best for the book, which will definitely be a run away success.

  4. I have seen depression from close quarters, as a caregiver, and it’s a nightmare. I felt so angry, helpless and guilty back then. Over the years as I read more on the subject, I tried to be empathetic. It is not easy for the sufferer and for the caregiver.

    So happy that you are free from it. It must have been so difficult. Hugs and love.

  5. Hugs to you Shailaja <3

    This is amazing writing, and puts across a very difficult point of view. It would definitely provide solace to both sufferers and caregivers. Can't wait for the memoir to be completed and published and have a bigger reach all over the world.

  6. Hugs to you, Shailaja!

    Reading your experience just wrecked me up until I found your closing note. And while I read, it clarified my understanding of schizophrenia & bipolar disorder.

    I’ve sadly been one of those silent spectators when my cousin went through such bouts of depression that followed after the shockingly unnatural death of her friend. There were instances of irritation whenever I overheard judgemental comments that a few relatives made, who lacked empathy.

    The case is worse in India, where depression or anything closely knit with it is equated to ‘being mad’ & is believed to be not worthy of any treatment. Mental health is perceived only as a fancy element of philosophy.

    I feel the key to a healthy mind is socializing right. And, friends are just angels when you suffer from nauseatic feelings. We must never cocoon our fears or even chilling nightmares which may potentially avalanche into depression.

    I’m glad that you’ve won over that dark side of your life. And I cannot wait to read your book.

  7. Yes. I had depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia for over a year. I’m so sorry to hear about your condition. It can be quite debilitating, I know. That’s what I went through. Also, this is just an excerpt from a larger chapter in the manuscript.

  8. The content seems to refer to insomnia and depression.
    I am a victim of BPD chronic and recurring. Its like living in two different worlds one manic and the other euphoric. It’s akin to schizophrenia or multiple personality disorders.
    Jerkyl and Hyde….

  9. Thanks, Carol. I wish nobody had to go through this but sometimes we don’t have a choice in the matter.

    Thank you for your warm words of support.

  10. Thank you Debbie. I pray that your friend finds ways and means to cope. It’s quite debilitating. Thank you for your support.

  11. This is a powerful excerpt, Shailaja! Your pain is palpable and I am glad you no longer suffer from this affliction. One of my closest friends IRL has this as well. She’s better now too, but still struggling with other issues. Looking forward to your book!

  12. I am basically speechless. This rang numerous bells ranging from watching my son suffer to how his pain affects me to the point of my own despair.

    Thank you for sharing this and I look forward to your book.

    Carol Graham

  13. I know. That’s the challenging part for the caregiver. Tulika, I’m glad to be here, be with everyone and be loved. Not a day goes by when I don’t thank the heavens for keeping me here. Thank you ❤️

  14. Having seen some of it from pretty close I have some idea how terrible it can be. It’s frustrating to not be able to offer any kind of comfort, to desperately try to figure out what will bring on a smile, even a ghost of a smile on the loved one’s face, of constantly tiptoeing around the person not knowing what will trigger another ‘episode’. Shailaja I am so so glad this is all behind you.

  15. I know.

    Depression is a spectrum that most people cannot even begin to understand. Panic attacks can be triggered by anything and it is hard to draw the line between imagination and reality and that’s scary. Living with bipolar disorder is like living in a nightmare. Close friends have suffered and no matter what, it never really goes away.

    Glad you have overcome it, Shailaja. I look forward to your book.

  16. I am not going to write much, except that I know, as in really know, what you went through. I have been on the ‘other side’…an equally unpleasant ‘side’ to be.

    Hugs to you, my dearest! ❤

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