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.