Living in Pakistani society the stigma attached to mental illnesses is unparalleled. When I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, back in 2007, it was very difficult for me to come to terms with my diagnosis. I was an Assistant Professor after all, and that too at a university that’s considered one of our most prestigious ones. I was perfectly “normal” of course got good grades, was a pretty good teacher, family was all good, how come I was going into this? Who hasn’t had a few bad depressive days and days where they felt on top of the world? That’s how it was for everyone, wasn’t it? That’s what I told myself repeatedly. But I knew something was happening deep within me. I think I was given the diagnosis because I asked for it. Bipolar is difficult to diagnose because it shares symptoms with ‘Major Depressive Disorder’ ,’Anxiety’, ‘Personality Disorder’ and so on. Mine got diagnosed when I suffered from severe ‘Post-Partum Depression’.
After my first child. I had Maniac episodes and depression engulfing me. Medications were not working and I literally could not see my child. I tried to ignore him, pretended he didn’t exist. Looking back, I think sharing what was happening with some of my colleges made a huge difference. They put in their share in helping me to the best of their understanding. My Head of Department was most sympathetic of my condition.The anti psychotics were making me lethargic, fat and paralyzed. I could hardly walk straight. I thought my brilliant brain was getting tinted. I totally alienated myself from home environment. My own family was having a very difficult time handling this. They were concerned if I was putting my career first and my child later. I could sense the growing rift between me and my husband: he appeared tired of putting up with my constant neglect of our kid and I was feeling that he didn’t understand what I was going through. That’s when I stopped relying on doctor and tried finding happy drugs. I went into Ritalin addiction which changed my whole personality.
Even my lifelong friends couldn’t figure out who I was anymore. I was hiding things from psychiatrist, avoiding the sessions. My ongoing PHhD lost all it’s meaning to me. The emptiness kept on growing and life more meaningless. I had conspiracy theories in my head and my priorities were haywire. I saw everyone as an enemy.I thought someone was out to get me even got delusional at times. This disturbed everyone who held me dearly but the saddest part was that it was my son who was suffering the most. He was just a three year old baby at the time, at a crucial developmental stage and missed my presence. It came to the moment where people could see that behind my chirpy exterior lied a soul writhing in pain.
Anyone who has been through this knows that one cannot hide addiction. It’s a serious issue and without a supportive environment, it’s difficult to come out of it. I feel blessed that a colleague of mine intervened. He took my mother to a few psychiatrists to make her realize that I was not overacting but suffering through overdose. Having her back on my side, I went into an extensive treatment for six months. That was the most crucial period of my life. As the treatment worked, I began to appreciate my husband for who he was, how he had been a mother and a father to my son thorough all this. My kid’s laughter became the antidote to all my pains. I began to except that I had bipolar disorder and was not ashamed of it anymore. My friends became my confidants. Many had left by the time I hit this realization but the ones who stood by me accepted me for who I am. It was their support and understanding that might have saved my life. It was was all this hard because hardly anyone knows and accepts Bipolar disorder.
The trips to the Psychiatrist’s office during my treatment brought me to the reality and pervasiveness of mental health issues, and how it’s important to be aware, to be open about it and reaching out to the ones who are going through it. We are not monsters; or making it up, and it’s certainly not an attention seeking tactic. We are as human as you are, need dignity, space and understanding. If only our society is a bit sympathetic towards mental illness it can make a lot of difference.We need awareness in Pakistan because a lot of us are suffering in hiding.Our own families ostracize us as due to lack of understanding. Ignorance is not a bliss with a mental illness is already hard the stigma and judgments from society makes it all the very harder.