Male / 60 / Lahore

My daughter’s struggle with Bipolar Disorder 

Simply put, M was a delightful child; a packet of fun and curiosity, and after her mother and I got married, she thought of me as her father. It was the early eighties; we lived in a predominantly Asian community who had unfortunately brought their rather stilted mores with them from the sub-continent. As a single mother, my now ex-wife was treated a pariah and M guilty by association. I brought some equilibrium to their lives after our marriage. I took M on jaunts to the many museums and art galleries in London and she developed rather well, and took to some of my hobbies such Monty Python at a very early age. Things proceeded smoothly. When her sister arrived, she took on the role of the devoted sister and they became very close.

But the fissures soon began to appear in her personality when she started senior school and as the marriage began to fall apart. Mother and daughter started arguing, accusations began to fly, and I found myself in the middle of a war zone. If I took her side I was told quite firmly that I was not her father; if I didn’t, I was accused of favouring my other daughter. Her mother became her worst enemy, with the bitter recriminations now becoming intolerable. It all fell apart very quickly after that. My other daughter was packed off to boarding school to save her from the rapidly-evolving toxic critical mass and has done wonderfully well; M however went from crisis to crisis. Her drug use increased and as her illness spiraled out of control, she left home, took up with a Christian cult who convinced her that she was the new Messiah – feeding on her vulnerability by getting her to address large congregations, further exacerbating her illness rather than combating it. The inevitable phone, when it came, informed us that M had been sectioned after a terrible episode where she assaulted shoppers and vandalised shops in a London street.

Diagnosed as bi-polar, we spent most of our time at the hospital in Lewisham, a very deprived area of London, with those in secure accommodations incapable of making head or tail of their lives. I came across an army of Jesus Christ’s, intent on blessing me and absolving me of my sins; then there was a girl who no one came to see, convinced Michael Jackson was her husband, with pretend phone-calls asking Michael how some concert in Budapest went and when he was returning heart-breaking to hear. In the midst of all was M, completely at sea and very difficult to get to mentally. She had dreams of starting a family, becoming an MP – egged on by some half-crazed individual who wanted to be her life partner. The irony is that she could have been all the things she so craved. Before her final breakdown three years ago, she was a high powered executive running a Heath Trust, and her ideas at reform were much admired. But she somehow tended to implode just as the prize was within reach, dropping out of the mainstream to run with the shadiest of gangs and indulge in pettiest of crimes.

She is now in sheltered accommodation, learning to come to terms with her illness and training to become a counselor. The government in the UK takes mental health very seriously, and she is truly blessed to have come across this group, fully supported by the local health trust. And she is indeed coming to terms with illness, her limitations, and why it should not inhibit her from leading a fulfilling life.

That brings me to my own family’s issues with mental illness, something I became fully aware off on my return to Pakistan after having dealt with M’s issues. What I dismissed as mere eccentricity on the short family visits to proved to be something all-consuming and sinister. The culprit in this case was inter- marriage, with any attempt to find a rishta outside dismissed with the: “Ghar ich kam kurian nay, Ghar ich kam kurian nay” refrain. The outside world was seen as dangerous and immoral, this pretense of exclusivity, insecurity, and backwardness resulting in an unmitigated catastrophe. Instead of keeping it together, the family has disintegrated over the last few decades, with my cousin an early casualty, with his descent into mental illness proving terminal. His homicidal outbursts were brushed under the carpet, with some viewing it as a form of sexual deviancy, with marriage seen as the best route – a quick fix to whatever his affliction. A wife would soon rid the poor boy of his base urges they argued. The saner, more educated in the family begged that he be treated. Yet no proper diagnosis was sought, his illness became increasingly unmanageable, and the poor boy slowly slipped into the abyss under their very noses.