By Rimli Bhattacharya
It was early August 2018 when I felt the first stab of my depression. “I don’t feel good, I am always sad,” I kept whining to my father. By then the dark clouds had started hovering throughout and I had stopped seeking excellence in me and things around myself. In those black days, I could no longer seek the happier version of me. I couldn’t recall the last time I had been in my child-self applauding both sunshine and rain all the same. Little by little darkness engulfed my mind and I could no longer see lights around me. The colors in my life faded and I was the perfect example of a black and white patient who just didn’t have the will to reach out for help, let alone try. The nights seemed endless; sleep evaded me. The mornings I wouldn’t want to get up at all. My body ached. I felt the pain of thousand needles pricking my skin as I pushed myself out of the bed each morning. I would keep glancing at Jhilmil, my daughter, who slept by my side. But thoughts that I need to be alive and be worthy of love and joy for her would simply avert me.
I lost all interest in work and my daily errands. My fingers would tremble each time I opened my laptop to pen down something. The hat of a writer which I once wore, now seemed like a joke. I would still try reading my old writes, but would get a bout of anxiety, and then shut the laptop and run to my father. I would break into sobs as I felt the entire universe had plotted against me. I wanted to hide.
“See you are not a writer and that is the only reason you are in this sorry state today. If you had only listened to me and focused on your career instead of wasting time staying up and writing you would have been in a better situation today. Remember you are an engineer and had worked with the corporates. There is no place for writing in your life. And also know that no one reads you,” my father would counsel. I wouldn’t reply. I would stare at him, blink and then return to my sad self.
I could no longer take care of my daughter Jhilmil. “Mummy, you don’t write anymore?” she would often enquire and I would break down and tell her that I no longer enjoy writing. “But I thought you loved to write,” she would murmur and continue with her chores leaving me alone to deal with my troubled self.
“You know your dad is right. You should concentrate on your career as money is all you need. After all you have a daughter and she needs good education and you know education comes with a cost. Don’t get me wrong, I am not discouraging you to write but this is not the right time for all these hobbies,” said, Anjala, my counselor. So my fate was decided. I shouldn’t write anymore and I started believing that it was my writings which brought such anguish in my life.
I knew my case was psychiatric and called for immediate medical intervention. Dragging myself to the doctors’ clinic seemed a huge task. I was frail. For once I felt like asking my father if someone could accompany me till the psychiatrists’ chamber but then decided to keep my mental illness discreet. Being the daughter of a professor of philosophy and also a counselor by profession, I once had immense interest in psychiatry until depression overpowered me. Such a classic paradox of life, the once therapist in me now had a role reversal. I was now that patient who needed extreme care and emotional support from my family, therapist and the doctor.
There was a huge rush at the psychiatrists’ chamber. I had to wait for two long hours. I thought that the doctors’ assistant would take my case history to understand my troubled mind but he did nothing of that sort. I was called inside the air conditioned cabin by a cheerful practitioner. I was asked about my symptoms and I felt clueless. It was time for me to again break down but this time to muffled moans. My speech faltered and I felt the whole earth collapsing beneath my feet while speaking to him. I was diagnosed with depression and was advised a battery of medicines and a follow up visit after a week. “Doctor, I also write.” I remember whispering to the physician to which he casually reverted while writing down my prescription, “What do you write? Stories? Poems? Books? Then write. Whatever makes you happy just do it.” “No I am actually unhappy, people have advised me to stay away from writing.” I had mumbled. Breaking into a hearty laugh as if he was watching a comedy movie, he replied “Then don’t write, simple. Listen to what others say.”
The medicines were of little respite to me. My mind had already become a vortex of emotions. I would sleep in the night as those sedatives had their effect on me but it made no difference to my exhaustion. There were still certain nights when I wouldn’t sleep a wink. My stomach would shift uneasily and I would feel knots in my chest. My breathing would be heavier and I would let out a cry calling out my daughter’s name “Jhilmil” as I thought I was dying. I would clasp, unclasp my hand as if I was in constant need of human touch and assurance. I recall my repeated visits to the doctors’ clinic with me complaining of hopelessness and he assuring me, “All is well, all is well.” It had already been four months and there was still no progress in my condition. My laptop lay in a corner which my maid dusted each morning. Simultaneously I kept gaining tons of weight and had major hair loss. I had almost forgotten that I was a mother and had turned into a little child who needed constant pampering. I would sit beside my father and the very thought of leaving his side would frighten me. Once a movie buff, I detested watching one. I grew sensitive to sunlight and preferred darkness. My health deteriorated with each passing day.
“Jhilmil, can you manage if your mummy goes away?” I would often ask my daughter as I felt my days were numbered. My father overheard this question once and suggested that I tried an alternative therapy or started a new line of treatment. For a change I tried yoga and meditation but they did no good to my depression. I even joined a gym but had no respite. Finally it was in January 2019 when my father took a decision to send me to a mental rehabilitation center. By that time my health had completely collapsed and I behaved like a puppet almost nodding in consent to everything that people said. At times I cried for Jhilmil as I felt I would be dying or else I would simply sit and sulk.
However, I left for Cadabam’s mental rehabilitation center in Bangalore. The psychologist took me around for a visit to the center. It had small cottages where the inmates were housed. He asked me if I had brought the patient along with me and was startled when I said that it was me who had come to stay in this rehabilitation center. “So you mean I don’t look like a patient?” I inquired. “Not that, it’s because you are under medications your symptoms are under control. But, madam, here inmates have suffered a complete breakdown and you certainly do not fall in such a category. It’s better you see our doctor and then take a decision whether or not to stay here,” he said. Finally it was time to see the psychiatrist.
The doctor in charge said that my case didn’t need rehabilitation and I would recover with the help of psychotherapy and medicines from a good psychiatrist. I returned the same night to Mumbai and my new line of treatment started from the next day. As advised by the Bangalore doctor, I contacted a new psychotherapist and also changed my doctor in the city. And yes this time my detailed case history was taken by both of them (the therapist as well as the doctor). I was diagnosed with severe obsessive compulsive disorder, coupled with anxiety, mood swings and depression and was put under a barrage of medications. The healing process wasn’t easy. I had withdrawal symptoms. I gained weight. I turned lethargic. Though the obsession and mood swings reduced considerably but I had turned a zombie by that time. I behaved like an addict and would prefer sitting in solitude for hours together. House chores were taken care by the maid and my task was only to eat and sleep.
Call it prophetic but unable to bear these extreme carryover due to the medications I decided to meet my old counselor Anjala. At first she was shocked at what she saw. I was languid and strained to talk to her.
“I am losing the battle, Anjala. I am unable to do a thing. Save me before I collapse,” I said to her. It was her suggestion that I go back to my former psychiatrist Dr. Bharati who had treated me the first time I had a major mental breakdown, courtesy my abusive husband. Dr. Bharati did a sensible job. She didn’t alter the medicines but instead of ten pills which I used to take in the mornings, combined with two in the afternoon and five at night, all the dosages were reduced to three-one-two tablets. The only change she made was in my dose of sleeping pill. My condition called for uninterrupted sleep in the night and she had no choice but to increase the power to 2mg.
Bit by bit my dosages were lessened and I could return to my old self. I realized my illness had nothing to do with my writing. And something definitely changed for good. I started reading which I had stopped during my illness. I had scores of counseling sessions with Anjala and Dr. Bharati along with the medicines.
“You are stuck, not broken. Get up and run the marathon alone. Remember there will be none to greet you at the finishing line,” Anjala would counsel. I would listen to her very carefully and her words gave me courage. The rancorous thoughts gradually faded and I developed the urge in me to start writing again. Though I still couldn’t write a thing, I could at least scroll through my old drafts and edit them. And this time when my father said that nobody read me I laughed it off saying, “At least the editor reads, which is enough for me.”
“I want to write. I am no more scared of the laptop.” I had happily declared to Dr. Bharati a month after her treatment started. “So you can smile,” was her reply. “Yes, I smile when I write. That is my passion and I am serious,” I responded. “I love to write. When young I wanted to study literature and become a writer but fate had willed otherwise. Please don’t ask me to stop writing that will be death to me,” I told Anjala during one of our sessions.
I guess she understood the gravity of my statement and chose not to react. To begin with, she asked me to maintain a diary. I started maintaining a diary and I would read out the contents to both Dr. Bharati and Anjala during my several sessions with them. It was cathartic and with each session the burden of my sad mind lessened. I started taking care of the household, my octogenarian father and Jhilmil.
It was not that I enjoyed writing out this phase of my life. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to keep my illness discreet. The memories were painful and the days of my struggle with the illness still haunts me. But I have a message. Mental illness like any other physical malady is real and if not treated can turn lethal. Do approach for help the moment you get a hint of it. And it is the job of immediate caregivers to extend a compassionate hand towards the patient. During my darkest days, it was my father and the house maid who helped me swim through the turbulent waters. The questions that still remain unanswered are: What triggered this sudden breakdown in me? And why for God’s sake did the affliction attack my hobby mercilessly?
To conclude, I would like to reiterate that mental illness can affect anyone. Just because you are struggling, doesn’t mean you are losing the battle. You can conquer mental illness and you will. But yes the process needs a lot of patience. I would like to add a word of caution. The treatment which I endured was costly. The charges of the therapist, psychiatrist, counselor (Note: There is a major difference between a psychotherapist and a counselor), and the medicines definitely made me think of my finances. I am a single mother, after all. But it may not be the case with everyone. Sometimes only the medicines or simple counseling are enough to get the patient cured of his/her mental disorder. Mental illness is neither a stigma nor a taboo. It is only by sharing our stories we can raise awareness among the common masses. Your story can be an inspiration to someone struggling with mental affliction. And you know I just shared mine.
Rimli Bhattacharya is a first class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from NIT, Agartala with a MBA in supply chain management from University of Mumbai. Having worked in the corporate sector for twenty years, she realized writing was her true calling. She left her high profile job as a General Manager at a multinational in 2017 to pursue her passion. She has contributed to two anthologies – A Book of light under a pseudo name, Leela Chakraborty, edited by Jerry Pinto and published by Speaking Tigers and Muffled Moans, edited by Dr Santosh Bakaya and Lopamudra Banerjee and published by Authorspress. Her works have appeared in twenty six literary magazines & E – Zines: The Education Post, Café Dissensus, Feminism in India & Women’s Web. As a little girl she wrote short fictions and poems for The Times of India. She is also an Indian Classical dancer of Kathak and Odissi genres. Twitter: @rimli76
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