Editor’s Note: This month, that is October 2019, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Mental Health And Well-Being, where we invite various articles narrating people’s experiences of living or living with someone with mental health issues (anxiety, depression). If you’d like to share your story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Oh, tumi to mahiyashi mahila (Oh, you are a herculean woman)”. This was the remark which I received from one of my seniors, who is now a celebrated oncologist. He was meeting me for the first time after a gap of two decades. We were neighbors and also studied in the same school and later I went to study engineering and he went to a medical school. The taunt in his voice was palpable. He then introduced me to his wife, “Meet Rimli, my junior in school, but be careful, she is a tigress, hahahahahaha.” The laughter had continued, although I had to stop it while penning down this essay.
“Oh dear, such a cruel destiny. Do think of getting married again”, “Must say you are a strong woman”, “You are a live example of Devi Durga”, “Don’t get me wrong but you know sometimes accidents do happen. How will your daughter survive if something happens to you? God forbid it doesn’t but then again who knows?” and many more comments. These were the remarks the society threw at me time and again. I had no respite, rather I have no respite.
I was very young when I got married. My ex was mentally ill though he never acknowledged and I was madly in love, so much so that I chose to ignore his weird behavior. Our house of cards broke down after a period of eleven years and I was left behind with a two years old toddler. My ex ensured that I get no alimony and I ensured that he gets no access to the child to which he happily agreed.
I was very young when I got married. My ex was mentally ill though he never acknowledged and I was madly in love, so much so that I chose to ignore his weird behavior. Our house of cards broke down after a period of eleven years and I was left behind with a two years old toddler.
My mother had passed away just some few months prior to our divorce. It was her for whom I was unable to file a divorce as she had a mentality that believed that, come whatever may, a married woman should stay only with her husband. She tried her level best for me to return to my ex but both my father and I remained adamant. She passed away and it was only after her death that I could go to the family court to file for a divorce. Managing work, a little child, an ailing father and court was not easy for me. I hated going to the court, I hated talking to my lawyer and there was a reason behind it.
Lawyers are often accused of dragging a case for monetary gain and my case was no exception either. I had once questioned my lawyer on how long would my case take to conclude to which she had replied “Do you have a long list of boyfriends waiting for you to get married? Why hurry? Relax. Let the other lawyer too make some money.” I could feel a chill run down my spine and my fingers trembling on hearing that remark. Secondly, she would never respond to my phone calls on time. I remember suffering bouts of anxiety and would dial her number prior to my date in the court and she would simply choose to ignore my calls. I eventually got divorced but by then everything had taken a tremendous toll on my mental health.
Post my divorce I had to proceed for a surgery at Apollo Hospitals, Chennai to fix my problem of spinal cord. Though I needed emotional support I decided to face the surgery alone. It was at Chennai where I was diagnosed with a high blood pressure of 200/110 something which came like a thunderbolt to me. The first worry which struck me was about my daughter. She was a little child and was completely dependent on me. I remember breaking down in front of the doctor as I anticipated my other test results would also show an aberration.
I was right. I was detected with a low hemoglobin count. I remember that night I couldn’t sleep in my hotel room. I had spoken to my dad for umpteen times and had frequent crying spells. My relatives were concerned and kept dialing my number but I refused to pick up. I chose to speak only with my father. For some strange reasons, the voice of my daughter would make me very schmaltzy and I fought with myself to gather strength to keep my composure. Nevertheless, my blood pressure and hemoglobin were brought under control and I was operated. So I returned from Chennai after a stay of one month with added diseases of blood pressure and low hemoglobin.
I was told to take bed rest of three months and advised a life which is unsuitable for Mumbai’s working women. I shouldn’t be working for 13 – 14 hours, I shouldn’t be jumping in the running train for grabbing a seat, no hurry to catch that bus or taxi or train and the list was endless. I was left with no option but to resign from my organization.
I remember suffering bouts of anxiety and would dial her number prior to my date in the court and she would simply choose to ignore my calls. I eventually got divorced but by then everything had taken a tremendous toll on my mental health.
Initially, I welcomed this new change in my life and kept myself busy with my hobby – writing. No, I am not a creative writer so writing was also new to me and there were initially several obstacles which I faced but ultimately managed to sail through. But something was very strange. I would no longer search for jobs. I would no longer chat with my family members. I would only write. I wrote for hours together, sometimes it stretched even up to 3 a.m. in the morning. Writing is something which I had enjoyed since childhood but this euphoria was different. I was completely lost in a different world. I wrote poems, stories which I could have never written otherwise but they came on my own. My world revolved around my laptop and my writings while my father kept on reminding me that I need to look out for a new job to sustain myself. I paid no heed to his words. “I am meant to be a writer and nothing else” – this is what I reminded myself.
But things turned otherwise. Initially, writings would pump my adrenaline and I used to get a high each time I saw my pieces getting featured. But slowly I got deluged in a state of hopelessness. It was very bizarre that writing which was my life had started taking a back seat. I would stare at the laptop screen blankly but was unable to pen down a thing. Unable to handle this change in me I would break into frequent crying spells often wondering if I was gradually becoming a victim of mental illness.
I could no longer write. The words would no longer ring, I dreaded opening the laptop, I hated seeing my writes and I started hating myself. Sleep wouldn’t come to me easily and each morning I woke up feeling jaded. I lost my appetite and the once extrovert me turned complete 360 degrees and preferred sitting by the side of my father and break into loud sobs without even knowing the reason why. My little child was a silent witness to this failing health of mine.
I could no longer write. The words would no longer ring, I dreaded opening the laptop, I hated seeing my writes and I started hating myself. Sleep wouldn’t come to me easily and each morning I woke up feeling jaded.
I am a counselor by profession, so I could sense something was amiss and did not take long to approach the psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with anxiety neurosis and the doctor started medicines immediately. But these psychotropic drugs take time to heal one and also there are tremendous side effects. There was not much relief from his medicines and my health deteriorated further. The trial and error with medicines went on and as a side effect I kept on gaining weight when my father decided I consider an alternative line of therapy. Yes, the sick me googled out the details of mental rehabilitation center Cadabams Hospital, Bangalore and I decided to take the next flight to the center with a hope of curing myself.
In the meantime I had promised myself that I would never ever write and I blamed it was the writings which have brought this misery in my life. I thought of starting afresh just that I was neither physically nor mentally fit. Visit to Cadabam changed my attitude towards life. As I said, it is a rehabilitation center and the inmates were those who had suffered complete mental breakdown unlike me. There I met a man who was scared to step out of house and look out for a job. Yet there was another young woman who constantly pestered me to take her out of this place as she believed she was perfectly fine and it was her family members who had wrongly lodged her there. There was lot more such cases and I was appalled to hear their case histories. I interacted with some of the inpatients who started believing I am a messiah who had come to rescue them from this rehab centre.
Also read: How To Get Past Anxiety By Consciously Experiencing It – Postmodern Feminist Style
Finally it was time to see the doctor. “Rimli you are not meant for this place. You are in a much better condition. Go back to Mumbai and start seeing a psychotherapist along with a psychiatrist for better results. I am sure you will come out of it” were his words and I returned home the same night and this time I had in me a feeling of hope and not completely of despair. So here my new line of treatment started. I changed my doctor and went to a new psychiatrist who diagnosed me of anxiety neurosis and depression. I also underwent numerous counseling sessions with my therapist. As I couldn’t write, my therapist suggested I read and I concentrated on reading. I had to start from beginning. The road to recovery was very time consuming and painful. I broke down several times. It was my therapist who would sit with me and I would unburden myself to her.
“What do you love to do?” my therapist had asked and I had answered “I love to write though now I have vouched to stay away from the same”. She hadn’t replied then. It took months before I could realize some change in me. I started looking out for jobs. I was at the peak of medication when I joined a junior college as a lecturer in physics. But conducting lectures proved a challenge. I was too feeble and all I felt was the urge in me to go home and sleep. However, it was my mental grit that I carried out the job for three months and finally stepped into the corporate world again. By that time my dosages for my anxiety had reduced and both my anxiety and depression were to some extent brought under control.
During one of my visits to my therapist the same question was reiterated “What do you love to do?” “I love to write and I want to write” is what I answered this time and I knew I was serious. “So why don’t you write about this phase of your life as an inspiration for several suffering from mental illness” she had probed. “I am not ready yet, but someday yes, I will surely write on this chapter of my life” I had replied.
So here’s my account of mental affliction with anxiety and how I battled it. Certain questions still remain unanswered as to what made me enter into a manic phase of writing? I still write but have limited them as I am also employed. I must say writing is something I enjoy and it was definitely not writings for which I had fallen sick. The journey back to writing wasn’t easy but anxiety did not deter me from pursuing my passion.
Also read: On Anxiety And Panic Attacks: Why We Need To Take Them Seriously
To all suffering from mental illnesses just know this: you are not alone. Seek help the moment you feel you are unwell. Mental illness is neither a stigma nor a taboo. You know you have just one life. So live it fully and follow your heart completely. Being a counselor myself I had fallen victim of anxiety neurosis but I battled it out. I am a single mother, I work and also write. Most important I am a happier person though I still look for answers for my unanswered questions. In closure to my personal account I would also say I had learnt a lifetime lesson. And that is not to be too emotional and hyper sensitive. Believe it or not people with these two traits are prone to mental illness. So stay strong. Be healthy emotionally.
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