Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 (May 16 – 22) is on and this time the theme is Relationships. So let’s kick it off with a Story on a relationship. One that is excerpted from my Book~
~ An Unlikely Love Story ~
He was watching her as she went about her job with the kind of ease that only comes with years of experience. What she added to it was grace and dignity. She was the marketing head at an automobile showroom. Vikrant, who had a passion for cars, was there to help his friend buy his first car. As Sheena spread the brochure and spoke knowledgeably about the features of each variant, Vikrant, got lost in her words and gestures. When his friend Rodney asked him, “Hey Viks, which one should we settle for?” it was Vikrant who was fumbling for a reply. What was happening? Normally, he would be rubbing his hands in glee at the opportunity of quizzing and tormenting these marketing types with questions that made them quite uncomfortable. He loved to show off his knowledge about cars.
Forget challenging Sheena, here he was not even in the frame! He also noticed that she was not the typical pushy type who fed the ego of the customer to sell him an expensive car. So many things were different about her. Having helped them decide on the model and with the paperwork done, she ordered for coffee. Vikrant complimented Sheena on her expertise and thanked her for helping them make the right choice. Rodney watched with raised eyebrows. Sheena smiled and said, “You know, I have won the Certificate of Excellence three years in a row for topping in this company nationwide”, pointing proudly at the framed certificates and trophies behind her.
“By the way, what do you do?”
“Oh, I am an author” said Vikrant. “That’s interesting…” she said.
Rodney watched with amusement as they got lost in the conversation. And then the phone had to ring…
“I am sorry but I have to take this call”, she said.
Vikrant was extremely shy in these matters, to the point that unless a girl smiled at him or spoke to him first, he would wait forever to break the ice. That is perhaps why he did not boast of a long list of girlfriends. Then, he did the unthinkable. Having mustered the courage, he walked into the showroom a few evenings later. He headed straight to Sheena’s desk.
“Hi. Am I disturbing you? I happened to be in this area and thought of dropping by.”
She was pleasantly surprised and said that since the office was about to close, she was relatively less busy. Vikrant literally had a lump in his throat when he asked her out for coffee.
Sheena was uncertain.
“Hmmm, I’ll be delayed reaching home but as such today I wound up at the normal time. So it is fine. There’s a nice place nearby.”
As they walked, it was Sheena who did the talking.
“You know, the other day, when you said you were an author, I was intrigued. I can’t imagine how you people can think up such fabulous stories and characters! I am a bookworm…By the way which are the books written by you?”
The conversation thus went on in the café. They both had taken a liking to each other. Not exactly love at first sight but there was an affinity they felt for each other.
“You know Sheena. I have begun my latest book. Guess who it’s about?”
Sheena waited, hand supporting her chin, eyebrows raised.
Sheena laughed on hearing that.
“I have a hunch it is going to be one happy story. I did not know you were so romantic!” she remarked.
Vikrant smiled shyly,
“No, I am not a romantic by nature. You changed all that.”
Within two months they were engaged. Their parents had no objection either. Vikrant was hesitant about rushing it. He wanted to be financially secure before taking the plunge. Sheena’s pay packet wasn’t spectacular but with all her incentives, it added up to a fair amount. He would have preferred to at least be an equal in that respect. Sheena would have none of it. She reasoned that both of them were young and had all the time to scale the ladder. Why the undue worry?
With great reluctance, Vikrant agreed. By the time they got married, they were madly in love with each other. It was fairly smooth sailing for nearly two years. Then, Vikrant noticed strange changes in Sheena. What had come over her of late? Why was this normally happy wife of his so sullen and irritable nowadays? She’d snap back at him over issues she would not have even bothered about earlier. He passed it off as moodiness…maybe some feminine hormonal changes.
Abruptly, things took a nose dive. It was their second anniversary. Vikrant came back from his evening walk to Sheena’s embrace- my, did she looking fetching in a new midnight blue gown or what!
“Close your eyes, I have a surprise for you.”
Vikrant opened them to find a slim package in his hands. He unwrapped it to find a Swiss watch that he had admired at a store front a week ago. Before he could say anything, Sheena put her finger on his lips and said, now it’s your turn.
He opened what looked like a jewelry box. A delicate necklace with a solitaire diamond!
Vikrant was still lost for words.
“Look, thank you so much for the watch and the necklace looks as if it has been made just for you. Please try to understand me: I know it’s an important day but we simply cannot go overboard like this! We hardly have any money in the bank, Darling, you very well know that. There’ll always be a time for all this.”
Sheena’s reaction startled him. Never had he seen her so unreasonable and adamant about getting her way, nor had her reaction been so strong.
“Okay, okay, let’s not ruin the evening…” he calmed her down with great difficulty. He kept pondering. Sheena was not a penny-pincher but neither did she spend beyond her means. This was strangely out of character.
On one Friday, things got really out of hand. She had informed him that she’d be back late as the office had hosted a party to celebrate a record breaking performance and as usual Sheena had excelled. Vikrant had finished dinner and he kept glancing at the watch as he tried to keep his mind on the movie on television. At past midnight, he was genuinely worried. Her mobile phone went unanswered. He rang up her colleague Mohini- no response there either. He reassured himself: how could they possibly hear the phones ringing in the din of a discotheque? As such, Sheena had comforted him that she would be safely dropped back home by her office pals.
He must have dozed off on the couch when he heard the bell ring. He snapped out his shallow sleep and answered the door waiting to see Sheena. Instead it was Mohini and her car was idling nearby. Sensing his anxiety, she pointed at her car,
“Sheena’s in there.”
What had transpired at the party stunned Vikrant. As he went to the car, they helped Sheena out. She could barely walk. She stank of vomit. Mohini just nodded and said,
“Give her a hot bath and put her to bed. I’ll call in the morning.”
Vikrant hardly slept a wink through the night. Sheena was, like him, a teetotaler. She did not even sip wine. Since when? In the morning, in fact it was actually nearing noon, Sheena woke up. She said she had a massive headache.
“What am I doing so late in bed?”
She hardly had any recollection about the party even as she hurriedly got ready to leave for office.
The downhill slide had begun… In the afternoon, while Vikrant was busy writing, the doorbell rang again. He was surprised to see Mohini. She looked a bit worried
“Look, I thought that I should speak to you in person about last night. What’s bothering Sheena? Is everything okay between you two? I don’t mean to pry but she was way off her normal self. I have never seen her drink like this! It was maybe because she was drunk that…”
“Please, I am not here to upset you or something. Both of you are dear friends. Sheena was actually flirting with a colleague! The drinks had probably got to her head and she wasn’t in control of herself. Recently, though, her personality has changed- she’s suddenly more vivacious and outgoing. But I’ve been listening to off-colour jokes I’d never associate her coming up with. Is she trying to take out some frustration on the home front?”Vikrant simply did not know what to say. Halfway through the conversation his mind had drifted off and he began putting the pieces together. Come on, didn’t Mohini say she might have been drunk? Would that have explained her odd conduct? He thanked her for taking the trouble to come over and speaking her mind.
“To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering we must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer.
To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy one must love or to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.”
~ Woody Allen
Sheena’s erratic behaviour continued for a few weeks. She was getting to be quite unpredictable- switching between chirpy, over talkative and listless, sad. It was a Tuesday morning. Vikrant always got up at dawn before Sheena did. When he went to check on her a few hours later, she was still sleepy. Did she have to report late to work today? Funny, she didn’t mention anything. When it was nine, Vikrant shook her awake. She frowned and said she wanted to sleep some more. Was she unwell? When she eventually woke up, she looked tired despite having overslept.
“Will you call up the office and say I’m not coming in today, dear”
Since she was very meticulous and disciplined, Vikrant assumed that she deserved a break. She was probably overworked.
Vikrant sat down by her bedside and smiled at her.
“You marketing people work under so much pressure- targets, markets, deadlines…there’s so much of stress. Why don’t we take a couple of days off? Maybe a mini break to a beach resort? Am sure that will do you a world of good. It will take your mind off whatever’s bugging you. Even I could use the break with my darling wife.”
“I am not so sure…”
Vikrant did not want to force the issue but he was surprised alright. She would normally have jumped at the idea- she loved the outdoors and small vacations which rejuvenated them both.
Vikrant woke up during the night. He had sensed Sheena was not by his side. He glanced at the clock. Why was she up at this time? He found her in the study, just seated there hunched, staring at a book blankly. He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and took her to bed with him. She began crying. After a while she smiled hesitantly and said,
“This will do me good. I needed to release all that was pent up inside me.”
She then curled up against him and slept like a baby.
Vikrant met Rodney a few days later.
“Hey, I don’t know how to put it across to you. I suspect there’s something seriously wrong with Sheena. Since Margaret is a psychologist, I wonder if we could go for a drive this Sunday, have lunch out and in that informal setting if she could alleviate my fears? Plus, you two are family, I feel comfortable in getting you involved.”
The drive to an open air restaurant on the outskirts of the city was a pleasant one. Vikrant had already briefed Margaret over the phone. As they sat at the table, Rodney said,
“I want to go for a smoke, join me?”
That gave Margaret the opportunity. She struck up a friendly conversation beginning with why was Sheena looking unwell…Knowing that Margaret was a trusted friend, Sheena opened up to her and started crying.
“I just don’t know what’s come over me these days. I snap at Viks, am irritable and my sleep- it’s all haywire. I am angry without any reason and feel sorry for him. My mind is in such a big mess!”
Margaret said to her,
“Since we have come out for an outing, I wouldn’t want to lead you into this kind of a conversation just now. How about Tuesday evening after you finish office, could you drop in at the clinic?”
Sheena nervously stepped into the clinic.
Margaret comforted her,
“Today I am the listener and you speak your heart out. Make sure you do not miss out on details which might seem irrelevant to you. What do you feel like, all your fears and your thoughts.”
Sheena did exactly that. Then she paused.
“I hope I can trust you on this…You are the first one I am confiding in. Oh Margaret, I don’t know what had gotten over me, I had a one night affair with an office colleague. I am ashamed of myself! How could I have risked our marriage, betrayed Vikrant’s trust in me?” She wept.
Margaret asked her to calm down.
“Let’s call Vikrant over along with you the day after tomorrow.”
Seeing her alarmed expression, she continued, “Don’t you worry, leave it to. You think you are the first one in such a dilemma who has visited me? We will handle it very carefully.”
What Margaret did was that she called Vikrant over the very next day.
“Vikrant, it was good you brought me into the scene. The earlier this is spotted and treatment begun the better. You’d have to take her to a psychiatrist because all her symptoms are that of a bipolar: the erratic behaviour, irritability, sudden plunge in moods, reckless behaviour at times, everything points to it. Even her family history suggests this, her mother had bipolar too. Of course, a psychiatrist’s opinion is needed to confirm this.”
After a pause she continued, “There’s another thing I need to warn you about. During a manic phase, a bipolar loses sense of judgment between what’s right and wrong. This explains her promiscuous behavior too: now brace yourself. Sheena had a one night affair with an office colleague- no, it is not her fault, look, she has very little control over herself during these highs. The guilt is killing her. She loves you with intensity and is distraught by the pain she is causing you. Viks, you have to be very gentle and patient with her. This condition can be treated and managed, but support from dear ones is critical.”
Vikrant was aghast. What had he just heard? He just nodded while his mind became numb. Was this the same composed Sheena whose quiet grace had swept him off his feet just two years ago? Later, when he met Sheena, he had with great effort regained his composure. Both of us simply cannot afford to break down, he told himself. Our love shall win even in the darkest of hours. Our glory days are around the corner. All she needs is my love, care and shoulder to lean on.
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”~ Rabindranath Tagore
She, thankfully, agreed to seek a psychiatrist’s help. The psychiatrist was a warm person. He asked her to open up without holding back, to take him back to her childhood fears, her dreams, worries…The doctor reassured them that fortunately, in her case, the diagnosis happened at an early stage of the condition, preventing extensive damage. He was candid too.
“Bipolar Disorder is among the more difficult psychiatric conditions to treat and manage. However, with discipline, recovery to functionality is definitely achievable. Many are leading full, near normal lives.”
Sheena looked dazed with what was going on. The medication began and obviously she could not go to work initially. Vikrant informed her office that she would be on indefinite sick leave. The implications stunned Sheena. “I feel like a vegetable, no, at least a vegetable does not feel anything- I feel terrible!”she despaired.
Sleep was disturbed, the meds made her dizzy and the lack of focus was getting difficult to get used to. Vikrant could not bear her suffering and the helplessness. No, no, I cannot succumb to the pressure when I am most needed. He began to consult Margaret, whose counseling armed him with techniques to cope with the stress. As Sheena very slowly began recovering, they began joint psychotherapy sessions- these were of great help. Margaret used all tricks in her bag to bring back Sheena’s confidence and her tattered self esteem. Gradually the improvement became evident as she began clawing her way back to normalcy.
Weeks and months flew by. Vikrant got a call from Rodney and it brought a smile to his face. Rodney and Margaret arrived as decided to pick them up. Off they were on a drive into a cool starlit night.
“Hey, isn’t this the same open air restaurant we had come to together earlier?”Sheena asked with surprise.
“Happy Anniversary!!!” Rodney, Margaret and Vikrant shouted in unison.
There were moist eyes as they watched Sheena laughing and joking, as she would have in the past. As they hugged each other, Vikrant and Sheena profusely thanked Margaret.
“Without you, Mags, we don’t know where we would have been.”
“Three Cheers on your Third Anniversary!!” said a beaming Margaret.
“This is a small gift from us to you”, Vikrant said to Margaret.
Inside was a signed hardcover copy of Vikrant’s latest book, titled
If you liked this story, my Book has been written in a similar vein. ‘A Bipolar’s Journey~From Torment to Fulfillment’ is just what the title suggests: my inspiring journey navigating through the ordeals that Bipolar Disorder posed and the path to fulfillment.
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Let’s Walk Together.