Birds best exemplify the rhythm of life and like all other birds, this pretty bird too welcomed the dawn with its peppy chirp. It set off for the day to search for food as it did day in day out. As it soared high above the ground, it admired the scenic landscape below it and the pleasant breeze swirling around. Its fellow birds flew with it in a loose formation. As the sun went down and painted the skies in glorious hues of orange and pink, they would all fly back to their nests.
Of late, its fellow birds had noticed some peculiar changes in our bird’s behaviour. It stood out from the rest due to its unpredictable and strange antics. It would wake up and begin chirping in the middle of the night and restlessly take off into the skies before its teammates could even wake up. Even when the rest of the birds resorted to the shade of trees when the sun was scorching hot, it would energetically fly around, aimlessly. Even when flying back in the evening it would break formation and fly off in another direction. The flock of birds once and for all decided to ostracise it from the otherwise closely knit flock.
Being isolated gradually broke the spirit of our little bird. It became morose and quiet. From being exuberant, it became sad. It wondered to itself, ‘Where has all my energy and enthusiasm gone? I don’t feel like even getting off my branch, let alone conquering the skies. I have no friends and nobody likes me.’
It came to a point that even ensuring that it fed itself well became an ask. Its mate had been perplexed about these sudden changes in its partner. Why had it become so lifeless? After a few weeks, the mate also lost patience and flew off. The desertion made our bird feel even more miserable. ‘I deserve this. Why would anyone love me?’. The beautiful surroundings had also lost their charm, nothing seemed appealing. It came to a point when it would just wait for when would the end come…
The above story is a metaphor.
Let’s replace our bird with a man afflicted by Bipolar Disorder.
Once orderly and hard working, the serious illness renders him virtually helpless. The excessive energy, aggression and odd behaviour are signs of mania. Society is at first perplexed by his extremely odd behaviour and then rejects him altogether. Stigma can be as deadly as the illness. Isolation suffocates the person suffering and makes him question his self worth. His condition affects his career too. From being the admired and dependable breadwinner of the family, he is now looked down upon. Sadness engulfs him, he loses all interest in daily activities and has suicidal thoughts. These are the signs of his depressive phase. The illness costs him his marriage too, for the spouse cannot take it any longer.
The bird found itself in a hopeless situation. Is there any hope for our man?
Yes, there is.
Firstly the man has no idea about what he himself is going through. If there had been more awareness in society about this and other mental illnesses, maybe someone, a friend, a colleague or relative could have spotted the red flags of a condition which can be life threatening if left undiagnosed and untreated. Is Bipolar Disorder curable? Science says it isn’t but it is treatable and the patient, under the care of a competent Psychiatrist, can lead a functional life. Disciplined approach in taking prescribed medication bolstered by Psychotherapy can help the afflicted turnaround from a point of hopelessness.
Of course, there are holistic remedies too which can support the mainline treatment, such as Yoga, Walking, Sleep hygiene, relaxation techniques, regular exercise. etc.
Family support is crucial in the recovery process.
A person very close to the patient has to keep a constant watch out for change in symptoms and coordinate with the Doctor. Peer Support Groups which meet regularly can also help in building empathy and camaraderie within the Group. As for the stifling Stigma, society needs to be sensitised about all major Mental illnesses, so that people are treated more humanely.
Millions of Indians are affected by Mental Illnesses, some of them crippling ones.
It is about time that we urgently looked at this challenge with a different perspective and come out with innovative solutions involving all stakeholders.
(This post had been first published on Mental Hub, a site I strongly recommend to my readers)