Vijay Nallawala was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his 40s. Today, he is helping spread awareness about the condition. This is how!
May 23, 2003 was the day when my world turned upside down. I was living in the glorious canvas of my world, until a psychiatrist ruthlessly tore it apart. He told me that it had been a fanciful ride and I must now disembark. In the hospital for a week thereafter, I tried to make sense of it all. It took years to align myself with this ‘lesser world’ I found myself in – letting it slowly sink in that I would be a pale shadow of what I used to be, possibly for the rest of my life.
Although I was diagnosed as a bipolar in my early 40s, I have lived with it for most of my life. And only when you step into my shoes, would you feel the hurt when mainstream media turns a cold shoulder to the serious epidemic of mental illness and focuses only on the glamour spots. So, Yo Yo Honey Singh admits he is a bipolar, and it makes headlines. A television star committing suicide because she was possibly depressed is also of public interest.
But ironically, 15 million Indians afflicted from the debilitating condition of bipolar disorder and thirty million from depression makes the media cringe. Who would want to read about such a dark reality?
Source: Lucy Mills/Flickr
Talking about bipolar disorder – it is a serious mental illness characterised by extremes in mood swings, from dark depression to mania (euphoria). That however is an inadequate description of this debilitating condition that ends up destroying many families. Although treatable, it is considered to be incurable. How I managed to come to term with it is a long story, which I choose not to dwell upon here.
Let us look at the macro scenario instead. The lack of awareness and limited access to expert advice leave the patients and their families clueless. Social stigma prevents patients from opening up.
This reality set the ground for me to start the first online community for those living with bipolar disorder and depression in India, in 2013. Creating awareness was the prime purpose of www.bipolarindia.com and we have managed that remarkably well.
What is heart-warming is the string of conversations that we have been able to generate. Imagine people from a closed society like India disregarding social taboo and openly discussing their plight in public domain! What’s more, our online thrust has gone offline in the form of peer support group meets in Mumbai. We are now truly a community that is driven by compassion.
While a blog post can inspire change in people, a book is the best way to really stir up transformation in the lives of people who have little hope. I therefore penned down my inspiring story of recovery in the form of a book, A Bipolar’s Journey- From Torment to Fulfillment. In the introduction to the book, I say ‘If this Book helps turnaround the life of even one bipolar, it means that a family will be able to smile again’. It is a matter of great satisfaction that many have said that the book has given them fresh hope.
My story, which is a cathartic journey, set me free. It is now helping others tell their own stories.
To take the message deeper, we recently organised an event on World Bipolar Day, March 30.
A first in India, this event was graced by afflicted people from many parts of India along with social catalysts and thought leaders. A psychiatrist and a psychotherapist joined us in the panel discussion. The event marked the soft launch of a social startup, unique and innovative in concept – an online platform which plans to be a bridge between skill and demand for it. For there is tremendous talent among my tribe – it is however underutilised because we often do not ‘fit in’ into the mainstream with ease. Will this be the unicorn that fosters an environment of inclusive opportunities for those who have been marginalised from the mainstream job market? I fervently hope so! Steady incomes will bolster family finances and boost the sense of self-worth in those afflicted.
These are our first steps. The future is exciting. ‘Let’s Walk Together’ is the tagline of Bipolar India and this also happens to be the name of our new startup. Compassion drives us and synergy binds us.