When young students approach my friend for advice and counseling, my eyes and ears pause for a moment to absorb this incredible sight.
After 7 long years of Bipolar disorder, 3 suicide attempts, 4 severe self-harming cycles, 4 episodes of psychiatric hospitalization for 10 continuous days, and uncountable counseling sessions, here is a girl now who is religiously pursuing the profession of teaching while making an impact in the society. More than a Maths teacher, she is fondly known as “Didi” (every student’s go-to-friend.)
This is the story of my friend, not Deepika Padukone or Jim Carrey who received unconditional support from the world during their fight against depression.
To respect her privacy, we are keeping her anonymous.
My friend is just a commoner, a simple girl like you and me who failed to appear for class 12th board exams, and as a result, suffered constant humiliation and discouraging words from her school teachers and few well-wishers. (To respect her privacy, we are keeping her anonymous).
What Is So Unique or Different About A Bipolar Disorder Patient?
In college, I often visited her during my semester breaks. She wasn’t the same carefree and jolly girl I have known in school. Something was different; her condition was miserable. Her face had a smile, but a pretentious one, trying really hard to show the world that she was okay and getting better.
I remember having a conversation with her mother back then. As a close friend, I offered her mother a few suggestions. “Why don’t you push her to appear for class 12th?”, “Ask her to join a hobby”. “Why does she keep grumbling about her life? There is nothing wrong with her”.
But I was wrong! She was suffering. She was declared a patient of Bipolar Disorder.
For those of you who are new to the term, Bipolar Disorder is a mental health condition where the patient suffers from alternate cycles of depression and elation. Their emotions are always on the extreme.
The Heart-Wrenching Symptoms I Witnessed
Every day was a struggle. Waking up to nothing was all she knew.
“I don’t know what my next plan of action is. I always feel drained and confused,” she once mentioned. She had nothing planned for her life, not even for the next day. Right from the beginning of the day till nightfall, it was a blank picture.
Her mood swings were unpredictable. Her low times were indications of no hope in life. Her highs were so high that her entire life was sorted out in a moment. The pendulum of negative to positive thoughts was a never-ending cycle.
It is okay to be a food addict and but my friend had dramatically turned into a Binge Eater. The urge for uncontrollable eating had made her 110kgs. Shocking, right? Not to mention, she suffered from PCOD (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) due to her heavy medication and got stuck with Thyroid Disorder. Seeing herself grow in size, added to her anxiety.
Call her lazy or annoying; she had lost the drive to perform even the simplest of activities. She still recalls days where she avoided taking bath for 7 days without any guilt. Although she was popping 30-35 pills a day, she needed a third person to feed her. For nearly 3-4 years she had no track of her medicines.
After the first spell of rain when the atmosphere turned beautiful, and we enjoyed Pakodas with ginger tea, she struggled to even come out of her bed. Days without sunshine were her worst nightmares.
In the course of struggling with her situation, she had developed a new stigma. Every time her friends visited her; a sense of regret dawned on her for always being behind in the race. All her friends had taken the jump to establish their careers while she was still lying on the same bed, digesting pill after pill with hopelessness.
By now, I am pretty sure you are curious to know what had exactly triggered the situation. Although conditions of depression and anxiety are hereditary, however, they only surface when something or someone hurts you deeply.
The Transformation from A Bundle of Joy to A Story of Setbacks
It was our first pre-board in Class 12th when she started complaining of severe headaches. Having a history of sinus, she assumed the headaches were just a side effect of the same. After all the possible medications, doctors were unable to diagnose correctly why she was still suffering.
When we barely had two months in our hands to appear for our board exams, she was diagnosed with Migraine. But, by then, she had lost the confidence to study and perform in the final exams. The decision she took was the first setback she encountered.
While all of us passed our exams and moved on to our respective colleges, she dropped out of school. The guilt of not appearing for the exams killed her self-esteem every single day since then.
It triggered the first phase of depression and started turning uglier. Committing suicide looked like an easier option than living with the guilt of taking the decision. Doctors had to perform Electroconvulsive Therapy (electric shocks) to stabilize her condition.
Boldly, she decided to enroll herself in another school to reappear for the exams. But she had been fixating on past failures so much, it was impossible to move ahead, so she again left the school.
Her parents had left no stone unturned- whether it was the counselors, doctors or religious aids- they sought help in all forms they were capable of.
The vicious cycle of discomfort kept haunting her. As soon as a new door of opportunity came her way, she would give up easily. Either she blamed the environment at work or the design of the academic course, whichever was not within her “comfort zone.” Simple salary issues, office politics, or the very thought of going into depression again, would make her QUIT.
Only If, the School Teachers Had Her Back
While she was going through this phase of setbacks, she still recalls how those few school teachers played an essential role in her condition.
One of the teachers outrightly told her parents, “Your daughter will never be able to study again if she does not study now.” They often pestered her younger brother to find out whether they were right about what they had proudly proclaimed. He was daily reminded that his sister could not perform.
Trust me, the insensitive words of the teachers made her condition worse.
How to Deal with An Anxiety or Clinically Depressed Patient?
According to a report published by WHO, it says there are more than 300 million people affected by depression worldwide. And, yet we are unaware of how to treat them. Isn’t that surprising?
By treatment, I do not refer to medical therapies. But human touch and understanding, which are far more valuable than medicines. People with Bipolar Disorder don’t have worldly expectations. Just a few trivial habits make an enormous difference.
1. Don’t Talk, Just Listen
A depression patient is tired of hearing what is wrong and right. Plenty of mouths are already available to tell them. A depressed soul needs someone to hear them, understand them with an open mind.
It is shocking, but they barely find anyone who lends their ears without losing patience. Time and patience are the two precious qualities, one can offer an anxiety patient
2. Avoid Offering Advice
Depression patients already receive advice and suggestions from doctors and counselors. As a friend, do not repeat the same! That is the last thing they expect.
The more advice they receive, the more confusions erupt. Their brain is unable to process these words and instead makes them restless. Give advice only if they ask for, that too without pushing them.
No, do not pity their condition or sympathize them. That will only make things worse.
Instead, put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would have felt. And, when it is your turn to speak to the patient, only describe how you would have felt and how difficult it could have been for you.
Empathy is the best gift you can give to an anxiety patient. They seek people who can understand their condition.
4. Be Encouraging
No matter how angry or irritating you may find their sulking, still encourage them. When a patient cribs about 10 negative aspects of their life, reinforce their courage by 20 positive affirmations.
Also, accompany a severely depressed patient only if you are a positive person. It is very easy to trigger negative thoughts in their mind, only to escalate the cycle of unhealthy thoughts.
5. Stop calling them “MAD”
Honestly, most people assume name calling is funny. However, the reality is for a mental health patient; it is not a joke. Unknowingly, you may end up hurting them.
In an interview, Anushka Sharma (a depression patient herself) mentioned – “Just like you visit a doctor when your stomach is upset, the same way you treat the condition of depression”.
Instead of calling names, people should openly talk about depression and enlighten young kids about mental health.
She Came Out Victorious and Has A Long Way to Go
It makes me emotional and proud at the same time, to announce that my friend successfully cleared her 12th board exams, lost nearly 60 kgs of weight and courageously defeated depression.
Today, she is pursuing her Bachelors of Science in Mathematics and also teaches the subject in coaching classes and home tuitions.
She has an undying aspiration to teach school students in the same school where her teachers offered her nothing but words of discouragement. She wishes to be the torch of HOPE for other kids who fall prey to depression.
If you ever happen to ask her motto in life, she will have the same response – “I don’t want to be rich; I do not wish to be recognized. All I want is to be HAPPY.”