International Woman’s day is usually a day when I pray for all the wonderful women in my family and life. But this year, woman’s day meant something different to me. After a hard 2010 year-end, 2011 is to me a chance to deal with all that unfolded last year and a chance to celebrate me. The still struggling me who has the strength to accept my problems, deal with them in the best ways possible and still make my life a joyous, successful one.
All my life I have found it difficult to make friends. In my family I was always treated as the odd-one-out with a temper no one could match. My fear to go to school which surfaced every few years was thought of as a sign of laziness, my fear about staying away from my mom was thought of a sign of being pampered, after my mom’s death my teenage escapades were thought of as a sign of indiscipline. I have been mocked, ridiculed, teased, taunted and scolded for my phobias and anxiety. Even after marriage when the fears and anxiety continued when it came to staying away from my husband or when I got depressed post pregnancy or when swine flu came to town, I was always counseled by my husband and my family about how I should just pray, be calm, keep control over my emotions and meditate.
But since the past 4 years, I had begun to see beyond their words. I insisted that what I felt was not mere personality issues or a matter of upbringing like they were construed to be but a deeper problem. But apart from S who said he didn’t mind if I saw a counselor, everyone ignored the issue. Then finally last year end after a great high from a round of accomplishments, I was sent crashing down by a problem. At that moment, I decided that despite everyone’s concerns, I would see a counselor. The lady was someone I had known for over 13 years and who was helping my kiddo Sairam with his ADHD/ learning-disabilities. By the second session, she diagnosed the problem which had affected me all my life- Mood disorder.
My first response was one of panic and disbelief ( I have a mood disorder problem after all!). I read up about it on the Internet and went into a tizzy wondering how on earth would I recover from it. But my counselor helped me see how I had already taken the first step to changing my life by recognizing that I had a problem. She reminded me that for years without even knowing the problem, I had dealt with it victoriously. That, she said, was in itself a sign that I was on the right path to help me cope with the problem. She also felt that I didn’t need any psychiatric drugs as my problem was not so severe. At a time when I thought I would again have to wage a war with my family, most of them began to accept and see that what I had was just an illness. Not unlike my thyroid ( which also affects moods!). Being a journalist, I had enough information and courage to know this didn’t have to be something that ruins my life. And so I have started on the tough path of being aware of the problem and dealing with it.
A mood-disorder requires a constant state of awareness about your moods and the source of your emotions. It requires good physical health and a great amount of mental calm, both of which require steady practise. Every-time I stop exercising or meditating, I immediately see the response in my body. Stress induced by anger especially is the worst and I often end up feeling like I am having a heart-attack. Emotional stress brings on a weak stomach which often takes weeks to calm. But knowing I have a problem was and is not enough. Ensuring I do all the right things to keep my mood in order is one tall order. But the bigger problem is making people aware of this problem and letting them see that this is not something meditation alone will get rid of. It is a real illness which requires a great amount of patience and understanding from their end.
S has been unbelievably supportive and I am so grateful to god that he sent S my way. But family and friends who know are still somewhat unsure about how to deal with this. The problem comes with how little awareness others have with issues related to mental health. Mood Disorders, the word holds no meaning to them and if they hear mental health, the immediate co-relation people make is to insanity. And for that reason my in-laws don’t know about this . Their lack of knowledge would surely result in them viewing me as someone insane their son has got stuck up with. I have directly told very few people. But since my diagnosis I am aware of the need to speak about this . I am not afraid or ashamed. And I don’t see any reason to be. How different really is a heart problem or Blood Pressure from this? They are all illness which require constant care.
That’s why on the Woman’s day, I wanted to speak about about my mood-disorder. Because for long people have suffered in silence because they are afraid what people will think about them. Women more so than others because even without a mood disorder their anger/ frustration/emotions are anyways tolerated, laughed at or mocked. And so its natural that they fear any mention of an mental-health issue would only aggravate their problems. The stigma associated with mood disorders or disability of any kind for that matter is so high that very few women manage to find the support systems to help them cope with their problems.
But silence isn’t the solution. Many people around the globe are now realizing that though mental health issues may affect your day to day functioning, it does not need to debilitate your life. Professional and personal success are both possible ( Take it from me, after all I won an award for my writing from the Andhra Pradesh CM last year). Silence and suffering with a mood-disorder will only make the problem worse. And if you are silent because you are worried about what people will think of you- hey they are going to talk about you any which way. So speak up and get help. Because you need to help yourself, change your life and accept your short-comings first. Treat this problem like any other illness. A disorder after all doesn’t mean the lack of something, it just means that something needs to be put back in order.