Khalid Fayaz opens up about being bipolar in an unapologetic manner, discussing his experience of suffering from the condition in this piece with candid confessions to raise awareness about mental health in Kashmir. There is as usual a certain level of stigma attached to mental illness around the world and in Kashmiri society it can be more intense and detrimental. This personal account does not offer any sort of professional advice, but rather explains the experience of its writer to contextualize the illness, which in any case should be considered a mental health condition, as opposed to a mental illness. Regardless of the terminology employed, Fayaz brings forth a brave self-affirmation to open the debate on how those who suffer from his condition, and live with it day by day, are perceived and treated in Kashmiri society.
One can only imagine what it means to not being able to be in one’s own skin. Not being able to make one’s own decisions. On a particular day, mood swings occur as often as the pop-ups of notifications on one’s smart-phone. Procrastination becomes the order of the day. During the daytime, one doesn’t want to get out of bed, but at night one is unable to get sleep. Confidence in oneself becomes just an obsolete notion. Bipolarity does exactly the same: it creates another personality within one’s mind. It confronts one’s real being with an angry and pessimistic one who sees everything as absurd and futile. The very principles of ethics and morality seem cumbersome and talking or listening to people weighs one down.
I am not a doctor, nor do I have any experience in clinical psychology. All I know is what I have gone through and what millions like me around the world are going through: bipolar disorder. The illness started with over-thinking. I challenged everything my fate brought before me like I had no choice in determining my present as I felt it was chained to my past. My future seemed equally bleak and so did the hope that the illness would subside or go away altogether.
This all started in 2013 but I was unaware of it. The mind is a tricky thing, it never accepts its own illness. During that period, I was looking in the mirror and I couldn’t recognize or understand the person staring back at me. Bipolarity literally robbed me of my ability to see beyond the space it confined me to.
Questioning everything had been a habit before my bipolarity became active, but that questioning ultimately transformed into cynicism. Doubting something was good but rationalizing everything stripped me away from my sanity. Hence, everything became absurd. Family seemed to be an institution, an absurd one at the time. I told them that I am bipolar and I saw the panic in their eyes. They didn’t want to believe it not because I was suffering but because of the disgrace it brings in our society, with all the stigma attached to mental illness. You are perceived as different, and as different, you are perceived as less.
Mental illness is seen as a sin in itself as if you were responsible for it. It is treated with the same stigmatizing gaze and judgment as surviving rape in our society. The victim is seen more irresponsible to not being able to protect themselves than the perpetrator is seen as a criminal who commits such violence. Only a few think about the psychological harm the victim goes through every day while trying to recover from the trauma. Social stigma and judgment adds to that trauma and makes it worse.
Reports suggest that one third of the population of valley suffers from depression. I wonder how they keep fighting infinite battles in their head during the night and, when dawn descends, how many battles they have to fight against the neurotic norms of this messed-up society of ours? We Kashmiris do not only provide justifications for our unjust social norms. Sometimes we assert our arrogance to belittle other cultures. I want to make a statement against this Kashmiri collective arrogance: you are a nation without a proper breakfast and you carry “learned misery” on your shoulders, yet you feel you are better than others, especially in questions of morality and ethics.
The first thing one loses with bipolarity is the confidence of getting back on one’s feet again. Melancholy leaves one unable to get out of a bipolar state. Loneliness, which is as potent as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, is all one wants from life. I have seen my loved ones questioning my illness. Many of them thought or directly told me that I was making it up. One of my doctors said that I was one of the rarest patients actually aware of their own bipolarity. Perhaps that is the reason people believe that my faculties worked to my convenience. However, I am more convinced with the idea that they say such things because somewhere it is related to social shame. Somewhere they don’t want to hear me out and somewhere they don’t want me to speak my mind with others in the neighbourhood.
I don’t care about the petty opinions of others though. I am constantly fighting tens of battles every day with my “other self” that tries to overpower me. Although I have little concern for what people think of me, they do intensify my anxiety. I don’t want to spend time with people and would prefer sleeping for a thousand years. I know I didn’t choose to be sick but they make me feel that it is entirely my fault, as if there were even a need to place blame on someone. I don’t know if anyone else suffering from bipolarity has ever felt that as well. Most of the time, I do not want to be aware of my own existence. I feel as if my mind wants to kill me ten times a day and putting up a fight with those self-destructive thoughts has become habitual.
Nevertheless, I am ruthless. I don’t talk to people with patience and etiquette. I am blunt and straight forward. I call a spade a spade, without a filter, and that has acquainted me with a lot of death-wishers, as opposed to well-wishers. I wish sometimes that their wishes would come true, those of the death-wishers, not the well-wishers, as much as I appreciate having them in my life. In a particular minute, I feel sad for thirty seconds and elevated for next half. But sometimes I feel both. And the hardest part is sometimes I am indifferent about my feelings. I can’t determine whether I am sad or excited. At that moment, part of me wants to live, part of me wants to die, part of me wants to sleep, part of me wants to be hospitalized, part of me wants to stay home, part of me wants to recover, part of me wants to relapse and part of me wants to stay awake.
The best medication for bipolarity, as they say, is support and understanding. However, these two become the first casualty when one is diagnosed. At times my friends and family think that I have done nothing at all for the whole week but how do I make them believe that what I go through mentally has me physically exhausted as well?
While writing these words down, I feel angst. I don’t want your pitiful sympathies for me. But I want all those people who make fun of those living with this and other conditions to read this. Not everyone can be aware of their illness the way I am, so I speak in solidarity with them as well. You call it narcissism or whatever nonsense you want, but when I heard stories of the bipolar patients and their experiences, they felt very much like my own. Since then, I can no longer tolerate the apathy of those who can see people suffer, yet provide only criticism, judgment, dismissal where instead they could show acceptance, understanding and empathy.
And to think that the mind denies its own illness. How can one run from one’s thoughts? If it were up to me, all I would want is social withdrawal. I have been thinking for quite some time that the institution of marriage or friendship and love are just a sham, since these involve the other person’s intrusion into one's personal freedoms. I was promiscuous in the earlier stages and have developed apathy for interpersonal relationships since then. I wanted attention earlier and when the outbursts of emotion gave me weird triggers I wanted someone to sit beside me. However, this has all changed in due time. I want to stay alone and I hate light. I put on drapes during the day too. I spend more time with myself now more than ever before.
I hate myself more than I love myself. There are reasons for this: I often get in my way, I want to smile and cry at the same time and I do not agree with myself. I long to know which one of us is really me, the inner pessimist or the one who puts on a smile while walking down the neighbourhood. Since my brain doesn’t process thoughts like yours does, I can’t stay on one topic during a discussion. At times I am that impulsive, chaotic, energetic and euphoric one and sometimes I am the shy, desperate, withdrawn and tired one. I don’t know which of these two is real but I am done justifying both. The only thing I yearn for now is control over my own decisions. And more importantly, an acute awareness that I have control of my decisions, something that is given for everyone else, but for me feels constantly like an ordeal reduced to a deep sense of helplessness and self-resignation.
Like everyone with the condition, I too want to get out of what I am going through. But I am unable to find anyone who can get me out of my condition. Sometimes I wish I could find someone who doesn’t find it a family disgrace or a subject of shame, someone who won’t lecture or irritate me, someone who doesn’t have a “if you loved me” approach. Someone who doesn’t make me feel guilty, someone who doesn’t try to protect me from my situation, someone who understands it is not me, it is my illness. Someone who will just help me to help myself engage with my illness, and above all, someone who doesn’t see bipolar disorder as an excuse, but an actual condition in itself.
However, with all that being said, that someone is none other than me, the one who needs to help myself out. Period.
Given the sensitive nature of this piece by our contributor, the following informative links are provided on the subject: