‘YOU HAVE NOT SEEN WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DRINKING, YOUNG LADY. I HAVE SEEN HOW THESE THINGS RUIN YOUR LIFE!’
I sat across this thundering man, wondering how I could’ve offended him so. Next to me, my mum squeezed my hand in hers, caught my eye and smiled a bit.
It was my first visit to a psychiatrist ever, and within twenty minutes of being there, we had established I was a bipolar, schizophrenic, alcoholic, drug-addled child who did not know what life was about.
Never mind that I was thirty, drank moderately (you show me a freelancer in Bombay who can afford to drink a lot) and there willingly, to figure what, between eight years of sex abuse followed up by a generic abusive environment at home, had actually broken me to the point of not being able to meet deadlines, wax my legs, switch lights on or look myself in the eye without ending up a quivering mess of saas-bahu tears. This had never been me, until suddenly, this was all there was to me.
Back when I was six and dad died, the world didn’t quite end as I thought it would (because I made up an alternate story about him not dying, which I only let go at seventeen). Life changed though. Mum had to go back to work as a school teacher, my little brother became somewhat my responsibility, I started hiding in the toilets to get away. This was also when adults got weird. The lady in the neighbouring building who taught me math, the uncle from across the road whose dogs I used to play with, and so on. They’d tell me about my aunt, who I always thought had died after hitting her head in a fall. They’d tell me she was crazy. They’d point to her spinsterhood, and say she was stubborn and headstrong. They convinced me she killed herself. They said my grandmother was mad too. ‘Mad’ became my bogeyman. At eleven, abuse began and I spiralled a bit. I went to school, stomped on kids braces, mouthed off to teachers, on my way home, I’d think, wait and see. When I die, you’ll know. Somewhere, I began to weave suicidal fantasies into these narratives so I’d have an actionable hand in them.
Sometimes I’d get so difficult, mum would say we’re throwing you in a mental hospital.
You’d think I would’ve got help then, but that was back in the late ‘90s and it still wasn’t fashionable to go to shrinks. It was however, absolutely okay to threaten kids with ‘men in white coats’, a fear I still struggle with (a lot of my nightmares involve straitjackets and being locked up) even now.
Eventually, I made it to 25 without killing myself. At that point, I thought I was beyond help because I’d fixed myself. I’d done everything right. Got this amazing job. Made loads of money. Travelled to pretty European places. Hooked up with that one guy I thought would love me back. Lost 40 kilos because when you’re skinny you’re happy. Ate salads. Basically, did everything except go to a shrink (I even went to a hypnotherapist). I don’t need to say it but none of it worked.
Life felt like I was stuttering through it. Sometimes I felt I wasn’t real. Sometimes I felt I wasn’t there.
Last year, I hit thirty, and felt nothing for so long I finally scared myself into going to therapy. That fellow I began this with, Mr. Quivering Moustache and Zero Alcohol Tolerance, he was the first. He got so hysterical, I began wondering if I should go back to the hypnotherapist. The second one was mostly forgettable, because we didn’t really like each other. The third was a piece of work who charges Rs. 4000/40 minutes unless you catch her at a certain OPD. She’d call me over, and claim to have forgotten my reports, thus wasting a session I’d already paid for. I started wondering out loud on Facebook, only to realise many I know have been going through similar situations. And so it went (and still goes).
It’s been over a year and I’ve gone through a series of therapists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, still trying to figure out what to do with bipolarity (the only diagnosis that stuck and I do admit I have my own Silver Linings moments), and how to work around it, under it, over it, to go tick some stuff off of my personal checklist. I don’t even know if there is one fix anymore.
There probably isn’t. The only thing I’m sure of is we’re not mad, you and I. We’re all just broken, and some of us haven’t found the right band-aid yet.
This article was first published here and is republished here with permission.
Phalguni Desai works as a writer and freelance art consultant based out of Bombay. She’s worked with artists such as Tejal Shah and Shilpa Gupta and coordinates art projects for the Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan. She has written for Time Out Mumbai, Elle, Scroll, Art Review Asia among other publications.