The Chemical Khichdi Behind Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that doesn’t get enough attention, making diagnosis and proper treatment difficult. Author Aparna Piramal Raje gives us an insight into what living with bipolar disorder is like and what symptoms to watch out for.
According to the World Health Organisation, bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability globally. The National Institute of Mental Health (USA) states that bipolar disorder can result in 9.2 years reduced from an average person’s lifespan. Lack of recognition of the disease and its symptoms further aggravates the problem, where not enough people receive proper treatment.
To shed light on bipolar disorder and how to live with it, the author of ‘Chemical Khichdi: How I Hack My Mental Health,’ Aparna Piramal Raje, gives us an exclusive preview of the book and answers crucial questions.
How did you get your diagnosis? Did you suffer from some of the symptoms before you went for a diagnosis?
I was 24 when I first showed symptoms of mania – I was losing sleep, my behaviour, speech, facial expressions, and energy levels were very different from normal, I had lots of ideas, grand plans, and there were many uncontrolled thoughts and emotions. Neither my family nor I understood what was going on at the time, though. Once the hypomanic episode ended, I felt very depressed for quite a long time, with a sense of hopelessness. These ups and downs persisted for many years. Hypomania (a lesser form of mania) and mania would occur for a few weeks, followed by depression for a longer period. There were also long stretches of normalcy, for months and years at a time, without mood swings.
It took my family and me over a decade to accept an official diagnosis of bipolarity, though. For the last four years, I have not had any major mood swings, although there are always daily ups and downs, and I know they can re-occur at any time, so I need to be careful, and I continue with medication and talk therapy.
Do you face any challenges while living your daily life?
In general, I am able to function absolutely normally. When I am manic, I lose sleep, my eating patterns change, and as I said, my behaviour changes dramatically. When I am depressed, I am quiet and withdrawn; my energy levels are low. For me, managing my daily lifestyle – especially sleep, nutrition, and exercise – is critical to ensuring that I do not oscillate too much. Discipline is one of my biggest hacks to my mental health and wellness. I can’t say I always succeed, especially with nutrition, but I try.
As a person who is juggling many jobs, being a writer, a lecturer, a parent, and a wife, how do you manage to do it?
I’ve always loved juggling many activities, and I’ve coined a term called ‘playing opposite-handed’ in the book about my approach to managing work, work-life and other commitments. I would love for readers to pick up the book and understand it for themselves, so the only additional comment I would make here is that I’m very careful to monitor the rhythm and pace of the day and set boundaries on a working day. These are all hacks that are part of what I call ‘lifestyle therapy’. They help make sure that the day doesn’t become too stressful and that I can manage multiple commitments without getting myself in a pressure cooker situation that could trigger a manic episode.
Are there any tips that you would recommend for those combating bipolar disorder?
Part II of Chemical Khichdi, which is the majority of the book, outlines ‘seven therapies’ to manage mental health and wellness for anyone, not just someone with bipolarity. I’ll share a brief summary of the ‘seven therapies’: medical therapies, which are about accepting a diagnosis, and understanding the difference between personality and illness. Love therapy about the important role of caregivers. Allies and the therapy of empathy, which is about how friends, mentors, and community members can support. Work therapy is about how work can go from being stressful to therapeutic. Self-therapy emphasizes the need to have conversations with oneself about understanding one’s triggers better. Spiritual therapy outlines the way in which an awareness of faith, purpose, dharma, gratitude, and other universal concepts can help to find the peace within. And finally, lifestyle therapy, which I’ve discussed above.
Mental disorders are highly stigmatised in India, what would your advice be for people who are combating any type of disorder alone?
I fundamentally believe that mental health is a team sport. It cannot be managed alone. I think it is as important to ask for help and be willing to receive it as it is to give the help when asked for, and this is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to mental health. If someone has a broken leg, they are willing to accept help from others to get around. But if they are suffering from a mental health condition, they are reluctant to seek help because they feel others might be judgemental or it might be misunderstood. That is why I try and differentiate between ‘personality’ and ‘illness.’ The way I see it, I have a ‘normal’ personality, but I also have a mental health condition, which makes me unwell from time to time. That illness is not ‘me’; there is much more to me than my condition, just like the broken leg is only part of me, for example.
Do you believe that writing about your experiences with bipolar disorder has helped you?
Hugely. It has given me clarity, insight, and self-awareness; it helps me distance myself from my emotions. And this book has given me purpose, as I hope that others will benefit from it.
What do you think readers can take away after reading your book?
I would hope that readers can take away three main suggestions: first, you can learn to live and thrive with any vulnerability, even something a serious mental health condition. Second, mental health is a team sport and it affects all of us as individuals, caregivers, friends, colleagues, allies, medical practitioners, and members of communities. And finally, while bipolar disorder may only affect 1% of the population, this book is essentially about mental health and wellness, which affects 100% of us.
“This book is as much for caregivers as it is for those dealing with a mental health condition themselves. After all, each one of us knows someone in our respective inner circles who is battling a mental health condition of some sort.’’
Related Story: How to Care for Yourself When Caregiving
Chemical Khichdi is a book of hope, inspiring others to embrace their flaws and vulnerabilities to live a better life. It’s not just aimed at those suffering from bipolar disorder, but those who are battling with themselves. Read Chemical Khichdi: How I Hack My Mental Health now to understand more about the seven therapies and mental health stigmatisation in India.
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