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From Bollywood dreams to bipolar reality: a doctor’s journey

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
– Maya Angelou

Since my teenage years, I have been watching Bollywood movies of all sorts. Maybe people from the subcontinent like them because no one can relate to these movies other than them.

My favorite hero was Sushant Singh Rajput. I liked him for his personality, his sweet smile, and the genuine look he had in his eyes. When he smiled, I could sometimes see a hint of pain in his eyes. He did a lot of movies and gained a lot of recognition for his work. I studied about him a lot and got to know that he had an exceptional IQ. He was very interested in physics, astronomy, and coding. Although he dropped out of his engineering course at university just to pursue his passion for acting. Having no connections in the Bollywood background, he was an outsider in the industry, and therefore, he had to struggle to find work in Bollywood. He lost his mother at an early age and was a very shy and sensitive kid in childhood. But he became a star and gained immense popularity, wealth, and fame. He was truly a self-made person.

He died by suicide in 2020 at the age of 34. A lot of speculations were made after his death, and his psychiatrist and psychotherapist later revealed that he had been fighting depression and hypomanic episodes for a long time and had bipolar disorder. He couldn’t accept his diagnosis and was always reluctant to take medication. He never discussed his condition with his friends because he was worried about his career and thought his family would suffer.

I am a very hardworking and intelligent doctor working in oncology for the past four years. I come from a lower-middle-income class and received all my education on a scholarship throughout my life. Later, I was selected in a public sector medical college, so there was very little expense regarding my education. I was sensitive and shy and would cry easily. There were a lot of expectations from me since childhood to be the perfect eldest daughter, the brightest student in school, high school, and later medical school.

During my residency, I met teachers who always expected a lot from me. I was very empathetic and emotional and took very little time to bond with my cancer patients. I felt a lot of sadness listening to their stories; literally, I felt as if I could feel their pain and emotions and was always available for them round the clock. I always thought that I had to do a lot of work or facilitate everyone around me just to prove my self-worth. That made me a workaholic and a dependable doctor.

After a few minor setbacks in life and failures in a few exams, I cried a lot for days. I lost my appetite, a lot of weight, and sleep for almost 14 to 15 days. But prior to this period, there were a few weeks in which I felt a lot more confident, spent my hard-earned money extravagantly, started speaking in English very fluently and rapidly, although I had been a little hesitant in speaking English all my life. I also discovered that I had a passion for writing, although I had been an avid reader but had never written all my life. I also had a few conflicts with my program director and colleagues. I felt a lot of anger during those days, although I had always been a calm person who was never impolite or anxious in my life. I was the person who could sense and always thought about other people’s needs. I never put myself first and could even detect changes in people’s moods around me. I could always tell when someone was hungry, upset, or having a bad day around me and always tried to act like a therapist. I listened to everyone’s problems around me but never shared my thoughts and problems with anyone, having the thought in my mind that everyone already had a lot of issues going on in their lives.

Later, I went to a psychiatrist who told me that I had bipolar disorder. It can’t be cured but can be managed with medication and psychotherapy. I never accepted his diagnosis but started medication on my own. I never told my friends or family due to the mental health stigma in our society. I forgot approximately the past three years of medical knowledge, and it affected my performance at my workplace a lot. I started having crying spells and gastrointestinal symptoms. Almost every day, I had to vomit a lot in the morning and had frequent episodes of watery diarrhea throughout the day. I completely lost my appetite and lost almost 10 to 15 kg of weight. My friends started noticing that something was wrong. I started taking leaves due to being ill every few days, and my department almost lost all hope in me.

When I told a few of my friends, most of them advised me to quit the medication. They also could not accept the fact that someone so lovable and polite could be bipolar. They advised me to quit psychotropic medication due to the lack of knowledge about mental health issues in our society. I changed my psychiatrist and medications multiple times on my own because I thought I only had clinical depression and nothing else. This went on for a whole year, but the antidepressants never worked for me. After falling extremely sick one day, I saw a doctor who prescribed me mood stabilizers and counseled me to accept my diagnosis and to never quit any medication on my own again. I started therapy, and after some time, I regained my memory, focus, and appetite. I started performing well in exams again. I started enjoying those activities again that I used to do in the past. A few of my friends and family were very supportive to me and dealt with my tantrums in a peaceful way.

People who get diagnosed with such illnesses mostly lose all joy in their lives during the hypomanic and depressive phases. I just want to emphasize the fact that there is no shame in having a mental illness, and sometimes people with these illnesses even perform better than others in life. But accepting your diagnosis is the first key step. The difference between my story and Sushant’s story is that he couldn’t accept his mental illness and succumbed to it, while I never attempted suicide even though I lived miserably for a whole year. Although I accepted it after a very long time. The day I accepted my diagnosis and myself, I started getting better. Never ever quit your medications on your own because the effects can be disastrous. Family and close friends’ support is important, but do not listen to everyone’s advice. They can never get the slightest idea of what you are going through. Psychotherapy is important, and sometimes people can feel better even with psychotherapy alone. Medications are only prescribed when your daily life is being affected by your illness.

We always need to be aware of those children around us who are extremely shy, kind, sensitive, intelligent, and introverted, who have a history of trauma in their lives. These are the kinds of people who have the greatest risk of developing mental health problems later in life. Residency is tough and can be toxic for some doctors. Teachers and parents have the responsibility to teach themselves soft skills in life; otherwise, they will have to learn them on their own at a heavy price.

The author is an anonymous physician.

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