The man who shone a spotlight on mental health. #WATWB

The man who shone a spotlight on mental health. #WATWB

 

For me and my family, as for  countless others, he has been an angel in disguise. For,  the ability to not only treat patients of mental illness, but also offer ceaseless support and encouragement to their caregivers with love and warmth is something only an angel can carry out, isn’t it?

Image courtesy Google (pic by Prassanna)

I met Dr. Anand Nadkarni around 20 years ago. He treated my mom-in-law, who was a patient of schizophrenia. The anxiety I experienced on learning about her condition eased quite a bit after I met him.  The most important reason behind it being, I knew he would always be there to help us and support us as we traversed the rough terrain life can be with a sick family member.

But, the instance when my belief in him grew profoundly was when I discovered my hubby suffered from bi-polar disorder. I remember we were out of town when hubby had an attack. He had been suffering since some days, but I was not aware of the storm brewing in our lives.

I called up the good doctor at an ungodly hour from the resort we were staying at, and he made all the arrangements for hubby to be treated by another doctor at a hospital where hubby had to be admitted, till he himself took over hubby’s case.

Dr. Nadkarni not only treated hubby, but ensured I went in for counselling as I was under enormous pressure. The fact that I am here today, sane and stronger, is all thanks to Dr. Nadkarni.

Dr. Anand Nadkarni has been practicing psychiatry since 30 years now. He began his journey towards bringing the concept of mental health in the spotlight 27 years ago. He established the Institute of Psychological Health, an NGO at Mumbai, where mental health professionals work towards treating mental illness patients, as well as organise  support groups and conduct community projects that help spread awareness regarding mental health.

He not only consults patients, but also conducts training programs for corporate executives, and mentors young athletes, artists and players to optimise their performance. He conducts training for elite commando forces and is also the founder and trustee of Muktangana de-addiction centre at Pune, Maharashtra. He is also a prolific writer with 17 award-winning books to his credit.

For a man who is so deeply immersed in his work, it will come as a surprise to many to meet this warm, friendly person, who has the knack of putting you at ease the  instant you meet him. The time he gives you as a doctor, a counsellor, or even a friend/guide, is all yours, without any distractions whatsoever. I would like to add, simplicity and humbleness are this wonderful man’s forte!

I remember pouring my heart out to him – how I feared losing my sanity from all the stress I went through at home – to which he  smiled, kindheartedly, and said, “You are doing absolutely fine, my dear. And, you really need not fear, I am here for you!” These words – spoken almost 15 years ago –  echo in my mind as I type this post today.

A man who has spent so many years of his life working towards sensitising the public about mental health; who has made it his life’s mission to bring awareness about mental illness deserves to be called a Hero, isn’t it?

Damyanti Biswas   Shilpa Garg   Simon Falk, Eric Lahti, Lynn Hallbrooks, and Guilie Castillo   are co-hosting the We Are The World Blogfest this month to share a snippet of positive news that shows our essential, beautiful harmony, and restore our faith in humanity.

Do join in with a real life story that speaks of something positive in a world that can be quite a scary place with all the negativity we see around. 

The Real Heroes.

The Real Heroes.

                                                                                                                                                                            A few days ago, Bombay Times carried an interview of  the Indian rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh. It was a tell-all about his disappearance from the public glare for around 18 months; a period  during which he battled a very frightening        monster called Bi-polar Disorder.The state of mind he described reminded me of what I have seen a dear one go through.  A person very close to me suffers from the  illness, and I have been a witness to the struggle – his and ours.

 

We had never heard the name, or known someone who suffered from the illness.   So,  it was akin to solving a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces just wouldn’t fit!  Our psychiatrist did explain it in detail and so did my counsellor, but, ultimately, we were on our own.  We didn’t have anyone coming up to offer solace, or assure us that this wasn’t the end. 

At times, as I sat in the hospital lounge, I would look around trying to find someone who was in a similar predicament as I; on whose shoulder I could cry and from whom I could hear some words  of hope. But, alas, I found none! It happens to be an illness – like every other mental illness – which people would rather conceal from outsiders.

There aren’t any visible symptoms for the world to make out any difference in the patient. And, divulging such information might lead to who-knows-what!  Finding oneself all alone at such a juncture in life can be devastating, to say the least.

Coming back to Mr. Honey Singh, I know the amount of  courage it takes to reveal such private (and delicate) information to the world, especially,  if one belongs to the glamorous world of films and music. I can only imagine the number of people in this glitzy world, who may be actually suffering from this, or some other illness, but who lack the courage to come out and speak about their travails!

The dark periods of the mind-boggling highs and lows that one goes through thanks to bi-polar, can be unnerving. And, if one belongs to such a  world, where one is always portrayed as an epitome of perfection, then revealing such facts could be detrimental to not only their image, but also to their career. But, here is Honey Singh, who has admitted to the world the truth about his life and come out a winner in many ways!

Some time ago,  Deepika Padukone   revealed the bout of depression that she had been through. The hopelessness and the despair she spoke about, made her a hero to many a sufferer in our midst. An actress of her calibre, coming all out about such a delicate issue was a brave decision indeed! And, now we hear about Honey Singh’s struggle with bi-polar disorder.

Unsurprisingly, these are  only two such  brave-hearts, who have opened up their wounds for the world to see;  people, who are otherwise expected to be flawless entities!

However, as opposed to the denizens of our Indian film industry, the stars of Hollywood seem to have no such inhibitions in speaking about the trials they suffer, vis-a-vis their health issues. We know a greater number of Hollywood actors who suffer from bi-polar disorder or depression than we do of our Bollywood actors.

Maybe, over there they are treated like normal human beings, whilst our actors are revered as gods!  Why isn’t it accepted that these are  illnesses that could strike anybody,  irrespective of social standing, religion or gender?  Why don’t we all – including our screen idols – accept that they are, after all, mere mortals, who are prone to maladies of any and every kind?  Why don’t we  just accept it and live, and let live?

I think the fact that we deify them is the reason they fear coming out of the closets they hide their imperfections in. Wouldn’t their acceptance of themselves, and openness about their problems make them more real  to us? 

The confessions these two  brave hearts made may actually give strength to many a troubled soul who suffer behind closed doors, away from  prying eyes. Frankly, I have no knowledge about the kind of music he makes, but, Honey Singh’s  story of  the battle he has fought could surely motivate others like him.  And, so could Deepika’s story – she, who reigns the box-office today!

We all need heroes in our lives, to look up to, to draw inspiration from. And, who better than those who have the guts to reveal their true selves,  their trials and tribulations, like Dipika and Honey Singh? They would definitely make better heroes than those who flaunt attributes which are as artificial as the smiles that adorn their faces on the giant posters along the streets!

If the stories of these two  exceptional beings are able to inspire even a handful few,  it would be an achievement in the truest sense for these celebrities, isn’t it?

A big ‘Thank you’ to you, Deepika and Honey Singh!  May your tribe increase!

Through the looking glass.

Through the looking glass.

                     I stared at the open wardrobe, engulfed in a feeling of numbness.  The sarees, the countless blouses, the innumerable bindi and safety pin packets (some half-used, some empty), and the scores of plastic bags  and paper cuttings stored in every nook and corner, left me unsettled. The wardrobe that I had planned on sorting and cleaning, seemed to hold countless stories of my mother-in-law. It had belonged to her.  It had held her precious belongings for years.  It had been her world, her domain.
My mother-in-law  passed away exactly four months ago, due to multiple organ failure. And, the complications arose due to the abuse her body had been through because of years of suffering from the dreaded illness – schizophrenia. The debilitating electric shocks she received in the early years  ( before meeting the psychiatrist, who was a blessing in disguise),  the number of anti depressants and drugs she had to consume to maintain her equilibrium, had all left her system weak and defenceless. In hindsight, her end came by so quickly, as if she was waiting to be whisked away from this world of suffering.    It all seemed  very well planned – well  planned by her destiny.
However, it is the destiny of others like her, that I wonder about, worry about.  Many a times, we read about mentally ill patients being mistreated because of their illness,  because of lack of knowledge of their illness. Being chained to a post, or  confined to a room, away from sunlight and  fresh air, hidden from  the world, they lead a pathetic life. There are also some, who get forsaken by their families, and live their  lives getting battered by life on the mean streets. And, all this for no fault of theirs.
I won’t say life was not tough for us.  It was a battle, which we fought, but, with a lot of help and support from our angel – our psychiatrist.  How many people, who suffer at the hands of a mental illness, receive the care they deserve?  Mental illness, in our country, is completely misunderstood.  Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorder, all of these, as we know,   fall under  this category and have a great many myths surrounding it;  myths that hinder the treatment that should be started at its earliest.
It is not only the myths, but also our attitude towards mental illness, which further proves to be  a hurdle  in its  treatment and care. The social stigma attached to mental illness is the sufferer’s undoing. The inability to notice  the symptoms, accept the reality that there is a problem, and share it with the society we live in, has a number of repercussions on the sufferer, leading to a  delay in the treatment. Why is it that diseases like diabetes and cardiac problems get tagged as lifestyle diseases, and receive  all the limelight, while mental illness gets swept under the carpet?
Timely diagnosis and its treatment and care can give patients a fair chance to  live the life that they are entitled to live, and  reach their potential. My mother- in- law was a fabulous cook. Watching cookery shows and then experimenting in the kitchen was all that her life was all about. It was a constant source of happiness for her and she could make use of her potential only because of the medical treatment she received all these years. The happiness that exuded from her every pore after preparing a brilliant recipe was incomparable! It was during those moments she spent in the kitchen that she really came alive.
She was also fond of dressing up. Wherever she had to go, whatever occasion she had to attend, she would dress up immaculately. People found it hard to believe she was a patient of a mental illness so grave as schizophrenia! Her ability to indulge in her hobbies, to live her life the way she liked, was all possible only because of her treatment. And, I am glad we could give her those moments of happiness in a life fraught with struggles.
The side effects of the drugs she took were plenty, but she never let those get in the way of her and her passion. I remember the tremors in  her hands, and how, in spite of them, the quantity of salt or spices in a particular recipe would always be accurate. Those moments of sheer bliss that she experienced sure must have been manna from heaven for  the poor soul. How I wish that the scores of souls suffering a similar fate could be given one chance at living the life they truly deserve!
There are helplines, therapy, counselling  for the patients as well as the care givers, which can go a long way in rehabilitating the patients of mental illness and help them lead better lives, as well as help their families and care givers by  guiding them  in their treatment and care. Awareness regarding mental illness is being carried out to quite an extent, but, it’s the stigma attached to mental illness that needs to be dealt with. We, as a society, have come a long way in accepting certain realities of life, accepting people and their varied ways of living. Then, why are we unable to accept an illness, which is not the fault of the sufferers?
I am hopeful that in the years to come, mental illness will be viewed in a better light and given the attention it deserves.  And, this in turn, will go a long way in banishing the  shame and disgrace attached to it, giving its patients a well-deserved chance to living their life to its fullest.