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Vijay Nallawala

Vijay Nallawala first shared his story with The MINDS Foundation, a non-governmental organization that fights to eliminate stigma and provide educational, medical, and moral support for patients with mental health issues in rural India. Mental health affects 200 million people in India and MINDS aims to show that it is possible to live a functional, fruitful life with a mental health condition. Like us, they believe sharing one’s personal experience helps to reduce stigma. 

“It has been a journey of over fourteen years post diagnosis and many unidentifiable years before that. There was no path before me at one time and I had to carve out one for myself. It seems to be a time warp… on one hand I feel this was just yesterday and on the other, it all seems so distant. I am now a detached observer of those horrendous days.

Mauled by a tiger, as it were, but having shed the scars.    

May 23rd, 2003 was that dramatic day. My behaviour had been over the top for quite a while (for a few years, actually) and Tejal, my sister was decidedly alarmed about it. She knew there was something very, very wrong with me but try making me buy that story! My thoughts were irrationally grandiose, my spending reckless and my irritability sky high! Well, after much convincing, I finally agreed to see a Psychologist at Jaslok Hospital in South Mumbai. She heard me speak for a couple of minutes before she said, ‘His is not a case for me. You better see a Psychiatrist’. Her tone was matter of fact, bereft of empathy. I was debarred from driving my car back, thus we had to hail a Taxi.

So we landed up at the other end of Mumbai, the Western suburb of Santacruz. Fortunately, my sister (thank God she kept her wits about her despite the crisis) took me to a very competent Psychiatrist. I was blabbering all the while to the Doctor, making outlandish claims such as having solved the Bermuda Triangle! I was diagnosed as a Manic Depression patient, as Bipolar Disorder was then called. And then, exhausted from my continuous babbling, I slumped on the Doctor’s desk.

My manic phase made the diagnosis easier. That meant Hospitalisation and for a week, I was at Holy Spirit Hospital. Then began the real horror. The joyride had now going awry. After the flurry of events, things gradually began to sink in. The shattering thought hit me: ‘I was now mentally ill!’. All the antipsychotic and other cocktail of medication being dumped on me made me feel worse, if that was possible. Frustration and hopelessness took hold of me. Also the gnawing thought: What would my clients and colleagues think of all this?

At that time, I ran a pretty successful Multimedia Projection Rentals business. Its future was in jeopardy now and indeed, within a year, we had to wind up our 14 year old enterprise. Bipolar Disorder had claimed its first major victim and with it my source of pride (and of course livelihood). I had to switch careers a couple of times since then.

During all this mess, I married (against the wishes my wise sis Tejal). Coping with the all important relationship was a new challenge I faltered at, understandably so: having to jostle with my illness at the same time. It was an overwhelming period of torment. The marriage floundered for the first couple of years but I promised myself that I would resurrect it: which I did. Am proud to share that we are a very happily married couple with a lovely teenage daughter. 

What helped me recover?

Of course, medication and therapy were the pillars of treatment. However, even they are insufficient on their own. I already knew yoga and meditation which I practiced a lot. This helped calm me down. Then there was regular exercise (I workout daily at a Gym), a nutritious diet and abstinence from smoking and alcohol. Any case I am a teetotaler since 28 years. Writing became my magic wand and was therapeutic too. My way to express myself and through Blogging I found a powerful platform to connect to the world.

This led to India’s first online Peer Community for Bipolar Disorder, BipolarIndia.

 It helped spread awareness in a country starved of information and more importantly, initiated conversations. Some even shared their own stories of recovery. Online led to offline and we began India’s first Peer Support Group in Mumbai with monthly meets. This has now spread wings in Delhi and Chennai too. These meets are highly effective in morale building, instilling hope and ensuring compliance plus of course the knowledge exchange that takes place. Meanwhile, my Book, A Bipolar’s Journey- From Torment to Fulfillment,  got published globally and thankfully it inspired quite a few readers and instilled belief in them.

I began to be looked upon as a mentor for my community. What my outreach to my tribe did effectively was it made me an observer of my own illness.

Has my traumatic journey left me bitter or frustrated? Not at all. In fact, I feel Bipolar Disorder empowered me in many ways. It made me wiser, more resourceful and compassionate. And I learnt to be grateful for the blessings life showered me with. There are so many people to thank for inspiring me and guiding me during my darkest days… for we are never alone in this journey, are we?

So, Let’s Walk Together.”