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What the Holidays Are Like in India as Someone With Bipolar Disorder

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The holidays can actually be the hardest time for people in any part of the world. I know if someone were to ask me if I love the holidays, the answer would be no.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I should’ve written this post a month back, in October, which is the peak season for holidays in our India. We have Dussehra in October, a 10-day celebration. But because I wasn’t feeling well during that time (I was under one of the nasty depression spells), I thought I’d write about it now. After all, we still have Christmas to cover. And it is quite a huge deal here as it is everywhere in the world. The span from October to December is fueled with the magic of holidays in our hearts.

What do holidays really feel like to someone with bipolar disorder, like me, trotting between mania and depression? You guessed it — it’s a nightmare of epic proportions. Me, as a Bengali, in West Bengal, we have Durga Puja — and five out of those 10 days are said to be auspicious.

I will tell you how I spent the fifth day of those 10 days — I spent it crying. Apparently something was wrong with my medication cocktail and it made me almost lose my mind. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. My husband was sitting there with me, helpless. Because the fact is I don’t even know why I was crying. This is just an example of what goes on in the holidays.

To begin the festive day, first I have to wake up. Waking up, getting out of the bed, can be pretty hard work for anyone with mental health issues, but waking up on a festive day with mental illnesses comes with a tremendous amount of pressure created by others. These are the days when rules are made up for you — wake up, get dressed for others and get a panic attack. Meanwhile, look alive. Since relatives are going to come over and the festival is happening at your home, you have to look alive even though you’re dead as a zombie inside.

This is exactly how my holidays went down every year until I got married.

“You’ve grown so big,” Aunty exclaims. “Look how much you look like your dead mother,” another one exclaims. More awkward conversations, glances, some pitiful, others envious. Let’s not forget the biggest question of them all — what are you doing now? My daughter so and so just completed engineering, now she’s all set to marry this man so and so and they’re settling in the U.S. 

Me, as a simple, 30-year-old, unemployed woman with various mental disorders, just looks up and smiles, hoping to somehow disappear into thin air. But since life isn’t that miraculous, I stand there holding a smile for the longest time, losing my train of thought. 

I know I could just say that you know, because of my bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I just can’t hold a job. Also, I have a boyfriend of seven years and we plan to get married after 32. At least I’m on the road to some future. But this answer would probably wake up alarm bells everywhere. This is not an acceptable answer.

Because firstly, they don’t believe mental illness is real. Secondly, they assume if you don’t have a job you’re lazy, or you’re not smart like aunty’s engineer daughter. And seven years with a boy? Not yet married and you’re 30? Unacceptable, all of it! Probably your father should have taken better care of you, taken you to the guruji to expel those demons. 

So I smile till my jaw hurts, imagine my father calling me and wander away from the aunties till another one finds me.

During these festivities, all I do is get social anxiety and panic attacks, which I certainly don’t want anyone to see.

Now that I’m 32 and married, it doesn’t much seem to bother them anymore. They have moved on to territory of child-bearing. But still, my profession always comes up every year. And I want to disappear into thin air every year.

Once I’m alone, there’s nothing much to do other than cry my eyes out and to think, why did it have to be me? Why does it feel like I’m the only one who’s struggling?

At least I felt that way until I met others like me, in you all. No matter how much negativity they spew around, I always find solace when I come here, when I write, when I do my work for Hope Is Good.

I figure holidays must feel like this for someone else. So I wrote it down today. Don’t forget to let me know if your last holiday went something like this or if you’re dreading the upcoming season.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

Originally published: December 26, 2016
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