Mr. Vijay Nallawala , aptly describes himself as a “Pixel in the Magnificent Canvas called Life”.
To introduce Vijay briefly, he is an author par excellence, inspirational storyteller & personal branding coach based in Mumbai. He is also an Entrepreneur, Mental Wellness Catalyst and Compassionate Soul.
More importantly, Vijay is what he is in life, despite having braved debilitating Bipolar Disorder for more than a decade. He has been warrior not only in personal life but has made “Openness and Glasnost about Mental Illness” his credo.
Vijay, his writings and talks have positively impacted countless Indians suffering from Mental illness, through his chosen medium of blogs, articles, tweets. Facebook insertions speaking out, through a community that he has created to help those suffering from Mental Illness and last but most importantly through his candid book of hope- “A Bipolar’s Journey: From Torment to Fulfillment”.
Truly speaking Vijay Nallawala is an ordinary Indian making extra-ordinary contribution to the cause of Mental Wellness in India.
“akhilvaani.blog” is blessed to have Vijay Nallawala to share his journey in a candid discussion.
Welcome Vijay Nallawala to this live-show of “Owning-Up, Opening-UP and Talking Mental Illness. Yours is a true story that will give “Hope, Love and Pride” to millions of Mentally Ill in India who are groping in dark. In you and your story they have a lot to look for.
Here goes the question-answer session:
akhilvaani: Serenedipitously, I recently found your book, “A Bipolar’s Journey: From Torment to Fulfillment“. To the best of my knowledge you are only the second Indian to come out with your story of having suffered with Bipolar Disorder in a book form. Tell me what prompted you to write the book.
(VN): I am an avid Blogger and am aware of the ability of inspirational storytelling to instill hope and transform lives.
The community website which I pioneered in 2013, BipolarIndia.com, was a preparatory ground that gave me many inputs about what the Book should comprise of. That the Book has indeed inspired quite a few people is truly gratifying.
akhilvaani: Stepping back, tell me a about yourself, your childhood, adulthood, your passion in life and vocation.
(VN): I was a very creative person with a free spirit who detested being disciplined. As a child, I was a loner and a lazy bookworm who found an escape in fiction books. Through my younger days until now, I have fought ill health, mainly asthma. I found my footing as an entrepreneur in my thirties, a time when I really flourished. Only a few years ago did I have discover my true passion, i.e., storytelling and coaching.
akhilvaani: When and where you were detected to be suffering from Bipolar Disorder. How were your initial years. Did you or do you take medication for the illness. When did you accept the fact that Bipolar disorder is just an illness to be fixed.
(VN): As it usually happens, I was diagnosed many, many years after my symptoms first showed up: maybe decades later. I was fourteen when I suffered my first bout of severe depression. There were such bouts later at seventeen and twenty three, bordering on neurosis. The sad part was, they were not even diagnosed as depression! It is my knowledge about these ravaging conditions that I can now identify these episodes…
My diagnosis happened on May 23, 2003 when I was in mania and psychosis. Prior to that, my behavior was decidedly out of place for a couple of years at least. In one of my lows, my physician put me on to antidepressants which triggered the mania and psychosis. I was then hospitalized for a week.
More than acceptance, the trouble was in coming to grips with what was happening to me. The awareness was almost zero back then, hence we were all caught unawares. Once on treatment, I have diligently followed the treatment, so acceptance is not the issue.
When did you decide to open up about your illness? Tell me about the Community you formed to help those suffering from Mental Illness to come together to help themselves? Also what was the motivation behind creating the venture?
(VN): In a way, I had been open about my illness with many of my close friends and colleagues almost from the very beginning.
My personal Blog became the launch pad of what transpired to become a movement of sorts. In 2012, I had shared my story on a Blog post. It attracted all kinds of attention, some even negative. A dear friend and mentor, Puneet Bhatnagar had already encouraged me to seriously pursue writing as a career. When he read this post, he envisioned something much bigger in scope, for he believed in my ability to inspire and motivate our community. In fact, it was he who coined the name Bipolar India and helped set up the site in 2013. What I observed initially was that, most of the site’s traffic was from the US. Even the comments were rarely from India, so much was the stigma.
It took a couple of years for comments, queries and conversations to really come up from Indian visitors to the site. The tide had turned, leading to even sharing of personal stories by fellow afflicted with Bipolar Disorder and other Mental Illnesses on the site.
I think this was a major victory~ people had begun to believe in the importance of shedding their burdens without fear of social backlash. In turn, they helped inspire others too.
Moreover, our purely online platform went offline too, in the form of monthly Peer Support Meets. In order to provide online support, we have also added a panel of Psychiatrists and Psychologists whom they can seek guidance from, without involvement of my commercial interest.
As for the motivation behind setting up this community~ I am a deeply spiritual person who cherishes the virtue of gratitude. So many people have gone out of the way to help me on my journey that I feel, I cannot payback even a small fraction to society. As the Bhagavad Gita taught me, one must do without expecting fruit from one’s work.
akhilvaani: It is said that bipolar disorder is biological in origin, its trigger is in environment and its impact is brutally psychological. Tell me what could have triggered your bipolar disorder in hindsight?
(VN): Your use of the word hindsight is so apt here. Almost everything becomes crystal clear in hindsight, doesn’t it, when one is armed with experience and knowledge.
Yes, Bipolar Disorder does have genetic roots. My father had serious issues of the mind which were never diagnosed nor treated. The triggers could not have come at a more tender age. My father was an unruly, at times violent person and I carry ugly memories from my days as a toddler. My mother separated from him and this attracted social stigma in the tiny village of Vasai where I grew up in the sixties. The burden of being the breadwinner of the family also fell on me right after my graduation, until which time, my maternal uncle generously brought us up.
My Asthma too, got worse and worse leading to hospitalization twice in emergency situations. The enterprise which I ran for fourteen years also meant a high stress carrierr which had a toll on me physically and mentally. I think the body blow was the diagnosis itself. It was the primary reason of the shutting of my business and it plunged me into further depression thereafter. There was a loss of identity that I could not cope with..
akhilvaani: There is concurrence amongst scientists on one thing, incidence of suicidal ideation, suicide attempt and even completed suicide is substantially more in bipolar than normative population. Have you ever had suicidal tendencies and if yes how did you hold on to life?
VN: Honestly, I doubt if I would actively consider suicide ever. The ideation came in passive ways: was life worth living anymore? Was the endless struggle worth it? So, these imponderables without any inclination to actively end my life, I’d say.
akhilvaani: Partial or full medicinal non-adherence is axiomatic truth for every second person suffering from bipolar disorder. In my case it led to full-blown psychotic manic attack. what is your message for young Indians who feel, believe or say that they can conquer/ or have conquered their severe Mental illnesses like Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia without medication.
(VN) : I’d the say the percentage of non-adherence could be even higher in real terms if we consider those who have never been diagnosed or sought treatment despite suspecting to be ill.
On my website itself, I make myself loud and clear: motivation, exercise, positive thinking and yoga come second. Firstly, one needs to be treated by a Psychiatrist. Only he/she can prescribe the treatment which one must adhere to for dear life.
I believe that the non-adherence/ non-compliance with medication has various causes~
1) Disappointment that benefits of treatment take a long time to come and initially one might even feel that the symptoms are worsening.
2) The side effects of the medicines can be very troublesome. My sorrows~ daytime sleepiness, hand tremor, rashes, hypothyroidism to name a few.
3) Lack of transparency by Doctors does not help our cause. Many patients are in the dark about which drug has been prescribed for what reason. I think that a disillusioned mind is receptive to voices which ‘advice’ to stop the treatment and seek alternative healing.
My say on this is that one has to accept that Bipolar Disorder is a serious, debilitating illness that originates in the brain at a physical level. It therefore has to be treated with medicines which address this root cause of the illness. Everything else we do for our betterment comes second. Also, one has to weigh the side effects with the benefit of knowing that when being treated, we are much more in control of our lives.
Now I can’t imagine how I would have survived or recovered without medication.
akhilvaani: Achieving full functionality during remission is a key challenge for persons suffering from bipolar disorder. Other than medication what else do you think has helped you and can help others fighting the similar battle.
(VN): One can’t bank on treatment alone to restore functionality, in fact, by itself it rarely ever does. I have made my treatment the backbone of my recovery. Having been a sick child and youth and having survived multiple critical attacks of asthma helped me become more resilient and disciplined.
Resilience also inculcated a belief that if I could tame asthma then why not Bipolar Disorder?
To be specific, I have been meditating for eighteen years. This has helped me understand myself and connect with my inner voice. It also helped me de-stress. I have been practicing ashtanga yoga and pranayama also for many years now.
Exercise helped keep my energy up and restlessness down. Earlier it was walking, I now workout vigorously at a gym on a daily basis. Abstinence from alcohol and smoking is also a plus. In fact, I quit drinking alcohol 28 years ago. Ultimately it also boils down one’s attitude and determination.
Here’s I must thank my family, friends and Doctors without whom I would not be here today. Then there’s the higher power whom I have great faith in..
akhilvaani: Caregivers curse is often as severe and at times worse than the suffering of the persons afflicted with a Mental Illness. In your case who has been your principal care givers. How your family took your early diagnosis and how have they coped with your illness.
(VN): I agree with you. In India, especially, there is such a paucity of good Psychiatrists and therapists. However, I am very fortunate that for all these years I have been under the care of Dr Snehal Mehta, who has contributed so much to my recovery.
About the reactions from family? My mother and sister were very supportive and caring and absorbed the initial shock quickly. It was a different issue where our marriage was concerned. Those days were about quarrels, misunderstandings and lots of differences. Thankfully, my wife and I enjoy a wonderful relationship now.
akhilvaani: Stigma surrounding Mental Illness is of extreme level in India society. What is your views on what are the steps needed to reduce the stigma even if it is going to be a long battle.
(VN): Honestly speaking, there’s not a single country where there’s no stigma.
India is a country with a closed culture. We do not open up to the world about our vulnerabilities so easily as in the West. Stigma exists because of a lack of awareness.
People need to be sensitized and mass media campaigns would help reduce the distance between the sufferer and the people. Also, we are to blame also. Unless we share our stories bravely, we are merely statistics.
Our stories make us relatable to everybody and inspire others to do so too.
akhilvaani: What is central message of your book and what message you will like to give to those Indian’s whom Mental Illness has not yet reached.
(VN): The central message of my book is that a serious mental illness like Bipolar Disorder is devastating, yet it can be managed with discipline and perseverance. However, is just recovery the end goal? I felt an emptiness when I neared recovery. One has to have a larger purpose in life. I discovered that mine was not to chase material goals but to walk on the path of fulfillment.
What I can say to our community is, have belief in yourself, hang on to your faith even when all odds are stacked against you.
akhilvaani: Your story is one of hope in a hopeless world for Mentally Ill and their giver. Give some pearls of your wisdom for those million suffering Indians who are not as lucky as you or even me in their illness.
(VN): During my darkest times, what helped me was the unshakable belief that God has plans for me, I am made for much bigger things, I am the chosen one and hence He has made my path more challenging. I firmly believe, that above science, medication and circumstances there’s the will of God. Maybe if Bipolar Discover had not floored me, I would have never ventured on my spiritual journey of self discovery.
Therefore, whatever happens, happens for good reason. Gratitude is also a super power! I am thankful to every moment, person and experience in my life for making me who I am.
Vijay Nallawala is a Digital Storytelling and Branding Coach, Author and Mental Wellness Catalyst.
Connect with him on Twitter @VijayNallawala