Five years after someone close to me was diagnosed with bipolar, two years after a happy marriage, and six months after quitting my job to fulfill a long-held desire to be a freelance journalist, my mind started playing tricks on me.
I’ve been switching between primary and secondary caregivers since 2014 to a family member with a debilitating mental illness and suddenly it caught up. Nothing was good enough, nothing matched, and nothing turned out as I expected. Caring for someone who tended to skip medication, had annual manic episodes, and dealt with addiction problems felt like a constant climb. There is no better or worse; It is what it is. I could do weeklong meditation retreats, be patient, or spend all of my savings on medical treatment, but nothing has changed. Finally, I made an appointment for myself with a psychiatrist.
Caregivers are repeatedly asked to keep a schedule as the routine will benefit the one whose mental health is compromised. But schedules are a house of cards when neurotransmitters are unbalanced. And yet the routine building remains. This exercise can turn the caregiver into a control freak, or irreparably rigid, or simply fearful. All three happened to me. The psychiatrist said to me, “You have caregiver fatigue.” He advised, “Be like a journalist. Watch, don’t absorb the trauma. “
Caregiver fatigue usually does not require prescription drugs to be treated. It requires a life changing practice alien to most in the early stages of nursing. The psychiatrist called it “drawing lines,” prescribed cognitive behavioral therapy, and referred me to a psychologist who would prosecute me £3500 per session. It was an exorbitant price to start out as a freelance writer. I didn’t need any medication and decided that psychotherapy could wait.
My decision mimicked, to some extent, the behavior of the person I was caring for. Nurses are used to hearing: “I have stopped medication. I don’t want to be dependent on them for the rest of my life. “The side effects of medication are trembling hands and weight gain; Indicators that fuel the decision to reduce or purposely discontinue the dosage without informing anyone.
I did something similar. Instead of meeting a psychologist, I was content with the dopamine bursts when my stories were accepted or the serotonin rush on short trips to the mountains. On the other hand, there have been episodes of searing anger, numbing migraines, and long periods of inactivity.
A few months later, I made an appointment with a therapist and was asked to fill out the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI) II form as a regular diagnostic tool for psychological assessment. The results showed predictably severe anxiety, but two words stood out: “Psychotropic therapy recommended”. In other words, drugs.
Even though I knew better, I sang, “I’m not going to take any medication.”
“You don’t need medication,” said the therapist, and began cognitive behavioral therapy. The following months passed in a whirlwind of mind-challenging exercises, abdominal breathing exercises, and most importantly, distancing yourself from the bipolar family member. At this point I had switched from a primary to a secondary caregiver, but the need to check them out with at least one phone call per day remained. “Stop it,” said my therapist. Her advice was not to speak to the patient if I was afraid.
“But it’s my responsibility,” I protested.
“You are your responsibility,” she said.
“But I can better judge your mood,” I said.
“What about your mood?” She asked.
“But this person is in the hospital,” I fought back tears.
“Here, have a glass of water,” she said.
Water is my xanax. Sometimes it’s lemonade and sometimes it’s sickly sweet mangola or hot chocolate. When I received a call a month ago stating that this family member had set their clothes on fire, a sure sign of a manic episode, I longed for Ganne Ka Ras. Sports journalist Rohit Brijnath compares grooming in a story for lounge with long-distance running. My coping mechanism leads me to water. I’ve learned to focus on the sound of waves hitting rocks while walking on Mumbai’s coastal promenade. These noises dispel the clatter of a noisy mind.
Last weekend I spoke for an hour with my loved one who is now recovering from an extended manic episode. We talked about setbacks, money spent, and time lost. We discussed the daily routines again and developed another plan to keep the mind calm despite the dangers of chemical imbalance in the brain. We have realized that the only constant in mental illness is being attentive to mental well-being. Money and time are smoke and steam.