(As told to Sneha Vakharia)
At the age of 22, I was hospitalised.
I had just been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The doctor believed I needed to be placed in a private hospital. My mother agreed. And so I went.
Once locked in a hospital room, my body was pumped with medication. Initially, I was sleeping 10 to 12 hours a day. I was allowed moments of lucidity, moments when I could use the bathroom of my own free will, make an attempt at reading a book.
Then the dosage increased and so did the hours spent sleeping– 15 a day, then 20 a day. I’d wake up, if only briefly, and find my pillow soaked in drool. Or that I’d soiled my pants.
I thought I was dying.
I had no friends. And now, even my imaginary ones were fading. I’d try to read — the one habit I desperately held on to — but one word at a time was as much as the medication was allowing me to process.
One. Drift off. Word. Drift off. At. Drift off. A. Drift off. Time.
If this was bad, there was worse going on I didn't know about. My brain was being permanently damaged. My medication was making me stupid, and I wasn’t lucid enough to notice.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I discovered that I’d lost the ability to button shirts. Tie shoe laces. Knot a tie. Fill a form. Perform simple mathematical functions. It took a decade to learn some of those skills again.
But my tryst with mind-altering modern psychiatric medication had only just begun.
I developed brain tumours – they were surgically removed in 2011, nine years later. I had begun to experience epileptic seizures. And in 2013, anti-anxiety medication caused a psychotic episode that ended with me attempting suicide (Warning: Side effects may include homicidal and suicidal ideation).
All of this is to say that the war I – and so many like me – are fighting, is being fought on too many fronts.
I have to fight the voices in my head. I have to fight the stigma of being a schizophrenic. I have to fight cultural apathy. I have to fight legal disempowerment. Did you know that, as a schizophrenic, I cannot legally board an airplane without being sedated?
The only tool I can use to wage all these wars is my mind. And even that has been crippled by psychiatric medication.
But the human mind is surprisingly resilient. It evolves new ways of resisting the assault. It finds its way. Mine did too.
I found other therapeutic ways to deal with my condition: wrote a book, made a film. I paint. I practice martial arts. I perform breathing exercises that help me stay calm.
I try to re-examine every predicament with a fresh perspective. I have learnt to think of every psychotic episode as one where a part of me needs to break down so I can make sense of my grief again.
In 2016, I experienced a two-day long spell of psychosis after a break-up. When the spell ended, I was able to see the psychotic experience for what it was — my mind struggling to come to terms with my loss.
The clarity I found somewhere in that psychotic state was able to relieve me of the pain.
I returned to normalcy with far more lucidity and understanding than I had before. The psychosis was my defence mechanism, my closure – it was my mind’s way of processing grief.
You may find that it resembles yours.
To my classmates, friends, strangers — and to those who have shamed me, called me “crazy,” and rejected me — I am not my schizophrenia. I am an activist, a writer, a person struggling on multiple fronts and aspiring towards a fulfilling life.
I have been hurt by apathy, I have been wounded by the label of “crazy”, I have suffered much abuse, before and after my diagnosis, and I have grieved.
But like you and everyone else, I will keep the pursuit of happiness alive.
This mind – that you may consider “diseased” – will fight on.
Reshma Valliappan, also known as Val Resh, is an artist-activist for a number of issues related to mental health, disability, sexuality and human rights.
Trijog is a 360-degree mental health wellness organisation that services individuals with mental health concerns across the spectrum, founded by Anureet Sethi and Arushi Sethi.
Awake and Beyond is Trijog's campaign celebrating the stories of seven individuals and their tryst with mental illness, in the hopes that their journey will educate, inspire and help people understand what living with mental illness is like. Together, mental illness can be fought, conquered and overcome.