On May 23, 2003, my world came crashing down. I was a 40-year-old successful entrepreneur, and I had just been diagnosed with manic depressive illness (now called bipolar disorder).
"I am now mentally ill" — it was a shattering thought.
What would happen to my career now? What would my colleagues and friends say if they found out? That week in hospital was probably the most traumatic period of my life.
Some days, I'd make grandiose plans to change the world and my energy levels would be sky high. I once woke up in the middle of the night to write poetry that made me cry.
This phase is known as rapid cycling, where one goes back and forth between mania and depression.
Since my symptoms sounded like those of depression, my physician put me on antidepressants.
That set me off into full-blown mania.
My discerning sister, Tejal, pleaded with me to seek professional help, but I was in denial mode, as is the case with most of my tribe during the initial stages.
Mania impairs one's judgment badly. I kept insisting that I knew perfectly well what I was doing and resisted any idea of seeking help.
After much cajoling, I landed up at a psychologist's clinic at Jaslok Hospital. On hearing my symptoms, in one minute flat she said, "He needs to consult a psychiatrist". We rushed directly to one Tejal knew, Dr. Snehal Mehta.
I blabbered nonstop during the journey, and was so exhausted by the time we reached that I fell asleep, slumped on the doctor's desk.
Dr. Mehta diagnosed my case as manic depression right away and then we were off to the hospital.
I was put on heavy medication – a cocktail of mood stabilisers, tranquilisers and anti-psychotics – all of which made life more miserable. My restlessness and irritability were at their peak.
The side effects of the meds hit hard while the benefits took many months to kick in.
I suffered from daytime sleepiness, lethargy, disorientation, skin rashes, hyperthyroidism (in my case), dizziness, hand tremors that didn't let me write properly… The list was endless.
When I was discharged a week later, I thought that being back at home would help me calm down – that didn't happen. I would sleep for sixteen hours a day and still feel weary. The implication of what I was in for began to sink in.
Uncertainty became a life partner.
High energy levels, less need for sleep, verbosity, goal-driven activity, overconfidence, recklessness, over spending and heightened creativity became red flags to be wary of. They'd signify the onset of mania. And then there were the longer spans of depression, which spelled demotivation, lack of confidence, lethargy and poor focus.
Amidst all this, my confidence took a huge hit, and I lived with the fear of letting my business clients down. Within a few months after my diagnosis, my illness had its first casualty — I had to wind up my enterprise, which I had built from scratch over fourteen years.
The financial setback further depressed me. I suddenly felt directionless, and the lack of focus and concentration prevented clarity of thought.
This resulted in an ill-judged career shift — one to life insurance and financial advisory. After eight years, I realised that I had lost my passion, and took to writing.
When I began blogging in 2012, I saw it as an opportunity to reach out to a global audience. This led to the formation of BipolarIndia.com, India's first and only such community for peer support. We have now gone offline with regular meets.
Writing my book based on my recovery was a cathartic journey, which helped set me free. It has gratifyingly inspired a turnaround in a few readers' lives.
I got married within the first year of my diagnosis, thanks to a matrimonial ad in a national daily. I had already confided everything to my to-be wife and even taken her to my psychiatrist so that she could seek clarifications.
All the same, the initial years of our marriage were dogged by friction, mistrust and dissatisfaction. Stable relationships are crucial to managing bipolar disorder.
So, I resolved to turn my marriage around as soon as I began to get a grip on my condition.
And the turnaround did happen, slowly but surely.
Today, my wife and I are among the happier couples around. Our lovely daughter completes the family.
If I have found stability and calmness, I have many people to thank for it– my doctor, my family, colleagues and friends who stood by me all the time.
I have strived hard to regain a semblance of peace. My path has included yoga, meditation, creative visualisation, writing as therapy, regular exercise and of course sticking to my treatment which might last all my life.
My spiritual pursuit also made me more philosophical and helped me take ups and downs with some level-headedness. I began confiding in close friends and colleagues about my condition and thankfully, every single one of them was highly supportive.
I have had just one episode of mania again in these fourteen years since the first blow-up. That was in 2008.
If I look back at my life, I am probably more fulfilled today than I ever was. I don't walk alone anymore.
Vijay Nallawala is an author, columnist, storytelling and branding coach.
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.