A Daughter's Memoir: Thasi-Thanou, My Bipolar Mother

Akoijam Shanarembi Chanu*

''In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorders a secret order'' Carl G. Jung

How much do we know about mental health deterioration?

We all know, suicide doesn't end the pain; it just passes it on to someone else. The death of loved one is never easy to experience, whether it's by accident, an untimely death, or anticipated death due to prolonged illness. Sometimes, its intractable to recover from the grief and the suffering itself.

During College, sometime in 2011, our philosophy department offered a course called ''Ethics in Public Domains''. On hindsight, I am glad I took up the course because it has left an ever-lasting impact on my cognition. I was immediately drawn to the parts which spoke about ''Suicide''. The elaborate analysis on the causes, the beliefs, the morals, and the aftermath psychological impact to the family and friends of the victim gave me the fodder I needed to understand the subject better.

I grew up in an environment where I constantly feared my mother would commit suicide. I can resonate with the topic on a personal level. I had this immense pressure on my mind to agree with whatever she had asked for, as I knew she suffered from ''Wakhal Liena'', which translates to "Depression". I didn't know the implications of it, I was too young to understand. I just knew I could not upset her, and I didn't want to become an orphan.

If I ever upset her, I would often imagine her hanging from the ceiling or drinking poison. Though she has never put her money where her mouth is, but her repeated threats of killing herself, created a fear psychosis in my mind, with the thought losing her, which never really went away to be honest. As humans, we detest not having control over our mind. We hate the uncertainty of our future, which can be a bit much sometimes.

Depression just sucks the life out of you. Now, that I have had a fair share of my own experience with depression and emotional instability, I am trying to beat it by punching it in its face so hard it doesn't come back to me ever again. After thinking long and hard, I believe it has been difficult for my mother to come out of the trauma of my losing her husband at a young age.

Apart from that, her being raised along with her siblings by a tough single mother, who bordered on tyrannical, her lack of friends, her horrible marriage which left her distraught when my father died, and her psychologically abusive relationship with her in laws all added to her mental decline. All of these culminated into her eventually being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

During her manic state, my mother was heavily medicated. She would often cry and faint, have panic attacks, was bed ridden, and put on intravenous therapy most of the time. She was basically hysterical all the time, and when awake she was kind of lost in her own world and hardly spoke or uttered any words. I didn't really get the attention and affection I needed as a child from a mother. Life is not fair, but I would not wish my experience of growing up in a mentally unstable environment upon anybody else, not even my enemy.

A cousin of mine, in 2009, hung herself in her marital home. My mother came to pick me up from school and we went straight to her home. I was shocked. She was always the happy one. It was intense. Everyone who knew her cried calling out her name, which also made me cry. It might seem silly, but it made me sad I did not have anyone who I could call "Echemsi" anymore. I felt some sense of lost, a brief period of sadness. But at the same time, I wanted to understand what made her take such an extreme step? A lot of stories were told, a lot more speculations were made, but ultimately the truth is in the minds of the people she was closely associated with.

It was only in 2014 after I took a course on the ''Basic of Psychology'' did it dawn on me that my mother was ''bipolar''. I then realized, my cousin's suicide was the first major triggering factor of my mother's pernicious emotional and mental state, which contributed to her full blown maniac episode in 2010. In-fact, it was her second maniac episode. I can vaguely recall her going through a phase of mental instability which led me to briefly dropping out of school in 1998.

The course, sort of, generated a curiosity about the history of mental health issues on my mother's side of the family, as no mental health related issues were afflicted on my father's side, as far as I was aware. The cousin who committed suicide was the daughter of my mother's half-sister.

None of my mother's siblings (both full and half) have been diagnose with clinical depression or any kind of mental illness. It is difficult to say if my mother has any genetic pre-disposition to her mental disorder as she is the first one to be diagnosed. She is on medication for life, as bipolar disorder does not have any cure and comes with a combination of personality disorder.

According to Professor Dr. Jordon B Peterson, who is a clinical psychologist, the fundamental problem for any mental illness is the sub-set of complexities that life brings to an individual. The reason being that people's lives becomes so complex that they'd rather be dead. The reason they seek death through suicide is to make the complexity go away. When things gets beyond one's control, the complexity causes suffering and it can happen if one is hit by three or four catastrophes at the same time.

People seek out psychologist because their life is so complicated, they cannot stay on the top of them in any way which doesn't makes it look like it will get less complicated. If life keeps adding complexities, and it goes beyond one's controlled, it will blow out at the weakest point and that's what mental illness is. It is always complexity related phenomena, rather than mental illness phenomena.

My mother took in all the mental abuse, as we say 'Oatpa Neiba' in Manipuri, meted out to her by her in-laws. My father's wild nature did not help make the situation any better either. It is not surprising, she is not the only woman in our society who has a story like this. It is a rather common story. But my father's untimely death took a huge toll on her, as she was already suffering from depression even when he was alive.

All she wanted was her husband's love and some support from his family. She has always looked up to her in laws, a little too much in my opinion, out of her own inferior complexity. She wanted to fit into a well literate family and be accepted by them. It's understandable from her point of view because a relationship takes time and effort right from the initial stage, but she was not thought good enough to be accepted by them.

I am a keen observer of people's character and attitude. I got a chance to closely observed my father's family. I am so relieved I can make my own decisions now, as I detest going to my father's place. Back then, my mother would force me to visit my father's family when I was young. I would have severe headaches whenever I was to visit them. I didn't even know about the existence of my extended family until I was in the 6th standard. It was the start of the revelation to an unknown story bringing with it a lot of questions.

My mother hid the truth by telling me we moved out of my father's ancestral home because the place was too small for everyone to live together. I didn't buy the story at the time; however, I also didn't object. My brother, on the other hand, loved visiting my father's place, and just like how the traces of crime can be collected and investigated, he would bring home with him stories about how badly my mother was treated, all because people talk.

To be honest, truth does come out with time, especially when my mother is angry or upset, she spills the whole story about, both, her own as well as my father's family. I suppose, that's the only good thing about her bipolar disorder.

As a child, I was very curious about how my parents met. I wanted to know everything about their story. I wanted to see a photo of their wedding, as I had never seen one. In fact, to this day, I still haven't seen one. We do not even have a single photo together as a family. It shows how terrible their marriage was. I just didn't want to visit a place where I was reminded of my father, where he didn't get a chance to live happily when he was alive.

I have longed for a father's love and presence all my life, even to the extent of telling myself what if he is not dead but is a secret service agent like James Bond. Me and my wild imagination. We cannot really force any kind of relationship to co-exist without respect, boundaries, and reciprocation. I have no intention of tolerating people, who look down upon my mother and disrespects my father and brother. I value relationships in my life and it's no joke to me. I have no interest in entertaining or participating in any kind of a family facade.

As a person who has been exposed to an emotionally unstable and mentally sick mother, all my life, I am her confidant and care giver. I have 50% chances of developing the same mental illness, and I cannot sit on it, waiting for it to happen to me as well. I may never get it but I am definitely more vulnerable to getting it. All these years, I have seen her grow as a person but, at the same time, it has immensely affected my life on a deeper level, and I have to sort it out layer by layer, one step at a time.

I cannot let it ruin or rule me. My mother has come a long way and I have witnessed it. If she can do it, so can I. She might be illiterate but she is a well-educated woman who has learned to live with her disorder and for that she had to acquire the determination to get better and have the desire to seek help. She is a fighter. I feel very proud of her and have never regretted being born as her daughter.

I won't deny she is a little hard to get along with, as she is very demanding and controlling. She says it's not necessarily bad to be called an "APHAOBI" or "TOU-NGAMBI", which has the same energy as "that bitch", if it's for the right reason and the right cause. Whenever we would watch the Oprah Winfrey Show, she would say, "that's my sister". She has introduced me to famous, influential, and powerful women like Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, and Princess Diana. But we have our differences and the main reason being her tendency to shut me down, as being the youngest in the house, by never listening to me.

This has caused conflicts between us as I've been blessed with all the strong traits from her. Two dominant personality in a closed space does not make a peaceful space. I am working on finding a solution and moving away from my mother has been the first step. She is strong, discipline, righteous, a rational decision maker, full of wisdom, and delivers her duty as a good and competent mother. An epitome of a good mother and devoted wife, at least to me.

My suggestions to people with mentally sick parents or siblings or partner who have no clue as to how to deal with it, don't be afraid, seek professional help, and try to educate yourself about it as much as possible. It is beneficial for everyone who's dealing with it. The patient who has any mental disorder needs support and care. They need to be listened to with understanding and treated with patience, empathy, encouragement, affirmation, and compassion.

Most importantly, the care givers, the family members, closely associated people who are friends, boyfriends, girlfriends should be well informed. It's quite exhausting and there is no easy way out, so don't forget to take care of your own mental, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being as well.

I would highly recommend regular counselling for the patient as well as the family members, both, together and separately. Hiding it will just make it worst but it definitely comes down to personal choices in the end. If you don't feel comfortable about sharing your stories, which in all honesty will take a lot of time for you to personally be ready to open up about, mostly because it's confusing and difficult to express or you just don't have the right words to express, that is also okay.

This is my way of helping those people, faced with similar experiences as me, by sharing information and insight on what I have gathered through my own experience. By venting out and releasing myself from all the sad memories and repressed emotions which were stacked up for the last 18 years, and believe me sharing has taken a load off of my heart and mind, I felt a wave of relief wash over me, like an emotional weight unloaded. It's therapeutic. I am putting a message out there about mental health by narrating my own story to reduce stigmatization and disgrace surrounding mental illness.

There is a dire need of talking about it and taking an initiative to spread awareness about an invisible disease which has plagued upon the world, especially to help those who are going through depression. It's not apparent until it has preyed upon its victim and killed them in silence. If anyone of you is going through depression, just know that you are not alone, many are going through the same issues. And it can be dealt with and you can get better. Don't hesitate to ask for help. You are not crazy, and you will be okay. If you are unsure of where to start your research at, here are some questions you could start with:

i. What are the main causes of mental health?
ii. Which type of mental health issue are you dealing with?
iii. How much does genetics and family history matter?
iv. What are the treatments available? Which is the most effective method treatment?
v. What kinds of therapies are available?
vi. When does medication becomes mandatory and necessary?
vii. How much do we know about mental health as an individual or as a care giver or as a society?
viii. How much does the environment and close contact relationship play a rolein improving or derailing it?

Mental illness doesn't discriminate; gathering information is the power to tackle and fight it. I read books which are written by people who have gone through it and have managed to live with it. Listening to lectures of experts in this field, mainly clinical psychologist, neuroscientists, and behavioral therapists helped me tremendously in recognizing my own archetype, reframe my thought process, and train my mind in dealing with my depression.

For the last two years, I was at my worst, relapsing over and over again. I took the opportunity of this Covid-19 lockdown and fully dedicated myself to taking care of myself and taking it seriously by making myself a priority. Spending time away from my mother, and having my own space and time to work on myself has improved my mental health rapidly.

I have to stay sane and cannot solely let my brother take the responsibility on his shoulders. He has his own share of compromises and sacrifices already made. Two is better than one, sharing is caring. I am trying my best to implement meditation, yoga, and taking a walk in my daily routine.

I surrounded myself with people who are good listeners and who at least tried to understand what I am going through. I am grateful for having a supportive brother, who has been my strength, my best friend for being my soothing sister and my good friends who have acted as a catalyst in healing myself.

Most importantly, I wanted to come out of it, as I was so scared and puzzled after I visited two different psychiatrists in 2017 and 2018, both of whom prescribed me medications. I just didn't want to rely on medication completely before trying out all the other alternatives available which could help me recover from depression.

I knew what had triggered me into the chain of thoughts, which helped resurface my sad suppressed emotions, throwing me into the pit of depression. I knew if couldn't deal with it myself by adopting different methods of improving my mental health, I'd have to take medication for at least six months or more.

By educating myself on this topic, I felt empowered and enlightened. It's the very first weapon one requires to enter into the battlefield and win the war, against the complexities of life.

* Akoijam Shanarembi Chanu wrote this article for
The writer is an Advocate and can be reached at shanarembichanu6748(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on October 10 2020.

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