I was diagnosed as bipolar; this is how it impacted my life, my career and my romantic relationship

Living with bipolar disorder

Dakshesh Verma who's studying at IIM Ahmedabad tells Yahoo! what it means to live with bipolar disorder.

The signs were always there. There were days when I would work for 18 hours straight and not get tired. And then there were days when I’d find it impossible to even get out of bed or take a shower. I never thought of it much but that was because I didn’t know what to make of it. Neither did anyone around me – neither my parents and family nor the psychiatrists I was consulting. I was born and raised in Jaipur where the idea of mental health was alien; to some extent it still is. When I was referred to a psychiatrist, he put me on anti-depressants without proper diagnosis. It would be years before I’d even hear about bipolar disorder, let alone know what the condition meant.

I was 22 when I was accepted for the MBA programme at Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Pune. I didn’t want to do an MBA at that stage of my life – I was still trying to figure out what wanted to do, professionally – but I succumbed to parental and peer pressure and joined the programme. Three days later, I ran away from the college without informing my family because I became certain I didn’t have it in me to see it through or work in a corporate setup. For nearly a month-and-a-half I wandered aimlessly, spent my nights in cheap lodges in different cities – Hyderabad, Pune, Bengaluru – and got by with whatever little money I had. On multiple occasions, I attempted suicide but couldn’t bring it to killing myself. Finally, I went back home. For this entire time, no one in my family knew my whereabouts and were, justifiably, worried. When I went back home, I explained to them what I was going through and that I was suicidal. That’s when we went to a local psychiatrist who put me on anti-depressants.

Some good things happened to me in the following months. I joined a company as a content writer. Over the next few years, I rose to a leadership position and by the end of my stint, I was heading their marketing team. I also got into a beautiful relationship with my partner. But, I kept my past hidden from her. Worse, I didn’t even talk about my mental condition with her. Whenever she found pills on me, I’d lie to her about having an upset stomach or being unwell. I was ashamed, yes, but also scared of what she’d think of me. But the anti-depressants were not helping my condition; they were merely addressing the symptoms. Meanwhile, however, the symptoms of bipolar were beginning to get more visible and I’d begun to fall back professionally. There were days when I couldn’t work at all and I’d begun to get anxious; my smoking increased and towards the end of every cigarette break, my heart would sink at the idea of going back to work. Finally, I quit my job.

I wondered even more if I was fit for a corporate job at all. At one point I considered appearing for clerical exams and taking up a government job. By now, I had broken up with my partner. She still didn’t know about my condition and I wasn’t the most ideal partner to her. Because I was unable to come to terms with my condition, I would get frustrated with myself and take it out on our relationship. I would pick fights every now and then for no fault of hers. Just as I was preparing myself for a life without a career or a partner, someone recommended I visit New Delhi’s Lady Hardinge Hospital. So I did.

My time there changed my life. It was the first time someone explained to me exactly what I was going through and why. After multiple tests and sessions, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Schizoid traits. To help me with my suicidal tendencies, I had to undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT or what is commonly known as electric shock treatment) and psychological counselling. I found the counselling to be more helpful than any other treatment. I learnt how to deal with my condition and the fact that I will have to live on medication for the rest of my life. For the first time, I understood that my spells of extreme productivity had a name – hypomania – and that the only way to deal with the down spells was to find a balance. I returned to Jaipur and started afresh.

I got back in touch with my partner and told her the truth not expecting her to take me back but all she asked me was why I hadn’t told her this earlier. Just like that, we were back together. We started taking couple’s therapy and she went for independent counselling sessions too. She said she’d adjust and she did. I got lucky in that department. But all of this took away two years of my life and I still didn’t have a job. I thought I’d do an MBA to bolster my chances in the job market; I ranked high in the CAT and I found myself sitting across the table for entrance interviews with panels from IIMs across the country.

It would’ve been easy to lie about the two-year gap in my CV; I could’ve told them there was a family emergency or that I was trying for UPSC. It would’ve been believable and I could’ve sold it too but I didn’t want to lie anymore. So at all my interviews, I told them about my struggles, my condition, my medicines … everything. At my IIM-C interview, they wanted to know if I was still on medication; I asked them if they’d reject a candidate suffering from diabetes just because he had to take a pill every day. They didn’t select me. Neither did IIM-Lucknow.

Other IIMs – Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Kozhikode – were far more receptive. I explained to them how I have learnt to balance my life along with my mental illness and that it now doesn't negatively affect me at all. I explained to them that I had no intention of topping the class or bagging that million-dollar placement – I was happy to be an average student with an average placement because my health and my relationships were my priority. Finally, I joined IIM-Ahmedabad from where I will graduate with a Masters in Business Administration. Onwards from here, I plan to continue to strike a balance between my personal and professional life. It’s taken me a good part of the decade to come to that conclusion but I’m here now. And I’m content.

As told to Abhishek Mande Bhot