Tarandeep, May 2, 2019

"I never required anyone's sympathy, but I definitely craved for empathy"

A strange thing happened with me when I was in school. Now, I call it strange because I was completely unaware of what actually it was. This strange and new thing for me was the beginnings of bipolar disorder, something I had never heard of before.

People call it a disorder and the statement that goes is generally like “XYZ suffers from it” - but now I can firmly say that bipolar community does not suffer from it, rather fights it as a brave soldier.

When I was in school, a teacher of mine was sexually inappropriate. I complained about it to my headteacher, but they refused to acknowledge it and I was eventually asked to leave, despite getting good grades.

Luckily, I was able to join another school with a better reputation than my old one. I knew I was fortunate to have that opportunity, but my past kept haunting me. I kept thinking about why I was excluded from my old school for no fault of my own.

I was like a lost child in my new class. My attendance was poor, and I still remember sleepless, painful nights where I would cry.

Somehow I passed that year at school, but it was painful knowing I had gone from being an academically bright child to a low performer. I never required anyone’s sympathy but I definitely craved for empathy. I had become very lonely with no friends and no one to understand me.

One day I suddenly started speaking a lot about spirituality in school in front of my new headteacher. She knew this behavior was unusual for me and called my parents and asked them to take me home. None of us knew what was happening to me at the time, but later on I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1, and experiencing an episode of mania.

My new headteacher was so much more supportive than my old one. She never worried about me being a ‘disgrace’ to her school, and she motivated me and boosted my almost-dead self-esteem, telling me “Tarandeep, I have full faith in your abilities, and I know you will get good marks.” She even said, “The whole school is your home, study wherever you feel like, in the library, in the playground, etc.”

I felt so supported, and she was true to her words; I remember studying in different parts of the school during my illness. In one word, she is an “angel” for me. She is someone whom I respect from the very core of my heart because in my darkest hour of sorrow she proved to be the brightest lamp.

Later, I became a teacher myself – and worked at the same school that originally excluded me. It somehow re-assured me that I was never wrong but what about the series of events that followed and led to bipolar disorder? Well, I take that even in a positive stride.

For the last five years, I’ve visited a school for differently-abled kids. I feel elated in their company and they feel like family. I believe I can somehow relate to their ordeal because I have myself been through one.

If someone is physically challenged, we still empathise with them, but mental illness is something which has great stigma attached to it. People are suffering from it; statistics state that 1 in every 4 people is suffering from some sought of mental illness but it either goes undetected or people refrain from opening up about it.

Last but not least I firmly believe that “disability is not inability” and as Sir Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.” 

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