‘I was not ready to be friends with the mind that had spun tales’

Tehelka - - PERSONAL HISTORIES - ADREYO SEN

THERE IS some­thing glam­orous about men­tal ill­ness as por­trayed in the movies. We like our he­roes when they are down. Dirt, blood and wounds are tes­ta­ments to brav­ery. There was some­thing im­mensely lov­able about Rus­sell Crowe’s an­guished sto­icism in A Beau­ti­ful Mind.

Class XI was a tough time. I saw my­self as a lonely and stig­ma­tised (anti)hero. I too wanted to live on the edge. I too wanted to feel that life was glo­ri­ous un­cer­tainty. I too wanted to re­treat into the dan­ger­ously com­fort­ing won­der worlds of my mind.

April 2010, at the age of 24, I got what I wanted: a first, bril­liant brush with in­san­ity that ended al­most be­fore it started. It made me feel tran­scen­dent and all-pow­er­ful, a form­less en­ergy that could crackle with joy for­ever.

I was happy at the univer­sity in New York, grad­u­at­ing in so­ci­ol­ogy, mak­ing plans for a new life, lit­tle re­al­is­ing that I was try­ing to es­cape my­self. I was happy those two sub­se­quent weeks in hospi­tal, nib­bling soul­fully at my corn muf­fin and bounc­ing along hap­pily on the tram­po­lines that served as the wave­lengths of my fel­low in­mates.

Then I woke up in the real world, look­ing into a cracked mir­ror. There were many cracked mir­rors those days. A sim­per­ing, over­weight stranger was look­ing back at me. Doubt came crash­ing in like an ocean. It wasn’t re­al­ity I’d left be­hind at the hospi­tal. It was self-de­cep­tion.

Af­ter doubt came de­pres­sion. A sense that the world was against me, that my ex­ile was writ­ten into the harsh pave­ment out­side. By then I was back in Kolkata. Maimed and sick, I didn’t want to leave the prison of my child­hood room. What did it mat­ter when I couldn’t es­cape the con­fines of my mind? I dreamt of be­ing born again, with the tremen­dous power I’d felt be­ing manic.

I was an an­gel who’d lost his wings. I was a spirit im­pris­oned by flesh. I was an idea trapped in an in­fi­nite pur­ga­tory of tears. I wanted to es­cape.

With per­verse slow­ness, things got bet­ter. That is, they got less bad. My first teach­ing job di­verted me from my own mind. Putting on my game face for the world, I re­alised I was happy with a nor­mal life. I was ac­tu­ally look­ing for­ward to this day when noth­ing would hap­pen.

But then it did. June 2011, the sec­ond manic at­tack. I’d not known the power of such rage be­fore. A par­al­lel to the manic hap­pi­ness, it was in­tox­i­cat­ing. The worst — and the best — were the raw tears with which I said good­bye to a night that had kept me com­pany while I lay awake for close to three weeks. Then I slept. I knew the groggy cer­tainty of peace, of wak­ing up to the se­cu­rity of warm, un­chang­ing to­mor­rows. Rou­tine, my best friend, re­turned.

Which was good. I wasn’t ready to be friends with the mind that had spun such fan­tas­tic tales to keep me happy and oc­cu­pied through six years of board­ing school. How could it have al­lowed me to do and say such stupid things? How could I’ve been so fool­ishly in love with my­self, and, through this ador­ing self-cen­tred­ness, with the world? I gath­ered the dark cloak of my mis­an­thropy around me and re­treated into my tower. Though, for­tu­nately, not to brood.

Now I wish I’d never been manic. And I hate my­self for want­ing to em­u­late the tor­tured baby-faced hand­some­ness of Rus­sell Crowe’s John Nash. I’ve changed fun­da­men­tally. I dis­like peo­ple and then grow to like them. I sus­pect ev­ery­one of cal­cu­la­tion and hid­den mo­tives, now that I’ve re­alised my won­der­ful world of pu­rity was an il­lu­sion born of mad­ness. I mis­trust my bet­ter mo­tives, gen­eros­ity, love and an abil­ity to lis­ten — I blame them, wrongly, for my ma­nia. I feel de­formed and twisted. And I sus­pect that it is this af­ter­math, not the win­dow of re­cur­rence, that’s the hard­est to jump across. I never want to be ro­man­ti­cally in­volved with in­san­ity.

IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS: SAMIA SINGH

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