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