How My Hindu Faith and Family Helped My Recovery
By Swati Vaidya
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 25 years ago. I was 19 years old. It has been a long, hard, rocky road since, but today I am a very happy. Looking back, I realize my Hindu faith and my family played an important role in my recovery.
I had my first nervous breakdown my junior year in college. I was an A-student, but that year I started failing classes and was soon put on academic probation. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I couldn’t think, study, eat or sleep. I was a nervous wreck. When I returned home for summer break I was withdrawn and couldn’t carry on a simple conversation. My mom, who’s a doctor, realized immediately that something was seriously wrong.
It wasn’t long before she took me in to see a good friend of hers, who was a psychiatrist. I was put on medication and the effect was immediate. Within 24 hours the congested feeling in my head cleared up and my brain started breathing again. I was told I had a chemical imbalance in my brain, which was preventing neurotransmitters from relaying messages properly. I remember thinking, boy, there was a God!
I returned to college the following fall with a bang. My brain was pumping and working again, allowing me to study and focus and concentrate. Not only did my grades pick up, but I was social again. People weren’t intimidating me and scaring me and making me feel stupid any more. I was feeling like myself again. Little did I know what was in store for me.
Although I had a fairly successful year, it wasn’t long before the mood swings returned. Instead of returning to school to graduate, I was in the hospital with my first manic episode. I was devastated. Nobody thought I could graduate, but I was determined. I fought back hard and battled my illness, and graduated from the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor’s Degree in Ceramic Engineering.
Needless to say, it took a huge toll on me mentally, and deep bouts of depression and repeated hospitalizations followed.
My big break came in 1996, when I landed my first real job as a cashier at Osco Drugs. I worked at Osco for five years. I was able to buy my first car. I felt empowered!
Sadly at the end of the five years, I lost my father to brain cancer. It was a huge loss for me. I inherited his strong work ethics and also his strong academic drive. He was so proud to see me graduate despite my illness. His spirit will always live on in me.
I’m blessed to say that my family was key in my recovery. I grew up with so much love and support and attention as a child, not just from my immediate family in the U.S., but from my extended family in India as well. My parents would send me and my younger brother to India every summer growing up. We learned our native language and the Hindu traditions as well. All this exposure to my roots from a young age provided me with a strong base and foundation, which helped me greatly in coping with my illness in the future. I grew up with a strong belief in myself, instilled in me by my parents and faith. I knew God was inside me from a very young age. I grew up feeling very safe, secure and loved.
I was a Hindu being raised in America, and it was an amazing combination. I inherited a strong sense of self from my faith, coupled with an emphasis on independence from being an American.
Following my dad’s death, my illness soon took a dangerous turn. I was 33 and in for the struggle of my life. My challenge now was overcoming and dealing with mania. This experience became very scary for my mom. My manic swings were becoming more and more psychotic. At the peak of my illness, I started having auditory hallucinations. At one point, I even locked myself in the trunk of my car because I thought I heard someone telling me to do so.
Things seemed to be at an impasse. My mom didn’t know what to do. She prayed to God to help her help me and searched fervently for a solution to my psychosis. Her prayers were answered in the summer of 2005, when she found the Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health. I was quickly put in their transitional living program (TLP). At first I could barely make it to groups. My sleep was erratic and I had poor eating habits. It was a lot of hard work, but soon my health did start to improve.
I was admitted to the partial hospitalization program (PHP) in the fall of 2008. The therapy was intense. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was surrounded by people with similar issues and problems. While I entered the program completely out of touch with reality, I emerged as a different person and completely symptom free. I was whole again. I could walk in crowds in peace, I was able to return to work and start leading a normal life.
It wasn’t long before I graduated from TLP and obtained government subsidized housing in March of 2009. I was now completely independent with a renewed lease on life. My life started for me at the age of 40 and I haven’t looked back.
I’m still working as a cashier and that gives me ample opportunity to utilize my skills in dealing with the general public and the real world. I’ve become quite adept at dealing with many types of people and personalities. I’m proud of myself because it requires a good deal of mental balance which I’ve learned to cultivate over the years.
I couldn’t have done it without my Indian heritage which gave me the strength to deal with life with a peaceful heart and at the same time I couldn’t be more proud to be an American. I couldn’t have done it without both worlds working hand in hand.