Ninety-eight pounds. That's what stared back at me. Ninety-eight pounds of skin and bones is what I had turned into...
Like me, my mother was born in India. Also, like me, my mother has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. While we have this and more similar, the experiences we faced due to our disease were wildly different largely due to our circumstances and the times. My mother and I were both diagnosed while we were in college. For a young woman in India, this was something that was kept a very personal secret due to the stigma around mental health and the risk of a woman being designated “crazy” and affecting her “marriage value.”
When I was diagnosed, I had plenty of difficulties, but my parents understood and tried to help. A few of my close friends knew, but even for me, it was something best kept private. My mother didn’t have that, her parents sure that it was “all in her head,” and friends would more be more likely to gossip and spread it than act as pillars of support.
Even today, I don’t think there are more than a handful of people who know about her diagnosis, most of whom are family. When I would go through periods of times that were difficult, I would often ask my mom if she ever got the deep anxiety I got, those recurring thoughts, the overwhelming feeling of guilt and dread that would take over from time to time. She would often half-smile, looking at me with both happiness and sadness. She recognized those feelings and echoed events that mirrored mine pretty closely and hated that I had to deal with them and that I inherited them from her. She never had someone she could turn to for advice in those moments like this.
She dealt with a lot of challenges, from marriage, having and raising a son, moving to America, holding a job with remarkable grace. She had to take her meds, visit the doctor, and still find a way to make sure dinner was prepared or her bratty son wouldn’t let her hear the end of it. Now that I’m older, I can’t help but look at her almost like a superhero when I look back.
She did everything she could, finding and cutting coupons in the daily paper, tirelessly running from one place to the next, doing everything she could to help support our family and make it in America. Today things are a little easier, they have a stable life in the bay area, my father’s job is more stable, we have green cards, and she doesn’t have to take care of her son as much since he’s doing ok for her himself. My mom is one deep source of strength for me because even when I’m worn out and tired and feel awful, I know my mother was right there where I was but with a lot more stress and a lot less support. I can’t hope to be as strong as her, I’m not sure there are too many people who are, but she definitely is a source of inspiration.