Standing Steady With My Love Through the Storms of Mental Illness
Rachana Iyer with Rohan Sabharwal. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)
Rachana Iyer with Rohan Sabharwal. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)

Standing Steady With My Love Through the Storms of Mental Illness

It was yet another spoken word performance session. I had finished my performance and was intently listening to the other poets when one particular piece caught my attention. It had moved me to the extent that I sat there crying at how dark and beautiful it was. It was a piece on depression that I related to a lot. The hopelessness, the inability to get myself out of bed, the feeling that everyone thinks you are faking it and the inability to exactly point where it hurts but no one is able to see it or feel it but you.

Someone (a dear friend now) who had seen me respond this way to the poem came up to me and told me about a filmmaker who has bipolar and is currently working on a documentary around mental health. He also mentioned that he could introduce us since he assumed I felt deeply about the subject too. This is how Rohan Sabharwal and I met, on a Facebook private message that lasted for 48 hours before we decided to meet and give in to the gravity of how much we connected.

It started with night outs where we would karaoke and get wasted dancing like we had no care in the world. Soon enough the breakdowns, feelings of suicide and angry outbursts started to surface too. At first I felt very shaken up and anxious not knowing what I could do to troubleshoot or make things better. I felt strong urges and pangs that I had never felt before. I wondered if these were what people called motherly instincts.  
Rachana Iyer with Rohan Sabharwal on a photo-shoot for <i>Elle</i>. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)
Rachana Iyer with Rohan Sabharwal on a photo-shoot for Elle. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)

I then slowly found myself intuitively observing patterns and identifying triggers. Rohan’s moods would swing and these were unannounced and very unexpected. No two times of outburst were ever the same. They would result in intense quarrels and fights. Some fights were verbal, some very physical. Some were in front of people and some inside the confines of our spaces. Some lasted all night and some lasted only 10 minutes.

My initial response was to be patient and calm. But my own sensitive disposition due to experiences of abuse and trauma from my childhood did not let me stay quiet for too long. I found myself out of control a lot too. We then decided to take therapy together. This decision did not work in our favour. The therapist initially seemed to help but later only ruined things further since we had let a third person in on our issues and it was creating more of a rift.

This was the first time in my life I realised that there was a distinction between someone who does something knowing well it will cause you pain vis-à-vis someone who does it without intending to. The nights after we had fought, I would always sense Rohan feeling lot of regret and helplessness. I then started to observe the triggers. Some triggers were internal and some were external. To my dismay I realised even some aspects of me were triggers.

Everybody else who spent time with us there on, always treated me as that ‘saviour’ in whose care Rohan was. Initially, in all honesty, unknowingly I had started to feel so myself.

“Mental Heads” Rachana Iyer with Rohan Sabharwal. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)
“Mental Heads” Rachana Iyer with Rohan Sabharwal. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)
It is a very powerful feeling when you are the only person that can can hold someone’s hand and pull them back when they are on the verge of jumping and quitting. They will only listen to you. This is a position of responsibility. Slowly, this started to come in the way of our relationship. I realized that it was deeply hurting my partner because of this saviour complex that was developing around me. 

After this realisation, a lot changed for the better. On one hand I was able to get off the pedestal of a “caregiver” and treat my partner like an equal where the both of us took equal responsibility to keep our ship afloat. I was also able to finally stop blaming myself for a lot of times when he would go through a rough patch. I understood that as much as I will be around to hold him through these times, he will have to learn to find ways to cope and respond to them too. And he did so quite well.

Interesting enough, it also impacted my life in challenging ways. Everyone who was closest to me from my childhood friends, parents, relatives and just about anyone with a fucking ridiculous opinion on mental illness , started to lecture, question and coerce me to reconsidering my decision to date Rohan. They thought it was ridiculous to be in love with someone after knowing they were unstable. This is when it really struck me that as a society, we are so fixated on our idea of what perfection is and anything that is deviant to that stereotyped notion of what we consider ‘abnormal’ and thus must be ostracized as much as possible.

It bothered the both of us initially. We then figured creative ways to channel all that frustration towards such ridiculous people, into the work we are doing with the social enterprise CraYon Impact. We have managed to use everything we have loved and been creating and following as artists form spoken word poetry, films, comedy and music to influence larger society to break the taboo and truly be more understanding and aware.

Rachana slamming it with Rohan. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)
Rachana slamming it with Rohan. (Photo courtesy: Facebook)
To me, the word ‘caregiving’ has a negative connotation. It makes one feel like they are merely depending on you. Yes, it is a responsibility but it comes with choice. And if you do choose be in that position of influence over a person when they experience breakdowns, the other times they are just like anybody else.  

There is nothing that hurts more than making someone feel like they are playing no role in your life that is equally impactful and comforting.

As much as this experience is teaching me about a love that can be so dark yet beautiful, I am also learning to care for myself without neglecting my health and mind. As Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in” - I feel strongly we all have these cracks in the form of madness - some more intense and overpowering than the other, some just waiting for a trigger in life to show themselves to us.

I still do not have all the answers to fix a lot of what causes chaos between us but I am discovering and learning.There is beauty in the real acceptance of one another where we not only embrace the good times but have the strength to see it through the storms.

(Rachana Iyer is a social entrepreneur and spoken word artist. She is co-founder of social enterprise CraYon Impact that uses the performing arts to bring awareness and challenge taboos around disability and mental health.)

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