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Mahua’s brother-in-law, a renowned urologist, recommended an immediate psych consult. He referenced Dr. Parthasarathi Nandi and Gayetri’s family wasted no time in getting expert help.
Dr. Nandi diagnosed Gayetri with late-onset Schizophrenia, a condition affecting about 3 out of 1000 people in India. She was put on Risperidone – a drug she continued for the next five years. The drug slowed Gayetri down. She was often drowsy and complained about being fuzzy.
“The treatment was working, there were no more incidents. But, it was so hard to bear. The happy, active, talkative woman we had known all our life was replaced by this tired, prematurely aging, slightly confused, silent person who struggled to relate to our cherished, shared memories”
Thankfully, the condition didn’t recur after Gayetri stopped her medicine. There has been a significant loss of cognitive and social skills and her memory is impaired. She is unable to navigate, live or function alone. For the past 16 years, her daughters are doing a phenomenal job of supporting and caring for her. And, Gayetri is a survivor.
Gayetri’s daughters took it upon themselves to care for their ailing mother. They immediately shifted her in, taking turns to care for her. They hired help when required to take care of Gayetri.
Did they feel any social stigma?
“Surprisingly, never. We were not trying to hide the condition, why should we? Each and everyone around us was incredibly supportive. My mother is a very well-loved person and all her friends and acquaintances pitched in to make her feel like a person again. No one ever misspoke or patronized us. It was more than we could have asked for”, said Mahua.
Extended family members were also incredibly supportive. The in-laws at both Mitali and Mahua’s families were patient and caring. Mahua called out her sisters-in-law, who were part of a joint family structure with her, for being pillars of support during that time.
Was it difficult caring for Gayetri all these years? “We had to adjust our lives, and there were times when it was emotionally draining. The movie ‘Beautiful Mind’ scared us – would this never improve, we wondered. My maternal uncle and aunt were also suffering from similar conditions – so we often wondered whether it was a genetic condition or an effect of the shared trauma of their childhood. My sister and I decided that we would not let the empty nests affect us – we started making friends and having a social circle. But, Ma recovered quickly and gave her 200% to get better. That was all we needed to stay sane,” said Mahua.
What advice would they give to families that care for mental health patients?
They advised, “Caring is a full-time job. So, remember to ask for help. Don’t take it on yourself to do it all. We were lucky to be able to split the responsibility between the two of us. If you do not have the luxury, ask for help from community and specialists. You will be surprised at how much difference just talking about your issues makes.”
“It is nerve-wracking and scary. Please do not hide or run from it. Face the problem, get immediate help and follow expert advice. The stigma that we worry about is actually just in our heads. The society, largely, is understanding and loving – so embrace the love,” said Mahua.
When we asked Gayetri about her last words on this, she smiled her kindest best, “I have had a wonderful life, I have no complaints at all”
Three cheers to that spirit!
Have you experienced/cared for a loved one with a mental illness? Share your experience and lend your voice of help to those facing the ordeal. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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