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The Manic Room: Seeking Psychiatric Healthcare in Bangladesh

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M E N T A L  H E A L T H


Pracheta Ahana Alam


I am not here to convince you that I am not mad.

I am here to convince you that you are mad.

We all are.

Perhaps you have chosen not to be mad, because it is a better way to live.

Perhaps your madness has chosen for you, to be best left unaroused.

But it is here, and it is agonising and beautiful and godly and euphoric and tragic, because you will always think of it as a medical intervention; not a spiritual revelation.

I wrote this article to talk about madness and how it is handled in a country like ours; how Pabna has not become a place of nurturing health but abandoning unmanageable people, and how even top rehab centres have a way of torturing you from the inside and the outside.

I narrowly avoided a psych ward experience in London in 2017; however, in 2018, I was hospitalised for five days in a psych ward in Singapore, while my father had fallen into a coma. There are no reliable psych wards in Bangladesh, so when I became manic in 2020, my only option to be treated was in a rehab centre.

I remember a woman in her 40s who had no drugs in her bloodwork, no previous history of diagnosable mental illness, nor any signs of self-harm; her abusive husband merely invented the excuse of a “mobile addiction” and the rehab forced her into the ward. For all I know, she is still languishing there, living out her months of lies.

A close friend of mine at the ward, who would wake up at exactly 4:20AM just like me, to look for a cigarette or bother the Khalas for one, showed up one day with love bites, supposedly from the son of the Chairman. She convinced me she was a doctor at first, tried to make me eat my own vomit, then convinced me she was an employee, and then she herself started to believe she was the Managing Director of the rehab. I still call her my friend, despite the horrible way she treated me, because we are both relentlessly mad. She was dragged into rehab screaming, “Ami Ali!” So that is the point at which I related to her: Our obsession with the spiritual, the unseen, and the unknown — in spite of all the cruelty inside her.

It is not anomalous for “delusions of spirituality” to come into effect during the peak of madness. True madness is a privilege. It is a privilege I no longer want to afford, with a big thanks to my team at Psychological Health and Wellness Clinic (PHWC), who have tried their best to deal with my madness without confinement and with outpatient care, because ultimately I am not a “gone case”. My madness, still remains, a choice. It is not the case for most of the people I encountered in rehab, who were in vile, vulnerable circumstances of oppression. Humiliating, even.

It would be petty of me to leave out my positive rehab experiences. It is in rehab where I learned the true way of namaz and wadu. It is in rehab where I was introduced to yoga and pranayama, which has been a life-altering practice for me and many other people. It is in rehab where my Hindu yoga teacher taught me Islamic History. It is in rehab where I met another fellow bipolar, Mitul Apu; a borkhawali covered in tattoos and piercings, a mother of four children, who was my best friend there. It is in rehab where I met Arnaaz, whose hand I held as I watched her dissociate from her terrifying BPD. It is in rehab where I realised that mental health is more than a hot topic. It was after rehab, that me and my mother, Dr Meerjady Sabrina Flora, finally moved past our differences and decided we would build the best psych ward in Bangladesh someday.

I grew up in a strictly atheistic household, but my journey from being a Muslim, to agnostic to a deist to syncretist was long and painful. From my late teenage years, I have been diagnosed with mild/moderate on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), AD(H)D, Bipolar Mood Disorder Type 1, and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

These titles are just words to me, because I think all madness comes from the same place. Developmental disorders are a different story altogether, though. Madness, along with an underdeveloped brain, makes for a stringent delusional type. My delusions include but are not limited to being able to see Djinns, the future, dead people, and having the power to communicate with god. And of course the dreaded erotomania, of being under the impression that people are in love with me when they are indeed and quite obviously not.

Everyone in my household believed I was insane, except my extremist Muslim nanu. She accepted the path I was on, the journey I was taking to be a messenger to the world. I do believe I’m a prophet, as did many other artists and poets, like William Blake — a man who wrote his own religious mythology and was known for being trapped by godly bouts of madness. To deny the existence of messengers to the world, big or small, is no small accusation. Scripture was first created through literature, and therefore it is a work of art. Around the world, we often see objects of our imagination materialising, and I see no wrong in making a work of art an object of worship, because every honest work of art I see is a miracle. This is perhaps where I clash with most people.

That makes me sound like a mad person, which I do not deny. But reading Sean Blackwell’s “Am I Bipolar or Waking Up?” was a good place to start making reparations for the damage I had done to myself by convincing myself that what I had was a sickness of the medical kind and not the spiritual kind. Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir An Unquiet Mind and Touched With Fire made me feel much less alone, as did Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted and The Centre Cannot Hold by Elyn R Sacks. What truly changed my philosophical viewpoint on how madness is dealt with in this country and across the globe, was after making sense of Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation.

It is fitting that I finished writing this article on Durga Puja, because this article, this piece of myself, is my only offering and sacrifice to Ma Durga. It is always a sacrifice to be public about a stigma. But if not me, then who?

So this is my wish to her:

Dearest Goddess,

You may or may not exist; thank you for making me sane in an insane world. You are a fierce form of the protective mother goddess, who unleashes her divine wrath against the wicked for the liberation of the oppressed, and entails destruction to empower creation. Destroy the chains of poor mental healthcare, and allow us the strength to build the mental hospital that this city needs. Destroy intolerance. Destroy anything and everything that curtails truth, justice, beauty, and peace.

 

Thank you for listening.

 

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