From the other side

Published: March 4, 2012

When you suffer from mental illness, you don’t suffer alone. The nature of the condition takes a huge toll on family members as well. Here, one lady talks about how she and her parents dealt with the discovery that her brother is bipolar.

It was on my birthday, at exactly 6:00pm on the 18th of November, 1990 when the phone rang. I picked it up eagerly as I was waiting for my brother Saam to call from his college in the US and wish me. Instead it was the dean of the college on the line wanting to speak with my father. I was confused and scared. I didn’t know what the dean said but all I saw was my father holding his head and looking down as tears rolled down his face.

It was an image and a day that I will never forget. It was the day all our lives changed forever. Only now, over 20 years later, have I found the courage to write and tell you what my brother and family went through all these years.

My father told us Saam had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and quickly arranged for a ticket and flew off to be by his side. We had never heard of anything like this before and couldn’t understand what was going on. The two days my mother and I spent waiting for our father to call were probably the worst of our lives. When the phone finally rang, we learned that Saam had been admitted in the psychiatric ward of a local hospital. Much later he told me he would never forget the way my brother looked that day.

Saam had been in the US for only three months before this episode took place. The doctors said it could have been culture shock, an emotional trigger, or a genetic predisposition that led to his condition. Or it could have been all three. While the dean asked us to let Saam undergo treatment in the US, my father just wanted him to come back home and get treatment in Karachi.

My Khaloo took us to the airport the day they arrived. My mother and I waited eagerly at the arrival lounge and finally Saam came out. We hugged and cried as we didn’t know what to expect but at the same time were so relieved that he was back home with us.

Saam went to several doctors until we finally settled on treatment by one of the most reputed doctors in the field. Unfortunately, the treatment was based almost solely on medication and simply wasn’t effective. Saam didn’t get better and would find it hard to control his reactions, and would swing from being highly excited to being severely depressed. More and more, he was given sedatives to control these swings. And we suffered along with him; not a single day passed when my father would not fight with him at the dinner table, trying to stop him from overeating. I started to prefer staying hungry than sitting at the table with them.

Then came another blow: my father was diagnosed with cancer. So now we not only had Saam to deal with but my father as well. Then began the extensive rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and we were forced to constantly remind Saam that he wasn’t the only one suffering, that our father was fighting for his life.

Saam began treatment at one of the most reputed hospitals in Pakistan, but once again, the only solution they offered was medication. Despite his own illness, my father made sure Saam completed his studies and got a degree so that he would be able to make something of his life.

Those years were a rollercoaster ride. Saam was in and out of hospitals. He was made a guinea pig with different medications being tried on him by different doctors. It was tough, but he fought on against all odds.

Then, on 18th September, 2004, my father lost his battle with cancer. He had fought his own disease with great courage and a positive attitude but in the end it got the better of him. May Allah rest his soul in peace, Ameen.

When it came to Saam’s own condition however, I feel my father never really accepted it. It was left to my mother to hold us all together and it was she who was the pillar of strength in our lives. Sadly, she suffered a stroke three years ago, and then we were truly left on our own.

This is when my Khala pointed us towards a local rehabilitation center. It was the best thing that had happened to us ever since the day we got the phone call from Saam’s Dean, all those years ago.

Finally, we were told that the cause was a chemical imbalance in the brain, that it was a condition that had to be managed.

More importantly, we learned that managing this condition is not just about medication but requires extensive therapy, in which exercise and walking are very important factors. We were told that Churchill, Einstein and Ted Turner, despite having bipolar disorder went on to achieve great heights and become icons for the world at large.

At first it was very hard to convince Saam to go there but now he thanks his stars that he did. He has now managed to get some of his old life back, and to live as normally as possible.

He still has bad days, but is now able to manage his condition on his own without relying on medication. He has now been working for Adamjee Insurance for the last 10 years…a firm that has given him 100% support through his illness.

What the rehab has taught us is that Saam’s condition is nothing to be ashamed of or to hide from the rest of the world. We learned that what we need to do is to create awareness and thus help others who might be going through the same problem.

I take my hat off to Saam for surviving all he has been through. I have heard of many people who have lost their lives without family support or correct treatment. Helping someone with bipolar disorder is easier said than done, it’s tough on his family and his loved ones, but that’s nothing compared to what the person himself goes through.

As Astrid Alauda said: “There’s no other love like the love for a brother. There’s no other love like the love from a brother.”

Saam, I am proud to be your sister and may Allah always give you the very best of health and happiness always. Ameen.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 4th, 2012.

Reader Comments (17)

  • Mar 4, 2012 - 12:04PM

    Ameen.
    Nice article

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  • Fazi
    Mar 4, 2012 - 1:43PM

    A very heartfelt, touching and well written article, Saamia… thankyou for sharing your story with us, I’m sure it’s taken a lot of courage to pen down your thoughts about something so personal… I applaud you my friend..!!

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  • Hashim
    Mar 4, 2012 - 4:31PM

    What courage and fortitude. From you as well as your brother.

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  • Bina Agha
    Mar 4, 2012 - 5:03PM

    Very courageous of you to share your story. It is indeed critical that we all play a role in spreading awareness of mental health issues and at some level make it OK…. Wish you and your brother the very best….

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  • Saamia Minhas
    Mar 4, 2012 - 7:31PM

    Thank you for the overwhelming remarks and encouragement. If it may be of any help to anyone at all the name of the rehab is Willing Ways and their website is: http://willingways.org/

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  • Sonya Fatah
    Mar 4, 2012 - 9:06PM

    Saamia, lovely piece and a great idea to share your story. This requires courage in our very prejudiced societies, so kudos also to Saam for letting you write about him. Our society is full of people who would rather hide mental health issues than confront them – encouraging people to stay away from doctors and therapists. I hope people will feel enlightened by your writing and feel free to openly accept their conditions and not worry about what thoughtless people or society at large will think.

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  • Bilal
    Mar 4, 2012 - 11:47PM

    Sam, when i was reading this article, all i could think of was the fact that you and your family (including Ahab) are the bravest people i know. May God bless you. I hope Saam feels better and enjoys a great life going forward. He is a great human being.

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  • Abdul Basit
    Mar 5, 2012 - 11:09AM

    Allah bless you and your family

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  • Shahzadi Zaidi-Rizvi
    Mar 5, 2012 - 11:39AM

    Saamia, sharing your story can do nothing but good to others who need to hear about this and not feel ashamed but boldly address mental health issues. I know the journey has been tough but Im happy to see you and your family bear the fruits of perseverance and the love you share. Nothing but love can conquer any and everything. You are truly lucky to have it. Well done!

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  • Sana farooqui
    Mar 6, 2012 - 3:06AM

    Thankyou for sharing this. Its given me soo much courage and hope for someone who is dear to me and is suffering too. May Allah give u strength and keep u and your family in his protection. Ameen! . Love sana (Shareen’s friend)

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  • Sarah Karamatullah
    Mar 6, 2012 - 10:09PM

    Saamia Apa,

    This article is so touching and it’s so brave of you to write about how you and your family dealt with this. I think its a huge step you’ve taken to help increase awareness in our society as people shy away from talking about things liek this. You and your family are so brave and strong and i have seen how you all are so supportive to each other.

    A big salute to Saam bhai for having letting you write about his life and being a hero in helping you create awareness.

    Always keep smiling.

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  • Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam
    Mar 6, 2012 - 11:27PM

    Thank you Saamia for your courage! For writing about this. For bearing your soul.
    Pakistani society has to stop pretending mental illnesses do not exist.
    We have to accept them & learn how to deal with them outside the closet.
    My mom has Alzheimer’s & it took ages even for close relatives to accept how it has changed her personality.
    Thank you once again. And Saam, best of luck.

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  • Mufazzil
    Mar 10, 2012 - 11:22PM

    Positive attitude= Positive thinking. However,its not easy for each and everyone to put his mind in thinking positive. It comes naturally by practising positivity. You penned down a great article.

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  • HS
    Mar 15, 2012 - 3:54PM

    Can you share about the rehab facility you are talking about ?Recommend

  • OH BOY!
    Mar 15, 2012 - 7:21PM

    Ameen….beautifully written and was a treat to read it…May Allah SWT bless you and your family with eternal peace and happiness.

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  • Saamia Minhas
    Mar 16, 2012 - 9:55AM

    Yes sure the information is available on their website http://willingways.org/ they are located in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. They deal with drugs, alcahol and bipolar. If you go through the website you will get all the details there. Hope this helps.

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  • Mahmood
    Mar 20, 2012 - 11:08PM

    Saamia,
    Your article is clearly powerful and moving. Youare a person of solid grounding and I am proud of you.

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