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Living Life Queen Size With Bipolar Disorder On May 6, the Mumbai book launch of 'Chemical Khichdi: How I Hacked My Mental Health' written by Aparna Piramal Raje took place. Part memoir and part self-help guide, Chemical Khichdi acts as a guide for anyone with a mental health condition and the family, friends, co-workers, and medical professionals that love and care for them.

By Kabir Singh Bhandari

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There are some actions that are identified as watershed moments in the evolution of any movement. In India's relationship with mental health, one such instance was in 2015 when actor Deepika Padukone opened up about her battle with depression on national television. The fact that a successful, young, A-list actor had addressed mental health in such an open manner helped to do away with a certain shade of stigma associated with the topic. However, this is such a tricky adversary, that it shall take a long time to understand and spread awareness about. But each step taken in that direction is no doubt a significant one.

Last month on May 6, saw what can be seen as one of these vital moments as the Mumbai book launch of 'Chemical Khichdi: How I Hacked My Mental Health' written by Aparna Piramal Raje took place. Published by Penguin Random House India, the book's foreword has been written by Anand Mahindra, chairman of Mahindra Group and over 400 people attended the launch at the grand Royal Opera House in Mumbai. In the confines of the majestic location, within a duration of two hours there was a book-reading session, a perceptive panel discussion, and an enchanting music performance, all around the themes that the book touches upon.

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One major objective of the book is to remove some of the stigma associated with bipolar disorder, something which Piramal knows only too well. Being a mother to two children, having a successful professional life or writing a book on mental health were just some of the things that were said she would not be able to do, but through this entire exercise, the one point she is trying to drive home is that you can be happy, thriving and bipolar.

Part memoir and part self-help guide, Chemical Khichdi acts as a guide for anyone with a mental health condition and the family, friends, co-workers, and medical professionals that love and care for them. The book has seven therapies that allowed Aparna to 'hack' her mental health and find balance over the years, and shows how you or someone you know can also do the same. As Mahindra put it aptly in the foreword, "At a time when mental health matters so much, but remains so misunderstood, Aparna's story reinforces that you can live with a vulnerability without becoming its victim. That you can live your life on your terms, even if you've been dealt a tough hand … It is a message that needs to be shared as widely and as visibly as possible."

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But wasn't it difficult to put out such personal, vulnerable parts of her life out in the open for everyone to see? "I just wanted to be as true to myself as possible and wanted the reader to be in my mind. It was also good for me to share the story as it was so close to me," says Piramal, who had first thought of writing the book in 2015, but was having too many mood swings at that time to go through with it. It was during the lockdown in 2020 that she actually started writing the book it and it took her about a year and a half to finish the first draft.

The mental health stigma in India is very real, but at the same time Piramal believes that India also has a lot to offer in the form of community networks, family support and spiritual therapy. One contentious topic of discussion when it comes to the umbrella of taking professional help is medication. Most people don't even know the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist, while the former gives therapy, it is the latter who prescribes medication. "Medication was the beginning of getting better at least in my case. Of course it depends on each individual and not everyone who undergoes depression, for example, needs to be on medication. But in my case medication was very important at the starting point," she explains.

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Awareness about bipolar disorder is what the 288 page book goes to show through Piramal's journey, and how life can be personally and professionally fulfilling. The author herself has been writing for a newspaper for more than a decade and teaching for about five years. The whole objective is that even if the book helps in changing the life of one individual, we can hope to live a in a world where mental health awareness would become easier, so that more people know about what they are and how they need to face it during their lifetime. Something which hasn't always been the case, take for example the late Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, whose birthday on March 30 is observed as World Bipolar Day. A lesser known fact being that Gogh was posthumously diagnosed as probably having a bipolar condition.

Kabir Singh Bhandari

Former Senior Assistant Editor

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