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A Mirror and a Voice

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For the past two years I have been a friend and mentor to Vijay Nallawala.

Today in Mumbai, India he is having a book launch celebrating his journey to find his voice, tell his story, and begin the process of helping others do the same.

It is with joy and appreciation to his courage that I support his journey.

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Foreword extracted from Vijay Nallawala's A Bipolar's Journey

What an enormous task! Like a beautiful painting - the frame's job is to ensure that the colors and image are framed in a way to honor the artist's intent. A book's foreword is to do the same thing - honor the intent of the author. We think we are in the age of transparency when we can see status updates, photos, snap chats, and tweets. Just because you stay up to date with people's online personas does not mean you truly know what is going on in the person's true life and psyche. Through social media we get to control a perception of how we want the world to see us. Although we reveal more than we think we do, there is still constraint and the ability to wear a mask is still in our hands.

We really don't know transparency until reading Vijay Nallawala's A Bipolar's Journey - From Torment to Fulfillment. His story is probably the most transparent story you have ever read. Honest, open and full of brave admissions of fear, doubt, desperation and hope. The emotions are visceral.

Vijay Nallawala, himself afflicted with Bipolar Disorder, has taken a stand for the Mental Health community and is a vital contributor to Indian Culture. He is dynamic. He is resilient privately and has allowed us to experience his resilience first hand.

The world breaks everyone and some are strong at the broken places. ~ Ernest Hemingway

We know for sure that one out of four individuals is impacted by either having a mental illness or having a family member who has mental illness.

The statistics on mental illness vary and if you want a deep dive in numbers, World Health Organization http://www.who.int/topics/mental_health/en/ has a lot of global statistics on mental illness and the economic impact of the disease. I am the daughter of a beautiful and talented woman with schizophrenia. Her illness taught me so much about resilience, compassion and perspective. Choosing to be vocal about her disease feels important.

Unlike cancer survivors wearing a band to signify their strength, resilience, community and triumph, there is no such zeitgeist for those who are struggling with mental illness.

Talking about it is taboo because no one likes the idea that perception is not fixed. We like the idea that there is one reality and what we all see, feel, and experience is "real." Yet, we know that many aspects of reality are subjective. We are afraid of the disease because we are afraid to admit that we might not be able to trust our own judgment. We are mirrors for one another. We want to know we are "right" or have the most accurate lens of reality.

Being around people suffering from mental illness causes us to look in the mirror and question our sense of "what is right" and "what is true."

We are afraid of the disease because we are afraid of the loneliness that occurs when we have a family member suffering from mental illness and there is so much shame associated with it. No one in the family wants to talk about it. Many try to become extraordinarily competent and over functioning to ensure no one sniffs under the hood to see how broken, scared and fractured the family really is. Everyone has doubts, fears, concerns, mood swings. Fear of extremes causes people to mitigate and mute what is natural and accidental consequences occur. People also want to point a finger and find out who is to blame for the illness or who caused the behavior. The idea that human behavior is caused by how specific hormones respond to synapses in the brain feels so simplistic and reduces humanity to a chemistry factory. We as human beings want to feel more special than hormones, neuroscience and the laws of physics.

We are human, all too human.
We are chemistry factories, all too chemistry.

That is why the step forward Vijay Nallawala is taking is so significant. His choice to share his story is not only cathartic for him and his family - it is cathartic for all of us touched by mental illness in any way. He has taken an ice-axe and severed the stigma. Families especially in India no longer have to fear being judged, marginalized and excluded because of their association with the disease. The disease has less power over us if we find ways to talk about it, learn about it, share our stories and find our voices.

To make a difference in face of all that lies in the way, to make a difference. ~ Don Michael

Through this memoir you will find your story. You will find your voice.

Read it with a journal. Write down your judgments, your responses, where you feel compassion and where you feel like closing the book. Allow Vijay Nallawala's courage to help you find your voice. Perhaps even make a decision to write your own memoir. There are always two audiences: you being witness to yourself (very private) and that you choose to share with others (semi private). Regardless of if you choose to share your journal or not - it will bring to the surface those doubts, fears, and concerns that may have power over your unconscious.

No darkness survives the power of light.

\May each reader, as Vijay Nallawala says, "Live a fuller life."

Jennifer Sertl

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