Book Reviews

Review: Chemical khichdi – How I hacked my mental health

Kamna Chhibber | Updated on: May 29, 2022

There’s a need to change the negative narrative

Conversations on mental health have increased over the years. The pandemic in particular has created a larger platform on account of which views on and understanding of mental health is being discussed with greater openness and acceptance of the issues that surround it.

A core component involves looking at building awareness of mental health-related illnesses, which continue to be shrouded under the veil of stigma and misconceptions.

How do we bust these myths and misunderstandings? What can we do to change the narrative that surrounds mental health-related illnesses? Reading the experiences of another can provide insights into what an illness can be like and enable people to gain information on ways in which they can take care of their mental well-being.

It espouses understanding, hope, trust, and belief not just in what the illness is but how it affects and impacts the person, the people around them, and more importantly the ways in which it can be managed and treated.

This is what the book by Aparna Piramal Raje attempts to accomplish. Through this ‘part memoir, part reportage, and part self-help guide’, as Aparna herself calls it, she works towards enabling readers towards developing an understanding of what a mental health-related illness can look like.

She provides a window into her experiences of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, developing an understanding of what it is, the medical interventions, psychotherapy, and other ways she found helpful to manage it, and the network of support systems that enabled her to do so.

Bipolar disorders

The book intersperses excerpts of her journey with facts that do surround mental health-related illnesses and bipolar disorder in particular. Through the course of the book, she weaves in facts and figures that are illustrative of the larger picture of mental health-related illnesses, also providing a glimpse of what these look like within India.

She challenges how illnesses have been looked at by society, brings forward the juxtaposition of how illnesses are conceptualised and understood, making a bid towards locating the problem not within the individual but within the interface that exists between the individual and their environment and recognises the lack of knowledge and the role that education and awareness within communities can play in facilitating the early treatment and intervention for them.

Her narrative highlights innumerable contradictions that people experience as they navigate the pathway of coming to terms with and understanding their diagnosis and the varying treatment paradigms that facilitate recovery and the process of management of the illness.

She encourages people to know that there are treatments available and timely effort made towards seeking help and intervention is critical in ameliorating the impact that a mental health illness can have.

She speaks of seven aspects that contribute to the facilitation of her well-being, highlighting that every individual needs to determine what works best for them. She elaborates on the role of the experts she connected with, her work, her support systems, those she calls ‘allies’ within the larger community, finding meaning through spirituality, connecting to her self, and building her identity.

Seeking professional help

A key takeaway from the book is that help-seeking is crucial. Reaching a professional at an early stage, knowing what your triggers are, understanding the routines that are helpful to you, and actively working towards maintaining these with the help of support systems go a long way in maintaining mental health and well-being. Everyone around you plays a role in this journey.

And it is critically important to keep maintaining the capacity to love yourself and be compassionate towards your own experiences to prevent the emergence of guilt and blame which stymies treatment and recovery by preventing people from being aware of how the illness manifest and the steps you can take to actively move in the direction of building the life you want which has meaning and purpose and is enabling.

In the end, the book provides a list of resources and references, which while not exhaustive, can be a helpful guide to initiating contact to seek help and intervention.

Kamna Chhibber is a Clinical Psychologist and Heads Mental Health for the Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Fortis Healthcare

Check out the book on Amazon

Chemical khichdi – How I hacked my mental health
Publisher: Penguin eBury Press
Pages: 288
Price: ₹319
Published on May 29, 2022
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