This story is about a close friend (he wishes to remain anonymous) who suffers from bipolar disorder, or depression. The son of a Jaffna Tamil father and a Sinhalese mother, he had a happy childhood, his problems beginning in adolescence. As with many middle-class Tamils, his father wanted the children to become professionals – either a doctor, engineer, accountant or teacher.
My friend’s older brother had passed out as a doctor, but my friend had failed his O’Levels a couple of times, being more into sports. At his final attempt at the exam, his results got mixed up with those of another student with the same surname who had failed seven subjects.
My friend decided to take his life. Fortunately, the results mix-up was detected in time, and he was informed that he had obtained good results. He was relieved and happy, his parents overjoyed. His father hoped he would later enter Medical College but my friend had other plans. He wanted to become a lawyer. Subsequently he joined a reputed firm of chartered accountants as a management trainee and passed a couple of parts of CIMA. He also married his childhood sweetheart.
He steadily climbed the corporate ladder, but his marriage was troubled and when it collapsed, depression set in. He attempted suicide but was saved in the nick of time. The scars, however, remained.
A second marriage, after a period of four years, also ended in divorce. This triggered depression, again accompanied by suicidal thoughts. But he recovered and went on to achieve success in the business world, holding senior positions in the private sector. But he still felt inadequate, not being a fully fledged professional – the one thing his father had expected of him.
A sudden job loss 10 years later resulted in a severe depression, coupled with suicidal impulses. My friend was diagnosed as having bi-polar depression. He consulted several psychiatrists, but none was able to cure him. The anti-depressant drugs also left him with severe side-effects.
During this dark period, a gracious lady volunteer at Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, empathetic and non-judgmental, was ready to listen to him any hour of day. Subsequently, my friend was offered a lucrative job and carried on with his work successfully, although experiencing occasional bouts of depression.
The psychiatrist treating him even administered ECT, under general anaesthesia, a couple of times. This doctor had written the words “Done the rounds” on one of the prescriptions.
This made my friend uncomfortable. He felt it was his right to choose his own doctor and make a change if necessary.
My friend confided in his local general practitioner, who recommended that he consult a young Dr recently returned from the UK who is a Consultant at the General Adult Unit and Psychogenic Unit, National Institute of Mental Health, Angoda ( he also does private practice.) This young doctor, had a tremendous impact on my friend. My friend was given anti-depressants that had no side-effects. He experienced a miraculous recovery and returned to normalcy.
Having turned 60, he is now retired, and last year published a book on Management and HR.
My friend’s only regret is that he did not consult this caring doctor earlier. His other regret is that he had not visited Sri Lanka Sumithrayo, at No. 60/7, Horton Place, Colombo 7, much earlier, when his first marriage broke down in the late ’70s.
Living in the outskirts of Colombo, enjoying his retirement, he consults the Dr. every three months, and looks forward to these visits.
He shares his story to give hope to those suffering from similar cases of depression.