From initial denial, a long fight against the condition, to her final triumph – Reshma Valliappan talks about life after being diagnosed as schizophrenic
The dark mascara and unusual piercings reflect her rebellious spirit. But five minutes into the conversation and one spots other shades of her personality. For 30-year-old Reshma Valliappan, life changed when she was clinically diagnosed as schizophrenic. Now recovered, she talks about her over 10-year-long battle with the dreaded condition. Before our conversation, the screening of a film based on her life is in progress at Mazda Hall, Dastur Primary School on Saturday. Directed by Aparna Sanyal, A Drop of Sunshine traces the problems that schizophrenics face in India through Valliappan’s story. Conducted in association with Connecting, an NGO works for suicide prevention, the film speaks of the tag attached to mental illness.
Each frame is filled with details from her life starting with her initial denial. “I was 22. I couldn’t accept it. I really did not even know what Schizophrenia was!” she says, “I was told I am suffering from a mental illness. It took me a while before I made peace with the fact.” At that time, Valliapan was pursuing a Bachelors in Philosophy from Fergusson College. After a range of treatments – right from drugs to therapy, she got a sense of what was happening with her. In a world that already seemed delusional, dealing with the society’s close-minded attitude was the biggest challenge for her and her family. “When I was on the antipsychotic medicines, I still heard voices but I was too low on energy to even respond to them,” she reveals. It was then that she decided to get off the drugs. “I am not against medication. It’s a personal choice. But, for me giving up the medication made me fight harder,” she says.
Between bouts of complete insanity and hallucinations to violent outbursts, she started seeking solace in art. “Art was my catharsis. Alternative therapies helped a lot. It gave me a new lease of life,” she says. She remembers her father looking at her paint one day. “My paintings soon became a way of communication between my parents and me.” The real breakthrough came when she decided to leave home. “I was tired of being around. I wanted to be out in the world – dealing with real issues. And my family let me do that. I would drive to Mumbai, sleep in cars. I did odd jobs like bartending. I even rented a room, stayed at a friend’s place but eventually I would always return home.”
Valliapan’s resilient spirit never let her down. But she was not making any headway in dealing with her condition. “One day, a friend advised me to do something that I had never thought of. She said: ‘why don’t you talk to the voices and find out what they want?’” The thought itself was overwhelming for Valliapan. “I remembered how when I painted, the voices would guide me. I knew I was symptomatic but I had to do it. I gave names to them. With the help of my doctor, parents, and friends, I learnt to differentiate between them and everything else,” she says. Today, Reshma is still hounded by the voices. Ask that is what gives her strength too. "The power of vulnerability is huge. They say your biggest strength and weakness is the same thing,” she says. Her artwork, with bold strokes and vibrant colours – represents her strength. She paints for a living now. This year, she and a group of friends have come together to start ‘Red Door’. “We are trying to make people aware about this condition by going to unusual places and talking to people. I know there are many out there who need help. I can’t wait for them to come to us, so that’s why we are going to them,” she says.