Find out how Aparna Piramel Raje wrote a part memoir, part guide on battling mental health.
She has been speaking out about her bipolarity and the stigma around mental illnesses in India for over 10 years. She chats with Tara and Michelle about her revealing and vulnerable book, “Chemical Khichdi: How I Hack My Mental Health”. What prompted her to write the book? Why is balancing work and mental health so important for Aparna? Did the book get the response she had expected? Tune in to find out!
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Produced by Aishwarya Javalgekar
Sound edit by Kshitij Jadhav
‘Books and Beyond with Bound’ is the podcast where Tara Khandelwal and Michelle D’costa uncover how their books reflect the realities of our lives and society today. Find out what drives India’s finest authors: from personal experiences to jugaad research methods, insecurities to publishing journeys. Created by Bound, a storytelling company that helps you grow through stories. Follow us @boundindia on all social media platforms.
Tara Khandelwal 00:01
Welcome to Books and Beyond with bound. I'm Tara Khandelwal.
Michelle D'costa 00:05
I'm Michelle D'costa.
Tara Khandelwal 00:07
And in this podcast, we uncover the stories behind some of the best written books of our time,
Michelle D'costa 00:13
and find out how these books reflect our lives and our society today.
Tara Khandelwal 00:18
So tune in every Wednesday to enter a whole new world with a new author, and a new idea.
Michelle D'costa 00:25
Yes, and after three years and 2 million listens, we are back with a fall back season five,
Tara Khandelwal 00:32
with hard hitting questions and life changing books.
Michelle D'costa 00:35
So let's dive in.
Tara Khandelwal 00:39
So we're very excited to speak to you today. And for our listeners, Aparna piramal. Raji is a columnist who writes regularly for papers like mint and Financial Times. And you also interviewed many CEOs, including Indra Nooyi sure is an icon for me and a lot of our listeners. And today we're going to be speaking about your book, chemical Khichdi subtitle, how I hacked my mental health. And the book was really, really interesting. And Michelle and I were body reading it, you know, it shed a light on bipolarity, which is a condition where people, you know, feel extreme emotions, and you can tell us a little bit more, you know, about what it entails. And it was something that both Michelle and I had sort of never really read a book about before. So it was very eye opening for us. And today, you know, we're going to understand how you navigated, you know, the condition how you managed to get a diagnosis, because it was so difficult for you, and why bipolarity is misunderstood in India. And we're gonna speak about your writing process, because the book is structured very interestingly, the book is part memoir. It's part reportage, and it's part of self help guide. So it has three very distinct and unique elements to it. I hope that gives a little context to our listeners. And we're very excited to delve more into these topics with your partner. So welcome.
Yeah, excited to be here. Thank you for that.
Michelle D'costa 01:58
Yes. Welcome. And, you know, so before we start on a partner, you know, could you give our listeners a little context about what bipolarity is, right? It's one of the most misunderstood, you know, conditions, you know, why? And, you know, how was it for you to get a diagnosis?
Yeah, so bipolarity, and I prefer the word bipolarity, rather than bipolar disorder, which is more commonly known as, that's because I don't like the use of the word disorder, because I think sounds like a malfunction. So that's just an aside, but bipolarity is really considered to be a serious mental health condition. It's in the same category as something like schizophrenia, which all of us consider to be, you know, quite a serious mental health condition. And it's characterized by extreme mood swings. So where you have, you know, anything from like, too many racing thoughts, you can't sleep, you got lots of energy, I have lots of energy, my thoughts and emotions are really not in my control. And that's called mania at one extreme. And I know it's the symptom sound like something that, you know, your listener might have experienced. And they might be tempted to think that, oh, even I've been through something like this, but I'm talking about really extreme mood swings, where, you know, it could result in like, you could be maybe trashing a restaurant or riding nonstop for, like, you know, five days, which is things that I do, or you could be spending a lot of money all your entire life savings in just a matter of a few days, or have really disastrous outcomes in relationships. So this is sort of an extreme where things are just not in your control. And the other extreme is depression, which I think all of us are familiar with is your feelings of hopelessness and despair and sadness, and melancholy which can go on for weeks and months. When I'm in the manic phase, rather, like I have a tendency to feel that I'm at the center of the universe, that I could change the world, like, I've got these grandiose plans, and that I'm completely amazing. And they can also be times of trauma there too at the same time. So lots of mixed emotions, like a real cocktail that's happening, very different from the normal mood swings that we all experience where we might be angry or sad or happy on a given day, and those can keep changing. So the reason why it's difficult to diagnose is that it shares a lot with a lot of other conditions. So there's a condition called psychosis, which happens in schizophrenia, which also happens in bipolar. I've also been through this where you can have voices in your head and hallucinations and delusions. And so that psychosis is common to you know, schizophrenia, as well as bipolar depression, of course, is there and people who are not Bipolar but who are also depressed. So, you know, that's another feature which is shared insomnia, which happens to so many psychiatric or mental health conditions are shared by many anxiety. So it's there's a lot of variability within the condition itself. This is what I've been told by leading psychiatrists and it's shares a lot with other conditions. So it becomes sometimes difficult to diagnose. And I myself actually had to wait kind of 13 years before I got an official diagnosis because My first incident of mania happened when I was in my mid 20s. But my diagnosis only happened 13 years later when I was in my mid to late 30s. So there was this gap. Because we were not ready for a diagnosis or for to be kind of labeled in that way. As we saw it, I wasn't ready to get onto medication. My therapist wasn't keen on the diagnosis either. So there were a bunch of different reasons that kept us away from diagnosis, which is very common, I think it happens to a lot of people when they're struggling with a diagnosis. But this is really what happened. In my case,
Tara Khandelwal 05:34
thank you so much for explaining, you know what it is, and it sounds really, really difficult. What I loved about the book is that it's very personal. It's not at all like sort of a textbook, like even though it is sort of, you know, you outline a lot of therapies, there's a lot of research that's gone into it. And it really shows us how everyone can and should be able to talk about their mental health. So what was your journey to writing this book in the three parts that you sort of structured it into
the genesis of the book really lay in the fact that I started writing a sort of small essay for just for myself, and my immediate circle, called 10, things I learned about being bipolar, about a year and a half after I was diagnosed. And then my book club thought that this could be the template for a book and that there was more here, I initially thought of the book as a memoir, and then I didn't think of the self help and angle to it, I did know that I would like to interview many other people in my, in my ecosystem for it, I always wanted to have other voices in there. Then over time, I realized that there are some memoirs, actually, even in India, there are memoirs on other mental health conditions like depression, etc. But they also are on bipolar itself. So I thought that the self help angle would become more useful to people. And initially, I found it quite hard to write it, I've been wanting to write the book as far back as 2015. But I wasn't sufficiently detached from the material to be able to write it, I was still kind of having a lot of mood swings at that time. And if I wrote a chapter on depression, I'd get depressed. If I wrote a chapter on mentors, I get very emotional. So I had to sort of be in a place where I was a lot more stable. And I could just get that time and distance I needed to write about it. And, you know, for whatever it's worth, like COVID actually gave me that period of distance that was needed. And I guess I think that's why a lot of books emerged after COVID. So
Tara Khandelwal 07:29
yeah, absolutely. A lot of writers have said that COVID was conducive to their writing. I also want to know, has the book received any criticism, you know, because there's still a lot of stigma in India about mental health. And I remember when Deepika Padukone spoke up about her mental health, so many people were saying that, Oh, how can she talk about this? She's privileged, you know, just so wrong. So how do you deal with comments like that? And you know, I'm sure even before you had a formal diagnosis, these kinds of comments must have been even more pronounced. So how did you deal with that?
Well, to be honest, if there has been criticism that hasn't been directly to my face, so I don't really know what people are saying behind my back. But I've had so much positive feedback from readers who found it helpful and who have connected with me and wanted to chat, etc. And, you know, different forums where I've been speaking. So I do know, it has connected with people in different ways. I think there was one review on Amazon or somebody who says that, yeah, if you have the resources, then what's the big deal? You can, you know, always manage something like this? Not it's not incorrect. It's, I mean, I think I do acknowledge upfront that you know, having had access to resources, that journey towards learning to thrive with it has become a lot easier than for somebody who hasn't had those resources. But you know, equally what I would say is that there are, you know, few people who can say they thrive with a mental health condition, you know, that they would have actually learned a lot from their mental health conditions. So, you know, most of us are struggling with it. So I am not too worried actually, about the negative feedback, I think that the more resounding feedback that I've received is that it which has a double edged sword, really, which is that this is a brave book, and that indicates how much stigma there is, right? Because nobody is not a brave book to write about a broken leg or about diabetes, because there's no stigma to either of those ready, the more and more people keep saying it's a brave book, the more and more you realize that there is so much stigma.
Michelle D'costa 09:26
A part of that is also because it is really difficult to get a diagnosis. And for me, the one of the most heart wrenching parts of the book was how long it took for you to get a diagnosis. Right, it actually, you know, your first episode surfaced when you were just 24. And I can't even imagine what it must have been like for you for your family, you know, for everyone to deal with that. So I'm curious to know, how does one identify when something is a mental health condition? You know, as you said, this has extreme mood swings. So how does one know this is not a regular mood swing? And it is actually let's say a mental health condition.
I will say this engine general for any mental health issue, and this is what my understanding is based on my discussions with therapists and psychiatrists. So I always like to, you know, preface this answer with a disclaimer that really, I'm not a trained mental health professional. But what I have understood is that in any mental health condition that you're dealing with, you know, whether any disorder or any other condition is that if there's a kind of aberration from the normal behavior for a certain prolonged period of time, I mean, at least like a week or two weeks, you know, if there are changes in behavior, changes in energy levels, changes in speech, changes in appetite, changes in sleep, changes in mood, all of these things, if they go on for a period of time, then that's an indication that something's going on that needs to be discussed with someone with mood swings, in particular, all of us have these ups and downs, as I mentioned earlier, but if things are going on for a prolonged period of time, then it's important to distinguish between what I see as being the personality and being the condition or the illness. You know, I think that for a long time, in my case, we used to think that these Mood swings are just part of my personality. And it was only when a doctor wrote a letter saying she has a normal personality, but she has a medical condition, I think we were ready to accept that the two are different. And I think with any mental health condition, that that's the risk that you conflate personality and illness. And that's why one doesn't want to seek help or one's not sure where to seek help.
Tara Khandelwal 11:28
Yeah, I really liked you know how in the book, you included notes from your doctor, the doctor's diagnosis, where, you know, he said, You have normal personality, you included the journal entries. So we could really see in real time, a glimpse into what you must have been going through, you included poems that you've written. So there's a lot of material, a lot of different ways that you've constructed this book, which is very interesting.
Yeah, no, I just really felt that I wanted to get the reader to be as close to my mind as possible. And that's why I had all these other devices really, to do that, and to express my different states of mind. And I just thought I'll make an interesting reading for the reader rather than just to have the normal prose that we're all used to, you know, yeah,
Tara Khandelwal 12:11
no, it certainly was. And I think for me, I studied psychology in school. And at that time, we were sort of told about all of these mental health conditions. But I think I learned so much more from as you start getting closer and into your mind. And one thing that really struck me is, you know, the role of sleep, how that can affect one's moods and all of those things, and how sleep deprivation is sort of one of the main triggering factors, which I really had no idea about, which is interesting. What about you, Michelle, what did you learn?
Michelle D'costa 12:42
Yeah, definitely, I think sleep also. But for me, what was interesting is that, you know, I got an insight into these episodes, and how random they could be like, I always thought that, okay, there might be specific triggers. But I think through the book, I also realized that it could also be random, it could also be unpredictable. So yeah, that's something that I learned. I mean,
I do hope people see it as a book on mental health, not just as bipolar. I mean, I've given the example of bipolar because obviously, something I'm most familiar with. And I'm not really qualified to talk about other conditions in the same way. But it's really a book about mental health in general, so that if you're dealing with any condition, especially the common ones, such as depression, or anxiety, and sleep disorders, and eating disorders, for example, that all of these things could be addressed through some of these techniques. I know in the West, for example, in the US and the UK, books like these are shared within the mental health community and within the medical community to help people understand these conditions. So we can have that culture of reading books like this not only my book, there are several others out there. I think it would really help the way that the profession itself engages with its own practice and with its own clients and formations. Yeah.
Michelle D'costa 13:54
Yeah, I know. So like, you know, at the end of the book, there is two, three pages of just mental health resources. I found that really interesting, because, you know, often when you Google things, Google gives you 1000 solutions, and they might not always be the right ones. So I really liked that. And, you know, talking about community apart now, apart from the mental health community, I feel there's also the writing community to think about, you know, we've spoken to a lot of writers on this podcast, and you know, many of them have shared how they even struggled to finish a book at length, right? Like, you know, sometimes you're distracted, sometimes you're going through other things in life. So I want to know, you know, how is your condition impacted or change your writing process?
Well, actually, I would say it's the other way around. I think that my writing helps my condition. You know, I think writing is therapeutic. It gives discipline, it gives purpose, it gives a sense of meaning. So I think all the psychological triggers for a condition can be informed by the writing, and I think there's a very close connection between the two because obviously I use the journal. It's a form of therapy for me, right, my journal and my right. And the book, the book talks the bookshelf. Some of those entries, and I think particularly for me in the lockdown, it just gave me a lot of sense of purpose and meaning that I was doing something good with it. But yes, it does, it does need me to be stable at for longer periods of time that I can do something like this and take on this project and finish it. And that's where I think the role of the publisher and you know, the when they place deadlines, or when you have good interactions with editors, and you can kind of if you need a little more time, they give you that time. So I think that's where they come in in terms of just easing the whole process. But also kind of giving it some shape and structure so that you're not just entirely or loose and you have deadlines, you have to meet them. But then you also have flexibility within that, to to do that. So I think there's a very close relationship for me between writing and mode.
Tara Khandelwal 15:54
Yeah, I feel like I've recently started journaling, and it is so therapeutic, I never realized how therapeutic it is before, you know, and sometimes when you're feeling sort of angry at somebody or anything like that, it's just easier to write it all down, rather than, like, take it out on anybody. So that's what I used your, your link for. But I also really liked the seven therapies and the way that you've outlined them in the book. So you have, you know, the love therapy, the work, therapy, exercise all of these things. And I was really fascinated with the work therapy part of the book, because you mentioned how it's important to teach yourself how to play with your left hand, which is something which is a metaphor that you've come up with yourself. And you also sort of give disclaimers, so could you tell us a little bit more about? What does it mean to play with your left hand. And as a restless person who you know, has so many interests, so many hobbies? How did you train yourself to play with your left
hand, play opposite handed, I would say actually, so if you're right handed, you play with your left hand, if you're left handed, you play with your right hand. So this whole idea of playing opposite handed has been very critical to my stability, actually. And I think it's it's helpful for anyone really who wants to just take a pause and exhale from time to time. And what I realized was that my natural way of of doing anything would be to get get into these cycles, which were quite destructive, right, I would take on too many projects, I would get anxious, then I would get high and manic. And then eventually, I would crash and I would get depressed. And then because I'm depressed, and I need to kind of validate myself, I would take on more projects. And so that cycle would just keep going on and on. And then I said is there not another way of doing things, which is, imagine if I was playing a sport, not with my natural hand, but playing with my opposite hand, you would have to play a lot more slowly, a lot more mindfully, you might get tired faster, you'd have to pause. And maybe yes, you know, you're not going to get the same results immediately. But because you're doing things more mindfully, and you're pausing and you're taking that break, you could actually maybe be more sustainable and last for longer. So that's the metaphor I use, to come back to work therapy, why it's relevant is just to say that, you know, work at the end of the day, can be hugely stressful, and can be a big cause of anxiety and depression. But work can also be something that is very therapeutic. And I think I always need to find the right bandwidth where I'm, I'm doing enough work that I'm not stressed. But not and not not so little that I'm not depressed. So just finding that balance between getting not stressed and not being depressed. And maybe it's a narrow bandwidth. And maybe for other people, it's a much wider much have other people might have a much wider bandwidth.
Tara Khandelwal 18:56
Yeah, it's I think it's such a great mental. It's such a great hack. I'm also very interested, you know, I really like that you also, you know, use disclaimers, you know, before starting a project about, you know, timelines and things like that. So and you do mention this in the book, you know, how workplaces can help employees with mental health conditions. So how would you advise sort of like founders of small startups like mine to take care of their employees who might be having mental health conditions,
the general attitude with companies, especially larger companies, is that we are going to overload our employees with a lot of work, and we may or may not have a toxic work environment with toxic managers. And then we will equip our employees to cope with it by providing them counseling or yoga. You know, so that fundamental equation for me is one that it's quite disturbing then and my whole approach to workplace mental health, whether it's a startup or whether it's A large company used to say, is your work environment toxic? Do you have unreasonable deadlines? Are you treating people equally? Or do you have toxic managers in there? So if you can take care of the toxicity part of it, that would mean you're reducing the workplace, you know, stress that a lot of employees suffer from. And so how can you combine ways in which you can create a environment which is high performance oriented, which is obviously, also one that is empathetic, and actually wrote a piece about that, and an essay about that, which got published after the book. And it's, to which I say it's all the stakeholders, right? It's the individuals themselves and how they are self aware and how they manage themselves, their immediate managers, their teams, the leadership and the organization of the culture, including HR, and the role of the client also. So if you take a kind of a holistic approach to mental health, rather than saying, I'm just going to look out for people who have these conditions, if you really see as to where the stress levels are like in the organization, and you know, what the culture of the organization is, like, because the data shows that something like 40% of the Indian workforce is anxious, stressed, burnt out depressed, and 90% of the reason pretty much is because it's a toxic workplace.
Tara Khandelwal 21:23
Yeah, absolutely. That That does make sense. And as a first step, I think, you know, reducing toxicity, having very clear goals, clear communication, all of that matters so much, and also not having it be, you know, an aggressive workplace, you know, being able to sort of have everyone draw boundaries in a nice way, you know, and in a collaborative way, I think, I think it goes a
Michelle D'costa 21:49
whole conversation actually reminded me of, you know, my previous job. So I was working in HR, actually, before I joined bound, and, and as a part of HR, I've always wondered, you know, like, what is the best way to actually ensure that your employees are happy, you know, and it's very tricky. It was like being HR, it was like, trying to manage the management, trying to be like a middle ground between the management and the employees. And it was really difficult, but I think this conversation has given me like, you know, different insights into
Tara Khandelwal 22:15
it. Yeah, absolutely. That's, that's very interesting. And I also, you know, because work is part of everybody's life, right. And that's something you can't run away from. But I liked what you said, Aparna in the book, where you said that, you know, you disassociated your identity with your work. And that also made a very big difference to you. I think that's something that, you know, as an entrepreneur, I related to, so you've been, you know, very candid about the triggers in your work when you were part of the family business. You know, and obviously, it was very high pressure environment, and then, you know, you decided to leave the business. And I really love the memoir, part of the book, where you talk about, you know, these things, and I wanted more details, so it must have been very hard to leave something that's so part of your identity. So,
yeah, I mean, that was really one of the biggest struggles and one of the biggest triggers, because essentially, what happened was that, you know, I, I was brought up to believe, and I also, you know, chose this for myself that, because my family had this business, which was first initially VIP luggage, and then an office furniture company, which I was running, but that's I saw myself as being the CEO and being like a next gen inheritor of this business. And I went to Harvard Business School, and I worked in the family business, and I did all of this. And then there came a point really where, for a bunch of reasons, including, you know, my inability to properly manage the business in the way that my family would have liked to, perhaps my relationship with them also, and my own mood swings, that it just became apparent to everyone that this wasn't the right fit between me and the company. And essentially, the family asked me to leave the business. And this was came at a period of time in which I was really going through a huge kind of identity shift, because I had, you know, had this mood I had, I was dealing with this whole being diagnosis of bipolar not being in the family business. Then I as I said, in the book, I married somebody from a very different background. So socially, also, it was, you know, different experience for us. And I was just really sort of wondering, What am I doing with myself, and particularly when you go to study at places like Harvard and Oxford and you'll see that you know, my peers were doing really well they were on these conventional corporate tracks, many of them and taking on you know, important roles global roles earning a lot. And so there was a lot of self questioning and self doubt that really happened at this time. And I think that I think a large part of my 30s actually went in questioning what I was doing with myself and what my identity was all about, and searching for purpose and meaning and trying to articulate it. And it's probably you know, that that just took a long time to arrive at that definition, because I really felt I'd had this triple whammy in my career, which is also I had taken some time off to have kids. So it was motherhood and kids, and then this mental health condition, and then having to change, change industries, and to go from a business, which was well understood and well respected to journalism, and particularly journalism on architecture and design, which was totally not well understood and well respected. So, you know, in industry, switch, parenting, and maybe health condition all at the same time. So yeah, that kind of really sort of rocked my self confidence for a long time.
Tara Khandelwal 26:04
Sounds very, very difficult. Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for sharing that.
Michelle D'costa 26:09
Yeah. And actually, you know, it like throughout reading your book apart. Now, you know, one thing that stayed with me was how important it is to have a support system, right. And family is a big part of it. And you've written a lot about your husband, he sounds like a really wonderful person, you know, so he's not from a business family like yours. And so I want to know, you know, how is he helped you, I will say I'm looking for, or an anecdote of when he has really helped you with your work, you know, we do know that he helped you in communicating with your editor about your condition. So is there any other anecdote like
that, I think what he did was, you know, especially the times when I was quite depressed, because I wasn't able to work the way I wanted to. And even even after I left the family business, I took on some responsibilities in journalism. And I took on too many projects. And I was at a stage where I was quite psychotic. And so even those, I wasn't able to execute very well. And the newspaper said, listen, maybe you've taken off more than you could chew. And, you know, you need to slow down a bit, which is not what I wanted to hear. So I think at that time, I really remember sitting down with him, like day after day saying, This is what you could do, this is what you could do. This is what he could do. His work was very important to me, you know, like, it's a big part of who I am, it's a big part of my DNA that I, I just don't see myself as being somebody who doesn't like working even though, you know, I'm in that fortunate position of perhaps not having to work for a living. So even then, it was always something for me, that was a big motivator and a driver and a way for me to feel fulfilled. So I think I remember just so many conversations that he and I had about different opportunities I could pursue. And I think that was really an important that was an important part of his, his, you know, contribution to my recovery also.
Tara Khandelwal 28:00
Yeah, I mean, you know, it's very lucky, you know, because you describe your family and I'm, I want to be close to my family. And they're a great support system to me. So you know, you're with your sister, Radhika. And then I Love You know, I love the quotes from your kids. And it because it was so honest and vulnerable. You know, they said that, you know, I like I like mommy better when she's not in a funny mood, but the funny mood is okay, you know, and I have found that very sweet. so supportive. Yeah. And one of the things that I really, really enjoyed in the book is your use of metaphors. So, you know, your, your husband, you know, who's comparing you to a stock strong stock, that can weather volatility, that was really lovely. You know, and then your friend who said that, you know, your condition is like a dance. Even though metaphor that you use for work, you know, it's I, you know, like, when you say the playing with the opposite hand, you said that sort of like a horse that's running really fast, and then sort of settles into a trot. So I love using analogies, metaphors, idioms, in my daily life, and, you know, with my friends at work. So what is your favorite sort of saying or metaphor? Or one thing that always comes back to
you? I mean, from the book or in general, in general, I don't think I mean, I don't know if I have one thing in particular in terms of metaphor that I really enjoy. Is there any particular but I would say that there's a poem in the book called Snow, which I wrote when I was again, a bit manic and it just tries to connect kind of spirituality and snow and skiing and being high, you know, and I just loved that moment of creation that went into creating that, you know, I remember clearly the moment where I wrote that and what I was feeling when I wrote So I think that's probably very close to my heart. Actually, this
Michelle D'costa 30:03
is one of my favorite parts of Varna, because you know, you talk about your poetry and one of my favorite poems from the book is chemical Khichdi, which your book is actually titled on. Right. So would you, you know, like to read it out for us and for our listeners, and how did this actually turn out to be the title of the book.
So I can tell you that, I mean, I wrote chemical Khichdi, the poem, which was at a moment of marking acceptance of the illness, right of saying that that is a chemical Khichdi. And I need to accept it in that way. I also liked the poem, because it's one of the few where I could get them to rhyme. I don't get all the poems to rhyme. And the reason the book came out was a viewer thing, you have a number of different titles. But this my editor thought I had initially I had always thought of this book being called chemical Khichdi. But then in between some people especially I met, actually, my husband was like, no, no, you can't call it that. And it's very pedestrian name. And this and that. He was, he was quite dismissive of it. So then I just went around thinking of so many others, which didn't seem so good. And then finally, my editor said, Look, this is a good name, just go with it. And Touchwood like it has resonated and you know, people have liked it. So
Tara Khandelwal 31:12
I love the name. But what was some of the other options? Just out of curiosity?
Oh, they were like, I thought of the more pedestrian like roller coaster, brain or roller coaster mind, something like that. And then there was this something maybe building on the idea of dancing with your illness, you know, that metaphor that was used in the end, a couple like that, but nothing very, this whole idea of thriving something around that idea of how to thrive, but that's been used a lot by Arianna Huffington. Right. So we could have played on that. So then, essentially, we ended up playing on this. Anyway, I've got it here. So I'll read it out. Chemical Khichdi. hormones and neurotransmitters. This is entirely new terrain, imbalances, synapses, major lapses. The battleground is the brain. The body is the poor victim responding to this deadly cocktail of misplaced intentions and actions. It can allow us only fail. Yoga acids can of course, help head heart and hand all aligned, relax, concentrate, focus on breath. But chemical Khichdi is much less benign. There is thankfully one solution to the doctors, we must turn hand over the reins for a change. There are many lessons I must learn love, faith and courage, a solid foundation for a family trust, respect and adoration. You mean the whole world to me? Yeah,
Michelle D'costa 32:39
I think that is a different effect. Totally. Yeah, I
Tara Khandelwal 32:42
read it out really well. And the game is also really good. We read that your mother is also a writer. So you know, I want to know more about sort of your childhood. What was it like, you know, growing up around her? And did you always sort of love to write I know, you took it up seriously, a little later on life. But was that something that you always sort of into as a kid as well,
my mother is actually the original writer, the family, you know. So she's written like, I think, a dozen books or something like that. So growing up as a child, I mean, we were obviously very exposed to writing and the whole, she used to be a journalist also. So just the whole field and of you know, having by lines and deadlines, and having all different sorts of computers and typewriters, and all of those in the office, in her home office, as she kind of, you know, as we grew up with all of that, really, and that the culture of writing, I always enjoyed writing right from school, I never just thought I could make a career out of it. Because, you know, very few people seem to really do that. And I was surrounded by business people also. But I always enjoyed writing and always kind of wrote for, you know, school magazine, college magazine had little bits and pieces, published here and there even growing up. But like I said, I never thought of it as a career option. And I think the other thing that I did, which I think all writers do, or should do, at least as I read a lot of thanks to my mother, she bought so many books for us, and even the times when, you know, we didn't have so much fiction available in India, when we were growing up, she would always manage to go abroad and get things for us. And so we always had, like, you know, access to a lot of books or going to lending libraries, picking them up. And we read a lot, especially as children, but continue to read as much as possible, not as much as I'd like to but as much as possible now, so I think that's a big part of being a writer also.
Michelle D'costa 34:46
Yeah, definitely. And you know, you've also mentioned in the book apana, that you're part of a book club, which is the Bombay feminist book club, and how they've played a very big part in actually beta reading your work. Um, so I want to do a little bit about that and you If you could also speak about the Soho House Library where you had a lot of good memories, you know, so I'm looking for a happy memory from both of these places.
Yeah, I mean, my book club has been really pivotal in my whole journey as a writer. But for a specific anecdote, I'll share one, which is one of my mental health practitioners was very dismissive of my writing. And he said, You shouldn't be doing so much of this. Probably, he thought that, you know, when I was high, I also tended to write a lot more, that was the way I used to express my madness. So maybe associated with that, but he couldn't differentiate between what was, you know, possibly, you know, more practical writing and stuff that was associated with, you know, me being in a more manic mode. But anyway, so he was so dismissive once that I got really upset. And I immediately contacted about a few friends from within the book club, who I was close to, and I formed a WhatsApp group that said, bipolar girl power. Oh, wow. And they and I said, this is what's happened. And this guy is like, you know, telling me not to write and, and he's, you know, making all these really patronizing comments like, you should, you know, look after your children. And then, you know, you're so good at planning the summer holidays. So you should plan the summer holidays, and your husband is working so hard, you should support him. And this is what you should be doing. And your medicines, by the way, you know, and I was so upset. kind of imagine, yeah, and that's why my book club was really supportive. Actually, one of them has a, you know, wicked sense of humor. So she said, Listen, you know, what you what you should do is, you should bake a cake for this, for this mental health professional, and you should show your domesticated skills. And this is a picture of the cake, you should bake. So she sent this meme, which was a cake with a vagina on it, which says,
Tara Khandelwal 36:58
Oh, my God, but I can't can't believe that a mental health practitioner, you know, like, acts this way, like superiority? Yeah. Yeah.
Really? Yeah. Anyway, so. So that's the kind of support I got from the book club. And I think just seeing other forms of writers. And you know, the, the whole beauty of a book club is that you read books that you might not otherwise have read, right? So I think that book club over the last 10 years has really expanded my mind and my horizons. And I've made some amazing friendships through it. And it's really been a huge source of sustenance. For me, actually, at an emotional level or an intellectual level. I very much, I really feel we don't have spaces for those kinds of conversations, really, in our day to day life, so I very much welcome that. So that's a book club. And, yeah, this library is really small, like it's practically the size of a dining table. So it's really disappointing because I keep extolling its many virtues, and then people come and see, like, is this what it is, it's like a practically just one dining table with a couple of with a couple of arm chairs. But the thing is, you know, it's so for me, it's so almost monastic, and meditative in its in its because it's so compact. And it's such a world away from, you know, my home, which, which can feel like a realization at times, because I've got kids and in laws, and, you know, with COVID, my husband was working from home. And, you know, all of us went through this rite of just having these overwhelming homes at a time. So, so house really gave me that respite. And plus, I have a very, very close friend, who is to always work from their names or pastina. And she's just a really amazing person, she does some amazing work also. So it was just nice to have like a buddy over there who I would connect with or we'd have lunch or just catch up with each other. And, and it I effectively use it like a co working space. And wrote like a large part of the book over there. Yeah, it's
Tara Khandelwal 38:58
a lovely space. I also was interested in, you know, another question is that, you know, we've seen how mania is often glorified in movies and books, and it's glorified for creatives. You know, there's this trope of the crazy artists or the genius. So what do you think about this?
Yeah, I mean, certainly, I think media can be quite liberating at some extent that you can kind of see your creative voice that is emerging, which is completely unfiltered. And there's a side that emerges which is you know, for me at least that can be very funny and playful and exciting and ambitious and and just completely unfiltered and that is such a great place to be and that's why mania can be so addictive. Um, but I think what happens is that you know, it doesn't always stay that way and it kind of mania can start also edging towards the traumatic and there can be like, in my case, I what I said in the book also a lot of They have a lot of scenes of sexual violence and just really very, very disturbing scenes. So I think that it's finally a recognition that many has done a very healthy place to be, you know, and if you can connect with your thoughts and emotions in that way, without having to go to mania, I had to finally tell myself that happiness is not in the highs, because I think it's easy when you're high to think that this is what happiness feels like. And this is what the real you is, and you're omnipotent. And, you know, you have these, all these ideas, delusions of grandeur, and all of this is real. So it's, it takes a lot to tell yourself that this is not the case, I'm not saying I haven't produced good work in mania, I think I probably have produced some really good work in mania, but it's not as powerful probably as the work that I've produced when when I'm more stable. Yeah,
Tara Khandelwal 40:54
it also, like, reminds me of like, this other trope that is that, you know, that all you need to sort of like drinking or smoking up, and that's when your best ideas come, you know, but I think as creative people exactly what you said that, you know, the, I think creativity can be harnessed at any time, if sort of, you know, you put in those systems to harness it. And one doesn't need to sort of be high or anything like that for for one to be creative. So I think that that is a myth that Yeah,
Michelle D'costa 41:28
yeah. And I have something to add to that a very interesting actually, because, you know, now I feel slowly this conversation is changing, like audio, as you said, you know, a lot of writers, a lot of creative people, you know, they thought that you have to be a little eccentric, you have to live probably an unhealthy lifestyle to, you know, create. But I think slowly things are changing, like, you know, writers, like Haruki Murakami, he also shares his routine with others to show that, you know, he runs everyday, or he sleeps at a particular time or he eats healthy, right. So I feel that there are some, you know, writers who say that, yes, it's important to have like a, you know, I will say healthy lifestyle in order to create,
I think it's really important to be able to feel stuff in a very genuine, authentic way, you know, like, there's some poetry that I've written when I've been manic, where I would probably never be able to capture the intensity of that emotion again. Um, but I think that's also okay. You know, there's other stuff that I've written that, that I would not have been able to write when I'm manic. So I think it's just too I think, as a creative if you have a better understanding of these nuances about what you can and you can't do and in a way, that's why it was. So that's why what I'm trying to do through the book is to present those different voices, right? The poetry and the journal entries, and the rest of the narrative have different voices in each of them have different voices. And you know, I think the readers who like to pick up on that kind of stuff would would sense those nuances for themselves.
Tara Khandelwal 42:59
Yeah, I think, you know, as as you said that anything is sort of okay.
Michelle D'costa 43:04
We have arrived at our next section of the podcast upon your there's going to be a quiz. Okay, we are going to be giving you options, and you have to pick one word, and we also participate in this.
Tara Khandelwal 43:15
Okay, one yoga class. Now you like Dandasana? Bhujangasana, Diana Ross and Bucha Knutsson. Oh, nice. Yeah. Out of all the ones I would say. I also like more jungles and the best. The other one. You'd love to do them to figure out.
Michelle D'costa 43:32
I'd have to like figure it out. Yeah. All right. The next one, if you could choose what you would like to be in your next boat? Would it be a parrot a businesswoman again? Or a stem?
Neither can I say neither.
Michelle D'costa 43:47
So what would you be a combination of a cheetah and a duck? Well, I
Tara Khandelwal 43:57
just arrived blanking your path on this. Yeah, I think we do. What is your biggest source of creativity? Family Friends books out of the three books? I agree. For me two books. Same
Michelle D'costa 44:10
your next one. Where do you feel most creative at a party in a library or outdoors in a park?
outdoors in a park? Me too? Nice. Yeah, I
Michelle D'costa 44:20
think mine would be in a library. Okay. Nice.
Tara Khandelwal 44:23
Good. Okay. The best way to cope with insomnia, watch a movie count sheep walk around the house. I would say say hi to Krishna. I used to do that. So my like Amma used me. Yeah, so like when I couldn't sleep at night or when I was scared when I was a kid. She's told me repeat. Jai Shri Krishna just say Joshi Krishna Ji Krishna Jai Shri Krishna so I remember like just sort of chanting that and I still do it now when you know I'm stressed the things that help chanting i Yeah.
Michelle D'costa 44:55
And and for us like you know we are told say the Our Father Hail Mary you will get sleep It's I think, yeah, like prayers. You probably did repetative pattern. Yeah. One must do every day writing a poem, or journaling, or yoga.
Well, I'm tending towards writing a journal these days. I'm trying out with an online technology also, which I was very skeptical of earlier, but it's helping me right.
Michelle D'costa 45:20
What is it called, is curious. It's called stoic.
It's an app pod
Michelle D'costa 45:25
ideas. I've heard of it. And check it out.
Tara Khandelwal 45:29
I think for me yoga. What about duel?
Michelle D'costa 45:33
I would go with joining as well, because I mean, I've been writing for many years, it helps me a lot.
Tara Khandelwal 45:38
Nice. Okay, awesome. Thank you. So let's move to our reading recommendation section. So you had mentioned that, you know, I love the anecdote about the book club and how it helps you and I was just hilarious. What the cake. So what is the one book that you guys have absolutely loved in that book club.
I'm just going through the list of the figure. I figured you might want some questions like that. So I think there have been like, a lot of books over a period of time that we read, because it's been going for like a long time, right. So funnily enough, I think, you know, Ruby Core was somebody we all enjoyed, because she was easy, although she's not representative of what we are normally read. educated by Tara, Tara Westover? It is right. Yes. We all enjoyed her children that are deechi we will be you know, Americana and half yellow sun. We've all enjoyed something like that by her. But then they've also been books, like a dictionary of last words that I think the book club, it was a really good fit for our book club, because it was so much about, you know, words and writing. So I think just one of our book club members also wrote a book called Mountain tails. And I think the book club really enjoyed listening to
Tara Khandelwal 46:57
that. So that's so cool that she's in your book club.
Yeah, she's now now she's no longer part of it. She's moved on. But she came back to our book club and talked about it. And, you know, I think this is what we read this year that we really liked.
Tara Khandelwal 47:11
Yeah, that was a great book. It's about basically the trash because the garbage economy in Bombay, and it's super well researched.
Michelle D'costa 47:20
Do you have any favorite memories on mental health? Like one writer I follow is, as may Wong, I really liked her essays on schizophrenia. So do you have any recommendations for our readers?
Yeah, the classic in this space and bipolar certainly is Kay Redfield Jamison. I think that book came out in the 90s. And it's, she's a practicing mental health professional, who also was dealing with bipolar was one of the first of its kind remains very well written as just as a pure memoir. Recently, there's a book called burn rate with what a startup entrepreneur, I haven't read it, but three different people have recommended that to me. So I would put that quite high on the list. There are a couple of books by Indian other authors. And then the big home by Jerry Pinto, which I read a long time ago, like 10 years ago, probably. And I liked his it's a, it's an autobiography. It's really like an autobiography of a novel, but it's really,
Tara Khandelwal 48:19
it's just so emotional, and intense and amazing. Yeah,
yeah. And then there is another one by Srivatsa, Neva Tia, on how to travel light. That's a view on bipolarity. Also, not everyone has liked that book. But I think his style is quite literally, and it does give us a glimpse into his struggles. People have, you know, mixed opinions on it. But I found it very interesting. And it's certainly informed my writing a lot that came out about five years ago. So these are some of them. And then there are, I had hurry down sunshine, which is from a parent's perspective of a father of a teenager. He's a journalist, which I thought was also very, just very kind of vulnerable of how he's trying to take care of his daughter, who's 15 years old and is struggling with mood swings. So these are some ideas.
Tara Khandelwal 49:15
There's another book that's not related, but I really, really liked it. It's called a beautiful boy. And it's about a father who, basically it's a story of a father whose son is dealing with a very bad meth addiction, and how he sort of never gives up hope on this boy, and it's actually being made into a movie with Steve Carell and Timothy Charlemagne. So that's, that's just remind me of that as
well. In a way sort of probably more than any of these books, I think A Beautiful Mind. You know, featuring the whole John Nash and the, his how he dealt with schizophrenia is probably the thing that I've seen is that is most moving you know, it's It's just so amazingly done.
Michelle D'costa 50:02
And I don't know how many times I have seen that movie Aparna is one of my all time favorites, like very touching. And you know, very, I would say very empathetic look, look at the condition. Yeah. And I
think he really captures psychosis in a very real way authentic way. I mean, from whatever I've been through. I just felt that the way he's captured his, his mind is just incredible. So I really liked that one. Yeah,
I love that movie.
Michelle D'costa 50:31
Yeah, I just wanted to add that, you know, I had seen it so many times, like back when I was, you know, living in a PG. So my roommate, she actually gifted me the book version of the movie, because she said that I was into like it so much, you might like reading the
Tara Khandelwal 50:44
book. Now, I didn't know there was a book version. But yeah, that's super interesting. The whole John Nash game theory, invention of game theory. You know, there's a lot of books and movies that, you know, can be really problematic in the way that they portray mental health. So like, what do you think? Like, what do you think can be done to sort of portray mental health more sensitively, in a better way?
I think, you know, it's very easy to try and sensationalize it and to make it something that's exciting and, or to sort of look at it as something very traumatizing. And I think it's just a question of what is the sort of perspective on the viewpoint you have on mental health, like, if you look at it from a sort of, this is just an alternative reality that I live with. And we have to try and understand why these things happen, then I think you take a more empathetic and more intelligent look at it, rather than sort of just trying to sensationalize or, you know, glorify the extremes of whatever the mind is going through. It just depends on the technique that you adopt, you know, it's a bit like saying, how do you look at war? Because this is a war that's happening in somebody's head? It's a civil war, it's in somebody's head. So do you, you know, glamorize and glorify war? Do you make it exciting? And something that, you know, people want to sort of, there's so much, there's so much hubris associated with it? Or do you look at it from sort of more the day to day struggles point of view, which is possibly less, you know, exciting, but more real?
Michelle D'costa 52:27
Yeah, true. And I think now, you know, especially because we have sensitivity readers, I also feel that now, you know, things are getting vetted by the right people. So there is there's hope, that we can have more informed, you know, pieces of literature or cinema. So, you know, up and up, we all have our comfort reads. So I want to know, what are your top three field good books, you know, books you return to that make you feel good,
probably stuff that I read, when I was growing up, you know, some some of teenage reads that my mother gave me. But I have to say, these days, my biggest comfort is conversation, you know, not comfort books that I'm going back to, I think I spend a lot of time, far too much time on WhatsApp with my friends. But I spend a lot of time also looking at stuff that I keep writing, you know, notes and things that I'm taking. So I think that rather than just specific reads, I would say that the conversations that I'm having with myself, and the conversations I'm having with my friends and family are really the comfort in my life right now.
Tara Khandelwal 53:34
Absolutely. You know, that support system and taking the time to build that support system is great. And you know, those of us who have it? We're very lucky today, actually, yeah, actually,
what I would say, in fact, the biggest support system for me right now is music. More than these days, I'm finding that more than books, I have just immersed myself into music. And I think that's because, you know, earlier on maybe, you know, you know, I mean, a lot of them was Spotify, Apple Music, all these things were not so easily available, right? So this is what I this is really what I turned to now, you know, like, we have a little swing in the balcony, and I'm always kind of cocooned in that and listening to music like that, for me is is my go to place now.
Michelle D'costa 54:17
I was actually going to ask you that as your next question, which is to songs which actually sued you, you know, because I feel sometimes words you know, the lyrics or or the tune something, I think they will have a very relaxing effect, apart from books and movies and all of that. So, which are the top two songs in your playlist? Right?
Yeah, I mean, it keeps changing, but I think what's been quite consistent over the years, and you know, it sounds I think, very middleaged to say this really is Hero by Mariah Carey. And I keep recommending it to people who come to me saying they're feeling unhappy in life and I said that look, this has been one song that has really helped me and motivated me and I've liked it. I love love using the GI Bill Whatever it is, I just love the optimism and that peace. So I listen to that a lot. But there are a lot of different songs and a lot of different music, right from anything from Bollywood to spiritual music to, you know, pop or rock. But I'm a very contemporary, I don't always end up knowing what's really popular, but I always have like stuff that I really enjoy this.
Tara Khandelwal 55:23
Yeah, I really like the movie deals. And that was a good movie. Yeah. Okay, so now that brings us to our last section, which is our rapid fire section. So I can start one word to describe your husband stable.
Michelle D'costa 55:37
Okay, lying on your bed or playing a board game? Pick one
sitting on my swing.
Tara Khandelwal 55:44
Nice, your favorite column that you have written?
Oh, that's tough. written about 100 of them? i That's really tough to choose that so many, I would be unfair to choose anyone. And I skip that.
Michelle D'costa 56:01
Sure. Oh, where do you right?
at my desk in my home office, or in Soho House, one of the
Tara Khandelwal 56:09
one fun thing you learned about furniture while working in your family's business?
Just the world of design, the whole world of design and how amazing how it can change your life.
Tara Khandelwal 56:21
And your next book.
I wish I knew that. I have a couple of ideas. And I have to now choose. So I have. You could tell me whether Do you think I need to do something more on mental health and or should I do something different? But
Michelle D'costa 56:37
yeah, they both sound very interesting. So but Aparna? Is it fiction or nonfiction? Again?
No, I have a fiction idea also, but I have a couple of nonfiction ideas too. So I'm not sure.
Michelle D'costa 56:49
Oh, wow. I think that's a really good space to be in. You know, because sometimes ideas are really difficult to come by. That's true.
Tara Khandelwal 56:56
That's true. Yeah. It's also difficult to choose between ideas, or I feel you have all of them like this thing. And then you're like, oh, no, you know, which one do I commit to? But whatever it is, we're looking forward to the next one.
Michelle D'costa 57:10
Yes, for sure. Okay, so
Tara Khandelwal 57:12
that brings us to the end of the interview. I had just one last question. You know, we've thank you so much. You've spoken so much. And I think Michelle and I have learned a lot in this episode as well. So, you know, what advice would you give, you know, how can we be more mindful of triggers that our friends, family or coworkers might have? And as people, you know, as you said, everyone has someone in their immediate circle that might, you know, need support or love. So what advice would you have?
Well, I think the first thing is to be in sync with those people, okay? Like, it should not be that they go to three weeks, and you have no idea what they're doing in their life, the people who are close to me, they have a pretty good sync on sort of definitely on a weekly basis, maybe every few days, what's happening, what's going on with my life, you know. So first is just stay in touch on a regular basis, at least every two, three days, with these people who are important to you in your life. I'm not saying that every 50 people, but I'm just saying these few people in your life already important, definitely stay in touch with them every two, three days, that becomes a lot easier also, then to know if something's going off track. Because if they're having a bad day of they're having, they're not feeling good about something, they're more likely to tell you about that, because there's a trust level that's already been established, you know, and when they're having a bad day, when they're feeling good, then that's the time to find out why is what is bothering them. And why is that and then to see if those issues sort of happening on a regular basis if they're triggering, if you know, and and that's, that's a pattern that can be spotted, or, or just generally knowing them so well that knowing that something like this could become an issue for them. So I think it's it's really it's really important is this, what I call in the book as being that Daily Download, friend, you know, like you to be so close, that you're always in sync, and you know that something is happening and not waiting for them to call you. You're you're calling them yourself and staying in touch. And then the other thing is just being really good active listeners. And I think that we're so keen to always respond to people and come up with a solution or come up with a fix or come up with a hack, that we don't always realize that what people just want is to be heard, to be seen and to be heard. And I think if you can, you know, be a good listener that's in a world of social media, where people are just so reflexive. I think that that's a huge gift that you can give to anyone you love.
Tara Khandelwal 59:41
Yeah, I think that's really good advice, you know, being in sync with somebody. And that makes you more aware of you know, they've read a pattern. So thanks for that. And thank you so much. This has been really, really great and congratulations on how well the book is doing. The book is got, you know, foreword by anonymous Indra, it's got so many amazing endorsements. So many people are speaking about it. And I think it's opening up a larger conversation. So congratulations once again.
No, thank you. It's been a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much for inviting me to be part of it.
Michelle D'costa 1:00:17
Thank you Aparna. It was a pleasure. And I do hope that in the near future, we see more books on bipolarity and on, you know, different mental health conditions.
Yeah, I hope so too.
Tara Khandelwal 1:00:28
So here we are, where the end of yet another journey into the many worlds of Books and Beyond with bound. I'm Tara Candela. While
Michelle D'costa 1:00:37
I'm Michelle D'costa. And this podcast is created by bound a company that helps you grow through stories Find us at sound India are all social media platforms.
Tara Khandelwal 1:00:47
So tune in every Wednesday if you live, eat and breathe books, and join us as we discover more revolutionary books and peek into the lives and minds of some truly brilliant authors from India and South Asia.
Michelle D'costa 1:01:03
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