Bipolar survivor Anil Chauhan is convinced sport is the way out

Anil Chauhan has been suffering from bipolar disorder for the past 27 years and has found refuge in regular exercise which helps him deal with his condition better than ever.

Anil Chauhan comes across as a regular guy, a 49-year-old engineer and management graduate who swears by his fitness routine that he rigorously follows for two hours every day, without fail. He has a condition called bipolar disorder which is also known as manic depression. It causes periods of depression – which can give rise to suicidal thoughts – and periods of elevated mood.

It is a scary condition to have, something that is incurable. The only way is to control it is through medication and therapy, which is a lifelong procedure. Today, it is a common problem in India with a huge number of registered cases. The exact cause of it is also unknown. Anil has been affected for 27 years now and has shown remarkable courage in dealing with it. He believes that living an unhealthy lifestyle revolving around smoking and drinking could have contributed to it. He clearly remembers the incident which eventually triggered the condition in him.

During his college exams, he tried to help a friend in the examination hall and was found out and severely reprimanded for it. This triggered a terrible depression at a young age which has proved to be a chronic condition ever since. He was eventually diagnosed with clinical depression, and has sought help from many doctors in Delhi and Kolkata over the years. With the advent of the internet, he got access to a lot more information on the subject and soon found out that the issue that had plagued him all this while had a name – bipolar disorder.

A regular month for Anil used to consist of 20 days of depression, five days of mania and five days of normalcy. Fed up, he decided to talk more about it with people and felt better doing so. The medicine that he was taking could help him, in his own words, deal with around 20% of the problem. The biggest help came from taking up sport.

“In 1993, I remember distinctly going for a run and feeling very good about it. It felt good again the next day but was unaware of how much exercise could help me deal better with his condition. It never struck me that I should have gone for a run again. I never received any such advice from anybody too,” he says.

Now, Anil exercises one hour in mornings and 1 hour in evenings. His aim is to burn 1,000 calories every day and his routine involves around 10 km of running, walking and 25 km of cycling. “Exercising is the biggest weapon I have. There is no cure for this condition. But by taking care of oneself and giving more attention one can bring this under control,” he states.

He shares with us his understanding of the condition over the years and tells us that problems arise when there is a paucity of chemicals which are naturally produced in the brain like endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. A decreased secretion of anyone of these can cause havoc in the body. Usually medication involves treating the imbalance of one of those chemicals and they work well if the diagnosis is correct. In most cases, it usually takes time to know that and is done by a trial-and-error method. By then, things usually get worse.

Anil says that the best thing about exercise is that it helps in the release of all those chemicals and helps the brain function much better. This helps greatly in combating the problem and considers it to be the primary option, even above conventional medicines. He has come to this conclusion purely based on personal experience and has seen more literature surface on the web regarding it in recent years. Anil points out to the works of renowned author Joh Ratey, an internationally recognised expert in neuropsychiatry, who lays a lot of importance on physical exercise to have a healthy brain.

Anil mixes his fitness routine with a bit of running, cycling and walking. He is also looking forward to taking up tennis and swimming to prevent his routine from falling victim to monotony.

The important thing that Anil suggests is the need for balance in one’s regime. In his case, he has tried running marathons but found that the two-three days of rest after having taken part in one can be difficult and there is a chance of depression creeping back. He is also wary of overdoing his exercises and makes sure he sticks to his now-set routine.

In the early years, there was no exercise and he was either on or off medicines. He remembers when he used to have just one good day in a month without any mania or bouts of depression. There was a time in the early 2000s where things got better for him and he had around 10 good days in a month, which he considers to be a better period for him!

After 2010, he began exercising but was irregular at first. He has become regular only in the last six months and is already seeing a marked improvement in his condition. He has had only four ‘bad’ weeks out of 26 in this period and is more than happy with the results achieved. It is a huge difference by his own admission.

Anil has been averaging around 25-27 good days in a month recently which is way better than what he managed in previous years. For him, a good day is a day where he has no depression or mania. He makes sure there are no hindrances to his routine and is pretty sure of hitting the lows of previous years if he didn’t stick to it. He knows six months is a short time to draw any major conclusions but is convinced that this is the way to go for him in the long run.

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