Human beings have a survival instinct that keeps us safe and helps us evolve. It allows us, when faced with challenges, to adapt and become more resilient. I experienced this when I was fighting drug-resistant tuberculosis, referred to as DR-TB.
The first tool a person needs when dealing with a long-duration treatment, such as the one required for DR-TB, is motivation. The stigma attached to TB can take away the power to conquer the disease and push the patients to despair.
Feelings of isolation and self-blame heighten mental suffering – and bring with it anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Patients also grapple with thoughts of lost opportunities, such as jobs, daily wages and academics. This puts them in a dark space. Sometimes, it causes them to stop taking the medication altogether, in turn leading to far more advanced forms of the disease.
In order to combat TB, along with its associated mental health problems, we need to take care of the basics. This includes proper medicine, nutritious food, social and financial support, and most importantly, a healthy mind.
Path to recovery
The most critical factor is the support of friends and family. Constant anxiety about spreading the disease may keep patients away from their loved ones. However, their presence and support is an instrumental part of the recovery process.
A common mistake is resorting to counting days during the tough phases. This makes the days seem longer than usual, and eventually, the patients give up. What is probably more helpful is making the days count: watching a film, listening to music or learning a new skill. It not only distracts the patients, but also releases stress. Staying idle for a prolonged period increases chances of attracting negative thoughts.
Patients can also make use of the internet, which has made it easier to meet new people, find long-lost friends, share experiences and opinions, and find new forms of entertainment.
For me, a favourite mood-lifter is food. When the stomach is full, the mind is satisfied. Foods like emmental cheese and dark chocolate are prescribed as non-addictive drugs that improve the mental state rapidly. Healthy dishes that taste good are an extra advantage, as TB medicines need to be supplemented by a good diet.
The most important thing, however, is to love and accept oneself. Diseases like TB make the patients vulnerable to self-doubt, self-hatred, and self-stigmatisation. These symptoms exacerbate if the treatment runs long and the patient is advised for isolation. Patients start blaming themselves for their condition and over analyse all their actions. But if once they start accepting themselves and their situation, it makes the healing process easier. It may seem overwhelming, but patients must remember that the process will transform them. At the end of it, they will only come out stronger.
Diptendu Bhattacharya is an multi-drug resistant tuberculosis survivor, an educationist, and SATB Fellow. SATB is a community based movement that consists of TB survivors, advocates, and experts who are working to strengthen India’s fight against TB.
March 24 is World Tuberculosis Day.