The symptoms began sometime in the year 1996. It was on the drive back from Ooty; when a few kilometres before we got to Coonor, I suddenly began to feel like I could not breathe, my body turned cold and I started to sweat. Just lack of sleep, I tried to tell myself; but my heart began to race wildly, it was spiralling out of my control.
I thought I was going to die. Fortunately for me, Mukesh Bhatt, who was travelling with me, had been a victim to cruel panic attacks and he instantly reckoned I was suffering my first one. He had a ready medicine and it saved the day, and me.
Anyone who has had a panic attack will agree with me when I say that it is the closest thing that comes to the feeling of death. And yet panic attacks were just the beginning.
It was in Australia, in the year 2000, when I began to feel a constant nagging fatigue. Overwork, was the opinion of one doctor and another thought I needed to do some more physical activity to keep in shape. I could not explain to anyone how I felt.
Getting out of bed in the morning was a yeoman effort and getting through the day a herculean one. My assistants told me that there was whisper going around the set that Vikram Bhatt was just lazy. All this body pain and then the pain of perceptions too?
Migraines came next. So severe that I could not even face the daylight. I could not bear loud noises. Yet there was no choice. Those were the days when I was back in Ooty shooting for Raaz with Dino Morea and Bipasha Basu. I had a film to make! Panic attacks, fatigue, migraine, I was seeing doctors for all these ailments. Just when I thought I could not handle it anymore came the worst of it all: depression and terrible pain. Every muscle and fibre in my body ached and felt like it was going to fall off.
Depression is a different kettle of fish. It is the most debilitating thing that I have encountered in all my life. I started to keep away from people, I couldn’t attend parties or do the showbiz thing. I just couldn’t deal with it. For me, it was work and home and that was about it. Almost 11 years after my first symptom, the medical community finally diagnosed my ailment -- a condition called Fibromyalgia. It was not their fault that it took so long, Fibromyalgia is a clever one to diagnose.
“What is fibromyalgia?” I remember asking my doctor in Los Angeles. “It is a glitch in the way your brain and spinal cord handle pain,” he replied. I have more cells in me that carry pain and less of those that reduce it, as a result I am always in pain. The pain is like a fan that has no control and spins wildly.
There is no cure to this condition, he explained further; pain management was all we could do. Millions of people suffer from fibromyalgia and some don’t even know it. Yet the burden of my piece is not the condition but the learning that came to me one cold morning in London.
I was reading an article on the dictates of screenplay writing and a line sprang out of the page and hit me like a freight train. “Who wants what and what is stopping him/her from getting it, is a screenplay.” Boy wants girl but society won’t allow, man wants revenge but the law won’t allow, so on and so forth, you get the drift. And I understood, this is not merely a screenplay; this is life.
I am certain before we are born we make two choices: like pizzas and toppings. The first thing we choose is our dream and the second thing we choose is what will stop us from getting it. That, to my mind, is the journey of our souls. We have asked for this challenge. The dream is important to be able to fight the challenge and the challenge is important to make the dream worthwhile. One is useless without the other.
It has been 23 years since my first symptom and in these years I have lost a lot of friends who thought I was just stuck up and did not want to keep in touch. I could not explain my symptoms to them. I have suffered in my interpersonal relationships, people have stopped calling me for parties and social events because they know I never appear. I have come to bear the impression that I am too aloof and standoffish. The truth is, I have been in pain and at the receiving end of my fiendish mind.
There is just one thing that hasn’t suffered and that is my dream. I write as much as I want, work as much as I want, make the films I want and I don’t allow my body to take that away from me. When I can’t find the strength, I think of myself as a boxer lying knocked out in the ring, bleeding and bruised; then I tell myself: One more round. I get up and pummel the life out of the pain and make the day count. I have grown to realise the meaning of the phrase, it’s not about the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog.
I share my story because I know that there are a lot of you like me, lots of you who find it hard to chase the dream and live through the day. If my story can help you in any way then all the pain that I suffered would be worth something. If I can do it, you can do it.
One more round … that is all what it is about. One more round!
Co-ordinated by Dinesh Raheja