Bipolar Mood Disorder Type II with Psychotic Features—just a random string of highfalutin words, medical jargon if you will; I desperately tried to strip these words of their inherent meaning. These words do not define me.
Back in 2010, when I first got diagnosed, I was dismissive. My father was the one who suggested I consult a psychiatrist. I brushed off the idea as just one of his schemes to ‘rectify’ me. I was a mere teenager—self-entitled, self-righteous, self-involved.
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I remember doing exhaustive research on WebMD and calling out my shrink for ‘prescribing the wrong dosage of medication’. The very annoyed doctor told me he did not go through eight years in med school to have a girl tell him ‘you’re wrong, I googled.’
I was so cynical of the entire thing. The neuropsychiatrist discussed the options with my father, IV treatment that would have me hospitalized for more than a week, maintenance medication that would cost us a fortune. What a sure-fire way to earn easy money, this cunning quack, I thought to myself.
I’m okay, there’s nothing wrong with me, I kept convincing myself. I hated my parents for making me put up with this non-sense, I hated my classmates for being better than me, I hated my friends for not understanding, but most of all, I hated myself, everything about myself. My weight fluctuated drastically, my sleep pattern—well, there was no pattern to be honest. Suicidal thoughts were a welcome transient in my head. I only had two moods—frustrated or miserable. I was always starting fights with my parents, taking it out on my little sister. I had a maid fired for saying I was a bad example to my sister.
Every night I would sleep hoping that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning anymore. Waking up meant I failed, so I forced myself to sleep again. With more than half the day gone, I accomplished nothing. My life was stagnant. I so desperately wanted to vanish that one time I hid under my bed and hoped that they would forgot I was there, that I ever existed.
I was once rushed to the hospital by friends at three in the morning to be put under suicide watch. Apparently, we don’t have that service here in the Philippines. So there I was on a bed in the ER, looking perfectly fine with the nurses gossiping, ‘what the hell is she here for’?
I self-harmed once, cutting myself with a Gillete blade I bought from a convenience store and then running across the street to buy gauze after a few minutes of bleeding. I must’ve looked ridiculous at the drug store with blood all over my shirt, pale from the shock I got out of the deep flesh wound, blood-stained blade in one hand, and money to buy bandages with in the other hand.
I even tried overdosing myself with sleeping pills only to wake up with a piercing pain in my stomach. I forced myself to eat bathing soap and after an intense puking session in the bathroom, I was okay. Luckily, I didn’t take enough to off myself.
In retrospect, I would like to think that was my rock-bottom—that I am past that, I have nowhere to go but up. I still have those days when I feel like disappearing, getting on a bus to nowhere and escaping life altogether. I also have manic episodes when I think unreasonably high of myself, that I would develop the cure to cancer when I can barely understand Microbiology 1. I haven’t outgrown the immense trouble I have sleeping at night and waking up in the morning. Neither have I gotten over anxiety attacks under high-pressure situations. I am still incredibly anxious and self-aware in a room full of people. But despite everything, I am getting better.
Six years after my initial diagnosis, I am still on my maintenance medication, I consult a different psychiatrist now. I’ve met a lot of people who have a similar condition to mine which makes me feel less alienated. I am trying to understand my condition through psycho-education and academic research. I strongly advocate for accessible mental health care and a deeper societal understanding of mental conditions.
Mental health disorders can be debilitating. A friend who suffers from clinical depression once said that a mental disorder is the only kind of health condition that would literally make you want to kill yourself and get it over with. We have so much respect for people with terminal illnesses like cancer who fight against their disease. But unbeknownst to others, we fight hard, too. There can be physical manifestations of our illness as well. Getting an anxiety attack can feel like an actual cardiac arrest. Extremities going numb, hyperventilation, difficulty in breathing, pulse rate and heart rate go off-chart—sometimes we have to induce vomit to release pressure. Anxiety attacks can also cause us to pass out or get periodic convulsions. Stress-induced migraine, lack of appetite and severe insomnia are no walk in the park, either.
There are days when, anxiety looms, and we barely have the strength to get up from bed or dress up. By sheer force of will, we manage to. We put our brave caps on and face the world despite wanting to go recluse on the inside.
When we confide in other people, that takes a lot of guts. So when someone goes up to you and says ‘hey I’m depressed’, don’t say things like ‘then don’t overthink,’ because we are hardwired to do so. Much as we want to slow our brains down when they go into hyperdrive, we can’t. It’s like telling a person having an asthma or asphyxiation attack, “Would you get over yourself and just breathe normally?”
Instead give them a pat on the shoulder, a tight hug, a peck on the cheek and tell them that you are there for them no matter what. Compassion goes a long way for people like me. When we can’t be strong for ourselves, be strong for us. When we loathe ourselves to the core, be there to love us. When we don’t believe in ourselves anymore, believe in us. When we can’t understand anything anymore, understand us. Be our silver lining.
Sometimes, all it takes to save a life are kind words and a shoulder to cry on.