I am deathly afraid of roller coasters. The first time I rode one, my older cousin peer pressured me to do it. I remember crying as the ride went up, up, up because I was so sure that the drop would lead to my untimely death at 12 years old. I closed my eyes as we began to descend and I vowed to never ride a big roller coaster again. Ever.
Little did I know that 13 years later, my life would turn into a roller coaster of my own.
While I admit that I was different from others my age, growing up, I appeared to be a relatively normal child. Though quite introverted, I was a bubbly and happy girl who enjoyed ice cream on a rainy day, and chatting up her friends on the phone. I was an achiever in school, a student leader, an aspiring writer. My yearbook writeup said that I was most likely to succeed before 30! I never really had problems growing up—my parents provided everything I needed and wanted, I wasn’t abused, I wasn’t bullied. On the outside, I was as normal as any teenager could get. But somehow, I knew deep in my heart that I was different, and that I was trying my hardest to fit in with my peers.
To say that life can suddenly feel crazy and overwhelming is an understatement. During the first quarter of 2018, when I was 25, I began withdrawing from my friends. I would have major cry fests and wouldn’t sleep until the sun was up. I would lash out at my brothers, and my parents (who were in Singapore during that time for my dad’s work) couldn’t understand what was happening—they just attributed my mood swings to my being the “weird one” in the family. I thought so, too. But I knew something was wrong when I tried to hurt myself before going to work just because I wanted to feel something. There were days when I felt too sick to function so I would not go to work, and just stayed home and slept. There were nights when I cried—scared of thoughts of suicide.
The last straw came after a breakup. I woke up one night and I remember that I was crying uncontrollably for reasons that I still don’t understand. I just knew then that I was scared, sad, and angry. I was thrashing and crying, begging for “it” to stop. What did I want to stop so badly? Life? Time? The heartbreak? I don’t know. My brother decided to take me to the hospital.
After what felt like hours and hours of waiting at the emergency room, a female doctor came in. She sat across from me and asked me why I was there. I didn’t know what to answer so I just said, “Ayoko na po.” The doctor asked me if I had thoughts of hurting myself or of dying. I looked at the door, my little brother was looking at me from the glass panel. “Yes po. I thought about ways on how to kill myself,” I answered. She asked me why. “Wala pong sense mabuhay eh. Ayoko na po,” I said. She asked me if I heard voices inside my head. I looked at her and nodded. “What are they saying?” Well, that I was worthless and a good-for-nothing person. I am not worthy of love and that I destroy my relationships because I am a bad person. So why did I still attempt to live my life as if I was normal? I am not normal. I am a weird girl, I am damaged, I don’t deserve to live.
The doctor then asked me if I ever experienced being so worked up or if I had a moment where I felt I could do and be anything. She asked me if there were moments that I couldn’t get out of bed because I felt sick even if I really wasn’t. I answered yes to both. She made notes on her clipboard. She said that she’d give me medicines, but that I couldn’t take them on my own—my brother was to give them to me before I went to sleep. I was to come for a follow-up the week after. Diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder I.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).”
I know that some people were shocked by the diagnosis. They would be in denial. But not me, I knew something was wrong. I knew it since I was five. I was not as naturally outgoing as my brothers were; I would lock myself up in my room to read or to daydream—I wanted to leave home so badly because I felt so misunderstood. I was the odd one out.
And so I was quite relieved to have been diagnosed. Finally, everything that was wrong in the world, my world, had a name. I could navigate all this craziness now.
People were supportive after my diagnosis. My friends told me it would get better. That I was brave for seeking help. I would just nod. I didn’t feel brave. I felt so weak, and I had so many questions. Why do I have to go to therapy once every two weeks? Why do I need to take these medications that make me puke? I found it unfair that my friends could go about their lives as if they didn’t have any problems. Why was I dealt with these cards? I questioned God, the universe, a higher being over and over again. I got no answer.
After months of being on medication and seeing the doctor, I felt better, so I stopped. I wanted to be normal again. I didn’t want to be “bipolar”. I wanted to be the 12-year-old kid who was deathly afraid of roller coasters again. My family was happy because I wasn’t sick anymore. Until I was again. And it got worse. I was back on the roller coaster but with scarier loops and a steeper drop. I knew then that I messed up.
I began experiencing higher highs and lower lows. I maxed out my credit card. I began applying to law schools. I took a foreign language class—French! I began signing up for barista classes because I wanted to open my own coffee shop. I started a blog. Then I stopped. I couldn’t get out of bed, let alone take a shower. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t write so I made excuses to not go to work. The racing thoughts and the voices were there, and this time they were screaming. So I started seeing my doctor and began taking my medicines again. Stopping my medications simply because I felt better was the worst decision I ever made. Not seeing my doctor for months was the second worse one. It took longer to finally get some footing. There were relapses and I had to start over again. But I continued taking my medicines, saw my doctor once every month—I learned my lesson.
I learned that healing from this is not linear. And all the questions I had before? I began to get answers: I need help. That’s it. My brain is wired differently, the chemicals inside it are not normal. It wasn’t my fault; it wasn’t fate’s or God’s fault. The universe isn’t punishing me for some bad deed. I was sick. And I had to get better. I was sick and sick people need help. I accepted what happened because that’s all there is to it, really: acceptance. I am not weak because I have a mental illness, the same way that people with physical illnesses aren’t either.
It dawned on me that I would be this way for a very long time. So I developed coping mechanisms—some of them were bad, admittedly, but I would like to think that some of them really helped me as I deal (not battle) with my disorder. I began journaling, 10 minutes every night; I exercise every morning before I prepare for work. I surrounded myself with people who I trust to not judge—I lost some friends along the way, but I still have those who are worth keeping around.
Talking about what I feel helps. I read article after article on how to deal with mood swings, my therapist would suggest activities and better behavioral coping skills. My family still thinks of me as the weird one but at least they now acknowledge that I am not making it all up. It got better. As time went by, I began to see life as worth living. I still have bouts of depression but I’ve learned to manage them now. I go to work; I am able to function well again. I remind myself that I am normal despite being different from others, despite having a bipolar disorder. I joined support groups and discovered that I am not alone in dealing with this curveball that life threw at me.
It’s easy to use my mental illness as an excuse, as a crutch. But that’s the thing. I must not.
Friends, family, doctors, and medicines are not enough if we ourselves won’t help ourselves. Living with a mental disorder is like living with a baby for the rest of your life, except that you are the parent and the baby at the same time. You have to take care of yourself as the parent in order to help the baby grow. You need help, yes. But it will all boil down to how you take good care of your well-being.
Yen is a Junior Editor at My Pope magazine where writing articles on hope, happiness, and inspiration helps her cope and see the world in a more positive light on a daily basis.