11 years old. If I had to pinpoint the time when I began noticing what I would later on find out were symptoms of Bipolar 1 and Social Anxiety Disorder, I’d say it was around that age. At that time, of course, I did not have the right words for what I was feeling. For a while, I chalked up these feelings and experiences to just being naturally shy. I only became aware of the term “social anxiety disorder” in 2013 when I was 23 years old. All I knew was that I felt that something was wrong about me, but I couldn’t tell what exactly it was.
Somehow, I found my way through the internet to a social anxiety support website. It turned out, there are actually several different groups online for people with social anxiety. One of these was Anxiety and Depression Support Philippines (ADSP).
I wasn’t sure, though, if what I was feeling was really social anxiety, or shyness that just had to be grown out of. So, when I was 23 years old, I tried to find out for myself by leaving our home and moving to Batangas on my own. I didn’t know anyone there. I was able to find work handling deliveries in SM. I spent my time trying to be independent, to take care of and fend for myself. But I really felt that something was wrong, something in me was different from other people.
Living and working by myself in a place far from home was such a struggle for me. Every morning I would cry before going to work; at the end of each day, I would come home and cry all over again. At work, I had such a hard time dealing with people. I told myself that something really was wrong. I realized that I moved to Batangas because I tried to separate myself from it – this feeling of something being wrong, this illness. But it didn’t work; I couldn’t run from it. It was an inescapable part of me.
I lasted only 1 month and 1 week by myself in Batangas. That was my first and only experience of employment so far.
The Road to Healing
I decided to go back to Manila and seek help. I was officially diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder, and to help me get started on getting better, I was given medications: Sertraline and Xanor. I began to understand my condition, and realized that it might have its roots in psychological trauma. I experienced physical and verbal abuse from my parents growing up.
Eventually, I decided to join the support group, ADSP. I got to know many people there who helped me understand what I’ve been going through, socialize, and get along with other people. They were a big help to me.
However, two years after, I was also diagnosed with Bipolar 1. I realized that I had been experiencing the symptoms of Bipolar 1 since I was in college. I had extreme mood shifts. I also noticed changes in my sleeping patterns, thinking, speech, and behavior. At that time, I wasn’t really aware of, or I had no idea what it meant to have Bipolar disorder. From the beginning, my concern was my social anxiety and that was the reason why I sought help.
Despite having access to medication and professional help, Bipolar 1 continued to plague me. I couldn’t sleep and I was thinking too much. There came a point when I hadn’t slept for around 3 days and was becoming paranoid of people. I started hurting myself by punching myself or banging my head against the wall. I had several medications from my treatment, and felt the urge to take them all at once, even though I knew I could die if I did. Somehow, I managed to control myself, and I told my doctor that I couldn’t handle it anymore.
I had no one who could look out for me at home because I was living with only my younger brother at the time. My doctor was concerned about this, so he gave me his number to call him every night, or whenever I needed to talk to someone. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to call since I felt so shy. Finally, last February 2016, I was admitted in Sunrise Hill Therapeutic Community for 2 weeks.
Since I became aware of my conditions and began my journey towards getting better, I am glad to say I feel that there has already been a big improvement in my functionality. Although I wouldn’t say I’m fully functional now, the way most people often take for granted. But if I had to rate my improvement, I would give myself a 7 out of 10.
Something I’ve never been able to do before was commuting. For the longest time, I could only take a taxi if I had to go somewhere. I couldn’t ride the MRT, bus or jeepney because of how anxious I was about having to interact with people. Even things like asking the jeepney driver to stop was hard for me.
Before, I also couldn’t converse with others the way I do now. I would feel myself shaking, stuttering and having mental blocks even if I was only making small talk. Somehow, I’ve reached a point where I have a social life with the friends I met from the support group.
I’ve also found happiness in photography since starting it last 2014. It has served as a diversion and a kind of therapy for me.
I’ve come a long way since my most difficult days. If I had to give advice to people who are having similar experiences as mine, I would emphasize that healing should come from us. The support of other people is, of course, very important. But aside from that, we also need to help and support ourselves. It’s just a bonus if we find someone who will understand us.
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