I was already suicidal before I became mentally unstable. I was nine years old, when I began to develop a fascination for death and suicide. I heard a lot about deaths–from news reports and those of my parents’ friends; exposure to them contributed a lot to this fascination. I thought to myself, “How would everyone react if I kill myself?” I didn’t associate suicide with depression, hopelessness or frustration; I simply associated it with the mere termination of life. I had my first suicide attempt soon after. I was just in the middle of the road waiting for a car to hit me, but the driver of the white car that was supposed to have ended my life just honked at me angrily and I immediately gave way.
It was not until I was twelve years old that I found myself being sadder than most people. I often went to my guidance counselor. I was mainly frustrated in dealing with my older brother’s Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and my aunt repeatedly telling me that I have to give him a pass most of the time, even when he was being violent. I wasn’t also considered as academically successful. I never found school interesting. Frustrated with feeling stupid, I started reading lots of books about various topics that I found interesting yet were barely discussed in grade school. I began reading about mental disorders and I eventually identified myself as “depressed.”
Every teenager enters a confusing and difficult phase called adolescence. I was preparing for high school, but the people from my grade school learned that I visit our guidance counselor practically everyday and I constantly say how I wanted to kill myself. Alarmed, they went and informed my parents. As a directive, I had to take a psychological exam outside the school the moment I entered high school.
In contrast to how my parents dealt with my brother’s ADHD, they were much less supportive in my case. I would hear them telling me, “You’re just overreacting,” or “You’re seeking attention again,” or “You’re too fainthearted.” I only found out from my new guidance counselor’s file the result of my exam: I had clinical depression. It was unusual considering that I tried to cheat my way to appear “normal.”
My second year in high school was the worst. I was stressed with academics, and my relationship with my classmates was severe. I would sometimes go to the lavatory and cry. At one point I attempted to jump off the building which prompted the school to tell my parents to send me to a counseling psychologist. I suppose the school didn’t want me to be under medication as much as possible.
At P2,000 for a two-hour session, it was financially challenging. I would sometimes witness my parents fight, and that hampered my self-esteem even more. I told them and my psychologist that I would like to stop going to these sessions in exchange of tutorial sessions. Somehow my condition improved afterwards. I would still get depressed, but I would rather feel that way instead of seeing my parents separate because of me. Besides, my suicidal thoughts have subsided. This went on for years.
Then came third year college. One day, I met a young student from school. We got to know each other, and after a few days, we started dating. However, my mother did not approve of him. His father was an illegal immigrant, and he himself was seemingly emotionally and financially unstable. She told me to stay away from him, and even though I had strong feelings for him, I followed her advice. He took it quite heavily, and we avoided each other for many months. That was when I realized that I loved him, and I felt crushed.
I finally got to tell him that I was sorry and we dated again, but he was already a different person. He became more distant and more unstable, and we would often fight. It was an on-and-off dating, and because we weren’t officially together, we also dated different people in between. It was while we dated again for the last time when he suddenly called off our date night. Two days later, his friend told me that he had just started a relationship with another girl who had left her boyfriend for him.
It was certainly the biggest blow in my life. My friends told me that I became visibly disturbed, and because they were also their friends, I was told to stop hanging out with them. I couldn’t imagine losing most of my friends at once, but I did. I was able to find a different set of friends, but it didn’t go well. One of them pushed me into his car and attempted to rape me, but I managed to get away from him. Still, I was deeply traumatized, and I began having trust issues with everyone I knew in school.
Everyone was happy during our college graduation except me. I felt very lonely, and it was painful for me to end my academic life on a sour note. Noticing what I was going through, my mom went to my room to apologize, saying that she had always been emotionally distant because she thought that it would make me stronger, and as a result, I didn’t know much about love. I will never forget that; it was in fact the first time that I heard her saying sorry.
I struggled with moving on for three years. During that period, I had two psychologists telling me that I wasn’t really depressed, even though I would always cry and inflict self-harm during sessions. Again, they refused to give me medication. I hid the fact of going to these meetings from my parents for fear that it might not sit well with them. I tried to leave my past behind and act normal when I got my first job, but it didn’t take long before my employers called my parents to tell them that they were suspecting of unusual behavior, including outbursts to my co-workers who tried to undermine my work, and my jokes about suicide. I immediately stormed into the HR office. I angrily told them that they ruined my reputation and it was very disappointing to confront my parents behind my back.
While I was on vacation at my grandmother’s house, I thought of needing to do something productive now that I was helping my mother’s pharmacy. I decided to study French. I was nervous at first, but I immediately became acquainted with the lessons that I did so well unexpectedly. While I was an academic failure, I was an overachiever in the language school. I was friends with everyone inside and outside the classroom. I was known for being a class clown and I became popular in school as a result. The director eventually hired me as a receptionist, and I soon gave up my job as a pharmacist and moved out from my parents’ home in Marikina to live in a boarding house in Makati.
For the first time, I had a job that I truly loved. My colleagues liked me for being efficient and accommodating, and students loved me for being funny, friendly, and supportive. I would receive several bizarre phone calls and unusual requests, but they mostly made my day and clients would give me positive feedback.
So it was a big surprise when the director called me into his office to tell me that I got fired for two reasons: I passed out during an event after drinking too much wine (which was true) and for insulting a client over the phone (which was not true). It took him three days before he could inform me, and he said that it was up to me to sign the memo or not. Later, I was told that many of the officers didn’t like his eccentric leadership skills, and because they couldn’t fire him and wanted to spite him, they decided to kick me out. None of my co-workers believed in the false story because they believed that it was out of my character, so I decided not to sign it.
I was very sad because of it, but it wasn’t until after my last day at work that I started feeling depressed again. I would cry from time to time even when I wasn’t thinking about it. I thought that it was because I was unemployed, but even after my client in school decided to hire me to work in his art gallery, because my co-workers recommended me, the depression stayed on. Even worse, I started to have anxiety attacks that I hadn’t had before. I would have chest pains and scream out of the blue. It became so unbearable that I started searching for suicide hotlines even though I wasn’t suicidal. Most of them turned out to be defunct until I dialed the HOPE Hotline.
It took a while before a woman answered the call. I told her that I was having anxiety attacks and I didn’t know what to do, and she heard me laughing. She said, “Are you feeling depressed at the moment? Good thing you can still laugh.” Then she gave me numbers of hospitals that had psychologists and psychiatrists, but I said that they were far from Makati. She later gave me a number of a support group by a religious organization. When I told her that I am an atheist, she said, “Then what else can I do for you?” Her voice was harsh and rushed instead of comforting, and I was so stunned that I thanked her just to end the call. I waited for a few hours before I redialed, but I was disappointed to hear her again. She said she was the only one handling calls at the moment.
Appalled, I posted the incident on Facebook. Immediately, my friend, who has Social Anxiety Disorder, messaged me to give numbers of her psychiatrist and a psychiatric clinic for indigent patients in a nearer hospital. Because my salary was just enough for basic needs, I dialed the latter.
I set up an appointment and I came in two days later. I was interviewed first by a couple of medicine students in training and then I was assessed by a psychiatrist. She was gentle and very professional, and she gave me medication for anxiety and her initial diagnosis: Type I Bipolar Disorder.
The moment I went home, I stared at my new medicines and I was nervous that somehow, something bad might happen. I gulped them anyway. For a few days, I was drooling often, which was never an issue before, and I began sleeping more easily and eating more ravenously that I gained ten pounds in a few weeks. I was told to bring a family member during the next consultation to view my family history. I was hesitant to admit to my parents that I was seeking professional help again, but when I did, my mother agreed to accompany me on a condition that she would not pretend as if everything was normal.
I didn’t expect that she would be so open about my childhood, my struggles at work and school, and how she was taking care of her children. I was ashamed to hear those things, but I was more relieved. I also didn’t expect that my father would provide me weekly financial support to buy my medicines. It must be painful for them to deal that all of their three children have mental disorders (my younger brother was diagnosed with clinical depression), but they accepted their fate anyway.
Little by little, I felt better, but I also became frustrated to take medicines every day and night. My psychiatrist gave me hope that this might not go on forever once all is well. Exactly a year after I had my first consultation, I stopped medication.
A month later, I went back to her clinic crying. My manic depression went into full swing again, and now I was complaining of insomnia. My average sleep was three hours, but I could stay up for 25 hours, sleep for one and a half hours, and wake up again until 2:30 AM without any drowsiness. She gave me a new set of medicines. I took them right before bedtime, and immediately it took effect. I slept for ten and a half hours, and I felt happy again. It was a weird feeling, but it was better that way.
A month later, I stumbled upon an article from a website dedicated to mental health. It claimed that some people may not fully recover from mental disorders, and bipolar disorder is one of those that require medication from Day One and it should be continued even when not exhibiting symptoms because it doesn’t go away as easily as most common disorders. I have since accepted that it may go on until I die, and that’s okay.
As of this writing, I am still under medication, but I am not complaining. I also let everybody know that seeking professional help is perfectly okay, and my friends are often shocked every time I tell them that I have bipolar disorder. It might not be helpful for some, but I let my mental illness define me. I must say that it has taken me to a lot of unexpected places, from having a nice career in the arts industry that I had never considered before, to going to a Russian Orthodox Church to attend my friend’s first service. I like how odd my life is playing. It must have been a great adventure.
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