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Chemistry of happiness

I stepped into the building and was immediately greeted by a cool breeze. The people present were of similar dichotomies: the locals and the foreigners; those who sat on wheelchairs and those wrapped in lab coats; and, finally, those who were searching for help and those who were willingly coming to their aid.

Hospitals, unusually enough, have always been places I looked forward to visiting. Now, taken out of context, this statement may make me appear like a sadist who feeds off death and revels in the misery of others. On the contrary, as an aspiring philanthropist, I have decided as the first step in my plan to help humanity to become a doctor. Watching those pristine-clad professionals barreling down the hallway to hopefully save a life has always filled me with inspiration. I know that my goal is attainable. I have believed in it even as I entered college and went through the first semester. But then, there wouldn’t be a story if everything had gone according to plan, right?

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Right we turned as we reached the top of the escalator. As usual, my dad was in the lead, asking for directions to the clinic that housed the doctor who supposedly held the cure to this curious malfunctioning of my mind. Our almost hurried journey abruptly ended with our arrival at her clinic. And then we were asked to wait.

If you ask me if I remember the first time I thought something was wrong, I would tell you that I do not. The symptoms were as unpredictable as they were varied, and they occurred out of nowhere in my life, like earthquakes that shook a relatively peaceful and productive land. These “earthquakes” varied in intensity, so sometimes, they could be powerful enough to produce a tsunami. This is the kind from which I would have a little more trouble recovering.

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And so, when a psychiatrist finally told me that I had clinical depression, not many things came to mind. Somehow, I already knew. It was like suddenly trading places with Atlas without my knowledge; the diagnosis only confirmed that I had, in fact, shouldered the weight of the world while he rested.

Remember what I said about earthquakes? Well, having a full-blown depressive episode is a bit different. It is like being in the eye of a storm—everything around me is in ruins as I slowly succumb to fear and misery—but I can explain none of these feelings. Plus, no one else sees the vigor of the storm. It might be difficult to empathize with, but at the least you must agree that the brain should be allowed to acknowledge when it is unwell. The person should have reassurance that getting help for it is a valid act.

So that was what I did: I tried to get help. Reading up on the topic, albeit online, strengthened my belief that it was a real illness that was no different from a broken bone, in the sense that it had to be treated. It was then that I took my first antidepressant, Escitalopram. My father and I had doubts about me taking medication, but then again I wanted to get better. I knew that this illness had already been affecting others around me. I had been putting relationships on the line as I tried to mask what was wrong. So to those people I had confused, annoyed, or hurt, I want to say that I’m sorry.

I hope you still invite me to things. And believe me, I love you, guys.

The doctor was finally in. I had not been nervous until her secretary called me in for my session. As I stood up and handed my bag to my parents, I felt like I was going off to war—only, it was a war with myself.

My new psychiatrist was a very proper and polite woman who wanted to talk about my feelings. That part was great. But then as I shared my thoughts and experiences with her, she started asking questions that puzzled me. Nonetheless, I cooperated. I told her that I frequently had trouble sleeping, and that sometimes I would be up all night thinking about the things I could be doing instead of lying in bed. I told her that at my lowest points, I lost my appetite for days and did not want to see or talk to other people. I told her all that I tried to hide every day, every single skeleton in my closet, and for the first time in my life being that raw and honest was okay with me.

After about half an hour, she called in my parents and asked for me to leave. Restless, I wandered through the halls of the hospital, which I thought of as my future workplace. I thought about school, friends, and my temporary leave of absence; I thought about how we would manage to pay for my treatment—and if it was even worth it.

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And then my phone buzzed. I was wanted back inside.

When I returned, the doctor told my parents and me that I had to take three medications: Depakote, Rivotril, and Aripiprazole. These were all supposed to help with the symptoms; these were the stabilizers for my earthquakes, little happy pills that were supposed to fix the chemicals in my brain.

She then explained my new diagnosis. As she spoke, everything slowly started to make sense. It was like she had given us eyes that could finally see the puppeteer that was making me feel and act differently toward certain life situations.

Afterwards, we said our thanks, paid the bill, then went back home.

As we were on our way I could only think of three definite phrases: 1) I have bipolar disorder but I am not weak;

2) I have bipolar disorder but I won’t let it disable me; and

3) I have bipolar disorder but I still deserve to be treated like a normal human being, and that is, with compassion, respect and dignity.

That’s my story. What’s yours?

Diana “Dey” Bautista, 17, a student of the University of the Philippines Manila, says she hopes to end the stigma of mental illness.

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TAGS: Bipolar Disorder, clinical depression, Depression, mental illness
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