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I am not bipolar

I am scared of the extreme rides in amusement parks. The first time I rode a roller coaster, I vowed never to do it again. I imagined all the possible scenarios that might lead to my death—a loose screw, a camera getting stuck in the rails, an earthquake, heck, even a meteor shower. So I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony when life gave me my very own roller coaster.

This time last year, I went to see a psychiatrist because I thought I was depressed. I saw and felt the signs—sleeping too much, sleeping too little, not eating well, getting detached from friends and family. I thought it was the grief showing because my father died months before then. But apparently what I felt was just the tip of an iceberg. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

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The first thing the doctor asked was what I was feeling. I hesitated to answer. He seemed annoyed, telling me that he couldn’t help me if I didn’t talk. So I told him the truth. I told him that life seemed black and white to me, that life had no meaning. I asked him what the point of living was if we are all to die, anyway.

He asked me some weird questions: Do you have racing thoughts? Do you buy things you don’t need? Do you hear voices? Have you thought of killing yourself? Have you ever hurt yourself in any way? I answered yes to all of the questions, except for the last one. I have thought of dying, yes, but the thought of actually doing it scared me. Minutes later, I left his clinic with a prescription for Divalproex Sodium, Quetiapine and Sertraline.

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I knew the doctor was right when he confirmed that I was sick. Ever since I can remember, I have always been different. When I was about four, I didn’t mingle with my cousins when they visited because I was too shy, and because human contact did not seem appealing to me. I was bullied because I didn’t want to play hide and seek with my classmates in kindergarten.

There are times when I don’t leave my room, even to eat, because I feel as if everything in this world is wrong. Somehow, the doctor answered the questions that I had ever since I was young.

I knew in my heart that the diagnosis was correct, but after a few months of taking the medication, I doubted the validity of my doctor’s words. I wanted to be normal like other people. I found it unfair that my friends could laugh off their problems. I didn’t want to accept the fact that I needed meds in order to be mentally and emotionally stable. So I asked myself: What if the doctor got it all wrong? What if I was just sad?

I stopped taking my meds. For about two weeks I was clean.

Then I crashed. The mood changes were back, with an upgrade of lower lows and higher highs. I guess the doctor was right. I took my meds again.

Despite the continuous medication and the weekly visits to the doctor, the mood changes still bothered me. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed that the only things I can do is cry and wonder how I can’t control things as simple as my own emotions. Strangely, they describe it as simply having mood swings, but actually it’s not a swing; it’s a roller coaster. You feel the impending doom of your mood rapidly dropping, and then the slow hike upward. The highs make you feel as if you can do everything, and the lows, like something is sucking the life out of you.

I was vice president for internal affairs in my organization last school year. I started with high hopes for myself, seeing as I loved working for that org. But my term ended with my performance lackluster. I wasn’t as passionate in working as I was the year prior to being elected. I missed a lot of meetings because I was sick—most of the time because I was depressed, other times because I was nauseous from all the meds. When my colleagues asked why I was away, I said I had an asthma attack, or some other physical illness. I guess it was easier to reason out with something tangible.

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On my birthday last year, I was so high that I applied for admission in a foreign university. I wrote an essay on how I should be accepted out of the thousands of international applicants. I filled out all the forms, saved my admissions essay, and thought of high school teachers who would willingly make a recommendation letter for me. The next day when I woke up, I laughed when I saw that there was a fee of over $100 that needed to be paid in full before I could send my application. Being manic made me believe that I could do anything—well, at least anything that didn’t cost $100.

A lot has happened since then. I have changed my psychiatrist, went to two different psychologists, told a handful of friends, tried different cocktails of antidepressants and mood stabilizers. And yet, sometimes I feel as though nothing has changed. Every night before sleeping, I fear that when I wake up, I will spend my whole week’s allowance on a daylong shopping spree because I’m high again. Sometimes I’m afraid that I might actually try to kill myself. I’m afraid that I’m going to be an alcoholic, or a druggie, or a college dropout.

And it sucks. It sucks that no one can see my inner turmoil. It sucks that my mother is somewhat in denial of my tragedy. It sucks that people tell me it’s all in my head. It sucks that I have to take meds that are so expensive. It sucks that those meds make me forget things. It sucks that my family is paying a doctor an expensive fee only for him to see me for 10 minutes and prescribe a new set of meds that I’m not even sure I need.

At some point, it dawned on me that my roller coaster will be with me forever. So I did the only thing I could: I made peace with it. I realized that roller coasters are meant to be ridden instead of fought. I realized the importance of being honest to my doctors. Although the meds will never cure me, they help in trying to control my mood, so I take them religiously.

Talking helps, especially to a real psychologist who actually understands that what I am feeling is valid. I have learned that it’s good to always educate myself on my prescribed medication. Most of all, I have learned to forgive myself, to accept that this is my life now, and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. I have learned to distinguish myself from my disease, telling myself every day: “I am not bipolar. I just have bipolar disorder.”

Bea Jerika J. Amador, 19, studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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TAGS: Bipolar Disorder, Depression, mental illness
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