Coming Out: On Having Bipolar Disorder

To my friends and family who might frown upon reading this… this is not for you. This is for the lives that are about to be reaped if the stigma of mental health continues. This is me doing my part for the world.

For more information on Bipolar Disorder, click here: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-disorder-signs-and-symptoms.htm


The day I decided to be myself again was the day I first sat down on my psychiatrist’s chair.

Yeah, I can remember that day.

Her office was clear. She had faint-colored walls, panoramic windows and behind me was a frosted glass divider which may or may not have shunned the sounds of our conversation.

There was nothing too medical in it. No charts that I recall, no brain model. Just your regular office with a desk, a chair behind it and two chairs for visitors.

But I knew that day… that day… It was the day I clung for my dear life.

And no, not in that terminal sense of clinging. I wasn’t exactly extremely physically sick. Sure, I looked drained. My hair wasn’t shiny and my skin was rough and pale – a side effect of less nutrition. I hadn’t been eating and sleeping properly. I had the bruises, the scratches and some little scabs on my arms – but it wasn’t like I was sick to my bones and needed transfusion.

Or so I thought.

Blood transfusion? Nope.

Hope transfusion? Yes.

You see, I needed hope. Lots of it. I was running out of my will to live.

How, you ask, does a person go from normal to willful dying? Simple.

3 things are not present: sense of self, support and proper care.

Looking back on that day I’ve realized I’ve come so far. After years of battling depression, highs and low shifts of mood, hyperactivity that was mistaken for my bubbly personality… a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder hit me like a forceful but reassuring ocean wave.

She said my brain wasn’t producing the proper amount of hormones needed for my mood stability and that my neurotransmitters don’t align as they should be. It’s all about the chemical mixture in my brain, she said. And that there was nothing to be ashamed of.

Her first impression on me was stoic. But surprisingly, she was warm and compassionate, like a caring aunt who wanted to help. I could say I finally found my doctor and my diagnosis.

“Finally, I know what it is. But wait I’m not crazy. This information could be too much to handle.” I told myself.

I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. I KNOW I’m not crazy.

What the hell are you talking about, Iris? Get yourself together!

What I said above won’t suffice what I have been through for 5 years in the secret lairs of the dark. But to summarize it in reactions you may be able to understand, yes that’s what it was like.

Depression and having a Bipolar Disorder is like being a hermit for so long.

A hermit that, by the time you’ve been rescued, you don’t know whether to accept help or trust it. It’s all too unfamiliar. It’s so easy to just crawl and cradle back in the dark. The new age out of the cave doesn’t make any sense – with all these cures and terms and contraptions… being a hermit was so simple:

You just stay hidden.

And that’s what’s like being depressed and Bipolar. You can NEVER tell if someone is hurting by the looks of where you’re standing.

Heck, if there was a dark cave I doubt you’d wander in it, am I right?

To a passersby, a cave is just a cave. You couldn’t tell if someone was living in its deep abyss unless you go and take a closer look.


Anyway, back to my story…

It was August 2016 when I was sitting in my psychiatrist’s chair. Prior to this I had gone to another psychologist in June 2016 when my symptoms started getting worse, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to help me.

I had been through a lot since 2012 but I never sought professional help.

“I could do this on my own,” I muffled. I was too proud to seek assistance. As much as I don’t want to admit it, my inner being tells me it’s a sign of weakness. I always believed in myself more than anyone. Maybe as much as my mama does.

This was the first time I’m seeing a mind doctor. He was okay; however, I needed someone with a more passionate concern with me. I couldn’t feel that with him.

Every session felt like a chore that made me anxious, a box to tick off.

One down, few more to go.

I know I needed a person I feel I can fully trust and open up to. Someone along the lines of a friend, a family and a doctor all combined into one.

I think that was what was lacking: he was just a psychologist to me.

The therapy with my prior caregiver was warm but insufficient. It lacked a solution that worked for my case.

2 weeks after my first few sessions with that psychologist, I was back at it overdosing and researching ways on how to die. I even texted him that I needed help. I just wanted to talk.

No reply.

I took that as him glancing away.

“Maybe my situation wasn’t an emergency. Maybe my life wasn’t so important.”

 

It’s interesting how the brain goes from one thought to another in a snap.

According to Dr. Divi’s healing class I enrolled in May 2016 (yes I did enroll in this in the hopes of finding a cure and a way to understand myself), we get about 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. Fascinating, isn’t it?

But wait.

From Thought #1 to Thought #2 all the way to Thought #4, it takes 17 seconds for it to materialize in our head.

And 68 seconds in, it gains momentum.

From that momentum, we react.

“Thoughts,” she said, “think for themselves. Therefore they are instantaneous.”

So to say, one trigger could definitely launch a thousand ships.

Our mind is the Helen of Troy!

All I knew in June was that I just wanted to stop the intense pain I’m feeling inside.

Warning: Triggering suicidal details. Read at your own discretion.

I ended up overdosing several powerful medications, like ibuprofen. I was sent to the nearest emergency room several times in months.

And then one time, I paused my plans for the moment and looked at my daughter.

“She’s so precious. How I wish she knows how to heal me.”

But I can’t put that pressure on my daughter either.
I didn’t create her to be my first aid kit.

People said that I should just look at Avis and be thankful. They said I shouldn’t even “be depressed” and to stop it because I have her.

The thing though is, I didn’t want to be around anymore not because I wanted to abandon her. I didn’t want to be around because she’d deal with a mom who can’t take care of her most of the time. A mom who has swift mood swings and a mom who has intense anger. A mom who couldn’t deal with stress like normal people. A mom who’s now depressed.

Most of all, I didn’t want her to deal with me. Imagine having someone’s life be impeded because of my disability? My depression? I can’t even take care of myself now, how am I supposed to take care of her?

I just felt guilt all over.

“I can’t even be the right mom.”

While all our pictures smile and cuddle… what people don’t know is that behind those photos I’m struggling in between. I only have them to remind both of us that I love her. I had hoped she would take a look at it in the future and wouldn’t hate her mommy for leaving before she could go to school.

School.

I will miss her going to school.

Tears rolled down my cheeks.

“Shit, I will miss a lot if I die. I wish I could just stop feeling depressed. Why can’t I? What’s wrong with me?”

Anytime someone would tell me to get over it, be something, do something or feel something, I would be very offended to the point that I’d get into a heated argument and prove I’m not the one who started it. That it’s harder than just saying it. And usually it’s with my parents.

I’m angry for being misunderstood.

I’m angry because there’s no place I could run off to.

I’m angry because I can’t tell anyone.

I’m angry because there’s a lot to be expected of me.

I’m angry because I expect it too, and I can’t fulfill those expectations.

People think I’m this A-lister, multi-talented, success-driven, positive and cheery girl but that was only my shell.

I’m angry.

I’m angry.

And while I thought about that, I remembered that angry people are hurt people. I don’t quite know where I got that knowledge but it has always been my belief system.

Anger isn’t the end emotion. It’s either confusion or pain.

So for a while I cooled down and thought about my pain.

Pain.

“I’m back!” it said.

“Why won’t you just leave me alone?” I told Pain.

“Because silly, if I wasn’t here you wouldn’t know Strength.”


There are a lot of things you don’t know about a person.

I’m not writing all these things so you can pull out your judgy eyes and your gavel as I become vulnerable.

No.

This post is for those who are going through or might be going through this.

I went into treatment for a week in August, immediately a day after my diagnosis. I was classified under “intensive care” and was actually put into ICU while I wait for my private room.

To be honest I liked being in the hospital. I’m the only one I know who doesn’t dislike it. There’s a sense of urgent care everywhere. Something you don’t get at home or at school, at work or at public places. It’s so comforting.

But then again, I was classified as a mental health patient.

Mental health patient. What does that even mean?

To society, that means I am branded as an outsider.

To me, I felt what society might look at me as.

So there I was in the ICU. I told my doctor and the hospital staff to keep my records confidential. Most of it is. But I’m telling this part because I want you to have a glimpse of what it’s like in this situation.

While I liked hospitals, I didn’t want this. This. This depression. It’s so depressing.

And I do not take that word lightly. It’s not some sort of sadness that goes away. It stays with you for weeks, months and even years.

I’m going to give another analogy.

Think of sadness as the yeast in the bread. It’s always been there. Always have, always will. Without sadness there won’t be joy. You need joy to be you. Like the yeast is needed for the bread to be a bread.

But if the yeast grows older, the bread goes stale. Stale = sadness.

Once that stale bread grows mold (aka depression) you can’t have that bread anymore. That mold takes over that bread (aka you) and everything is obviously, by the looks of it, ruined.


I stayed in the hospital for 7 days. We did MRI, CT scan, blood work, urinalysis – the whole nine yards. And then they gave me antidepressants and some anti-anxiety medications on a daily basis. My doctor told me I would have to take this for life.

My beautiful and kind nurses from Asian Hospital

I spent the hours sleeping and watching TV. Killing time.

I even brought my laptop because I still wanted to do work.

Workaholic. That’s another trait I have.

I just love being productive.

It’s another symptom of Bipolar Disorder actually. Mania. When I’m too high on my happy hormones and I just feel like I can do anything, be anything. It’s probably why I started so many start-ups and never got around to finishing them yet.

Oh yeah, those things that people admired me for? They made me depressed too.

I didn’t feel accomplished. I felt half-baked.

Mania is when I don’t sleep because I HAVE TO do something. It’s this productivity itch that won’t go away unless you clear off the to-do’s. Frankly, it’s supposedly a positive symptom but too much mania makes me scattered.

I lack focus.

You can actually see as to how I wrote this article.

And then those aspirations turn into frustrations and my mood swing goes from up to down. This can happen in a day or in 3 hours, but I never really paid attention. I had a hint before that I might be Bipolar (props to Google for helping me find some symptoms) but self-diagnosing is just too risky so I said, maybe I’m not.

The day before I was admitted to the hospital, I thought I saw my dead ex-husband by my bedside. He used to be my best friend. He died in 2015 from suicide and we never found out why.

That was one of the hardest parts of my life I guess.

The other one was when we separated and it took me a year to accept that.

Everything in my life seemed so fleeting. So hard. I didn’t quite get the challenges being thrown at me. And most of all I didn’t understand myself. I didn’t know how to handle all the pain anymore.

If it wasn’t for my daughter, I’d feel that life was a blank page I’m stuck on writing.


Fast forward September, I moved to a new home to change up my environment. My psychiatrist said this is a good move to start anew. I lived in Alabang for a month or two and made new friends. I ran with a running group and it was awesome. I felt so alive.

Adidas Boost Manila | Run This City
Adidas Boost Manila | Run This City

But I had to move back to Cavite by November. Money was running tight and renting an apartment was just out of my league anymore. My parents said that I’d be able to save better if I just returned. I was hesitant at first, but they were right.

By the time I finally got my company’s website (Tavolozza) running around December 2016, in the second most chaotic year of my life (2012 was the first one), I was accomplished – nay – elated that I have done something! I DID IT. I actually did it!

It took me such a long time (almost 6 years tbh) to even rebrand the whole thing because I “didn’t feel like it”.

And to think that almost 3 years ago, I started to quit on my life. Well since then and every week, or every other week from that time. I thought as the months progressed, so will my courage to leave this world.

But no, I’d love to say I’m not a chicken.

Though I will say that yes I was afraid of what is beyond death. I will say that I was afraid of what I might regret to leave. After all, I am the person who still chooses to see goodness in people and things. I still see good in this world and that was what was preventing me to just give up.

But I wasn’t afraid to die anymore.

And now that I think about it, this is actually a gift: Not being afraid of death.

When you have another chance to live, it’s a call to change something and make better circumstances.

People say that those who try to commit or have committed suicide are cowards but I say this:

Dying takes more courage than living. It’s easy to continue what’s already been started but it’s harder to die. It takes more courage to pull that trigger, drink that poison, swallow those pills and choose to end your life than continue living it.

So really, we should stop this stigma once and for all. Let people who are affected come out and get the help they need without fearing to be labeled and judged.

It’s 2017 now, and I believe I’m starting the year well. I remember the nights I wanted to delete my accounts and cut off everyone because “I wasn’t doing everything right.”

Funny how time, faith and the right help can turn things around.

And thank you to my wonderful, loving, beyond compassionate and amazing boyfriend M for holding me through it all.

I’m not saying depression will not come back again, but when it does at least I know now how to better handle it. Ganun pala yun (so that’s how it is). 🙂 Happiness and fulfillment are possible. God is so kind to spare me my life. He must have more reasons than just giving me talents.

I believe I’m meant to be here for you.

So from hereon out, I’m planning to write more about the highlights and contrasts of my journey – from depression, suicide, diagnosis, getting help and having hope – trusting that it will inspire others to hang on and create the life they want to live.

For now I hope this story shows that even an ordinary person can have Bipolar too. And despite my diagnosis, it’s not my weakness but a strength for my creativity. (I actually get more done when I’m in my mania, and more rest when I’m depressed. I just have to change my perspective and see it positively. 😊 )

Now I am free.

I’ll see you in more blog posts,