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,

Ad Astra Per Aspera: Why failure is important to success

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The title of this post is my favorite Latin phrase: “A rough road leads to the stars”. It resonates deeply with me. And so does Ralph Waldo Emerson. I live by his quotes. I wholeheartedly love all of his wisdom.

But going where there was no path was not idyllic. Life wasn’t easy. And it sure showed me how.

This is my story, and I want to share with you some of the most important lessons I have ever learned. Maybe it will save you time in the long run, maybe from heartache, maybe it will help you avoid the mistakes that I did – who knows, the universe only does. Now before you go ahead and read it… I want you to understand 3 things:

Important reminders
  • This isn’t for you IF:
    • you’re the kind of person who feels they’re better than anyone else. I do not need your prejudice, I’m here to talk about what happened in order to become who I am today, and why stopovers & rejections in life were vital to my current position.
    • you think life is the same pattern for everyone else like it is for you.
    • you are not an empathic listener.
    • you are not passionate about life.
    • you refuse to embrace the waves of change.
  • Life will break you – whether or not you want it.
  • My reality and truth may make you uncomfortable, but as they say, experience, is a great teacher.

If you are okay with everything from above, click on below. Otherwise, I’ll advise you to click the X button on your window.

Read my full story
As your takeaway, here’s what I’ve learned:
  • Life’s lessons will present itself in its raw form, but you will be blind until it’s over. The grueling pain that I had to endure emotionally and physically was something I wouldn’t recommend but once this happens to you… do not panic. Call someone you trust, someone who’s known you your whole life – it could be a family member, a friend or your significant other. The important thing is not to carry this burden alone.
  • If help does not come, make your move. More often than not, the people around you won’t understand what you’re going through. They will be there for you but not with you. In case this happens, will yourself to create your future. Take action. Do not wait until help comes.
  • Rejection is protection. If you get turned away from something you want so bad, it must not really be for you. Think of it as a redirection from the universe.
  • Sleep and water is magic. Simple things… but they work wonders. When you’re cranky and you’re depressed, these are your best friends.
  • Love is not found from another person. It always is within you and about you. No it isn’t being selfish. If you are not okay with the love you have, then by all means let go.
  • Do not invest 100% in a relationship – unless it is a relationship with yourself. 

    The right person will come along and sweep you off your feet, things are great and before you know it you’ve fallen in love. But you cannot discount yourself from your real value… or you’re giving your significant other the power to rule over your life. By constantly seeing that you value yourself, your partner does as well. He/she will respect your worth. Isn’t this pretty much how before you started? You leave good impressions to attract them.

  • Productivity and travel are the cure to sadness. Knowing you’re doing something worthy of your existence will shun all the doubts and ghosts of your brain. Go out and explore! Nature will heal you, I promise. You’re made to do great things, so claim it and the universe will allow it!
  • Start a hobby that you think you might like. For me it was cooking that changed me. Every time I put out a lovely dish I made at home, I felt a sense of accomplishment and a well-founded purpose. There’s just a lovely magic in doing something productive so I suggest to pick up a hobby when life feels flat.

    It could be just as simple as collecting pictures, or taking photos or as grand as enrolling in a workshop meant to hone your skills.

  • Not everyone is from the same cookie cutter. Life can be normal for other people, yes they do make the wisest decisions, but I’ve figured a lot of people are so blind to the fact that real drama does happen. When shit hits the fan, they cannot believe it. And thus, it leads me to the next bullet point…
  • Your lowest moments will reveal who the real people in your life are. Might be a cliche, but this is indeed true. The moment that everything in your life is knee-deep in misery is when you know who has the patience to tolerate you and to be kind to you. Love these people. They are your source of strength.
  • School does not equal merit. Diplomas are not equal to guaranteed greatness. I’ve learned this the hard way. When I dropped out I thought my life would be put on hold, I came to feel like I was less of myself. But I was wrong. When I had my marketing job, I got to interview people, most of them from prestigious schools who graduated with diplomas and honors but they didn’t have the skills that made them fit for the job. They were “textbook junkies”. And when asked for a practical question they can only mutter “um” or look me in the eye. Don’t be textbook junkie. Your success depends on YOU. You are your greatest life project. Do not let the academic status quo stop you from being awesome.
  • Learning does not stop in school. With that being said, I got into self-learning and enrolling in online courses. Internet is your friend if you want to learn from the greatest and even the simplest of minds. Don’t stop learning. Knowledge and perseverance will be your greatest assets.
  • It’s okay to think and feel you may want to die, BUT NEVER DO ITThe idea of suicide is at most, just an extreme frustrating release. You want things to be better but they don’t happen. I saw it as a solution during my worst times, and an escape from this cold-hearted world. I no longer felt like I belonged. To me, I lost my value, my voice, my heart. When I wanted to speak, I would find myself holding back.

    “No one could possibly understand from where I’m standing,” yes I hear you. I’ve thought of it too.

    But killing yourself is not going to make things better. It just stops your life.

    You can make your weakness your power. Think of how many people you could help with your dilemma, when you finally get out of your position.

    How fulfilling it would feel?
    How many dreams you’ve wanted to pursue?
    How people will feel about your death?


    They say suicide is a selfish thing, but I think a lot of people who died from suicide, just really thought of what they thought was best for themselves. They weren’t able to get help from anyone. It’s not necessarily selfish as it would be a prejudice, but it seems they wanted to hand themselves a sense of peace.

    In my case, I killed myself in my head many times but I never found the courage to leave, simply because my goals and my desire for helping people burned so strong I didn’t want to leave this world. In that way, I somehow recreated myself time and time again, like a phoenix rising from the ashes reincarnating. This is an alternative way instead of taking your life.

    During that worst time, I kept thinking about the goals I could do, and people I could help get through the same feeling I did. I kept thinking of people I love who I might leave.

    And so, I looked for comfort in those who believed in me.

    I did allow myself to feel crappy, but once it was done I rose from the bed, ate my breakfast, made lunch and declared, “The rest of today will be a good day! I will live and do things that make me happy and fulfilled, and I will succeed!”

  • Depression is a friend who loves you endlessly. It loves you unconditionally, without barriers. And more often, it smothers you… but all it really wants is to allow you to feel so you can rise above the challenges life is throwing you, helping you to go through it instead of around it. This friend wants to make you braver, stronger and so invincible that it leaves you nothing less but your life to fulfill.

    Depression is not the one who gave you your problems; it’s just a by-product, an emotion. It is not a situation. You can get out of it.

    Once I understood this, I started to have shorter episodes, and more time planning on how I can make my life better. I ask myself after, “what can I do today to get me one step closer of being happy?”.

    Depression kept embracing me all these years, but I never hugged it back. I felt like a horrible friend to Depression. It was just helping me become stronger so no one and nothing can break me again. It wants me to get used to Pain, who’s my boundary watch. When I saw things this way and embraced depression back, amazing things began to happen. I began to see through people and feel what they felt.
  • Problems are phases. People are points. We always have the power to change our situation if we choose to. I never liked hearing this before but this is truth in my experience. Problems are just phases, stopovers. People are points. One does not represent the other.
  • Learn to separate each unfortunate event as they are. The problem I encountered most was that I didn’t know how to segmentize my suffering. I just thought of it as a whole chaos that was meant to make my life hell.

    When I separated each problem and let go of what haunts me, it allowed me to look at my life as a book with chapters instead of just one gunky page written with no stops.

    A story can be hard to read that way, right? So is your life.

    You need to be able to see that your life has its highlights and its shadows. Too much of each is not ideal, but a good balance makes for a good-looking picture.

  • Surround yourself with people who share your life goals. When I started having bad things around me, I had people snooping around my life like it was a TV soap. I felt judged and unmotivated. I even sulked in my bed for months.

    Then one day I met my lovely Lithuanian bestfriends, Ieva, Siga and Arūnas who changed me in ways I can never explain. Ieva is my sunshine, Siga is my wolf, Arūnas is my recluse.

    Ieva cheers me up when I am sad and makes me believe I can do it (even when I think I can’t and life sucks), while Siga is my motivator and talks real shit (still with love) into me when I cannot see things properly. Arūnas, who isn’t often around, pops in from time to time to check on me but when we do, he and I discuss universally-boggling things. It makes me laugh!

    And you need the same kind of people: People who value you.

    People who make you want to look forward to tomorrow.

    These 3 friends I have replaced my old network with who are just friends by the name. I now have Positivity, Reality, and Timing. They are them. They help me understand that not often things go as planned, but they care and they understand me deeply – and still love me despite my many flaws.
  • Grow a solid professional network. As you build relationships with meaningful people, you need to also have individuals who reflect the kind of goal or the lifestyle that you aspire.

    For example, if you want to be a photographer, make friends with photographers and photography enthusiasts.

    Are you an aspiring artist? Are the people around you not into your art? Change it! Be friends with fellow beings who share appreciation for your craft. That way it leaves you no gap for demotivation because you are surrounded by your dream.

    If you don’t know where to start, you can join our art collective, Amplified27 or subscribe to my private non-profit organization Pass On The Dream. We are a team of motivating and passion-driven people. We work for what we love so if you feel alone and can’t find your crowd, I encourage you to be surrounded by us!

Why is failure important, Iris?

Good question!

The reason why failure is important to success is because during these times you transition to a better you. If I were to give you a marketing reference, life would be called A/B testing in marketing. You test and fail, so you know what works next time. You learn. Whichever works, is your call. You take the lead.

I hope this made sense.

And to you, whoever you are… if you are going through something even remotely similar, you are great. Thank you for living your life. Do not think that you are otherwise. If you still feel like life is difficult, I’m an email away and let me help you get through it.

But for now, I’ll leave you with this quote…

When life gets too overwhelming and things go bad, when your family does not understand why, when your friends are too busy to listen or meet… All you really have is yourself. You cannot depend on anyone else to feel better. It’s an advice I always tell when people ask me how to get better, how to move on or how to be happy. Sometimes you really just have to fake it and make it. We all have these days. But at times these days get worse. We forget there is a world beyond our room, beyond the bed we choose to hide in. It is extremely difficult to motivate myself when it happens, and when I hear discouraging words I start to lose belief in my talents. But today I am proud of myself. Not for doing something great. But just to be able to wake up one more day and get up from the bed and try again. And if you are feeling awful today… Here’s to you. You brave little human being. You’ve lived all these years and fought your way through. And regardless of how many times you got stuck with pain, you cradled it with change and you fight. That’s the spirit! Go and make more moments. I’m proud of you.Iris Buenconsejo

May you always live the life you love.