Living well despite having bipolar disorder

Sofia Manlapaz
Living well despite having bipolar disorder
'I write this to inform you – those of you who have been prevented from gaining themselves because of a vow of secrecy supposedly meant to protect you from the outside world – that there is no shame in our condition'

I have bipolar disorder. Like all good owners, it has kept me bubble-wrapped, as pristine as possible for its own purposes. Previously, attempts to escape this bubble were rewarded with threats – menacing voices that promised me no harm will come to those I love so long as I return.

They told me, “If you leave me, I will kill them. But if you really want to leave, you can only protect them if you take your life.” And so I did try – countless times.

The voice has never honored its words. During those times, when I regained my consciousness, the feelings of disappointment arose as it cackled that I would always belong to him – or her – or them, depending on who was on the foreground. (READ: How not to talk to a suicidal person

It goes way back 

Looking back, perhaps I should have sought treatment at an early age. I recall when I was in elementary I would place a knife under my pillow – a form of protection from what I do not know.

Perhaps my parents did not see that there was something wrong. I had always been a good student. I always graduated with honors at every level during my elementary and high school days.

During college, I graduated with a cum laude standing. Perhaps, if I paid attention, I would have known that there was something wrong way back then. There were times when I had a very short attention span. These were days of misery. During these times, I would hole up in my room. I would sleep continuously for several days. (READ: I have depression and it feels good to admit it)

I suppose everything went totally awry when I started to attend graduate school. I would only attend my classes during the first part of the semester. I did not attend these classes later on because there were times when I could not read. The letters would only dance in front of me. I did not take heed of these things too much.

At that time, I met and fell in love with my husband. I thought, maybe, these words danced because they mirrored my feelings. Looking back, it seemed that my mania took the form of always being with him. Nevertheless, he was my first and only romantic love. He brought stability and order to my world. He taught me discipline and focus. For this, I am grateful.

After meeting him, I performed well in my latter graduate classes – well enough to get good recommendations from my professors. I had taught before in other schools, but these recommendations bolstered my chances of teaching in the UP System.

The voices

It was during this time that I started to hear voices. I couldn’t attend my classes sometimes. I was afraid I would start talking to the voices. I was afraid my students would catch me in the act of talking to my then benign friends.

There came a time when I gave in. The voices would not let me sleep. They were always present. I could not eat. It took a lot of self-control not to ask my fellow passengers in jeepneys, vans, and busses why they were following me. To prevent them from tracing my destination, I would hop from one taxi to another. In malls, the loud speakers would air the voices. They were triumphant. They were able to find me. During this time, I could not take the voices anymore. I talked to my husband. I demanded that he brought me to my parents’ house. I sought treatment.

Although the initial treatment hushed the voices for a time. I realized too late that I was misdiagnosed. The initial diagnosis was major depressive disorder.

My initial doctors’ approach was to drug me to sleep whenever the voices returned. There was a time when I woke up from sleep as if my heart stopped beating. I refused to take my medicine until I went to a different doctor. It was this doctor who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. The treatment worked. The voices subsided.

Nowadays, because I have been good, because I have accepted it, sometimes it entertains me with classical music. Only I can hear the soothing sounds of my private orchestra.

I dare not tell others about it. To tattle would lead to a return to the high dosage of my medication. Even worse, it may lead to another suggestion for my institutionalization. It is with this regard that writing this comes at a great risk to myself.

The medication robbed me of lucidity. It forced me to live in a fog-filled world where nothing seemed real. Perhaps, you conjure an image of floating, even jumping, in the clouds. It is very far from that. It is like walking in a dense mist after just being robbed of your mental faculties. I often laugh at the irony of this. To regain your self, you are first turned into someone devoid of self.

Fighting the stigma 

Sadly, it is not just the reduced awareness caused by the high dosage of medications that makes people such as myself devoid of self. It is for this reason that I write this.

Until now, there is a stigma attached to mental illness in the Philippines. For instance, I am not allowed to speak to others about my condition for it will bring shame to my parents. In their defense, my parents never explicitly mentioned that they are ashamed of my condition. But I can read between the lines.

The cloak of secrecy is not just meant to shield me from accusatory voices from without. It is also meant to shield them from external criticism. (READ: How does the PH fare in mental health care?

I suppose, I am one of the lucky ones. I only dread the shame, the ostracism, and the stigma associated with my condition. I am not chained to a post, untreated, left to deal with the voices alone. I am not locked in a room soiling myself after my father’s perverted rituals to rid me of my demonic infestation. I am not left to wander the streets seeing monsters in buildings, left to the mercy of the elements whether human or divine. Perhaps, I am one of the lucky ones. Perhaps, shame has not left me in a room chained, afraid to wander in a city of unfeeling monsters. (READ: Dealing with depression and anxiety: My saving graces

I write this to inform you – those of you who have been prevented from gaining themselves because of a vow of secrecy supposedly meant to protect you from the outside world – that there is no shame in our condition.

It is a biological condition like any other disease. You will only be possessed by demons if you refuse to acknowledge them, if you keep yourself wrapped up in an illusory protective bubble like I had.

Accept your condition. Do not feel shame in it. Continue your treatment. From there, regain the self that you have lost. I assure you, you will lose your self. But that is nothing to be frightened of. After all, the self is in continuous evolution. Apart from biological restrictions, you can shape it as you please.

I have bipolar disorder. It has owned me. Yet, now I own it. It is a part of me. I am free to be what I wish to be. – 

*Sofia Manlapaz is the pen name of a graduate student at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. Right now, she is actively pursuing research on the effects of mental illness on cognition. 

The Natasha Goulbourn Foundation has a depression and suicide prevention hotline to help those secretly suffering from depression. The numbers to call are 804-4673 and 0917-558-4673. Globe and TM subscribers may call the toll-free number 2919. More information is available on its website. It’s also on Twitter @NGFoundationPH and Facebook.