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Sunday, November 29, 2015

That thing called insecurity

Why do some people seem to have it all? They're smart. They're talented. They're kind. They're pretty. 

I know it's wrong to compare myself with others. I know it's wrong to use others as a barometer for self worth. I know I shouldn't be competing with others (and I'm not). But you know that feeling? That when you're finally comfortable in your own skin and confident with your abilities, you'll meet (or know about) that one person who will shatter your self-esteem and make you feel so small. 

That person will become insecurity personified. He or she will be the epitome of awesome/cool/great/whatever. And you'll never be at par with him or her no matter how hard you try. 

I feel that way almost 90 percent of the time. Anxiety attacks make it worse. When insecurity and anxiety join hands, they eat me alive. They eat my soul. It's debilitating. And sometimes, I wonder how can one person cause this much anxiety and insecurity, especially when that person doesn't even know me. 

It's easy to say that I should change my attitude towards this whole insecurity thing. That I should just focus on myself and stop comparing myself with others. Believe me, I've tried all these. But then again, when I finally feel great, insecurity comes back and haunts me. 

I don't know how to compensate for this, or should I even compensate at all. I have skills that I'm proud of. But even so, I still feel small like I don't matter. 

When I've tried everything to make myself feel better but insecurity still holds me down, I just stay still. Fighting it will be futile. I just let its weight sit on my shoulders and I retreat to my bubble. This bubble may be imaginary, but it's where I feel safe. I stay in my bubble, and hope that the next day, I won't feel so down anymore. With fingers crossed, I continue to hope. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A compartmentalized mind

Part of being kind to myself, per doctor's orders, is dividing my mind into different sectors. It's just like making a to-do list, only this time, I'm listing down the different aspects that make me me. The movie Inside Out illustrated it well in Riley's different islands of personality. I just don't call it such. I call it my compartmentalized mind. 

These are the compartments: Me, Myself, and I; Work; Romantic Relationship; Family; Choir/Extra Activities; and Friends. When I'm in a slump, like how I've been in the past two weeks until now, I can't attend to all these compartments. I have to shut down some, sad to say. And I did shut down the latter three. 

Don't get me wrong. I didn't set my family aside. By shutting the Family Compartment down, I set aside home matters. I didn't want to worry about stuff at home. Having moved out is a good thing because I can focus on myself, my meals, my rent, my own survival. I just can't deal with additional matters right now. 

Shutting down the Choir Compartment saddens and pains me, but I had to do it. I'm not 100 percent okay to sing. They're giving their all, and it's unfair to sing with them if I can't do the same. I'm also beset with anxiety and fear, and I'm scared to move around the city. I'm scared to commute alone. My current state doesn't allow me to go to any place that will take me an least an hour to get to (and in Metro Manila, it's practically every city). I stay within the vicinity of my office and my boarding house. My boyfriend had to pick me up when we went out last weekend. 

My Friends Compartment is, should I say, filtered. I talk to just a few friends--the ones who I know will understand me perfectly. The ones who will not judge and who will not utter unsolicited pieces of advice on things they don't completely understand. And I'm thankful for having friends who always have my back no matter how irrational I sound. 

My psychiatrist said that when I'm in a dip, I'm like a gadget functioning on 50 percent battery, so I don't need to push it. I don't have to attend to everything all at once, and it's perfectly okay. Hence, I created my compartmentalized mind. Having one makes things less overwhelming. I don't know until when I will be in this dip. I'm doing my best to get out of it, believe me. But while I'm still here, perhaps the best thing I could do is function while some of my compartments are turned off. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The dip

"When you recognize that you're in a dip, be kind to yourself."

This is what my psychiatrist advised me this morning. I went to his clinic for my monthly consultation, which I think was timed perfectly: I was (I am) in a dip. Meaning, I'm having a depressive episode. I've been in one for more than a week already, and it's hell.

Such really is the case for people with bipolar disorder, no matter how mild or how severe the disorder is. My psychiatrist always tell me that in people with bipolar disorder, the part of the brain that regulates mood doesn't function well. Hence, we experience extreme mood shifts. It's like a pendulum that swings from extreme ends. It's like a switch that goes on and off without warning or without cause.

That explains my dip from being okay and stable to being so down. It's as if I'm surrounded by dark, heavy clouds. I remember feeling great at the end of October, the highlights of which are our anniversary concert last October 26 and spending the next weekend at my boyfriend's hometown. After that came the dip. There was no trigger. There was no cause. The switch flicked off by itself, and I was plunged into depression.

Getting out of bed is a battle whenever I'm in a dip. I can work, yes, I can write, but I can do so at a slower pace. I feel weak. I don't have strength for anything. My body just wants to keep still. Even if I want to go elsewhere, I can't go somewhere far because my mind isn't strong and stable enough to bear the commute (and here in Metro Manila, you need a strong mind and body to fight, and I really mean fight, the monsters of commuting).

"Be kind to yourself," my psychiatrist told me this morning. When I'm in a dip, he told me to lower my expectations of myself, because the disorder causes me not to be at my 100 percent. He added that it's okay if I can't do everything at once. I just need to prioritize one and shelve the rest for the following day or week. And that's perfectly okay.

This reminded me of what my friend advised me last week. She told me that we shouldn't feel guilty about how we're feeling, and that it's okay if sometimes, we can't attend to our responsibilities. We're not being irresponsible. Things just become harder when we're in a dip.

Right now, I'm in a dip, and that's okay. No need to fight it and be a superwoman. I just have to do what I can.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


This moment is one of those when I don't know which is better: bury myself in work or drown myself in tears. I can't even describe how exactly I'm feeling.

One way of putting it is to say that I'm spiraling in and out of a dark place. I've been spiraling in and out of a depressed state, and when I'm out of it, I'm not happy. I'm not filled with joy. Instead, when sadness takes a break from pestering me, fear and anxiety take its place. It's as if I can only juggle these three emotions.

The worse comes when I'm not juggling them, because that means I'm feeling them all at once. I feel sad, scared, and anxious all at once. Do you know how that feels? It's torture. It's eating my soul alive, and I can't move. I have no energy for things I used to do. For things I love. For things I'm passionate about. Heck, I can't even get out of bed.

I lose a part of myself in the process. The things I love are the very things that define me, so when I'm not doing them, it's as if I'm not me. It's not me to just hide from my responsibilities. It's not me to be away for quite a long time from activities I love. It's not me to do nothing.

And yet, that's all I can do. Nothing. The more I try to fight my inner demon, the more it grows stronger. The more I try to make myself feel better, the more I feel miserable. The more effort I put into getting our of this hole, the deeper I sink into it. It's like quicksand--the more I struggle to get out, the more it pulls me down, until I finally sink and drown.

If I let myself pause and be still, I'm worried about what other people will think of me. They might hate me, despise me. They might not accept me anymore when I become ready to "go back to normal." That when I'm ready to come back, I might not have something I can come back to.

I messaged my friend (who also has the same struggles as I have) earlier, and asked for her help. I shared with her this battle, and she advised me to let go. Just let go and not feel guilty about how I'm feeling right now. Just let go not necessarily to feel better and lighter after. Whether I feel better or not, it doesn't matter. I just have to let go.

And that's what I'm trying to do. Let go. Breathe in, breathe out. I can hear the calm voice of my yoga teacher: "Concentrate on your breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Think of nothing else. Put it aside. Inhale. Exhale." And that's all I can do for now.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Sunday walk

I love walking. For me, it's both exercise and therapy. Whether I'm walking in a park, or in a mall, or along a sidewalk, when done at a leisurely pace, walking is bliss.

It allows me to empty my mind. Of course, I still put my guard up and be cautious. But along with that, I think of nothing else but going forward. I leave all my worries behind and just walk.

Yesterday, as the sun was setting, my boyfriend Paul and I walked along Roxas Boulevard in Manila. The foul smell of Manila Bay notwithstanding (no thanks to garbage thrown into the sea), the walk was enjoyable. The sea breeze blew through my hair as Paul and I exchanged loving glances. We didn't talk much, but our hearts did the speaking.

We walked a distance of almost two kilometers--the equivalent of passing by two train stations on foot. We reached the CCP Complex. As we sat on the ledge framing the front of the cultural theater, I told Paul how lucky I am to have him.

The walk back to his place was another two kilometers. The leisurely pace let my mind calm down. As my hand rested in his, our hearts spoke words of love, and I felt at ease.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

My first yoga session

This afternoon's yoga class was something I looked forward to all week. Urban Ashram Manila holds free yoga classes for beginners every Saturday, 2 pm, at the branch in Bristol, Pasig City. How perfect! I rent a space close to it, so now, I have no reason not to do it.

I was excited!

When Jo, the yoga teacher, came into the room and started speaking, I saw in her a kind and calm woman. Maybe that's what yoga does to you.

Because it's a class for beginners, Jo said our focus for the session was to learn how to breathe properly. She says what we're doing is Vinyasa, and it's all about moving along your breathing. The poses we're basic and simple along with being taught the proper breathing.

I love how there's no pressure for me (and for anyone) to be flexible. If the pose requires you to reach the floor but you still can't, it's okay. Inhale, exhale, Jo keeps on saying as we do each pose.

I still need work on balance and stability, but I love how my muscles are engaged in each of the poses. I love how the muscles at the back of my legs get stretched and stretched. It's a bit painful, but I love it. I love the stretch!

I also love how yoga will make my arms strong, because the idea is for us to be able to carry out own weight. And because in have scoliosis, yoga will also help me develop stronger back muscles.

What made me feel great after this afternoon's session was when one of my classmates told me this at the locker area:

Girl: Have you been doing yoga before?
Me: No. It's my first time ever.
Girl: Oh I thought you're already experienced.

What made her think that, I don't know. Maybe it's because of my straight back (It's a way of life hehehe). But whatever is her basis for sayin so, I'm thankful for her comment.

I can't wait for my next session. And I'm looking forward to all the things that I'm going to learn in yoga practice.

Friday, November 6, 2015

How I deal with my condition

Now that I've come out of my closet and told almost everyone about my mental condition, I can freely write about. Yey! I've been wanting to share my insights about depression and anxiety and dealing with a mild bipolar disorder, but I've been scared, until I wrote about it in my previous post. Messages of support from friends and family poured in, and I couldn't be more grateful.

So what's it like to have a mental condition? Do I get to live a "normal" life? Of course! I do. We do. We're not train wrecks all the time. In fact, some of the people I know who also have mental conditions are smart and talented that their gifts overflow and touch other people. A lot of people see me as cheerful, and I like cracking jokes, no matter how lame the punchline is. I love laughing with my friends. I love weekends, just like other people.

Now that I'm taking meds, I feel I am more in control of my emotions. Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by them that I break down and cry or just stare into space, but when I can control them, I do things to calm myself down. Here they are:

1. Sing and draw strength from our songs. 
As a choir member, I get to be around people who also love to make music. Rehearsals can be stressful at times, especially when the songs are difficult or we have upcoming performances, but overall, the experience is uplifting and spiritually healthy. I find most of our songs articulating how I feel. When the songs have lyrics like "So anxious over countless things you cannot even name, be still and take my hand (from Let Me Be Your Stillness) and "Ang pagod kong diwa ay Iyong pahupain. Magdamag na pagtangis sana ay aliwin" (from Awit ng Pag-asam), I feel comforted. Being in a choir encourages me to pray, too, and I can feel His presence, and that comforts me.

2. Listen to my favorite songs (aside from the songs we sing in the choir). 
I love Taylor Swift. I'm a huge Tay Tay fan. I don't care what other people say about her or her personality. I love her songs. I love her music. And the lyrics of her songs also articulate how I feel. There's a Taylor Swift song for every stage of my life. And when I feel down or crappy or just in a bad mood, I put on my earphones and drown myself in her music. I love Ingrid Michaelson, too. And Mindy Gledhill. And The Script. And Boyce Avenue. And Kina Grannis. I have their songs in my computer, so I can listen to them any time, even when I'm working.

3. Talk it out with my significant other. 
I'm incredibly grateful that my boyfriend perfectly understands what I'm going through. He's a doctor, and although he's not a psychiatrist, he helps me deal with my roller coaster of emotions. I text or call him when I feel sad or miserable, even if it's because of no particular reason. Once, when I thanked him for his love and understanding, he told me all boyfriends should be like that, regardless if the guy is a doctor or not. And that's true. Find somebody who understands and is willing to be with you in this difficult journey. He or she doesn't have to be a boyfriend or a girlfriend. This person can be your best friend, or your sister or brother, or your closest pal in the office. If people judge you without an effort to understand you first, well, maybe these people don't deserve to be in your life. And you don't have to waste your time or effort running after them.

4. Jot down my thoughts in a notebook. 
I'm a writer, and this should be second nature to me, right? Not really. It took me quite a long time to finally do it. I was scared that if I write about my fears, the causes of my anxiety, my insecurity, and my feelings, they might become more real. And all the more they would transform into a monster that I had been trying to run away from. Only recently did I realize how powerful having a private journal can be. I started writing down my racing thoughts as a form of release. And I felt lighter afterwards. Now, I keep a small notebook and a pen with me all the time, so I can write whenever I want to and wherever I am.

5. Just let myself be. 
When I've tried all the aforementioned tips, and still I feel down, I just let myself be. Dealing with a mental illness made me realize that the more I wrestle with my emotions, the more it becomes difficult to deal with them. So sometimes, I just let myself be. If I'm sad for no reason, I pause, take deep breaths, and rest my mind. I don't try to make sense of it. I don't think about why I'm sad or down or anxious. I just let my emotions settle. And when I'm ready to deal with them, that's when I write on my journal, or listen to music, or call my significant other. And that's when I would feel better.

If you have mental conditions, too, or even if you don't have one but you're going through something as well, I hope you'll find the tips I shared helpful. If you need someone to talk to, just comment below. I'll be more than willing to reach out. Because as I've said in my previous post, we are not alone.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fighting an invisible war

I've been looking at myself more closely in the mirror lately. I've noticed that my arms are more plump now, and my waistline have gained some more inches. The weighing scale doesn't say otherwise either. I've gained weight.

And yet, I'm not surprised. After all, weight gain is a side effect of one of the meds my psychiatrist gave me.

Yes, I've been seeing a psychiatrist for months now. The initial diagnosis was depression and anxiety, but after two sessions with my psychiatrist, and seeing how I responded to the initial meds he gave me, he's convinced it's something else. What I have, he says, is mood dysregulation disorder, a mild type of bipolar disorder.

How did it start? When did i start feeling this? Why do I feel this way? A lot of why's, how's, what's, and when's. After a session with a psychologist followed with sessions with a psychiatrist, I've realized that I've been like this practically my whole life. I've had this since childhood, but I had no idea.

I've always been emotional and easy to empathize with others. Some have called me sensitive, too sensitive even. My parents would tell me, "masyado kang maramdamin (you're too sensitive)", whenever  I would cry for the smallest of reasons. Some jokes affect me too much and I would feel damaged, so I would cry, and what I would get are comments that I'm "pikon." Maramdamin na, pikon pa.

Whenever my dad and I would have a fight over, say, a math problem I couldn't understand, he would get and angry and in would cry. Then, I would find myself tearing sheets of paper because of pain, sadness, and frustration.

This paper-tearing evolved into throwing and breaking of things when I became a teenager. My dad and I fought a lot especially when I was in college. Each fight would have me locking myself in my room, crying and screaming for hours, and throwing things. Over the years, I've thrown and broken tabletop accessories, pencil holders, frames, even plastic storage boxes that were supposed to be unbreakable. I've thrown them in a fit of extreme anger and sadness and frustration and pain. I had to let all of those out.

I've hurt myself several times as well. Weighed down by an overwhelming pain inside, I have to feel pain elsewhere, thinking that this would shift my attention to something else. So I would grab a cutter or X-acto knife and make cuts on my arm. Ouch. Then there would be blood. Then I would treat the wounds, dabbing them with povidone iodine in between sobs.

Feeling physical pain felt like a release from the overwhelming emotional pain that would hold me hostage for hours or days or weeks that would follow. When I entered my twenties, I expected myself to "mature" and change and stop all this "madness." Think happy thoughts, they say. Be positive, they say. Drama lang 'yan, just eat ice cream,  yada yada yada.

Nothing worked.

If, as a child, I would throw "tantrums," as an adult, I would have crying spells that never seem to end. Crying myself to sleep had become a part of me. I would be sad for a long time for no reason. Yes, people see me as bubbly and cheerful, even good at cracking jokes no matter how lame or corny. So what's my problem?

Until that sadness became accompanied by bouts of anxiety. Endless worrying. I would worry about everything, and yet I couldn't name that specific thing I'm worrying about. Sadness. Fear. Anxiety. Just wanting to end things. What if I don't wake up anymore? All these emotions, I feel them all at once.

When news of a model who had bipolar disorder and committed suicide came out, Cosmo Philippines ran a story on it. The story wasn't out yet when I read it. I was getting something from our office printer and the article printout was there. I read it, and everything  that was discussed there, I felt it. I got scared.

That's when I decided to seek help. I first went to a psychologist who was referred by a friend. When the psychologist asked me, "what can I do for you?", I broke into tears. I cried and cried my heart out to a total stranger sitting in front of me. Then I told her that I have trouble going to sleep, and that sad thoughts occupy my mind. I told her everything about my childhood, how things are at home, how my parents and I fight, how I cry over the tiniest things, how certain experiences devastate me.

It was then when I had a name for what I'm going through: depression and anxiety. The psychologist told me that maybe I already need meds. A psychiatrist is needed at that point, but she asked me to come back one more time.

I never did.

I thought I could snap myself out of it. I was wrong. As the daily grind pushed me deeper into the dark hole that I was already in, as experiences, both good and bad, went by, I found myself not getting any better.

A year after my visit to the psychologist, I decided to see a psychiatrist. And that's when I saw the light. Again, I told the psychiatrist everything about myself--from my childhood to what I do for a living--and again, I cried my heart out to a total stranger. I finished the pack of tissue paper on his desk.

It took me a while before I told my family about it. I first told my choirmates, then some close friends. It's hard to open up to people because not everyone understands. Our society is judgmental, and mental disorders aren't considered as illnesses as they should be. For some, it's just drama, "sakit ng mayayaman," "kaartehan."

It's an illness, just like diabetes, asthma, dengue. You don't tell someone with diabetes to snap himself out of it. It's a medical condition. You need meds. You need treatment.

I need treatment.

And that's what I've been doing for months now. I'm on an anti-depressant and a mood stabilizer. These meds make me sleepy. They make me eat more. But I've felt the difference now that I'm getting treatment versus my pre-treatment self.

I have a long way to go, but I Know that I'm on the right track. I spiral in and out of depression. I spiral in an out of being okay to not being okay. One minute I'm fine, the next moment, I'm scared. Or anxious. Or sad. Or crying again.

And it's okay, because I'm getting treatment for it. I tell my psychiatrist everything during my monthly visits. He hasn't arrived at a final diagnosis yet, but he told me that our goal is to keep me emotionally and mentally stable. He adjusts my dosage as needed, and I follow his instructions.

I also do my part. I talk to people when I feel down. I feel thankful that my boyfriend perfectly understands. Sometimes, I call him in the middle of the night just to cry. Sometimes, when we're together, I'm all sweet and loving one moment, and then I'll be a total train wreck the next. But everything is okay. He understands as he gives me a tight hug.

I guess we, with mental conditions, can sniff each other out. I feel something is off with a person based in his or her FB posts, and I reach out. The same is done to me. Others can see my SOS messages, and they reach out to me.

Recent news of young people who have depression committing suicide have me thinking really deeply about this whole thing. It's hard to admit and accept that there's something wrong, hence, getting help is also not easy. But if we make the threads we're holding on to connect with other people, maybe we can stop another person from seeing death as the only escape.

As I struggle to get out of bed every morning because all energy has been sucked out of me, I know there's someone else out there who feels the same. That's why I'm writing this. I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone.

There's an invisible war that needs to be fought and won. I'm slowly finding my way out of this dark place. It's difficult, but it can be done. It must be done. Come and take my hand, and let's start this healing journey together.