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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.


  1. Hi. I'm no expert but I think that choosing to talk about this is a huge step in relieving the burden of emotions bottled up inside us/you. While depression is essentially a fight with one's self, it's not something you need to fight alone like you said. Stay strong and stay brave Kat! :D

    1. Thank you very much! Your kind words mean a lot. :-)