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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lessons and realizations

I'm sure a lot of us love sharing that year-end post--you know, that post on social media that summarizes the lessons learned this year, challenges overcome, and resolutions for next year. I'm not fond of making resolutions, because I might not be able to keep them, but I do love looking back on the year that was and sharing what I have learned.

So before I become busy with Christmas and New Year gatherings, dinners, and festivities, I'd like to share some of the lessons and realizations I've had this year:

1. Listen to my body and my mind.  
I've learned not to dismiss everything that I'm feeling as mere drama or kaartehan, because they are not. They're symptoms of a condition that needs treatment. That's what months of consulting with a psychiatrist and taking meds have taught me. It takes courage to accept that I have a mental condition, and all the symptoms--feeling weak and down, being anxious, being insecure, and others--are not the type that I can just put in a box and set aside. I need to deal with them using all the help that I can get. And if my body and my mind tell me to slow down, I need to slow down in order to heal and recover. I cannot say that I've fully recovered, but I'm proud to say that I've begun on that long and difficult journey.

2. I'm not being selfish when I choose to focus on myself at times. 
Sure, being selfless is an admirable trait, but it's not a crime if I prioritize my personal needs over other responsibilities. Part of slowing down to recover is letting go of things I can't handle at the moment. As my psychiatrist had told me, being in a dip brought about by my bipolar disorder makes me function on fifty percent battery, so I really cannot do everything like I used to. I then learned to be kind to myself and humbly ask others to understand. I'm grateful how considerate the people around me have become.

3. I can get over my insecurity, even with slow, baby steps. 
I must admit that I broke down after coming face to face with the, uh, embodiment of my insecurity. Never have I ever felt so small as when I was standing in the same room as that person. But now, I am slowly getting over my insecurity. I asked myself, "Why am I wasting so much time thinking about everything that she is and everything that I am not?" Talking with a dear friend about this also helped knock some sense into my head. So now, I'm just focusing on myself and the things that I love to do. I'm taking steps to get my self-confidence back, like finally making a Sound Cloud account and uploading some voice recordings.

4. Cliche but true: It is when I'm at my darkest and lowest that I see who genuinely care for me. 
Salute to my boyfriend who never gets tired of listening to my laundry list of emotional battles. Salute to him who never gets tired of comforting me, no matter how shallow I sound. Salute to my family who are trying to understand my condition. Salute to my teammates and friends at work who listen. Salute to my very own Miss USA (you know who you are) who has stayed by my side throughout all this. I don't need a #SquadGoals-worthy group around me. I just need those who genuinely care, no matter how few they are.

5. It's okay to be down. 
Sadness is a human emotion, and if I feel sad, there's no need to fight it. I don't always have to be chirpy and sunshine-y and positive. I don't have to fight my own emotions. I feel them for a reason, and sometimes, all I can do is to stay calm and wait for the storm to pass.

I hope these learnings have inspired you in one way or another. And to my fellow "patients"--whether you are battling anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, or other mental conditions--2016 is another year for us not to give up. We're in this together.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The night I prayed St. Teresa's prayer

The other night, while beset again with anxiety and insecurity, I prayed the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila. Here it goes:

"Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass.
God does not change.
Patience achieves everything.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices."

I must admit I've forgotten all about this prayer until December 6 when I watched Teresa: 500 Years of Grace, a production staged in my alma mater, St. Theresa's College Quezon City, in celebration of St. Teresa's 500th birth anniversary. Watching the production not only brought back high school memories but also made me reflect on the words of St. Teresa.

I've been in this mental and emotional dip for several weeks already. It's taking a toll on my sleep, my concentration, and my daily life. I find myself carrying something heavy in my mind and heart almost all the time. I don't know what to do anymore because I've already tried everything. I just can't get out of this rut that I am in.

And so the other night, while my roommates were sleeping tight, I prayed the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila. I uttered the words softly while crying out of helplessness and desperation. I prayed for myself and for a friend who has similar troubles. I prayed softly and repeatedly until my eyes closed and I fell asleep.

I cannot say that I already felt better when I woke up the next day, because I didn't. Until now, I'm still down. But that night, when I was crying and I couldn't sleep, St. Teresa's prayer calmed me down. It's as if the first two lines are written precisely to calm me down.

Maybe the prayer is also a reminder for me to lift everything to God. I may try everything humanly possible to get rid of my insecurities and fears, but it is with God's help and grace that I will be healed. Maybe not today, but eventually.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Structured living

Managing my condition entails following a structure. I've never been the carefree type, but I'm not one who follows a strict schedule either. Now that it's becoming clearer that what I have is a bipolar disorder, I have to create a routine and stick to it.

The first thing that I'm trying to do is setting up a regular sleeping schedule. My psychiatrist recommended taking my meds three hours before bedtime, so I could wake up at a decent hour the following day. This also means that I have to sleep earlier than I used to so both my mind and body can get enough rest.

This entails quite a big adjustment on my part. I've backed off from choir practices and activities in the meantime (while I'm in this dip) to help me set up a regular sleeping routine. I can't pull an all-nighter anymore, even if I'm rushing an article to beat a deadline, so my mind won't be plagued with anxiety at night. The closer I get to my set bedtime, the lesser the things I should be doing, and the more relaxed I should be.

It sounds easy, but being used to an active mind, I find this challenging. How can I train my mind to slow down by 8 p.m. when I know I have a lot on my plate? How can I tell myself to simply breathe and relax when my mind has always been noisy?

That's when my compartmentalized mind comes in. Seeing my mind as divided into sectors rather than as a big chunk helps me prioritize and manage which matters are more urgent. It makes thing less overwhelming.

The next thing I'm trying work on is creating an exercise routine. This is harder because of my ever-changing daily and weekly schedule. But so far, I've managed to attend two yoga classes. I've also jogged twice recently. I count those as achievements, no matter how small.

How about you? How do you manage? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.