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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Some end-of-the-year thoughts

When a year comes to a close, people tend to post their reflections and throwbacks on blogs and social media. Before our newsfeeds get filled with all these musings, allow me to post mine.

A huge part of my 2016 has been devoted to dealing with my psychiatric condition. Having bipolar disorder is no joke. Dealing with sudden mood changes is difficult, especially when I'm plunged into a depressive episode that lasts for weeks, months even. And a huge part of my depressive episodes involves my insecurity toward Z. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record talking about Z again and again in this blog. I don't even know whether I'm depressed because I'm insecure of Z, or I'm insecure of Z that's why I am depressed. I don't know which causes what. All I know is that those two go together. 

This is why when I learned to love myself more, I couldn't be happier. After several therapy sessions, dosage adjustments, and countless advice to friends who understand what I'm going through, I finally learned to stop feeling small and stop comparing myself with Z. We're different. 

I also made new friends this year. Some of PM's friends and fraternity brothers became my friends, too. In our boarding house, my roommates and I got closer. We bore witness to the blossoming of our respective romantic relationships. Grazielle got married. PM and I celebrated our first anniversary (of being together) and we're going strong. Lea and Camille found love in the last quarter of 2016. For us, 2016 has been full of love, and for this, we are thankful.

It is interesting to note, though, that while I gained new friends, I also lost some. Maybe that's part of growing up. Maybe that's part of #adulting. It's not about the number of friends you have but it's more of having true friends around. Life isn't a Ms. Popular competition. You don't have to be friends with everyone. I don't have to be friends with everyone.

We're down to the last day of the year. Tomorrow, it's 2017. While I'm anxious and a bit scared, I'm also looking forward to the new year. I'm excited to do things I haven't done before. I'm looking forward to getting better as I continue to have slow but steady improvement in the psychiatric department. I'm looking forward to another year full of love and happiness. No matter how shitty 2016 has been, everyone has a chance to reset in 2017. And that's what I am going to do. 


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Self-love

My session with Dr. G last December 12 went well. This is probably the third or fourth session in a row that went well. Every time I leave her clinic calm and composed, every time I leave her clinic happy as if I just came from a nice conversation with a friend, I count that as an achievement.

I've been making slow but steady progress ever since Dr. G and I discussed cognitive distortions. Now, whenever I feel that negative thoughts are starting to cloud my mind, I am now able to step back and evaluate those thoughts. I don't tell myself that my thoughts and my feelings are wrong. I even acknowledge that I have a right to feel those. But now, I have learned to stop blaming myself all the time and have started to accept that some things are beyond my control. I am not the one to blame all the time. Not everything is my fault.

I also go back to my conversation with Dr. T, PM's friend whom I met last month, every time I feel bad about myself. She gave me an important piece of advice--that learning to love oneself is a process. It isn't done overnight, so I should be patient with myself. That even if I fail to love myself every single day, I should forgive myself, and then try again.

Her advice played a huge part in helping me deal with my insecurity, too. She knows Z personally, so I value her opinion whenever she says there is no reason for me to be insecure of her. A lot of people tell me that, but because it came from her, I feel it has more weight. I also got the same input from Dr. C (another friend of PM). Both of them know Z personally, so their opinions have a huge effect on me and my thinking. It's as if Dr. C's and Dr. T's opinions signed and sealed all other opinions I've heard and made them more valid and official.

Now, I feel that I am no longer as insecure of Z as I was before. I still am, but I have learned to love myself more. I now give myself the appreciation it deserves--appreciation for my talents, my skills, and even the way I think and talk to people. Dr. T said that this is even better, because the change didn't come from Z. It was not "based" on her. It was based on how I now feel towards her. This is a remarkable progress, and I am happy about it.

I still can't go out without makeup. I'm still scared of bumping into Z, and I don't want to look plain when that happens. But I am being patient with myself. Getting over this is another process, and I'm taking it one step at a time.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Stories of insecurity

Around this time last year, my anxiety level was so high it probably went beyond the stratosphere. I was to meet Z in a few days, and I was so jittery. I was so insecure of her that when we got introduced, I wasn't able to eat even if there were countless of sumptuous dishes on the buffet table.

I remembered this because last weekend, a good friend of mine talked to me about her insecurity. Like me, she's insecure of a girl. The thought of her makes her feel small and inadequate, just the way Z makes me feel so small. I can relate to every part of her story. When we were talking last Saturday, I got transported to that dinner party where I met Z for the first time.

I've talked about my insecurity a lot on this blog, with my boyfriend PM, and with a few close friends. Sometimes, I feel they are already tired of me telling them how insecure I am of Z. If I can get over it by sheer willpower, I will. But unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

I once told PM that maybe it would help if I talk about my insecurity with other people who know Z personally. PM agreed, so I talked to two people who know her. Even if we're not particularly close, I appreciate these two friends (Dr. C and Dr. T) of mine who took the time to listen to my story. Both of them gave me the same piece of advice: that I should love myself. That there is no reason for me to be insecure of her.

PM helps me with my insecurity by telling me the qualities that he likes about me. He even greets me with "Hey, Pretty!" or "Good morning, Pretty!" I appreciate every bit of it because it makes me feel good about myself. But ultimately, this appreciation should come from deep within me. Self-love, as what my two doctor friends have advised.

A year after meeting Z, I am still insecure of her. But now, I am finding less reasons to feel that way. I have started to love myself more. I wear my favorite deep red lipstick when I need a boost. But I still can't go out without makeup. I am afraid of bumping into Z without looking my best. Maybe this will pass, too. And when that happens, I will be wearing makeup for the sheer joy of doing so and not because I am insecure of Z.

It took me quite a long time to make this small progress. Battling with insecurity is a long (and painful) process. It involves a lot of tears and a lot of talking with close friends and loved ones. If I would give my friend who talked to me last Saturday an advice, I would tell her to just hold on. Nobody can set a deadline for someone to get over her insecurity. I am still not done with my battle. But eventually, I will. And so will my friend.




Saturday, November 26, 2016

Little achievements

Yesterday, I had another session again with Dr. G, my psychiatrist. She had to attend a conference two or three weeks ago, so my appointment (as well as others') got postponed. Thankfully, I managed to secure a slot in her schedule yesterday.

I wrote here before that I lent her my personal journal--my purple journal with an elephant in front. It was the journal I had been keeping before Dr. G gave me a homework of keeping a thought journal that follows the CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) format. Yesterday, she returned my purple journal. "Thank your entrusting it to me," she said. I think she read the entire journal that's why she wasn't able to return it to me sooner. I was a little surprised because I thought she would just browse through it, but she read it. And I appreciate it.

For the second time, I didn't emerge from her clinic as disaster. After my session last month, I didn't emerge as a disaster either. This counts as an achievement for me. It makes me feel that even if I frequently have depressive episodes, there are days when the sun shines on me. In fact, I haven't had a major depressive episode lately. Sure, I do get visited by anger, frustration, and anxiety, but there are days when a dose of happiness and calm comes knocking on my door. And I let it in.

I showed my thought journal to Dr. G yesterday. My thought journal now has doodles and letterings, aside from the usual narrative text that I write there. I don't know how to draw, but it doesn't matter. My thought journal isn't just a homework. It's another venue for me to express my thoughts and emotions, which Dr. G and I analyze every session.

I am to see her again mid-December (that is, if someone cancels). She told me yesterday that perhaps, she can start weaning me off my meds if I keep being in this calm and stable state. That means, if I won't have depressive episodes in the coming weeks, she can start decreasing my dosage little by little (and maybe take one medicine out of the three that I am taking). I hope it happens.

Aside from this small achievement of mine, another thing that makes me happy is the fact that some of my friends have started talking about their psychiatric struggles on social media. That they, too, are openly talking about it. That makes me happy, because why do we have to hide in the dark and talk about our struggles in hushed tones? It's about time that we break this stigma. When my friend Pam and I started talking about our condition in our respective blogs, there's a part of us that hopes we can make a difference--even just a tiny difference. Or even just a dent in our friends' lives, a dent that will prompt them to feel that they are not alone, and it is okay to talk about their struggles. That there is someone out there who is in the same boat and who is willing to listen.

And because of this blog, these people didn't just find me. I also found them. That's why I keep writing on this blog of mine as honestly as I can. You don't know how happy I am when people send me messages that say they read my blog. I am not doing this for page views or likes. I am doing this to share my story (and consequently, myself). It's my way of saying, "Hello there, you're not alone."

The Philippine Psychiatric Association is pushing for the passage of the Mental Health Act through this petition. The Department of Health is prioritizing mental health (read the article here). If you have a few minutes to spare, I hope you could sign the petition. Let's help spread awareness and break the stigma.


Saturday, November 5, 2016

A year of sharing

November 4, 2015. This was the day my friend Pam and I first wrote about our struggle with mental illness on our respective blogs. Fighting an invisible war, as I had called it. I have, since that day, written about my experience of dealing with bipolar disorder. I didn't hold anything back (and I am not planning to). I have opened myself up to the world. I have let myself become vulnerable. And I have shown how I can be both weak and strong at the same time--weak in often succumbing to a variety of triggers that pull me into a dark, downward spiral, but also strong in a sense that I still manage to hold on even to the thinnest of strings that connect me to my sanity.

To be at war with one's own mind is probably one of the most difficult battles out there. For how can you protect yourself from your own thoughts? How can you shield yourself from your mind's violent attacks that cut, wound, bruise, and maim you? Oftentimes, I just want to lock myself in a bathroom stall or hide under my pillows and blankets just so I would feel protected from the vicious attacks of my chaotic mind. But every day, every time my phone alarm rings, I know I will be facing another 24 hours of unpredictable moods.

Whenever people send me messages of support on Facebook, I can't help but be thankful. But I think the most beautiful thing that came out of my blogging about my condition is how friends of mine became open to talking about their respective struggles. Mental health and mental illness are, let's face it, still considered taboo and are not openly talked about. Even I didn't tell a soul when I first sought the help of a psychologist (and later on, a psychiatrist). But when everything got so overwhelming and the thought that what if someone out there is looking for company dawned on me, I decided to write about my own struggles on my blog so in my own way, I could tell that someone that hey, I'm here and we're on the same boat.

I've been receiving psychiatric treatment for a year and a half already. I am not in a position to assess myself, to say if I have improved or not. But all I can say is that I saw and felt the difference between my pre-treatment self and my current self. My medicines have done a great deal in improving my mood, even if I still sink into depression from time to time. I swing back and forth, from being okay to not being okay, from being terribly anxious and restless to being calm, from being happy and cheerful to being down. I swing back and forth every single day. This is the reality of my condition that I have come to accept.

But God is kind, and He has sent angels my way. I have my boyfriend PM, who has absorbed a great deal of all this; my hotline friend Pam, whose number I dial whenever I am in an emotional emergency; my family, who tries their very best to understand me; my aunt who has been so generous in giving me financial support; and other people from whom I've received kind and encouraging words.

This war may be invisible, but it doesn't mean we have to fight it alone. Let us not live in fear and shame. Let's get all the help that we need, and let's be there for each other. The whole world may ignore us, may judge us even, but if we have each other, we got this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Inversely proportional

I've encountered this term several times when I was still in school. It's used in physics. It's used in mathematics. And now, I realize, it can be used in my daily struggle with my mood and emotions.

I've been thinking a lot about this, and I have come to this conclusion: My highs are inversely proportional to my lows. I don't know how high my mood should be for it to be considered a manic or hypomanic episode. But all I know is if I'm not wallowing in despair, I talk loudly, spewing out witty and funny comments with an unbridled energy. It's as if I don't run out of jokes and witty retorts. I make people laugh, especially my housemates in the boarding house. I love being in this kind of state, although I wish I hadn't spilled water over one of my housemates the other day while I was spewing out these spiels and wanted to demonstrate something funny. 

But this state scares me, because I know that when the energy and laughter have died, it will be followed by a deep downswing. It can come hours after this high, or at times, minutes after this high. My mood will slide and before I know it, I've hit rock bottom. Again. For the nth time. 

And when I am in this state, everything is a struggle. Waking up is a struggle. Getting out of bed is a struggle. Doing anything is a struggle. I don't want to go out. I don't want to be around people. I just want to stay at the boarding house with my housemates or go see PM, my boyfriend. 

Then, my mood would lift, but it wouldn't last long. I would again exchange funny banters with my housemates. My energy would be at an all-time high. Then, my mind would be so active that I would work like a beast until the wee hours of the morning. 

When I work at night, I don't take my meds until I'm done. Maybe it's the reason why my mind becomes active and I feel that I can do anything and everything. There's nothing that can knock me down and sleep. I can go and be a machine. 

And then again, when all these is over after a few hours, I would plunge again. The higher my energy was during my active moments, the deeper I would sink into depression. 

Maybe this is what having a bipolar disorder really is about. My psychiatrist Dr. G once told me that she doesn't see me having manic or hypomanic episodes, but she thinks it's because I am taking medicines for bipolar disorder (Quetiapine and Lamotrigine). I think it's also because when I see her, I'm usually in a depressive episode. She doesn't see me every day. She doesn't see me talk loudly and expel jokes one after another. She doesn't see how noisy and energetic I am when I am not having a depressive episode. 

I am supposed to see her today, but she has to attend a conference, so I have to wait until my next scheduled appointment, which is on Nov. 9. I wish she didn't need to attend to that conference, because I want to see her. I want to report to her everything that has been happening to me. I want to know her thoughts on this. 

I have to hang on. I have no other choice, even if these daily ups and downs are driving me nuts. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Alone

Do you feel this, too? You're surrounded by a lot of people, each of them in their respective circles, but you don't belong to any. You're able to talk to different people at different times, but when the small talk has died down, you're left on your own. Or you simply feel that you're not a part of a group you're supposed to be a part of.

This has been happening to me recently, and when I can't take it anymore, I ask myself, "Do I see and feel these things because of my psychiatric condition? Am I being too aware of my inner thoughts and emotions that I come up with different interpretations of certain events? But a friend of mine told me not to blame my condition. Some people are just like that--they live in an exclusive bubble.

I've been in this place before. I've experienced being an outcast in school, with only one or two friends. Back then, I endured all their parinig. I endured their whispering behind my back. I endured all the things they (some of teachers included) did to put me down. I was 12. Now, I'm 28, and I can't believe I am again experiencing how it is to not belong to anything.

Every day, I do my best to set aside this feeling and instead focus on my tasks, on what I am supposed to do. But sometimes, it becomes overwhelming that I find yourself crying at midnight and wishing I have someone to talk to but, unfortunately, all my friends are already asleep.

Last week, my therapy session went great. Again, I wasn't a disaster when I got out of the clinic. There was no crying, there was no meltdown. In fact, I felt proud of myself because I was able to identify recent events and thoughts as cognitive distortions and what I did about them. I thought things would get better. But then, as what usually happens, I'd be feeling great for maybe three to five days, then something would happen that would ruin everything, and I'd be back to zero. And I would be zero for weeks and it would go on and on and on, until the next three- to-five-day period of stability, and then I would go back to zero again.

Three Sundays ago, I opened up to a friend about my insecurities and everything that I am experiencing. I was pleasantly surprised because even if we're not particularly close, he took time to listen to me and offer kind words. I felt that wow, there's an additional person out there who gets me. Yey! It is during these moments that I feel I am not alone, which is ironic. When I am surrounded by people, I feel alone because I am not part of their circle. When I am literally alone and I am talking to friends through FB messenger or text, that's when I feel that I have company.

Maybe I feel this way not because I have a psychiatric condition, but because I trust the wrong people. And I trust the wrong people because I think that they have even a small amount of empathy in their system. Apparently, some (if not all) of them have none. I guess it's hard to ask that of people.

Maybe the best thing for me to do is not to be so hard on myself and stop blaming myself for everything that I see and feel. I may have a psychiatric condition, but I have a fully functioning mind and heart. I am not making things up. People are just showing their true colors, and now, I am seeing them for what and who they really are.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What type are you?

A friend once told me that he didn't see me as the type who listens to Paramore (he didn't mean anything bad by this, by the way. It was just an honest observation :) ). He said he pegged me as more of a Taylor Swift fan. Well, I am a Taylor Swift fan, a Demi Lovato fan, AND a Paramore fan.

A classmate back in college once told me that she didn't think I am the type who throws and breaks things when angry. Well, I am. In a fit of rage, whenever my dad and I would fight, I would break almost anything that I touched. I had broken almost everything that was on my desk in my room at home. In a fit of rage, I even broke plastic storage boxes, which were supposed to be unbreakable. I once threw my cellphone across my room. Good thing it didn't break.

When another friend learned that I'm dealing with bipolar disorder and depression, she told me she didn't see me as the type who would have these struggles. For her, I am a jolly person. Which I am. I can exchange jokes with people. I can talk to people at events. I can introduce a friend to my other friends and professional contacts and make them talk to each other and exchange contact information. She meant it as a compliment, and I took it as such.

But looks, as they say, can be deceiving. Not everyone who wears a smile has rays of sunshine inside. In my case, I do wear a smile. I have sunny days. But I have a lot of rainy days, stormy days, days when everything feels like a tornado. Most of the time, my soul feels like it's in an eternal winter solstice--nights are long and dark while days are short. And on those nights, there's no moon or any star in sight. It's just plain, black darkness.

There are times when dark thoughts linger in my mind. Sometimes, these thoughts are about what it would be like when I'm gone from this world. And then, I'd feel scared because I'm afraid of death itself. I still want to live. But aside from this, other dark thoughts also linger in my mind, thoughts that aren't as dangerous as death but are just as powerful in pulling me down. When I think and feel that I am inadequate, when I think and feel that there's nothing "special" in what I do because everybody else can do it anyway, I feel down. It's as if I am not doing enough.

This plain, black darkness keeps me up at night. Without my meds, I won't be able to sleep. That's why it was I and my cousin (who was studying law and who was comfortable reading at night) who worked the "night shift" during our grandmother's wake. Our parents and aunts would sleep at night, while my cousin and I would stay awake. Then I would take my meds by 2 or 3 am when one of the grown-ups was ready to continue the "shift."

This is insomnia, and this is not healthy. Insomnia got me through college, when 24 hours isn't enough to finish all my academic requirements and things I had to do for my college org. I was able to survive with just four hours of sleep, or even less, daily. But this isn't a healthy way to live. And when you're dealing with psychiatric conditions, it is best to have a regular sleeping schedule, as advised by my boyfriend who is a doctor.

When I still wasn't seeking treatment, and dark and sad thoughts would occupy my mind, I would cry for no reason. This would probably come as no surprise to other people because it is pretty much an established fact that I am the type who cries a lot. I am the type who cries at movies even if the movie is a jolly, animated film. I am the type who cries when I feel cornered. I am the type who cries because I easily get hurt. I am the type who cries and breaks down when filled with overwhelming sadness or anger or rage. But people never saw me as the type who would have a psychiatric condition.

Once, when I bought my meds at one of the leading drugstores in the country, the pharmacy assistant told me that I didn't look like I am taking those meds. He probably meant it as a compliment, but anger and disappointment and sadness did cartwheels in my mind so fast that I wasn't able to process what I was really feeling at that moment. I just smiled and let out a short "haha" then left. Because really, what is someone who's dealing with psychiatric issues supposed to look like? Who or what is the type who has these conditions? And when you're a pharmacy assistant handing out medicines to anyone who's afflicted with any kind of illness, shouldn't you just keep these types of opinions to yourself?

This made me realize that we really have a lot of work to do to raise awareness about mental health issues. It's still a taboo. We can't talk about it openly. A lot of people are still afraid to step forward and tell a friend or someone else that they're dealing with something invisible, something dark, something that cannot be explained. Even I didn't tell a soul when I first sought treatment. Then slowly, I opened up to a few people, until I started writing about it here in my blog last November.

This is the type of issue that we should be talking about. It's not the type of issue that we can just sweep under the rug and pretend that it doesn't exist. It's not the type of issue that only a few people should care about.

So the next time someone tells me that I am not the type who has a psychiatric condition, I'll politely tell that person that psychiatric conditions don't have a particular face. They have no specific look. But we can do something specific about them, and that is to seek professional help.





Friday, September 30, 2016

My purple journal

When my therapy session last week was about to end, I handed my personal journal to Dr. G. It was the journal that I kept when I was still under the care of Dr. B (my former psychiatrist) and was still not undergoing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I was just under medications back then. Writing on my journal was my way of releasing...whatever it was that I needed to release. My anger, anxiety, things that make me upset, things that make me sad, Z whom I'm so insecure of, how Z (or should I say, thoughts of Z) has the power to pull me into a deep, dark, downward spiral--all these are on the pages of my journal which, coincidentally, is purple and has a metal elephant ornament in front. "Oh it's an elephant, and it's purple," Dr. G said when I handed her the journal. My purple elephant. My symbolic purple elephant, which I wrote about here.

I stopped writing on that journal when Dr. G told me to keep a thought journal wherein I would write situations, my moods, and emotions and images that came to mind in those situations. This is the CBT format. My purple journal doesn't follow any format. It's all me. I'll resume writing on my purple journal when I'm done with CBT.

I decided to lend my purple journal because I wanted to let Dr. G see how I was before I started seeing her. I wanted her to see what plagued me when I was still not undergoing CBT. I wanted to give her a peek into my chaotic mind so she can help me deal with my present troubles, which are a continuation of my past troubles. I wanted her to get to know me better so she will know the story behind every tear I shed during therapy.

My purple journal is my private, personal journal. The journal itself is a gift from PM (my boyfriend), which he got for me during his trip to Thailand. He told me that when he saw that journal, he knew he had to get it from me. And the moment I saw that journal being handed to me, I knew I was meant to have that journal. It's now my purple journal, and written on its pages are my purple elephants.

I let PM read my entries once in a while. I'm not sure if I've allowed him to read everything, but every time I want him to read an entry or two, he would gladly oblige. He is the only person who has access to that journal, and even then, he doesn't touch it unless I ask him to. Now, it's with Dr. G. I'm practically letting her dig deep into my soul. I'm practically introducing her to my demons. This is difficult. No wonder a psychiatrist's professional fee is steep. It's because he or she helps the patient fight demons that the patient cannot fight alone. And these demons cannot be seen, but they are there.

I've been seeing a psychiatrist for a year and five months already. It has been a long journey but the road ahead is still long. Dr. G and I are processing everything one at a time. Every negative thought, every emotion, every trigger--we're dealing with them one at a time. CBT is usually finished after ten sessions, but I think I would have to extend. I don't think everything that plagues me can be resolved in my remaining three or four sessions.

On a more positive note, I always look forward to my CBT sessions with Dr. G. I get upset when I have to skip a session because of work or other matters. I feel safe in her clinic. For me, it is a place where I am free to talk and cry and then talk again. It is a place where I am away from all my demons and ghosts, from all my triggers. It's a place where I am away from Z, where Z cannot hurt me.

Every time I sit on that sofa at Dr. G's clinic, I do not want to leave. I do not want to be back to the "real world." But of course, the next patient is waiting, someone who maybe has the same demons as mine.

I hope Dr. G has the time to read everything in my purple journal. But she's busy. Maybe she would scan them and maybe read the entries that stand out. I don't know. I don't know what her reaction would be. Maybe I'll find out on my next session.







Monday, September 26, 2016

Cognitive Distortion No. 1: Catastrophizing

Last Wednesday, after my therapy session, I didn't come out of Dr. G's clinic a disaster. And that, I think, is an achievement, so I treated myself to a glass of chocolate cream frappuccino and a sausage roll from Starbucks. I deserved the treat.

I now feel that everything that Dr. G has been telling me in our therapy sessions is starting to make sense. In my mind, they're no longer theories. Dr. G has been telling me that one of our goals in doing CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is to deal with my destructive thinking patterns and "fix" them. My session last Wednesday couldn't have come at a better time.

Last Tuesday, I made a REALLY BIG mistake at work. It was really a big deal. It was a stupid and avoidable mistake. Of course, I got flak for it. I was so embarrassed that I felt I couldn't face anyone at work anymore. I slept last Tuesday night hating myself--as in REALLY hating myself--and telling myself repeatedly that I was so stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And irresponsible. Irresponsible, irresponsible, irresponsible.

And when Wednesday came, it was still fresh in my mind, so I told Dr. G about it, aside from all the things that happened to me the past month. Dr. G told me that the incident at work is a perfect example of why we're doing CBT. We focused on this thought: I am stupid and irresponsible. From that thought, she asked me what is my basis for saying that I'm stupid and irresponsible. And so I told her. She then asked me how many times I've made this mistake in the past seven years (I've been working in this publishing company for seven years). I said one, followed up by, "But I also made other mistakes in the past." She then asked me to share them, and I obliged, and she wrote them down.

After this, she asked me what my basis is for saying that an employee is responsible, and in my seven years of working, what are the things that I've done that make me responsible. And so I told her all that I could remember--all the good things that I did, articles that I wrote beautifully, positive feedback from some of the people whom I've interviewed for my articles, writing for other magazines published by the company once in a while, and representing our team during events. She wrote everything down.

Then, when I was done talking, she told me to look at the things she wrote. I made a mistake, yes, but in my seven years of working, I've done good things, too. One mistake doesn't make me irresponsible. And that, I felt, is how CBT helps.

One of the cognitive distortions I am guilty of having is the tendency to catastrophize things. One mistake, and I feel that I've summoned a catastrophe. One mistake, and I already feel that I'm stupid and irresponsible. One mistake, and I feel as if I've committed a crime against humanity. One mistake, and I can't forgive myself for it.

This isn't my first time to catastrophize. Last February, I've done this, and I think that was my worst case of catastrophizing so far. It was when I tried to reach out to Z to make sure everything is okay between us. But then, she said that it only made things awkward, and I didn't take it well. I beat myself for it, attempted to overdose on tranquilizers (Alprazolam) not to die but to fall into a deep sleep, and I made cuts on my left arm. I wrote about it here and here.

Now, cognitive distortions and CBT are starting to make sense to me. Catastrophizing isn't the only cognitive distortion I'm guilty of having. I'll write about them in my succeeding entries. For now, Dr. G's homework for me is to do at least one pleasurable activity per day. Activities that make me happy, which she had me list down during our session. I listed down fifteen activities, but she told me that I am free to add more. That is my homework. And I'm going to do it, being the good student that I was (some XX years ago) and being the good patient that I am.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

My never-ending battle with insecurity

Nothing could trigger my depressive episodes really hard than bouts of insecurity. And there's this particular girl that I am so, so, so insecure of. In my previous entry, I called her Z. From then on, let's call her Z in all my related entries.

I'm not the type who's insecure about looks; modesty aside, I think I'm not lacking in that department. What I'm insecure about Z are her brains and her talent. She's incredibly smart. She's a doctor. And she can sing--not very well though, but still, she can sing. Ever since I got to know these things about her, I felt so down and inadequate, even if we're not being pitted against each other.

The fact that she can sing is probably the biggest and heaviest boulder thrown at me. She's incredibly smart and she's a doctor, and I'm neither. Sure, people say I'm smart, and I'm happy about that. But the thing is, I sing, too. I love to sing. And it pulls me down knowing that she can do this, too. It's as if she can do everything that I do, but I can't do what she does.

I've never considered science, math, medicine, and law to be superior fields, reigning over the arts, languages, and communication. That's why we have multiple intelligences, right? But when I got to know Z and the things that she can do, I felt so small. I felt that being a writer "doesn't count." I felt that I'm in a "lesser" industry. What's writing compared with saving lives? It's as if she's doing something great for humanity, while I'm just here, typing my articles.

Months passed but this feeling didn't go away. And as the day that I'd get to meet her drew near, my anxiety level shot up, one level at a time, every single day. When I was already at the venue (it was a dinner party), I couldn't eat because I knew she would arrive at any moment. My stomach was in knots. I felt like throwing up. My pasta tasted bland--either it was really bland or I couldn't taste anything anymore. I wasn't able to eat. And when she arrived, I didn't know what to do. I managed to smile and shake her hand when we got introduced, but I knew I wasn't in a "safe place." I managed to interact with the other people at that dinner party, and somehow, those interactions helped calm my panicking self. But those interactions didn't change the fact that I wasn't feeling well. Seeing her around made my heart beat faster and pound in my chest really hard.

After that dinner, I broke down and cried. I couldn't take it anymore. I couldn't pull myself together anymore. I just cried, even if I knew I wasn't making sense, nor was I being rational.

A couple of months after that dinner, I thought I was already feeling better. I thought I was ready to put everything behind. I thought that if, by some reason, we bump into each other, I wouldn't be awkward with her, and I didn't want her to be awkward with me. And so with all these good intentions, I tried to get in touch with her to tell her how I felt. But it didn't turn out well. She said it made things awkward. I felt that wow, there I was, trying to rectify the situation. But I made things worse. Even with good intentions, I made things worse. I failed.

Because of this, the more I got pulled into this downward spiral. I got even more insecure of her. And the worst part? SHE HAS NO FREAKIN' IDEA about all these. She doesn't know that she has this effect on me. And why should she care anyway? It's not her fault that I am insecure.

I am insecure. I wish I wasn't. But it's not something you just get over with. It's not something you put in a box and stash in your storage room (we call it bodega here in the Philippines). It's not something you throw in the wastebasket. It's not something you wash off. It's part of you. It's part of me. I wish it wasn't.

And so I'm here, dealing with my insecurity. I'm already on my seventh session of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). My psychiatrist Dr. G has really been so nice and patient. Throughout those seven sessions, we always touch on my insecurity. And what happens next is always the same: I break down and cry. My makeup gets ruined. My eyes get red. My nose gets clogged. And all these because I'm insecure of Z. Because I feel so small. Because I feel inadequate.

This isn't something that my medicines can fix. That's why I'm going through therapy, hoping to get equipped with the right skills to cope with it. I can't go through life feeling like this, feeling small, feeling like my achievements don't count because someone out there is saving lives or whatever. I'm tired of all these. I'm so tired of being insecure.

Don't compare yourself with others. It's easy to say that. I've told myself the same thing countless times. And yet, here I am, still insecure.

I can't wait for the time when all these--my insecurity, my depressive episodes, my unpredictable moods--will be over. I can't wait. But like my psychiatrist who's patient with me, I need to be patient with myself, too. And I should stop punishing myself for feeling this way. I didn't want to be like this. I'm sure no one wants to be like this. But what can I do? These are the cards I am dealt with. I have no other choice but to play this right and recover.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The case of the purple elephant

I've been wanting to write about my therapy session two weeks ago, but I've been really busy. Anyway, here I am, writing about it and giving you an update of what I've been going through.

As I've mentioned in my previous entry, my psychiatrist put me back on antidepressants (Escitalopram). So now, I'm back to taking three medicines: Escitalopram, Quetiapine (antipsychotic), and Lamotrigine (anticonvulsant). The cost has really hit my wallet so hard. Thank God I got extra money last payday for extra work I did before.

Last August 24, my psychiatrist and I touched on my insecurity once more. This, I think, is my biggest depression trigger. I've been really insecure of (and frankly, annoyed at) this person. Let's call her Z. And last February, when I sort of had a close encounter with Z (through Facebook), I really spiraled down. Down, down, down. I wrote about it here and here.

Ever since that February encounter with Z, I never go out without makeup. Before, I could go out with just moisturizer and powder on my face, especially if I wouldn't be out for long. But now, since February, I always wear makeup when I go out. When I'm with my boyfriend to watch a movie or just stroll at the mall around the area where he lives in, I make sure I wear makeup. First, it's because when I see that I look good, I feel good. And second, we might bump into Z (she lives in the same area), and I don't want to look plain when that happens. I want to look good, to be pretty when I bump into her. So far, it hasn't happened. Yet.

This insecurity of mine is spiraling out of control. It's one of the reasons why my psychiatrist (Dr. G) put me back on Escitalopram. I'm now taking 15mg of Escitalopram in addition to 300mg of Quetiapine and 150mg of Lamotrigine. This combination is making me very, very sleepy.

In my last session with Dr. G, she gave me the elephant exercise. She asked me what my favorite color is (it's purple), then she told me to close my eyes and think of a purple elephant. She asked if what I'm seeing is an adult or baby elephant; what's going on with its ears, trunk, and tail; and where I am seeing it, was it in a jungle, zoo, or somewhere else. When she told me to open my eyes, she asked me if I've seen a purple elephant in real life. I said no. She then went on to say that that is the power of our thoughts.

After her explanation, I asked, "Does it mean that I'm making it (my depressive episodes) all up?" She assured me that I'm not making anything up. The point of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is not to put blame on me. It's to change my negative thought patterns. She then went on to say that our thoughts are influenced by our past experiences, like the way were brought up. These experiences affect how we think about and see things. None of these are imagined or made up. They're all products of our past.

My depressive episodes and panic attacks and my restless and noisy mind--from now on, I will see these things as one purple elephant. My purple elephant. It's not something I made up, of course, but something I saw because of my past experiences.

Dr. G also gave me a list of cognitive distortions (with explanations for each) and asked me to encircle what applies to me. Out of ten, I encircled eight. It's from David Burns's book Feeling Good Handbook (which I have yet to get my hands on). My destructive thinking patterns are destroying me and the way I see myself.

My latest destructive thought is that I'm afraid of getting fat (just to make it clear, I don't have anything against plump people). I've never been the type who's conscious about her weight or figure. I eat anything I want. I have a fairly fast metabolism, but I don't overeat. But lately, seeing a flat tummy when I look in the mirror makes me feel good even if it means I'm hungry because I haven't eaten breakfast yet. Then I will just have light snacks then eat lunch late. When I get to the office, I just want to work, with sugary food like cookies sustaining me before I eat a proper meal. It's not healthy. I shouldn't rely on sugar for energy--I must eat regular meals. But lately, my appetite is messed up. Z triggered my latest panic attack (and my subsequent plunge, as if my current depressive episode isn't drowning me enough) when I saw a photo of her on my Facebook timeline (FYI, I'm not friends with her on FB but some of my friends are). I got insecure for the nth time, hence this latest destructive thought: I don't want to gain weight because Z leans on the chubby side.

I'll see Dr. G again in two weeks (I'm supposed to see her this Wednesday but something came up at work so I had to reschedule). I'll bring all these up--my fear of gaining weight, my fear of being seen barefaced, my neverending depressive episodes. Maybe we'll have another exercise that could help me see things from a better perspective.




Thursday, August 11, 2016

Depressed once again

My depressive episodes are back. My antidepressant is back. And me? I feel like I'm back to zero.

I really thought (and believed!) that I was already getting better. My former psychiatrist thought so too, and that was why I've been off my antidepressant since January. I'm still taking my antipsychotic (Quetiapine) and anti-epileptic (Lamotrigine) on 300mg and 150mg doses, respectively, to help stabilize my mood. For six months, I believed I was getting better. But yesterday, I broke down.

It's because of my insecurities. Yesterday, during my therapy session, I was doing great. I was sharing with her what I wrote on my thought journal in the past three weeks. I was talking about my anxiety triggers. Everything was fine. But when we came across my entry about something that triggered my feelings of being insecure, I cried, and we dwelt on that during the rest of the session.

My psychiatrist wanted to make sure if I'm taking the right combination of meds. I stopped taking my antidepressant at 10mg. She was thinking that if we push my antidepressant a bit more---if I'd take 15mg instead of 10mg---I might get better. It might work. "I know it's an added cost," she said. "But let's try it."

Of course, I agreed. I am under her care, and she knows what's best for me. I asked her, though, if what I really have is bipolar disorder. My psychiatrist told me that my former psych (a good friend of hers) had his reasons for giving me that diagnosis. But now, she wants to make sure that I'm taking the right combination of meds. She wants to see if I would respond better to a higher dosage of antidepressant combined with my two other medicines.

I'll see her again in two weeks. Meanwhile, I'll keep writing on my thought journal and take my medicines as prescribed. Thank God for medicine samples; I have enough antidepressant tablets to last me for two weeks.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Anxiety and my thought journal

My depressive episodes are no longer that frequent. But it's anxiety that plagues me now. My mind is racing most of the time, as if it's flipping through pages of a book very quickly. Sometimes, my thoughts shift so fast I can't quite keep up. This is why I now have the habit of listing everything down. It's an expanded to do list, which includes not only my tasks at work but also personal ones like buying bread, milk, and toiletries at the supermarket; buying my medicines; getting rid of clutter in my cubicle; and organizing some things, among others. I even list down websites to visit when I have free time so I won't forget them.

I've been to three CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) sessions, and so far, I think I'm doing fine. My depression index score has decreased significantly from 16 to 4 (a score of 15 and above indicates depression) after one and a half month. I don't feel so insecure anymore (although I still feel insecure at times, but no longer as frequent as before). 

My third session last July, I think, is the start of the therapy proper. My last two sessions had been all about establishing the context in which all my personal issues stem from. On my third session two weeks ago, my psychiatrist started discussing with me how different people react to different situations, because different people see things differently. We ended the session on this note, and she gave me my first homework: to create an automatic thought journal where in I would write about a situation, my mood during that situation, and what I was feeling before that situation. This is the format I will follow in writing my entries. 

I've been expecting this kind of homework, because during my first session, when I told my psychiatrist that I maintain a personal journal, she said I would have one in therapy, but there would be a specific format. I bring my therapy journal everywhere (I gave my personal journal a break in the meantime). I write even the smallest of things that changed my mood, like how a girl took my seat during lunch and how a Facebook post affected me, among others. I write almost anywhere, even inside a movie theater while the show has not yet started. 

My entries, so far, have been all about anxiety attacks---how worried I am over some things, how I easily got irritated over something that set me off, and how I feel there are swords dangling above my head whenever I want certain things done during situations I have no control over. But I guess, anxiety can also be managed. I just have to be equipped with the right coping skills. Hence the importance of these therapy sessions. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A letter to Taylor Swift

Dear Taylor,

I don't want to say that we are never, ever getting back together. I really don't. I want to remain one of your most avid fans. I've always defended you from people I know who don't like you. When these people say that your songs are all about your exes, or that they're just catchy but not that great, I tell them that your songs, of course, tell your stories and speak of your own experiences. Because isn't it the magic of any creative output--to tell our stories through something beautiful, like a work of art?

I don't feel this way because of the Hiddleswift that so swiftly happened. I'm not even counting the whole Kim K-Kanye brouhaha into the equation. I feel this way because of what you have become. Gone are the days when the Taylor that we know is someone relatable and approachable. Gone are the days when the Taylor that we know is the Taylor who leaves an encouraging message on a fan's Instagram account because that said fan was bullied in school. Gone are the days when the Taylor that we know is the Taylor who bakes cookies for her beloved fans when she invited them to an exclusive listening preview of her 1989 album that (at that time) was yet to be released. Gone are the days when the Taylor that we know is the Taylor who makes a surprise appearance at a fan's wedding to make that said fan happy on her wedding day. Gone are the days when the Taylor (oh, the sweet Taylor) that we know makes jams and makes embroidered gifts to Ed Sheeran.

Because all of these--as recent articles, opinion pieces, and online comments have pointed out--are part of a grand PR stunt that you orchestrated very well. And as a fan, it saddens me, because when I first heard your songs (Love Story, White Horse, You Belong With Me), I felt that you could relate to us, your fans (and we, your fans, could relate to you). I've had my own time spent in Loserdom when I was an adolescent. I've had my fair share of experiences of not being well-liked, of not being cool in the Ms. Popular/Cheerleader kind of way (which was a big deal when you're a teenager, or when you're simply surrounded by mean girls in school). When I first heard your songs, I felt that we were in the same boat, and you were out there telling our stories and standing for us who were (or still are) in Loserdom.

And your songs about your exes? They were all about heartbreak, and haven't we all had our hearts broken at some point in our lives? For us, your fans (or at least for me), that was another reason to like you even more.

So I followed your career, supporting all your albums--from Fearless to Speak Now to Red to 1989. I saw how you transitioned from being this sweet, country singer to a bombshell pop star. And that, perhaps, was when it all started to go wrong. Or maybe that's just how I felt (or should I say, feel right now).

You've pretty much achieved almost everything--Grammy Awards, a roster of A-list stars whom you have dated, a swanky New York apartment, a #squadgoals circle of friends, among others. And why wouldn't you have them? You deserved all of those, I told myself, because you worked so hard in writing those songs that we pretty much gravitated towards you and made you famous.

So upon the realization that all of these have "PR Stunt" stamped on them, I feel like you've played us all along. You exploited our experiences of being in Loserdom, of having our hearts broken, of having been rejected at school, and a host of other unpleasant experiences. You taught us that "haters gonna hate", so we were like, yeah let's "shake it off!" You taught us that the one on the bleachers, the one who wears sneakers, the one who wears T-shirts will eventually win over the girl who's cheer captain, the girl who wears high heels, the girl who doesn't get a special someone's humor like we do. Now, where is the girl who taught us all of these? Oh, maybe chillin' out in her New York apartment in the company of her squad of white girls who are stars themselves or supermodels.

And then, you become defensive whenever shade is thrown at you. Well, we can't reach you anymore. Do you even know how tickets to your concerts cost? Girls are literally running to get their hands on your tickets, even getting angry at a dad who's buying a ticket for her daughter because it's taking him a bit long to choose a seat (as what my sister witnessed during the selling of tickets for your Red concert).

So, is there still a Taylor with a soul beneath all the fame, the wealth, the enviable list of "friends", and the swanky New York apartment? Is there still a Taylor who's authentic and sincere? And, to borrow our very own Ms. Pia Wurtzbach's words, is there still a Taylor who's confidently beautiful (and talented) with a heart?

I'm hoping you won't get out of style though, what with all your (alleged but seemingly true) pretentiousness. Otherwise, we might have to shake you off for good.


From,
A fan





Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Lost stars

It has been a year and three months since I started seeing a psychiatrist. It has been eight months since I started sharing my experiences in dealing with bipolar disorder here in my blog. And in those eight months, several friends have messaged me on Facebook--some to offer support, and some to ask about my experiences in seeking help.

I appreciate all of those. When friends message me to ask questions, I welcome them. If I were to be asked to describe dealing with mental illness, I would have to say that it is not a gray cloud with a silver lining. It is what it is: difficult, exhausting, and expensive. A psychiatrist's professional fee is a four-digit figure, and don't make me start talking about the cost of medicines prescribed. Sometimes, I ask myself: Are the means to help me get better also make me feel worse because of the high levels of anxiety brought about by the cost of these means? Yes, I've asked for financial assistance from one of my aunts, and I couldn't be more thankful. However, there's not a silver lining to see when you see the amount (or the absence of it) left in your bank account every month.

Will this make me stop taking my meds? No. I will (and I do) take my meds as prescribed. I often compare my current self with my pre-treatment self, and I see the difference. Maybe it's not a big difference, but still, it counts. I don't regret seeking treatment, even if I have to move mountains to be able to pay for everything.

Whenever friends message me on Facebook because they feel they have similar concerns, I can't help but ask the universe (quoting the song "Lost Stars"): "Are we all lost stars trying to light up the dark?" Maybe we are. We are one another's candle. We perfectly understand each other because we are going through the same things ourselves. We may not find a silver lining, but we can always light a candle so we can make our way through the dark.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Just like Audrey

My chick lit streak hasn't ended yet. Or should I say, my Sophie Kinsella streak hasn't ended yet. I've mentioned before that "serious" writers may frown at my choice of books, but what the heck. I've been dealing with depressive episodes and bouts of anxiety that all I want is to be entertained. I want to laugh. I want to free my mind from all the stress, even if it's just temporary.

Anyway, I've finished Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series up to Mini Shopaholic. Those books were hilarious. Then, I tried reading another chick lit novel by another writer, but I didn't like it that much, so I went back to Sophie Kinsella and read Undomestic Goddess and Can You Keep a Secret?. These books were hilarious too that I found myself laughing while reading.

Now, I'm reading Sophie Kinsella's Finding Audrey. When I saw the synopsis, I knew this book was something I could appreciate not just because it's funny. Finding Audrey is a young adult novel about Audrey, a 14-year-old girl who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and depressive episodes. As a person struggling with mental illness, this is something I can relate to.

Audrey wears dark sunglasses even when indoors or even when it's raining and she's outside. She finds it hard to make eye contact with people (even with her family), let alone talk to them. Talking to a stranger (even if it's her brother's best pal) gives her panic attacks. Her psychiatrist gives her projects to help her overcome her anxiety. I haven't finished reading the book. But the chapter where I'm at tells how Audrey is filming activities in her house and interviewing people so she could practice communicating with them without making eye contact. That's the project her psychiatrist asked her to do.

I can definitely relate to Audrey's panic attacks. Encountering (or sometimes, even merely thinking of) certain people sends my brain into panic, as if all my brain cells and nerves have been fired up. My fight-or-flight response is immediately activated, and my brain automatically chooses flight. And by flight, I mean breaking down into a catastrophic flood of tears despite religiously taking my mood stabilizers (a combination of anti-psychotic and anti-epileptic medicines).

This is how I panic, just like Audrey. I don't wear dark sunglasses, but now I wish I do, not because I can't make eye contact. I want to cover my eyes so people won't see me at the verge of tears. I want to cover my eyes so I have time to make a mad dash to the bathroom before I break down. And at times, I want to cover my eyes so people won't see the fury in my eyes when they piss me off.

I think I also need to do a project to overcome all my issues, just like Audrey. Maybe this is where I can channel my creativity and make something good out of my situation.

Friday, June 3, 2016

What feeling small feels like

It has been a month since I last wrote here. And in those weeks, a lot has happened. Or maybe not a lot. Just... significant.

I've been to a couple of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with my new psychiatrist, Dr. Evelyn Gapuz. She's a kind and caring doctor and not intimidating (well, I think she should not be intimidating. Hehe). Over those sessions, I've once again told my story--my childhood and adolescent experiences up to the time when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. which morphed into a more accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

I can't talk about all these experiences without shedding a tear or two. Okay, without crying. Even if it has been years (heck, decades!) since those unpleasant experiences, they still resonate as though they just happened yesterday. And I can still remember them, small details and all.

On my second session, I was asked to answer a form called depression index (I forgot the exact name of the form). Each item consists of four statements that describes a range of emotions and situations, from mild to extreme. It's something like this: I feel happy and good about myself; I feel bad at times; I often feel terrible; I feel like a train wreck all the time. Something like that. And then, I am tasked to tick the box that closely resonated with my experience over the past two weeks.

I didn't know if I was to answer it casually, without thinking about each item too much, just like those psychological or personality tests we answer in school. There was no time limit though, so I took my time answering each item, reflecting carefully on what I had been feeling for the past two weeks. When I gave Dr. Gapuz my form, I thought she would study it already and give me her assessment. But she didn't. Maybe I would here of her assessment on my next session.

The one thing that she picked up from my narration of experiences is how insecure I am of other people. In every stage of my life, there's always one person I'm insecure of. Some people might find this surprising because I was never the shy type. When I was a student, I was active in class recitations. I used to volunteer for certain tasks. I used to lead prayers, was a reader whenever there's a holy mass. Even in college, I share my opinions and comments with rest of the class.

But deep inside, I feel so small. An orgmate of mine in college once asked my why I underestimate myself. Maybe it's because of my fear of getting frustrated with myself. I never aimed to be the best (if by some sort of miracle I become the best at something, then,well, great!) because I was scared of failing. "If you can't be the best, be a little better than the rest." This quote was my mantra. I just want to be a little better than the rest. It's okay if I'm the bridesmaid, never the bride. It's okay if I'm second, or third, or whatever.

And yet, when I see people (classmates, batchmates, even friends) who seem to have it all, I feel small. I feel unaccomplished--that my vocabulary is not wide enough; that my singing voice is problematic; that I'm not really good at playing musical instruments; that my diction is horrible; that I'm not smart enough to comprehend a certain theory that everyone else understands; and so on. I often ask the universe, "Why do some people have it all? And why do some of us don't have much (and I don't mean money)?"

"You shouldn't compare yourself with others," says everyone on earth. Yes, I agree, but it's easier said than done. Especially when you've felt small practically all your life. Especially when you've been bullied in school. Especially when you've experienced teachers discouraging you and putting you down instead of giving moral support. Especially when you've experienced being hated by everyone in class (or at least, the "queen bees") that you don't want to go to school anymore and your grades have suffered. Who would emerge all bright and shining from those experiences?

Based on everything that I've told her, Dr. Gapuz has come to the conclusion that I am insecure of others over these two things: talents and intelligence. That feeling of not being good enough because, well, somebody else does it so effortlessly well. And then, my time was up--this will be discussed on my next session (which I only have a tentative schedule of because Dr. Gapuz will be gone for a month for further studies abroad).

Dr. Gapuz's conclusion made me look at myself in a different light. Talents and intelligence--I'm not lacking on those departments (people have said). I don't know what to make of this, actually. But I think it's good that we've established the things that make me so insecure. And I need to "fix" this; otherwise, I won't be able to advance in life.

So that's it for now. I'm still taking the same dosage of meds (300mg of Quetiapine, 150mg of Lamotrigine). So far, this dosage has been making me stable. I haven't had full-blown, catastrophic depressive episodes lately. Or maybe this is just temporary. That was last month. I don't know about next week. Or tomorrow. Anyway, maybe I should have only the present to think about.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Relapse

It is what happens when I've imprisoned my triggers and negative thoughts in a box, only to escape when I thought I've finally succeeded. It is what happens when I've already pushed these triggers away, only to come back with a vengeance and haunt me again.

Relapse.

I've been religiously taking my medicines, not skipping even a single dose. I've been going to my psychiatrist regularly, even if it means it's another P3,000 slashed from my bank account (it was P2,000 before, but it was with another psychiatrist who doesn't do CBT). Whenever I think about the cost, I realize that had I not been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I would've had a substantial five-digit amount in my bank account--enough for me to have money to put in a sound investment. But how useless it would be if I am not healthy both in body and mind. It has been a year since I started seeing a psychiatrist and so far, I've managed to get by. Every month, I'm in the red financially, but I get by.

Dealing with bipolar disorder has cost me a lot of money, that's why when I relapse, I become so frustrated. It's like all my efforts have been wasted. Then, I would try again to put my triggers in a box, only for them to haunt me again after a couple of weeks of respite. And the cycle continues.

Twitter has been helpful in helping me deal with bipolar disorder. People from all over the world who are also battling different forms of mental illness follow me, and I follow them, too. Once in a while, we all tweet using a specific hashtag, like #EndTheStigma and #WhatYouDontSee. It's like we are all part of a community, even if we are oceans and continents apart.

A girl I follow on Twitter tweeted a quote from Alex Elle this morning. It is this: "I am thankful for my struggle because without it, I wouldn't have stumbled across my strength." This puts our struggles in another perspective, to remind us that we are stronger than we think we are. That we have the power over our illness even if we often feel that our illness overpowers us. That we are the captains of our respective ships, and we can stay afloat even if huge waves continue to knock us over.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Perfect weekend

If I could go back to any day from January up to the present, I would go back to last weekend. My boyfriend PM and I stayed overnight at Aruga at The Grove by Rockwell. Aruga is composed of serviced apartments. It's like staying in a hotel but living in a condo unit of your own--at least for the duration of your stay.

This staycation of ours had already been set a couple of months ago. As I went through my extreme downswings and periods of depression, I told myself that on April 9 (which was last Saturday), I could set my troubles aside even on just one weekend. I looked forward to our staycation, as it was also a new experience for us.

Before checking in, PM and I bought food from the grocery. It wasn't much--just snacks like chips and chocolates, a pack of six hotdog buns, and six cooked hotdogs from a stall just outside the supermarket.

Our room at Aruga was spacious. It was a one-bedroom suite that measures around 65 to 68 square meters. That's huge for a condo unit. There was a home office. Had that space not been a home office, it could've been another bedroom.

The entire unit was fully furnished and complete with all the appliances you need. There was a TV in the living area and in the bedroom. I was impressed by the kitchen which was fully equipped with a stove, microwave oven, oven toaster, percolator, and necessary kitchen utensils. Stored in the cabinets were plates, glasses, cups, bowls, and cutlery. There was even a bottle of dishwashing liquid!

The unit also had front-load washing machine and dryer, an iron and ironing board. The bathroom was also complete with toiletries and even a hairdryer! Our stay at Aruga had me daydreaming of how PM and I would be in the future--going about our daily tasks, finishing some work on a laptop while the other prepares food, and eating dinner in front of the TV (which we actually did. We ate all six hotdog sandwiches while watching Angels and Demons).

My favorite part was swimming in The Grove's huge pool. A lot of people were there, but the pool was far from crowded. And because I love, love to swim, using the pool was what I looked forward to the most.

That weekend was perfect that I didn't want it to end. For once, I was able to put all my troubles in a box and store it at the back part of my mind cabinet. For once, I felt far from all my triggers even if we didn't leave the city. For once, Sadness took a backseat and let Joy take over.

I don't know when I will feel the same way again. I don't know if I will feel such joy and freedom again. I can look forward to the next shared, pleasant experience we will have, but for now, I have no other choice but to live each day as it comes, extreme mood swings notwithstanding.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Progress report

A month after my nuclear meltdown, here I am, unsure if I am emotionally and mentally stable or not. If I'm making progress or not.

My mood has been swinging again, from being okay to being in a deep downswing. I'm trying to ward off negative and destructive thoughts, as well as my usual triggers. Sometimes, I'm successful, but most of the time, I'm not. I feel a heavy weight deep inside, and at times, it just becomes too heavy for me to carry.

I wish letting go is easy. Like if you will those negative thoughts to go away, they would. But that's not the case. Most of the time, these thoughts decide to linger for long periods of time, leaving me down and depressed.

But the past few weeks have also been marked by happy days. We celebrated my mom and her twin sister's birthday. We had this burger-and-fries party at my uncle's house, and I got to introduce my boyfriend PM to my mom's side of the family. We had a blast. Last week, I just stayed at home and went on a Gossip Girl season 2 marathon while drinking glass after glass of ice cold, chocolate drink. There were also mall trips and attending mass with my close friend and colleague Maika. Looking at all these right now, I must say that there are times that I am indeed happy. My downswings just leave me feel so drained that sometimes, I no longer have the energy to do something fun.

Last Tuesday, I visited my psychiatrist again. He already took my antidepressant out of the list of medicines I have to take, but he did increase my dosage of Lamotrigine from 100mg to 150 mg. My dosage of Quetiapine remains at 300mg. Then next week, I'll be seeing a new psychiatrist (referred by my current psychiatrist) who specializes in child, adolescent, and adult psychitatrist, and who conducts cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

I'm actually looking forward to doing CBT. I'm positive that it will indeed help me change my negative thinking patterns and start with the process of letting go of bad thoughts. I have high hopes for this. Meds alone didn't work, and with CBT to be added to the equation, maybe I will have the right formula to actually get better. We'll see.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Down and desperate

These days, I'm in a desperate attempt to cheer myself up. I'm so tired of my extreme mood swings, wherein I feel okay for maybe a week, only to plunge back into depression in the next few weeks. Of course, I take my medications as prescribed and think of happy thoughts, but there's only so much distracting I can do. I've accepted the fact that some things don't go away by sheer willpower.

I've been spending a lot of time with my friend, also a colleague at work, who's trying to move on from a breakup. We don't wallow in each other's sad stories. We do endorphin-inducing things together, like go jogging every week. We've heard mass together once, and have gone to two mall strolls together as well.

In my desperate attempt to feel happy and boost my self-esteem, I've bought myself some nice things (thanks to our annual leave conversion, I got a little extra). After depositing the amount I needed for my payables, I went to my favorite stores and got something for myself. It wasn't a spending spree (I hope it wasn't). Most of the items I got were on sale. I even bought some items using gift certificates that I have. As I've said, I'm desperate, and I wanted to feel good about myself.

When I wore what I bought to work, and people gave me compliments like "nice dress", "wow!", "I like your top", and "you look nice", I felt good. Sorry to sound shallow, but hearing those positive comments gave me the boost I need. Yes, buying myself nice things and thanking people for their comments do not address the root cause of my problem (which are my mental illness and negative self-image), but  they made me feel good. Even for just a while.

I don't know how long will I be in this downswing (again). Yesterday, when I attended mass, the responsorial psalm was, "My God, My God, why have You abandoned me?" At times, I do feel abandoned, even if I know very well that God won't do that to me. Maybe He's not abandoning me. He's just giving me a heavy cross to bear. And if Jesus was able to bear his cross, then so can I. I don't know how, so I have no other choice by lifting all my intentions to Him.

And while I'm desperately cheering myself up, maybe I should also learn to block destructive thoughts and avoid negative triggers. Again, I don't know how I will do this, except to trust that eventually, things will be okay.


P.S. I should probably avoid malls for the next couple of weeks.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Life lessons from Becky Bloomwood

I've been reading Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series to entertain myself. I've been in a depressive swing for around three weeks already, and I badly need something to cheer me up. Thanks to Sophie Kinsella, I get a dose of hilarity every once in a while.

I'm now reading the fourth book in the series: Shopaholic & Sister. The main character, Becky Bloomwood, is so hilarious. Whether she's dealing with her shopping- and spending-related concerns or difficult people like Luke's mother, she manages to inject a funny bit here and there.

Some people (and they might be my colleagues in the writing world) might scoff at the idea of reading chick lit. They might even think Becky is so shallow. To some extent, yes she might be. But her humorous take on the difficulties thrown her way is a reminder that, once in a while, it's good to loosen up. Here are some of the things I learned from Becky:

1. Some people are complete cows that they don't deserve an ounce of our attention. 
To be kind is a good thing, and we need to give and receive kindness. But some people simply don't like the kindness we are extending to them. I only realized this recently. Sometimes, we try our best to be really nice to a person for his or her peace of mind and ours as well. But sometimes, the result is far from our expectations. I'm not saying that people who refuse our kindness are complete cows (some are not). But if those people have other "motives," maybe they are they might not welcome our kindness. Or worse, our kindness makes them feel awkward. In this case, it is in our best interest to move on and let go (although this is easier said than done. Believe me).

2. Spoil yourself once in a while, but make sure you only do so ONCE IN A WHILE. 
I can't emphasize this enough. Becky's problems almost always arises from her uncontrolled spending. Of course, she likes shopping (if she doesn't, the books would have the word 'shopaholic' in their titles), but she goes overboard a lot of times. I love shopping, too, but I do so with a budget in mind. For example, my budget for dresses is P500 to P1,000 (if a dress costs below P500, then, great!!!). The same goes for shoes, although sometimes, I extend my ceiling price to P1,500, depending on how comfy the shoes are. For sneakers and running shoes (I only have one pair of running shoes, by the way), P2,500 is my limit. Shirts and other tops should not exceed P500. As my friend and I would always say, #NoToOverdrafts!

3. True friends and family won't leave you alone. 
This is cliche, but it's true. Becky was able to snake her way out of her problems with a lot of help from her family and friends. I'm not saying that we should abuse their kindness. Every experience is a learning experience. A difficult one teaches us a lot of lessons, and our friends and family are the ones who make sure that those lessons stick with us.

4. Shoes and bags can make or break an outfit. 
This might sound shallow, but it's true. Haha! So before leaving the house, we should at least have a top-to-toe glance of our whole outfit. If something feels or looks off, it probably is. And being comfortable doesn't mean we should look drab. We can mix both comfort and style, and it doesn't hurt to read fashion magazines once in a while.

5. A well-put together outfit can dramatically boost confidence. 
And this is what I'm trying to do. I'm always down because of my depressive swings, and a lot of times, I feel terrible. That's why I want to improve myself in all aspects: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I believe that before we like the other aspects of ourselves, we should learn how to love the person we see in the mirror. Then, everything will follow.


There you have it. I didn't expect that I could pick up a life lesson or two from a piece of chick lit. Haha! I'm having so much fun reading these Shopaholic books that I don't care if I get judged by fellow writers. A lot of things may burden us, and sometimes, all we need is a dose of laughter to make us feel better. 



Thursday, March 3, 2016

Downward spiral

Just when I thought I was getting better, it turned out, I wasn't. After a couple of weeks of feeling great, I'm now back in my more-than-depressed state. I'm a trainwreck. My anxiety attacks have been uncontrollable that I downed seven pills of tranquilizers to fall into a deep sleep. That combination of seven tranquilizers isn't high enough for someone to overdose. But it is an attempt, with the goal of falling into a deep sleep. I was expecting to wake up after 24 or maybe 48 hours, but after two hours, I woke up (surprised at my tolerance for the said medicine). I ate a sandwich as my late dinner. I needed to wash my face and brush my teeth but I couldn't walk straight, so someone had to accompany me to the bathroom. I then went back to sleep, and the following day, I woke up as if I had a hangover.

And it took only one trigger to send me into this dark place. One trigger. One person. One negligible person. One irrelevant person.

And now, I find myself going deeper and deeper into this rabbit hole. But it's not Wonderland I'm led to. It's Disasterland. And I'm still in Disasterland.

I've skipped two work days because of terrible depressive and anxiety attacks. I feel the weight of guilt. I feel the weight of sadness. I feel the weight of pain tearing my insides, so one night, I reached for my eyebrow razor and cut myself on my arm. Releasing pain through pain may sound ridiculous, but it actually works, until your skin cries blood.

My cuts aren't deep, and they're almost healed by now. But I am not yet back to my feeling-great state. I took two steps forward last month, but last week, I took five steps back. I'm now stuck in Disasterland. Friends and family have offered me support. Two of my friends even gave me "love offerings" in the form of teabags and a brand-new lipstick. I appreciate all their efforts. Everyone is pulling me up, but I can't bear to lift myself because of the weight on my shoulders.

This, too, shall pass. I know that. But when? I don't know. My psychiatrist has referred me to someone who can also offer me Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I need help to control my negative and destructive thinking patterns. I need help for me to realize that everything is not my fault. I need help to stop myself from thinking that I cause catastrophe on other people's lives. I need help with my self-esteem, too.

I need a lot of help, and I need all the help I can get. I pray to God especially when I'm in church that he extends me His healing hand. I believe the people around me--my doctor, my family, my boyfriend, and my friends--are His instruments in extending me His healing hand. I've lost sight of the light, but I don't need to bother myself with that as of the moment. I just need to be stable first before I can even think of feeling great again.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Being nice

Sometimes, you do something with all the best of intentions, but the outcome isn't what you hoped for.

Like being nice to somebody.

All I wanted was to tell this person that there's no need for any of us to feel awkward or what in case we bump into each other again. That I'm not mad at her. That I'm really okay with everything. But I made things worse.

And I felt so, so bad. Guilt weighed down on me more heavily than a backpack full of thick pants and jackets. And just like before, I let myself drown in my tears as I cried and cried to release all the pain.

I wanted to escape from it all that I wanted to go all Sleeping Beauty and fall into a deep sleep. Not even a kiss from Prince Charming would be able to wake me up. But of course, that didn't happen.

And I'm glad it didn't. A couple of days in bed sleeping and not waking up may give me temporary respite, but a lot of things can happen in two days. A lot of exciting things. A lot of beautiful things. Had I slept like a bear in hibernation, I would have missed out on all the fun.

Being nice is not bad in itself. But like what have been told to me many times, we have no control over how other people would react. But if I did it with all good intentions, I should stop feeling guilty and just move on. I didn't murder anybody. I did not commit a crime against humanity. I'm just being a girl who is trying her best to be nice and kind.

And that's enough.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Yes

No, he hasn't proposed yet. And no, we're not yet getting married any time soon. But I'm saying yes. Yes to his love. Yes to everything that he is. Yes to who I am to him.

The weekend that was Valentine's (yes, for me it was a two-day celebration) is now over, but everything that happened over the past two days are still fresh in my mind. This year, my boyfriend Paul Michael (PM for short) and I celebrated our first Valentine's Day. I was looking forward to it last week, getting anxious as Friday neared, because I knew that the moment I step out of the office, it would be the start of our Valentine's weekend.

There were neither roses nor were there serenades and grand gestures of love. The cheesy girl that I am would've teared up at those, but I teared up anyway when PM took me to the 7th Philippine International Pyromusical Competition last Saturday at SM Mall of Asia. All those fireworks lighting up the sky seemed to sparkle for me--for us--and for our love that was passionate and deep despite having been together for only six months.

Six months, but it feels like several years already. I have bared a huge portion of myself to him. I have opened my hand to reveal the broken, glass pieces that I have been carrying with me. I have showed him how wounded I am, how messed up I am, how difficult I can be. And yet, he has chosen to be with me. And every day, he chooses to.

So I am choosing to be with him, too. I am choosing to love him every single day. I am choosing to embrace everything about him. I am choosing him, no more explanations needed.

As colors made the sky festive last Saturday night, I cried out of joy because the fireworks seemed to signal a beautiful start--for me, as I begin to recover from my depressive episodes brought about by bipolar disorder; for PM, as he sees a less burdened version of me; and for us, as every new experience creates a new chapter in our book.

I buried myself in his arms as I sang to Ingrid Michaelson's "The Way I Am" playing on my phone on the evening of February 14. We subtly moved left and right--a cross between cradling each other and slow dancing to the music. And as we did so, I cried again. Softly and tenderly. I cried tears of joy for having him. We might have met in one of the craziest of circumstances, but it doesn't make our relationship any less meaningful. We were both at the right place at the right time back then, and on the evening of February 14, we were at the right place and time again. We were together. We've gained our spots in each other's hearts, and neither of us is willing to let go of those.

And because of that, it's an everyday yes. To him. To us.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Seeing the light

After a couple of weeks of taking 50mg of Lamotrigine (in addition to 200mg of Quetiapine and 10mg of Escitalopram), I've started to feel better. Finally. I genuinely feel better.

I still find myself feeling sad or upset sometimes, but so far, I haven't slipped into the despondent and depressed levels in my mood spectrum. When I started taking Lamotrigine, I did feel mood dips and I got impatient because I thought that my new combination of meds isn't working. Again. But after several days, I felt lighter, and that's when I knew that I'm starting to feel better.

I do think it's not just the combination of three meds alone. I've been exercising regularly, twice a week, for an hour or so. I used to spend just 45 minutes each day for twice a week of exercise, so that's 90 minutes per week. But now, I'm hitting my quota of 120 minutes of moderate exercise per week. My psychiatrist took this as good news, and he recommended that I increase the intensity of my exercise.

Speaking of psychiatrist, my visit to his clinic last Tuesday went smoothly. It was the first time that I didn't cry at the clinic while recounting my moods and experiences over the past month. I told my psychiatrist how exercise makes me feel good and how I look forward to it every week. That having exercise buddies makes me enjoy it more. That friends of mine (who don't know each other) send me messages. Some of these are messages of support, while some are of inquiry because they, too, are experiencing dips and anxiety and they feel they need help. Some of my friends also message me to share their troubles or problems that they think I would understand but other people would judge them for.

I appreciate all these messages. It makes me think that I'm doing something good. It's not that I I feel like a superhero or something. No. What I mean is that I'm able to be there for someone else even if I have issues of my own. That I'm able to create light out of a dark experience. All these make me feel good.

I hope I continue to improve, especially now that my psychiatrist is also seeing that I'm getting better. He started to wean me from Escitalopram (my antidepressant), lowering the dose to 5mg from 10mg. I asked if I would still take 200mg of Quetiapine, and he said yes. We'll deal with the meds one at a time.  But for now, I'm happy. After several months of being in a dip, I'm starting to see the light. Even it's just a flicker at the end of a dark tunnel, this light will guide me to where I should be.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Exercise

I've started to exercise at least twice a week in January, and since then, I've been looking forward to it every day. Walking and jogging around the neighborhood have given me the endorphin reserves that I need to combat my down swings. And as the weeks go by, I find myself walking and jogging not just around the neighborhood but also at the park nearby.

When this year started, I conditioned myself to actively do something to fight depression. I don't have manic states in the sense that I dance on tables and think I'm a goddess when I'm extremely happy. My bipolar disorder is more of a mood dysregulation disorder. I switch from feeling okay to being extremely down in a matter of minutes, and when I'm down, it's so difficult to lift my mood. In the last few months of 2015, I had no strength to do anything, not even to get up in the morning. I felt so weak and drained. But now, I'm doing something to change that.

Exercise makes me feel good, that's why I look forward to it. I'm not that fit (my heart pounds hard and I'm out of breath after jogging less than a kilometer), but it makes me feel good. What makes it even better is having exercise buddies. Last week, I jogged with my friends Maika and Steph. Last night, I bumped into Steph and her friend Apple at the park. Running and gasping for breath become less punishing when there are two or three of you doing the same.

On Saturday, I'll jog with my newfound friend Issa. She did my makeup during our staff photo shoot, and we've become kindred spirits since then. My psychiatrist recommended 120 minutes of moderate exercise for me every week. Now that exercise has become part of my schedule, I won't have a hard time meeting that quota.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Inner tension

I am angry, and I think I am exploding.

I'm not known to release anger in public. I've always done it in the privacy of my room, crying for hours and even throwing and breaking things. And I've never felt so much rage in my life, until now.

What am I angry about? Frankly, I don't what exactly. Or maybe I do. I just can't admit it to everybody. I feel this inner tension escalating to anger then going back to inner tension is a buildup of all the negative emotions I've been filled with in the past months. I've been in a depressive episode, but now, the clouds of sadness have drifted, only to be replaced by rolling thunder of anger. Thunderstorms everywhere. Emotional meltdowns at the most inopportune time. In our office bathroom. At the park last night when I jogged. In the arms of my boyfriend. Maybe I still am in a depressive episode.

Is this normal? I don't know. I don't even know what's normal anymore, but I believe this doesn't make what I'm feeling less valid. I am human, and my fragile heart can't take so much tension. I need a form of release.

Since the start of 2016, I've developed a regular exercise schedule. I love it. I love moving, and I think exercise has done me good. There are days when I feel good, thanks to my endorphin reserves. I thought this will last. But I was wrong. I've once again plunged into darkness.

I am taking a new medicine together with those that I have already been taking. I want them to work. I need them to work, especially now that I am actively doing something to get myself out of my depressive episode. Sometimes, I sound so desperate and I feel helpless. But only time can tell me if I'm improving. I need to be patient, even on days when I feel so bad.

I don't know how long I will be feeling this inner tension. In the meantime, I'll just exercise more, hoping to increase my endorphin reserves and prevent myself from drowning in all this negativity.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Mood spectrum

If I'm going to describe how my moods change from good to bad, I'm going to use what I call my mood spectrum. Here's how it goes:

Train wreck---Depressed---Despondent---Sad---Upset---Okay---Good---Great---Happy

Okay is my neutral mood. While making this mood spectrum, I've noticed that I have a lot of moods on the negative end, while on the positive end, it's just three. Maybe it's because I feel down most of the time and this being down has varying degrees and intensity. But whenever I don't feel down, I just feel okay and not really happy or in high spirits. Whenever I do feel I'm in high spirits, it rarely lasts the entire day.

Last week, I had two consecutive good days, and then, last Friday, anxiety kicked in and I felt myself slipping. I went from okay to upset to sad, but hey, I didn't go to the despondent level. For me, that's an achievement, and after I calmed down, I felt proud of myself.

I've only thought about creating this mood spectrum minutes before writing this entry. It was an idea that just popped in my mind, and I felt I needed to share this. For us, people with bipolar disorder, sometimes, it's hard to articulate what we're feeling because our moods change at a snap of a finger. Some of us go through rapid cycling, while some of us get depressed for a long time.

I think by creating this mood spectrum, I'll be able to qualify how down I feel or how good I feel. This will help me monitor what levels I'm slipping into, or if I'm on the positive side, what levels I'm climbing to. And perhaps, this will help me feel better for good--the less frequent I slip into the "depressed" and "train wreck" levels, the more progress I'm making, and in time, I'll be climbing to the positive side. And maybe, by then, I'll be able to add more moods to the positive side of my mood spectrum.

How about you? What mood level are you in? How do you feel right now?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Good days

There are dark days, gray days, and days when I just feel at the bottom of a deep well. But there are also good days. Just like today.

My emotions such as sadness, guilt, frustration, and insecurity are often extreme, especially in the last few months. I've tried swinging my pendulum of moods to the other end of the spectrum, but it doesn't budge. The pendulum just stays at the negative end.

Until today, I haven't had a good day. By good, I mean no dark thoughts, no insecurity, and things are okay. I woke up at a decent hour this morning and ate a proper breakfast. My morning routine wasn't rushed. I even had enough time to pack my clothes for our staff photo shoot today. I wasn't late for work.

My mood started to get better when I was being glammed up for the shoot. Don't judge me, but I love it when I'm having hair and makeup done. Especially makeup. I love beauty. It may sound shallow to some, but an excellently applied makeup can really boost a girl's confidence, like what it does to mine.

Then, good vibes just lingered everywhere--while eating lunch at the studio, during the group and solo shots, and at the office when we went back. I felt light and easy breezy.

I capped my day with moderate exercise. I walked around the neighborhood, jogged a bit, did exercises in place, and walked again. I love it when my cheeks feel warm after exercising.

Now, I'm off to bed. I don't know if tomorrow will be as good as today. I don't know when I will have another good day such as today. But at least, I got to have one.