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.