“Maganda ka naman.” (You’re pretty)
This is the response I got from an HMO representative. I asked her if she can look up for a psychiatrist that is covered by our healthcard and she said she couldn’t find one. As I was leaving, she said that to me.
It had been over a week that I hadn’t been able to sleep or eat properly. I would lie in bed, in the dark, staring into nothing. My mind was filled with worry, fear, sadness. My chest felt tight, like whenever I would have asthma attacks, except I can breathe. It felt like a huge unseen object was pressing against me. It was painful. It was crippling.
My boyfriend noticed it. He had just left to go back to US to finish his studies. We started a long distance relationship. It wasn’t something I thought I’d ever do in my life, as I know how I am when it comes to relationships. I needed assurance, and the anxiety, the paranoia that comes with being in a relationship, it was too much to handle when there was that additional huge distance between us. And to think that I had been having conflicts with my family and work didn’t help. I just couldn’t handle it.
And so I was back in my room, alone in the dark. It was perfect. Whatever was surrounding me was exactly how I felt. Empty.
I went to a clinic covered by my health insurance. She was a general physician. In my mind, I was going to ask her for a referral to see a psych. I told her abuot my lack of sleep, loss of appetite, and chest pain. She did the usual work-up, listened to my heart with her cold stethoscope. I was anxious the whole time.
She gave me a funny look when I explained to her my situation and what triggered it. A little smirk, a prescription of Benadryl, and an advice: “Maganda ka naman. ‘Wag mong masyadong dibdibin. Pakasaya ka lang.”
Back in my room, alone, crying. Couldn’t breathe, chest hurts, nauseous. Alone. No sleep again.
My friends still pushed me. Seek help. It’s okay. We’re here. One of them recommended the outpatient program by the Psych Dept. of The Medical City. She said it was a lot more affordable than those clinics I called up (they ranged from P1,500 to P3,000 per consult).
This was when I met my doctor. I didn’t know how to tell her what I’d been going through. But she encouraged me to just say whatever was in my mind.
It just poured out. Every painful experience, every anxiety attack, every moment of that inability to get up and live. She listened to me, asked follow up questions, probed until I could translate every feeling inside of me I couldn’t articulate. She was just there, silent, listening to every single thing. And that was the best part. Finally, someone was listening.
She prescribed me an SSRI anti-depressant (if I remember it correctly, it was citalopram) to see if it would help with sleep. This was when my medication journey began. We were to try it for two weeks and then do another therapy session.
It wasn’t great. The first few days I was vomiting constantly. I could finally sleep though. And my chest felt lighter. The pain was manageable and it felt freeing. But the side effects were terrible. Everything I see was fuzzy. I couldn’t eat (I actually lived off of mashed potatoes and iced coffee for that entire period as that was only what my stomach could tolerate). It was hard to concentrate on anything. I would have anxiety attacks so bad I once had to run out of a theatre because I couldn’t breathe. I lost so much weight I looked sickly. But I was told the side effects would last a week and then my body would adjust. That didn’t happen.
After two weeks, we changed to lamotrigine. She explained that it is a mood stabilizer to help lift my moods up. Finally, too, there was a diagnosis. I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder.
The new meds helped with sleep. I could function better. But same with before, there were terrible side effects. I had headaches so bad I would scream in pain. I would vomit. But two weeks later, my body actually adjusted to it. The side effects went away. My mood was better. I was a little less irritable, panicky, and paranoid.
But it was still hard to get out of bed. I still didn’t have a routine. I still couldn’t get up to clean my house, or even make something to eat. So we added escitalopram to my meds. Another adjustment. Another running to the CR in our office building to vomit, to sit and be alone, to catch my breath. Another two weeks of pretending I’m okay at work because I didn’t think I could say to my boss, “I can’t go to work because I’ve been dealing with depression and adjusting to meds.”
But then, everything got better. Everything became manageable. Although there were days where everything felt hopeless, there were also those that I felt human.
I have to give it to my friends. They have been my support system from the very start. Explaining it to my (traditional) family was hard as they couldn’t grasp it. But with my support system, those who listened and understood, I finally felt a bit freer.
I think one of the best people who helped me understand what I’ve been going through was Stephen Fry. He was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This is probably my favorite quote from him as it explained bipolar in the simplest way possible:
“The closest I could come up is to say that mood is your own personal weather. And it’s very like the weather. If you go outside and it’s raining, it’s not you that’s made it rain, it has rained and it is real. You can’t unthink the rain. You can’t say, ‘Gah, I’ll walk it off.’ and then it will be sunny. The weather makes up its own mind. And the two mistakes are either to deny that it’s raining when it clearly is. It’s raining! Let’s face it! And the other thing is to say, ‘Therefore, my life is over. It’s raining and now the sun will never come out. That’s it.’ Because we all know, in terms of the weather, that it can be a damn nuisance when it’s raining, but that the sun will come out.”
When Roy and I presented the This Is Our Story movement, these were all in my mind. The struggles I went through and what I still am going through. I want everyone to listen to people like me. I want them to realize that mental health problems are just as important as other illnesses. I want them to not be afraid seeking help. And I don’t ever want them to hear, “Maganda ka naman.”
This coming Saturday, we will be doing a tweetchat in line with Mental Health Awareness month. I shared with you my experiences because I want you to feel that you could open up and talk about what you’re going through.
Here are some things you can share with us:
1. When was the time you felt like you needed professional help? Did you seek for it?
2. What were your struggles in seeking help?
3. How do you think institutions could help to make it easier for people affected by mental health problems to speak up?
About the Author –
Lawrence Joy dela Fuente is currently a communication officer for a research program. She was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder September 2014. She has been an advocate for mental health awareness even before her diagnosis and is a member of the #MentalHealthPH volunteer group
#MentalHealthPH is a campaign that aims to create an inclusive and empowered community for people affected by mental health problems. The group aims to promote mental health awareness through social media to increase discussion and reduce stigma on Mental Health; provide a platform for the community to share their Mental Health stories; and, collaborate and link with other organizations/groups to unify initiatives in line with the group’s mental health advocacy. Visit our website: mentalhealthph.org
Photo source: http://www.fundacionacorde.com/trastorno-bipolar-en-patologia-dual–1-.html